Wednesday, December 22, 2010

America Vencedor! Obama Vencedor!

Wednesday, 12-22-10, 3:00 PM EST/  The United States Senate ratified the New Start Treaty (strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Russians) by a vote of 71 to 26; 13 Senate Republicans and all 58 Democrats voted in the affirmative. For those who missed today’s CSPAN-2 broadcast of the Senate hearing, here is my personal summary:

Initially, two amendments to the Treaty, offered by Republicans, were passed by unanimous consent of the Senate; these were in the nature of signing statements, and should not require that the Treaty be renegotiated with the Russians. (Yesterday, several other amendments to the text of the Treaty had been offered by the Republicans; but, these were all voted down by margins of 2 to 1.) 

 The accepted amendments were:

 1) The Kyl amendment, which stipulates that the President should expedite funding for upgrades to the nuclear weapons laboratories. In particular, funding for the plutonium R&D facility (CMRR building) at LANL, and the enriched uranium R&D facility at ORNL should be expedited.

 2) The Corker-McCain-Lieberman amendment, which stipulates that the Preamble to the Treaty is non-binding on the United States. In particular, the US will continue with development of its missile defense systems and such development will not be seen by the US as an acceptable reason for any future Russian withdrawal from the Treaty.

At this point, it was made clear by the majority leader Sen. Harry Reid, and the head of the Foreign Relations Committee Sen. John Kerry, that no further amendments would be allowed. Nevertheless, senators continued to expatiate regarding the Treaty.

 Sen. Byron Dorgan (Dem. of South Dakota) pointed out that the federal budget for nuclear weapons R&D had increased by 10% a year, over the past two years, and that there was no reason to suspect that there had been any foot-dragging in this area by the Obama Administration. Dorgan also noted that architectural designs for the CMRR building at LANL were currently only 45% complete and, therefore, there was no reason to expedite funding for construction of that facility.

 Sen. Jeff Sessions (Rep. of Alabama) spoke for 20 minutes about his fervent denunciation of the Treaty. Sessions said that "the Treaty would make the US less safe", and should be rejected by the Senate. He complained that:

 1) The Treaty was a step on the road toward "President Obama's goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons", which was a "leftist goal" and a "dangerous fantasy".

 2) The notion that the Treaty will make Russia "more cooperative" in its relations with the US was false. He stated that Russia had shown itself to be uninterested in cooperation with the US since it had blocked United Nations Security Council attempts to condemn North Korea and, in 2008, had attacked its neighbor Georgia.

 3) The Obama Administration had "unilaterally given away US missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic", thus, showing itself to be "insufficiently committed to missile defense".

 4) The US Senate should state clearly that the "goal of zero nuclear weapons is undesirable and even impossible".

 5) "The goal of zero nuclear weapons is a cockamamy and dangerous idea".

 6) "The idea of a world without nuclear weapons is ominous and chilling".

 7) In the Nuclear Posture Review of this past spring, Pres. Obama made clear that "his goal is a world without nuclear weapons". However, ex-Sec. of Defense Schlesinger has said that he believes that "a world without nuclear weapons is a utopian idea".

 8) "The maintenance of a large US arsenal of nuclear weapons is the best way to encourage the non-proliferation" of nuclear weapons. "If the US continues to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons in its arsenal, this will lead other nations, which don't now have nuclear weapons, to develop their own".

 9) "The Obama Administration has made it clear that the New Start Treaty is a step on the road toward its goal of a world without nuclear weapons. But, to me this is not a dream, it's a nightmare!"

 10) "By reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons in its arsenal, the US is relinquishing its leadership role in the world."

 Thus, the world according to a rosy-cheeked and smiling Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

 Sen. Kay Hutchinson (Rep. of Texas) then spent 10 minutes talking about why she would vote to reject the Treaty:

 1) The original Kyl amendment, and the original Corker amendment, which would have required renegotiation of the Treaty, and were rejected yesterday by the Senate, should have been approved.

