By Tom Z. Collina
Four years after the historic speech in Prague laying out his nuclear policy priorities, President Barack Obama must now decide which issues to focus on in his second—and last—term.
The administration accomplished many important arms control and nonproliferation milestones since April 2009, such as the New START treaty, the Nuclear Posture Review, the Nuclear Security Summits, and the 2010 NPT review conference consensus, but much is left to be done, as this ACA fact sheet underscores.
To better understand the nuclear policy to-do list and help inform priorities, ACA held a press conference (transcript available) on April 11 with Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who sits on both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees; Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz (USAF, ret.), former Commander, U.S. Global Strike Command; Amb. Steve Pifer, Director, Brookings Arms Control Initiative; and Amb. James Goodby, Research Fellow, Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
All speakers supported the view that the Obama administration must take advantage of the next few years to jumpstart action on the unfinished parts of the Prague nuclear weapons risk reduction agenda.
The panel underscored the opportunity and the importance of U.S. leadership in four key areas:
- Concluding another round of strategic arms reductions with Russia (either a formal treaty or informal understanding) below the ceilings set by the 2010 New START treaty and if possible new measures addressing tactical and stored nuclear warheads;
- Reinvigorating programs to prevent nuclear terrorism through better controls on weapons-usable nuclear materials, especially in troubled regions;
- Moving ahead with the President’s commitment to pursue ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) beginning with careful reconsideration by the U.S. Senate;
- Jumpstarting stalled efforts to begin Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) negotiations in Geneva through alternate approaches.
Sen. Shaheen on Nuclear Reductions, Nuclear Security, and the Test Ban Treaty
In her remarks, Sen. Shaheen noted that 50 years ago “President Kennedy famously said that he was haunted by the possibility that the United States could face a rampantly growing number of nuclear powers in our world.”
“At the time, he predicted that by 1975, there could be as many as 20 countries with nuclear weapons. Well, fortunately, due to strong forward thinking, American leadership and innovative diplomacy, we have so far averted that nuclear nightmare.
“The last several months, however, have tested the limits of our non-proliferation regime. It’s been one bad news story after another in the WMD world. Iran’s centrifuges keep spinning and negotiations seem to be stuck. North Korea’s belligerent leadership threatens to push Northeast Asia over the edge. And Syria’s chemical weapons are at risk. I’m afraid we may be quickly reaching an important crossroads, one where we either prove President Kennedy wrong for a little while longer or find out that his nightmare prediction was simply a half century too soon,” she warned.
“As we watch the threat of proliferation grow more complex and diffuse, our focus and resource commitments need to match the severity of the challenge that we face. We need to demonstrate to the world that the United States will continue to lead in curbing the threat posed by nuclear weapons around the globe,” Sen. Shaheen said.
Sen. Shaheen went on to say that: “I believe that the United States and Russia can go lower than the New START numbers. Reports suggest that the administration is indeed considering further bilateral reductions in our deployed strategic weapons… [A]ny further consideration of reductions should be combined with robust reinforcement of America’s security commitments around the globe, particularly as North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs threaten some of their closest allies. The United States will do what is necessary to defend our friends in the face of these threats.”
“In addition to bilateral discussions with Russia,” Sen. Shaheen said, “I think it’s important for all of us to shift more focus, time and resources back to the threat of nuclear terrorism. It remains one of our gravest dangers.
“To date, we’ve largely kept nuclear materials out of terrorists’ hands, but when it comes to nuclear terrorism in our world, the reality is that the international community can’t afford to make a single mistake. We can’t be complacent because one miscalculation, one unprotected border, one unsecured facility could all lead to a mushroom cloud somewhere in the world. We need to remain vigilant, to think ahead and to anticipate where the next threats will come from.
“That’s why, in the coming weeks, I’ll be working with my colleagues in the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees to introduce new legislation aimed at modernizing our Cooperative Threat Reduction and Non-Proliferation Assistance programs and expanding them more comprehensively into the Middle East and North Africa. We all know that the proliferation threat in this already dangerous and unstable region is growing.”
On the CTBT, Sen. Shaheen said: “There’s a lot of work to be done before taking up CTBT. But that just means we should start now to chart a path forward for its eventual consideration.”
Klotz on the CTBT
Lt. Gen. Klotz noted that progress on nuclear weapons risk reduction efforts “will, obviously, depend upon the state of U.S.-Russian relations going forward,” but he also observed that “much will also depend upon achieving a greater degree of consensus on nuclear weapons and arms control policy within the U.S. body politic and within the beltway.”
“That,” Klotz said, “requires two different but not necessarily mutually exclusive beliefs be taken into account. The first belief that must be taken into account is that appropriately sized nuclear forces still play an essential role in protecting the U.S. and allied interests. And the second belief is that the United States must continue to lead international efforts to limit and to reduce nuclear arsenals, to prevent proliferation and to secure nuclear materials….this is precisely the approach that the president adopted in his 2009 Prague agenda.”
Klotz argued that “senior administration and congressional leaders must be willing to speak to the basic principles of a consensus that addresses both arms control, including continued reductions and non-proliferation, as well as investing in resources necessary to maintain and, where necessary, to modernize the nuclear weapons complex and nuclear deterrent forces even at lower numbers.”
