The Truth About the Ban Treaty Talks
On the radar: World ignores Ban Treaty at its own peril; Presidential nuclear authority is undemocratic; Nuclear posture review in 6 months?; SecAF nominee plagued by shady lobbying past; U.S.-Iran need a red phone; An unwise Iran sanctions bill hits the Senate; North Korea’s posturing could be preparations for a 6th test; and Senator advocates for renewed U.S.-Russia cooperation
Important UN talks largely ignored - “More than 100 countries are meeting at the United Nations this week to negotiate a global ban on nuclear weapons. That would normally be a big deal, but it’s not this time. That’s because more than 40 countries, including the United States and many of its closest allies, are skipping the negotiations, hoping in vain the ban will just go away,” writes Jeffrey Lewis for Foreign Policy.
--“The worry is that this 'ban' on nuclear weapons will actually serve as a legal excuse for states to leave the NPT and start their own nuclear weapons programs. Of course, a nuclear weapons ban would be less likely to have these problems if the United States and its allies were frickin’ participating... The Trump administration isn’t going to participate in these negotiations, nor is it going to sign a ban. But that won’t make it go away. The ban is very real and so are the political currents driving it forward. Ultimately, we will have to reckon with those consequences, sooner or later, in New York or abroad.” Read more here.
See also - “The UN’s Nuclear Weapon Talks May Be The Most Important Thing Nobody’s Paying Attention To,” by Alexander Zaitchik for The Huffington Post. Article here.
Trump’s nuclear authority - “President Donald Trump alone controls the U.S. nuclear arsenal. He alone decides whether to use one or one-thousand nuclear weapons. He does not have to check with anyone, not even Steve Bannon,” writes Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund, for The Huffington Post. “At a moment’s notice, he can launch some 900 nuclear weapons with the destructive power of 20,000 Hiroshima bombs, and there is nothing anyone could do to stop him... Just this fraction of our total active arsenal of some 4,000 weapons would be enough to destroy all humankind has built over the millennia.”
--In America, “there are no checks and balances on the president’s ability to launch nuclear war. He doesn’t have to ask Congress for permission, or consult with the Joint Chiefs; there is no possible appeal to the Supreme Court... [This] is why Senator Edward Markey and Representative Ted Lieu have introduced a bill that would prohibit the president from launching nuclear weapons without a declaration of war from Congress. This would block the president from launching nuclear weapons first in a crisis, unless he gets approval from the most democratic branch of our government.” Full story here.
Take action - Ready to restore checks and balances to the nuclear codes? Inspired by the legislation proposed by Rep. Ted Liu and Sen. Ed Markey, Ploughshares Fund, along with seventeen other public interest groups, has created a new petition urging Congress to keep America safe by preventing any U.S. President from unilaterally launching a nuclear weapon. Sign and share the petition today.
SecDef speeds up NPR - “Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein said this week Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has instructed the military to complete a nuclear posture review in six months,” writes Rachel Karas for Inside Defense. “In January, Trump ordered the Pentagon to produce a nuclear posture review by January 2018 to ensure the triad is ‘modern, robust, flexible, resilient, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st century threats and reassure our allies and partners,’ according to his executive order.” Full story here.
SecAF nominee... still a problem - “Independent ethics watchdogs urged members of Congress this week to probe why President Trump’s Air Force secretary nominee, former Rep. Heather Wilson, was paid by nuclear weapon contractors to do consulting work for which she refused to provide a detailed accounting,” writes Patrick Malone of The Center for Public Integrity. In their letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the groups cite documents that “detail Wilson’s role in helping a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin – the Sandia Corporation – try to win to win a new seven-year Energy Department contract worth more than $16 billion without the competition ordinarily called for by federal regulations.”
--“Sandia Corp. [which] operates Sandia National Laboratories, where nuclear weapons are engineered, wound up billing the federal government for the $226,378 in fees that it paid to Wilson. [Following a 2015] investigation by the Justice Department, it agreed... to repay what it spent on Wilson and also give the government $4.7 million to settle the department’s claims that it had violated federal law by using federal funds to lobby for more federal money. Wilson hasn’t said much in public about her work. But in a 2015 email to the Center for Public Integrity, she denied contacting federal officials directly to lobby for Sandia.” Full story here.
See also - For more information on why SecAF nominee Wilson’s contracts with weapons firms are problematic see “U.S. Air Force Secretary Pick Has Stock In 16 Defense Contractors” by Terrell Jermaine Starr for Foxtrot Alpha here.
U.S. and Iran need Persian Gulf hotline - “Every few weeks comes a new report that speedboats manned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Navy have come dangerously close to US Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf. The latest incident occurred last week as a US aircraft carrier, the USS George H. W. Bush, entered the Strait of Hormuz on its way to support US operations in Iraq against the group that calls itself the Islamic State,” writes Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council. “Iranian boats came within 950 yards of the US ship and only moved away after the carrier sent helicopters to hover over the Iranians.”
