Thursday, June 28, 2007

British disarmament initiative

Outgoing UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett writes in today’s Jerusalem Post:

"Mine is a generation that has always lived under the shadow of the bomb. But there is a danger in familiarity with something so terrible. If we allow our efforts on disarmament to slacken, if we allow ourselves to take the non-proliferation consensus for granted, the nuclear shadow that hangs over us will lengthen and it will deepen. It may, one day, blot out the light for good. We cannot allow that to happen."
Likening the effort to abolish nuclear weapons to William Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish slavery and suggesting that the United Kingdom should become a “disarmament laboratory” and:

“…concentrate on the complex but pivotal challenge of creating a robust, trusted and effective system of verification that does not give away national security or proliferation sensitive information.”
This op-ed highlights a major policy address in the same vein given at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace International Nonproliferation Conference on Monday.

Foreign Secretary Beckett’s replacement, former Environment Minister David Miliband, has already been named by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. But those familiar with Mr. Brown’s record as a leading advocate and agenda setter for ethical change in response to global poverty have much reason to hope that this bold new initiative is only the beginning of a newly strengthened British voice for effectively verified global nonproliferation and prudent progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

For now, jolly good show, Madame Secretary.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

We'll always have Votkinsk

Reuters reports that on Tuesday Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov was quoted by Interfax in remarks in Votkinsk, Russia that his country has begun mass producing Topol-M inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs): "we are now entering a new and crucial stage of reequipping all of the strategic nuclear forces and operational and tactical systems."

Verification fans will recall Votkinsk fondly as the site of the first on-site inspections for verification of negotiated limits on nuclear arms agreed to by the former Soviet Union under the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – a Treaty Russia threatened to leave in February. Although U.S. and Russian on-site inspection rights under the Treaty ended in 2001, continued observance of the Treaty’s limitation reflects both the shared interest in avoiding a resumed arms race and a hopeful model for global limitations on intermediate range missiles.

Both purposes appear to have lost their charm for President Vladimir Putin. When asked by Doug Saunders of The Globe and Mail earlier this month how Russia might respond to the proposed American deployment of a missile defense system in Europe, President Putin specifically denied that Russian missile acquisition and potential abandonment of the INF Treaty are linked to the proposal, but replied that “As far as the INF treaty is concerned, this is a broader issue and it does not relate directly to missile defence systems of the United States. The thing is that only the United States and the Russian Federation bear the burden of not developing intermediate-range missiles, and the other countries are involved in this – Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Korea, South Korea even, as far as I'm concerned. . . . If everyone complied with it, then it would be clear, but when other countries in the world are fighting to pursue such efforts, then I do not understand why the U.S. and Russia should place such restrictions on themselves. We are considering what we should do in order to ensure our security . . . a lot of countries are involved in these efforts, including our neighbours. I repeat that this does not have anything to do with the U.S. plans to deploy missile defences in Europe. We are going to find responses to both threats, though.”

While one may think President Putin protests the linkage to European missile defense a bit too much, and find his suggestion that a global treaty would be better to be cynical, the U.S. effort to multilateralize the INF Treaty following the fall of the former Soviet Union suggests the sort of expansion of verification provisions developed during the Cold War that could contribute to greater global confidence in a strengthened nonproliferation regime.

Unlikely as it seems today, and even as Votkinsk becomes the birthplace of a new generation of Russian ICBMs, we should keep in mind that if we succeed in realizing President Reagan’s vision of a world free of nuclear weapons – given new life in January in the Wall Street Journal by George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn – Votkinsk (along with Magna, Utah) will be where on-site inspection for nuclear disarmament was first achieved and this counterintuitive achievement should remind us that positive change is possible through careful and innovative diplomacy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Trust, but verify with the Washington Times

Here’s an excerpt from Doug's letter to the editor in today’s Washington Times:

“nuclear weaponry and strategic deterrence no longer receive the serious national deliberation they should. Mr. Gaffney's call for a national debate is doubly important because he is wrong about everything else.”

