Friends Committee on National Legislation / Washington Newsletter – 2016-07-17 19:42:12
Nuclear Weapons: Progress but an Unfinished Agenda
Friends Committee on National Legislation / Washington Newsletter
(July 2016) — President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in May, the first by a sitting US president, caps an administration that put nuclear disarmament back on the national agenda. Speaking in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the memorial to those killed by US atomic bombs, President Obama reaffirmed a commitment to disarmament: “Among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.”
As inspiring as those words are, the Obama administration has a mixed record on nuclear weapons. Since President Obama first called for disarmament in a speech in Prague in 2009, there has been some progress towards that goal. Still, we are disappointed that this president, who won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize in part for his focus on nuclear issues, hasn’t done more.
A Mixed Track Record
This administration has had two major accomplishments in the disarmament arena. The New START treaty, negotiated with Russia in 2010, reduces the number of deployed nuclear weapons in the US and Russia — which, between them, account for 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal. The nuclear agreement with Iran provides for strict monitoring to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
The trend lines for nuclear weapons are moving in the right direction. The US nuclear arsenal is much smaller today than it was just a few decades ago. This trend represents success in both disarmament (decommissioning existing weapons and not building new ones) and nonproliferation (preventing additional countries and groups from getting nuclear materials).
Our FCNL community, guided by a deep commitment to disarmament and the skilled tactics from lobbyist David Culp, has played a pivotal role in successes in both these areas.
Yet even the detonation of one “small” nuclear weapon would be devastating. So, more work remains.
President Obama took office riding a wave of heady idealism for hope and change. All too soon, however, external circumstances, internal politics, and a lack of grassroots support overshadowed the sense that complete disarmament was possible.
The belligerent foreign policy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, including the 2014 invasion of the Ukraine, stalled any further disarmament negotiations beyond the New START treaty. In the US, meanwhile, congressional hawks made it clear that every victory would come at a high price. The Senate overwhelmingly ratified the first START treaty with Russia in 1991.
In 2010, the renewal of that treaty nearly failed, and more than one senator who supported it lost his re-election bid. And the most sustained reaction to President Obama’s disarmament stance came not from advocates for those policies but from the industries threatened by them.
As a result, President Obama enters the last months of his administration with a long list of disarmament opportunities not taken. In addition to the negotiation of further arsenal reductions with Russia, the list of unfinished business includes US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and removing US weapons from hair-trigger alert.
Where We Are Now
The challenges for disarmament advocates today, however, are more than just a long to-do list. In three areas in particular, FCNL is working to keep US nuclear policies from backtracking on even the modest gains of the past few years.
1.Halting Modernization of the Nuclear Arsenal
The US military and its contractors are pushing for a major new building effort for nuclear weapons — a “modernization” program for the arsenal that would cost an estimated $1 trillion over 30 years. The next opportunity to halt the program comes in 2017, when a new administration will comprehensively review US nuclear policy. FCNL is already talking with people likely to influence that review, regardless of the election’s outcome.
2. Blocking a New Nuclear Cruise Missile
Congress is already considering the first steps of the modernization project: building a new generation of nuclear cruise missiles. FCNL is working to block congressional approval of research funding for these weapons and hopes to eliminate funding entirely next year.
3. Funding to Prevent a “Dirty Bomb”
Today, the greatest nuclear danger comes from unsecured nuclear material falling into the hands of violent extremists. FCNL is working with congressional allies to increase funding for the programs that help secure nuclear stockpiles worldwide.
Progress Is Possible
The past eight years has demonstrated the challenges of progress on nuclear disarmament. At the same time, we’ve seen the power that constituent advocacy has to effect change — and the value of the focused, strategic lobbying that FCNL is known for.
To hear Joe Cirincione, head of the Ploughshares Fund, tell it, the nuclear deal with Iran might not have succeeded without FCNL. “You had lots of experts weighing in,” he told The Hill newspaper in May. “But experts don’t carry that many votes. You needed to have strong, disciplined, grassroots groups out there demonstrating support for the deal. And that’s where FCNL was so essential.”
In his speech at Hiroshima, President Obama imagined a new future: “a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our own moral awakening.” He added, “We must change our mindset about war itself.
To prevent conflict through diplomacy, and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun.” FCNL shares this vision. It’s up to us — all of us — to keep it alive and moving forward in a new administration and Congress.
