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Posts Tagged ‘START’

Ariel Cohen Thinks We Can’t Read Russian: Cohen’s Misleading Critique of Obama’s “Reset” of U.S.-Russian Relations

Posted by K.E. White on June 24, 2010

Yes, Ariel Cohen thinks I can’t read Russian.

Actually he’s right. But I can do a quick babblefish translation.

Why is this important? Because translating one of Cohen’s cites reveals his critique to be grossly misleading.

Ariel Cohen, a Heritage Foundation research fellow, launches this clumsy and fatally exaggerated data-dump on Sen. John Kerry’s defense of Obama’s “reset” strategy towards Russia.

But his most explosive charge against the “reset” seems built on little more than exaggeration. In return for sanctions on Iran and a new START treaty, Cohen suggests that Obama has given Russia a free hand in “the post-Soviet ‘near abroad’”citing to a Russian publication. Now that vague term triggers images of a new Cold War divide in Europe.

Unfortunately, the cited article states nothing close to Cohen’s implication. In fact, the article, written by a Russian researcher, actually extols America recognizing recent Ukrainian elections that brought a pro-Russian government to power.

That’s a far cry from giving Russia a free hand to the post-Soviet near abroad.

And that doesn’t even get to the article’s most egregious omission: Cohen criticizes a lot, but fails to offer any alternative.

Sloppy research and data-dumping shouldn’t be permitted by any think-tank, whether it’s a blog-post or article.

Here’s a recapitulation of Cohen’s exhaustive list of U.S. “concessions” to Russia:

1. “limiting the U.S. ballistic missile defense”

2. Recognizing “Russia’s exclusive zone of interests” in the “post-Soviet near abroad” (Again, this actually means recognizing Russia’s increased influence in the Ukraine, not a free-hand in Eastern Europe)

3. “new security architecture in Europe”

4. 123 civilian nuclear reactor agreement — $10-15 billion in new nuclear fuel reprocessing business

5. Support for Russia’s entry into the WTO

6. Secret deal to limit U.S. ballistic missile defense (how does one argue against the charge of a secret deal?)

7. Russia has allowed more U.S. and NATO traffic of Russian territory

And in return, according to Cohen, America has received remarkably little:

1. Russia still supporting Venezuela and Syria

2. Weak sanctions against Iran “In short, Russia will be milking the rest for all its worth.”

3. A new START treaty with one-sides terms in two significant ways: first, the U.S has to eliminate 80 warheads more than Russia; second, the United States must eliminate 150 delivery platforms, while Russia can add over 100.  (A somewhat biased view of the agreement)

I have two questions for Cohen. First, what concessions would he take back? Second, what pressure should America apply to Russia?

Cohen’s article acts as a rejoinder to Sen. John Kerry’s defense of Obamaland’s foreign policy towards Russia. In his Politico op-ed, Kerry endorses the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations: heralding the new START treaty, and Russia’s support of new Security Council sanctions against Iran, decision to not sell Iran anti-aircraft missiles and open airspace to US and NATO flights to Afghanistan.

Ariel Cohen serves as Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy at the Katherine and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Owen Graham, Research Assistant to the Davis Center, contributed to the blog-post.

Posted in Diplomacy, Russia | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Blog-on-Blog: Will Obama’s START Treaty Pass the Senate?

Posted by K.E. White on April 7, 2010

Nukes of Hazard offers some good commentary on whether the U.S.-Russia Prague Treaty (Obama’s ‘New START’) can get the 67 votes necessary for Senate ratification.

Travis Sharp suggests partisan considerations may ultimately decide the treaty’s fate:

But, if they don’t vote solely on their constituents’ interests, what will drive senators’ calculations? Information, ideology, and partisanship would seem to be the three main factors. As in:

1    What type of information do senators receive about the Prague Treaty? Are the deliverers of this information credible? Remember, we haven’t done a real arms control drill for a long time, and nobody knows what the hell is going on.

2    What kind of ideology do senators have about international law, national sovereignty, arms control, and the morality of assured destruction?

