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Beatrice Fihn Is Banning Nuclear Weapons, With or Without Us

In Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 6, 2018 at 12:02 am

It was a rare dark note for the Swedish anti-nuclear activist, who has built her career—and her organization’s Nobel Peace Prize—on a unified front in the face of fear.

“People are beginning to wake up to the reality that we’re still living under the threat of these weapons every single day,” she said. “They are starting to experience the terror of the Cold War. And it’s our job to give them hope.”

But Fihn, along with the rest of the world, had indeed woken up to a new threat. Watching the sunrise in Santa Barbara, California, where she was being honored by an anti-nuclear organization, Fihn took in the news that President Donald Trump had ordered the United States to pull out of its longtime arms control treaty with Russia, a move that experts warned could escalate an arms race of a kind not seen since the 1970s. “We are facing dangerous times,” she wrote on Twitter that morning.

In her speech that evening, Fihn alluded to the news. “It would be all too easy to name Donald Trump as a rogue,” she said. “The truth is that a system that one impulsive person or unpredictable person can uproot is not an appropriate security system in the first place.”

But convincing Trump to give up America’s nuclear stockpile is not a part of ICAN’s plan. With 69 signatures on the treaty, and 31 more needed for ratification (the last step before it enters into force), Fihn is fighting to change laws and norms, not hearts and minds. She will save the skeptics, whether they believe her or not.

At the benefit in Santa Barbara, a chairman of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, the group hosting Fihn, pointed her out to me amid a flurry of cocktail dresses and suits. This, of course, was unnecessary—and not just because I’d spent a week watching her press appearances on a loop. Beatrice Fihn is easy to pick out of a crowd. She embodies the American public’s favorite Swedish stereotypes: tall, blonde, and perpetually poised, speaking with a musical lilt not heard in these parts since “Dancing Queen” topped the charts.

Despite the nuclear-armed states that refuse to sign on, ICAN has had some resounding successes lately, and Fihn’s stop in Santa Barbara was part of a congratulatory tour in one of the friendliest states in the union to her campaign. Before her speech, she chatted with California Assemblymember Monique Limón, who drafted statewide legislation in support of the nuclear ban, over gold-flecked chocolate mousse (“It’s not always so glamorous,” Fihn warns. “It’s activist work.”) In Los Angeles, she met with supporters of the city’s local disarmament resolution, the next phase of ICAN’s campaign: If organizers can’t convince a national government, they’ll take their fight local.

Beatrice Fihn addresses the U.N. open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament in May of 2016.

(Photo: Tim Wright/International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)

Though Fihn has always been a firm proponent of disarmament, her ascent to becoming the movement’s public face was somewhat unlikely. When Fihn first went to work at the U.N. as an intern, she was surprised to learn she’d be focusing solely on nuclear weapons—but only because she assumed most governments had already given them up. “It sounded like an old-fashioned, outdated issue,” she says, recalling her start in the early aughts. “The idea that some people from some countries have the right to end the world if they want—that’s crazy. And we’ve just accepted it.”

At the U.N., Fihn met activists who would later collaborate with ICAN and its partners. She learned diplomacy and activist work from a group of all-female organizers and drew inspiration from a women-led campaign to ban land mines in the 1990s. Rick Wayman, an early adopter in the ban treaty campaign, says Fihn has always offered a “hopeful message.” But at the time, her own friends doubted her. Even now, when she gets into a taxi, she has the familiar exchange: What do you do? “I work for a campaign to prohibit nuclear weapons.” Ah, not gonna happen.

She has spent 12 years working on this, she says, compiling rational arguments and scientific evidence, yet less informed strangers will still pick a fight. But, she adds, “I prefer to argue with politicians than people on the street.”

Since joining ICAN and becoming its executive director in 2013, that’s exactly what she’s done. In 2017, the group lobbied delegates at the U.N. in New York for three months, alongside experts from more than 100 partner organizations. By September, negotiations were complete. With support of nearly two-thirds of members, the U.N. adopted the first-ever international treaty banning nuclear weapons. Though the ban has yet to go into force, two of the world’s biggest pension funds added nuclear weapons to their exclusion list. But you can’t fit all of that in on one taxi ride.

Almost as long as there have been nuclear weapons, there have been dissenters. ICAN was born out of another disarmament organization, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for its non-proliferation work. In his memoir Perestroika, former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev credited the coalition of activist-scientists with a role in ending the Cold War. “It is impossible to ignore what these people are saying,” he wrote.

Decades later, these treaties persist, but the old optimism is gone. “Almost 20 years after warnings were published … about the dangers of ‘accidental nuclear war,’ nearly 2,000 weapons remain on ‘launch-on-warning’ hair-trigger alert,” wrote the group’s founders in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year. Public opinion proved just as stubborn: One study found that, although fewer Americans approve of nuclear weapons now than in 1945, 60 percent still support the bombs’ use in a situation akin to World War II (in the study’s example, killing two million Iranians to save a few thousand U.S. soldiers).

In 2007, the physicians launched ICAN, which would take up the same fight and, 10 years later, win the same award. But its efforts have not been met with praise from polarizing heads of state. This is fine with the campaign. “I always measure how effective we’re being by how mad the nuclear-armed states get—and they’re furious about this treaty,” says Wayman, deputy director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, an ICAN partner, who helped lobby for the ban at the U.N. (After the treaty passed, the U.S., the United Kingdom, and France swore never to “sign, ratify or ever become party to it,” citing security concerns.)

Often the issue can seem technical and unapproachable. Historically, political scientists have defended America’s nuclear capability as an important deterrent strategy; more recently, others have countered that deterrence doesn’t work, citing instead the power of an international norm against the use of these weapons. Fihn prefers to bypass this talk entirely. Instead, she sees nuclear weapons as a human-rights issue, and a feminist one at that. When she talks about norms, it’s to advocate for changing them. ICAN brings together activists, researchers, and concerned citizens to push governments to ban the weapons, even without enforcement, in order to stigmatize them. “I think we’re going to see disarmament of nuclear weapons when people no longer associate these weapons with prestige and power—when they are symbols of shame,” Fihn says.

Fihn would like the conversation around nuclear weapons to be about survivors: women, children, and indigenous people. After all, she says, they are the ones who suffer the costs, not hawks talking strategic stability in the situation room. When the atomic bombs razed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of people, long-term effects such as cancer impacted women at higher rates; those who survived the blast were more likely to miscarry or give birth to stillborn babies and children with birth defects. For this, they were often shunned by their own people. In the Marshall Islands, the U.S. government conducted nuclear tests 1,000 times more powerful than those in Japan, subjecting hundreds of indigenous people to burns, cancers, and birth defects—all without so much as a warning.

It’s true that governments have long hidden the nuclear threat from view. In 2013, new documents revealed that the U.S. and U.K. brought the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war in a 1983 “war games” exercise called Able Archer, all without public knowledge. Other documents, recently obtained by the New York Times, contain ominous warnings from the Central Intelligence Agency to then-President Harry Truman.

By putting survivors at the forefront of the campaign, ICAN is attempting to subvert this practice—starting with the Nobel Peace Prize celebration. Setsuko Thurlow, an 85-year-old Hiroshima survivor, accepted the award alongside Fihn. ICAN said the city shut down a highway for them, and outside, supporters marched in the torch-lit snow. Congratulations poured in from family and friends, the pope, and celebrities (Fihn was especially excited about a shoutout from model and Twitter personality Chrissy Teigen.)

As with survivors, the ban also highlights the voices of women—which is “unusual for a weapons of mass destruction disarmament treaty,” wrote Bonnie Jenkins, coordinator for threat reduction programs with the U.S. Department of State, in a 2017 Brookings Institute brief. Part of banning nuclear weapons is changing the culture—and that culture is toxic beyond its literal radioactivity, Fihn argues. She says men created this problem, sacrificing the safety of millions to compare bomb sizes, and there still aren’t enough women in government to fix it: “You have an issue that’s an existential threat to the entire world, but only half the population is being involved in the decision-making.”

