Obama Takes Stock and Charts Next Steps for Nuclear Security

On the radar: Big speech in Seoul; Will it fly for $55b; BMD and elections; Kristof sees expert consensus on Iran; Ukraine gets rid of HEU; President of Kazakhstan on being nuclear-free; O’Hanlon and Riedel on Iran; and Nuclear security in budget pinch.

March 26, 2012 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Mary Kaszynski

Prague Follow-up in Seoul - President Obama gave a big speech on nuclear policy earlier today at Hankuk University. “Three years ago, I traveled to Prague and I declared America’s commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and to seeking a world without them....So today, with you, I want to take stock of our journey and chart our next steps,” said President Obama.

--On fissile materials security: “The international community has made it harder than ever for terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons, and that has made us all safer. We’re building an international architecture that can ensure nuclear safety.”

--On reductions: “I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat, and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal.” The President mentioned the ongoing study to assess U.S. nuclear forces and shed excess weapons. He also expressed his administration’s intent to work with Russia on further reductions and involve China in dialogues on nuclear issues.

--On North Korea: “There will be no rewards for provocations. Those days are over. To the leaders of Pyongyang I say, this is the choice before you. This is the decision that you must make. Today we say, Pyongyang, have the courage to pursue peace and give a better life to the people of North Korea.”

--On Iran: “There is time to solve this diplomatically. It is always my preference to solve these issues diplomatically. But time is short. Iran’s leaders must understand they, too, face a choice. Iran must act with the seriousness and sense of urgency that this moment demands. Iran must meet its obligations.“

--Finale: “The currents of history cannot be held back forever...change will unfold that once seemed impossible. And checkpoints will open and watchtowers will stand empty, and families long separated will finally be reunited. And the Korean people, at long last, will be whole and free.” Full Speech here. http://owl.li/9SJDn

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Will the $55 billion bomber program fly? - The Air Force’s history of cost overruns does not bode well for the new bomber program. Procurement costs are currently estimated at $55 billion - $550 million per copy, less than one quarter the cost of a B-52.

--Critics note other problems with the new bomber plan: “the preliminary design is too technically ambitious...a key potential mission — conducting bombing raids over China — is implausible...why new planes are needed when old ones are undergoing multi-billion-dollar upgrades.” David Axe writes for iWatch News. http://owl.li/9SJGu

How Obama’s speech played - CBS News: “Obama: U.S. can afford to have fewer nukes...” Reuters: “Obama vows to pursue further nuclear cuts with Russia...” LAT: “Obama urges North Korea and Iran to drop nuclear programs...” See also Mark Landler in The New York Times.

Election politics and missile defense - “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense...this can be solved but it’s important for [incoming President Putin] to give me space...After my election I have more flexibility,” President Obama said in a meeting with President Medvedev yesterday. http://owl.li/9SK3I

Quote - “Unless you’re so far over on the neocon side that you’re blind to geopolitical realities, there’s an overwhelming consensus that this is a bad idea,” said W. Patrick Lang, former head of Middle East affairs for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

--Quoted in a recent piece by Nick Kirstof of The New York Times, who concluded “just about every expert thinks that a military strike at this time would be a catastrophically bad idea. That’s not a debate, but a consensus.” http://owl.li/9SJIW

Ukraine goes HEU-free - 42 pounts of nuclear weapon-usable uranium were loaded into railcars in Kiev and sent to Russia’s Mayak facility in the Urals. “This completes the repatriation of 441 pounds of HEU from the former Soviet republic to Russia since 2010,” Global Security Newswire reports. http://owl.li/9SJL3

From Kazakhstan to Iran - “Kazakhstan’s experience shows that nations can reap huge benefits from turning their backs on nuclear weapons,” writes Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan in The New York Times. “ I have no doubt that we are a more prosperous, stable country, with more influence and friends in the world because of our decision.” http://owl.li/9SJR8

A third option on Iran - “We have a choice besides containment and preemption — and it looks a lot like the policy we have been following in recent years,” write Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel in The Washington Post. “The good news is that there is a third approach: constriction. Essentially, we would continue to delay and minimize the scale of Iran’s nuclear program as we have been doing through sanctions and other means. ”

--“Non-military methods have already slowed Iran’s nuclear program by two to three years relative to expectations that were common in 2008-09 about how long it would take Tehran to produce its first bomb,” the authors argue. “That is every bit as much as we could hope to slow Iran with an airstrike campaign — without weakening the international consensus to keep simultaneously tightening sanctions and without giving Iran an easy excuse to expel inspectors.” http://owl.li/9SJU5

Deep read - “Think Like the Dragon” in The National Interest. Adam Lowther and Panayotis Yannakogeorgos of the Air Force Research Institute give their assessment of China’s evolving nuclear posture. http://owl.li/9SJWD

Sanctions’ unintended results - Summary of Reuters analysis on the effects of Iran sanctions: “Sanctions drive up oil prices, hurting global economy...Heightened economic pressure could make Iran more volatile...Little evidence Tehran deflected from nuclear programme.” http://owl.li/9SJYm

Budget hearing - Gen. Robert Kehler testifies before SASC on the 2013 STRATCOM budget tomorrow at 9:30am. Details here. http://owl.li/9SK10

Tweet - @GlobeBender: ”My piece on the future of a US-funded anti-nuclear smuggling effort in the face of budget cuts.” http://b.globe.com/GPUT9M