by Irfan Ahmed, Rhianna Tyson Kreger and Jesse Ziegler
March 16, 2010
On Tuesday, March 16, 2010, the Global Security Institute held a briefing for ambassadors, diplomats and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help prepare strategies for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon) in May. The session, chaired by GSI President Jonathan Granoff, focused on recent and prospective developments in Washington and how they may affect the RevCon.
Ambassador Robert Grey, Jr., who led the US delegation at the 2000 RevCon, opened the session by discussing President Obama’s progress in fulfilling his disarmament agenda, as articulated in his April 2009 address in Prague, where he affirmed his commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world and the steps he intended to take to get there. The obstacles and difficulties presented by the truculent political climate of Washington, as well as the all-consuming debates surrounding other issues, such as healthcare reform, have contributed to the relative slow pace of his progress, said Amb. Grey.
The lack of bipartisan support for Obama’s initiatives, including those related to arms control, is a formidable challenge. Amb. Grey highlighted a letter signed by 41 senators to President Obama stating that significant reductions in nuclear weapons would not be in the nation’s security interests “in the absence of a significant program to modernize our nuclear deterrent.” Such opposition indicates that ratification of the replacement Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) will be a battle, as it requires a 2/3 majority approval. If Obama succeeds in securing the 67 Senate votes needed, it would constitute a major victory for him and his disarmament agenda.
START, however, would be just that—only a start towards realizing the vision of a nuclear weapons-free world. Amb. Grey outlined three critical initiatives that must be undertaken, along with a rejection of the development of new nuclear weapons:
(a) Making progress towards preventing an arms race in space, with an emphasis on “defensive systems against nuclear weapons”—such as missile defenses—which can incite other nations to build new arsenals in order to “overcome” nuclear weapons.
(b) An articulation of new doctrines, “which make it clear that it is no longer a need to maintain large numbers of nuclear weapons—that they exist only to deter and that it is time to devalue them.”
(c) The need to “reduce the amount of money spent on conventional weapons.”
Mr. Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, imparted his insiders’ understanding of the details of the new START replacement, the yet-to-be-released Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and the major disarmament-related initiatives that have an impact on the upcoming NPT Review Conference.
“Let’s start with START,” Mr. Kimball said, as he discussed the US and Russian negotiations on a new strategic nuclear arms reduction deal, which aspires to push through the constraints of “Cold War thinking.” The United States and Russia currently deploy 2,146 and 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads, respectively; under the new framework, both countries are committed to a 25-30% reduction. Moreover, according to Mr. Kimbal’s sources, the final ceiling under which these countries can continue to maintain their strategic nuclear warheads is “around 1600.” Like previous agreements, the new treaty will articulate and “recognize the relationship between strategic offensive and strategic defensive weapons,” much to the disappointment of avid missile defense advocates.
Mr. Kimball believes that prospects for garnering the requisite votes for ratification look good, but it will take Obama’s policy team time to secure. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the President will most likely not send to the Senate for a vote this year. Although there is no “technical or military need—nor political will” to resume nuclear testing, the fight for CTBT ratification will be much more challenging than that of START, and the treaty cannot afford another US rejection.
The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) — a review of nuclear policy undertaken by new administrations— is seen as a key milestone in assessing Obama’s progress and parameters for future progress. It most likely will reflect Obama’s Prague promises of drastically reducing its strategic nuclear warheads, and will articulate US doctrine on use of nuclear weapons.
Even during the last weeks before the NPR is released, there remains a debate whether the NPR will dictate that nuclear weapons’ “sole” or “primary” purpose is to ensure against their use. At face value, this debate may seem semantic, but the discrepancy carries significant policy implications; the latter option implies that there are several other possible uses for these weapons. Nevertheless, Mr. Kimball concluded that the NPR will generate a positive outcome in which there will be a reduction in the US nuclear inventory, and it will effectively encourage other nuclear states to follow suit. This would contribute towards a productive NPT Review Conference in May.
Dr. Kathryn Matthews, Non-proliferation Policy Staffer for US Congressman Ed Markey, discussed the role of Congress and its viewpoints on nuclear-related issues, the types of obstacles and impediments she and her colleagues face when they are trying to make progress from the Congressional front, and informative key facts on how Congress can be instrumental in pushing for nuclear non-proliferation and arms control initiatives.
After describing the inner workings of Congress and echoing the statements made by Amb. Grey and Mr. Kimball, Dr. Matthews identified one of the possible obstacles to the ratification of START is the standing partisan infighting on Capital Hill. She named three Republican moderate senators, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsay Graham, and Senator Richard G. Lugar, whom she watches as potential “bell weathers” of the successful ratification of START.
Dr. Matthews highlighted three key ways by which Congress representatives can push for progress on nuclear-related issues:
1) “Provide cover for Obama”; they can demonstrate that Obama is not the only one who wants progress on disarmament.
2) “Congress can minimize, or remove entirely, obstruction to START and CTBT ratification treaty via policy changes.” For example, Congress can choose to severely limit the policy scope of the US nuclear weapons programs (e.g., warhead “Life Extension Programs” and new nuclear weapon facility construction) to prevent the possibility of new warhead technology development, so that other treaty parties do not raise concerns about the US commitment to NPT principles.
3) “The power of purse”: While Congress can’t change policies, it can change the budget behind the policies. For example, Congress can achieve some of the disarmament goals related to the new START by simply voting on budget increases for those activities, rather than waiting for it to be mandated by newly negotiated numbers in a treaty.
During the Q&A period, the discussion centered mostly on the ways in which Obama can advance his agenda, or, as one questioner asked, “operationalize” his vision. Participants also discussed how progress on the arms control front can strengthen international cooperation on a larger scale. Amb. Grey, for instance, called for greater ongoing cooperation by the US, rather than an approach that simply “looks for fires to put out”. The role of NATO and the Security Council in advancing these aims was also discussed. Mr. Granoff highlighted the Secretary General’s “Five-Point Plan,” which “begins with the proposition that we should be looking at a nuclear weapons convention or a framework of legal instruments clearly leading to disarmament.”
In conclusion, Mr. Granoff expressed his hope that the presentations made today would help inform delegations’ national and collective strategies for the Review Conference and beyond.
Special thanks go to the Bahá’i International UN office for the use of their conference facility.