For Fihn, this fight is personal. She was the only woman in her class of largely white Nobel laureates. She brings her daughter’s pen, adorned with a smiling Elsa from Frozen, to panels and posts photos with officials in between family portraits. She’s been to known to compare nuclear weapons to the patriarchy (the weapons themselves are phallic, after all) and condemns their use as both racist and sexist. When she employed that argument at one North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit, “The old white dudes of the U.S. Department of Defense and the German defense ministry looked pretty puzzled,” she wrote on Instagram.

But Fihn saves her most scathing critiques for the leaders of nuclear-armed states. In one speech, she likened Trump and Kim Jong-un to her three- and six-year-olds. During her official Nobel Peace Prize interview, she was questioned about a tweet from two days prior that read, “Donald Trump is a moron.” (She admits that the timing wasn’t great, but stands by the sentiment.) She’s especially vocal about Trump’s stance on weapons negotiation, which he’s often condemned as a sign of weakness—another reason the campaign cannot rely on U.S. participation.

Wayman, with the NAPF, told me that ICAN’s strategy to move forward with the ban was, at first, “a slap in the face” and an “ego check” for some supporters in America. They knew the U.S. government would never agree. And yet here ICAN was, banning nuclear weapons without it.

I asked Fihn if she ever felt discouraged. After all, in the time between our conversations, North Korea wavered on its promise to disarm. “Sometimes I have moments like, I should work for something a little less political,” she says.

In these moments, she draws inspiration from movements whose victories seem inevitable to us now: the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, and other human rights campaigns. These organizers didn’t wait for governments to acquiesce. They mustered support. They forced culture shifts. “When it feels tough some days, I like to think: This is what it is to fight for these issues. And one day we’ll win,” she says. “And then we’ll forget all about it, and move on to the next one.”

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Atoms for Peace: How Eisenhower envisioned ridding the world of nuclear weapons

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on December 4, 2018 at 1:12 am

Dallas Morning News, Dec. 3, 2018

The longest journey begins with a single step. One of the first steps toward eliminating nuclear weapons came 65 years ago, on Dec. 8, 1953, when President Dwight Eisenhower gave his “Atoms for Peace” speech.

This history can inspire us today for getting rid of all nuclear weapons worldwide.But first, have some breakfast. That is what Ike’s assistant C.D. Jackson and Atomic Energy Commission director Lewis Strauss did when writing “Atoms for Peace.

As Eisenhower recalled in his memoirs: “To work on the draft of the speech on this subject, Strauss and Jackson met again and again at the Metropolitan Club in Washington for breakfast; appropriately, the project ook on the code name Wheaties.”

Their goal was to alert the American public about the growing threat of nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union had recently tested a hydrogen bomb and the Cold War nuclear arms race was accelerating rapidly. The nukes were vastly more powerful than the weapons of World War II combined.

The technology to make nuclear weapons was no longer a secret just for the United States. The Soviets had long had it and many others were likely to as well.

Eisenhower wanted the speech to provide hope for escaping this nuclear nightmare. He made last-minute edits on the plane ride to New York where he would deliver the speech before the U.N. General Assembly. There were two major proposals made by Eisenhower in “Atoms for Peace.”

The first plan was for the Cold War rivals to divert nuclear technology away from military use. Instead,  atomic energy should be used for peaceful purposes like fighting disease and hunger or providing energy.

“The United States would seek more than the mere reduction or elimination of atomic materials for military purposes. It is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace….. If the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind,” Eisenhower said in the speech.

Jackson pointed out that the press overlooked the second major proposal Eisenhower had made in the speech. The president invited the Soviets and others for negotiations “to seek an acceptable solution to the atomic armaments race.” Arms control and disarmament would not happen overnight, but must be pursued through diplomacy.

“Atoms for Peace” led to the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1957. As the agency’s current director Yukiya Amano has explained: “We work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and we help countries use nuclear science and technology to produce more food, generate more electricity, treat cancer and respond to climate change.”

These are the critical issues that bind all nations. But as we sit here today, there are still 15,000 nuclear weapons globally, most of these held by the United States and Russia. Think of all the precious resources lost in making these bombs that would have been better served in peaceful applications.

As Eisenhower said, we need diplomacy “if the world is to shake off the inertia imposed by fear and is to make positive progress towards peace.” The United States could start by finally ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a goal first pursued by Eisenhower. We should promote disarmament and more peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

Every person can make their voice heard on eliminating nuclear weapons. Breakfast anyone?

William Lambers is the author of Nuclear Weapons, the Road to Peace and Ending World Hunger. 

Democrats going nuclear to rein in Trump’s arms buildup

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 25, 2018 at 4:16 am

Control of the House will give them ‘the power of no — the ability to block programs, cut funding, withhold agreement.’

Democrats preparing to take over the House are aiming to roll back what they see as President Donald Trump’s overly aggressive nuclear strategy.

Their goals include eliminating money for Trump’s planned expansion of the U.S. atomic arsenal, including a new long-range ballistic missile and development of a smaller, battlefield nuclear bomb that critics say is more likely than a traditional nuke to be used in combat.

They also want to stymie the administration’s efforts to unravel arms control pacts with Russia. And they even aim to dilute Trump’s sole authority to order the use of nuclear arms, following the president’s threats to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea and other loose talk about doomsday weapons.

The incoming House majority will have lots of leverage, even with control of only one chamber in the Capitol, veterans of nuclear policy say. They point to precedents in which a Democratic-controlled House cut funding for Ronald Reagan’s MX nuclear missile and a Democratic-led Congress canceled the development of a new atomic warhead under George W. Bush.

“They can block funding for weapon systems,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington. “The Democrats’ ascendancy will prove a much-needed check on the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons policy and approaches.”

Leading the charge is Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, who is set to become the first progressive in decades to run the House Armed Services Committee, which is responsible for setting defense policy through the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

Smith has long criticized both President Barack Obama and Trump’s $1.2 trillion, 30-year plan to upgrade all three legs of the nuclear triad — land-based missiles, submarines and bombers — as both unaffordable and dangerous overkill.

He’s made it clear in recent days that revamping the nation’s nuclear strategy will be one of his top priorities come January, when he is widely expected to take the gavel of the largest committee in Congress.

“The rationale for the triad I don’t think exists anymore. The rationale for the numbers of nuclear weapons doesn’t exist anymore,” Smith told the Ploughshares Fund, a disarmament group, at a recent gathering of the Democratic Party’s nuclear policy establishment.

The day-long conference included leading lawmakers, former National Security Council aides, peace activists and an ex-secretary of defense, William Perry, who was once an architect of many of the nation’s nuclear weapons but is now a leading proponent for a major downsizing.

Arms control and disarmament groups see Smith’s emergence as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to craft a much more sensible approach to nuclear weapons and reduce the danger of a global conflict.

The mere appearance of a would-be Armed Services chairman at the recent gathering demonstrated how much circumstances have changed.

“I have never seen a chairman give nuclear policy such a high priority, have such personal expertise in the area, and be so committed to dramatic change,” said Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund.

Cirincione served as a staffer to then-Rep. Les Aspin, who chaired the panel during the fierce debates over nuclear weapons policies in the 1980s, which he sees as an instructive period for today.

“I know that a Democratic House can have a major impact on nuclear policy,” he said. “It is the Power of No — the ability to block programs, cut funding, withhold agreement to dangerous new policies. Democrats may not be able to enact new policies, but they can force compromises.”

High on the priority list is halting or delaying the development of a planned new nuclear bomb that would have less explosive power than a more traditional atomic bomb. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review called for the so-called “low-yield” weapon last year.

Advocates assert that the weapon, to be launched from a submarine, will provide military commanders with more options and better deter nations such as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran that are building up their own nuclear arsenals. Such a modest nuke would not destroy a city but would devastate a foreign army — and adversaries would have reason to fear that the U.S. might use it in a first strike.

But Smith, who will also influence the House Appropriations Committee’s recommendations for Pentagon funding, insists such a new weapon “brings us no advantage and it is dangerously escalating.”

