Sarah Lazare / Common Dreams & Kate Hudson / Al Jazeera America & Tariq Rauf / The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute & Amanda Waldron / Ploughshares – 2014-03-26 00:26:22
As Nuclear Summit Begins,
Critics Slam Expansion of US Arsenal
‘Enormous state arsenals are the main problem’
Sarah Lazare / Common Dreams
(March 24, 2014) — Obama first announced the idea for a Global Summit on Nuclear Security in a 2009 speech, in which he declared, “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
He said reducing the threat of nuclear weapons would be a key agenda item for his foreign policy and pledged, “To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same.”
Yet, Kate Hudson writing for Al Jazeera argues that the actual US policy track record under Obama falls well short of his promises. She writes,
And what about strengthening the NPT — complying with that basically sound bargain where the US will move towards disarmament? As we learn from the Stockholm Institute (SIPRI), over the next decade, the US government intends to spend $214 bn to modernize nuclear delivery vehicles, warheads and production facilities.
This includes designing a new class of ballistic missile submarines, a new long-range bomber and a new air-launched cruise missile; studying options for the next-generation land-based ICBM; deploying a new nuclear-capable combat aircraft; producing or modernizing three types of nuclear warhead and building new nuclear weapon production facilities.
That sounds like serious re-armament, wholly at odds with NPT requirements.
She adds, “Enormous state arsenals are the main problem, together with the seeming determination of those states to modernize and upgrade rather than downsize and disarm.”
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, argued in an interview last week that a reduction of the US nuclear arsenal would be a step towards greater “national security.”
“[E]very weapon that we retire is one less nuclear weapon waiting for an accident or that we cannot fail to keep absolutely secure,” he argues.
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Nuclear Summit: Upgrade or Downsize?
As world leaders gather to discuss securing fissile materials, nuclear arsenals remain the elephant in the room
Kate Hudson / Al Jazeera America
(March 24, 2014) â€“ US President Barack Obama touches down in the Netherlands this week to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit. Much vaunted as a crucial means of dealing with the threat of nuclear terrorism, this is the third in a series of such summits, kicked off by Obama’s iconic Prague speech in June 2009.
The NSS initiative has had some modest successes in securing highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, and in establishing means to combat illicit trafficking of nuclear materials. Yet it is sadly the exception that proves the rule when it comes to the list of what Obama hoped to achieve — that this very limited development is more or less all that remains of Obama’s great vision on that glory day.
The Big Issues
Few who heard Obama’s words that day could fail to have been moved — he spoke of freedom, peace and our common humanity. Perhaps the greatest message that people took away was the president’s vision of a nuclear weapons-free world.
I remember that moment so clearly: The hope, indeed expectation, that the world can change. “Yes, we can”, as Obama said, restating his most popular and empowering catch-phrase. But what were his commitments and what has been achieved?
The president said that the United States “will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons”; that “to put an end to Cold war thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same”.
He pledged to negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia: To set the stage for further cuts, seeking to include all nuclear weapons states in that endeavour. He agreed to aggressively pursue US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to seek a new treaty to end the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. And he asserted that the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would be strengthened as a basis for cooperation. The “basic bargain”, he said, was sound: “Countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them . . . .”
Finally, he said, we must ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon — “this is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security”. It was at this point that he announced the nuclear security initiative, the third summit of which takes place this week.
So yes, Obama has made some headway in locking down the deadly detritus of a genocidal technology, but he has failed to deliver on the big issues, the game-changers, which could break the cycle which will inevitably lead to war.
Early progress was made on the new START Treaty with Russia, but then almost derailed as the US insisted on pursuing its clearly destabilising missile defense system. This has put paid to any further bilateral reductions and the possibility of drawing other nuclear weapons states into a downward spiral of nuclear reductions.
Sadly there has been no ratification of the CTBT and no sign of a new Fissile Material Treaty.
And what about strengthening the NPT — complying with that basically sound bargain where the US will move towards disarmament? As we learn from the Stockholm Institute (SIPRI), over the next decade, the US government intends to spend $214 bn to modernise nuclear delivery vehicles, warheads and production facilities.
This includes designing a new class of ballistic missile submarines, a new long-range bomber and a new air-launched cruise missile; studying options for the next-generation land-based ICBM; deploying a new nuclear-capable combat aircraft; producing or modernising three types of nuclear warhead and building new nuclear weapon production facilities.
That sounds like serious re-armament, wholly at odds with NPT requirements.
So it’s hard to reconcile the vision with the reality. Of course it’s good to secure nuclear materials, but is that the limit to the Obama administration’s ambitions?
The problem is that while steps certainly must be taken to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism, nuclear risks are not reducible to terrorism.
Enormous state arsenals are the main problem, together with the seeming determination of those states to modernise and upgrade rather than downsize and disarm.
This will be the void at the heart of this week’s summit: The need to get rid of these weapons.
Dr Kate Hudson is general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a leading anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigner.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Looking Beyond the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit
Tariq Rauf / The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
(March 25, 2014) — Some 50 heads of state and government are meeting today at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, the Netherlands, to highlight their commitment to strengthening nuclear security, and to agree on measures to prevent and combat nuclear terrorism. While many states hope that the Summit will increase nuclear security, the question remains as to whether the NSS process will be successful in securing all vulnerable weapon-usable nuclear materials.
At the end of the Summit today, world leaders are expected to issue an action plan and a communique that will reaffirm their commitment to shared goals of nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Approximately 15 percent of the potentially weapon-usable nuclear materials in the world — highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium — is currently in civilian use. Since 2012 an additional seven countries have removed all or most weapon-usable nuclear materials in civilian facilities from their territories, and only 25 states now possess such material.
