Friday, May 8, 2009 Foreign Policy in Focus
The News on Nukes
by Frida Berrigan firstname.lastname@example.org
It's not on the front pages of what is left of U.S. newspapers. The
headlines are dominated by violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and
Iraq, by Miss America's semi-nude photo scandal, and by the Chrysler
fiasco. But just about everyone who is anyone is talking about nuclear
weapons this week.
At the United Nations, representatives from the world's 190 or so
nations are meeting (in typical fashion) to prepare to meet. The
preparatory meeting of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is
taking place the first two weeks of May to get ready for the Review
Conference of the Treaty, which will happen next year. Closer to home
this week, Congress heard from its Congressional Commission on the
Strategic Posture of the United States. And the Department of Energy
released its budget for 2010 requesting $6.4 billion for nuclear
weapons programs out of an overall budget of $26.4 billion.
In all of this nuclear attention, there is good, bad and mixed news,
all of which is taking place against the background of President
Barack Obama's historic Prague speech, in which he pledged to work for
a world free of nuclear weapons. The president also identified
immediate, concrete measures toward that goal, including negotiating a
new treaty with Russia involving deep cuts in our respective nuclear
arsenals; seeking ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
(CTBT); accelerating spending designed to eliminate "loose nukes" and
bomb-making materials (plutonium and enriched uranium) in Russia and
beyond; and ending all new production of bomb-making materials
The Good News
Over the last eight years, the United States all but dropped out of
the NPT process. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty entered into
force in 1970. It sets up a bargain between the nations that possessed
nuclear weapons at the time - the United States, the Soviet Union,
France, China, and the United Kingdom - and the rest of the world.
While nuclear-haves work to dismantle their arsenals, the
nuclear-have-nots won't pursue nuclear weapons programs. The carrot in
the mix was the "peace atom:" allowing non-nuclear states access to
nuclear technologies for energy.
The NPT regime has been under assault by the slow pace of nuclear
disarmament and the spike in nuclear proliferation outside the treaty
by Israel, India, North Korea, and Pakistan. Iran appears to be close
behind, and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission warns that as
many as a dozen other nations have the ability to develop nuclear
weapons capabilities within the next decade.
Given all of this, there was palpable relief following Assistant
Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller's presentation at the 2009
preparatory meeting, which began on Monday, May 4th. The head of the
U.S. delegation read a message from Obama in which he reaffirmed the
U.S. commitment to the treaty and called for collaboration, saying,
"we must define ourselves not by our differences, but by our readiness
to pursue dialogue and hard work to ensure the NPT continues to make
an enduring contribution to international peace and security."
Gottemoeller then described U.S. support for the each of the three
pillars of the Treaty: disarmament, nonproliferation, and nuclear
energy. Perhaps most dramatically, she called on all countries to
abide by the NPT, singling out India, Pakistan, Israel, and North
Korea by name as nations not in compliance with the treaty, and
calling the development of effective consequences for treaty violators
a priority. Her statement and full participation in the meetings
stands in marked contrast to the track record over the last eight
years, and signals U.S. seriousness about international cooperation.
The Mixed News
Congress gave a blue ribbon collection of strategic sages - former
lawmakers and nuclear laboratory directors, retired Pentagon and
Department of Energy officials, and representatives from research
institutions like the National Institute for Public Policy - the task
of examining the long-term strategic posture of the United States and
making recommendations about what the future shape of that posture
should be. Those recommendations were released this week in a 360-page
While nothing in the report purports to set policy for the Obama
administration, the commission's recommendations will be taken into
consideration as the administration begins work on its Nuclear Posture
Review scheduled to be released late this year or early next year.
Read with an eye towards the future of nuclear policy, against the
backdrop of Obama's pledge to seek a world free of nuclear weapons,
the report offers up a somewhat confused picture. On the one hand, the
commission acknowledges the "final abolition of nuclear weapons" as a
goal and asserts that the use of nuclear weapons should be a
"defensive last resort." It also observes that the "moment appears
ripe for a renewal of arms control." The Bush administration's nuclear
posture asserted the possibility of a first use of nuclear weapons,
failed to mention abolition, and as a rule took a dim view of arms
But on the other side of the ledger, the commission couldn't reach
consensus on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - seen by the rest of
the world as a critical litmus test of the U.S. commitment to eventual
nuclear disarmament. Just as alarming, within the context of promoting
a "lead and hedge" policy, in which the United States simultaneously
leads disarmament efforts and maintains a strategic hedge of nuclear
weapons, the commission asserts the necessity of the nuclear
laboratories' warhead "life extension program," calling on the
laboratories to maintain the ability to design new nuclear weapons.
This can be understood as a back door to new weapons designs because
the nuclear labs have used "life extension" to introduce new design
elements into at least two types of nuclear warheads. In the same
vein, the commission's urging that the labs maintain their weapons
design capabilities opens the door to billions of dollars in spending
on a veritable wish-list of high-tech computer modeling, lasers,
imaging systems, and new facilities.
The Bad News
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced his department's budget
requests for fiscal year 2010. Amid a lot of fanfare about renewable
resources and sustainability was a Bush-like $6.4 billion for the
National Nuclear Security Administration's continued work on nuclear
weapons technologies, facilities, and designs.
This request is in line with the NNSA's longer term plans for
upgrading the nuclear weapons complex over the next two decades, an
endeavor that could cost tens and tens of billions of dollars. Besides
being expensive, the plan for so-called Complex Transformation was
crafted during the Bush administration, and is obsolete now that the
Obama administration has pledged to dramatically accelerate the
reduction of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. A $6 billion-plus budget for
moving forward on nuclear weapons research and development while
negotiating for nuclear nonproliferation and pledging a
nuclear-weapons-free world sends mixed signals to allies, provides
political cover to adversaries, and makes it more difficult to
persuade Iran and North Korea to roll back their nuclear programs.
Obama cannot unilaterally get rid of all the United States nuclear
weapons tomorrow - even if that's what he wanted to do.
But he can halt these expensive and short-sighted nuclear weapons
plans with a stroke of his pen when the budget comes back to him in a
few months. In that way, he can reconcile the U.S. nuclear weapons
budget and U.S. nuclear weapons policy.
And that would be good news from Washington for the whole world.
© 2009 Foreign Policy in Focus
 is a Senior Program Associate at the New America Foundation's Arms
and Security Initiative
 (ASI). She is a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus http://www.fpif.org/
 and a contributing editor at In These Times. The recently released
Weapons at War 2008: Beyond the Bush Legacy
, co-authored by Berrigan and William D. Hartung, is an examination
of U.S. weapons sales and military aid to developing nations, conflict
zones, and nations where human rights are not safeguarded.
And the daughter of our beloved friends Phil Berrigan and Liz
McAlsiter and raised at Jonah House http://www.jonahhouse.org/
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