Should the United States begin talks to ban nuclear weapons?

Zia Man

On April 25, 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson explained to President Harry Truman that the United States was about to complete “the most terrible weapon ever known in human history, one bomb of which could destroy a whole city.

Stimson warned that “The world in its present state of moral advancement compared with its technical development would be eventually at the mercy of such a weapon. In other words, modern civilization might be completely destroyed.” Despite this recognition and responsibility, an American president chose that the atomic bomb be finished, tested, and then used, destroying two entire cities and immediately killing more than 100,000 people — some 90 percent of them civilians.

Fifty-five years ago, on September 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy told the United Nations General Assembly, “Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. … The mere existence of modern weapons — 10-million times more powerful than any that the world has ever seen, and only minutes away from any target on Earth — is a source of horror and discord and distrust. … The risks inherent in disarmament pale in comparison to the risks inherent in an unlimited arms race.”

Two months later, on November 24, 1961, the UN General Assembly declared that “any state using nuclear and thermonuclear weapons is to be considered as violating the Charter of the United Nations, as acting contrary to the laws of humanity, and as committing a crime against mankind and civilization.”

Under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the United States helped draft and which entered into force in 1970, the United States is legally bound to “undertake negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

More than half-a-century later, the United States has not met this legal obligation.

In 2009, in the first session ever chaired by a president of the United States, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1887, committing “to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.”

In his address to the UN Security Council afterwards, President Obama declared, “... just one nuclear weapon exploded in a city — be it New York or Moscow, Tokyo or Beijing, London or Paris — could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And it would badly destabilize our security, our economies, and our very way of life. … The historic resolution we just adopted enshrines our shared commitment to the goal of a world without nuclear weapon.”

In December 2015 at the UN, 139 countries, including many U.S. allies, endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, in a resolution “affirming that it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances,” and calling on states “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

So far, the United States has not signed this Humanitarian Pledge, nor joined the effort to prohibit nuclear weapons.

This is the question to ask the candidates: If elected President, will you commit that the United States will sign the Humanitarian Pledge for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons and call for the immediate start of talks on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, or will you persist with current U.S. policies to maintain and modernize “the most terrible weapon ever known in human history” and thereby continue the risk that “modern civilization might be completely destroyed?”

Zia Mian is a physicist and co-director of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security. His article is edited from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 2016, and was printed in PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2016.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Future of nuclear arms control looks bleak, experts say

WASHINGTON — The nuclear weapon treaties that have helped preserve peace for nearly half a century have begun to unravel. Stirring concern are recent Russian treaty violations, growing tensions between nuclear powers, and the continuing ambitions of nations seeking their own strategic nuclear weapons.

The latest blow came with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement in June that he would add 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to his arsenal — not a treaty violation, but a powerful message about Russia’s plans for its nuclear forces.

Over the last half-century, weapons treaties have led to a dramatic drop in the number of warheads. At the peak of the Cold War in the 1960s, the United States had more than 30,000 nuclear weapons — 400 targeted on Moscow alone. Although both the U.S. and Russia are still below treaty limits set in the years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the prospect is growing dim for reductions in weapons to continue.

The State Department recently concluded that Russia had violated a 1987 treaty by testing an intermediate-range missile — considered one of the most destabilizing weapons during the Cold War because of its ability to strike with no early warning. The U.S. is now considering deploying its own medium-range missiles in Europe, which would be another serious blow to nuclear arms control.

Alexei G. Arbatov, a respected arms control expert and a former Russian legislator, agrees that the future for arms control appears bleak. “Although arms control has faced difficulties in the past, never before have virtually all negotiating tracks been simultaneously stalled, existing treaties been eroded by political and technological developments, and the planning for next steps been so in doubt,” he wrote in a recent report published by the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Putin’s plan for 40 new missiles exacerbates the already tense relations between Russia and the U.S. following the seizure of Crimea and assistance to Ukrainian rebels. Putin boasted that the new missiles could penetrate even the most technologically advanced U.S. missile defense systems.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in 2010 requires Russia and the U.S. to reduce deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles to 700 and overall warheads to 1,550 each. Russia is below the missile ceiling, while the U.S. is above it and both sides are close to the limits on warheads. The two nations have until 2018 to meet the limits.