--“Fortunately, the encounter ended without any casualties or damage. But that fortune could run out... Senior American military commanders have long spoken about the need for some kind of mechanism to communicate with their Iranian counterparts to de-escalate or prevent such actions. This is a vital topic that should be given priority and addressed in diplomatic channels between the two countries.” Read more here.
Sanctions would jeopardize Iran progress - Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and 13 other Senators introduced a new Iran sanctions bill that would, if enacted, jeopardize the success of the July 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” argues Kelsey Davenport in a press release from the Arms Control Association. “If this bill becomes law, it could threaten the ongoing implementation of the nuclear deal, which is successfully blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons.
--“Before rushing to support this legislation or future bills on Iran, members of Congress should carefully and fully consider the impact on the Iran nuclear deal and the consequences of undermining the accord. Without the continued and effective implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran’s nuclear program would be subject to less monitoring and far fewer restraints, posing a proliferation risk and threatening international security. Additional sanctions as proposed in S. 722 risk the future of the deal and are unnecessary and unwarranted at this time.” Read more here.
DPRK making moves - “North Korea appears to be getting ready for another nuclear test, according to new satellite images that show a prolonged and heightened level of activity at its underground testing site,” writes Anna Fifield for The Washington Post. “It was not immediately possible to tell whether North Korea is putting on a performance for the satellites... or whether a sixth nuclear test is imminent. But analysts agree that North Korea is determined to make progress on its nuclear and missile programs.”
--“‘They are trying to get a working arsenal, so the more they test, the more they learn... It’s likely that they’re trying to make a device small enough to achieve their goal of putting a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile,’ [said Jon Wolfsthal, a senior nonproliferation adviser in the Obama administration]. North Korea has made no secret of its ambitions to build a missile capable of reaching the continental United States, and Kim Jong Un said in a Jan. 1 address that his regime had ‘entered the final stage of preparation for a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.’” Article here.
See also - Check out the original satellite image analysis by 38 North here.
Against DPRK: from missile defense to cyber warfare - “If you think about our traditional missile defenses, it has been since the Eisenhower era an effort to go build what people call a system in which a bullet can hit a bullet. Somebody shoots a missile, we shoot something up in the air, try to intercept it,” said David Sanger in an interview for NPR. “The U.S. since Eisenhower has spent $300 billion trying to develop these kinds of systems. And the early tests on this have not been reassuring.”
--“And so the question that President Obama faced was if you've got a rogue state like North Korea coming along developing an ICBM, can you rely on [missile defense] to defend the United States?” The answer was no, and the U.S. sought a new, left-of-launch approach. “The idea is to get in using a cyber weapon to get into the missile systems, whether it's a guidance system, a computer system, a system that communicates the sort of headquarters to the missiles, so that you can interfere with that and keep them from ever launching it. Or if it does launch, send it off into the water in its opening moments.” Listen to the full interview on America’s nuclear cyber warfare here.
Time to cooperate with Russia - “The current U.S.-Russia relationship is plagued by big and difficult issues. They include, but are not limited to, Russia’s violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election, annexation of Crimea, attempts to undermine the government of Ukraine, and military actions in Syria,” writes Senator Byron Dorgan for Defense One. “Despite these differences, there are still some areas of cooperation between the two countries.”
--“The risk of a nuclear terror attack in Washington or Moscow — or anywhere on the planet — cannot be ignored due to other disagreements... Leaders in both countries must recognize that when the United States and Russia fail to work together to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons and proliferation, it jeopardizes our entire planet... It would take only one nuclear terror attack to radically alter our way of life. Should this happen, the public would wonder why alleged treaty violations, military differences, and geopolitical disagreements prevented action to avert catastrophe.” Full article here.
--“US dismisses claim it is capable of launching 'surprise nuclear missile strike against Russia',” by Lizzie Dearden for The Independent. Article here.
--“Trump’s Rapid Rapprochement Plans With Russia Fade,” by Carol E. Lee, Paul Sonne, and Thomas Grove for The Wall Street Journal. Article here.
--“India is not changing its policy on no first use of nuclear weapons,” by Abhijnan Rej for War on the Rocks. Article here.
--“Q&A: Moniz looks to get U.S. nuclear scientists more engaged with China and Russia,” by Richard Stone for Science Mag. Article here.
--“Decades-old war over Yucca Mountain nuclear dump resumes under Trump budget plan,” by Ralph Vartabedian for The Los Angeles Times. Article here.
--“How this country went from nuclear problem child to role model,” by Nyshka Chandran for CNBC. Article here.
--“Deterring Iran after the nuclear deal,” a panel hosted by CSIS featuring Lt Gen Charles Q. Brown, Jr., USAF, Colin Kahl, Michael Singh, Jon Alterman, and moderated by Melissa Dalton. Friday, March 31, 10:00-11:30am at 1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036. Details here.
--“Nuclear Proliferation: The Case of North Korea,” an event featuring Jonathan Pollack of the Brookings Institution. April 3 from 5:00-7:00pm at 1619 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington. Details here.