Nuclear Separation of Powers Needed

Journalists call for nuclear safeguards - President Trump “has spoken, alarmingly, about deploying [nuclear] weaponry against terrorists and about expanding America’s nuclear capabilities. He has said he values unpredictability, meaning... he wants to keep other nations on edge about whether he will use nuclear weapons,” writes the Editorial Board of the New York Times. “It is the fear of such precipitous action that has led Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Representative Ted Lieu of California... to propose legislation to prohibit any president from launching a first-strike nuclear weapon without a declaration of war from Congress.”

--“The bill would not undercut Mr. Trump’s ability to respond on his own authority to a nuclear attack, an authority all presidents have had and should have... Mr. Trump commands about 4,000 weapons that he alone is empowered to launch. Any decision responding to an attack would have to be made quickly. That kind of life-or-death choice would test any leader, even those well-schooled in arcane nuclear doctrine, the intricacies of power politics and the importance of not letting tensions get to the point where a nuclear exchange becomes likely.” Full editorial here.

See also - “The nuclear codes - too much power for any one man,” an in-depth reminder of the “deeply flawed system... that gives sole and absolute authority to the president to launch U.S. nuclear weapons - and puts extreme time pressure on him to make that decision,” by David Wright & Lisbeth Gronlund for Jackson Newspapers.

Getting rid of U.S. nuclear sponge - “The Pentagon is now planning to build a new, deadlier generation of [intercontinental ballistic] missiles, which are housed in underground silos,” writes Tom Collina for Defense One. “But these… ICBMs, are not meant to be launched, ever. Not even in a nuclear war. Their primary mission is to be destroyed in the ground, along with all the people that live anywhere near them. Their main purpose is to ‘absorb’ a nuclear attack from Russia, acting as a giant ‘nuclear sponge.’ Such is the twisted logic of atomic warfare.”

--“The honest truth is that the probability is low but not zero. And the consequences would be astronomical. When it comes to nuclear weapons, it only takes one. Human errors and machine errors do occur… Moreover, ICBMs are redundant. The United States is rebuilding its nuclear-armed submarines that can hide under the oceans, able to survive a Russian nuclear attack. That is all we need to keep Moscow in check. In the unlikely event that new threats emerge that could put the subs at risk, the Air Force is rebuilding the insurance policy: nuclear-capable bombers. The ICBMs are an extra insurance policy that we can do without.” Full story here.

New low-yield arsenal will create instability - “A blue-ribbon Pentagon panel has urged the Trump administration to make the U.S. arsenal more capable of ‘limited’ atomic war. The Defense Science Board, in an unpublished December report obtained by CQ Roll Call, urges the president to consider altering existing and planned U.S. armaments to achieve a greater number of lower-yield weapons that could provide a ‘tailored nuclear option for limited use,’” writes John Donnelly for Roll Call.

--Critics argue that “there’s the cost — expected to be in the billions. Then there’s the concern that any such U.S. moves would be matched by Russia and China in a new low-yield arms race that would increase tensions and heighten the risk of deadly miscalculation. What’s more, these analysts say, the U.S. military would need to present the president with options for using these weapons in a crisis, and those options may prove attractive. That’s because the president might believe he could use these weapons without necessarily starting a global nuclear war.” Full story here.

Tweet - @Livableworld: "The greatest challenge facing President Trump is avoiding #nuclear devastation," writes @SiegfriedHecker

“Bureaucrats are ‘The Program’” - “I came into the [State] Department with two relevant degrees and years of experience working on international security issues,” writes Alexandra Bell for Just Security. “I respected the wisdom and insights of my civil service colleagues. I heeded their advice about how to write speeches, press guidance or testimonies with the whole nation’s interests in mind... That is why I was floored last week when I saw that senior career diplomats were summarily pushed out of a Department that they had served for decades.”

--“My fellow political appointees and I expected to leave and had three months to plan for it. Civil servants were selected to cover the pressing parts of our portfolios, since new appointees were nowhere in sight. We worried that things would fall through the cracks, but found comfort in the fact that senior diplomats would continue, at least temporarily, in leadership positions. After all, threats to embassy security, the continuing crisis in Ukraine and foreign military assistance are not things that can be put on the shelf and forgotten for a couple months without consequences. That comfort faded away when the White House demanded that these leaders leave State, despite the lack of replacements.” Full story here.

Trump v. Iran is not a pilot episode - “As Team Trump begins just its third full week in office, confrontation with Iran has clearly moved to the top of that list of early potential flashpoints... So what happens now? Though Mr. Trump said repeatedly during the campaign that he would ditch the nuclear deal, he may not,” writes Gerald F. Seib for The Wall Street Journal. “It was significant—though little noticed—that after a recent telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, the White House reported that the two leaders agreed to ‘rigorously’ enforce the deal.”

--“The nuclear agreement is effective at limiting nuclear activity, and there is little allied support for abrogating it... The big danger is that hard-line elements in Tehran will be empowered internally by the confrontation [with the U.S.], which they will use to vindicate their argument that the U.S. was never to be trusted in the first place. That attitude may be particularly acute as the hard-liners jockey for position in elections coming up this spring. They have plenty of weapons at their disposal, most notably unleashing terrorism, sponsoring more attacks on American troops in Iraq and pressuring the Iraqi government to scale back cooperation with the U.S... [this is] a drama destined for a long run.” Article here.

