Tag: nuclear disarmament

Flying Blind in Crisis Time: The US Strategic and Human Foreign Policy Deficit

This week has seen a number of key events and crises in global politics that have made crystal clear once again the careening mess that is US foreign policy under the current administration. The Trump administration has no real overarching strategy—the argument that allies in Europe and elsewhere should bear more of the costs of their defense was not articulated as part of any coherent broader vision—and gutting of the diplomatic corps has left the US devoid of expertise and key actors to confront crises when they arise.

First, there were two big stories around nuclear powers this week. The biggest being India and Pakistan’s clashes, which came on the heels of a suicide bombing attack on Indian troops in Kashmir by a local man that was claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. In a scenario that Toby Dalton and George Perkovich worried about and predicted, an air raid by India into Pakistan resulted in bombs dropped on an open field, with two Indian planes apparently shot down, and one airman captured. Pakistan responded with a raid of its own across the Line of Control in Kashmir, sparking fears of escalation between the two nuclear-armed states. The Indian raid marked the first known aerial attack by one nuclear power on the territory of another.

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Nuclear Disarmament: Looking Back at Reykjavik

I’ve been looking at some of the documents in “The Reykjavik File” at the National Security Archive. This coming October will mark 25 years since Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev almost completed a startling nuclear disarmament deal.

Had they been successful, both superpowers would have been disarmed 15 years ago!

The US proposal at Reykjavik was fairly startling, as reported in the Memorandum of Conversation, Reagan-Gorbachev, Final Meeting, 12 October 1986, 3:25 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. – 6:50 p.m., October 16, 1986. Document 15 (or see this archive for educators):

“Both sides would agree to confine themselves to research, development and testing, which is permitted by the ABM Treaty, for a period of 5 years, through 1991, during which time a 50% reduction of strategic nuclear arsenals would be achieved. This being done, both sides will continue the pace of reductions with respect to all remaining offensive ballistic missiles with the goal of the total elimination of all offensive ballistic missiles by the end of the second five-year period. As long as these reductions continue at the appropriate pace, the same restrictions will continue to apply. At the end of the ten-year period, with all offensive ballistic missiles eliminated, either side would be free to deploy defenses.”

Obviously, the US was interested in the possibility of researching and testing anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems during the offensive disarmament period and then potentially deploying the systems after a 10 year period.

This is the somewhat different Soviet counterproposal (as reported in the same document), which also aims at disarming offensive arsenals over a 10 year period. However, it includes somewhat tougher language about research and testing limits under the 1972 ABM Treaty:

“The USSR and the United States undertake for ten years not to exercise their existing right of withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which is of unlimited duration, and during that period strictly to observe all its provisions. The testing in space of all space components of missile defense is prohibited, except research and testing conducted in laboratories. Within the first five years of the ten-year period (and thus through 1991), the strategic offensive arms of the two sides shall be reduced by 50 percent. During the following five years of that period, the remaining 50 percent of the two sides strategic offensive arms shall be reduced. Thus by the end of 1996, the strategic offensive arms of the USSR and the United States will have been totally eliminated.”

Sadly, nuclear disarmament was blocked by a fairly narrow difference over a pipe dream technology.

For a U.S. government analysis of the negotiations, written in the first person and signed by Ronald Reagan, see Document 25: National Security Decision Directive Number 250, “Post-Reykjavik Follow-Up,” 3 November 1986, 14 pp.


No Nukes: Arms Division

In February, Bill Clinton’s second Secretary of Defense, William Perry, spoke at Harvard’s Belfer Center and continued his ongoing campaign against nuclear weapons. With former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger and former Senator Sam Nunn, Perry has for many years been seeking a “world free of nuclear weapons.

After describing his personal experience working behind the scenes during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Perry recounted another nuclear scare:

16 years later, when he was Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. He was awakened at 3 a.m. by a phone call from the watch officer at North American Aerospace Defense Command.

“The general got right to the point, telling me that his computers were indicating 200 missiles were on the way from the Soviet Union to the United States. I immediately woke up, “ Perry said. “The computer alert of course was a false alarm. The general was calling me in the hopes that I might help him help him figure out what the hell had gone wrong with his computers so that he’d have something to tell the president the next morning.”