“It just begins a new nuclear arms race with people just building nuclear weapons all across the board in a way that I think places us at greater danger,” he told Ploughshares Fund.

Democrats are expected to revive legislation proposed earlier this fall in both the House and Senate to try to roll back the program.

“There’s no such thing as a low-yield nuclear war,” says Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and one of the co-sponsors, who also gave his pitch at the Ploughshares Fund gathering this month. “Use of any nuclear weapon, regardless of its killing power, could be catastrophically destabilizing.

Leading Democrats also have their sights on a new intercontinental ballistic missile that is under development as the future land-based leg of the nuclear triad. The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent is set to replace current ICBMs that are deployed in underground silos in Western states such as Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.

“The ICBM is where the debate will focus,” predicted Mieke Eoyang, vice president of national security at Third Way, a centrist think tank, and a former aide on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

One key argument will be cost, she added.

“People make the case for all three legs of the triad, but when you look at the budget situation the Pentagon is going to have to make some tough choices,” Eoyang said in an interview. “The modernization of the triad is a big- ticket item that comes over and above what current Defense Department needs are — at a time when budget pressures are coming the other way.”

Critics also argue that the ICBM has outlived its usefulness.

Perry, who served as Pentagon chief for President Bill Clinton, has argued that land-based ICBMs are the leg of the triad that is most prone to miscalculation and an accidental nuclear war. He says submarine- and aircraft-launched nuclear weapons would provide a sufficient deterrent on their own.

But not everyone thinks cutting one leg of the triad will be easy. They cite the political clout of defense contractors and their political supporters in both parties, including the so-called “ICBM Caucus” — especially in the Senate, which will remain under Republican control.

“They won’t be able to take on the triad,” warned former Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, who chaired the national security and foreign affairs panel of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee.

But Tierney and others said the House can pursue other areas for reshaping nuclear policy — and force the Senate to take up their proposals.

One way is to revive legislation adopting a “no first use” policy for nuclear weapons, declaring that a president could not order the use of nuclear weapons without a declaration of war from Congress.

“We want to avoid the miscalculation of stumbling into a nuclear war,” Smith said. “And this is where I think the No First-Use Bill is incredibly important: to send that message that we do not view nuclear weapons as a tool in warfare.”

The unfolding strategy will also rely on inserting new reporting requirements in defense legislation as a delaying tactic on some nuclear efforts or to compel the administration to reconsider its opposition to some arms control treaties.

While the president negotiates treaties and the Senate is vested with the constitutional authority to ratify them, the House also has some power to force the administration’s hand.

Trump, citing Russian violations, has threatened to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that Reagan signed with the then-Soviet Union in 1987. He recently sent national security adviser John Bolton to Moscow to relay the message.

But critics say the landmark treaty, which banned land-based missiles with ranges between 50 and 5,500 kilometers, is still worth trying to salvage with the Russians. And Democrats can try to force the Trump administration to curtail plans for a new cruise missile that would match the Russians.

The Democrats can put the cruise missile “back on its heels,” Tierney said. “Sometimes they can delay, sometimes defeat.”

Democrats also worry that the Trump administration will opt to not renew the New START Treaty with Russia, which expires in early 2021. That pact, reached in 2010, mandates that each side can have no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons and requires regular inspections to ensure each side is complying.

Trump and his advisers “are opposed to multilateralism just based on principle,” Smith told the crowd of arms control advocates. “That is John Bolton’s approach, that he doesn’t want to negotiate with the rest of the world, almost regardless of what it is that we negotiate.”

But Kimball, who met recently with Smith, said Democrats have options on that front, too.

“If the Trump administration threatens to allow New START to expire in 2021, the Democrats are not under any obligation to fund the administration’s request for nuclear weapons,” Kimball said.

He pointed out that Obama secured bipartisan Senate support for ratifying the New START treaty in return for a pledge to increase spending on upgrading the nuclear arsenal and new missile defense systems. “That linkage works the other way, too,” Kimball said.

What is clear is that the nuclear arms control crowd sees Smith as the best hope for change in many years.

“I don’t think it is going to be easy, but we see a chance that we haven’t seen in a long time to have a different path forward on nuclear weapons,” said Stephen Miles, director of Win Without War, an antiwar group. “There isn’t enough money available for the wild plans we had before, let alone Trump’s new objectives.”

The best way for our leaders to remember the dead on Armistice Day? Do everything they can to avoid a nuclear war

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 12, 2018 at 11:17 pm

We are facing a situation where millions could be killed in minutes. The death toll could be even greater than that of the two world wars put together

Europe is edging towards a conventional conflict, and the risk of escalation to nuclear use is very real 

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, one of the world’s most horrific conflicts. One of the best accounts of how this tragedy began, by the historian Christopher Clark, details how a group of well-meaning European leaders – “The Sleepwalkers” – led their nations into a war with 40 million military and civilian casualties. Today, we face similar risks of mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals, compounded by the potential for the use of nuclear weapons – where millions could be killed in minutes rather than over four years of protracted trench warfare. Do we have the tools to prevent an incident turning into unimaginable catastrophe?

For those gripped with complacency, consider this scenario. It is 2019. Russia is conducting a large military exercise in its territory bordering Nato. A Nato observer aircraft accidentally approaches Russian airspace, and is shot down by a Russian surface to air missile. Alarmed, Nato begins to mobilise reinforcements. There is concern on both sides over recent nuclear deployments in the wake of the collapse of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Suddenly, both Nato and Russia issue ultimatums – each noting their respective nuclear capabilities and willingness to use them if vital interests are threatened. Europe is edging towards a conventional conflict, and the risk of escalation to nuclear use is very real.

Each of the strands in this hypothetical scenario is visible in the wind today, exacerbated by new threats – such as cyber risks to early warning and command and control systems, which can emerge at any point in a crisis and trigger misunderstandings and unintended signals that could accelerate nations towards war. This is all happening against a backdrop of unease and uncertainty in much of the Euro-Atlantic region resulting from the Ukraine crisis, Syria, migration, Brexit, new technologies, and new and untested leaders now emerging in many Euro-Atlantic states.

What can be done to stop this drift towards madness?

When leaders from across Europe meet in Paris on 11 November to mark the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of the First World War, those with nuclear weapons – presidents Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron and the prime minister Theresa May – should reinforce the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. This principle, articulated at the height of the Cold War by the presidents of the United States and Russia, was embraced then by all European countries. It would communicate that leaders today recognise their responsibility to work together to prevent nuclear catastrophe and provide a foundation for other practical steps to reduce the risk of nuclear use – including resolving the current problems with INF and extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) until 2026.

There remains the challenge of rebuilding trust between the United States, Nato and Russia so that it will again be possible to address major security challenges in the Euro-Atlantic region. This was done throughout the Cold War and must again be done today. This process could begin with a direction by leaders to their respective governments to renew a mutually beneficial dialogue on crisis management, especially in the absence of trust.

Crisis management dialogue was an essential tool throughout the Cold War – used for managing the “day to day” of potentially dangerous military activities, not for sending political signals. Leaders should not deprive themselves of this essential tool today. Used properly, crisis management can be instrumental in avoiding a crisis ever reaching the point where military forces clash inadvertently or where the use of nuclear weapons needs to be signalled, let alone considered, by leaders with perhaps only minutes to make such a fateful choice.

In reviewing the run-up to past wars, there is one common denominator: those involved in the decision making have looked back and wondered how it could have happened, and happened so quickly? In Paris on Sunday, 100 years after the guns across Europe fell silent, leaders can begin taking important steps to ensure a new and devastating war will not happen today.

