Arms Control in the New Administration

Disarmament deals - In a new piece for Brookings, Steve Pifer argues President-elect Trump may exhibit more than just a passing interest in arms control issues. “When speaking to the president of Kazakhstan on November 30, the president-elect reportedly said ‘there is no more important issue than nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation to be addressed in the global context.’” Pifer argues that arms control “could help [President-elect Trump] improve the U.S. relationship with Russia, free up money to buy more ships and soldiers, and let him conclude a big [foreign policy] deal.”

--“When looking at the kinds of deals that a president can do, Mr. Trump may find himself more comfortable operating in the world of arms control, where much of the focus is on numbers—like the business deals he has done in the past. It is easier to see a concrete bottom line in the arms control field than when tackling arrangements to settle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, end the horrific fighting in Syria, or find a solution to the Ukraine-Russia conflict.” Full article here.

Tweet - @globalzero: W/o strong lines of communication, @PutinRF_Eng & @realDonaldTrump could stumble into nuclear catastrophe.

Nationalism and nukes - Ploughshares Fund Director of Policy Tom Collina discussed the role nationalism plays in nuclear weapons politics and launch protocols around the world at a recent event at the Minnesota Peace Initiative Forum. On nuclear weapons, "if you had leaders that were more interested in cooperation you could imagine them agreeing not to rebuild so much, rebuild less, save money," Collina argued, but today, “you can see the danger” caused by rising nationalism in countries like Russia and the United States. Full panel audio here.

Tweet - @LivableWorld: According to the head of @iaeaorg, Iran has held up its end of the #IranDeal

Benefits of the Iran deal - “Nearly one year after Implementation Day, the Iran nuclear deal (also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) is working, and implementation of the deal is, in large measure, on track,” write Laicie Heeley and Amy J. Nelson for The National Interest. “[T]he truth is that the Iran deal is accomplishing exactly what it was supposed to: preventing Iran’s nuclear ‘breakout’ through covert and overt pathways.”

--“With a number of international policy concerns to tackle on day one, Trump would do well to consider the current Iran deal a win. There will be pressure, both from Congress and inside the administration, to search for a better option... To sabotage or simply rip up the deal on day one will return the United States and Iran to 2012—on the verge of war or a weapon, without international partners, and with few good options to turn things around.”

Hanford costs rising - “The U.S. Energy Department said Friday that its long-troubled attempt to build a plant to process highly radioactive sludge at a former nuclear weapons site in central Washington state will cost an additional $4.5 billion, raising the project’s price tag to $16.8 billion,” writes Ralph Vartabedian for The Los Angeles Times. “The Hanford treatment plant... is more than a decade behind schedule and will cost nearly four times the original estimate made in 2000.”

--“The government aims to transform 56 million gallons of deadly sludge stored in leaky underground tanks into solid glass, which theoretically could then be stored safely for thousands of years. But the effort has involved an extended history of errors, miscalculations and wrongdoing. The result has been a massive, partially built concrete facility that has been under a stop-work order for three years because of serious technical doubts.” Full article here.

Tweet - @nukes_of_hazard: In 1968, a B-52 bomber crashed (with 4 lethal #nuclearweapons onboard that 'exploded') via @TheNatlInterest

China and regional nuclear stability - “China is not in the habit of tilting at windmills, and trying to shame Beijing into taking the disarmament lead is either evidence of desperation or an exhibition of rootlessness from contemporary political realities,” writes Rajesh Rajagopalan for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “Real progress toward global arms control and nuclear disarmament requires some consensus among the great powers... No such consensus exists today.”

--“In this environment, nuclear disarmament shouldn't be the primary focus. Rather, the focus should be on maintaining some measure of stability through confidence-building measures and arms control. China can do a great deal to build confidence, especially in Asia. A China that behaves with greater moderation can greatly reduce insecurity in its region… Beijing should also strive to strengthen the nonproliferation regime... Some of China's neighbors, including Japan and South Korea, are capable of building nuclear weapons but have chosen not to do so. It's in Beijing's interest to ensure that they do not change their minds.” Full story here.

NSG India debate continues - “Members of the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] meet this week in Vienna to discuss nine general commitments India and other countries outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty would need to make in order to receive the fullest atomic trading privileges,” writes Jonathan Tirone for Bloomberg. “‘The formula outlined in the draft note sets an extremely low bar on Nuclear Supplier Group membership and does not require India to take any additional non-proliferation commitments,’ according to Daryl Kimball, executive director at the Arms Control Association.”

--“Diplomats have said they’re concerned that admitting India before strengthening the NSG eligibility requirements would weaken the rules for other non-recognized nuclear-weapons states to join. Pakistan, India’s neighbor and regional rival, has also submitted an application to join the NSG, according to the envoys… ‘If the NSG fails to establish that signature of the [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] is one of the key criteria for membership, its participating governments will have squandered an opportunity… to enforce the global norm against nuclear testing.’ Kimball said.” Full story here.