Sweden is now set to approve the transfer of 834 kilograms of separated plutonium from the Swedish nuclear power company OKG to the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Meanwhile, Japan continues to own 44 241 kg of separated unirradiated plutonium, of which 9295 kg is stored in Japan. It should be emphasized that all nuclear materials in Sweden and Japan remain in peaceful use, and are subject to the full scope of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
Unregulated Nuclear Materials in Military Use
While it is eminently laudable that governments are extremely concerned about the possible misuse of 15 percent of the potentially weapon-usable nuclear materials in the world, it is strange that these same governments seem less concerned about the remaining 85 percent of the world’s weapon-usable nuclear materials which are in military use, and that world leaders are not prepared to meet even once to discuss the world’s combined nuclear weapon arsenal, which according to SIPRI figures includes approximately 17,000 nuclear warheads.
Former European defense ministers have noted that nearly 2000 tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium are poorly secured in hundreds of facilities in 25 countries. They point out that if the United States could mistakenly fly six nuclear weapons cross country, permit missile launch officers to fall asleep on the job with the doors to launch control facilities propped open, and allow an 85-year-old nun to successfully cut through four layers of fencing and deface a national storage vault for highly enriched uranium, there is even more reason to be concerned.
Many regard the NSS process as somewhat farcical compared to the possible dangers of failing to address the spread of nuclear weapons. Critics point to the exclusion of some countries — such as Iran and North Korea — with sensitive nuclear material and facilities. If vulnerable nuclear material is the concern, then all 76 countries that possess nuclear material should be invited to the NSS. Instead, the number of states involved in the NSS process is limited, as is its possible effectiveness.
The Need for a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty
Given the dangers and risks emanating from all types of weapon-usable nuclear materials, it is imperative that any future global treaty banning the production of nuclear weapon usable materials — the so-called fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) — must not only prohibit future production of these materials but also include accounting, transparency and monitoring of existing stocks of materials in all nine states possessing nuclear weapons.
In 1991, US Senator Sam Nunn, together with Senator Richard Lugar, initiated the Cooperative Threat Reduction programme which led to the safe repatriation of former Soviet nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Nunn recently cautioned that ‘it is the duty of governments to reduce the risks that pose a threat to humanity . . . . Citizens must demand it, and leaders must answer the call. The day after a nuclear catastrophe, citizens and leaders alike would be asking what we should have done to prevent it. I continue to ask the question: Why aren’t we doing it now?’
This is a question that could also be asked of states participating in the NSS in The Hague today.
Tariq Rauf is Director of the SIPRI Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme. From 2002 to 2011 he was Head of Nuclear Verification and Security Policy coordination at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In Desperate Need of Spring Cleaning?
The US Nuclear Complex
Amanda Waldron / Ploughshares
(March 20, 2014) — While the rest of the nation is concerned with shrinking budgets, incompetence among the nuclear personnel, and pullback from wars abroad, the Obama Administration’s FY 2015 budget inexplicably calls for an increased nuclear weapons budget. Even more disturbingly, the Administration is calling for a decrease in programs to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and a slowdown in the dismantlement of nuclear weapons that we’ve already committed to destroying.
To get an expert view, we talked to our grantee, Executive Director Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. Here, he describes how the time is ripe for reform to the American nuclear weapons complex.
Ploughshares Fund: What are some of the biggest challenges toward reducing the US stockpile, and how can this be done without compromising US security?
Jay Coghlan: One of the biggest challenges toward reducing the US nuclear weapons stockpile is local congressional pork interests, for example the Wyoming and Montana senators opposing even consideration of reducing ICBMs, or my own Senator Tom Udall who opposed cutting the gold-plated, provocative B61 Life Extension Program because it meant 200 jobs in New Mexico.
Reducing the US stockpile does not compromise American national security, but rather strengthens it. First, we already have enough nuclear weapons to kill the planet ten times over. For genuine deterrence purposes, we need only a few hundred nuclear weapons, not the thousands that we maintain. Additionally, every weapon that we retire is one less nuclear weapon waiting for an accident or that we cannot fail to keep absolutely secure.
Finally, reducing our own stockpile encourages others to do so, when our conventional forces are vastly superior and nuclear weapons are our only true existential threat.
PF: If a nuclear disaster were to occur in the United States, what would be the impact?
JC: After Fukushima and the demise of the much-touted “nuclear renaissance” I think any disaster in the US would be the final nail in the coffin for the nuclear power industry. Taxpayers would demand an end to loan subsidies and fiscal liability caps that essentially prop up nuclear corporate welfare. This would mean the end of the nuclear power industry since it cannot compete on a level playing field subject to market forces.
PF: Do you think the current investigation of Air Force nuclear personnel is warranted, and what might it uncover?
JC: I definitely think the current investigation of Air Force nuclear personnel is warranted as there can be no mistakes in their mission. However, it is their mission itself that needs to be thoroughly investigated. Why do we still have more than 400 ICBMs on high alert, nearly a quarter-century after the end of the Cold War? After all, the reported problems and low morale among Air Force nuclear personnel are symptoms of an archaic mission badly in need of change.
PF: What reforms to the nuclear corps are needed to avoid these incidents?
JC: The number of ICBMs should be vastly reduced, leaving only elite nuclear personnel still performing the mission, who should be better compensated. Ultimately, the land-based ICBM leg of the nuclear weapons triad should be eliminated entirely.
Jay Coghlan and Nuke Watch New Mexico recently spelled out the flaws in the President’s FY 2015 budget request.
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