Perry said that was one of three false alarms he knows of in which Soviet missiles were thought to be screaming toward the United States, “and I don’t know how many more might have occurred in the Soviet Union.”

“So I had a close personal experience with the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe that could have resulted in no less than the end of civilization,” Perry said. “And to this day, I believe that we avoided nuclear catastrophe as much by good luck as by good management.”

In other words, Perry does not apparently believe that nuclear deterrence had much to do with the “long peace” of the cold war.

I’ve previously blogged about my academic work in this area. In my view, these former US officials are acting as norm entrepreneurs, contesting the norm of nuclear deterrence by calling for nuclear disarmament. Perry’s Harvard address specifically asks if “we” have “reached the nuclear tipping point.”

That’s norm life cycle-talk 101.


Some NPT Reading… if you’re out of summer novels.

International Affairs – the (increasingly policy oriented) official journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (aka Chatham House) has published a “virtual” issue of articles on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) dating back to 1968 and going up to the present. It includes one by Hedley Bull published in 1975 which (although very much dated) highlights the dilemmas of nuclear diplomacy during the period of detente and when India shocked the world by conducting a nuclear explosion in 1974 and China re-emerged as a major player on the world stage.

Not exactly beach-y kind of summer reading, but an interesting collection nevertheless – and possibly of use to some readers.


Nuclear Arms Control

Yesterday, in Prague, President Obama signed a new START deal with Russian President Medvedev. In strategic and military terms, the treaty does not make much difference. I think it is generally good to reduce nuclear overkill, but the treaty allows both states to retain 1550 strategic nuclear weapons. That’s plenty for deterrence purposes and still a long way from zero.

Potentially, the 30% cut in nuclear weapons is symbolically important as the U.S. tries to convince other states (like India) that it is serious about its NPT Article VI commitments. Russia shares this interest as well. It makes a nice bookend with the “negative security assurances” announced earlier this week.

Interestingly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Louisville right now, speaking as I type (I’m watching the stream) in support of the treaty. She flew to Louisville from Prague and must be exhausted.

Why would she do that?

That’s easy to answer.

Clinton is speaking at the McConnell Center (for Political Leadership, though that part of the name seems to have disappeared from the website). Indeed, the Secretary was introduced by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. This speech is an obvious effort to make sure that Republicans do not block the new START accord in the Senate. After all, a treaty requires a supermajority in the Senate. Indiana’s Dick Lugar is apparently on board, but the administration will need six more Republicans and clearly wants many more.

They’re apparently aiming for the big enchilada, McConnell. At minimum, they don’t want him to lead a strong opposition movement though he reportedly has concerns about scaled-back U.S. missile defenses. Clinton pointed out in the speech that this treaty does not limit U.S. plans in those areas (though to please Russia, the administration has changed the policy in an earlier action).

The Secretary pointed out in her speech that recent arms control accords (post cold-war, basically) have been approved overwhelmingly, with 90+ votes in support. George W. Bush’s arms accord had zero votes against. Clinton did not mention the CTBT, which her husband failed to get through the Senate. It was a rare outright defeat for a treaty as presidents usually avoid pushing agreements that will fail.

In his opening remarks, Senator McConnell pointed out that Clinton is the 6th Secretary of State to speak in the Center that bears his name. This is not a coincidence. He’s proud of the Center and has used his position on committees or leading his party to leverage speakers. When he had great influence over foreign aid, the University hosted ambassadors from both Israel and Egypt (separately). At the time, guess which states received the most foreign assistance from the U.S.? Hint: Israel is still #1.

Most of the audience questions after the address pertain to horizontal proliferation (Iran, especially), which I think everyone recognizes is a more important problem than the precise size of the U.S. and Russian arsenals. In her address, Secretary Clinton mentioned “next week’s 40-plus head-of-state nuclear-security conference in Washington.” That event will directly address the broader proliferation problem.

In short, Hillary Clinton was performing political theater for Mitch McConnell. Her script is only indirectly related to the more important foreign policy concerns that are to be addressed in a completely different political context. However, the Obama administration needs McConnell’s tacit support because Article VI of the NPT links horizontal and vertical proliferation. From the U.S. point of view, “getting to zero” is a two-level game and McConnell is a key player in it.


