Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Role of Higher Education in Transforming Nuclear Weapons Policy

“The one thing we know about policy windows is that, as sure as they open, they close. If you think change is permanent, you don’t understand change…If we miss this moment, we fail.” -- Joseph Cirincione, President, The Ploughshares Fund
Ploughshares Fund President Joseph Cirincione gave a rousing and incisive presentation to an audience of fifty at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs last night on the topic of “Barack Obama’s New Nuclear Policy.”

Highlighting the importance of what the New York Times editorial page had earlier in the day called a “Watershed Moment on Nuclear Arms,” Mr. Cirincione described the extraordinary political momentum in the United States and internationally, the activity of new and important validators (including George Shultz, Sam Nunn, Henry Kissinger, and Bill Perry) of moving toward the abolition of nuclear weapons, the agenda and team that the Obama Administration has put in place to lead a transformation of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and the challenges this transformation will face in the window of a year or two in which the conditions remain right to make it happen. On nuclear weapons policy, he observed, “this Administration is going to be characterized as a struggle between the transformationalists and the incrementalists.”

Mr. Cirincione offered specific thoughts about the role that universities can and should play in the debate over the future of nuclear weapons policy, nonproliferation, and disarmament. First, he observed the extraordinary contribution of Stanford University, where faculty members George Shultz and Bill Perry have convened an ongoing discussion among scholars and practitioners about “Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons” under the heading of “Reykjavik Revisited,” recalling the summit meeting between then U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in October 1986. Mr. Cirincione pointed out that “this whole movement was hatched at a university.”

Universities “change the paradigm; you change the way people are thinking about this,” argued Mr. Cirincione, who also encouraged universities to support scholars with breakthrough ideas and to do serious research in the area of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. He emphasized that universities should provide fora for public debate on nuclear weapons policy, including opposing viewpoints, and also provide venues for U.S. Government officials to connect with the public.

Finally, Mr. Cirincione included students specifically in his call to “get involved” and make political leaders care about nuclear weapons policy. He encouraged students to use the newer media – including blogs, Facebook, and twitter – to tell others what they’re thinking and “demand that your professors organize more meetings….join Global Zero…there are a hundred things that you can do about this.”

In closing, Mr. Cirincione reflected on the late President John F. Kennedy’s observation upon banning explosive testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere: “if I’d known it was so popular, I would have done it a long time ago.”

Friday, March 20, 2009

Joseph Cirincione to Speak at GW

Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons, and a leading expert on nuclear weapons policy and nonproliferation will discuss the Obama Administration’s new nuclear policy.

“Barack Obama’s New Nuclear Policy”
Wednesday, March 25th at 6:10 p.m.
Elliott School of International Affairs
The George Washington University
1957 E Street., NW room 505
rsvp to

Thursday, March 19, 2009

CTBT: Chu's mouth to open?

Thanks to the inimitable John Isaacs, Executive Director of the Council for a Livable World, and Ben Smith at the Politico for reporting that Damien LaVera, Deputy Communications Director at the Democratic National Committee will soon become Director of Public Affairs at the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The Nukes on a Blog team congratulates Mr. LaVera, who worked tirelessly and effectively with us a decade ago at the Lawyers Alliance for World Security, before earning a M.A. in Security Policy Studies from GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs and joining the staff of General John M. Shalikashvili (USA, ret.), who was then serving as Special Advisor to the President and the Secretary of State for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

In transmitting his final report on the CTBT to President Bush in January 2001, General Shalikashvili wrote that:
“The nation's nuclear arsenal is safe, reliable, and able to meet all stated military requirements. For as far into the future as we can see, the U.S. nuclear deterrent can remain effective under the Test Ban Treaty, assuming prudent stockpile stewardship -- including the ability to remanufacture aging components. While there are steps that should be taken to better manage the long-term risks associated with stockpile stewardship, I believe that there is no good reason to delay ratification of the Treaty pending further advances in the Stockpile Stewardship Program as long as we have a credible mechanism to leave the Treaty should a serious problem with the deterrent make that necessary. I fear that the longer entry into force is delayed, the more likely it is that other countries will move irrevocably to acquire nuclear weapons or significantly improve their current nuclear arsenal, and the less likely it is that we could mobilize a strong international coalition against such activities.”
One may wonder if some of this carefully developed expert perspective may have rubbed off on Mr. LaVera, and we find in his 2004 retrospective for Arms Control Today on the U.S. Senate’s rejection of the CTBT that he views this vote as:

