The hacks opposing START

Much of the opposition to START (see previous posts) is embarrassingly hackish. Take this ‘analysis‘ from the Foreign Policy Initiative’s Jamie Fly and John Noonan:

A nuclear free world isn’t an ignoble goal, but it needs to be approached realistically. Focusing on the stockpiles of the United States and Russia and limiting U.S. options for use of nuclear weapons does nothing to change the calculus of Tehran and Pyongyang.

Henry Kissinger, who is now among the chief proponents of nuclear disarmament, wrote in 1957 in his landmark study Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy that “A renunciation of force, by eliminating the penalty for intransigence, will therefore place the international order at the mercy of its most ruthless or irresponsible members.”

Our unwillingness to penalize countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria for their illicit activities only empowers them. It sends the message to other states potentially seeking nuclear weapons that the path to a weapon can be pursued with few repercussions.

If President Obama were truly concerned about the future of the international nonproliferation regime, he would follow his recent disarmament “accomplishments” with some serious action to ensure that rogue regimes realize that there is a price to be paid by those who choose to pursue nuclear weapons.

You have to love the “If President Obama were truly concerned…” line. Of course, the President is just pretending to be worried about the issue – it’s all part of his cunning plan to sell America out to foreign and socialist overlords. Or something like that.

A causal reader would also be left thinking that Kissinger opposed the treaty, when of course he is right behind it, issuing a joint statement with George Shultz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn:

We strongly endorse the goals of this Treaty, and we hope that after careful and expeditious review that both the United States Senate and the Russian Federal Assembly will be able to ratify the Treaty.

Obama is following the (bi-partisan) playbook that Kissinger, Schultz, Perry and Nunn set out in their 2008 A World Free of Nuclear Weapons op-ed. It recommended:

  • “Changing the Cold War posture of deployed nuclear weapons to increase warning time and thereby reduce the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon.
  • Continuing to reduce substantially the size of nuclear forces in all states that possess them.
  • Eliminating short-range nuclear weapons designed to be forward-deployed.
  • Initiating a bipartisan process with the Senate, including understandings to increase confidence and provide for periodic review, to achieve ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, taking advantage of recent technical advances, and working to secure ratification by other key states.
  • Providing the highest possible standards of security for all stocks of weapons, weapons-usable plutonium, and highly enriched uranium everywhere in the world.
  • Getting control of the uranium enrichment process, combined with the guarantee that uranium for nuclear power reactors could be obtained at a reasonable price, first from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and then from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or other controlled international reserves. It will also be necessary to deal with proliferation issues presented by spent fuel from reactors producing electricity.
  • Halting the production of fissile material for weapons globally; phasing out the use of highly enriched uranium in civil commerce and removing weapons-usable uranium from research facilities around the world and rendering the materials safe.
  • Redoubling our efforts to resolve regional confrontations and conflicts that give rise to new nuclear powers.”

Is there any issue serious enough not be used as a partisan football in the US? I fear not.

Lieberman says no on nuclear treaty

It seems that the START treaty is going to struggle to make it through the Senate, despite President Obama’s confidence that a swift passage is possible.

Today, Joe Lieberman (an independent these days, who caucuses with the Democrats) took to Fox News to claim that ratification would be impossible unless the administration extracted concessions from Russia on missile defence and began to build a new generation of nuclear weapons:

We have to make darned sure our nuclear warheads are capable, are modern as world leaders arrived in Washington for the start of a major nuclear summit. I’m going to be real hesitant to vote for this treaty unless we have a commitment from the administration that they’re prepared to modernize our nuclear stockpile.

For the Republicans, Lamar Alexander said there was ‘not  a chance’ of ratification in 2010 – and that consideration of the treaty should wait until 2011.

What credibility does Obama’s nuclear strategy have if it lacks backing at home? Not much, I fear.

Will START get ratified?

I’ve been wondering whether the new US-Russia nuclear pact is a cert for ratification (it needs 67 votes to get through the Senate). If this treaty (uncontroversial as it is) was rejected by Republicans, it would raise serious questions about whether the US can any longer be regarded as a coherent foreign policy actor.

Asked about this, President Obama sounds reasonably confident that all will run smoothly. He also has harsh words for Sarah Palin too, who has suggested that American citizens would ‘rise up’ against his ‘unbelievable’ and ‘unacceptable’ nuclear posture (great cartoon version of her oratory, here).

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you have no doubt you’re going to get the eight Republicans you need to ratify this treaty?

OBAMA: Well, you know, the — listen, I’ve now been in Washington for long enough that, for me to say I have no doubt (LAUGHS) about how the Senate operates would be foolish. I feel confident that leaders like Dick Lugar — who actually was somebody I worked very closely with when I was in the Senate on issues of bomb control — when they have had the opportunity to fully evaluate this treaty, [they] will come to the conclusion that this is in the best interest of the United States. But I will also say to those in the Senate who have questions, is that this is absolutely vital for us to deal with the broader issues of nuclear proliferation, that are probably the number one threat that we face in the future.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get to some of those broader issues. Because you’re also facing criticism on that. Sarah Palin, taking aim at your decision to restrict the use of nuclear weapons. Your pledge not to strike nations, non-nuclear nations, who abide by the nonproliferation treaty. Here’s what she said. She said, “It’s unbelievable, no other administration would do it.” And then she likened it to kids on the playground. She said you’re like a kid who says, “Punch me in the face, and I’m not going to retaliate.” Your response?

OBAMA: I really have no response. Because last I checked, Sarah Palin’s not much of an expert on nuclear issues.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the string of criticism has been out there among other Republicans as well. They think you’re restricting use of nuclear weapons too much.

OBAMA: And what I would say to them is that if the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I’m probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But not concerned about her criticisms?


Nuclear winter redux

Mushroom Cloud Blues

Ever wondered what a nuclear strike would do to the environment?

The detonation of 100 15-kiloton nuclear weapons in Indian and Pakistani megacities would create urban firestorms that would loft 5 million tons of thick, black smoke above cloud level. (This smoke would engulf the entire planet within 10 days.)

Because the smoke couldn’t be rained out, it would remain in the stratosphere for at least a decade and have profoundly disruptive effects. Specifically, the smoke layer would block sunlight, heat the upper atmosphere, and cause massive destruction of protective stratospheric ozone.

2008 study PDF calculated ozone losses (after the described conflict) of 25-45 percent above mid-latitudes and 50-70 percent above northern high latitudes persisting for five years, with substantial losses continuing for another five years. Such severe ozone depletion would allow intense levels of harmful ultraviolet light to reach Earth’s surface–even with the stratospheric smoke layer in place.

Beneath the smoke, the loss of warming sunlight would produce average surface temperatures colder than any experienced in the last 1,000 years. There would be a corresponding shortening of growing seasons by up to 30 days and significant reductions in average rainfall in many areas, with a 40-percent decrease of precipitation in the Asian monsoon region.

Basically, the Earth’s surface would become cold, dark, and dry.

Via @jduncanMACD – the UK’s tweeting Ambassador for Multilateral Arms Control and Disarmament.