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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Greg Thielmann

ACA Senior Fellow Speaks at U.S.-Brazilian Workshop in Brazil

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Defining the Ideal Relationship between our Countries and Looking to Areas of Misunderstanding and Disagreement

Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association
at U.S.-Brazillian Workshop on Global and Regional Security
Brasilia, Brazil
August 13-14, 2012

I wanted to begin this scene-setter by giving you a little more information on my personal background.

I grew up in the farming state of Iowa, deep in the interior of the United States.  It’s sort of like the Brazilian state of Goias, but there’s no samba music on the radio, no cafezinho in the cafes, and no Southern Cross in the night sky.

However, every time I fly home from Washington in recent years, I arrive on an Embraer aircraft.  And the farmers in Iowa worry about competition from Brazilian farmers in marketing soybean and ethanol – more evidence that our two countries are important to each other.

Most of my professional career in the U.S. Foreign Service and later as a staffer in the U.S. Senate has involved arms control and other political-military issues, but my first and last diplomatic assignments were to serve as a political officer of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia.

In the course of these two tours, I experienced the U.S.-Brazilian relationship near its nadir, during the dictatorship of General Geisel as President Carter was pushing on human rights and nonproliferation.  I’ve also seen the relationship at one of the high points – when Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Bill Clinton found common cause on a wide variety of issues, benefitting from good personal chemistry as well as converging national interests.

I confess to being heavily influenced by the recipe used to make progress in U.S.-Brazilian relations during my second tour between 1995 and 1998.  I believe that progress continues to be made, although it is still burdened by some legacies of the past as well as by natural differences of perspective.  Before I get to specifics, I will offer two sweeping generalizations:

  • The U.S. public is raised on the notion of “American exceptionalism,” which assumes a different standard for U.S. conduct in the world as superpower and “indispensible” nation than is expected from other countries.  The United States Government has a tendency to expect friends to be subservient and follow its lead.
  • For its part, the Brazilian Government still has a tendency to define its own independence and greatness in contradistinction to the policies and characteristics of the United States.  And Brazil resists the international obligations that the world needs it to accept if the challenges of the future are to be successfully managed.

As with any two large nations, the United States and Brazil have divergent as well as common interests.  This is true with security as well as with trade and environmental issues, as can be seen in the case of nuclear arms control.

My point of departure on this subject is the historic Prague speech of President Obama in April 2009.   Key to his message was his assessment that: “the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up.”  His famous and consequential punchline was: “I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”  In operationalizing this aspiration, he listed specific policy objectives:

-- reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy;

-- negotiating a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia;

-- “aggressively pursuing” ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; and

-- seeking “a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons.”

I’m sure the Brazilian government could enthusiastically embrace the disarmament commitments in this portion of the speech, no doubt noting that since giving it, Obama has not been able to convince the U.S. Congress to move forward on some of the fronts he articulated.

But then Obama turned to the other part of the bargain made by the parties signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)--that states without nuclear weapons would agree not to acquire them and not help other countries to acquire them.  He called for additional resources to strengthen international inspections, for insuring that there are real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules, and for building a new collaborative framework for civilian nuclear cooperation.  Finally, Obama announced a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years, cutting in half the length of time previously planned, and to build on efforts to break up black markets in nuclear materials, detect and intercept materials in transit, and use financial tools to disrupt the illicit nuclear trade.

Brazil has been less enthusiastic embracing the nonproliferation side of the ledger, as it is still chafing from the “discriminatory” nature of the NPT.  Brazil demonstrated its potential to help with the process of diplomatically engaging the recalcitrant Iranians in negotiating with Turkey the Tehran Declaration of 2010.  But in the end, it failed to address Iran’s 20 percent uranium enrichment activities, which threatened to render meaningless the Tehran Research Reactor fuel swap offer from the previous year.  That deal was ultimately rejected by Tehran’s leadership.  The fuel swap would have been an important confidence-building measure, but it was never intended to resolve the core issue – Iran’s failure to comply fully with IAEA safeguards.  It was Iran’s compliance shortfall, which prompted the UN Security Council to overwhelmingly endorse stricter sanctions against Iran at the beginning of June 2010.  Brazil and Turkey cast the only “no” votes, diluting the potential political impact on Iran that a unanimous vote would have delivered.  Even Lebanon, with Hezbollah members in the governing coalition, managed at least to abstain.

Brazil’s program for domestic uranium enrichment has also led to nonproliferation concerns--not so much that Brazil is suspected of any longer harboring nuclear weapons ambitions, but that it is not setting a good example for other non-nuclear-weapon-state members of the NPT.  A substantial majority of NPT members, over a hundred, have signed the Additional Protocol to the treaty, which provides enhanced safeguards against the diversion of peaceful programs.  Brazil has not signed--giving encouragement to the refusal of other states, like Iran and Syria, whose nuclear activities are very much suspected of being intended to create the capacity to build nuclear weapons.  As Maria Rost Rublee wrote in a 2010 Nonproliferation Review article, Brazil’s opposition to the Additional Protocol complicates the efforts of the Nuclear Supplier Group to use adherence to the procedures as a criterion for “responsible countries” in order for them to be considered as recipients of enrichment and reprocessing technologies.  Rublee also notes that Brazil’s rejection of full visual inspection by the IAEA in order to protect “proprietary information,” sets an unfortunate precedent that could also be exploited by proliferators.