3    What does partisanship dictate? Will opposing the Prague Treaty contribute to immediate electoral gains for Republicans? Do Republican senators in tough primaries need to veer right? Does it make more sense for Republicans to acquiesce to Obama now, on a Prague Treaty that is fairly modest, and save the real politico-nuclear savagery for later (read: CTBT)? Will Democrats from more conservative states, some with tough reelection fights, feel comfortable supporting the Prague Treaty?

Methinks number three looms largest in the months ahead.

But will partisan interests be the dominant ratification factor?  Three reasons why not:

First, I think it’s unlikely the 2010 midterms will be dominated by this foreign policy question.  If anything, Afghanistan may be the foreign policy weakness dominating the air-waves—a topic unlikely to help either side.

Second, domestic issues dominate the 2010 landscape.  Why would  Republicans throw out a messaging campaign that works (jobs, debt and incumbent dissatisfaction) by getting into the wonky world of non-proliferation—especially when both the NPR and New Start Treaty preserve America’s nuclear deterrent?

And finally, fighting the treaty may not deliver Republicans the victory they want.  Instead of having air-time devoted to a fight over a judicial nomination or spending disagreements, they will allow Obama to play up his role as Commander-in-Chief.  So not only do they risk they will lose, they haven’t necessarily blocked Obama either:  he can always go the executive agreement route and get by with 60 votes and a House majority.

In sum, I think Sharp’s first factor remains the most important.  First, do Senators make this a priority-one issue to fight or support.  (My guess:  even Obama’s opponents would rather stroke healthcare and debt fears).  Second, is what they are told make the treaty look radical or modest.  It seems most observers, with some exceptions, consider the NPR and New START a modest step.

Result:  I think it’s very likely Republican won’t push back too hard, and save their powder for fights down the road where 1) they have more political influence and 2) are combating a more substantial—and controversial—proposal.

Posted in Blog-on-Blog | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

START’s Tactical Short-Coming: New START’s Silence on Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Posted by K.E. White on April 5, 2010

David E. Hoffman highlights one short-coming of the new START treaty:  its silence on tactical nuclear weapons.

Hoffman’s Foreign Policy article quickly reviews the history of tactical nuclear weapons (surprise:  nuclear watermelons were around in the 1950s).  He then outlines the scale of this nuclear omission, before highlighting a way forward on this troublesome nuclear front.

But just how important are tactical nukes to Obama’s new START treaty?

First it might be useful to look at the history of U.S.-Russian arms control agreements.  If Obama’s ‘New START’ treaty navigates the Senate, it would resurrect a moribund treaty system.  Whatever its shortcomings, simply putting arms control back on the map represents a huge—and as of yet unrealized—accomplishment.

Second, as Hoffman concedes, no treaty has dealt with these pesky weapons.  So Obama’s—and apparently Russia’s—desire to tackle this topic constitutes a grounds for nuclear optimism.

And when it comes to the international significance of ‘New START’, tactical weapons aren’t the name of the game.  Iran and North Korea represent the gravest threats to the established nuclear order.  There the worry is not over tactical nukes, but conventional nuclear weapons.  Reaffirming a commitment to cut nuclear weapons provides Russia and America a trust-building exercise, and helps America’s ability to build international support around a new wave of sanctions against Iran.  Obama’s START shortcoming won’t derail his nuclear security summit this month, nor allow Iran to turn the NPT conference into a battle between nuclear haves and have-nots.

From Hoffman’s article:

The United States is believed to have about 200 tactical nukes in Europe, all of them B61 free-fall gravity bombs to be used with U.S. and allied tactical aircraft, out of 500 total tactical nukes in the active U.S. arsenal. The Russians are estimated to have about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, several hundred in the European part of the country and the remainder in central storage sites.

