Senate Report on the New START Treaty

The rationale for the New START Treaty between the United States and Russia on reductions in nuclear weapons was addressed at length in an October 1 report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  On September 16, the Committee recommended ratification of the Treaty, which awaits consideration by the full Senate.

The 141-page Committee report (large pdf) explained the terms of the Treaty, its verification, its implications for missile defense and prompt global strike, and related subjects of concern or controversy, with dissenting views from opponents.  See “Treaty with Russia on Measures for Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (The New START Treaty),” Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) executive report 111-6, October 1.

The Senate Committee action was welcomed by many Russian officials as a harbinger of possible Treaty ratification by the end of this year. But other senior Russian officials criticized the Committee’s handling of the Treaty, as noted in a recently updated report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service:

“On November 3, 2010,… State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Kosachev stated that his committee would reopen hearings to discuss the ramifications of the action by the SFRC. He alleged that many of the conditions, understandings, and declarations in the resolution of advice and consent to ratification proposed by the SFRC are ‘deeply worrisome’ to many Russian Duma members, and stated that not only the synchronization of the ratification was necessary, but also the formulation of Russian statements to address those raised by the SFRC. He also raised concerns that a shift in party control in the U.S. Congress could delay or derail U.S. Congressional action on the treaty.”

See “Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests,” Congressional Research Service, November 4, 2010.

New Fuel Deal with Iran: Getting Back to Basics

by Ivanka Barzashka

After a year-long stalemate, Iran and the P5+1 seem to have agreed on a day for holding political talks – December 2. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed last week that the meeting “will not include discussions on fuel swap” – the deal with France, Russia and United States, also known as the Vienna Group, to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).

In principle, both Washington and Tehran agree that the fuel deal is still on the table, but the Iranians have been critical of the delay in setting a date for talks, which they interpret could be a lack of “willingness to enter peaceful nuclear cooperation.”

A successful fuel deal is a necessary condition for further engagement. However, circumstances have changed since October 2009, when the Vienna Group first made the fuel offer. Now, the State Department maintains that “any engagement [should be] in the context of that changed reality.” (Most of the Vienna Group’s outstanding concerns were listed in a confidential document to the IAEA, published by Reuters on June 9.)

However, the alleged terms of Washington’s new proposal seem to be muddled and will not have the claimed threat-reduction benefits (for a detailed discussion, see this Oct 29 post.) A technically-grounded analysis of what the fuel deal today can, cannot and ought to achieve is available in “New fuel deal with Iran: Debunking common myths,” published on Nov 2 in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Some highlights of these two assessments are provided below. Continue reading

START in a Lame Duck

The Senate should vote on the New START during the “lame duck” session.

The New START arms control treaty, negotiated between the United States and Russia and signed by the presidents of both countries last April, is awaiting ratification by the United States Senate.   Objections to the treaty rest primarily upon misunderstandings or misrepresentation.  In addition, though, some opponents of the treaty are arguing that, whether one supports or opposes the treaty, it is improper for the Senate to vote on the treaty during the post-election or “lame duck” session of Congress.  But there is neither a constitutional nor a commonsense reason to delay a vote.

Some of us who hope to dramatically and rapidly reduce the salience of nuclear weapons were disappointed that the treaty was rather modest, but it clearly moves in the right direction.  This treaty is not a radical departure from past treaties, it is not even a post-Cold War treaty;  it is an extrapolation of the Cold War SALT and START treaties stretching back to the days of the Soviet Union.  Given the current strategic security environment, neither Richard Nixon, nor Ronald Reagan, nor George H. W. Bush would blink an eye at this treaty. Continue reading

Chinese Nuclear Forces 2010

By Hans M. Kristensen

It’s interesting scary what you can find on the Internet: On Thursday, a Canadian calling himself SinoSoldier posted a report on the Pakistani web site Pakistan Defense claiming that China had test launched a JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from a submarine in the Atlantic (!). Different versions allegedly have ranges from 12,000 km to 20,000 km and carry 5-7 warheads as opposed to 10 on the JL-2 SLBM. The source was said to be a report in the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.