In similar fashion, Brazil’s plans to build and deploy six nuclear-powered submarines complicates international efforts to monitor and control the production of uranium enriched to levels in excess of that needed to fuel civilian power reactors.  That the NPT permits members to enrich uranium even to weapons grade levels for the purpose of fueling naval reactors is widely considered a loophole in the treaty, because it could enable non-nuclear-weapon states to legitimately stockpile material that would constitute the most difficult prerequisite for being able to quickly build a nuclear bomb.  Iran’s announcement in June that it intended to build nuclear-powered submarines set off alarm bells for just this reason.  Han Ruehle, a former head of the German Defense Ministry’s Planning Staff, articulated the suspicion clearly, recently describing Iran’s announcement as: “just a pretext to enrich weapons-grade uranium the legal way,” adding: “Its role model is Brazil.”

I would argue, by the way, that Brazil’s pursuit of nuclear-powered submarines is the outdated legacy of Brazil’s previous pursuit of nuclear weapons options and is now driven by mistaken considerations of national and military service prestige rather than by contemporary military necessity.  Carlo Patti’s 2010 article about Lula’s nuclear policies in Revista Brasileira de Politica Internacional referred to Brazil’s two “traditional goals: the national industrial enrichment of uranium and the construction of a nuclear submarine.”  In 2008, a top Brazilian general, Jose Benedito de Barros Moreira, described the development of a nuclear submarine as “Brazil’s number one military priority.”

I do not understand this logic.  Canada and Australia both have enormous maritime boundaries and abundant natural resources to protect, but both opted out of developing or otherwise acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.  So did Japan, which, unlike Brazil, faces large potential threats from its immediate neighbors.  If Brazil worries about invasion or interference in its maritime economic zone, I would think that the 20 modern conventional submarines Brazil plans to have would provide more effective deterrence than six nuclear-powered ones.

A senior Iranian official visiting Syria last week hailed the governments in Damascus and Tehran as part of the “axis of resistance.”  I have an allergy to simplistic designations of “axes” – whether of “resistance” or of “evil.”  I do not worry that Brazil will lose its bearings as a responsible and democratic nation.  And I welcome Brazil’s willingness to take the United States to task for its failures to live up to its own stated commitments and values.  I do hope, however, that our two countries will not interpret encountering policy differences as a “zero-sum” game, but rather as recognition that even friends sometimes disagree on the best way to achieve national goals both hold in common.

I am inspired by the critical help rendered by Brazil during my second tour here – for example, in advancing peace talks between Peru and Ecuador, which ultimately ended South America’s last major border dispute.  I was impressed during my second tour how Brazil’s introduction of a simple but rugged voting machine virtually ended voting fraud in this country, with enormous applications for fostering good governance in the developing world.   More recently, I’ve noticed how the performance of Brazil’s peacekeepers in Haiti won deep respect.

I foresee huge opportunities for bilateral cooperation in environmental pursuits – from securing and maintaining the health of the Amazon basin to mitigating growth in the planet’s carbon output through cultivation of renewable energy resources.

I look for constructive international initiatives by a country, which is renowned for the historic success of its diplomacy and the skill of its diplomats.

I expect Brazil to prosper not only in agriculture, mining and manufacturing, but in the new high tech industries of the future as well.  And I expect an increasingly prosperous Brazil to contribute its share to the international organizations, which will be increasingly important for maintaining peace and facilitating international cooperation.

I look for Brazilian contributions in developing successful approaches to combating epidemics and controlling tropical diseases.

I look for better exploitation of one of planet’s best locations for a spaceport –Alcântara, Maranhão – using both foreign and Brazilian space launch vehicles in a cooperative international framework.

I also believe that Brazil will eventually join an expanded UN Security Council as a permanent member.

So I’ve offered some views by one North American on how working constructively together on security issues could benefit the bilateral relationship.  I’m eager to hear other perspectives.

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Prepared remarks by ACA Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann at Brookings on August 13-14, 2012 on "Defining the Ideal Relationship between our Countries and Looking to Areas of Misunderstanding and Disagreement," at a U.S.-Brazillian workshop in Brasilia, Brazil

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Submarine Nuclear Reactors: A Worsening Proliferation Challenge

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July 26, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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A long submerged flaw in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) surfaced conspicuously in June when Iran announced it intended to build a nuclear-powered submarine. The treaty does not ban a non-nuclear weapons state's production of weapons-grade uranium if it is to be used to power a naval reactor.

What many now consider a proliferation loophole in the NPT was first seen as theoretical because only nuclear weapons states had nuclear-powered submarines when the treaty was negotiated. Now, as more and more countries initiate or announce intentions to initiate nuclear-powered submarine programs, this excuse for enriching uranium to levels beyond the needs of civilian power reactors intensifies the challenge of achieving U.S. nonproliferation goals.

The United States should adjust its policy by: 1) choosing a reactor for the Ohio-class SSBN follow-on that does not require weapons-grade fuel and 2) pushing for multilateral action to close or at least narrow the NPT loophole that allows for non-nuclear weapons states to produce highly enriched uranium for naval reactors.

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A long submerged flaw in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) surfaced conspicuously in June when Iran announced it intended to build a nuclear-powered submarine. The treaty does not ban a non-nuclear weapons state's production of weapons-grade uranium if it is to be used to power a naval reactor.

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Iran Nuclear Negotiations: What's Next After Moscow?