About a dozen nuclear arms deals have been struck between the U.S., Russia and most other countries, according to Linton Brooks, who helped negotiate the first arms reduction treaty during the Reagan administration. The most ambitious agreement, eventually signed by 190 nations, was the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aimed to eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. Other agreements locked down or eliminated surplus inventories of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism.

But in recent years, cooperation began to break down between the U.S. and Russia. Russia considers itself surrounded by unfriendly neighbors — China to the southeast, Muslim republics in the southwest, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations to the west — and it doesn’t have the conventional forces to handle the threats, said Stephen Rademaker, a former assistant secretary of state who helped implement the intermediate-range weapons treaty. The result is that the treaty “is not going to be with us for the long term, because Russia wants out and evidently is taking concrete steps in anticipation of getting out.”

The State Department has concluded that Russia has violated the treaty by testing the R-500 intermediate-range cruise missile — the most serious breach of the accord signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Russian experts are also concerned about the loss of common ground. But they blame the U.S. because of its development of a long-range missile-defense system and precision long-range conventional weapons, even if they are intended to defend against rogue nuclear powers like North Korea.

A future arms race among more than half a dozen nuclear powers could be more dangerous than even the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. The Non-Proliferation Treaty was supposed to prevent that problem, but the failure of the Big Five Nuclear powers — United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China — to uphold their legal commitment to disarm has led to four more countries — Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — joining the nuclear weapons club.

At a month-long conference at the United Nations in May to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty, an increasingly acrimonious standoff between the world’s major nuclear-weapons powers and dozens of non-weapons states played out. Despite 125 impassioned speeches and thousands of documents filed to push toward eliminating the existing 16,000 warheads, the parties to the treaty failed to approve a final document due to resistance from the nuclear powers.

The erosion of nuclear weapon treaties has created a momentum of its own. The Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee has repeatedly tried to block implementation of New START, alleging that it reduces U.S. military readiness. And Republican and Democratic defense hawks have been pushing for heavy investments in developing new nuclear weapons. The Obama administration began work last year on a proposed $355 billion plan to modernize U.S. nuclear forces over the next three decades.

The stalled disarmament actions along with nuclear weapon modernization programs are prompting some nonproliferation experts to warn that the risk of “unthinkable” nuclear war is growing.

– edited from the Tribune Washington Bureau, July 12, 2015
PeaceMeal, July/August 2015

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Doomsday Clock set at 3 minutes to midnight

Doomsday Clock - 3 min to midnight.GIF (3061 bytes)The world is only “3 minutes” from a potentially civilization-ending catastrophe. That’s the grim outlook from board members of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Frustrated with a lack of international action to shrink nuclear arsenals and address climate change, they decided on January 22 to set the minute hand of their iconic “Doomsday Clock” to 11:57 p.m. Since 2012, the clock had been fixed at 5 minutes to symbolic doom at midnight.

Each year the magazine’s board analyzes threats to humanity’s survival to decide where the Doomsday Clock’s hands should be set. Experts on the board said they felt a sense of urgency this year because of slow efforts to get rid of nuclear weapons, procrastination with enacting laws to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and the world’s ongoing addiction to fossil fuels.

The clock isn’t used to make any doomsday predictions but is a visual metaphor to warn the public about how close the world is to a potentially civilization-ending catastrophe.

“We are not saying it is too late to take action, but the window for action is closing rapidly,” Kennette Benedict, executive director of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said in a news conference in Washington, D.C. “We move the clock hand today to inspire action.”

Sharon Squassoni, a board member and director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said nuclear disarmament efforts have “ground to a halt” and many nations are expanding — not scaling back — their nuclear weapon capabilities. Russia is upgrading its nuclear weapon program, India plans to expand its nuclear submarine fleet, and Pakistan has reportedly started operating a third plutonium-production reactor.

Squassoni said the United States has good rhetoric on nuclear nonproliferation, but at the same time is in the midst of a $335 billion overhaul of its nuclear weapons program.

Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, said if nothing is done to reduce the amount of atmospheric, heat-trapping gasses, such as carbon dioxide, Earth could be 5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 8 degrees Celsius) warmer by the end of the century.