Des Browne is the UK’s former secretary of state for defence. The article was written with Wolfgang Ischinger, former German ambassador to the United States; Igor S Ivanov, former Russian foreign minister; and Sam Nunn, former US senator

From UN Human Rights Committee

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 9, 2018 at 10:49 am

I received the following from John Burroughs of The Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Polity:

 

The threat or use of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons, which are indiscriminate in effect and are of a nature to cause destruction of human life on a catastrophic scale is incompatible with respect for the right to life and may amount to a crime under international law. States parties must take all necessary measures to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including measures to prevent their acquisition by non-state actors, to refrain from developing, producing, testing, acquiring, stockpiling, selling, transferring and using them, to destroy existing stockpiles, and to take adequate measures of protection against accidental use, all in accordance with their international obligations. They must also respect their international obligations to pursue in good faith negotiations in order to achieve the aim of nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control and to afford adequate reparation to victims whose right to life has been or is being adversely affected by the testing or use of weapons of mass destruction, in accordance with principles of international responsibility.

 

For more about the development of the paragraph and its significance, see this post by Daniel Rietiker:

https://safna.org/2018/11/07/threat-and-use-of-nuclear-weapons-contrary-to-right-to-life-says-un-human-rights-committee/

This Is Not Your Mother’s Cold War: It’s much more terrifying.

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 3, 2018 at 3:32 am

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.

When it comes to relations between Donald Trump’s America, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and Xi Jinping’s China, observers everywhere are starting to talk about a return to an all-too-familiar past. “Now we have a new Cold War,” commented Russia expert Peter Felgenhauer in Moscow after President Trump recently announced plans to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The Trump administration is “launching a new Cold War,” said historian Walter Russell Mead in The Wall Street Journal, following a series of anti-Chinese measures approved by the president in October. And many others are already chiming in.

Recent steps by leaders in Washington, Moscow, and Beijing may seem to lend credence to such a “new Cold War” narrative, but in this case history is no guide. Almost two decades into the 21st century, what we face is not some mildly updated replica of last century’s Cold War, but a new and potentially even more dangerous global predicament.

The original Cold War, which lasted from the late 1940s until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, posed a colossal risk of thermonuclear annihilation. At least after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, however, it also proved a remarkably stable situation in which, despite local conflicts of many sorts, the United States and the Soviet Union both sought to avoid the kinds of direct confrontations that might have triggered a mutual catastrophe. In fact, after confronting the abyss in 1962, the leaders of both superpowers engaged in a complex series of negotiations leading to substantial reductions in their nuclear arsenals and agreements intended to reduce the risk of a future Armageddon

What others are now calling the New Cold War—but I prefer to think of as a new global tinderbox—bears only the most minimal resemblance to that earlier period. As before, the United States and its rivals are engaged in an accelerating arms race, focused on nuclear and “conventional” weaponry of ever-increasing range, precision, and lethality. All three countries, in characteristic Cold War fashion, are also lining up allies in what increasingly looks like a global power struggle.

But the similarities end there. Among the differences, the first couldn’t be more obvious: The United States now faces two determined adversaries, not one, and a far more complex global conflict map (with a corresponding increase in potential nuclear flashpoints). At the same time, the old boundaries between “peace” and “war” are rapidly disappearing as all three rivals engage in what could be thought of as combat by other means, including trade wars and cyberattacks that might set the stage for far greater violence to follow. To compound the danger, all three big powers are now engaging in provocative acts aimed at “demonstrating resolve” or intimidating rivals, including menacing US and Chinese naval maneuvers off Chinese-occupied islands in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, rather than pursue the sort of arms-control agreements that tempered Cold War hostilities, the United States and Russia appear intent on tearing up existing accords and launching a new nuclear arms race.

These factors could already be steering the world ever closer to a new Cuban missile crisis, when the world came within a hairsbreadth of nuclear incineration. This one, however, could start in the South China Sea or even in the Baltic region, where US and Russian planes and ships are similarly engaged in regular near-collisions.

Why are such dangers so rapidly ramping up? To answer this, it’s worth exploring the factors that distinguish this moment from the original Cold War era.

In the original Cold War, the bipolar struggle between Moscow and Washington—the last two superpowers left on planet Earth after centuries of imperial rivalry—seemed to determine everything that occurred on the world stage. This, of course, entailed great danger, but also enabled leaders on each side to adopt a common understanding of the need for nuclear restraint in the interest of mutual survival.

The bipolar world of the Cold War was followed by what many observers saw as a “unipolar moment,” in which the United States, the “last superpower,” dominated the world stage. During this period, which lasted from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Washington largely set the global agenda and, when minor challengers arose—think Iraq’s Saddam Hussein—employed overwhelming military power to crush them. Those foreign engagements, however, consumed huge sums of money and tied down American forces in remarkably unsuccessful wars across a vast arc of the planet, while Moscow and Beijing—neither so wealthy nor so encumbered—were able to begin their own investment in military modernization and geopolitical outreach.

Today, the “unipolar moment” has vanished and we are in what can only be described as a tripolar world. All three rivals possess outsized military establishments with vast arrays of conventional and nuclear weapons. China and Russia have now joined the United States (even if on a more modest scale) in extending their influence beyond their borders diplomatically, economically, and militarily. More importantly, all three rivals are led by highly nationalistic leaders, each determined to advance his country’s interests.

A tripolar world, almost by definition, will be markedly different from either a bipolar or a unipolar one and conceivably far more discordant, with Donald Trump’s Washington potentially provoking crises with Moscow at one moment and Beijing the next, without apparent reason. In addition, a tripolar world is likely to encompass more potential flash points. During the whole Cold War era, there was one crucial line of confrontation between the two major powers: the boundary between NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations in Europe. Any flare-up along that line could indeed have triggered a major commitment of force on both sides and, in all likelihood, the use of so-called tactical or theater atomic weapons, leading almost inevitably to full-scale thermonuclear combat. Thanks to such a risk, the leaders of those superpowers eventually agreed to various de-escalatory measures, including the about-to-be-cancelled INF Treaty of 1987 that banned the deployment of medium-range ground-launched missiles capable of triggering just such a spiral of ultimate destruction.

Today, that line of confrontation between Russia and NATO in Europe has been fully restored (and actually reinforced) along a perimeter considerably closer to Russian territory, thanks toNATO’s eastward expansion into the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Baltic republics in the era of unipolarity. Along this repositioned line, as during the Cold War years, hundreds of thousands of well-armed soldiers are now poised for full-scale hostilities on very short notice.

At the same time, a similar line of confrontation has been established in Asia, ranging from Russia’s far-eastern territories to the East and South China Seas and into the Indian Ocean. In May, the Pentagon’s Pacific Command, based in Hawaii, was renamed the Indo-Pacific Command, highlighting the expansion of this frontier of confrontation. At points along this line, too, US planes and ships are encountering Chinese or Russian ones on a regular basis, often coming within shooting range. The mere fact that three major nuclear powers are now constantly jostling for position and advantage over significant parts of the planet only increases the possibility of clashes that could trigger a catastrophic escalatory spiral.

The War Has Already Begun

During the Cold War, the United States and the USSR engaged in hostile activities vis-à-vis each other that fell short of armed combat, including propaganda and disinformation warfare, as well as extensive spying. Both also sought to expand their global reach by engaging in proxy wars—localized conflicts in what was then called the Third World aimed at bolstering or eliminating regimes loyal to one side or the other. Such conflicts would produce millions of casualties but never lead to direct combat between the militaries of the two superpowers (although each would commit its forces to key contests, the United States in Vietnam, the USSR in Afghanistan),nor were they allowed to become the kindling for a nuclear clash between them. At the time, both countries made a sharp distinction between such operations and the outbreak of a global “hot war.”

In the 21st century, the distinction between “peace” and “war” is already blurring, as the powers in this tripolar contest engage in operations that fall short of armed combat but possess some of the characteristics of interstate conflict. When President Trump, for example, first announced tough import tariffs and other economic penalties against China, his stated intent was to overcome an unfair advantage that country, he claimed, had gained in trade relations. “For months, we have urged China to change these unfair practices, and give fair and reciprocal treatment to American companies,” he asserted in mid-September while announcing tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. It’s clear, however, that his escalating trade “war” is also meant to hobble the Chinese economy and so frustrate Beijing’s drive to achieve parity with the United States as a major world actor. The Trump administration seeks, as The New York Times’ Neil Irwin observed, to “isolate China and compel major changes to Chinese business and trade practices. The ultimate goal…is to reset the economic relationship between China and the rest of the world.”