These smaller warheads have never been covered by a specific treaty, nor are they subject to the kind of verification that is used to prevent cheating in the agreements covering the long-range or strategic weapons, including the nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. What’s more, they are relics of a bygone era, with no military usefulness. There is no longer a Warsaw Pact or a Soviet Union threatening a massive invasion across the Fulda Gap that would have to be stopped with a last-ditch decision to fire off the battlefield nukes.

The United States and others have been reluctant to unilaterally withdraw the weapons, which are believed to be based in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Turkey. Before any arms-control negotiation could get underway, NATO would have to come up with a common position. And others have pointed out that the concept of extended deterrence — the U.S. nuclear umbrella — can be achieved with longer-range weapons and does not rely on the tactical nukes.

An even bigger question mark is whether Russia would be willing to reduce its pile of small nuclear weapons. Probably not any time soon. The expansion of NATO to its borders has left Russia wary, while its conventional or non-nuclear military forces are weaker than in the past. And Russian leaders are alarmed at the long-range precision-guided conventional weapons under development by the United States. Russia has demanded that the United States pull back all the tactical weapons in Europe to its national territory — as Russia has already done — before considering any negotiations.

Pavel Podvig, a physicist and research associate at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, points out that the new Russian military doctrine doesn’t include any specific mission for tactical nuclear weapons. “Of course, nobody in Russia is ready to get rid of them just yet, but it does indicate that the Russians realize that the utility of these weapons is highly questionable, even if they aren’t ready to publicly admit it,” he wrote recently. Podvig made a practical suggestion for moving in phases: Both the United States and Russia would first move all tactical nukes to a central storage facility deep within their national territory, then later deal with verification, transparency, and ultimately elimination.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

All Wrapped Up: U.S.-Russia Set to Sign START Treaty Replacement

Posted by K.E. White on March 24, 2010

Apparently a new U.S.-Russia arms control treaty has been finally hammered out.  While many outlets chronicle the slow pace of negotiations and focus on the signing location of the treaty (Prague), MSNBC.com sheds some light on 1) the details of the agreement and 2) what may have been behind the delay.

The START treaty expired last December, but the United States and Russia have been voluntarily conforming to the parameters of the agreement.

Two quick notes.  First, the treaty is of considerable size–especially compared to other recent nuclear agreements.  At 20 pages, this new arms control  treaty definitely offers more detail the SORT/Moscow Treaty (3 pages) concluded under the George W. Bush administration or the legislatively-authorized US-India nuclear deal.  Related to the length, the treaty includes a verification protocol.  This, again, represents a large departure from Bush-era arms control policy.

Why is the second point important?  The key to reducing nuclear arms or restricting their use is in the verification of such efforts.  The Bush administration treaty, while obtaining a large cut in nuclear arsenals, mainly trimmed bloated stock-piles, and pegged to its verification standards to START.  Getting countries to promise to cut arsenals is one thing; forcing countries to verify they actually eliminated them is another–more complicated–endeavor.  And with the SORT treaty expiring in 2012, the expiration of the START treaty risked making SORT irrelevant.

Granted, it seems that this treaty will not represent a bold step in reining in the countries’ nuclear arsenals.  But it represents forward progress, and presumably lays the foundation for future agreements.

From the MSNBC.com article:

The Kremlin source, speaking by telephone to The Associated Press, said the documents included the treaty and protocol. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that the treaty was 20 pages long, with an extensive protocol attached.

Russian negotiators have balked at including some intrusive weapons verification measures in the new treaty. The Obama administration has warned that without these, Senate ratification could prove difficult.

Any agreement would need to be ratified by the legislatures of both countries and would still leave each with a large number of nuclear weapons, both deployed and stockpiled.

Posted in START Treaty | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Explaining the START Slowdown

Posted by K.E. White on March 23, 2010

START renewal talks have stalled between the United States and Russia.  TIME Magazine offers theories behind the slow-down, while sketching out the supposed template of the agreement.

Possible road blocks?  First, Russian fears that Obama has not completely shelved plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe.  Another theory points to Russian domestic politics, and differing interests between Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin.