Some people might not feel alarmed by those numbers because they might normally experience that kind of temperature swing in the course of a single day. But, Kartha said, a temperature increase of that magnitude was enough to bring the world out of the last ice age, and it will be enough to “radically transform” the Earth’s surface in the future.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by scientists who created the atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project and wanted to raise awareness about the dangers of nuclear technology. The Doomsday Clock first appeared on a cover of the magazine in 1947, with its hands set at 11:53 p.m. They were closest to midnight in 1953, set at 11:58 p.m., after both the United States and the Soviet Union conducted their first tests of the hydrogen bomb. The clock’s hands were pushed all the way back to 11:43 p.m., 17 minutes to midnight, in December 1991, after the two superpowers signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which seemed like a promising move toward complete nuclear disarmament.

– edited from Scientific American, January 24, 2015
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2015

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Does the “responsibility to protect” include nuclear disarmament?

Kennette_Benedict.jpg (2645 bytes)Kennette Benedict

In the 2000s a new idea emerged in global policy circles: that the international community has a responsibility to protect not just the sovereignty of nations, but individual lives around the world. United Nations documents codified the principle, stating that if a government was “manifestly failing” to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity, the international community must be prepared to take action to guard civilians from harm.

On October 1, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, entered Syria to remove and destroy weapons of mass destruction. In the midst of Syria’s civil war, chemical weapons have been used against civilians, killing over 1,400 women, men, and children in one attack. The OPCW has met with initial success. In the first week after arriving, the advance team began destroying commercial compounds that serve as precursors to chemical weapons, and a team of 35 is destroying and disabling others with cooperation from the Syrian government.

Under international law there are justifications for intervention, including upholding the international norm against using weapons of mass destruction. But can the OPCW’s actions also properly be considered a fulfillment of the responsibility to protect? Yes—and they could set a precedent not just for chemical weapons disarmament but for nuclear disarmament, as well.

A conference held in Oslo in March 2013 illuminates why. Called to discuss the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, it brought together 127 state representatives to hear experts describe the effects of nuclear bomb detonations. Physicians, disaster-relief workers and government personnel described in often-graphic detail what would happen if one or several of the 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world were to go off, either intentionally or accidentally.

Some of the responses from representatives of developing countries suggested that this may have been the first time they fully grasped the terrible damage that a nuclear bomb could do to their people if it were to explode in their region. In the words of the Zambia representative, “we are horrified by the amount of damage that one detonation, let alone several, can do to human beings and the planet we dearly love.”

The Oslo conference emphasized that the effects of any nuclear bomb explosion would be felt beyond the political borders of particular nation states, and that governments would not have the capacity to respond effectively to protect their citizens. Furthermore, based on assessments by major international bodies—in particular the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross—even they would not have the wherewithal to respond; the effects would be so enormous and overwhelming. The conclusion was clear: The only way the international community could exercise its responsibility to protect civilians would be to prevent these catastrophic humanitarian disasters. And the only means to prevent them would be to eliminate nuclear weapons.

To be sure, calls for nuclear disarmament are hardly new. What was new about the Oslo discussion was the focus on the consequences of accidental or intentional detonation for civilian populations. This emphasis on humanitarian impact as a basis for nuclear disarmament comes at a time when international organizations are seeking ways to more vigorously apply the concept of responsibility to protect —in Sudan, for example, and in Mali earlier in 2013. In these countries, the aim is to stop armies with conventional weapons from slaughtering civilians.

It is the responsibility of the state to protect its people from outside violent attacks, as well as to provide order within the country. Over the years, though, many governments came to focus on their own survival rather than that of their people. What was once the means to an end—the creation of the nation-state to protect individuals from anarchy and violence—became an end in itself. And to ensure the security of the state, huge arsenals of extraordinary weapons were developed. In contrast, the notion of human security shifts the focus from protecting the state to protecting individuals. Human security—the protection of individuals and groups from violence and fear—should be the ultimate goal of the international community.

With that goal in mind, nuclear disarmament is the logical next step. Even at the beginning of the nuclear age in 1945, atomic scientists realized that there is no defense possible against the horrendous new weapons of mass destruction they created.

Applying the concept of the responsibility to protect, it follows that the international community has a duty to intervene and provide protection to individuals in the face of the state’s incapacity. But if the United Nations and humanitarian agencies judge that they are not able to respond effectively to protect civilians from nuclear detonations, as they warned in Oslo, then the only way to defend populations is to eliminate these weapons.