In doing so, the president is said to be particularly keen on disrupting and crippling Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan, an ambitious scheme to achieve mastery in key technological sectors of the global economy, including artificial intelligence and robotics, something that would indeed bring China closer to thatgoal of parity, which Trump and his associates are determined to sabotage. In other words, for China, this is no mere competitive challenge but a potentially existential threat to its future status as a great power. As a result, expect counter-measures that are likely to further erode the borders between peace and war.

And if there is any place where such borders are particularly at risk of erosion, it’s in cyberspace, an increasingly significant arena for combat in the post-Cold War world. While an incredible source of wealth to companies that rely on the Internet for commerce and communications, cyberspace is also a largely unpatrolled jungle where bad actors can spread misinformation, steal secrets, or endanger critical economic and other operations. Its obvious penetrability has proven a bonanza for criminals and political provocateurs of every stripe, including aggressive groups sponsored by governments eager to engage in offensive operations that, while again falling short of armed combat, pose significant dangers to a targeted country. As Americans have discovered to our horror, Russian government agents exploited the Internet’s many vulnerabilities to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and are reportedly continuing to meddle in America’s electoral politics two years later. China, for its part, is believed to have exploited the Internet to steal American technological secrets, including data for the design and development of advanced weapons systems.

The United States, too, has engaged in offensive cyber operations, including the groundbreaking 2010 “Stuxnet” attack that temporarily crippled Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities. It reportedly also used such methods to try to impair North Korean missile launches. To what degree US cyberattacks have been directed against China or Russia is unknown, but under a new “National Cyber Strategy” unveiled by the Trump administration in August, such a strategy will become far more likely. Claiming that those countries have imperiled American national security through relentless cyberattacks, it authorizes secret retaliatory strikes.

The question is: Could trade war and cyberwar lead one day to regular armed conflict?

Muscle-Flexing in Perilous Times

Such dangers are compounded by another distinctive feature of the new global tinderbox: the unrestrained impulse of top officials of the three powers to advertise their global assertiveness through conspicuous displays of military power, including encroaching on the perimeters, defensive or otherwise, of their rivals. These can take various forms, including overly aggressive military “exercises” and the deployment of warships in contested waters.

Increasingly massive and menacing military exercises have become a distinctive feature of this new era. Such operations typically involve the mobilization of vast air, sea, and land forces for simulated combat maneuvers, often conducted adjacent to a rival’s territory.

This summer, for example, the alarm bells in NATO went off when Russia conducted Vostok 2018, its largest military exercise since World War II. Involving as many as 300,000 troops, 36,000 armored vehicles, and more than 1,000 planes, it was intended to prepare Russian forces for a possible confrontation with the United States and NATO, while signaling Moscow’s readiness to engage in just such an encounter. Not to be outdone, NATO recently completed its largest exercise since the Cold War’s end. Called Trident Venture, it fielded some 40,000 troops, 70 ships, 150 aircraft, and 10,000 ground combat vehicles in maneuvers also intended to simulate a major East-West clash in Europe.

Such periodic troop mobilizations can lead to dangerous and provocative moves on all sides, as ships and planes of the contending forces maneuver in contested areas like the Baltic and Black Seas. In one incident in 2016, Russian combat jets flew provocatively within a few hundred feet of a US destroyer while it was sailing in the Baltic Sea, nearly leading to a shooting incident. More recently, Russian aircraft reportedly came within five feet of an American surveillance plane flying over the Black Sea. No one has yet been wounded or killed in any of these encounters, but it’s only a matter of time before something goes terribly wrong.

The same is true of Chinese and American naval encounters in the South China Sea. China has converted some low-lying islets and atolls it claims in those waters into miniature military installations, complete with airstrips, radar, and missile batteries—steps that have been condemned by neighboring countries with similar claims to those islands. The United States, supposedly acting on behalf of its allies in the region, as well as to protect its “freedom of navigation” in the area, has sought to counter China’s provocative buildup with aggressive acts of its own. It has dispatched its warships to waters right off those fortified islands. The Chinese, in response, have sent vessels to harass the American ones and only recently one of them almost collided with a US destroyer. Vice President Pence, in an October 4th speech on China at the Hudson Institute, referred to that incident, saying, “We will not be intimidated, and we will not stand down.”

What comes next is anyone’s guess, since “not standing down” roughly translates into increasingly aggressive maneuvers.

On the Road to World War III?

Combine all of this—economic attacks, cyber attacks, and ever more aggressive muscle-flexing military operations—and you have a situation in which a modern version of the Cuban missile crisis between the United States and China or the United States and Russia or even involving all three could happen at any time. Add the apparent intent of the leaders of all three countries to abandon the remaining restraints on the acquisition of nuclear weapons in order to seek significant additions to their existing arsenals and you have the definition of an extremely dangerous situation. In February, for instance, President Trump gave the green light to what may prove to be a $1.6 trillion overhaul of the American nuclear arsenal initially contemplated in the Obama years, intended to “modernize” existing delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and long-range strategic bombers. Russia has embarked on a similar overhaul of its nuclear stockpile, while China, with a much smaller arsenal, is undertaking modernization projects of its own.

Equally worrisome, all three powers appear to be pursuing the development of theater nuclear weapons intended for use against conventional forces in the event of a major military conflagration. Russia, for example, has developed several short- and medium-range missiles capable of delivering both nuclear and conventional warheads, including the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile that, American officials claim, already violates the INF Treaty. The United States, which has long relied on aircraft-delivered nuclear weapons for use against massive conventional enemy threats, is now seeking additional attack options of its own. Under the administration’s Nuclear Policy Review of February 2018, the Pentagon will undertake the development of a “low-yield” nuclear warhead for its existing submarine-launched ballistic missiles and later procure a nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile.

While developing such new weapons and enhancing the capability of older ones, the major powers are also tearing down the remaining arms control edifice. President Trump’s October 20th announcement that the United States would withdraw from the 1987 INF treaty to develop new missiles of its own represents a devastating step in that direction. “We’ll have to develop those weapons,” he told reporters in Nevada after a rally. “We’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out.”

How do the rest of us respond to such a distressing prospect in an increasingly imperiled world? How do we slow the pace of the race to World War III?

There is much that could, in fact, be done to resist a new nuclear arms confrontation. After all, it was massive public pressure in the 1980s that led the United States and USSR to sign the INF Treaty in the first place. But in order to do so, a new world war would have to be seen as a central danger of our time, potentially even more dangerous than the Cold War era, given the three nuclear-armed great powers now involved. Only by positioning that risk front and center and showing how many other trends are leading us, pell-mell, in such a direction, can the attention of a global public already distracted by so many other concerns and worries be refocused.

Is a nuclear World War III preventable? Yes, but only if preventing it becomes a central, common objective of our moment. And time is already running out.

Michael T. KlareTwitterMichael T. Klare, The Nation’s defense correspondent, is professor emeritus of peace and world-security studies at Hampshire College and senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association in Washington, DC.

Trump Is Pushing the United States Toward Nuclear Anarchy

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 2, 2018 at 1:37 am

The White House wants to leave the INF Treaty. New START could be next. The death of these agreements would fuel a new arms race.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and Vladimir Korolev, the commander in chief of the Navy, examine a globe in St. Petersburg on July 30, 2017. (Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and Vladimir Korolev, the commander in chief of the Navy, examine a globe in St. Petersburg on July 30, 2017. (Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s tough talk about withdrawing the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has generated plenty of controversy, but not much clarity about what happens next. What’s certain is that the end of the treaty would make the United States and its allies (for whom Trump apparently cares little) less safe and would undermine the global basis for nuclear restraint and nonproliferation.

And it may get worse. America’s potential withdrawal from the INF Treaty—which bans the United States and Russia from having nuclear or conventional ground-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km (300 to 3,400 miles)—suggests that the 2010 New START arms reduction treaty with Russia might be next.

The untimely death of these two agreements would add fuel to a new arms race and further undermine stability and predictability between Washington and Moscow.