Disarmament movement in Trump era - “With Donald Trump set to ascend to the presidency, many in the disarmament and nonproliferation community are deeply concerned and searching for a path forward. The comparisons to the election of Ronald Reagan are not perfect, but they do contain at least one kernel of truth. Just as in the early 1980s, those who seek to eliminate nuclear risk today feel left out in the cold—and they are understandably frightened,” writes John Carl Baker for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

--“The freeze movement was reluctant to make broader political connections and engage in direct action for fear of being tarred as unserious and left wing. Whether this choice was correct in the early 1980s is open for debate. But today, a raucous intersectionality--digitally savvy but materially focused--seems absolutely essential for preventing a new arms race. This 21st century movement will look radically different from the freeze. Its form will pose a challenge not only to Donald Trump and nuclear modernization but to those of us in the arms control community who sometimes value subdued professionalism over committed action. Still, we should welcome it.” Read full story.

Banning nuclear weapons - “The golden age of deterrence has reached its end. Nuclear weapons, once a star player on the international stage, no longer enjoy a place in the limelight,” writes Mustafa Kibaroglu for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “Now is the time to strip away the handsome mask that hid nuclear weapons' ugly face throughout the Cold War. It's time for the world to treat nuclear weapons just like chemical and biological weapons—those other weapons of mass destruction—as mere slaughtering weapons, undeserving of prestige. It is time to ban nuclear weapons—just as biological and chemical weapons were banned through the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

-- “A ban treaty's chances of achieving disarmament would be no worse than the NPT's chances—maybe better. One factor in the ban treaty's favor is that no country can perceive a legitimate threat from it. The non-nuclear weapon states today don't perceive any threat from the NPT—and if the ban treaty is ever universalized, every state will be a non-nuclear weapon state… The ban may not end the reign of nuclear weapons on its own, nor do so in the foreseeable future, but it can be expected to create a universal stigma around nuclear weapons—signifying the beginning of the end. It would not be a surprise if, decades from now, the ban treaty is regarded as the foundation of a world free of nuclear weapons.” Full story here.

NNWS input on ban treaty - Non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) voted overwhelmingly in favor of a nuclear weapons ban treaty at the United Nations last month. Thirty-eight states, including most nuclear weapons states, voted against the treaty. Polina Sinovets examines the ban treaty’s way forward and Ukraine’s unique perspective in a new article for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, arguing, “If the new treaty fails to abolish nuclear weapons and weakens the NPT without effectively replacing it, the dangers for the global nuclear order could be grave.” Full piece here.

Terrorists gain foothold in nuclear world - “The ‘nightmare scenario’ of radioactive material being released from nuclear power stations using a cyber attack is being attempted by terrorist groups, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) has warned,” writes Ben Kentish for The Independent.

--The Deputy Secretary-General “Jan Eliasson told the UN Security Council ‘vicious non-state groups’ were making efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and warned: ‘These weapons are increasingly accessible’ ... [and] a hacking attack on a nuclear power plant would be a ‘nightmare scenario.’” According to experts, these types of attacks are already occurring. Full story here.

Quick Hits:

--“Head of UN nuclear watchdog visits Iran,” by The Associated Press.

--“Kim Jong Un Ready For War? North Korea's Long-Range Nuclear Warheads Can Hit Britain, Europe, US,” by Suman Varandani for International Business Times.

--“Economist Found a Higher Calling: Saving the World From Nuclear War,” by James Hagerty for The Wall Street Journal.

--“Is North Korea's Nuclear Missile Sub Ready to Set Sail?” by Kyle Mizokami for Popular Mechanics.

--“Experts: Pyongyang’s Nuclear Intentions Are Unclear,” by John Grady for USNI News.


--Senate Armed Services Committee, hearing on the nomination of Gen. James Mattis to be Defense Secretary (estimate). Room TBA, Senate Office Building, Washington. Webcast on the committee website.

--“Command and Control: An American Experience Documentary,” broadcasted by PBS affiliated networks nationwide. January 10, 2017 on PBS. Check your local listings for times.


Small Weapon. Catastrophic effect. - The disastrous impact of nuclear weapons has always been a hard concept to grasp. Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at the Stevens Institute of Technology, created NUKEMAP to help every person visualize nukes’ destructive powers.

--Adam Boult reports for The Telegraph, “Simply type in the name of the city you want to virtually nuke, and select the size of explosion, from a 20 kiloton 'Davy Crockett' (the smallest nuclear weapon produced by the US) to the terrifying 100 megaton ‘Tsar Bomba.’ The map then displays colour-coded circles indicating fireball radius, radiation radius, air blast radius and thermal radiation radius.” Article and NUKEMAP tool here.

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