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June 28, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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On June 19, Iran concluded the third round of talks on its nuclear program in as many months, this time in Moscow, with senior officials of the six powers - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China. Although there were strong incentives for the six to secure limits on Iran's most worrisome stockpiles of enriched uranium and for Iran to avoid an impending tightening of economic sanction, no breakthrough was achieved by the end of the latest round. But neither did diplomatic dialogue come to an end. The sides reached agreement to meet again at a technical level within two weeks in Istanbul, to be followed by renewed contact between the senior negotiators. With perseverance from the parties, the ongoing talks can mark the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end of chances for ultimate resolution.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.

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On June 19, Iran concluded the third round of talks on its nuclear program in as many months, this time in Moscow, with senior officials of the six powers - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China. Although there were strong incentives for the six to secure limits on Iran's most worrisome stockpiles of enriched uranium and for Iran to avoid an impending tightening of economic sanction, no breakthrough was achieved by the end of the latest round. But neither did diplomatic dialogue come to an end.

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Books of Note

Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Lessons from the Cold War for a New Era of Strategic Piracy

Thérèse Delpech, RAND, 2012, 181 pp.

Greg Thielmann

In this concise but comprehensive volume, the late Thérèse Delpech explores strategic nuclear concepts in light of historical experience, reopening some assumptions that have long gone unchallenged. The book begins with the argument that a renewed intellectual effort is needed to understand the “second nuclear age,” emerging in the late 1990s following four decades of bipolar nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. It then deconstructs such pillars of Cold War nuclear strategy as “extended deterrence,” “mutual assured destruction,” and “parity.” Delpech chronicles a long list of nuclear crises, incorporating recent revelations from declassified archives. These range from citing President Dwight Eisenhower’s authorization of preparations to use nuclear weapons against China in 1958 during the second Taiwan Strait crisis to examining the four times President Richard Nixon said he had considered using nuclear weapons during his administration. She then draws historical lessons about the nature of deterrence, such as “superiority is not the decisive factor” and “participants are never in full control of events.” In exploring “the age of small powers,” Delpech concentrates on Iran and North Korea, but also discusses Pakistan and Syria, delivering a pessimistic prognosis on handling each of the four. Finally, she plows new ground in describing challenges from the two “contested global commons” of space and cyberspace. Although readers may reach different conclusions on various aspects of her analysis, few would challenge the rigorous approach Delpech has taken in raising the critical questions—a fitting final tribute to one of France’s foremost international security thinkers.

 


 

Sanctions, Statecraft, and Nuclear Proliferation

Etel Solingen, ed., Cambridge University Press, 2012, 402 pp.

Kelsey Davenport

This four-part compilation seeks to influence the debate on the efficacy of sanctions as a mechanism for curbing nuclear proliferation by expanding the discussion to include an examination of the role that positive inducements played in the decisions of certain states on whether to pursue nuclear weapons programs. The first section provides an overview of sanctions and positive inducements. Included is a chapter by Celia L. Reynolds and Wilfred T. Wan that presents a valuable empirical analysis of unilateral and multilateral actions taken by countries to curb nuclear proliferation. To create this comprehensive profile, the authors examined sanctions and inducements directed at Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea from 1990 to 2009. The second part of the book examines the different mechanisms through which sanctions and inducements affect a regime’s decision to pursue or abandon nuclear weapons programs. Daniel W. Drezner makes a compelling argument against so-called targeted sanctions, which seek to pressure regime supporters while minimizing humanitarian suffering. He argues in favor of an “eclectic approach” whereby policymakers consider “multiple causal pathways” and take into consideration potential unintended negative effects when crafting sanctions. He presents nine mechanisms through which more-comprehensive sanctions could pressure a regime to alter national policy. In-depth case studies on the role of sanctions and positive inducements in Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea are presented in part three. In the final section, Etel Solingen synthesizes the overarching policy implications of the previous sections’ conclusions on sanctions and inducements and identifies areas for further research.

Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Lessons from the Cold War for a New Era of Strategic Piracy

Thérèse Delpech, RAND, 2012, 181 pp.

 

Sanctions, Statecraft, and Nuclear Proliferation

Etel Solingen, ed., Cambridge University Press, 2012, 402 pp.

ACA Senior Fellow speaks at Brookings on Missile Defense

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Missile Defense: Cooperation or Contention?  Ballistic Missile Threats to NATO and U.S. Response

Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association
Brookings, Washington, D.C.
May 17, 2012

Now that NATO has achieved the first tangible step toward the missile defense goals it established at Lisbon, I want to take a close look at the threat that inspired it.

Missile Threat and Missile Defense Response Not New

The threat to NATO Europe and to the U.S. mainland from ballistic missile attack by hostile countries is hardly new.  It existed throughout most of the Cold War.  The U.S. twice adopted programs to provide for defense of its population from missile attack, and twice abandoned this objective.

Cost-benefit analysis showed that such defenses could be defeated by relatively inexpensive counter-measures and proliferation of warheads.  The Nixon administration also realized that limiting Soviet defenses by treaty would head off a potential threat to the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.  For three decades, the 1972 ABM Treaty limited the number and location of strategic ballistic missile defenses and prohibited deployments designed to defend the national territory.

