Is Obama Pushing Unilateral Nuclear Cuts?

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Air Force Photo / Staff Sgt. Charles Larkin Sr.

A B-2 Spirit takes off from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

In the State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama is reportedly set to make nuclear arms a high-priority issue. In the wake of North Korea‘s nuclear-bomb test and Iran‘s continuing nuclear ambitions, he’s also planning to propose downsizing America’s own strategic nuclear forces.

Obama’s move against the U.S. nuclear deterrent, if true, is likely to stir great controversy, especially among lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

For decades, Uncle Sam’s atomic arsenal has not just provided the nation with the ultimate insurance policy against nuclear or large-scale conventional attacks by foreign powers. It’s also extended a reassuring “nuclear umbrella” of shared security that’s encouraged Germany, Japan, South Korea, and other technologically-capable U.S. allies to forsake getting their own nukes, and thus actually provided a cornerstone for nuclear nonproliferation among democracies.

Indeed, the historical record shows that, in the absence of America’s nuclear umbrella, efforts like the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 would have faced an extremely difficult, if not impossible, time advancing. And that is a nuclear-age paradox which arms controllers and disarmers have yet to deal with squarely.

However, the U.S. nuclear deterrent is now under siege.

Witness Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense—a nomination that is divisive due not only to the former Republican senator’s support for more deep cuts to defense spending, hostility or indifference to the U.S.-Israeli alliance, an offensive description of the pro-Israel community in the United States as “the Jewish lobby,” and opposition to any military option to stop Iran’s nuclear program, but also to his previously staunch advocacy for deep cuts to U.S. atomic arms in furtherance of global nuclear disarmament.

As senators critically pointed out many times during the confirmation hearing in late January, Hagel co-authored a controversial report for Global Zero in May 2012 urging the United States to make drastic cuts to its nuclear arsenal—potentially by unilateral means.  Global Zero is an international movement formed to aggressively advocate for “the elimination of all nuclear weapons” and, towards that end, the Hagel report is a veritable wish list for dyed-in-the-wool disarmament types—most notably, it calls for an overall reduction from roughly 1,550 deployed U.S. strategic nuclear warheads to only 450 deployed warheads.

No doubt, the Global Zero report’s recommendations are nothing new, but their elevation from the small circles of nuclear disarmament wonks to the Big Show of a cabinet nomination hearing is certainly a first.

Prior to the Senate hearing, the Hagel report’s co-authors and the larger Global Zero community apparently sensed the toxicity of their recommendations, and aggressively—some might say, disingenuously—tried to reframe the report’s main arguments. For example, the Hagel report clearly states that aggressive reductions to the U.S. nuclear arsenal could be “implemented unilaterally.” Unilateral nuclear reductions would mean that America disarms itself of nuclear armaments without a matching quid pro quo from another power, in this case Russia.

It’s a fringe concept that’s been rejected on Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and, for now, the White House.

Even though the Global Zero report explicitly allows for unilateral U.S. nuclear reductions, the report’s co-authors nevertheless issued a public letter days before the hearing to distance themselves from their own claim. They wrote:  “Some have specifically asserted that the Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission Report we co-authored with Hagel last year supports unilateral disarmament. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

But during the confirmation hearing, senators pointed out to Hagel how his co-authored report, in fact, featured as many as seven separate and distinct recommendations for potentially “unilateral” actions by the United States. Those included completely eliminating ICBMs from the so-called “nuclear triad,” terminating nuclear-armed B-52 long-range bombers, and slashing the number of nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines and B-2 strategic bombers.  Moreover, the Hagel report added that these recommendations could be “implemented unilaterally,” like in a passage from page 18 that deserves to be quoted in full:

“The less good approach would be to adopt this agenda unilaterally.  A strong case can nevertheless be made that unilateral U.S. deep cuts [to its nuclear arsenal] and de-alerting coupled with strengthened missile defenses and conventional capabilities would not weaken deterrence in practical terms vis-à-vis Russia, China or any of the more plausible nation-state challengers that America may confront in the years ahead.  While preserving effective deterrence against all but non-state actors, unilateral steps would lay the groundwork for increasing security cooperation among the former Cold War adversaries and encourage them to consider comparable unilateral actions.”