The responsibility to protect is not only for situations where armed forces use conventional weapons to commit mass atrocities; it must also include preventing the catastrophic destruction and genocide nuclear weapons can cause. Simply put, the responsibility to protect requires global nuclear disarmament.

Kennette Benedict is the Executive Director and Publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. She previously directed the international peace and security program of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Her article is edited from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, October 22, 2013, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2013.

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U.N. displays million-signature petition to ban nukes

A one-million signature petition from cities around the world demanding the abolition of nuclear weapons went on exhibition at United Nations Headquarters in New York on March 24 in a ceremony attended by several hibakusha, Japanese survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The petition was organized by Mayors for Peace, which was founded in 1982 by the mayors of the two bombed cities and now includes the mayors of 4,853 cities in 151 countries. The exhibition underscores the goal of transcending national borders to work for nuclear disarmament in what Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called a “landmark occasion” that helps to build international momentum.

“These one million signatures demanding an end to the nuclear threat are the voice of the world’s people. This movement brings together mayors and mothers, like-minded citizens and peace groups. They all understand that nuclear weapons make us less safe, not more,” the Secretary-General told those present, first addressing three hibakusha, including one he met on a visit to Hiroshima last year.

“Everywhere I go, I will repeat my strong, consistent and clear call for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament,” Mr. Ban stated. “I will carry the message of the million petitioners represented here today and the many millions more around the world seeking to end the nuclear threat. Together, we can rid the world of nuclear weapons and answer the call of these hibakusha, who survived a nuclear attack and dedicated themselves to making sure no one else would ever suffer the same fate.”

Mr. Ban noted that the day’s event added to the U.N.’s permanent disarmament installation, the first exhibit of which emphasizes the importance of the U.N.’s partnership with global non-governmental organizations that advocate abolition of nuclear weapons. He then signed the petition himself.

Also present was Academy Award-winning actor Michael Douglas, a U.N. Messenger of Peace, who told U.N. Radio: “Obviously, any time I can be here to have a reminder, a memoriam of the first and only use of atomic weapons and the destruction they did, I think it’s an important reminder.”

– edited from U.N. News Service, 24 March 2011
PeaceMeal, July/August 2011

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New START treaty enters into force

The Senate ratified the strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia, known as New START, by a vote of 71-26 on December 22. Top Republicans continued to oppose the treaty, but 13 Republicans crossed over to vote for it, thereby accomplishing President Obama’s major foreign policy goal for the lame-duck session. Under the treaty, Russia and the United States agree to limit the number of deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 each, down from a ceiling of 2,200. The sides have seven years to accomplish the reductions. The pact also establishes a system for monitoring and verification.

Even though passage had been expected, some Republicans continued their opposition right up to the final vote. Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) argued that the treaty should be defeated because it fails to address limits on tactical weapons, an area in which Russia has a numerical advantage. Tactical weapons are smaller and designed for use on the battlefield, as opposed to strategic weapons, which are delivered by missile, bomber or from a submarine. Those delivery systems are also subject to limits in the new treaty.

Cornyn also cited other Republican objections, including that the pact’s “verification provisions are weak,” ignoring the fact that the Bush administration’s 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) had no provisions for verification at all. The Obama adminstration has argued that the new treaty is needed to step up verifica-tion, and top Pentagon officials have backed the administration.

Some Republicans argued that the treaty would limit the United States’ ability to deploy a missile defense system, but that debate ended after both sides accepted a bipartisan amendment designed to meet some GOP objections on the issue.

The New START treaty was signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last April in Prague. Following ratification by the Russian parliament, the treaty enterd into force on February 5, 2011.

– edited from an article by James Oliphant and Michael Muskal in the Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2010
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2011

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queen_noor.jpg (2323 bytes)A royal widow takes on the militarists over nukes

Queen Noor al-Hussein, the dowager queen of Jordan since the death of her husband King Hussein in 1999, is debriefing arms negotiators and parleying with generals to perfect her nuclear weapons strategy. Her strategy is to get rid of them. The former Lisa Halaby, an American beauty whose storybook romance with her late husband captivated the world a generation ago, is now telling a story of nuclear calamity and how to avoid it. She is co-leader and omnipresent voice for Global Zero, a growing movement crusading for abolition of nuclear weapons. Her organization's study commission of former missile commanders, foreign and defense secretaries, arms control specialists and others has proposed a step-by-step, 20-year plan for eliminating all nuclear arms -- in the U.S., Russia, China, wherever.