Click here for the full letter (it’s the second one down, after the sexeducrats).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

There's Nothing Like Being There

Jonathan S. Landay of McClatchy Newspapers reported on Tuesday that the U.S. intelligence community is concerned about the Bush Administration’s intention to allow the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) to expire.

“The intelligence agencies have outlined their concerns in classified reports that were delivered to Congress last week, said an expert who asked to remain anonymous because the matter is classified.”

Bush Administration officials have argued that arms control verification is a relic of the Cold War, but this is no more true of the intrusive on-site inspection procedures imbedded in START than it is of arsenals of thousands of nuclear weapons themselves.

Soviet negotiators stonewalled inclusion of on-site inspection provisions in nuclear arms control until the waning days of the Cold War when Mikhail Gorbachev came to office and the late President Reagan insisted that we should “trust, but verify.” The 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was the first arms control treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union to include on-site inspection provisions.

While START is in force and being observed, the United States has significant rights under the Treaty to engage in on-site inspection of Russian strategic nuclear forces. As long as the United States and Russia retain Cold War size nuclear arsenals, the legal obligations to transparency negotiated under START are a tremendous national security bargain.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Forgotten Costs of Plutonium Pit Production

As Los Alamos National Laboratories prepare a July 2, 2007 commemoration of the production of the first plutonium pit certified for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile since the prior plutonium pit facility at Rocky Flats was closed by an FBI raid in 1989, not all plutonium workers have something to celebrate.

Dan Frosch of the New York Times reports that a federal advisory panel has rejected the petition of workers employed at the Rocky Flats Plant since 1966 to be classified as a Special Exposure Cohort under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000. This classification would provide them more rapid access to compensation if they have any of 22 types of cancer related to radioactive and other hazardous materials exposures known to have occurred at the facility. Workers employed at Rocky Flats before 1966 are already part of a Special Exposure Cohort.

Expedited compensation is particularly urgent as one in ten workers so far approved for compensation died before receiving it:

Total number of people who worked at Rocky Flats: 22,000
Rocky Flats health compensation paid to date: $95.7 million to 674 people
Number of workers whose claims were approved but died before receiving payment: 67
Number of claims still pending: 1,258

Given that the Department of Energy has been able to certify the nuclear stockpile to be safe and reliable without a new plutonium pit since Rocky Flats closed, and that producing plutonium pits is inherently dangerous, and independent scientific analysis has shown they last a very long time, and we are supposed to be dismantling nuclear weapons anyway, why are we in such a hurry to produce new plutonium pits?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Nuclear Recklessness: A New Standard for American Leadership

Last week’s Republican Presidential candidates debate in Manchester, NH featured posturing on terrorism, immigration, and even torture – but the reflexive assertions of willingness to use nuclear weapons in Iran set a new standard for the most dysfunctional metrics of preparedness to lead the free world offered to date.

Four candidates (Representative Hunter, Mayor Giuliani, Governor Gilmore, and Governor Romney) affirmed their willingness to use nuclear weapons against Iran’s nuclear program “if necessary.”

First up was Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) (who, as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee until 2006, generally has
not met a nuclear weapon he does not like):

MR. BLITZER: "If it came down to a preemptive U.S. strike against Iran’s nuclear facility, if necessary would you authorize as president the use of tactical nuclear weapons?"

REP. HUNTER: "I would authorize the use of tactical nuclear weapons if there was no other way to preempt those particular centrifuges."

He added “I don’t think it’s going to take tactical nukes,” but didn’t offer a hint of protest at the premise or the path by which “it came down to” the use of force.

Mayor Giuliani also claimed that a nuclear weapons option needed to remain on the table to prevent Iran from having not just nuclear weapons but also nuclear power:

MAYOR GIULIANI: "Part of the premise of talking to Iran has to be that they have to know very clearly that it is unacceptable to the United States that they have nuclear power. I think it could be done with conventional weapons, but you can’t rule out anything and you shouldn’t take any option off the table."