This Voice of Russia article highlights Russian objections to possible U.S. missile defense schemes in Eastern Europe.  Yet, the article still considers the agreement “95 percent ready, with both sides expected to sign the document ahead of the international security summit slated for April 12 in Washington.”

For those readers hungry for more detail, Arms Control Association offers fantastic resources:  especially Daryl G. Kimball’s recent Moscow Times editorial and Greg Thielmann’s New START Verification: Fitting the Means to the Ends.

From the TIME.com article:

Currently, it is not clear what is holding up START negotiations. The basics of an agreement have been locked down since a joint Obama-Medvedev meeting last July: the White House reported that the two sides were ready to commit to reduce their arsenals to somewhere between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads and between 500 and 1,100 delivery systems, i.e. missiles and long-range bombers. Currently, the treaty allows each side a maximum of 2,200 warheads and 1,600 launch vehicles.

Early on in the talks, Russia raised concerns about U.S. plans for a missile-defense system in Europe, which could potentially give the U.S. an edge if it could neutralize parts of Moscow’s arsenal. Many hoped that concern had been addressed by Obama’s pledge last September to scrap a Bush-era plan to station interceptor missiles in Poland and by promises to include missile defense in negotiations of any further arms-control treaties. But Moscow remained concerned over the alternatives to the Polish scheme being considered by the U.S, for deployment in Europe. Last week the Speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, Boris Gryzlov, said that the Duma would not ratify a START treaty until all U.S. plans for a Europe-based missile-defense system were shelved.

“There are all sorts of rumors for why [a new treaty] hasn’t been signed,” says Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. “At a deeper level the delay hints at lingering distrust between the United States and Russia.”

Potter, however, believes that domestic tensions in Russia rather than a rift between the two countries is responsible for the delay. “The delay has had more to do with Russian domestic politics and involves disputes between Russian military and political figures about the role of nuclear weapons in Russian security policy and the importance of improved Russian relations with the United States,” he explains. “Some Russian analysts also have suggested that President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have different interests in rapid conclusion (and ratification) of the treaty, which is related to their positioning for the next presidential contest.”

Posted in START Treaty | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Globe Editorial: How to Beat Back the “Deadly Current” of Nuclear Proliferation

Posted by K.E. White on March 17, 2010

James Carroll offers a skillfully concise piece reviewing the opportunities and pit-falls facing the Obama administration’s goals on nuclear non-proliferation.   Carroll argues that certain critical events in the coming months may set-off a new nuclear arms race.

While perhaps employing too dire a tone, Carroll’s editorial does make clear that the months may make or break Obama’s ambitious nonproliferation and counter-proliferation goals.

From Carroll’s editorial (with slight formatting changes and editing) in Monday’s Boston Globe:

  • The US-Russia Treaty

Negotiators in Geneva are late in reaching agreement on a nuclear arms treaty to replace START, which expired last December. Obama is threading a needle, having to meet Russian requirements (for example, on missile defense) while anticipating Republican objections in the US Senate (for example, on missile defense). Warning: Bill Clinton was humiliated when the Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999. Republicans’ recalcitrance on health care is peanuts compared to the damage their rejection of a new START treaty would do.

  • The Nuclear Posture Review

…the Congress-mandated report on how the administration defines nuclear needs today. This, too, is overdue, probably because the White House has been pushing back against the Pentagon on numerous issues. Are nukes for deterrence only? Will the United States renounce first use? Having stopped the Bush-era program to build a new nuclear weapon, will Obama allow further research and development? What nations will be named as potential nuclear threats? Warning: The 1994 Nuclear Posture Review was Clinton’s Pentagon Waterloo. It affirmed the Cold War status quo, killing serious arms reduction until now.

Although usually considered apart, the broader US defense posture has turned into a key motivator for other nations to go nuclear. The current Pentagon budget ($5 trillion for 2010-2017) is so far beyond any other country, and the conventional military capacity it buys is so dominant, as to reinforce the nuclear option abroad as the sole protection against potential US attack. This is new.

