Friday, January 25, 2008

Nuke Policy Blog Tank - Getting The Word Out

By Cernig

Recently I and more than a dozen other bloggers who write about foreign policy and arms control issues participated in a "blog-tank" experiment led by Cheryl Rofer of WhirledView.

I'll let Cheryl explain:

Congress has specified that it is time for a new nuclear policy, before they will grant funding for new nuclear weapons. What is their purpose? What would they be used for? How does this make the United States more secure?

A blue-ribbon panel of nuclear scientists and strategists asked some of the same questions. The presidential candidates haven’t contributed much to the discussion.

So, in the tradition of Thomas Paine, I decided to ask my fellow citizen-bloggers to help the country out.

I invited some by e-mail and posted a general challenge. Fifteen bloggers responded, some with multiple posts. Their political views ranged around the center, including both Republicans and Democrats, moderately hawkish to moderately dovish.

My point was not merely to develop a reasonable nuclear weapons policy, one that would improve safety for Americans, our relations with other countries, and prospects for nonproliferation. I also wanted to show that people with a range of views could come to a consensus. So I specified in the challenge that I would pull the views together and develop a consensus.
Well the bloggers wrote - several of them actual experts and others just well informed individuals with much of it really excellent stuff from all points on the political spectrum. Cheryl duly pulled together our consensus, which I hope she doesn't mind if I republish here in full.
The bloggers who have contributed to this blog-tank range in views across the center of the political and hawkishness spectra. Nonetheless, we have achieved a fair degree of consensus.

Nuclear weapons strategy is part of a broader US military and international relations strategy, but it can be discussed by itself. To some degree, development of all these levels of strategy is iterative.

We need to identify short-term and long-term goals and give each its appropriate place. While abolition of nuclear weapons may be a long-term goal, making it too immediate can be counterproductive.

Nuclear weapons have a paradoxical relationship to power. They cannot be used, but their threat is potent. If a nation is tied too closely to a requirement to retaliate, its options may in fact be limited.

Nations that have nuclear weapons want to preserve their exclusivity, but that desire may increase the valuation of nuclear weapons by other nations.

The Threat
The threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD) via the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union is no more. But the United States must consider the nuclear arsenals of Russia, China and others. It cannot unilaterally disarm. The greatest nuclear threats now are accidents from, for instance, the thousands of missiles in the United States and Russia still on Cold-War alert status or from poor handling of nuclear weapons, as in the recent inadvertent transport of nuclear-armed cruise missiles from North Dakota to Louisiana.

The other current threat is from terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons. This is most likely to come from theft from current stockpiles.

With the Soviet Union gone, MAD is no longer operative. Whether it can be applied to today’s world is not clear. Pakistan and India have achieved a nuclear standoff that resembles MAD. Even a single nuclear explosion is a serious threat to the economic and social stability of larger nations like the United States, Russia and China. A hundred strikes would be devastating; fewer would destroy most nations.

Overwhelming conventional military power, particularly air power, may deter as effectively as nuclear firepower; perhaps more effectively because of the conventional-psychological barrier to the use of nuclear weapons.

Multipolar nuclear deterrence may result in the valuing of nuclear weapons by smaller states; possession of nuclear weapons may seem to them a way to counter the overwhelming conventional military power of larger states.

Nuclear weapons are no stronger a deterrent than conventional weapons to stateless groups like al-Qaeda that have no land or population to protect. Neither is persuasive.

For any deterrent to work, the tripwires and penalties must be clear. That is not now the case with US nuclear weapons policy.

First Use and Transparency
Nuclear weapons are different from all other weapons, including those that are sometimes called “weapons of mass destruction.” Therefore, there is no such thing as a tactical nuclear weapon, to be deployed into the field along with other weapons. Any first use will evoke strong international reaction, particularly if that first use is by the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war.

Thus, it should be the policy of the US that nuclear weapons are intended solely to deter and respond to a nuclear attack. They should not be a response to a chemical or biological attack by non nuclear weapon states, but to a nuclear attack only. In the event of a terrorist nuclear attack, nuclear retaliation may be exactly what the terrorists hope to provoke.

US responses to a nuclear attack should be clear. Further, our nuclear ally, Israel, needs to be more forthright about its nuclear possession and policies.

The pursuit of nuclear weapons can be discouraged by increasing the costs (economic and otherwise) of their development, the hazards of their development, and the value of developing them. Governments and international organizations must continue to maintain the position that nuclear weapons are not part of ordinary military planning. Attempting to ‘domesticate’ them or produce low-yield ‘usable nukes’ will tend to undermine the marginalization of nuclear weapons that is essential to maintaining nonproliferation.

Immunizing non-nuclear states against nuclear attack under all circumstances gives them a strong positive reason to avoid pursuing nuclear weapons and to cooperate fully with the IAEA.

Negotiations to decrease the numbers of nuclear weapons from the present 26,000 or so down to the low thousands or less should continue between the United States and Russia. Verification is important and should be a part of any agreements coming out of these negotiations. It is also important to bring the other states having nuclear weapons into these talks to decrease their stockpiles as well.

Additional subjects for which negotiation is essential is the safety and security of nuclear stockpiles and nuclear materials; delivery vehicles, which are easier to see and count than nuclear warheads; and the current alert status of missiles. All of these negotiations should be multilateral. Cooperation between the United States and Russia on securing nuclear materials should continue and be expanded.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and Beyond
The NPT is an important part of keeping nuclear weapons under control. The IAEA has been successful and will need to be expanded as additional facilities are opened up to inspection and as restrictions on the numbers of nuclear weapons are increased. Additional duties may also be given to the IAEA or other international organizations, including buying up black market nuclear materials and the development of an international fuel bank.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty should be ratified by the Senate.

The infrastructure of nuclear weapons laboratories and production facilities is an important part of the US’s deterrent. As numbers of nuclear weapons in the stockpile decreases, the ability to rebuild becomes more important. However, immediate development of the Robust Replacement Warhead (RRW) will send the wrong message to the world about the US’s commitment to the NPT. The nuclear weapons complex must be sized in accordance with strategic needs in this area.

At the same time, defense-industry lobbying, profiteering, and the privatization of conflict need to be reined in.

Missile Defense
Along with infrastructure, missile defense is part of the “New Triad.” We have come to no consensus on missile defense. It is a large enough subject that perhaps another blog-tank on the subject is in order.

Regional Security
Regional security should be pursued through agreements of protection under the US nuclear ‘umbrella’, sponsorship of regional military/economic agreements, and expansion of programs such as the Cooperative Threat Reduction effort beyond the former Soviet Union. All of this requires the US government engage both allies and potential adversaries on an international, not unilateral, stage.
Cheryl then emailed the various presidential campaigns for their comments and feedback. The result was:
No response: zip, zilch, nada. What I learned in that exercise is that the candidates are eager to get their ideas out to us and our contributions in to them. Forget about anything else.
I'd go further and say that the American Idol campaign we're experiencing means candidates and the mainstream media aren't as interested in serious policy discussions as they should be, since sound-bites and snarking at their opponents garner more coverage. And nuclear weapons policy just isn't on the list of hot topics, despite the race to become Commander in Chief of a nuclear superpower with no policy on how best to use it's nuclear arsenal. That's insane. Let's change it - let's put this issue out there to the point where it's a major topic for discussion.