Continuing my series. I’ve been adding other goodies to my presidential issues page. Check it out.
The Republicans are a pretty sorry bunch on the subject of nuclear policy. Only John McCain looked a little bit serious about it. The Democrats have published more words, but they aren’t very adventurous. There are a number of low-hanging fruit in nuclear policy that could immensely improve the United States’ standing in the world: take missiles off alert, ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and bring the nuclear numbers down to totals of a few hundred. Those goals have been analyzed and recommended by many national-security specialists, not least George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn in the January 4 Wall Street Journal, followed by Margaret Beckett, in her last days as the UK’s Foreign Secretary.
Espousing these goals would give the Democrats a real marker against what is becoming the War Party, while showing that they are serious about national security. The questions about Pakistan’s nukes shows that nuclear proliferation can hardly be anything but bad for the security of the United States. The United States must lead by cutting its nuclear stockpile down to a safer level. There are hardly a hundred strategic targets for nuclear weapons in the world; that means that 300 nuclear weapons is easily enough for the stockpile.
Something that is not well understood in the United States is that other countries take the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty seriously. Countries without nuclear weapons pledged not to develop them if the countries with nuclear weapons would promise to work toward their elimination. Well, ha ha wink nudge, it turns out that the nuclear weapon states were just a bit cynical about that and just let those other guys put it in to get them to sign up. That’s one justification for not doing more, and it’s at least partly true. But the words are there, in Article VI,
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.and the parties signed up to them. There is no major country that intends to make all others bend to its will, unless it’s the United States. Getting rid of the excess nukes would help to convince the rest of the world that that’s not our objective.
The Schultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn op-ed isn’t a bad measure by which to look at the Democrats’ proposals.
I’ll take their steps one by one.
Changing the Cold War posture of deployed nuclear weapons to increase warning time and thereby reduce the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon.Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the only candidates to address this one directly. Obama and Chuck Hagel have introduced a bill, Senate 1977, a sense of Congress resolution, that recommends a number of measures, including taking nuclear missiles off alert status. Clinton: “As President, I will work to implement the sensible near-term steps Secretaries Schultz, Kissinger, Perry and Senator Nunn described: increasing nuclear warning time, reducing the danger of accidental or unauthorized launch…” (More about alert status here and here.)
Next step from the WSJ op-ed:
Continuing to reduce substantially the size of nuclear forces in all states that possess them.I’m going to include policy toward the Robust Replacement Warhead here. The DOE has argued that the RRW is not an increase in nuclear numbers because it would replace existing weapons, but it is frequently taken that way by other countries.
All of the Democratic candidates whose positions I have collected oppose a program to develop the RRW. Bill Richardson’s statement shows an awareness from his experience as Secretary of Energy
To know intimately our nuclear arsenal is to know intimately how our species could destroy itself.that the others seem to lack. Clinton’s statement is carefully worded, but it’s not clear what it means. She would
seek bipartisan support for a comprehensive nuclear weapons policy that takes into account the need to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent and the critical importance of restoring American leadership on nonproliferation.
The candidates also, for the most part, agree that the arsenals should be reduced. Richardson and Obama have the most thoughtful statements, recognizing that terrorism rather than war with the Soviet Union is now the main threat of nuclear strikes against the United States. Richardson:
We should re-affirm our commitment to the long-term goal of global nuclear disarmament, and we should invite the Russians to join us in a moratorium on all new nuclear weapons. And we should negotiate further staged reductions in our arsenals, beyond what has already been agreed, over the next decade.Obama:
In a world in which nuclear terrorism rather than war with Russia is the main threat, reducing all nuclear arsenals, in a careful, orderly way, makes everyone safer. Moreover, negotiations to reduce our arsenal also represent our diplomatic ace-in-the-hole.
We can leverage our own proposed reductions to get the other nuclear powers to do the same - and simultaneously get the non-nuclear powers to forego both weapons and nuclear fuel enrichment, and to agree to rigorous global safeguards and verification procedures.
I will work with Russia to update and scale back our dangerously outdated Cold War nuclear postures and deemphasize the role of nuclear weapons.Clinton is more specific on this point:
Neither North Korea nor Iran will change course as a result of what we do with our own nuclear weapons, but taking dramatic steps to reduce our nuclear arsenal would build support for the coalitions we need to address the threat of nuclear proliferation and help the United States regain the moral high ground… To reassert our nonproliferation leadership, I will seek to negotiate an accord that substantially and verifiably reduces the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. This dramatic initiative would send a strong message of nuclear restraint to the world, while we retain enough strength to deter others from trying to match our arsenal.None of them give numbers, though.