"We recognize it could take much longer, that it's going to be a torturous road ahead," she said. But the road thus far for the two-year-old organization has been smooth and successful, judging from the "who's who" of world leadership climbing aboard its campaign wagon, some 200 names, from Mikhail Gorbachev and Jimmy Carter to a platoon of retired brass from the Pentagon and the Russian, Chinese and other militaries. Global Zero scored a coup in February when George P. Shultz, President Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, a gray eminence from the conservative heyday, took part in the organization's Paris "summit."

Queen Noor said she is most encouraged by the new U.S.-Russian arms reduction treaty and other "historic steps" taken by Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, who have jointly embraced a no-nukes goal. The Kremlin leader even works the term "global zero" into his rhetoric. "It's just so heartening to see the Russian and American presidents coming together and discussing these very difficult issues," she said in an interview.

Noor is a star-quality presence that is helping raise the abolition movement's profile. From her home and office in McLean, Virginia, she is deeply engaged in the issue, tackling questions about the esoterica of the nuclear age with gusto and with knowledge. She has clearly made it her mission to immerse herself in the world of doomsday weapons, learning from such old hands as Reagan arms negotiator Richard Burt, her co-leader of Global Zero.

Noor takes the militarists head on -- "those locked into a Cold War thought process." She stated, "Many will react skeptically, in a black-and-white fashion, to what we're saying, saying, 'So, you want the United States to give up all its weapons like that?' or, 'You expect Russia to abandon its arsenals?' No, it takes time," she said. "It's a step-by-step process, and we have laid out the phases under which that needs to take place."

Global Zero's process was conceived by a study commission counting among its 23 members a former U.S. Atlantic Command chief, an ex-head of Russian strategic forces, and a retired Chinese military strategist, along with other military, political and scientific luminaries from seven nuclear powers plus Japan and Germany. Their plan calls for the U.S. and Russia to negotiate deeper bilateral cuts in their arsenals, to 1,000 warheads each by 2018. Meanwhile, begin-ning in mid-decade, all other nuclear-armed nations for the first time would enter multilateral talks to reduce their arsenals in proportion to continuing U.S. and Russian cuts. All would reach zero by 2030.

The ambitious plan would require transparency, ironclad verification and on-site inspections without notice -- an intrusiveness the nuclear powers might resist. It would also seem to require a great easing of tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, for example, and for nuclear-armed Israel. Such factors make de-nuclearization unlikely for decades to come, many believe, among them apparently President Obama, who said his no-nukes goal "will not be reached quickly -- perhaps not in my lifetime."

Queen Noor and fellow campaigners place considerable hope in "Countdown to Zero," a documentary film premiering in U.S. theaters July 9. She said the movie, produced with Global Zero assistance, should help reach younger people who "probably haven't even seen the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and so they don't have any sense of the reality of what this is."

Global Zero recently delivered its declaration of commitment to work for a nuclear weapon-free world to the White House. More than 380,000 people worldwide have signed up online (See:

Noor, a past activist in campaigns against land mines and cluster bombs, is in the high-stakes planetary challenge for the long haul. "Wherever I can be useful to the movement, I'm there," she said.

– edited from The Associated Press, April 18, 2010
PeaceMeal, May/June 2010

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GOP attacks Obama's nuke policy, ignores Pentagon support

Robert G. Gard Jr.

A distressing trend has developed in the politicization of U.S. nuclear weapons policy: President Obama is criticized while the policies he is advancing enjoy the strong support of the Pentagon. The trend began in April 2009 when Obama delivered a speech in Prague calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Despite the fact that Ronald Reagan had the same objective, Obama was swiftly ridiculed on the right as "naive." The speech created an opening for all U.S. nuclear weapons policy to be similarly attacked in a larger effort to negatively brand the president's policies. By deliberately misrepresenting the facts, those criticisms play politics with our national security.