ISA: Renewing my call for comedy

I’m just back from the 2010 ISA conference in NOLA, but I don’t have time for a full convention report right now. Among the highlights: First, I attended a panel on blogging featuring the Duck’s Charli Carpenter on a stage with Dan Drezner, Rob Farley and Steve Walt, among others. Later, over drinks, I got to meet a few of the newest Duck bloggers.

These events motivated me to blog more frequently. We’ll see, eh?

In any case, in addition to networking, a major purpose of ISA is for scholars to exchange ideas in a somewhat formal setting. Ideally, panel members present their latest research and then receive useful feedback from other academics. Since I wouldn’t mind getting more feedback on my latest projects, I’m using the rest of this post to highlight my two ISA papers. Sorry for the shameless self promotion — but I’m in a bit of a panic as I saw something at the conference that made me think that I should work faster.

Loyal readers may recall my 2007 ISA paper and related Duck post on “The Comedy of Great Power Politics.” At this ISA, I presented two papers related to my ongoing “comedy project.”

One was fairly directly on point: “Teaching Global Politics Through Film: The Role of Comedy.” Here’s the abstract:

Popular films can be employed very effectively to teach international relations theory. Indeed, film creates learning opportunities that are not readily available in more typical formats. As a mass medium, film provides potent access to viewers’ imaginations, even as it serves as a unique alternative text and mode of learning within the classroom. The paper first reviews the traditional realist concern with tragedy to cement the importance of dramatic narratives in the field and to stress the contours and limits of the typical story. The second section develops the case for studying comedy in world politics, emphasizing the importance of the concerns of ordinary people and highlighting the critical value of farce and satire. This section brief discusses the storylines or other cinematic elements of several specific films that illustrate each of these comedic forms.

I’m pretty sure that anyone can download the pdf, but let me know if you have difficulty and I’ll email it. The paper borrows a bit from my Duck series of posts on my film class, mixes in a bit of my 2007 paper, and provides something of a critique of IR theory and the way it is ordinarily taught.

My other paper (“Is Nuclear Deterrence as Dead as the Dodo?”) views nuclear deterrence as a long-established norm that is currently in the midst of an increasingly heated “norm contest.” For decades, some scholars have argued that deterrence is irrational, illogical, or contradictory, but a few have gone even further — arguing that the inconsistencies reveal nuclear strategy to be absurd, fantastic, ridiculous and far-fetched. You know, “not a tragedy but a ghastly farce.”

Since at least the early 1980s, many prominent political figures and former military leaders have taken up these points as well–calling often for nuclear disarmament based on the framing developed by the academics. When I teach Global Politics Through Film, I assign my students a speech by former SAC Commander General Lee Butler, who offered one of the strongest statements against nuclear deterrence in 1998 (perhaps poorly timed in a year of Indian and Pakistani proliferation). Butler noted SAC planning that “defied reason” and reflected “complete absurdity.”

My primary concern in the paper is whether the growing recognition of the contradictions, irrationalities, and even absurdities of nuclear deterrence might usher in the strategy’s demise—and potentially create the conditions for, and/or provide the impetus to, a world free of nuclear weapons. Critical theorists often argue that serious contradictions between public justification and policy action are logically unsustainable and suggest an opening for alternative, perhaps emancipatory, possibilities. Of course, it is possible that the death of deterrence might merely assure the life of preventive war and counterproliferation strategies like the “Bush Doctrine.” The paper looks at that too.

Before ISA, I posted the full abstract and link to the paper on my personal blog. Again: I’m trolling for feedback, so please let me know if you need an emailed copy.


The Security Council Goes Nuclear

I just finished reading the UN Security Council’s latest Cross-Cutting Report on The Security Council’s Role in Disarmament and Arms Control; Nuclear Weapons, Nonproliferation and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It’s an excellent overview for non-experts on the relationship of the UN Security Council to nuclear diplomacy. Background sections cover the history of UNSC’s involvement in disarmament and arms control and why it mostly failed during the Cold War; the nature of alternative bilateral and non-UNSC multilateral arrangements to date and their drawbacks; the Security Council’s engagement with a series of WMD crises since 1977; and the relationship between nuclear weapons and other WMD (though the report accepts as valid the socially constructed distinction between WMD and conventional weapons – obviously the authors haven’t read Tannenwald). Anyway, it’s useful reading for anyone wanting the current skinny on disarmament and non-proliferation regimes and where the UNSC fits.