The untimely death of these two agreements would add fuel to a new arms race and further undermine stability and predictability between Washington and Moscow.

The last time the United States and Russia had to navigate a world without bilateral nuclear constraints was before 1972; it was a world we were lucky to survive and one to which no sane person should want to return.Nuclear weapons and deterrence advocates like to claim that the invention of nuclear weapons is what has kept the peace among major powers since the end of World War II. However, it was the development of predictable, binding, legal agreements and enforced global norms of behavior across security, trade, and global issues—not nuclear arms—that helped the United States to become the most prosperous and secure country in history. The rules not only made the United States safer and richer but also helped usher in an unprecedented era of global prosperity. The preservation of that order is a vital national interest and is under attack by the Trump administration.

That Trump would seek to undermine the rules that have benefited U.S. prosperity and influence is bad enough. That he would try to disrupt the system that prevents nuclear anarchy is inexcusable.

Arms control agreements, imperfect as they are, have proven remarkably successful at countering destabilizing nuclear programs at a fraction of the cost of countervailing military programs. Such agreements should only be ended after careful consideration and if the outcome will improve U.S. security, and where there is at least a plan to restore whatever stability and security is lost by their termination. Trump’s move to kill the INF Treaty includes neither, and it is increasingly obvious that ending the agreement has little to do with Russia and much to do with both China and the anti-treaty zealots now in control at the White House. While there may be some merit to the idea of leaving the INF Treaty behind, the onus of justifying such a move and explaining how the United States would be better off in sum is now on those who are clamoring for its demise.

How did the situation get so bad?

The Obama administration in 2014 discovered and announced that Russia was violating the INF Treaty by developing and deploying a small number of banned missiles. Since then, the U.S. government has determined that there is no need for the military to develop its own counterpart missiles. Instead, the best reaction, and one that I helped to encourage during my time in the White House, was to develop a unified allied response that could bring Russia back into compliance with an agreement that had long served the interests of the United States, its East Asian allies, and NATO.

Pressing the arms control case was not easy. In our work, we were hampered by the highly sensitive nature of the intelligence proving Russia’s violation, and many of my colleagues were understandably consumed by addressing Russia’s illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014. Even with concerted effort, it proved difficult for us in the Obama administration to gain broad European support to pressure Russia over its INF Treaty violations. Yet throughout our efforts it was clear to me and to President Barack Obama’s national security team that if it was necessary for the United States to develop its own missile systems to counter Russia’s actions, it had the legal right to do so even while remaining compliant under the INF Treaty. Congress eventually pushed for such a program, for which research and development is underway, even as the United States remains in compliance with the agreement, which draws the line at flight-testing such systems.

After assuming office, Trump largely ignored the issue of the INF Treaty and nuclear stability, even passing on an early offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend the New START agreement, which caps both Russia and the United States at 1,550 strategic offensively deployed nuclear weapons and will expire on Feb. 5, 2021, unless extended by a term of up to five years. Since then, there has been no evidence that Trump or any senior member of his administration has engaged with Russia in any serious way to bring it back into compliance with the INF Treaty. While the Defense Department’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review does briefly mention the agreement, it includes no strategy to restore Russian compliance and instead uses Russia’s violations to justify considering a new generation of sea-launched, nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

Despite the opportunity they themselves may have created, there has also been no serious or sustained attempt to leverage the threat of withdrawal to bring Russia back to the table. And since National Security Advisor John Bolton, an anti-arms control hard-liner, joined the administration in April, matters have only gotten worse. He has shown no interest in preserving the treaty or in investing in the hard work of coordinating with U.S. allies to build support for Washington’s position. It is not even clear a single meeting of the National Security Council has been convened to discuss the INF Treaty with the president.

Should the United States follow through on its threat to precipitously pull out of the INF Treaty, Russia will continue to build and deploy intermediate-range missiles, and its treaty violation will be essentially absolved. The demise of the treaty would render useless efforts to condemn Russia diplomatically or impose sanctions. It is not even clear the United States would retain a legal basis to levy sanctions over a treaty violation after killing the agreement. And instead of focusing global attention on Russia’s violation of the Cold War-era pact, it is the United States that will come across as the threat to nuclear stability and predictability.

Of course, both countries share responsibility for the current dangerous state of nuclear affairs, but Russia is the one that benefits when the United States is divided from its European allies and from the collapse of the rules-based order that Washington has championed for over 70 years. Unilateral withdrawal from the INF Treaty could not benefit Putin more if he had scripted it himself.

Are there good reasons to kill the treaty?

Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty and other arms control agreements are legitimate concerns. Washington rightly cares when Moscow deviates from an agreement and when it threatens the United States and its allies. But let’s not kid ourselves that this concern is the true force behind Trump’s planned decision to kill the agreement. He has rarely acted to counter Russian threats to the United States or its allies, whom he sees more as freeloaders than friends. More than by Russia’s action, however, the INF Treaty withdrawal appears to be predominantly motivated by a combination of anti-arms control voices and the military’s interest in developing new missiles to counter China’s missile capabilities.

The INF Treaty limits the United States and Russia, but not China, from possessing mid-range, ground-launched missiles. There have been some thoughtful discussions about whether the United States should address China’s large arsenal of intermediate-range missile forces if the INF Treaty ceased to exist—and if so, how. And there may be some merit to the idea of the United States gaining additional capabilities in Asia to counter China. It is much less clear, however, how systems prohibited by the treaty—should the United States develop and deploy them in the region—improve military strength or deterrence in Asia or elsewhere. The United States already has intermediate-range air- and ship-based missiles, as well as shorter-range systems that can target Chinese forces, to say nothing of its strategic nuclear weapons. It is also not clear that any American allies would agree to host new U.S. intermediate-range missiles, nuclear or conventional, on their territory. The United States could place such missiles in Guam, but because it can already fly bombers from Guam, it is hard to see how land-based missiles there provide a significant advantage over the status quo.

This debate, of course, is only beginning. The burden of proof, however, should be on those arguing that the benefits of deploying such missiles in Asia outweigh the consequences of ending safeguards in Europe. And in this discussion, a hard look at how deploying a short flight time missile within range of China might lead Beijing to vastly increase the size of or its reliance on its own nuclear and missile arsenals. It is possible that instead of deterring China, such a move would undermine the concept of strategic and crisis stability in East Asia and lead China to vastly increase its capabilities. In other words, just because the United States might be able to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Asia does not mean it should, or that it would be more secure if it did.

Can the New START treaty survive Trump?

Even if there were merit to the argument that the INF Treaty has outlived its usefulness, the looming question about New START is impossible to avoid. New START is the last binding constraint on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear systems. It requires highly intrusive and reliable on-site inspections inside the nuclear arsenals of both countries. The predictability and transparency this agreement provides are critical to maintaining stability—what is left of it—between the two nuclear superpowers.

Moreover, New START was the instrument through which the Pentagon gained broad support for the U.S. effort to modernize its aging nuclear forces. Its expiration without renewal would be the final blow to efforts to stave off a full-blown nuclear arms race between Washington and Moscow, undermine the United States’ ability to track Russian nuclear forces, cost billions of dollars in intelligence activities to replace, and undermine the basis for nuclear restraint globally. It would also blow up any semblance of bipartisan support for nuclear arms control systems and could result in a dramatic, and some would argue long overdue, downsizing of the U.S. nuclear modernization program, which is now slated to cost some $1.7 trillion over the next three decades.

And all signs point to New START dying at the hands of Trump and Bolton, who could withdraw in advance of the renewal date. Strike one: the fact that Obama negotiated it—an original sin in Trump’s eyes. Strike two: The agreement constrains U.S. nuclear capabilities, something that Trump does not understand and that chafes Bolton, who has objections to any agreement that limits U.S. freedom of action. Strike three: Trump believes he is a master negotiator and that by getting tough he can not only bring Russia to the table, but also get a better deal than Obama, Ronald Reagan, or any of his predecessors.