When the administration released its Nuclear Posture Review in April, it took no time for Sarah Palin to attack the policy, declaring, "No administration in America's history would, I think, ever have considered such a step that we just found out President Obama is supporting today." Her ridicule of the policy stands in stark contrast to what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said: "The review has the full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We believe it provides us and our field commanders the opportunity to better shape our nuclear weapons posture, policies and force structure to meet an ever-changing security environment."

This trend of dishonesty has continued with the "New START" treaty between the U.S. and Russia. John Bolton, George W. Bush's interim ambassador to the U.N., wasted no time assailing the agreement. Bolton argued that the president was heading off in some utopian new direction. In contrast, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who was also Bush's secretary of defense) declared: "The New START Treaty has the unanimous support of America's military leadership -- to include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of the service chiefs, and the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, the organization responsible for our nuclear deterrent."

Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard Jr. (U.S. Army, retired) is past president of the National Defense University.
His article is edited from McClatchy-Tribune News Service, May 20, 2010.
PeaceMeal, May/June 2010

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New START treaty might be finished in weeks

Russia stated on January 27 that negotiations on a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expired on December 5 could be finished in a matter of weeks. Progress has been made at high-level meetings in Moscow that involved U.S. national security adviser Gen. James Jones and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen and their Russian equivalents, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov. “The talks were successful, and as a result we can hope that it will take just a few weeks for negotiators to come up with a document,” he said.

Last summer, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that they had agreed to reduce their countries’ respective stockpiles of deployed strategic nuclear weapons to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads. The two nations are required under the 2002 Moscow Treaty to cut their arsenals to no more than 2,200 warheads by 2012.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had said in December that U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe were the main obstacle to reaching a new deal on reducing Cold War arsenals of nuclear weapons. Lyakin-Frolov said Washington should consider Moscow’s concerns regarding U.S. missile defense activities, though he indicated the replacement START accord might not cover the matter at great length. That issue could kill the deal, as the U.S. Senate would not be expected to sign off on a nuclear arms pact that also dealt significantly with missile defense.

One thing that is holding up treaty completion, Lyakin-Frolov suggested, is the matter of telemetry, in which a missile's launch and flight path is monitored from a distance. While the expired agreement obligated both countries to share their telemetry information, Moscow felt it received a bad bargain as it supplied the Pentagon with data on new Russian missiles while Washington only disclosed information on old missiles it was refurbishing because it was not developing any new missiles.

Verification protocols are the most contentious issue though, officials say, with Russia calling for something less stringent than what the old START agreement required.

The negotiations have been going on for 10 months, and more holdups in the negotiations could potentially hurt the chances for realization of a new treaty. Other nuclear-armed nations and states working toward that capability might also take away the wrong message from such delays. These worries have contributed to Russia and the United States shooting for a completed treaty before a Global Nuclear Security Summit is held in Washington in April. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it is “hard to make any predictions in terms of what a time line is, but I think we’re reasonably optimistic that the finish line is within sight.”

– edited from Global Security Newswire, January 27, 2010
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2010

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U.N. Security Council adopts measure on nuclear weapons

President Barack Obama presided over the United Nations Security Council on Sept. 24 as it unanimously passed a resolution aimed at shoring up the international commitment to limiting the spread of nuclear weapons, in particular halting the diversion of nuclear material for bomb development. The special session was only the fifth time that the Security Council had met at the summit level since the United Nations was founded after World War II, and Mr. Obama was the first U.S. president to preside over such a session. He and most of the other presidents and prime ministers at the session focused their brief remarks on their dreams for a world free of nuclear weapons.

President Nikolas Sarkozy of France, however, gave a forceful speech saying that despite such ideals, the Council had to confront the reality of two crises — that Iran and North Korea continued to flout resolutions seeking to limit their nuclear programs. “What these two nations are doing undermines the very rules on which our collective security is based,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “We must stop proliferation. That is what this resolution stipulates.”

The French president said that Iran had pursued nuclear proliferation activities in violation of five United Nations resolutions. “No one can seriously believe that the aims of these activities are peaceful,” he said. On the subject of North Korea, he said that for the past 20 years, Pyongyang had been developing nuclear missiles and exporting sensitive technology. He called on all nations to monitor and intercept illegal arms and nuclear exports from North Korea.