“one of the most self-defeating moments in the U.S. Senate’s history of involvement in international arms control”
and in response to those who argue we need to keep the option of resumed nuclear explosive testing open:
“the only realistic reason the United States would need to resume nuclear testing would be to confirm a new design."
Mr. LaVera concludes:
"The Senate’s vote against ratification of the CTBT was one of the lowest moments in the history of international arms control. Although the principal arguments presented by critics of the treaty have been shown to be incorrect, entry into force remains out of reach. Nonetheless, considerable progress has been made in implementing and universalizing the treaty. If the international community continues and expands on these efforts, it will be well prepared to bring this crucial treaty into force when the prevailing climate changes."
Perhaps his arrival is a sign of this sort of change in the political climate.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Nuclear allies should talk more

The United States sees its nuclear arsenal as playing a vital role in constraining further nuclear proliferation among its allies through robust extended deterrence. General Kevin P. Chilton, Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command testified today before the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, explaining this point:

“In my opinion, a stockpile modernization strategy and nonproliferation efforts should be considered complementary, not mutually exclusive, means to the same safer world. Modernization could provide a unique opportunity to introduce enhanced safety and security features that would render our weapons undesirable terrorist targets. It can be argued that the effort also strengthens the confidence numerous allies derive from our extended nuclear deterrent umbrella, allowing them to forgo indigenous nuclear programs. Should these allies (many of whom have the resources and technical ability to develop their own nuclear weapons) come to believe the United States is unwilling or unable to protect their interests through the full use of our assets, I believe global nuclear proliferation could increase, a clearly unacceptable prospect for U.S. or global security interests.”
A recurring argument on the American side against verified and legally-binding agreement to bilateral deep cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons has been that – regardless of matching Russian reductions – U.S. reductions would erode the credibility of the U.S. extended deterrent, leading key allies (often Germany and Japan) to question the reliability of the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” and seek their own nuclear weapons. General Chilton extends this familiar numerical argument as a rationale for modernization.

My concern about this argument is that it is both extremely important and completely resistant to contrary or mitigating information (as Franklin Miller clarified for Leonor in October 2007 when she questioned it at an event sponsored by the Center for a New American Security, explaining to her “that’s just not the way the world works”). Its correctness assumed, this argument can be extended to embrace any specific numerical force requirement, deployment pattern, use doctrine, modernization program, etc.

The Lawyers Alliance for World Security made a stab at illuminating allied perspectives on this argument in the late 1990s, featuring visits to numerous capitals by former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the late Senator Alan Cranston, Major General William Burns (USA-ret.), former Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr. and other (including the Nukes on a Blog team). We found wide diversity of opinion, including some strong support for more circumspect extended deterrence policy from the United States (particularly including “no first use”) and no clear evidence that nuclear weapons reductions discussions with Russia were approaching any sort of “trigger” or “threshold” of allied nuclear proliferation. This experience left us skeptical of the “one size fits all” assertion that anything from failure to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons, to cuts below 1,000, to declaration of a “no first use” policy, to ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would undermine the commitments of U.S. allies to nuclear nonproliferation.

Also today, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown gives us one more reason to be skeptical in a London speech on nuclear energy and proliferation today arguing, in part:
“We must begin by reducing the number of nuclear weapons still out there in the world, and between them the US and Russia retains around 95%. The START Treaty, the mainstay of their bilateral arms control effort, will expire later this year and I welcome their commitment to find and work for a legally binding successor which I hope will pave the way for greater reductions to come. For our part, as soon as it becomes useful for our arsenal to be included in a broader negotiation, Britain stands ready to participate and to act.”
If Britain sees itself playing a strong supporting role in creating the context for and leading the participation of the other nuclear weapons states in successful multilateral negotiations on nuclear weapons reductions, does this mean that U.S. reductions and allied reductions are complementary? If so, what does this mean for allies who rely more exclusively on extended deterrence? Does the German commitment not to build nuclear weapons grow weaker as the British nonproliferation commitment grows so strong as to allow dismantlement of nuclear weapons already deployed? The answer is at least as far from affirmative as it is from clear.

It is possible to imagine a synthesis of today’s remarks by Prime Minister Brown and General Chilton, but doing so takes enough energy and care to suggest that this should be a matter of active negotiation amongst the allies complementing the U.S.-Russian talks about nuclear weapons reductions.