  • April’s Nuclear Summit in Washington DC

… but both nuclear haves and have-nots will be taking positions based on the US-Russia Treaty (and its prospects for ratification) and the Nuclear Posture Review. Warning: if China sees US missile defense as potentially aimed its way, a new nuclear arms race is on.

  • Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference

In May, the signatories to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty will hold their eighth regular review session in New York. Since the nations that agreed to forego nuclear weapons did so on the condition that the nuclear nations work steadily toward abolition, the key question will be whether Obama has in fact begun to deliver on his declared intention. If not, get ready for the cascade.

Posted in Nonproliferation | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Proliferation Press Round-Up: New START Agreement At Hand? Reorganizing State’s Arms Control Team and Susan Burke–America’s Top NPT Representative–Talks to Arms Control Today

Posted by K.E. White on March 17, 2010

  • Close to START II?

AFP reported yesterday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Russia where sources “have confirmed she will have bilateral negotiations on START with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.”’

Global Security Newswire (GSN) sheds light on the key sticking point in an excellent article posted yesterday.

The main sticking point in negotiations?  According to GSN, “[t]he Obama administration’s plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe remains the top issue of contention, according to defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer. Moscow wants the nuclear treaty to address the matter, but any restriction is not likely to gain approval from U.S. senators who must ratify the agreement.”

The NYTimes portrays the long and winding road these talks have traveled.

  • State Brings Back Arms Control—In Title

Global Security Newswire reports today that the State Department has started reviewing how to better “strengthen” their arms control bureaus.

Currently three bureaus—Verification, Compliance and Implementation (VCI), International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) and Political-Military Affairs Bureau—make up the ‘T’ of the State Department’s arms control bureaus.

The White House plans to better divide responsibilities between these three bureaus, and will change VCI’s name to Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

Only five years ago, the Bush administration oversaw a similar restricting.  In 2005 two of the then four arms control bureaus—Arms Control and Nonproliferation—were merged into today’s ISN.  The rationale?  The bureaus, separately, did not reward staff with opportunities for advancement and failed to attract staffers.  (This is when Arms Control—at least in name—was stricken from the title of any State Department arms control bureau.)

But a 2009 GAO report found that this reorganization failed to solve either problem.

So the Obama Administration is trying again.

Main take-away:  Reorganizing agencies is tough work, and can determine the effectiveness of critical branches of the U.S. diplomatic and national security apparatus.  Hopefully, the United States can at least enjoy a smooth-running arms control team for the last half of his administration.

  • Susan Burke Interview at Arms Control Today

Susan Burke, who finally received Senate approval in June, talks with Arms Control Today about the upcoming Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference.  Susan highlights what will be the ‘big picture’ goal of the United States at the conference that takes place only once every five years:

What we have been discussing with our partners as we engage in diplomatic outreach is the importance of full compliance with the treaty to maintaining the integrity of the treaty and the corrosive effect that noncompliance has on the treaty itself and on the understandings that other countries have had. We expect that this will be discussed in May. It has to be discussed—full compliance, full support for safeguards, and all those other measures. Exactly how it will be discussed is up in the air at the moment. There are different views on how to handle the issue. But I don’t think there is any disagreement among parties—certainly not in my consultations—that full compliance is absolutely essential.

Posted in News | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Biden Talks U.S. Nuclear Strategy: Pushing Increased Funding, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and START Renewal

Posted by K.E. White on February 18, 2010

Biden talks up the Obama administration’s spending on the US nuclear arsenal. The apparent contradiction:  the President who has pledged to work toward nuclear abolition is now seeking to increase U.S. spending on their nuclear arsenal by $624 million. Total spending in Obama’s proposed budget would sit at $7 billion.

Watch Biden’s speech at WhiteHouse.gov.

So where does this play in the Obama administration’s play-book?  Most immediately are ongoing negotiations over renewing START—key senators have pegged approval to increased spending on America’s nuclear deterrent.  The Obama White House is also hoping to finally ratify the nuclear test ban treaty—perhaps sensing the dwindling time they will enjoy 59 votes in the Senate.  Ratifying the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and (at least) signing a START renewal would (under a best-case scenario) precede a Nuclear Security Summit next April Obama will host in Washington D.C.  And this all sets the backdrop to the main event: the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Conference this summer.

