Hardly a Jump START

Four months past a “deadline” imposed by the expiration of the old START treaty and amid much fanfare, President Obama announced that he and Russian President Medvedev had agreed on a new arms control treaty.  I am not as excited as most are about the treaty and much of the following might be interpreted as raining on the parade so let me begin by saying that the negotiation of this treaty is an important step.  While not as big a step as I had hoped for, it is an essential step.

Whatever the actual reductions mandated by the treaty—and they are modest—it was vital to get the United States and Russia talking about nuclear weapons again.  The U.S. and Russia have at least 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons and they have to lead the world in nuclear reductions.  Without this first step there cannot be a second step and there are many steps between where we are today and a world free of nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration did not simply dismiss arms control as irrelevant but argued that negotiating agreements was actually counter productive, potentially creating confrontation where it would not otherwise arise.  Avoid talking and let sleeping dogs lie was the philosophy.  The Bush administration had the best of both worlds, from its perspective, by negotiating the nearly meaningless Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty, SORT, sometimes called the Moscow Treaty, that simply allowed each side to declare their plans for what they were going to do anyway and contained no verification provisions.

This treaty is different.  The White House has released summaries of the main features of the treaty, not the full text, but it is clear this is a real treaty with real limits and real verification.  This treaty and, more importantly, the process that produced it, gets the arms control train back on the track.

Even so, this treaty is a modest step.  Hans Kristensen has described the numbers and their implications for the nuclear force structure.  The treaty makes some modest reductions from the SORT limits but not large enough changes to make a qualitative difference in the nuclear standoff between the legacy forces of the two Cold War superpowers.  (If anyone can explain to me why we and the Russians continue to need over a thousand nuclear bombs, each five to twenty five times more powerful than the bomb that flattened Hiroshima, pointed at each other, please send me an email. I want to know what the beef between us is that makes that seem proportionate.) Continue reading

New START Treaty Has New Counting

An important new treaty reduces the limit for deployed strategic warheads but not the number.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The White House has announced that it has reached agreement with Russia on the New START Treaty. Although some of the documents still have to be finished, a White House fact sheet describes that the treaty limits the number of warheads on deployed ballistic missiles and long-range bombers on both sides to 1,550 and the number of missiles and bombers capable of launching those warheads to no more than 700.

The long-awaited treaty is a vital symbol of progress in U.S.-Russian relations and an important additional step in the process of reducing and eventually perhaps even achieving the elimination nuclear weapons. It represents a significant arms control milestone that both countries should ratify as soon as possible so they can negotiate deeper cuts.

Yet while the treaty reduces the legal limit for deployed strategic warheads, it doesn’t actually reduce the number of warheads.  Indeed, the treaty does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead and actually permits the United States and Russia to deploy almost the same number of strategic warheads that were permitted by the 2002 Moscow Treaty. Continue reading

Judging the Mood at the IAEA

by Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich

The latest IAEA report on Iran has been widely touted as containing new evidence of Iranian weapons work and as a sign of the Agency’s new hard-line attitude toward the Islamic Republic under its new Director General Yukiya Amano. We believe the document has been seriously misrepresented in the media and elsewhere, which could have dangerous consequences.  We made this argument in a recent op-ed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

We should all bother to do a little reading and get our facts straight. If there was a case for new crippling sanctions or for bombing Iran before, the report adds nothing new.    The February report contains no new evidence of Iranian weapons work that was not already in the public domain. There is no independent IAEA assessment that Iran currently has or has ever had a nuclear weapons program. This is also hardly the first time that the Agency has addressed outstanding questions pertaining to the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program and has asked for Iran to respond.

Very limited space in our brief Bulletin op-ed did not allow us to address the issue of Amano’s allegedly new tougher tone. The February document, being Amano’s first, has been subject to an exegesis to discern potential attitudes from the director and has been described by Western media as blunt and even confrontational. Inside Iran, the issue of tone has been viewed by some as a “direct result of a change in leadership, and not the outcome of an unbiased evaluation.” Continue reading