In response to the same question of whether they would use tactical nuclear weapons to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, former Governor Gilmore and Governor Romney followed suit, asserting that all options are on the table.

So, the use of nuclear weapons for the first time since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed an estimated
200,000 people would be justified even against a power generation program?

The Republican candidates seem to have lost track of the important difference between capability and intent – an extremely dangerous lapse of judgment when dealing with nuclear weapons that can kill hundreds of thousands in an instant.

First, while there is a real danger that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons, intent is not a valid target for U.S. nuclear weapons in the absence of capability. International law supports the use of military force only when an attack is imminent and the force used is proportional to what is necessary to stop the attack. But responding to or preventing a nuclear attack was not even at issue when these four candidates discussed using tactical nuclear weapons. The candidates’ threshold was much lower, and the casual tone with which they said they would use a tactical nuclear bomb was chilling.

Second, terrorists must be stopped – and it is a national security imperative that terrorists be stopped from acquiring nuclear weapons. But nuclear weapons are extremely poorly suited to fighting terrorism. Using nuclear weapons would tell the world that the United States is indifferent to indiscriminate destruction and massive overkill. It would play directly into the plans of the terrorists and countries seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, increasing their supporters and encouraging the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Later in the debate, only Representative Paul had the clarity to offer a strong challenge to the premise:

MR. BLITZER: "Congressman Paul, what’s the most pressing moral issue in the United States right now?"

REP. PAUL: "I think it is the acceptance just recently that we now promote preemptive war. I do not believe that’s part of the American tradition. We in the past have always declared war in the defense of our liberties or go to aid somebody, but now we have accepted the principle of preemptive war. We have rejected the just- war theory of Christianity. And now, tonight, we hear that we’re not even willing to remove from the table a preemptive nuclear strike against a country that has done no harm to us directly and is no threat to our national security!"

He continued:

REP. PAUL: "I mean, we have to come to our senses about this issue of war and preemption and go back to traditions and our Constitution and defend our liberties and defend our rights, but not to think that we can change the world by force of arms and to start wars." (Applause.)

At that moment, Senator Brownback was chomping at the bit to comment on his moral commitment to human life:

SEN. BROWNBACK: "I think it’s a life issue clearly, and I am pro-life and I’m whole life. And one of the things I’m the most, the proudest about our party about is that we’ve stood for life."

Apparently, senseless and indiscriminate threats to massive numbers of civilians don’t count.

The next President of the United States should not threaten to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians and shatter the global non-proliferation regime on a hypothetical basis, and should instead measure his/her words very carefully when it comes to threatening the use of weapons that can kill and maim several hundred thousand lives.

Our next leader must be aware that our badly under-resourced cooperative threat reduction efforts to secure fissile material worldwide, which do not get the political priority that they deserve, are our best defense against terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons, and that stopping Iran’s uranium enrichment program requires that diplomatic options be tried first, and tried in good faith, including direct talks with Iran on this issue.

Casual posturing about using nuclear weapons neither enhances US leadership in the world or nor effectively addresses the threats to US security.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Oh, hello, Mr. Pluto, fancy seeing you twice in a week.

The Associated Press reported on June 7, 2007 that “authorities are investigating how three workers were exposed to radioactive plutonium during environmental restoration work at the Nevada Test Site.”

While the employer of the three contract workers, National Securities Technologies, holds that there is no reason "to believe there were any security or safety considerations here," this seems like a great occasion to reflect on plutonium and human health.

As a fission product, isn’t plutonium basically a man-made element?

The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment recalls that “Before 1945, plutonium was virtually nonexistent in the human environment. Then in the 1950s and 1960s, plutonium was released into the environment during atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. Plutonium can now be found in very small amounts in the soil throughout the Northern Hemisphere because of fallout from the atmospheric testing. Plutonium has also been found in soil near nuclear weapons production plants such as Rocky Flats due to accidents and spills.”

Accidents and spills? Shouldn’t workers be very careful with plutonium?

Len Ackland, Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder observes on page 112 of his 1999 book Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West that there are at least three reasons to be very careful with plutonium: “First, microscopic particles of radioactive plutonium were extremely toxic if inhaled. Second, a small amount of plutonium – depending on its makeup, shape, and factors such as the presence of water – could create a localized chain reaction called a “criticality,” which could be fatal to anyone within several yards. Third, plutonium metal, especially small chips or filings, was pyrophoric, meaning it could catch fire on its own in the presence of air.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency observes that “External exposure to plutonium poses very little health risk, since plutonium isotopes emit alpha radiation, and almost no beta or gamma radiation. In contrast, internal exposure to plutonium is an extremely serious health hazard. It generally stays in the body for decades, exposing organs and tissues to radiation, and increasing the risk of cancer. Plutonium is also a toxic metal, and may cause damage to the kidneys.”

So, safety first, right?

It seems the first Americans to work with plutonium took its dangers, if not in their stride, at least in their stream. Ackland (pps 104-5) recalls the formation of a “UPPU Club” at Los Alamos National Laboratories around 1951, ostensibly for individuals whose urine tested positive for plutonium (UPPU = you pee Pu).

A new facility for plutonium pit production opened at Rocky Flats, Colorado in 1952. The U.S. Department of Energy reminds us that “On June 6, 1989, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the Rocky Flats Plant as part of its investigation of allegations of mismanagement, negligence, and criminal practices...Rockwell International, the plant operator at the time, eventually pled guilty to ten counts, including violations of the Clean Water Act, and agreed to pay a fine of $18.5 million.”

Wow, aren’t we lucky that’s over!

Not so fast. According to a June 7, 2007 press release from Nuclear Watch New Mexico, “The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has invited Members of Congress to ‘celebrate’ on July 2 its production of its first certified plutonium trigger (AKA ‘pit’ or ‘primary’) … produced by the U.S. certified for deployment to the nuclear stockpile since 1989.”

So…a party to celebrate the first new plutonium pit certified for deployment to the stockpile since the year the FBI raided and closed the old plutonium pit facility?

I’m sure the July 2 Plutonium Party at LANL will be a glowing celebration, but I don’t think I’d eat anything.

Adding insult to taxpayers to potential for life-threatening injury to workers, as Nuclear Watch Director Jay Coughlin observes, the celebration is “five years late and a billion dollars over budget.”

Some additional plutonium resources:

Dr. Robert Gould, President of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Plutonium Health Effects: Basics, powerpoint presentation made on October 9, 2004
W. G. Sutcliffe, R. H. Condit, W. G. Mansfield, D. S. Myers, D. W. Layton, and P. W. Murphy, A Perspective on the Dangers of Plutonium, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, April 14, 1995
Plutonium: Human Health Effects Fact Sheet, Argonne National Laboratories, October 2001
The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Fact Sheet on the Physical, Nuclear, and Chemical, Properties of Plutonium
Plutonium on the Internet (from the Nuclear Control Institute)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Missing the point on new Euromissiles

President Bush’s peculiar assertion yesterday that “Russia is not an enemy” resurfaces yet again a fundamental inconsistency of neoconservative foreign policy: common values cannot be spread by force.

The remark comes at an ironic moment, before a scheduled meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush on the margins of the G-8 summit in which the two leaders hope to resolve differences sparked by the planned U.S. deployment of an anti-missile shield in Europe.

When President Putin responded to the proposed deployment by threatening to target Russian nuclear missiles at Europe, Deputy State Department Spokesman Tom Casey diplomatically referred to President Putin’s concern as “silly.”

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley responded to Putin on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, saying of the proposed missile shield, “It's not aimed at Russia. The systems we would deploy do not have capability of any significant character against Russian ICBMs destined for -- you know, that are aimed at the United States. It just doesn't have any capability. It's a very limited capability about other states like Iran, who are developing ballistic missiles, and potentially the weapons of mass destruction that those missiles could deliver, so it's all about Iran.”