And pushing a robust nuclear arms reduction program doesn’t hurt as the Iranian nuclear dilemma drags on.

Karen Travers at ABC.com provides concise and informed coverage of Biden’s speech, specifically linking the funding announcement to START and hopes to ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty:

Biden said that while the both Republicans and Democrats have questioned element of the Obama Administration’s nuclear nonproliferation agenda, including the costs and the reductions, he said he and the president “respectfully disagree.”

“As both the only nation that ever used a nuclear weapon, and as a strong proponent of nonproliferation, the United States has long embodied a stark, but inevitable contradiction,” the vice president said. “The horror of nuclear conflict may make its occurrence unlikely, but its very existence, the very existence of nuclear weapons leaves the human race ever at the brink of self destruction, particularly if the weapons fall into the wrong hands.”

Biden said that U.S. and Russian negotiators were “completing an agreement” on extending the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (START), which expired in December.

Posted in Nuclear Weapons, Obama administration | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

America’s Durable Nuclear Deterrent?

Posted by K.E. White on December 19, 2009

A new report quashes concerns over the effectiveness of America’s nuclear deterrent. The report, released by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, reviews America’s nuclear forces and those of other nuclear-armed nations. Its thesis: America’s nuclear dominance continues even with other nations pursuing modernization programs. Conclusion: There’s no need for the US to pursue a robust nuclear modernization program.

Why is this important? Recently 41 senators made their support for a new START treaty with Russia dependent on US plans for nuclear modernization. Treaty ratification requires 67 votes in the US Senate.

Two sections from the report merit specific mention. First is its review of America’s current nuclear forces and modernization efforts:

  • America deploys 2,200 strategic warheads, and has 2,00 warheads in reserve
  • America deploys 00 tactical warheads
  • Life extension programs are now underway for submarine and land-based long-range missiles
  • The nuclear testing moratorium has not stopped the W76 warhead from being fitted “with a new arming, firing and fusing mechanism”
  • A new fleet of nuclear submarines are now being researched with construction slated from 2019

The report then reviews the nuclear forces of other nations, and finds their modernization programs no threat to the United States. It then concludes:

Nonetheless, some still argue that if Washington doesn’t pursue a more robust modernization program, the United States will send the signal that it doesn’t take nuclear deterrence seriously. These concerns are mistaken. First, the United States clearly isn’t allowing its nuclear deterrent to deteriorate: Due to remarkable advances in stockpile stewardship capabilities and life-extension efforts, the U.S. nuclear stockpile and its supporting infrastructure remain the most sophisticated and modern in the world. U.S. delivery systems are mo:re deadly and more accurate than they were during the Cold War. Both the defense secretary and the energy secretary annually certify the reliability of U.S. warheads, even though Washington conducted its last nuclear test 17 years ago. Numerous studies have concluded that the explosive cores in U.S. warheads will remain reliable for many, many years. Plus according to a September report PDF from the JASON scientific advisory group, “Lifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence by using approaches similar to those employed in [life-extension programs] to date.”

Second, Washington continues to spend huge sums of money on its nuclear forces. A recent study calculated that the United States devoted at least $29.1 billion to its nuclear forces and operational support in fiscal year 2008, including more than $6 billion for the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

So those who continue to argue that Washington doesn’t show enough interest in modernizing its nuclear weapons should be forced to answer a simple question: If given the choice, would they trade the U.S. nuclear arsenal for the Russian or Chinese nuclear arsenals? Clearly, the answer is no. The appropriate mission for U.S. nuclear weapons is deterrence. And the U.S. arsenal of more than 5,000 nuclear weapons has the capacity to deter any threat regardless of how many resources Russia, China, and/or any other country devote to modernizing their arsenals.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »