Sequestration and the Nuclear Budget

On the radar: Colossal nuclear price tag; 1 test, $170 million; Budget cutters eye MOX; Obama’s second term arms control agenda; Next steps in arms control; Hagel’s reputation in Iran; China looks into missile defense; Russia on talks with Iran; and North Korean propaganda gets trippy, destructive.

February 6, 2013 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Alyssa Demus

Sequestration savings - With the sequestration deadline looming, the President and Congress will be focused on ways to cut spending in the months ahead. “One place to start is with the nuclear weapons programs” writes Col. Richard Klass (ret.) in The Huffington Post.

--“Over the next decade nuclear weapons and related programs could cost $640 billion. This colossal price tag is impossible to justify. Since the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons have played a far smaller role in ensuring American security -- yet the nuclear weapons budget remains stubbornly high. For a modern and cost-effective defense budget, we must reshape and right-size this area of defense spending,” writes Col. Klass.

What does a GMD test cost? - The recent “non-intercept test of the Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system cost about $170 million,” writes George Lewis at Mostly Missile Defense.

Report - ”Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle,” Briefing Book from the Arms Control Association.

--”Effective international nonproliferation approaches require a clear understanding of Iran’s nuclear history and the regional security context, the technical realities of Iran’s nuclear program, as well as the risks, benefits, and limitations of the available policy options. This briefing book is designed to provide an introduction to the facts and issues that are central to solving the Iranian nuclear puzzle,” writes Daryl Kimball in the new report. (pdf)

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MOX scrutiny - Budget hawks are raising concerns about the mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility - a plutonium fuel program that is several billion dollars over budget and is barreling past its target completion date. Critics of the program argue it is a costly, risky fuel subsidy for nuclear energy producers - though no customers are interested in taking the fuel.

--“We can’t afford that kind of stuff in today’s world...The budget hawks ought to be looking at this stuff. This is where there is real government waste,” said former Rep. David L. Hobson (R-OH), who tried to kill funding for the MOX project when he was in Congress. Pam Radtke Russell of Roll Call has the report.

Reading tea leaves - Recent trips to foreign capitals and remarks made by senior administration officials signal the Obama Administration is pushing forward with the President’s arms control agenda.

--”The president’s committed to his Prague agenda, the speech [...] committing us to lower this world’s reliance on nuclear weapons and further reductions in concert with the Russians if possible, as part of that agenda," said National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. Diane Barnes of the Global Security Newswire has the story.

Next steps - ”A new round of negotiations with Russia, building on New START, is the next logical step for making nuclear reductions in a way that preserves strategic stability. [...] Strong bipartisan support for nuclear reductions shows that this is a smart strategy, not a political game,” write Gen. Stephen Cheney and Terri Lodge in The Hill.

View from Tehran - Some critics of Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination ask if his nomination sends a bad signal to the Iranian regime. That’s not how the regime is receiving news of the nomination, writes Alireza Nader in The New York Times.

--”Hagel’s nomination was greeted in Tehran with a shrug, not a sigh of relief. The Islamic Republic hardly thinks that with Hagel nominated, it’s off the nuclear hook. Iran’s leaders see U.S. ‘hostility’ as institutionalized and systematized, not produced by partisan politics or individual appointments,” writes Nader. Tweet - @ArmsControlWonk: KCNA: "The DPRK has drawn a final conclusion that it will have to take a measure stronger than a nuclear test ..."

China’s missile defense test - China recently carried out a missile defense test, which allowed it to assess the technologies required of a national missile defense system. “Beijing was likely trying to better understand current U.S. capabilities and how its own compare,” writes Li bin at the Carnegie Endowment.

--Li discusses China’s motivations, its missile defense options going forward, and the effects of such tests and decisions on US-China strategic stability.

Russian expectations in Iran talks - With a new round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers set, Russia weighed in saying it expects “serious progress” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov emphasized the urgency of these talks and the significance of their timing. Dmitry Zaks of AFP reports.

Tweet - @NuclearSecurity: Treasury announces new sanctions aimed at Iran's oil industry and human rights abuses.


--”Year of Decision: U.S. Policy toward Iran in 2013.” Thomas Pickering and James F. Jeffrey. February 7, 12:30p.m. @ The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Details and RSVP here.

--”Evolving Global Security Challenges: From Traditional to Nontraditional Security Challenges.” Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund. February 13, 6:00-8:00 p.m. @ Monterey Institute of International Studies. Live stream here.

--Budget Hearing: National Nuclear Security Administration Weapon Activities. February 14, 10:00 a.m. @ Rayburn House Office Building Rm. 2362-B.

--”Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons: A Pragmatic Re-appraisal.” Talk by Ward Wilson. February 14, 3:30-5:00 p.m. @ American University, School of International Service.

--”The Korean Peninsula Issues.” Institute for Corean-American Studies. February 15, 1:00-4:30 p.m. @ Rayburn Office Building, Room B.


Nukes in space? - North Korea came out with a trippy, bizarre, higher production value (for Pyongyang), propaganda video where the main character dreams he becomes an astronaut that blows up New York. Watch the video and read the translation. From Max Fisher at The Washington Post.