As Hagel tried to square the circle and distance himself from the Global Zero report throughout the hearing, Senators called him out for his intellectual inconsistencies.  For example, Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said:

So here’s what I’m struggling with.  Why would you ever put your name on a report that is inherently inconsistent with what you’re telling us today, is that you’ve never been for unilateral disarmament as a possibility?…But of all the illustrations and of all the “coulds” you could pick, this report says that the president could implement these unilaterally; although that’s inconsistent with what you say is your position, yet you signed off on this.

While few expect Obama’s State of the Union speech to completely embrace the Hagel report for Global Zero, many lawmakers on Capitol Hill are concerned that key elements of the report’s recommendations—such as unilateral U.S. reductions outside of a Senate-approved treaty—may resurface in the days to come.

It’s therefore worth recalling what Air Force General C. Robert Kehler, who heads U.S. Strategic Command and is responsible for America’s nuclear operations, told reporters in August 2012:  “Regarding the Global Zero report, in my view we have the force size, force structure, and force posture today that we need for our national security needs.”

Robert Zarate is policy director at the non-profit Foreign Policy Initiative, an independent group pushing to maintain U.S. military strength. He previously worked on national security and foreign-affairs issues on Capitol Hill.

11 comments
Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

" Iran‘s continuing nuclear ambitions"

Do you have a special ambition-detector that reveals a nation's ambitions?
Are there any other dangerous ambitions about?

TrevorFitzGibbon
TrevorFitzGibbon

the author of this article is spreading a fabrication - The authors of the GZ report ENDORSE multilateral negotiations and reductions - NOT unilateral.  From the report - " It is critical to broaden the agenda of nuclear arms regulation to include all categories of weapons in all nuclear weapons countries. Only a broad multilateral approach can effectively address the multitude of serious nuclear dangers found in other parts of the world. While pursuing bilateral negotiations to reduce the U.S. and Russian stockpiles to much lower levels, the two sides should initiate a multilateral process that would seek to cap, freeze, reduce and otherwise constrain the arsenals of third countries. Nuclear arms regulation must become comprehensive and universal."

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

Won't work, and a waste of time...........why weaken yourselves in the face of North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Syria with its chemical weopons..........Stay strong America.........and vote smarter next election.........

FactChecker
FactChecker

Don_Bacon, you're flat-out wrong.  Iran is in ongoing violation--"noncompliance", to use jargon of international law--of its legal obligations under the NPT (Articles II and III) and Iran's NPT-mandated IAEA safeguards agreement.  

See http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2005/gov2005-77.pdf, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/sc9948.doc.htm, as well as http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_5/Carlson, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/09/30/iran.iaea.nuclear/index.html, and http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Security-Council-Resolutions-on-Iran.

Through successive nuclear arms control treaties (SALT I, SALT II, START, SORT, NEW START), the U.S. has complied with NPT's Article VI, which does not technically require global nuclear disarmament, but only all states "to pursue negotiations in good faith"... &tc.  (Read Article VI.)  In contrast, Iran has consistently rejected "negotiations in good faith" and is starting a nuclear arms race.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

 Some in the U.S. claim that Iran has violated the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is a false accusation. What is true is that the U.S. hasn't complied with Article VI of the NPT.

TREATY ON THE NON-PROLIFERATION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Signed at Washington, London, and Moscow July 1, 1968
Ratification advised by U.S. Senate March 13, 1969
Ratified by U.S. President November 24, 1969
U.S. ratification deposited at Washington, London, and Moscow March 5, 1970
Proclaimed by U.S. President March 5, 1970
Entered into force March 5, 1970

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.
http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/npt/text/npt2.htm

ZbigniewM.Mazurak
ZbigniewM.Mazurak

Of course Global Zero advocated UNILATERAL deep cuts to America's nuclear deterrent - it's in their report. THEY are the ones who said they wanted to see it implemented UNILATERALLY if this is not done through a treaty with Russia. But even if it WERE done through a treaty with Russia, it would STILL be wrong and suicidal, because 1) China has at least 1,800, and up to 3,000, nuclear warheads and a 3,000-mile long network of tunnels for nuclear-armed missiles and warheads; 2) the US - as Zarate has pointed out - has to provide a nuclear deterrent not only for itself but also for 30 allies, many of whom will likely go nuclear if the US doesn't provide a CREDIBLE, SURVIVABLE nuclear umbrella for them; 3) a small nuclear arsenal will never be survivable, as it will be too easy for an enemy to destroy in a first strike; 4) disarmament in general, including nuclear disarmament, is a foolish, suicidal policy which only weakesns America's defenses and risks inviting aggression, war, death, and destruction, and for that reason alone, it should not be pursued.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@FactChecker How has Iran violated the Safeguards agreement?