The New Threat

There was, of course, a new ballistic missile threat that arose in the late 1990s -- from newly emerging states of proliferation concern.  At the top of our list, were North Korea, Iran, and Iraq – later dubbed “the axis of evil” by the George W. Bush administration.  The 1998 Rumsfeld Commission on the Foreign Ballistic Missile Threat had identified each country as being capable of building an ICBM within five years of a decision to do so.  A 1999 National Intelligence Estimate projected that North Korea would test an ICBM by the end of that year, and that within the next 15 years, North Korea, probably Iran, and possibly Iraq would pose an ICBM threat.

Amplified by a North Korean satellite launch attempt in 1998, these grim assessments created a political tidal wave that profoundly affected the course of U.S. strategic and arms control policies for years to come.

In the Missile Defense Act of 1999, the U.S. Congress committed the nation to “deploying an effective national missile defense system (against a limited missile attack) as soon as technologically possible.” In the wake of 9/11, President Bush secured strategic missile defense procurement and accelerated deployment.  He also announced U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and voiced a commitment to activate strategic defenses by 2004.

In providing more than $8 billion per year over the last decade, the Congress has not challenged the dubious technological premises of the strategic missile defense program, which have been exposed in numerous studies.  (For example: by the GAO (Government Accountability Office); the National Academy of Sciences; the Defense Science Board; the Pentagon’s own Director for Operational Test and Evaluation.)

It’s all about us

For many members of the U.S. Congress, missile defenses in Europe are “all about us,” and based on an ahistorical understanding of the offense-defense relationship and a superficial analysis of actual threats.

Declining Threat

In spite of the ubiquitous rhetoric about the “growing ballistic missile threat,” the threat posed by Moscow has actually decreased dramatically from its Cold War peak and the large ballistic missile inventories of the Warsaw Pact Allies are gone.  Also gone are the fears of Iraqi nuclear-tipped ICBMs appearing by the end of this decade.  As for North Korea, it has just suffered the fourth consecutive long-range missile launch failure over a 14-year period.  It will be years before North Korea poses a direct threat to the U.S. continent – or to Europe.

And let us not forget the end of the missile threat from Libya, the only country, which ever launched a ballistic missile attack on a NATO member.

Iran

The only country that could pose a new potential missile threat to Europe in the foreseeable future is Iran.  Although it has demonstrated satellite launch capabilities, it hasn’t yet conducted any long-range missile flight tests and is not likely to have an operational ICBM before 2020.

Iran is currently concentrating on medium- and short-range missiles.  Their presumed targets would be Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, or U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Without nuclear warheads, or improved guidance systems, Iranian missiles pose a very limited threat to military bases, oil facilities, and cities in the region, and virtually no threat to specific point targets like the Israeli nuclear reactor at Dimona.  Against short- and medium-range missiles with conventional warheads, missile defenses can limit damage and casualties and, even if technically deficient, can provide a psychological boost to threatened populations.

Strategic/Non-Strategic Missile Defense Distinction

There is an important distinction between strategic and non-strategic missile defenses.  For strategic, successful intercepts are much harder; the consequences of failure much more catastrophic; and the impact on strategic arms control often fatal.

Once upon a time, Washington and Moscow took great pains to differentiate these categories.  U.S. and Russian delegations even negotiated language in an ABM Treaty protocol in 1997 demarking the boundary between the two.

For proponents of strategic missile defenses, there was a reason to blur the distinction.  Conflating “strategic” with “theater” prejudiced the ABM Treaty, obscuring the fact that most of the things we wanted to do to defend against actual rogue state missile threats were already permitted by the treaty.

Theater and Tactical Missile Defenses Beneficial

This ancient history is relevant to our discussion this morning because the tactical and theater missile defenses NATO is deploying benefit Europe without damaging arms control.  Patriots, THAADs, and SM-3 Bloc I interceptors correspond to the threat NATO faces and the potential threat on the horizon.  While some of the locations for basing these systems may be politically unpalatable to Moscow, they are not militarily threatening.

The mobile and networked anti-ICBM capabilities intended for EPAA phase 4 are another matter.  And when U.S. officials reaffirm our commitment to timely deployment of all four phases, it raises questions about whether the schedule would really be adapted to any diminution of the threat.

I’m concerned about NATO heading into a cul-de-sac with plans for achieving full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces.”

Historical Rhyme

This language takes me back to my days in high school.  In 1967, Secretary of Defense McNamara announced plans for building the Sentinel ABM system, to protect the U.S. population from the emerging nuclear threat of a rogue and unpredictable China.  Sentinel lasted 18 months, before being replaced by the Nixon administration’s Safeguard ABM system, oriented toward the protection of U.S. ICBM sites from counterforce attack.

Safeguard used the same interceptors and the same radars as Sentinel, but the new U.S. administration had changed the ABM mission, virtually overnight from population protection to ICBM protection, and the target set from a small number of unsophisticated future Chinese missiles to the enormous ICBM/SLBM arsenal of the superpower Soviet Union.

Now fast forward.  The Republican candidate in our current presidential race, who opposed the New START treaty and still regards it as a mistake, has just asserted that Russia is “without question, our number one geopolitical foe.”  Senator Kyl, the GOP’s leading spokesman on strategic issues said this week that: “The Obama administration should make no pledge that would pre-empt a U.S.-led shield capable of thwarting any missile ‘that might be launched at us,’ not just an accidental launch or one from a nation like Iran or North Korea.”

We have another potential change in administrations coming.  How should Moscow evaluate U.S. assurances on missile defense in Europe?