On the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Klotz said, “the Obama administration clearly has its work cut out for it in forging the coalition necessary to secure the Senate’s consent to ratification. And even if it eventually succeeds, that task is likely to take a while. But in my own personal view, speaking personally, the logic for moving forward and ahead on ratification of the CTBT is inescapable.
“The United States has, in effect, already paid the price of treaty membership by having unilaterally refrained from nuclear explosive testing for over 20 years. The political bar to a resumption of testing is pretty high and unlikely to be surmounted absent some dramatic shift in the international security environment,” Klotz said.
“Additionally, as part of paying the price, the United States has already made a substantial investment in the tools necessary to assess weapon reliability without nuclear explosive testing, as well as in the means necessary to detect clandestine testing by others,” he added.
“While the United States probably garners some credit for exercising a self-imposed moratorium, it is likely to be in a far better position to rally international pressure against would-be proliferators and to constrain regional arms races if it ratifies CTBT. And it is clearly in the national security interest of the United States and of our friends and allies to do just that,” Klotz asserted.
Securing ratification of the CTBT will “require political leadership and political skill on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and on both sides of the aisle to succeed. Such, by the way, has always been the case with major treaties and with major pieces of domestic legislation, many of which seemingly had little prospect of success at the outset, but ultimately became part of the law of the land and of the global community,” he concluded.
Amb. Pifer on Nuclear Cuts Beyond New START
Amb. Pifer outlined options for furtherU.S.-Russian reductions beyond New START. He argued that ideally, “it’s now time to bring all the weapons on the table – strategic, non-strategic, deployed, non-deployed – and have a single aggregate limit that would cover all of those weapons.”
He suggested that the next phase should seek to establish a limit of 2,000 to 2,500 total weapons on each side for the United States and Russia, of which there should be a limit on deployed strategic warheads of 1,000 on each side.
The negotiation of a “big treaty would not be an easy agreement to reach,” Pifer noted. “It would not be an 11-month negotiation as was New START. You’re talking two to three years at least.”
“An alternate approach,” Pifer suggested, would be to put the different classes of weapons on “two tracks.” The first step, he said, would be to achieve a quick agreement on reducing deployed strategic weapons by taking the New START Treaty and simply amending it to reduce the ceilings on strategic deployed warheads from 1,550 down to 1,000 and the 700 limit on missiles and bombers down to 500, and then the 800 launcher limit down to maybe 600. Another approach might simply be to accelerate the implementation of the New START deployed strategic warhead limits.
“This agenda is very much worth pursuing,” he argued. “There’s the opportunity to make the United States and American allies safer and more secure. I think looking to the medium term, there are some chances for some possibly significant cost savings in terms of having to build fewer systems, say, 10 to 15 years down the road. And I also think that if the United States and Russia are moving to further reduce their nuclear arsenals, it enhances their credibility on the non-proliferation agenda.”
Amb. Goodby Outlines Options to Jumpstart Action on the CTBT and FMCT
Amb. James Goodby suggested that we should thinking about how to focus efforts on some of the highest priorities over the next two years. This, he said involves taking into account “the rise of China as a great power and second, there are a series of regional issues that have the potential for nuclear war if we’re not careful: the Middle East – think of Iran; South Asia, where I think the potential for nuclear conflict is very high; and in Northeast Asia,” he said.
“If you look at those objectives and if you apply the idea that we ought to try to have something achievable in the next couple of years,” he suggested the following priorities for the administration: “One is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a second is the cutoff of production of fissile material for use in weapons.”
On the CTBT, “what I would recommend is that we begin with an attempt to strengthen the existing moratorium. The existing moratorium is not an agreement among the states that adhere to this idea of not testing. It has no common understanding in and of itself as to what a nuclear explosion is. It has no means of verification, aside from the national technical means, and what is provided by the increasingly effective international system as part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty office run out of Vienna,” Goodby noted.
“The P-5 could very easily, in my view, talk about a definition, which, essentially, would say a nuclear explosion is any explosive event that leads to a self-sustaining chain reaction of any duration. Now, that was really the understanding that the people who negotiated the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty had. But the Senate has complained because in the treaty itself, you don’t find that language. I suspect you could probably reach an agreement in the P-5 on language like that and I think that later on would help with ratification,” Goodby said.
“A second matter is we could, I think probably negotiate an agreement that will provide for some type of transparency possibly at nuclear tests sites in China and Russia,” Goodby proposed. He suggested that an executive agreement or an understanding among the P-5 by the fall of 2013, which would make Senate approval more achievable and possible “by the end of next year.”
On the FMCT, Goodby argued, “it’s time to drop the fiction that we’re going to be able to negotiate a treaty in Geneva in the conference on disarmament.” Instead, he urged, we should be looking to the P-5 for a joint declaration that says “we will not produce fissile materials for use in weapons.”
“I suspect you could get an agreement along the P-5 on that because basically that is their policy now,” he said. “Most of them have declared it – China has not – but I think they could easily do that. Beginning with that, you would move again out, I’m thinking not of the P-5 as a stopping point but as a bridge head to move beyond that.”
The full transcript of the briefing is available online here.