Thursday, August 7, 2014

US Gov't: Realism + Idealism = Stasis

A political paralysis has settled over the US Congress, said by many to be driven by political polarization of the US electorate. The recent somewhat querulous behavior of the Executive Branch may be symptomatic of this polarization, and may itself be acting to increase the polarization. This unfortunate state of affairs is particularly evident in the areas of immigration reform, tax reform, and regulatory reform of the financial sector. Dysfunction can be seen too in the bitter political stand-off over health-care reform, which may engulf the Judicial Branch.

In the midst of this crisis in government, more remote areas of national interest are being neglected. As a complicating factor, there continues to be a stand-off in most policy areas between the policy realists and the policy idealists. This stand-off could hardly be more obvious than in the area of nuclear weapons policy.

Where nuclear weapons policy is concerned, the current US Administration seems to be trying to move in opposite directions at the same time. (See my blogposts of 12 July 2014, "US Gov't Dithers over Surplus Plutonium", and of 15 May 2014, "US Gov't Fails at Nuclear waste Disposal".) News about these conflicting policies has been reported widely in the national press and may be, partly, a reaction to the political polarization in Congress. It would seem, however, the Administration should make up its mind, since the game is afoot! Consider, for instance, the very important business of nuclear non-proliferation.

The nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT), first formulated in 1968, has had as its goal the reduction of the number of nuclear weapons in the world toward zero. The Treaty, again up for international discussion and possible refurbishment in 2015, is under serious threat, and may have to be watered down, or ultimately even abandoned.

If not, then it will be largely up to the present nuclear weapons states to develop creative policies, such that the NPT can continue to be meaningful and can continue to be in force. This will require new thinking and maybe some increased trust between the nuclear weapons nations which are today all at peace with each other, but may tomorrow be moved to use their nuclear weapons against each other's militaries and even against each other's civilian populations.


Excerpted from Arms Control Today:

Nuclear Weapons Modernization: A Threat to the NPT?
Hans M. Kristensen /May 2014

Nearly half a century after the five declared nuclear-weapon states in 1968 pledged under the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) 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,” all of the world’s nuclear-weapon states are busy modernizing their arsenals and continue to reaffirm the importance of such weapons.

None of them appears willing to eliminate its nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.

Granted, the nuclear arms race that was a main feature of the Cold War is over, and France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have reduced their arsenals significantly. Nevertheless, huge arsenals remain, especially in Russia and the United States. China, India, North Korea, Pakistan, and possibly Israel are increasing their stockpiles, although at levels far below those of Russia and the United States. All nuclear-armed states speak of nuclear weapons as an enduring and indefinite aspect of national and international security.

As a result, the world’s nine nuclear-armed states still possess more than 10,000 nuclear warheads combined, of which more than 90 percent are in Russian and U.S. stockpiles. In addition to these stockpiled warheads, those two countries possess thousands of additional nuclear warheads. These warheads, retired but still relatively intact, are in storage awaiting dismantlement. Counting both categories of nuclear warheads, the world’s total combined inventory includes an estimated 17,000 nuclear warheads.
Moreover, many non-nuclear-weapon states that publicly call for nuclear disarmament continue to call on nuclear-armed allies to protect them with nuclear weapons. In fact, five non-nuclear-weapon states in NATO have volunteered to serve as surrogate nuclear-weapon states by equipping their military forces with the necessary tools to deliver U.S. nuclear weapons in times of war—an arrangement tolerated during the Cold War but entirely inappropriate in the post-Cold War era in which NATO and the United
States are advocating strict adherence to nonproliferation norms as a foundation for international security.

Thus, although the numerical nuclear arms race between East and West is over, a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade. Importantly, this is not just a characteristic of the proliferating world but of all nuclear-armed states. New or improved nuclear weapons programs under way in those countries include at least 27 for ballistic missiles, nine for cruise missiles, eight for naval vessels, five for bombers, eight for warheads, and eight for weapons factories.

Despite significant reductions in the overall number of nuclear weapons compared with the Cold War era, all of the world’s nine nuclear-armed states are busy modernizing their remaining nuclear forces for the long haul. None of the nuclear-armed states appears to be planning to eliminate its nuclear weapons anytime soon. Instead, all speak of the continued importance of nuclear weapons.

The pace of nuclear reductions appears to be slowing as Russia and the United States shift their focus to sustaining their arsenals for the indefinite future. Three of the nuclear-armed states are increasing their arsenals, and nuclear competition among the nuclear-armed states appears to be alive and well.

Despite the financial constraints facing several of the nuclear-armed states, these states appear committed to spending hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade on modernizing their nuclear forces.

Perpetual nuclear modernization appears to undercut the promises made by the five NPT nuclear-weapon states. Under the terms of that treaty, they are required 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.” Nearly 50 years after this promise was first made, the non-nuclear-weapon states, who in return for that commitment renounced nuclear weapons for themselves, can rightly question whether continued nuclear modernization in perpetuity is consistent with the NPT.

Without some form of limitations on the pace and scope of nuclear modernization, the goals of deep cuts in and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons remain elusive and appear increasingly unlikely as continued reaffirmation of the value of nuclear weapons, sustained by a global nuclear competition, threatens to extend the nuclear era indefinitely.

At this time, the media are filled with musings about the Guns of August, and such-like things. Appropriately, I think, let me end this blogpost by attaching the following excerpts from "The Sleepwalkers", a 2013 New York Times bestseller by Christopher Clark describing the roots of World War I, which I've just finished reading [with my comments included in square brackets]:

On the morning of June 28, 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Chotek, arrived at Sarajevo railway station, Europe was at peace.  Thirty-seven days later, it was at war. the conflict which followed would kill more than 15 million people, destroy three empires, and alter the course of world history.

[The military technology of the early 1900's enabled >15 million people to be killed in WW I. In 2014, the existence of >15,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the major powers will enable the destruction of ~1 billion people, or more, in WW III.]

"The Sleepwalkers" reveals in detail how the crisis leading to WW I unfolded. It traces the paths to war in a narrative that moves among the decision centers in Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Paris, London, and Belgrade. Historian Christopher Clark examines the decades of history and of war that informed the events of July 1914 and details the mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals that drove the crisis forward within a few short weeks. [And in April 1917, was to include the United States.]
And yet what must strike any 21st century reader who follows the course of the summer crisis of 1914 is its raw modernity. It began with a squad of suicide bombers and a cavalcade of automobiles. Behind the double-murder at Sarajevo was an avowedly terrorist organization, the Black Hand, which inculcated among its members a cult of sacrifice, death, and revenge. It had been associated with Serbian military intelligence, but was also extra-territorial, scattered in cells crossing geographical and political borders; it was largely unaccountable, with links difficult to discern from outside the organization.

[The Black Hand was hardly an organization in stasis, or advocating stasis. Rather, its members were intensely active, promoting violent revolution and the formation of a Slav state, eventually to be united with Russia. By contrast, the condition which has developed today in Washington is one of real stasis, but in a world filled with nuclear weapons where violent revolution may soon again become commonplace.]

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