With that rhetorical question hanging, I will yield the mic to David [Hoffman].

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Prepared remarks by ACA Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann at Brookings on May 17, 2012 on "Missile Defense: Cooperation or Contention?  Ballistic Missile Threats to NATO and U.S. Response."


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Long-Range Ballistic Missile Development: A Tale of Two Tests

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May 10, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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North Korea's failed attempt to launch a satellite from its Unha-3 space rocket on April 13 and India's successful flight test of the Agni-5 long-range missile on April 19 marked significant events in the ballistic missile development programs of the two countries. These two ballistic missile test events not only reveal technical information about system performance, but also invite reflection on U.S. policy responses.  

The demonstration of North Korean failure and Indian success is only the most readily accessible feature of the story. The broader implications for U.S. nonproliferation and security policies are more complicated and less obvious. Both cases imply U.S. failure to accurately assess threats and to adopt appropriate responses for mitigating those threats.

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North Korea's failed attempt to launch a satellite from its Unha-3 space rocket on April 13 and India's successful flight test of the Agni-5 long-range missile on April 19 marked significant events in the ballistic missile development programs of the two countries. These two ballistic missile test events not only reveal technical information about system performance, but also invite reflection on U.S. policy responses.

Op-Ed: Opponents of Nuclear Cuts Misread Trends

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By Greg Thielmann

The following piece was originally published in Roll Call on April 18, 2012.

The press recently reported that the Pentagon is preparing options for President Barack Obama as part of the Nuclear Posture Review implementation study. The mere notion of restructuring U.S. nuclear forces unleashed panicked reactions from Capitol Hill’s most ardent nuclear weapons enthusiasts.

With the president reaffirming in his visit to South Korea that he will seek to negotiate further reductions, the pro-nuclear camp will be up in arms. It shouldn’t be.

U.S. security will only be improved by further reductions. For the most part, opponents of nuclear cuts focus their concerns on Russia, but they have difficulty figuring out how to characterize the Russian threat more than 20 years after the end of the Cold War. In one moment, they cite Moscow’s surly rhetoric and stated intention of reinvesting in Russia’s strategic defense budget. In the next breath, they dismiss arms control efforts as unnecessary in light of Russia’s decline and as irrelevant for addressing more urgent threats from China, North Korea and Iran.

Policymakers need to engage in a serious discussion about what the U.S. nuclear arsenal can and should deter, but smart planning should be grounded in the reality that the U.S.-Russia relationship, while contentious, is no longer the zero-sum game of a prior era.

A prerequisite for that overdue debate is a sober and realistic accounting of the existing balance of forces — a process fiercely resisted by devotees of nuclear weaponry. Thirty-four Members of the House wrote to Obama, warning of “the growth in quantity and quality of nuclear weapons capabilities in Russia, the People’s Republic of China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and, perhaps soon the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

They declined to provide a time frame for this alleged “growth,” no doubt because the reduction in Russian forces during recent years has actually led to an overall reduction in the number of nuclear weapons possessed by America’s potential enemies.

In an attempt at resuscitating a debate he lost in 2010, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) declared in February that “Not a country in the world has reduced warheads since the signing of the New [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] except the United States,” but the latest data exchanged under the treaty shows a March 1 Russian warhead number lower than the initial count one year earlier — already below the New START limit. The U.S. remained 187 warheads above the limit.

Of course, any consideration of U.S. nuclear policy should start with an evaluation of Russian trends because the nuclear forces controlled by Moscow dwarf those of all other nuclear weapons states, except our own. Such consideration reveals a continuing decline from the enormous arsenal Moscow inherited from the Soviet Union.

While both parties are obligated to reduce operational warhead levels further before the New START’s 1,550 ceiling goes into effect in 2018, many U.S. and Russian experts predict that Russia’s actual warhead count may fall significantly below that. This is a trend we should encourage.

Rather than giving Russia an incentive to rebuild its nuclear forces after their numerical decline, it is in America’s security interest to safely follow a similar path, seizing the opportunity to eliminate unnecessary U.S. nuclear forces and using the savings to provide a boon to America’s fragile economic recovery.

The anxious Representatives’ letter also warned of China’s “ambitious” nuclear program. But China fields about 50 warheads on intercontinental systems, compared with the 1,737 deployed by the United States — a roughly 35-to-1 ratio. And China has no intercontinental bombers, no adequate strategic warning and no multiple warheads on its ballistic missiles.

An objective look at the nuclear balance and the narrowed function of nuclear weapons should lead to a number of important changes, including eliminating categories of targets only appropriate for nuclear war-fighting rather than deterrence and easing requirements for rapid launch capabilities, thus removing pressure on national command authorities to make hasty decisions.

Empowered with updated and modernized guidance, American planners can significantly reduce the number of weapons in the nuclear arsenal, both enhancing U.S. national security and saving billions of tax dollars in the bargain.

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The press recently reported that the Pentagon is preparing options for President Barack Obama as part of the Nuclear Posture Review implementation study. The mere notion of restructuring U.S. nuclear forces unleashed panicked reactions from Capitol Hill’s most ardent nuclear weapons enthusiasts.

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The Breakout Option: Raising the Bar for the Supreme Leader

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April 5, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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The U.S. intelligence community still assesses that Tehran has not yet actually decided to build a nuclear weapon. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be the one to give that order and the one who would control the weapons. It is therefore worth pondering what steps could discourage him from proceeding down the nuclear weapons path.