None of the candidates address
Eliminating short-range nuclear weapons designed to be forward-deployed.This is important because these weapons are the most vulnerable to theft and misuse. They have not yet been limited by treaty, although the United States has moved to eliminate its stockpile of them.
The next step in the WSJ op-ed is
Initiating a bipartisan process with the Senate, including understandings to increase confidence and provide for periodic review, to achieve ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, taking advantage of recent technical advances, and working to secure ratification by other key states.This is low-hanging fruit indeed. The Senate failed to ratify the CTBT in 1999 by a narrow margin. Ratification of the CTBT would signal a turnaround in US foreign policy and would increase US influence in nuclear matters.
It’s a no-brainer for the candidates, too. They all urge ratification. Obama is the only one to add that the US should pay its dues to the CTBT Preparatory Organization, which were discontinued this year.
The next step is
Providing the highest possible standards of security for all stocks of weapons, weapons-usable plutonium, and highly enriched uranium everywhere in the world.Legislation originally proposed by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar made funds available to secure nuclear materials in Russia, starting from shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Had funding been provided at higher levels, this could have been completed by now. The Clinton administration dithered in various ways, and the Republican Congress cut appropriations. Although President Bush speaks well of the program and of the necessity to secure this material, his proposed budgets have been far below what is needed.
Again, the candidates all agree that it should be done and support increased funding for the Nunn-Lugar programs. Richardson says he would also work with Pakistan to secure their nuclear arsenal and mentions specifically the programs to secure highly enriched uranium in research reactors around the world. He blames the Bush administration for bureaucratic entanglements to the programs, but my observation is that these began under Clinton, although probably after Richardson was Secretary of Energy. Clinton notes that she
opposed the Bush administration's efforts to cut Nunn-Lugar funding, and voted to redirect funds from national missile defense to Cooperative Threat Reduction and other programs.Obama wants America to lead the effort to complete the work within four years.
Getting control of the uranium enrichment process, combined with the guarantee that uranium for nuclear power reactors could be obtained at a reasonable price, first from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and then from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or other controlled international reserves. It will also be necessary to deal with proliferation issues presented by spent fuel from reactors producing electricity.By and large, the candidates saw fit to deal with this issue by “tightening up” the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, no specifics provided. There was some support for nuclear fuel banks. This will be a difficult goal to reach, requiring intense diplomacy and example-setting on the part of the United States, so perhaps it is not surprising that the candidates chose to duck it.
The next step,
Halting the production of fissile material for weapons globally; phasing out the use of highly enriched uranium in civil commerce and removing weapons-usable uranium from research facilities around the world and rendering the materials safe.should be another no-brainer. The United States has not produced any new fissionable material for a couple of decades, and some of the enriched uranium from decommissioned nuclear weapons is being blended down for use in power reactors. Only Obama recommends that we “negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material.”
Part of the problem here may be that the United States would have to subject itself to more intrusive safeguards—IAEA inspections in particular—than it has previously allowed. Past administrations of both parties have been highly resistant to such safeguards. However, methods of accounting for fissionable material have progressed over the past decade to where accountability can be definitively separated from classified nuclear weapons data. And some of that classified nuclear weapons data has to do with numbers; releasing it would add to the confidence the world can have in US behavior.
Finally, Schultz et al. recommend
Redoubling our efforts to resolve regional confrontations and conflicts that give rise to new nuclear powers.The candidates address this in a variety of ways, which I’ll address in a later post.
Both Obama and Clinton mention the WSJ op-ed, but they don’t fully address the challenges it presents. Richardson has prepared a very nice issue paper on nuclear weapons policy that I have a hard copy of, but can’t find on his website. It’s much more comprehensive than the material I’ve listed on my reference page, but I haven’t used it because it’s not generally available. Edwards’ statements on the subject are vague. I haven’t mentioned Joseph Biden and Christopher Dodd, who responded to the Council for a Livable World questionnaire. Both took similar positions to those of the other Democratic candidates, but Biden’s answers were short, and Dodd’s were one word each.
Obama has been perceptive enough to introduce Senate 1977, which addresses some of the WSJ op-ed steps, and perceptive enough to co-sponsor with Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who has experience similar to Biden’s.
In terms of experience, Richardson and Biden can be expected to have the most depth in understanding nuclear weapons issues, Richardson from his experience as Secretary of Energy and Ambassador to the United Nations, and Biden from his experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Richardson’s record as Secretary of Energy is mixed, however; the Wen Ho Lee incident occurred on his watch, and his handling of it was less than skillful.
Clinton waffles too much on this issue for me. She uses “national security” a bit too much to cover over either a lack of thinking on these issues or overreliance on nuclear weapons. I can’t tell which of these it is.