The United States, which put forth the resolution (No. 1887), said it was not focused on any country in particular. Rather, it was meant to produce a renewed international effort with an eye toward an international review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty next spring, as well as to finally win the passage of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Among other things, the resolution seeks to improve security around nuclear materials to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists; says the Security Council will act against those who provide such material to terrorists; and calls for efforts to strengthen the detection, deterrence and disruption of illegal trafficking in nuclear-related materials.

It also includes provisions that would continue to hold countries responsible for any actions that violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty even if they withdraw from it. That is an attempt to deter any such withdrawals, a step that was taken by North Korea several years ago.

Despite the show of unity behind the 15-0 vote, the arguments leading up to the resolution underscored the differences on the Council. China and Russia agreed to new Council sanctions against North Korea last June, but they have been less supportive in the council on action against Iran.

Mr. Obama said the resolution was about ensuring that international agreements have real-world heft. “International law is not an empty promise, and treaties must be enforced,” he said. Officials noted that the resolution is not binding, and would become so only if the Security Council required countries to take other steps, including making their nuclear exports subject to additional restrictions.

– edited from The New York Times, September 25, 2009
Peacemeal, Sept/October 2009

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U.S. and Russia announce deal on nuclear arms reduction

MOSCOW — Presidents of the United States and Russia announced July 6 that they had reached a preliminary agreement on cutting each country’s stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons. The “framework” agreement was put together by negotiators as President Obama arrived in Moscow for his first Russian-American summit meeting. Seeking to move forward on one of the most significant arms control treaties since the end of the Cold War, it was approved by Mr. Obama and Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev. Both sides say they hope that the nuclear agreement would effectively set the stage for a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), a Cold War-era pact that expires in December. Beyond that, they said they wanted to build momentum for a broader agreement to be negotiated starting next year to impose deeper cuts in their nuclear arsenals and put the world on a path toward eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.

The summit meeting comes almost a year after the armed conflict in the Republic of Georgia caused the worst tensions between the United States and Russia since the end of the Cold War. President Obama has said he wants to rebuild the relationship. He also announced an agreement to resume military-to-military contacts.

The specter of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and North Korea raised deep concerns, Mr. Obama said, and he called for the United States to host a summit meeting on global nuclear security next year. “We have a mutual interest in protecting both of our populations from the kinds of danger that weapons proliferation is presenting today,” he said.

Mr. Medvedev said that although Russia and the United States were trying to repair their relationship, differences still remained on missile defense and other issues. Russia has repeatedly objected to a U.S. anti-missile system based in Poland and the Czech Republic, which was initiated by the Bush administration to ward off an alleged threat from Iran. Russia views the system near its border as a threat to its security.

 “While the previous administration of the United States took a very hard-headed position on this issue,” Mr. Medvedev said, “the current administration is ready to discuss the topic. I think that we are fully able to find a reasonable solution here.” And while Mr. Obama is not enthusiastic about the system, he has not abandoned it and is awaiting a review by his advisers. In the meantime, he has resisted linking the missile defense system to the nuclear arms reduction negotiations.

The nuclear arms framework document sets the parameters for talks through the end of this year, according to officials. Negotiators are to be instructed to craft a treaty that would cut each side’s strategic warheads operationally deployed on ballistic missiles and bombers to between 1,500 and 1,675, down from the limit of 2,200 slated to take effect in 2012 under the Treaty of Moscow signed by President George W. Bush. The limit on delivery vehicles would be cut to between 500 and 1,100 from the 1,600 currently allowed under START. The countries would be required to meet the limits in the treaty within seven years, officials said. Perhaps more important than the specific limits would be a revised and extended verification system that otherwise would expire with START in December.

The United States currently deploys an estimated minimum of 2,200 strategic thermonuclear warheads, all of which are dangerously on high-alert to launch on warning. While the number of deployed Russian strategic warheads is not known, the Arms Control Association estimated it between 2,000 and 3,000. Both sides also have thousands more warheads that are not covered in the treaty discussions — strategic warhead reserves, many of which can be put into action within a few days, and smaller, tactical nukes that can be delivered by cruise missiles or fighter jets.

– edited from The New York Times, July 6, 2009
PeaceMeal, July/August 2009

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)