If Khamenei's foremost goals are the survival of the Islamic Republic with himself as supreme leader, developing nuclear capabilities may be seen an asset, even with the damaging sanctions that result. By positioning himself as a defiant defender of Iranian nuclear progress against foreign bullying, he can reinforce the domestic legitimacy of the clerical regime.

If he came to believe that Iran could forestall continuing economic punishment and eventual military attack only by abject capitulation, he might decide that breaking out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to build a bomb would be the preferred path for restoring Iran's international position and securing the Islamic revolution.

The challenge for the United States is to devise policies that would make it as difficult as possible for Khamenei to retain domestic support and international sympathy if he were to go for a bomb.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.

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The U.S. intelligence community still assesses that Tehran has not yet actually decided to build a nuclear weapon. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be the one to give that order and the one who would control the weapons. It is therefore worth pondering what steps could discourage him from proceeding down the nuclear weapons path.

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ACA Senior Fellow speaks about Territorial Missile Defense at Paris Conference

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Territorial Missile Defense and
Reassurance of Flank States

Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association

IFSH/IRIS/BASIC/ACA Conference
“NATO’s Future Deterrence Posture: What Can Nuclear Weapons Contribute?”
Paris, France
March 6, 2012

The Lisbon Summit Declaration of November 2010 included a decision “to develop a NATO missile defence capability to provide full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces…”  And it invited Russian cooperation in this task.  The stated target of these systems was “the increasing threats posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles.”

Evolution of U.S. Missile Defense Objectives

I am going to begin with some blunt talk about the achievability of territorial defense against ballistic missile attack, based on the American experience.  The United States has, at various points, vigorously pursued such defenses.

Missile defense was first directed against Soviet attack; then it was reoriented as a defense against a much smaller Chinese attack; then population defense was dropped, in favor of defending ICBM fields.  The U.S.-Soviet ABM Treaty, signed in 1972, limited the number and location of such defenses and specifically prohibited deployments designed to provide defense of the national territory.   Although the U.S. “Safeguard” strategic missile defense system was compliant with that treaty, it was scrapped for cost-effectiveness reasons only nine months after becoming operational.

During his two terms as president, Ronald Reagan revived America’s interest in missile defense with his dream of “rendering ballistic missiles impotent and obsolete.”   Reagan launched his “Strategic Defense Initiative” in 1983 and promised the exploitation of new technologies, including the use of exotic space-based weapons.

His administration buttressed its case for the weapons by pointing to Soviet violations of the ABM Treaty and by portraying Soviet missile defense research and development efforts as evidence that the Soviets were themselves preparing to break out of the treaty.

Soviet Missile Defenses

For their part, the Soviets had long sought to defend their capital and national leadership against U.S. air attack – targeting first bombers, and later ballistic missiles.  In the 1960s, they began deploying a ring of strategic missile interceptors with nuclear warheads around Moscow.  Yet they never succeeded in creating a reliable and effective missile defense; U.S. warheads and the options for countermeasures were too numerous and the radars on which the Moscow system relied too vulnerable.  The Reagan administration’s depiction of Soviet R&D development efforts on energy weapons turned out to be greatly exaggerated.  Moreover, when the Soviets were caught building the Krasnoyarsk radar – a major, albeit technical, treaty violation – they were ultimately forced to dismantle it.

A vestige of Moscow’s ABM system remains to this day, but the Russian Federation is now far behind in strategic missile defense technology and harbors few illusions about the feasibility of territorial defense against ballistic missile attack.

America Keeping the Faith

Not so the United States.  America retains its faith-based approach to strategic missile defense.  Having invested well over $100 billion since Reagan launched what critics dubbed “Star Wars,” total expenditures for missile defenses over the last decade have been running roughly $10 billion per year, even though the stated mission objective is now confined to dealing with “simple” ballistic threats from newly emerging, nuclear weapons states.  The Reagan era program was downgraded under the presidencies of the elder George (H.W.) Bush, and Bill Clinton, who limited yearly expenditures to around $1 billion.

But an alarmist report by the Rumsfeld Commission on ballistic missile threats in 1998 and an attempted satellite launch by North Korea using a three-staged rocket a few months later had a huge impact on public and congressional perceptions.  By March 1999, the U.S. Congress had passed a bill by large margins in both houses, declaring it to be the policy of the United States “to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack.”  Three consecutive U.S. presidents have now embraced this policy.

In the year 2000, President Clinton judged the technology not sufficiently ripe for deployment, but that turned out to be merely a bump in the road toward implementation of a territorial missile defense policy.  Ready or not, the new administration of George W. Bush wasted no time in withdrawing from the ABM Treaty and deploying the first strategic missile defense interceptors in Alaska and California by the fall of 2004.

It is important to note that the threat against which these strategic missile defenses were developed has not materialized.  The Rumsfeld Commission predicted that Iraq, North Korea, and Iran could each have ICBMs by 2003, but nine years later, none of them do.

Where are the ICBMs? -- In Russia and China, of course!

Not in Iraq.  Saddam’s ballistic missile threat had already been cut short by the First Gulf War.  Even before the March 2003 invasion, Saddam was being forced to destroy the most capable ballistic missiles left in his inventory – the short-range  al-Samouds.