Tweet - @nukes_of_hazard: German Foreign Minister: No sign the U.S. wants to cancel the #IranDeal @Reuters

Trump gets ambiguous on Iran deal - “Instead of tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, the Trump administration is exploring how to tighten its enforcement and renegotiate key terms, but it may prove impossible to get other major powers and Iran to consider revising the agreement,” write Jonathan Landay, Matt Spetalnick, and Parisa Hafezi for Reuters. “The Trump administration [last] week signaled a harder but ambiguous line toward Iran… and then [imposed] economic sanctions on 13 individuals and 12 entities on Friday.”

--“The options the administration is considering include insisting the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, get tougher policing Iran's compliance, including demanding access to military sites, according to two sources familiar with the matter… The U.S. also would seek to remove ‘sunset’ provisions from the pact that allow some restrictions on Iran's nuclear program to start expiring in 10 years, something critics consider the deal's biggest flaw… In addition, the administration could press the agency to report more information on Iran's compliance with the nuclear pact.” Other options for the administration to consider may be found here.

Tweet - @plough_shares: "It won’t happen!" is not a strategy. #DefendDiplomacy

DPRK/Iran missile cooperation - “On January 29, Iran tested a new ballistic missile it dubbed the Khorramshahr, which reportedly flew a distance of about 1,000 kilometers. Little is known about the missile, though some have speculated that it relies on a liquid-fueled engine originally developed... for the Soviet R-27 submarine-launched ballistic missile,” writes Michael Elleman for 38 North. “If so, this could make it a variant of the North Korean Musudan (KN-10), an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) that uses the same engine and that Pyongyang began flight testing in 2016.”

--“The ramifications of such a connection would be significant, not only because it would signify ongoing close Iranian-North Korean missile cooperation... However, contrary to some assertions, the available evidence cannot verify speculation that the Iranian missile is similar to North Korea’s Musudan, or reports that Pyongyang exported R-27 engines to Iran... The strategic implications of Tehran’s recent missile test and the possibility of continued missile cooperation with Pyongyang vary depending on what was actually launched... [but] it would not be evidence of ongoing missile cooperation with North Korea.” Full analysis here.

What the missile means - Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione went on RadioTimes to discuss the legality of the Iran missile test and the security ramifications here and abroad. Audio here (starting at 23:15).

SecDef reassures South Korea - “Donald Trump’s defence secretary has warned North Korea it would face an “effective and overwhelming” response from the US if it used nuclear weapons,” writes Justin McCurry for The Guardian. “Speaking in South Korea on Friday, James Mattis reassured the government in Seoul that the US would retaliate should its northern neighbour launch any attack... Mattis’s remarks in Seoul come amid concern that North Korea could be preparing to test a new ballistic missile, in what could be an early challenge for Trump’s administration.” Full story here.

Ploughshares Fund & NGO community mourn passing of David Culp - “It was said David had forgotten more about Capitol Hill then most lobbyists would ever know. That may not have given him enough credit. David could not only tell you where the Speaker of the House went for breakfast each day — but also what the Speaker ate,” writes Jim Baird for Medium.

--“David’s legislative wisdom too was near unmatched. His list of swing vote Senators guided a diverse coalition’s efforts to draw attention to the importance of the New Start Treaty. His insight into the Senate and its at times Byzantine processes played a large role in the treaty’s successful ratification. For me — a kid in my mid-20s working on media strategy, when he spoke I simply took notes. He was the type of person you wanted on your team. The type of person it seemed almost impossible to lose with. This past weekend, David passed away and with it the world lost a light.” Full story here.

Quick Hits:

--“Staying in Trouble,” by Stephen Young for Medium

--“Everyone Fails Nuclear Weapons Tests Sometimes,” by Jeffrey Lewis for Foreign Policy.

--“Paul Ryan says Iran nuclear deal will stay in place,” by Adam Edelman for New York Daily News.

--“Trump Administration Clarifies Iran’s Missile Test Not a Violation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” by John Isaacs for Nukes of Hazard.

--“What to watch in Trump’s escalating conflict with Iran,” by Ladane Nasseri, Sam Wilkin, and Golnar Motevalli for Bloomberg.

--“The Prague Agenda in a Post-Truth World,” by Joshua Pollack for Arms Control Wonk.

--“Mini-Nukes: A Gateway Drug,” by Mieke Eoyang for Just Security.

--“Europe should act fast to preserve the Iran nuclear deal,” by Ellie Geranmayeh for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

--“A Reckless Slide Toward War With Iran,” by Senator Chris Murphy for Huffington Post.

--“After the ban,” by Kjølv Egeland for Svenska Läkare mot Kärnvapen.


--“Guiding Principles for U.S. Policy Toward Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia,” a panel hosted by the Carnegie Endowment. February 9, 2017 from 3-4:15pm. 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW Washington, DC 20036. RSVP and details here.

--“Debate: European Missile Defenses for NATO,” hosted by CSIS. February 16 from 4:30-7:30pm at Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington. Details here.

--"Nuclear Early Warning: The President's 3 AM Phone Call," with Jaganath Sankaran. The event will be held on February 23, 2017, from 12:00p.m. to 1:15 p.m., at the Center for International Security Studies at Maryland, University of Maryland, 4113 Van Munching Hall, College Park, MD. More information here.

--“Defending Our Values, Fighting For Our Future,” J Street’s 2017 National Conference, from February 25 to 28, 2017. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt. Vernon Place NW, Washington. More information here.

Edited by