But the report also includes an optimistic, forward-looking and (I think) a little bit naive appraisal of the Council’s resurgent role in nuclear diplomacy, which was set out in Article 26 of the UN Charter but fell by the wayside for much of the UN’s history:

“The Security Council has shown… that it has the potential – and the power, if it chooses to exercise it – to contribute to addressing both specific and broader disarmament dimensions of security issues… Clearly there are a huge range of options the Council members can pursue in their national capacities that would have positive impacts on the disarmament and non-proliferation agenda.”

These, the report goes on, include “national statements in UNSC debates, committing the UNSC to “play a regular role,” an annual high-level meeting, an omnibus resolution bringing together and updating existing resolutions, statement and decisions on disarmament; and “establishing a high-level subsidiary body to support the Council in discharging a strategic-level role in the area of disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation.”

But most of avenues envisioned here for SC involvement seem halfhearted and largely rhetorical. On the one hand, the Security Council has one thing going for it that other nonproliferation forums lack: a 2/3 majority voting process rather than a consensus process where every stakeholder has a veto. On the other hand, the P5 veto dilutes this advantage for all issues; and it’s particularly problematic on nuclear policy given that the P5 are all on one side of the disarmament debate. Indeed the report’s appraisal of the SC’s earlier efforts at nuclear diplomacy paints a more somber picture of its ability to exert more than an epiphenomenal effect on political outcomes, for this very reason:

“The P5 – all of whom have nuclear weapons – seem unusually united about compliance with the nonproliferation obligations in the NPT and preventing other states and nonstate actors from acquiring nuclear weapons. However, the Council’s record of effectively addressing the parallel obligations on the P5 under article VI of the NPT [which requires nuclear states to work in good faith toward disarmament] is almost completely absent in any practical sense… Council action against state proliferation has been uneven and is often criticised as selective… it has acted firmly against nuclear programmes in Iraq, the DPRK and Iran. Nuclear weapons programmes in Israel, Pakistan and India were largely ignored.”

As anyone schooled in realist theory knows, this is precisely the pattern that would be predicted in the absence of the Security Council.

So ultimately I think it is naive to place much faith in the UNSC as a bulwark against nuclear proliferation. This doesn’t mean it’s entirely devoid of power. The UNSC is good for three things, all significant:

First, as Inis Claude famously argued, it functions as a collective legitimation body, so it has some role to play in reproducing norms negotiated in other forums like the Conference on Disarmament. Second, it may be poor at helping states escape collective action dilemmas, but it does constitute a forum for states to coordinate policy responses vis-a-vis non-state actors – perhaps it should be taking the lead particularly on this aspect of non-proliferation policy. Third, as any civil society actor who has attempted to influence a Security Council resolution knows, it functions to securitize issues: the agenda of the UN Security Council is considered a signal to the global community about the significance of threats and concerns, and in this sense alone its re-engagement with disarmament and proliferation issues is important.

Doesn’t mean we should pin all our hopes on New York, however. I think it is far more significant that the United States is now playing a lead role on nonproliferation issues as well holding the rotating Presidency for the month of September. To the extent that the UNSC has power to play a constructive role, it will be wielded through sympathetic P5 governments.


Scribbles in My Notebook…

I have a mental queue of about 3 or 5 post that I’ve been meaning to get up in the past couple of days, but the demands of a new baby in the house are leaving me sleep deprived and somehow unable to find time to construct the posts I want to write (go figure…). So, in lieu of that, a couple of scribbles from my mental notebook that merit your attention and our discussion.

–SecDef Gates unveiled his defense budget. This could be one the most significant policy undertakings of the Obama administration and lead to some real, meaningful reforms with profound consequences on both domestic and international politics. This issue is being covered quite well elsewhere, so I will only give a couple of quick points that I hope you keep in mind.

Stop talking about this as budget cuts. Its not. It still represents an overall increase in US defense spending. Rather, its a reallocation of funds and priorities, away from some things and toward other things.