This answer makes neither linguistic nor technical sense. If Iran launched a nuclear missile at Europe (which experts conclude is technically unfeasible for years to come), the response would be certain and devastating. Iran would never stand toe-to-toe with the rest of the world and pick a fight – if it did it would lose badly – and this is what the use of a nuclear missile would unambiguously mean (although aiding terrorists with nuclear weapons, materials, or know-how could be another matter, against which a missile shield would offer cold comfort). In addition, Mr. Hadley’s response does not address President Putin’s explicit concern that the planned system will be able to strike airborne targets deep inside Russian territory.

As this verbal Cold War brewed, hundreds of protestors were arrested at the G-8 Summit convened to promote common values among the world’s leading industrialized states. As Professor John Kirton recalls the 1975 communiqué from Heads of State articulating the original mission of the G-7 process “We came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. We are each responsible for the government of an open, democratic society, dedicated to individual liberty and social advancement. Our success will strengthen, indeed is essential to democratic societies everywhere.”

While the protestors may not have a clear idea of the critical path to the global change they seek – or even a shared vision of what the world would look like if they got what they asked for – their presence underscores how delicate the legitimacy of efforts to promote democracy, freedom, peace and development can be. It is a good thing that the world’s most powerful leaders get together to talk about the good things they have in common and how they can work together, but including only the powerful in important discussions of the future breeds resentment in those who are excluded – themselves increasingly powerful in an age of global networks.

As Richard J. Harknett, James J. Wirtz, and T.V. Paul paraphrase the late RAND strategist Bernard Brodie, “any international arrangement must ultimately rely on and therefore reflect the systemic distribution of power.” The current asymmetric conflict pitting a lone hyperpower, the United States, and a loose “coalition of the willing,” against a franchised collection of terrorist networks suggests that Brodie’s observation may be as much a source of change as stability. The important question is, will this change work for us?

This is where the neocons get it wrong – they don’t know who the “us” is. If “us” is the American experiment in democracy, a continent-spanning melting pot of cultures and beliefs joined together under the rule of law to protect individual rights and service common values – a nation of ideas that twice rose to defend the world – we have a great chance of “winning.” If “us” turns out to be the privileged few who live behind a wall of power, we are in big trouble. The neocons have tried to split the difference by spreading democracy through force, and the inconsistency is killing us.

This latest adventure in poking the Russian bear is as surreal as it is pointless. President Bush’s exercise in building a defense that doesn’t work against an Iranian capability that doesn’t exist is more than an enormous waste of money, it has led the President of Russia to level a threat of increased military readiness that he is immediately capable of executing against a peaceful Europe with which he has no other reason to spark an arms race. But that’s what arms racing is – weapons acquisitions by one state driving responses in kind by the other until their arsenals are so ponderous that war seems a foregone conclusion. Realists understand this, because they base their analysis on capabilities, not intentions.

In asserting that Russia is not an enemy, President Bush has confused his own neoconservative idealism – that believes all bad intentions can be answered with hardware – with Russia’s realism which is hardwired to answer hardware with hardware, no matter what one leader sees in another’s soul.

More importantly, President Bush confuses the fact of the Cold War’s end with its meaning: even the largest nuclear arsenal in the world did not allow the Soviet leadership to resist the will to freedom. We would do well to remember the lessons of this last great global conflict as we work to respond to the danger of the next.

Friday, June 1, 2007

New Nuclear Weapons are no Bargain

Discussions regarding a modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal through the design and development of a series of “Reliable Replacement Warheads” and the “Complex 2030” plan to create a “responsive infrastructure” for U.S. nuclear weapons production are miscast.