Despite the odds against it, there remains a glimmer of hope for New START. Unlike the Iran nuclear deal or the INF Treaty, New START has universal backing from the uniformed and civilian leaders in the Defense Department and in the intelligence community. Even in the run-up to the Iran deal, there were some in the Pentagon who wanted to challenge Tehran over both regional and missile activities. There is little, if any, such case being made against New START. The inspections and constraints it puts on Russia and the money it saves for the intelligence community made clear in 2010 that its adoption was in America’s national security interests. The same remains true today.

Two possible futures

Sadly, widespread support for New START will not be enough to convince Trump. Which means there are two possible paths ahead.

This first is one in which New START dies or is killed outright by Trump. The treaty gives either country the right to withdraw based on supreme national interests.

Withdrawal would produce a dangerous future in which the risk of miscalculation is high, and in which both the United States and Russia develop systems they believe are stabilizing but in fact increase the risk of nuclear use by the other. Any hint that Russia is accelerating its nuclear efforts will spur the United States to do the same. Does missile or bomber gap ring a bell?

The second future is one in which Trump gets to stroke his ego by negotiating a fig leaf of a new treaty, backed by the real inspections and predictability that form the heart of New START.

While Trump probably won’t agree to a New START extension as a favor to Putin, he might do it to help promote his own narrative. He thinks of himself as a negotiating master, and his new trade deal with Canada and Mexico shows that he will accept minor changes to an existing agreement just to be able to claim victory.

Thus, the best-case outcome would be for Trump and Putin to agree to a new short-term deal that lowers their arsenals to a new level—say, 1,250 offensive strategic nuclear weapons each—and combine it with an extension of the New START pact, which would provide the needed verification. To make it even more attractive, Russia should name the agreement the Treaty on the Reduction of Ultimate Military Programs (TRUMP). How could he resist?

This would be far from ideal. But such an outcome is far preferable to one in which the INF Treaty and New START cease to exist and both countries try to out arms race the other. While it should be clear that the premature demise of viable and valuable arms control agreements undermines U.S. security and global systems of stability, this may not be an argument that works on the Trump administration, where logic and facts rarely apply.

Despite the attempt by many to bury them, however, verifiable and binding arms control agreements are not vestiges of the Cold War, nor have they outgrown their value. The United States and its allies need them now more than ever—with Russia and if possible with China. In relying only on unconstrained American might and leaving a proven and valuable tool on the cutting room floor, the Trump White House has forgotten the lessons of history and is leading the country and the world into dangers we thought were abandoned forever.

Jon Wolfsthal is director of the Nuclear Crisis Group. He was President Barack Obama’s special assistant and senior director at the National Security Council for arms control and nonproliferation. @JBWolfsthal

Nuclear ban treaty may come into force in 2019: ICAN

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on October 30, 2018 at 10:07 pm

Treaty aims to stigmatise nuclear weapons as previous ones marginalised landmines and cluster munitions.

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 [Denis Balibouse/Reuters]
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 [Denis Balibouse/Reuters]

A treaty banning nuclear weapons could come into force by the end of 2019, backers of a campaign that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize said in an annual progress report on Monday.

The treaty aims to stigmatise nuclear weapons as previous treaties marginalised landmines and cluster munitions. Signatories promise to reject nuclear strategies and encourage others to follow suit.

The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor, published by Norwegian People’s Aid, said 19 states had already adhered to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, putting it well on the way to the 50 ratifications it needs to come into force.

“We’re pushing for getting 50 ratifications by the end of 2019,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

“We have about 25, 30 countries that say that they will be ready by the end of 2019, so it’s definitely possible.”

The big nuclear powers oppose the treaty because they say it could undermine nuclear deterrence, which they credit with preventing conventional war. Fihn said such arguments were ridiculous fearmongering.

“If you follow that argument, that more nuclear weapons keep us safer, then why have a problem with North Korea having nuclear weapons?” she said.

“It’s a little bit like the gun debate in the United States – you feel safer, but all statistics and logic say that you are more likely to be shot if you have a weapon at home.”

‘Wipe out cities’

US President Donald Trump has employed a high-stakes nuclear strategy to face down North Korea and Iran, and said on October 20 that Washington planned to quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, and Ronald Reagan signed in 1987.

Fihn said the INF prohibited missiles that were “meant to wipe out cities in Europe” and the new nuclear arms race made it urgent for countries to ratify the ban treaty.

The report identified 127 states as supporters of the treaty, especially in Africa and Latin America.

“The Europeans are the problem,” said Fihn.

Grethe Ostern, the report’s editor, said the treaty was compatible with NATO membership, but it was seen as disloyal to question the usefulness of nuclear weapons, and states were under pressure to oppose it.

“We know that states sometimes feel that development aid is sometimes put in the balance. We know that they feel that if they have visa arrangements with the US, for instance, they feel that this is in the balance,” Ostern said.

What Trump and John Bolton Don’t Understand About Nuclear War

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on October 29, 2018 at 9:55 pm
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbatchev (L) and US President Ronald Reagan sign 08 December 1987 at the Washington summit a treaty eliminating US and Soviet intermediate-range and shorter-range nuke missiles.   AFP PHOTO / AFP / -        (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
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Photo: AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s announcement on October 20 that he intends to pull the United States out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was, if nothing else, appropriately timed. On that date exactly 56 years before, President John F. Kennedy abruptly cut short a midterm campaign trip to Illinois because, the White House said, he had a cold. In fact, Kennedy was returning to Washington to address the Cuban missile crisis — the closest humanity has ever come to obliterating itself with a nuclear war.

The INF treaty was signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. It required both countries to forgo any land-based missiles, nuclear or otherwise, with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

In concrete terms, the treaty was a huge success. The U.S. destroyed almost 1,000 of its own missiles, and the Soviets destroyed almost 2,000 of theirs.

But arms control treaties are never about weapons and numbers alone. They can help enemy nations create virtuous circles, both between them and within themselves. Verification requires constant communication and the establishment of trust; it creates constituencies for peace inside governments and in the general public; this reduces on both sides the power of the paranoid, reactionary wing that exists in every country; this creates space for further progress; and so on.

The long negotiation of the INF treaty, and the post-signing environment it helped create, was part of an extraordinary collapse of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the 1980s. When Reagan took office, the Soviets genuinely believed that the U.S. might engage in a nuclear first strike against them. This, in turn, led to two separate moments in 1983 in which the two countries came terrifyingly close to accidental nuclear war — closer than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis.

Instead, the INF treaty was part of an era of good feelings that contributed to one of the most remarkable events of the past 100 years: the largely peaceful implosion of the Soviet Empire. Empires generally do not go quietly, and the dynamics of imperial collapse often contribute to huge conflagrations. Think of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and World War I; or the British Empire and World War II. The Soviet fall was an incredible piece of good fortune for the world; if it had happened in the early 1980s, instead of a few years later, it plausibly would have been catastrophic.

It is almost certainly these more diffuse effects that concern the smarter members of the Trump administration, such as national security adviser John Bolton, who’s yearned for decades to decommission the treaty. Russians may be cheating on the treaty in a modest way, while China is not bound by it at all and is developing intermediate-range missiles. But it’s hard to see how this will affect legitimate U.S. security interests.

On the other hand, exiting the treaty will do more than just lead to an arms race in which all three countries throw themselves into building new weapons. It will also create an atmosphere in which any rational modus vivendi between the U.S. and Russia, or the U.S. and China, will be far more difficult. This is the prize for Bolton and his allies, who can imagine only one world order: One in which they give orders, and everyone else submits.

Bolton has the standard self-perception of his genre of human: In his memoir, “Surrender Is Not an Option,” he explains that he cares about “hard reality,” in contrast to the “dreamy and academic” fools who support arms control.

But in fact, it is Bolton who is living inside of a dream. The hard reality is that our species almost committed suicide on October 27, the most dangerous moment of the Cuban missile crisis, later dubbed Black Saturday by the Kennedy administration. Even with comparative doves in charge of the U.S. and the Soviet Union, we came close to ending human civilization, thanks to mutual incomprehension. And we avoided it, as then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara later said, not by talent or wisdom, but pure luck. Then, we created a false history of what happened, one which allows terrifying fantasists like Bolton to reach, and thrive within, the highest levels of power.

President Kennedy meets with U.S. Army officials during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October-November 1962. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

President John F. Kennedy meets with U.S. Army officials during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Photo: Corbis via Getty Images

There is a standard story about the Cuban Missile Crisis, at least for those who remember it at all:

The perfidious Soviet communists, bent on intimidating the U.S. into submission via the superior power they wielded as a result of the missile gap, sent nuclear weapons to Cuba, from where they could strike the U.S. in minutes. But John F. Kennedy stood tall, refusing to make any concessions to the Russian bullies. JFK went toe to toe with the Soviets, and demonstrated he was tough enough to risk nuclear war. Finally, the other side blinked first and surrendered, taking the missiles out of Cuba. America won!

The hard reality, however, is that everything about this is false, both in its specifics and implications. It is, as James Blight and janet Lang, two of the top academic specialists on the crisis, have put it, “bullshit.” The even harder reality is that October 27 was a far more petrifying moment than U.S. and Soviet participants understood at the time — and they were terrified. Blight and Lang estimate that if the crisis were run under the same conditions 100 times, it would end in nuclear war 95 times. We are living in one of the five alternate universes in which humanity survived.

The roots of the Cuban missile crisis can be found in three main factors: America’s overwhelming nuclear superiority; the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961; and the stationing of U.S. intermediate nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey early on during the Kennedy administration.

During the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy attacked the Eisenhower administration for allowing the development of a “missile gap” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. There was indeed an enormous gap in the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles possessed by each country — but in favor of the U.S. As of 1962, the Soviets only had 20, and they were of such poor quality that they might not have managed to accurately reach the U.S. The U.S. had hundreds. This made the Soviets believe a nuclear first strike by the U.S. — something genuinely supported by factions of the U.S. military and hard right — could leave them unable to retaliate. The Soviets did have missiles, however, that could reach the U.S. mainland from Cuba.

The Soviets were also motivated to send the missiles to Cuba because they believed they would deter another invasion attempt.

Finally, the Soviets reasonably saw it as leveling the playing field. The American nuclear missiles in Turkey could hit Moscow in 10 minutes. Now, the Soviet missiles in Cuba could do the same to Washington, D.C.

The U.S. did not perceive it this way when American reconnaissance discovered the Cuban missiles on October 14. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended an immediate invasion of Cuba. Kennedy instead chose to blockade the island. But by October 26, he had come to believe that only an invasion could remove the missiles. The administration began planning for a replacement government in Cuba. All the while the U.S. was acting in the dark, with the CIA concluding that Soviet nuclear warheads had not yet arrived in Cuba to arm the missiles. They had.

Shortly after midnight, in the early morning of Black Saturday, the U.S. informed NATO that it “may find it necessary within a very short time” to attack Cuba. At noon, a U-2 flight over Cuba was shot down, killing the pilot. On all sides, war — potentially nuclear war — seemed likely, if not inevitable.

But that night, Kennedy made the most important presidential decision in history: He accepted an offer from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to remove the U.S. missiles in Italy and Turkey in return for the removal of the Soviet missiles in Cuba. But the U.S. part of the bargain was kept secret from Americans. The administration maintained that Kennedy had forced the Soviets to give in, giving them nothing.

That was, of course, more than frightening enough. But here’s the rest of the story.

On October 27, a U.S. Navy ship participating in the blockade dropped depth charges on a Soviet submarine. It was only discovered years later that not only was the submarine armed with nuclear torpedoes, but also was out of radio contact with the Soviet government and believed that the war had begun. The captain wanted to use the torpedoes, which almost certainly would have led to the U.S using nuclear weapons in response. However, according to Soviet protocol, the torpedoes could only be launched with the approval of all three officers aboard. One of them refused.

The U.S. also had no idea that in addition to the missiles, the Soviets had brought tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba and the troops on the ground had received permission to use them against a U.S. invasion without further authorization from Moscow. This, too, would have led to a U.S. nuclear response and Armageddon. McNamara first learned this when attending a Havana conference organized by Blight and Lang in 1992, on the 30th anniversary of the crisis. McNamara had also come to believe by Black Saturday that an invasion might be necessary. Blight and Lang report that McNamara turned pale and was temporarily speechless as he listened to an aged Soviet general describe the existence of the tactical nuclear weapons. When he spoke, it was to ask the translator to repeat himself.

Castro, too, had his preconceptions shattered at the conference. He had come to believe that the Kennedy administration was determined to invade Cuba again, nuclear weapons or not, and this time crush its young government and society. Cuba’s only choice was either to accept its destruction, or be destroyed and take America with it. Castro had therefore written a telegram to Khrushchev that arrived on October 27, beseeching him to use the Soviet Union’s full nuclear might against the U.S. if an invasion took place. But this was all wrong, McNamara told Castro: After the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy had decided that another invasion attempt was foolish.

So in the end, we’re not here to think about the 56th anniversary of Black Saturday because of our overweening military might, or because we forced our adversaries to bend to our will. It’s just the opposite, plus an extraordinary run of serendipitous flukes.

But what we can be sure of is that if people like Trump and Bolton had been in charge in 1962, then today there would be no discussion of the INF treaty — because there would be no treaty and no one to discuss it. It’s also certain that on our current trajectory, the day will come when the world will face a similar crisis. That time we won’t get the same roll of the dice. The hard reality of the Cuban missile crisis is that, as Blight and Lang put it, “either we put an end to nuclear weapons, or they will put an end to us.”

Top photo: Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbatchev, left, and U.S. President Ronald Reagan sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) on Dec. 8, 1987.

NATO Urges Trump Officials Not to Quit Nuclear Treaty

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on October 26, 2018 at 10:04 pm

By Robin Emmott, Reuters, Oct. 25, 2018

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European members of NATO urged the United States on Thursday to try to bring Russia back into compliance with a nuclear arms control treaty rather than quit it, diplomats said, seeking to avoid a split in the alliance that Moscow could exploit.

In a closed-door meeting at NATO, Pentagon, U.S. State Department and National Security Council officials briefed alliance envoys on U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which rid Europe of land-based nuclear missiles.

Diplomats present said Germany and other European allies called for a final effort on Washington’s part to convince the Kremlin to stop what the West says are violations, or possibly renegotiate it to include China.

“Allies want to see a last-ditch effort to avoid a U.S. withdrawal,” one NATO diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the meeting, which took place two days after senior U.S. official John Bolton informed Russian President Vladimir Putin of the plans in Moscow.

“Nobody takes issue with Russia’s violation of the treaty, but a withdrawal would make it easy for Moscow to blame us for the end of this landmark agreement,” a second diplomat said.

NATO declined to comment on the details of the meeting but issued a statement saying that allies assessed “the implications of Russia’s destabilizing behavior on our security.”

“NATO allies will continue to consult on this important issue,” it added.

Earlier this week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg laid the blame on Russia for violating the treaty by developing the SSC-8, a land-based, intermediate-range Cruise missile which also has the name of Novator 9M729.

Russia denies any such violations.

NATO allies including Belgium and the Netherlands, which host U.S. nuclear weapons facilities in Europe, warned in the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s highest decision-making body, of a public outcry if the United States were to try to install medium-range nuclear weapons on their territory again.

Stoltenberg said on Wednesday he did not think this would lead to reciprocal deployments of U.S. missiles in Europe as happened in the 1980s.

European allies see the INF treaty as a pillar of arms control and, while accepting that Moscow is violating it by developing new weapons, are concerned its collapse could lead to a new arms race with possibly a new generation of U.S. nuclear missiles stationed on the continent.

Diplomats said the U.S. officials did hold out the possibility that the United States may delay its formal withdrawal to after a planned meeting between Putin and Trump in Paris on Nov. 11.

The treaty foresees a six-month notification period for any withdrawal, also potentially giving Washington time to negotiate with Moscow before finally pulling out.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Copyright 2018 Thomson Reuters.