Click image to download

I haven’t been able to find the original story, but the report in Pakistan Defense is completely wrong: China does not have a JL-3 missile; it does not have a Type 096 submarine; it has never operated a submarine in the Atlantic; its two types of SLBMs (JL-1 and JL-2) have ranges of 1,770 km and 7,200 km, respectively; and they are only equipped with one warhead each.

The flaws in the report unfortunately did not prevent it from being picked up by Undersea Enterprise News Daily, an email newsletter distributed by the U.S. Atlantic submarine fleet headquarters.

Instead, check out our latest Nuclear Notebook on Chinese nuclear forces, just published for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by Sage Publications: Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2010 (pdf version)

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Mystery Missile: this question can be answered.

Like many techie sorts interested in military matters, I was caught up in the great California missile plume mystery.  I first heard about it when a reported called with questions and she sent a link to a video.  A traffic helicopter, an often underappreciated source of strategic intelligence, working for a local news station, KCAL, filmed what appeared to be a trail from a rocket launched off the coast of Los Angeles.  And the pictures do look like a rocket trail.  If someone showed me the still photographs and told me they were of a rocket launch, I wouldn’t think to question it.  But based on the photo, I would guess it is at least an anti-aircraft missile, like the Standard, and that is a 3000 pound missile, so this is not some amateur hobbyists flying a model rocket.  The Navy swore it wasn’t one of theirs.  The Air Force, too, denied any rocket launch and, anyway, Vandenberg, which does launch rockets, is in another direction.  No foreign government with the technical capability to, say, get a freighter close and launch a rocket from the back as some sort of demonstration would be crazy enough to do such a thing and the only country crazy enough to do it, North Korea, doesn’t have the technical capability to get away with it.  If it were some sort of secret test, then why test it off the coast of a multi-million inhabitant city and not, say, off the coast of Antarctica?  (And Vandenberg launches secret payloads all the time.  The fact of the launches obviously can’t be kept secret but the payloads are, so why go to the trouble?) Continue reading

Prompt Global Strike and Nuclear Arms Control

“Prompt global strike” refers to the possibility of destroying a target anywhere on Earth within minutes or hours using bombers, cruise missiles or ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads. The prompt global strike mission and its various implications were examined in a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.

Some argue that a conventional global strike capability could permit reduced U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons without diminishing deterrence.  Others say that it would be destabilizing, especially since conventionally-armed ballistic missiles in flight would be indistinguishable from nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, and could therefore be easily misinterpreted as a nuclear strike.

Under the terms of the New START Treaty between Russia and the U.S., which is awaiting Senate consideration, conventionally-armed ballistic missiles would be permitted, despite initial opposition from Russia during negotiations.  However, such missiles would still be counted along with nuclear-armed missiles under the Treaty’s limits on deployed delivery systems. All of these issues and more were carefully sorted out by CRS analyst Amy F. Woolf in “Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues,” October 25, 2010.

The Congressional Research Service does not permit direct public access to its publications.

SALT and the Classic Era of Arms Control

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that led to the signing of the SALT I Treaty in 1972 were documented in exhaustive detail in the latest volume of the official State Department publication Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS).

The new FRUS volume (pdf), which is more than 1000 pages long, covers internal deliberations over U.S. arms control policy and strategy in the Nixon Administration, and the development, refinement, negotiation and ultimate approval of the SALT I Treaty.

“You cannot put large missiles into small holes,” said Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev “very irritably,” according to the transcript of a May 23, 1972 discussion on possible modification of existing missile silos.  “It is more complicated than that,” responded national security advisor Henry Kissinger.

Declassification review of this FRUS volume began in 2004 and was completed in 2010. It resulted in the withholding of 1 document in full, excisions of a paragraph or more in 9 documents, and excisions of less than a paragraph in 60 documents, as noted in the Preface.