 2) An amendment by Sen. Inhofe aimed at stengthening the Treaty's verification regimen, which would have required Treaty renegotiation and which was also rejected, should have been approved.

 3) The threat of attack on the US by nuclear tipped missiles from Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea is very worrisome, and should lead to the rejection of the Treaty, as written.

 Sen. Dorgan spent 10 minutes rebutting the remarks of Sen. Sessions. He noted that the Treaty is not a unilateral statement of intent by the US to reduce the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal, but a schedule of reductions that had been negotiated with Russia. He mocked the idea that a world with fewer nuclear weapons is a more dangerous world. Rather, he said, that "the Treaty is a step on the road toward a less dangerous world".

 Sen. Mark Kirk (Rep. of Illinois) took 10 minutes to talk about his beliefs that:

 1) "While the present leadership of Russia is rational, and does not threaten the US by attack with nuclear weapons, the leadership of Iran and North Korea is irrational."

 2) "It is the sacred mission of the democracies to maintain readiness to confront attacks with nuclear weapons by irrational states."

 3) "The New Start Treaty limits our ability to develop missile defense and is, therefore, irrational".

 4) "The Obama Administration has cancelled plans for missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, and has downgraded missile defense systems in Alaska".

 5) "The Preamble to the Treaty was written to curry favor with the Russians".

 6) "The Treaty's verification regimen is inadequate".

 7) "Russia has fueled the Bushehr reactor in Iran, and will also supply an air-defense system to Iran".

 8) "Mutual Assured Destruction is a strategy from the past which is inappropriate as a means of dealing with modern threats".

 Sen. Kyl (Rep. of Arizona) spent 20 minutes talking about his reasons for advising that the Treaty be rejected, and complaining about the way in which Senate business was being conducted:

 1) "The majority leader, has packed the Senate agenda in order to jam Republicans in the lame-duck session."

 2) "Not enough time has been allowed for debate on the Treaty". "Republicans were not allowed to change language in the Treaty, thus, preventing them from exercising their advise and consent role."

 3) "If the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is brought before the Senate next year, then that Treaty will be very closely examined."

 4) "The most important issue confronting the US is that of non-proliferation, and not the sizes of the arsenals of the US and Russia."

 5) "Another very important issue is how the US is going to modernize its arsenal of nuclear weapons."

 6) "It is also very important that "the US continue to modernize each leg of the triad of its strategic nuclear weapon delivery system."

 Sen. Kerry (Dem. of Massachusetts), head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, devoted 10 minutes to summarizing the Treaty debate. He pointed out that:

 1) "Disagreements over Treaty details should not dissuade senators from voting to ratify, since the Treaty is of utmost importance for national security, and for helping to move the world out from the dark shadow of the nuclear nightmare."

 2) J. Robert Oppenheimer said that, in a world with nuclear weapons, "people must unite or perish".

 3) Pope John Paul II said, while on a pilgrmage to Hiroshima, that "man, who wages war, can also make peace".

 4) Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts said, 150 years ago that, with respect to slavery, "he spoke not just as a man from Massachusetts, but as an American".

 Sen. Lugar (Rep. of Indiana), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also spent 5 minutes summing up issues touched on during the Treaty debate:

 1) "The original Start Treaty, negotiated under Pres. Reagan and signed by Pres. George H. W. Bush, was very successful in that it drastically reduced the numbers of nuclear weapons deployed on each side."

 2) "The importance of such treaties is also in helping to build trust between the two sides".

 3) "The Treaty would help to reduce future expenditures for nuclear weapons, a matter of especial importance now, as we are faced with such difficult long-term financial problems".

US Vice President, and President of the US Senate, Joe Biden, took the presiding officer's chair and called for a vote on the Treaty; ~30 minutes was consumed by the voting process, following which Biden declared that the Treaty had been ratified by a vote of 71 to 26.