Not in North Korea.  The DPRK has conducted two flight tests of the Taepo Dong 2 ICBM class system.  The first flight in 2006 failed shortly after launch.  An attempt to launch a satellite with the same booster rockets failed in 2009.  Last week, North Korea announced agreement to a moratorium on further long-range missile launches.

Not in Iran. The Islamic Republic has not yet conducted any flight tests of an ICBM.  Senior U.S. military officials have indicated Iran is currently concentrating on development and deployment of medium-range ballistic missiles with ranges of roughly 2,000 km.  Iran’s last MRBM test occurred more than one year ago.

Current ballistic missile threats from hostile proliferants come not from long-range systems, but from those with ranges below 3,000 km.  Theater ballistic missile defenses are potentially useful against such shorter-range missiles topped with high explosives – to mitigate losses to civilian populations, military forces, and infrastructure – but they do not affect the strategic balance.

Opportunity Costs

Unfortunately, U.S. determination to protect the option of deploying strategic ballistic missile defenses of the national territory, has not only diverted attention from acute threats to U.S. forces and regional allies, it has also carried heavy opportunity costs.  The United States missed two chances to negotiate significant cuts in strategic offensive arms – with the Soviet Union at Reykjavik in 1987 and, with Russia in the late 1990s during efforts to bring START II into effect.  Depending on how we handle missile defenses in the months ahead, we may be on the verge of missing a third chance.

I’ve tried to be frank in describing the nature of the ballistic missile threat we face, taking note of the exaggerations that plague our public discussion of the issue.  I must be equally frank in acknowledging that delusional thinking about strategic missile defense is now deeply engrained in U.S. declaratory policy and public consciousness.

Articles of Faith

The Missile Defense Act of 1999 remains our political charter, even if its evidentiary foundations are built on sand.  Domestic political dynamics are conspiring against rational course correction.

Opponents of New START ratification found missile defense an effective line of attack against the treaty.  Even the treaty’s recognition of “the interrelationship between strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms,” was depicted as a shameful concession to Russian negotiators.

Every defense policy shift or budget reduction is now judged by according to whether it implies a failure of commitment to the cause of strategic missile defense.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney last week accused President Obama of just such a failure.

But would they work?

Last October, Secretary of Defense Panetta referred to the existing strategic missile defense system as “very remarkable.”  Senior military figures have joined the official chorus attesting to its effectiveness against future Iranian or North Korean missiles.

Yet none of the ongoing tests of these systems have occurred under operationally realistic conditions. U.S. intelligence officials have acknowledged that any state capable of building an ICBM can also build simple decoys to spoof missile defenses.  But U.S. strategic missile defenses have never demonstrated the ability to discriminate decoys and other clutter.  The Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation reported in January: “To date [the system] has demonstrated a limited capability against a simple threat.”  He also noted that the last two flight tests had failed.  The last successful test under carefully controlled conditions was in 2008; the next test has been postponed to allow for causes of the last failure to be addressed.

Russian Concerns

Moscow does not seem particularly troubled by the 30 U.S.-based strategic interceptors.  However, the advanced Aegis systems planned for the later phases of Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach have caused acute concerns.  Whether real or feigned, Russia has reacted with alarm to the prospect of seeing European-based and highly mobile strategic interceptors on its periphery by the end of the decade.

Moscow has demanded legal assurances that U.S. missile defenses are not intended to threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent.  For the reasons to which I alluded, such formal assurances have not been forthcoming, and if they were, they would probably be rejected by the Senate.

Presidential campaigns in the United States and Russia have not created a propitious climate for reaching political compromise.  But it may yet be possible to secure agreement on a blueprint for cooperation prior to NATO’s Chicago Summit in May.  The more cooperation that can be achieved, the less threatening U.S. missile defenses will seem to the Russians.

DDPR

NATO’s upcoming Deterrence and Defense Posture Review provides an opportunity for progress.  Several of you were involved in drafting a joint letter to NATO Secretary General Rasmussen last July.  Among other things, the letter suggested the DDPR reiterate NATO’s assurance that its current and future missile defense capabilities are not “targeted” at Russia’s strategic forces and that NATO member state missile interceptor deployments would be designed and configured to address third party missile threats as they emerge.  Such a written assurance could form the basis of a missile defense cooperation framework.

There have been a number of creative ideas for making cooperation concrete.  A Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative (EASI) Working Group chaired by former senior officials of the United States, Russia, and Germany, have recommended pooling and sharing data and information from early-warning radars and satellites in Cooperation Centers staffed by U.S., NATO, and Russian officers working together.  The latest issue of Arms Control Today features in its cover story a proposal by Dean Wilkening to build a joint ballistic missile early warning radar in central Russia.

Guidelines to Consider

Let me end by listing my own conclusions on the subject of our panel.

All NATO states have enormous stakes in the success of U.S.-Russian negotiations to further reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles.  U.S. missile defense forces are more likely to be an obstacle rather than an inducement to Russian movement in the desired direction.

Russia’s attitude is not pathological.  Russia is doing what the United States did when the tables were reversed.  During the Cold War, U.S. fears about Soviet ABM systems helped stoke the large increase in U.S. ballistic missile warheads.  It was only after the 1972 ABM Treaty capped strategic missile defenses that the path was opened toward eventual reductions in deployed offensive warheads.

Russia responded favorably to Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach as a substitute for Bush’s “Third Site” plan.  Future deployments were tied to actual rather than theoretical ballistic missile threats and strategic missile defenses in Europe were not anticipated before the end of the decade.