The Bush Administration’s plan to modernize the nuclear arsenal has caused great concern among nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament advocates. New nuclear weapons constitute an area of particularly acute concern for our treaty partners (see groundbreaking work on Foreign Perspectives on U.S. Nuclear Policy and Posture led by Ambassador Lewis Dunn) and the Bush Administration’s plan leads the world in the wrong direction, toward greater reliance on Cold War weapons and away from progress toward compliance with U.S. obligations under Article VI of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Proponents of modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal have responded with the idea of a “grand bargain,” by which these steps to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal would be matched with deep cuts in the massive overkill capacity of the existing nuclear arsenals left over from the Cold War. While rhetorically appealing, a “grand bargain” sounds a little too familiar to anyone who recalls the history of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and past “bargains” for the ratification of arms control treaties. The U.S. Government has entered into legally binding international commitments to nuclear reductions we have not yet fulfilled and until we can find our way to a global leadership role on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament a “grand bargain” would be hollow. Dr. Michael Krepon points the discussion of nuclear weapons modernization in a more productive direction in a recent article that suggests conditions under which modernizing the nuclear arsenal might be less destabilizing.

Ultimately, creating conditions under which nuclear weapons enhance U.S. national security should not be our objective. National security should be our objective, and to the extent possible it should (and to a large an increasing extent only can) move forward in tandem with global security. Nuclear weapons are the principle threat to U.S. national security and Constitutional democracy. Honest debate is possible about whether present political circumstances and verification capacity empower us to promptly eliminate the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal, but the quality of this debate degrades significantly as we climb back up the nuclear disarmament asymptote to the Bush Administration’s apparent intention to indefinitely retain more than 5,000 deployed and reserve nuclear weapons (as Federation of American Scientists / Natural Resources Defense Council analysis suggests).

Could there be a role for a “safer” nuclear explosive device? Nuclear explosive devices are inherently unsafe so, at best, the answer depends on several factors.

First, it depends on casting the discussion in terms of a real commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. There are several specific steps that we should take on this path immediately: (1) commitment to a new round of Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) nuclear weapons reductions negotiations with Russia aimed at a 50% cut below Moscow Treaty levels (1700-2200 deployed nuclear weapons, with no new limit on the number of weapons in reserve) with improvement in verification and compliance measures commensurate with the technical and political possibilities of 2007, (2) multilateralization of these disarmament negotiations to bring in the United Kingdom, France, China, and other states of proliferation concern as well as those concerned with proliferation like Canada, Australia, and Mexico; (3) global zero high-alert negotiations to end the preposterously dangerous Cold War practice of having enough nuclear weapons to wreck the planet available for use within half an hour; (4) the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) ratified by the United States and in force; (5) global fissile material production cutoff discussions well underway; (6) and expansion and integration of nuclear weapon free zones would be a good start.

Second, a reasonable context for the consideration of modernization would also depend on the reaction of our international partners in nonproliferation: nonproliferation only works if the governments of countries believe that it contributes more to their security than nuclear weapons would – a delicate counterintuitive proposition on a good day, but in practice much more valuable to American national security than a few hundred extra nuclear weapons.

Third, it also depends on being sure that we (as a nation) know what we would do with all these nuclear weapons, and I see no indication that this is the case.

Finally, it depends on what we give up to get it – how many more national sacrifice zones, premature deaths, and billions of dollars? What are the medical, public health, and environmental consequences of this course of building new nuclear weapons and what are these new weapons going to cost?

The discussion about a “grand bargain” on the Reliable Replacement Warhead reminds me of the film Groundhog Day in which Bill Murray relives the same day hundreds of times. He learns after a few dozen tries that he can get Andie McDowell to fall in love with him if he exposes her to a certain sequence of romantic experiences. So, the next day, he tries to cram all these romantic experiences into the morning as fast as he can to get to the good stuff – and he totally blows it. Right now, we are totally blowing it by rushing to discuss a “grand bargain” about the Reliable Replacement Warhead rather than undertaking a deliberate, focused, and careful effort to establish the necessary conditions for the discussion.