As it turned out, members of the Kyl faction, made up loosely of Sens. Kyl, Cornyn, Inhofe, McCain, etc, voted unanimously to reject the Treaty, in spite of the Obama Administrations having offered them many incentives, in the form of more funding for upgrades to the US nuclear weapons complex. Nevertheless, 13 Republicans were counted among those who voted to ratify the Treaty. Those were: Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, George V. Voinovich of Ohio, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Bob Bennett of Utah, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.  

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. national poll released Tuesday, 73 % of respondents said that the Senate should ratify the Treaty, while 24 % said that it should be rejected. That is, Americans support ratification of the Treaty by a 3 to 1 majority.

As contentious as the ratification process has been, the Treaty itself mandates only a modest reduction in the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, and strategic delivery vehicles, by the United States and Russia; viz., from the present 2200 deployed weapons to 1550, and to a total of 700 delivery vehicles. A verification regimen is also stipulated by the Treaty.

However, many thousands of  strategic nuclear weapons have been placed in storage by both sides, and large numbers of tactical nuclear weapons are also still deployed and remain in storage. Although none of these very dangerous assets have been considered by the Treaty, they  may become the subject of some future negotiation. One imagines the world awaiting this future negotiation with bated breath.

Meanwhile, ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty continues to be problematic for President Obama. It does seem unlikely that Senate Republicans, soon to be reinforced by 6 new members, will allow that treaty to go forward during the remaining two years of this Administration. After all, this is a treaty which is much opposed by the nuclear weapons industry!

Friday, December 3, 2010

New Start Treaty Blocked by Republicans

In recent weeks a controversy has erupted between supporters of the New Start Treaty and those opposed to the Treaty. The New Start Treaty is a negotiated agreement between the United States and Russia to continue with reductions in the size of the arsenals of nuclear weapons held by each side. It would renew a treaty (Start Treaty) which was proposed by Pres. Ronald Reagan in 1982, signed by Pres. George H. W. Bush in 1991, and entered into force in 1994.

The New Start Treaty has already been signed by Pres. Obama, but still must be ratified by the US Senate.

In the US, those who are advocating a "trust but verify" attitude towards the Russian nuclear weapons program, are being opposed by those who would promote a strategy of American "strength above all".

Advocates of the Treaty point to the importance of reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons being held in Russian and American arsenals, both as a means of limiting the danger of accidental nuclear war and as an important part of ongoing efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear weapon proliferation. They also point out that the Treaty continues with an essential regimen of mutual inspections of nuclear weapons sites.

Those who are opposed to the Treaty believe that it is generally disadvantageous for the United States to enter into arms control agreements with Russia, since Russia is by far the weaker power, both militarily and economically.

On the one hand is a group of Democrats led by Pres. Barack Obama. This group is supported by US Defense Sec. Gates and top brass in the Pentagon, by NATO member states and commanders, and by Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin.

The opposition group is made up of Republican senators led by Jon Kyl of Arizona, and apparently by North Korean leaders and by Sigfried Hecker, a past Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Pres. Obama appears to believe that the New Start Treaty is an essential step along the road toward eventual world-wide nuclear disarmament. In this regard, he would say that it is not only necessary to continue to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons held in the arsenals of the US and Russia, and this in a matched and verifiable way, but also to continue to disincentivize attempts by presently non-nuclear states to develop their own nuclear weapons.

Sen. Kyl appears to feel that it is essential for the US to maintain a vast military superiority over Russia, and for this reason it is necessary to force from the US Congress guarantees of increased spending for the US nuclear weapons program. He also seems to be generally suspicious of any attempt to enter into arms control agreements with Russia.

Meanwhile, militaristic and paranoid North Korean leaders continue to grow their nuclear weapons program and to boast to the world about their accomplishments in this area. Recently, they invited American nuclear weapons expert Sig. Hecker to inspect their new uranium enrichment plant, which they proudly displayed to him. Having been duly impressed, Hecker returned to the US and launched into a media tour in which he presented himself as being astounded at the scale of the North Korean achievement. However, Hecker is a perennial advocate of more money for the American nuclear weapons program and the recent signatory of a letter criticizing American attempts to limit the size of developments to that program.