You could be referring, as others have, to a supposed violation of a subsidiary arrangement to the Safeguards Agreement as it applies to the Fordow enrichment plant. This arrangement initially called for a notification of a new enrichment plant 180 days before operation, then it was changed by the IAEA to start of construction, which Iran initially agreed to and then Iran reverted back to the 180 day requirement.  In any case the IAEA was notified well before Iran started the Fordow operation, and the IAEA inspected the new facility at that time, before operation. So no harm was done, everything was wide open to IAEA inspection, as are all of Iran's nuclear facilities. Calling this an "ongoing violation" of the NPT  is baloney.

TrevorFitzGibbon
TrevorFitzGibbon

@ZbigniewM.Mazurakyou are spreading falsehoods.  The authors of the GZ report ENDORSE multilateral negotiations and reductions - NOT unilateral.  From the report - " It is critical to broaden the agenda of nuclear arms regulation to include all categories of weapons in all nuclear weapons countries. Only a broad multilateral approach can effectively address the multitude of serious nuclear dangers found in other parts of the world. While pursuing bilateral negotiations to reduce the U.S. and Russian stockpiles to much lower levels, the two sides should initiate a multilateral process that would seek to cap, freeze, reduce and otherwise constrain the arsenals of third countries. Nuclear arms regulation must become comprehensive and universal."

bobbymike
bobbymike

Absolutely correct about China. Hillary said, "We welcome the rise of China". It helps when you are intentionally falling to meet them. I advised against cutting below Start I. We should have about 5000 deployed warheads on 1200+ launchers and those launchers should have been modernized. Our nuclear enterprise should be researching the next generation of warheads.

Our enemies should hve no doubt of our commitment to defend this nation and the nations of our friends. It is obvious the intent is too weaken the US and its influence in the world.

FactChecker
FactChecker

@Don_Bacon For nearly two decades, Iran actively hid nuclear materials and related tech & activities that, under its NPT-required IAEA safeguards agreement, it was legally obligated to declare to the Agency.  

That's why the IAEA has called out "Iran’s failures in a number of instances over an extended period of time to meet its obligations under its NPT Safeguards Agreement (INFCIRC 214) with respect to the reporting of nuclear material, its processing and its use, as well as the declaration of facilities where such material had been processed and stored."

After Iran repeatedly refused to fully and transparently cooperate so the IAEA could verify both the CORRECTNESS and COMPLETENESS of its nuclear declarations--which is to say, verify the ABSENCE OF ANY MORE undeclared nuclear materials and activities--the IAEA Board of Governors found Iran to be in non-compliance with its NPT-required IAEA safeguards agreement in September 2005:  http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2005/gov2005-77.pdf.

To this day, Iran still hasn't fully cooperated with the IAEA to get a clean bill of nuclear health, so that's why it's in ongoing violation of its NPT-required IAEA safeguards agreement and thus the NPT, too.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@FactChecker@Don_BaconYukiya Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat, took command of the IAEA in July 2009. Since then, the west’s confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program has deepened and threats of military action by Israel and the US have become more frequent.

   “There has been a concentration of power, with less diversity of viewpoints,” a former agency official said, adding that Amano has surrounded himself with advisors who have the same approach to Iran.

    Hans Blix, a former IAEA director general, also raised concerns over the agency’s credibility. “There is a distinction between information and evidence, and if you are a responsible agency you have to make sure that you ask questions and do not base conclusions on information that has not been verified,” he said.

IAEA Chief  Amano is a US puppet:
US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks which revealed Amano's assiduous courting of American support. In an October 2009 cable, the US charge d'affaires, Geoffrey Pyatt, wrote: "Amano reminded [the] ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the developing countries group], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program."

And so the IAEA, under US control, oversteps its treaty purpose. NPT:
"Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes to accept safeguards, as set forth in an agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency in accordance with the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Agencys safeguards system, for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfillment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

***for the exclusive purpose . . .to preventing diversion of nuclear energy***

This does NOT include "a clean bill of nuclear health" from the US/IAEA, which would be impossible.

And every IAEA report states: "The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and LOFs declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement."

The real issue with Iran is not nuclear, it is ME hegemony. Iran has it and the US wants it. The US has sanctioned Iran since long before its nuclear program.

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