A New Nuclear Arms Race?
Friends Committee on National Legislation / Washington Newsletter
The US nuclear arsenal is reaching the end of its lifespan. Will the US spend the money required to upgrade and modernize these weapons, or will it use this opportunity to speed up disarmament?
The US is currently on the path to modernization. President Obama has endorsed the military-led plan to refurbish the US nuclear arsenal over the next three decades, at an estimated cost of $1 trillion.
But there’s still time to change course. In 2017, a new administration will thoroughly review US nuclear weapons policy and could suggest changes.
What Is Modernization?
Under this plan, the US would invest in a whole host of new and upgraded weapon, delivery systems, and infrastructure, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, gravity bombs, submarines, nuclear-capable stealth fighter jets, and a fleet of stealth heavy bombers.
Proponents point to the aging US arsenal and the need to incorporate modern technology to improve the accuracy of weapons systems. In FCNL’s view, however, refurbishing the US nuclear arsenal is wasteful and sends the wrong message.
Since 1967, the US has been part of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which compels countries without nuclear weapons to forego developing them. In exchange, countries with nuclear weapons, such as the US, agreed to cut back and eventually eliminate their arsenals.
A new US investment in its arsenal would show a continued commitment to the deterrent threat of nuclear attack. In response, it is likely that other countries would seek to strengthen their own arsenals, kicking off a new nuclear arms race.
Good News: Opposition Grows
FCNL is not alone in criticizing the modernization plan: Military leaders have been some of the strongest voices in opposition. The former head of US Strategic Command, Gen. Eugene Habiger, is among those calling for US arsenal reductions rather than improvements.
Nuclear weapons do not make strategic sense. Designed for the Cold War and an era of nuclear deterrence, the magnitude of their destructive powers was insurance against their use. But nuclear weapons are virtually useless against violent, non-state actors such as al Qaeda or ISIS.
The proposal’s enormous cost also works against it. Pentagon officials have been reluctant to reveal the full extent of the investment: In a House Armed Services Committee hearing in June 2015, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work stated only that the “average” cost per year would be $18 billion. In an era of tight budgets, the cost of a modern nuclear arsenal may be too high for Congress.
Bad News: First Steps Already Underway
Even without a comprehensive plan, however, the administration is already headed down the modernization path. Congress is considering approving $85 million to begin research and development on a new nuclear cruise missile. Stopping this weapon from getting off the ground is an important step to put the brakes on the entire arsenal “improvement” plan.
The cruise missile, dubbed the Long-Range Standoff Weapon or LSRO, would replace the United States’ existing air-launched cruise missiles. The administration plans to develop between 1,000 and 1,100 new missiles, at a cost of $20 billion to $30 billion.
These new weapons move us back in the direction of “tactical” nuclear weapons, envisioned to hit precise targets and cause localized destruction. A move by the US to build the LRSO would ratchet up the pressure on other countries to develop them.
Former Defense Secretary William Perry, who oversaw development of the current air-launched cruise missile, has been one of the LRSO’s most vocal opponents. In a Washington Post op-ed last October, Perry said the move to build these new missiles reflects outdated, Cold-War thinking and would be “a grave mistake.”
Perry also noted that these cruise missiles are a “uniquely destabilizing type of weapon . . . because they can be launched without warning and come in both nuclear and conventional variants.” With the target country unable to tell whether it is under nuclear attack, these weapons increase the chances for miscalculation and the unintended escalation of a conflict to nuclear war.
Action This Year
The stakes are high. Once Congress commits to development of the LRSO, the program will be much harder to cancel. This weapon is the wedge in the door to a new generation of nuclear weapons that are unnecessary and increase the danger of nuclear war, whether intended or accidental. The US needs to take the lead in reducing the number of nuclear weapons worldwide, not embark on new efforts to build them.
A handful of senators are already on record in opposition to the LRSO. Sen Dianne Feinstein (CA) is a vocal opponent, and in December Sen. Ed Markey (MA) and seven other senators asked President Obama to scuttle the program.
If this opposition is to continue to grow, your members of Congress and candidates for office this year need to know where you stand. Let them know that you expect them to work to eliminate nuclear weapons, and that the aging US arsenal is an opportunity to disarm, not to restart a nuclear arms race.
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