But if phases 3 and 4 of Obama’s plan are truly “adaptive,” then they must be contingent on the actual progress and intent of Iran’s ballistic missile program.  This link must be made convincing and explicit to the Russians. Moscow must be able to see something other than immovable dates for the deployments and vague place-holders in the matrix showing the number of interceptors to be deployed.  As it is, Moscow sees the quantity of advanced SM-3 interceptors as infinitely expandable and NATO’s “territorial defense” language as pointing toward Russia’s strategic forces – not those coming from Iran during the next 6-8 years.

If U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe are tied to the level of threats from the Middle East, then they should not be expected to address other security concerns.  European flank states should enhance their security through other measures, which do not gratuitously provoke their large eastern neighbor.

Alternative ways to strengthen the alliance bond might include: periodic presence of U.S. and other NATO troops for training purposes; active participation in alliance institutions and activities; and greater political integration within the EU.

Reasons for Hope

U.S. missile defense efforts have the potential of derailing continued progress in reducing the bloated nuclear arsenals of the Cold War.  But I see two reasons to hope for a different outcome:

-- First, fiscal pressures on the U.S. defense budget will force the Administration and the Congress to get off the Cold War autopilot.  They will create strong incentives for the U.S. military to shift resources away from political programs like strategic missile defense toward those, which can increase military capabilities that count in the real world.

-- Second, Europe is now a player at the missile defense table.  NATO has offered political support, real estate, and financial resources for the Phased Adaptive Approach.  Europe therefore has a new ability to tame some ill-considered American instincts.   I hope it will actively seek to influence U.S. policy when that policy veers in a direction, which provides a net loss to the security of the alliance.

I’ve seen it happen before with regard to INF in the 1980s.  The Europeans – particularly the basing countries (Germany, the UK, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands) – made it very clear to a reluctant Reagan administration that it could not have one part of the Dual-Track Decision (deploying new weapons) without the other (seeking to reduce that category of weapons through arms control).

I think we need Europe’s help again.

Thank you for your attention.

Description: 

Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association, delivered March 6, 2012 at the Salle de la Commission de la Defense in Paris at a conference sponsored by the: Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg; Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques; British American Security Information Council; and Arms Control Association.

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Books of Note

The Politics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia

Bhumitra Chakma, ed., Ashgate Publishing Co., 2011, 280 pp.

Kelsey Davenport

This volume examines how India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programs affect the two countries’ domestic political and military strategies and the broader regional dynamics in South Asia. The authors aim to address the “key issues” of South Asian nuclear weapons politics rather than provide an exhaustive study of the topic. The first of the book’s four sections differentiates nuclear deterrence and force building in South Asia from how those concepts apply to the “traditional” nuclear-weapon countries—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In this section, Rajesh M. Basrur contributes an astute chapter, which, after comparing nuclear deterrence in South Asia with other systems, such as the U.S.-Soviet nuclear rivalry, concludes that the practice of minimum deterrence in the region works. Part two includes an in-depth discussion of command and control issues and the development of nuclear doctrines in India and Pakistan. Part three takes a broader look at the regional impact of India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear deterrents and examines the role that China and the United States play in shaping South Asian nuclear deterrence. Binoda Kumar Mishra’s chapter in this section on the relationship between Beijing and New Delhi concludes that, in the long run, China, not Pakistan, will play the key role in shaping India’s nuclear policy. The final section of the volume examines the challenges to nuclear arms control and suggests potential confidence-building measures aimed at preventing the authorized or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons in South Asia. In particular, Dipankar Banerjee’s chapter in this last part offers several concrete options that India and Pakistan could pursue to reduce the nuclear threat within the region.

 


 

Nuclear Jihad: A Clear and Present Danger?

Todd M. Masse, Potomac Books, 2011, 339 pp.

Benjamin Seel

In this balanced assessment of the threat of nuclear terrorism, Todd M. Masse, a branch chief in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s nuclear security office, frames the debate as one between “skeptics” and “conventionalists.” Focusing on the significant barriers that stand in the way of terrorist groups actually carrying out such an attack, skeptics view the efforts to combat nuclear terrorism as a sidetracking of efforts that would be better directed toward preventing traditional acts of terrorism. Conventionalists view nuclear terrorism as a threat that is increasing in likelihood and deserving of a comprehensive policy approach to combat it. Drawing from both arguments, Masse concludes that U.S. national security policy should attack both the supply side and the demand side of the nuclear terrorism equation. He argues that the United States should focus on securing the stockpiles of nuclear material around the world and “preventing future nuclear proliferation among nation states.” However, he says, it should also continue its intelligence, national security, and law enforcement efforts to constrain the operational planning and training of groups such as al Qaeda and to block the flow of funds to them. Masse highlights the existing gap between the stated desires of terrorist groups to carry out a nuclear attack and their ability to bring such an attack to fruition. That disconnect makes the threat of nuclear jihad clear but not present, he says. He ends by cautioning that although the “[a]bsence of evidence is not…evidence of absence,” sweeping statements implying that terrorist groups have capability and intent are “unwarranted” and serve only to elevate the threat level “unnecessarily.”

The Politics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia, Bhumitra Chakma, ed., Ashgate Publishing Co., 2011, 280 pp.

Nuclear Jihad: A Clear and Present Danger?, Todd M. Masse, Potomac Books, 2011, 339 pp.

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