Foreign Corrupt Practices, and More from CRS

“More and more prosecutions” under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act may be expected, said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer last month. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is intended to prevent and punish bribery of foreign officials by U.S. firms.  “The executive branch appears to have increased oversight of suspected American businesses for alleged violations,” according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service, noting that “there have been a number of settlements and indictments in 2010” involving violations of the Act. See “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA): Congressional Interest and Executive Enforcement” (pdf), October 21, 2010.

Another new CRS report uncovers the history of the mostly forgotten Joint Congressional Committee on Reduction of Non-Essential Expenditures, which was in existence from 1941-1974.  Its purpose was to generate recommendations for the elimination of non-essential federal spending.  Interest in the Committee has been revived because of the possibility that it could serve as a model for restraining federal spending today.  But that possibility seems faint, since there is no evidence that the Committee had any tangible effect.  “CRS research did not uncover instances [of spending cuts] that could be specifically attributed to a recommendation of the joint committee or documentation that attributed a specific cut in spending to a joint committee recommendation.”  See “History of the Joint Committee on Reduction of Non-Essential Federal Expenditures (1941-1974), with Observations on Oversight Today” (pdf), October 26, 2010.

CRS updated its recent report on “Criminal Prohibitions on the Publication of Classified Defense Information” (pdf) on October 18, 2010 to correct some minor factual errors and to make various editorial changes.

Copies of these reports were obtained by Secrecy News.

A New Policy on Controlled Unclassified Info

The White House today issued an executive order to establish a uniform policy for handling “controlled unclassified information” (CUI), which is information that is restricted from disclosure because it involves personal privacy, proprietary data, law enforcement investigations, or for certain other reasons besides national security.

The new CUI framework will replace the multiplicity of agency markings such as “sensitive but unclassified,” “for official use only,” and over a hundred more.  By prohibiting the use of such improvised markings and by adopting a standard CUI marking which is subject to external approval and oversight across the executive branch, the new policy is expected to facilitate information sharing among agencies without fostering new secrecy.

CUI policy had been an open, unresolved item on the government’s information policy agenda for nearly five years, ever since President Bush directed agency heads to “standardize procedures for sensitive but unclassified information” in a December 16, 2005 memorandum.

Significantly, the executive order on CUI does not create any new authority to withhold information from disclosure.  It limits the use of the CUI marking to information that is already protected by statute, by regulation or by government-wide policy.  Furthermore, it requires agencies to gain the approval of the CUI “Executive Agent” before using the CUI marking on any particular category of information.  And it mandates that all such approved categories are to be made public on an official Registry.

In short, the CUI program seems well-crafted to streamline information handling in the executive branch without creating any new obstacles to public access.

But it almost turned out very differently, and one of the most important secrecy policy stories of recent years is what did not happen in the lengthy deliberative process over CUI.  What was poised to happen — but didn’t — is that CUI nearly became an adjunct part of a vastly expanded national security classification system.

As recently as last summer, the proposed CUI concept had all of the essential attributes of classification.  Under a July 2010 draft of the executive order (pdf), agencies would have been permitted to impose CUI controls using a loose, undefined standard (“compelling need”).  Access to CUI would have been conditional on a form of “need to know.”  And unauthorized disclosure of CUI would have been subject to administrative or criminal sanctions.

In every significant respect, CUI would have constituted another level of classification, by another name.  It would have overwhelmed efforts to rein in and reduce official secrecy.

Fortunately a different path was chosen.  To an unusual extent, the Obama Administration consulted with public interest groups on the emerging CUI policy.  In response to their comments, the attributes of classification that appeared in previous drafts were not merely modified but were eliminated altogether.  The result is a tightly focused executive order that clearly articulates a problem and advances a sensible solution to it.

Army Weapon Systems Handbook 2011

The U.S. Army has published its 2011 Weapon Systems handbook, a catalog of current weapon programs that are in various phases of the acquisition process.  A copy was obtained by Secrecy News. Many of the programs are mature and familiar; others are less so.  In each case, the program’s purpose and status are described, contractors involved in production are identified, and countries that have acquired the weapon system through foreign military sales programs are listed.