This shows how backasswards defense policy is. The vehicle for a major reorientation of defense policy is the budget. Not a policy document, not a strategic review, but procurement. Procurement and budgets drive defense policy more than ‘policy’ does, in that going to war with the military you have, not the one you want is the product of weapons requirements from 20 years ago. The F-22, the fighter jet at the center of all this, originated with a set of requirements in the late 1980’s during the cold war. Sure, they’ve updated and reaffirmed a new set of requirements to keep the plane alive. But, current AF strategy and policy discussions surrounding this plane are still captive to budget cycles from a decade ago.

I like the go-for-broke strategy that Gates is employing, as it makes it more likely, I think, to overcome Congressional opposition to any weapons system cuts. He’s shown with his comments that he’s ready to take on the defense spending as jobs argument head on.

Check out this story on how closely the US is studying Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah and how that discussion is serving as a proxy for the larger debate on the future shape of the US military.

–Obama was in Europe, had a major NATO summit, and called for nuclear disarmament. Foolish critics called him naive. Reagan also wanted disarmament, he offered to give up all our nuclear weapons if the Soviets would do the same. Obama’s going to try again to get the CTBT ratified. I think these are important steps. Proliferation is one of those global, multilateral problems that no one country can address alone. Reaching any nuclear deal ultimately runs into the fundamental bargain of the NPT that leaves some states nuclear and others not. That bargain requires the nuclear states to work towards disarmament. Obama’s call for nuclear arms reduction gives him major cred in seeking further arms control agreements with new and potential nuclear powers, as he can now claim with some credibility that he is interested in matching the disarmament that he is asking others to undertake.

–North Korea launched a missile / satellite that failed miserably, crashing down in the Pacific Ocean. The interesting question, I think, is how this impacts their credibility–they continually threaten war, testing, and proliferation, but then continually fail when they try to make good. And yet, within the DPRK, this is a reaffirmation of North Korean resistance and US surrender. To the rest of the world, well, I don’t think it helps North Korea make any friends.

Obama invoked the UNSC, which was nice, but (predictably?), no one could agree on anything. Russia and China were not happy with the test, but it seems there’s a difference between not liking the test and allowing the SC to sanction a state for violation of a resolution. We shall see how much more fun this makes Stephen Bosworth’s job.

–Pirates take a US cargo ship. Charli has that covered, but as I mentioned to a couple of students we’re working with on a Pirate project this summer, Now things might start to get interesting. Which is to say, we’ll see if the US changes its tune at all when US interests / persons / items are at risk.

–Opening day for baseball, lets go Cleveland!!!


Meanwhile, Outside of the Caucasus…

Rodger and Peter remind us that many things are happening out there besides the commotion between Russia and Georgia. For example:

Canada has dispatched the naval frigate HMCS Ville de Québec to the waters off the Horn of Africa, in the hopes of stemming pirate attacks that have in recent months drastically curtailed the delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia’s war-affected masses. It’s unclear whether a single additional vessel will be up to the task, even if its mission is to rather single-mindedly protect World Food Programme shipments, rather than to police the waters more generally. Still, it’s heartening to see Canada’s open securitization of maritime piracy: see the long quotation by Rear-Admiral Dean McFadden in Daniel Skeritch’s post at Modern Day Pirate Tales.

Relatedly, the Dallas News reports on Somalia’s humanitarian crisis, now characterized as the “worst in the world.” (Some helpful perspective: compare the “catastrophe” of between 10,000 and 30,000 refugees in N. Ossetia to the following:)

“The United Nations estimates that at least 14 million people in the Horn of Africa are in urgent need of food aid due to conflict, dramatic rises in food costs and severe drought.

Two countries most threatened by this crisis are Somalia and Ethiopia, where 2.6 million and 4.6 million people, respectively, face severe food shortages.

Somalia is already in the grip of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It has been without an effective government for nearly two decades – but since 2007, the situation has declined sharply. Conflict, failed rains and hyperinflation have made staple foods such as rice and corn unaffordable for many.”

Finally, while two nuclear-armed superpowers step up increasingly belligerent rhetoric in the UN Security Council and beyond, it makes sense to mention the recent passage of the 63rd anniversary of the bombing of Hirsohima. Peace groups commemorated the event last week, and the mayor of Hiroshima asked the US to back a ban on nuclear weapons. Hmm. Might be an auspicious time to think about it.

The Human Security Report’s News Service provides a helpful roundup of other key stories.


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