PND (Peaple for Nuclar Disarmament) NUCLEAR FLASHPOINTS STATEMENT ON NEW START ENTRY INTO FORCE
February 5, 2011
A few hours later today, at a ceremony at the grand military strategy conference that takes place every year in Munich, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will exchange 'instruments of ratification' for the New START treaty.
The moment they do so, New START will enter into force, and there will once more be an arms control framework of sorts, as there was until December 2009. The occasion has already unleashed some commentary, with some suggesting that New START not only doesn't go nearly far enough but is not worth having at all because it does not 'really' reduce actual nuclear weapons numbers and because it is associated with a modernisation program that largely undercuts the very purpose of a nuclear arms control agreement. Others argue to the contrary that it undermines US (or Russian) security, or that it puts 'unacceptable' constrains on the US holy cow of missile defence. Alas! It does nothing of the kind - if only it did!
The facts are that as a disarmament treaty, New START is distinctly underwhelming. The reductions it mandates in 'deployed' nuclear warheads are of the order of 30% only, and some argue that Russia at least, would have found its forces shrinking BELOW the levels mandated by New START anyway, new START or no New START.
Hans Kristensen recently pointed out that New START does not actually mandate the destruction of a single nuclear warhead. All it talks about is reducing the numbers of OPERATIVE nuclear warheads, so to satisfy the treaty all that needs to happen is for warheads to be removed from that category and stored in bunkers.
And of course, the treaty manages to count nuclear bombers, which may carry up to 24 warheads as if they are a SINGLE warhead. This means that any number of warheads may be stored on bomber bases, and the number of warheads actually counted will never exceed the number of nuclear - capable bombers at the base.
However, it is fair to say that there is some consensus that we are better off with New START whatever its inadequacies, than we would be if the Congress and the Duma had rejected it. It would have been much better if the reductions were deeper and more real, if missile defence HAD been really constrained, if a path to zero were more clearly embraced, if warheads really did have to be actually destroyed, and above all if that bargain with the devil - the monster modernisation program - had not been associated with the treaty.
But the results of not proceeding with New START would have been in effect to abandon the entire progress however tentative, in the direction of nuclear abolition, that the world has time after time pledged itself to.
And there is now an increasing comment on 'what further progress can we make now?'.
There is talk of proceeding with the FMCT (Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, stalled in the CD because of Pakistani blocking), and of proceeding with the ratification of the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty).
That there can now be talk at all of 'what's next' is itself an indication of the benefits of having START enter into force. There mere fact that it has done so almost regardless of its content, makes talk of further progress possible.
However, neither the CTBT nor the FMCT look to me like terribly good candidates for further progress. The prospects for movement on either just don't look good enough.
An issue that has hung around in the background as it were, but is of utterly apocalyptic significance and that might have a chance of real forward movement is however, the issue of operational readiness.
The US and Russia STILL maintain over 2000 warheads each in a status in which they can be launched in less than two minutes. This number will decrease slightly under New START. Obama as a presidential candidate, pledged himself to negotiate with Russia to change this.
The Canberra Commission back in 1996, the Blix commission in 2006, an appeal by 44 nobels in 2004-5, and the Evans/Kawaguchi commission in 2009, all urged that nuclear weapons be taken off high alert.
A study done by Bruce Blair, Colonel Valery Yarynich, Generals Esin and Zolotarev, and others, published in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs, concluded that nuclear weapons in the US and Russia could be de-alerted without the danger of a 're-alerting race' and with overall improvement in strategic stability.
And at the last session of the UN General Assembly, two resolutions specifically called for the reduction of nuclear weapons operating status, with the 'Operational Readiness' resolution sponsored by Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, and Switzerland being adopted 157-3. (Operational Readiness came about partly as a result of this authors work).
Minimal progress has been made on the US side so far, with the Nuclear Posture Review conceding that, yes, the US DOES maintain its strategic nuclear forces on high alert (after denials during the Bush administration that it even does so), and committing to examine ways in which 'presidential decision-making time' could be increased. Certainly, decision-making time (currently 8 minutes max to decide on retaliation) is the nub of the problem, but to increase decision making time is precisely to decrease the alert level of nuclear forces. You just can't do one without the other.
A number of NGOs and others have written to Sergei Lavrov, Hilary Clinton, and the relevant State Duma and Congressional committees, urging progress on this literally apocalyptic issue as a priority in the post START entry into force era. That letter will be dispatched in the coming week.
John Hallam, People for Nuclear Disarmament Nuclear Flashpoints Project, worked on nuclear fuel cycle/nuclear power issues with Friends of the Earth 1977-1999, in Melbourne 1977-84. Now with People for Nuclear Disarmament Nuclear Flashpoints Project in Sydney, Australia. He originated the texts of over 20 resolutions on nuclear disarmament in the Australian Senate from 1998-2008, plus resolutions on India-Pakistan nuclear testing in 1998 and 2003 in the UK and Brasilian parliaments. In 1999, he worked on a global campaign to lower the operating status of nuclear weapons over the Y2K rollover, resulting in resolutions in the Australian Senate, a unanimous resolution in the European Parliament, and a letter signed by over 600 NGOs and parliamentarians to presidents Yeltsin and Clinton. In 2004/5, together with Doug Mattern of the Association of World Citizens, he put together an apppeal on nuclear weapons operating status that was signed by 44 nobels and endorsed by the European Parliament and that led to the adoption of resolutions in the General Assembly in 2007 and 2008. John has written a number of widely supported letters signed by hundreds of organisations ans parliamentarians on nuclear weapons policy to the Indian government notably in 2003 when nuclear war was a real possibility. This letter resulted in media coverage and in an 'early day motion in the UK parliament calling for a peaceful resolution that became the most widely supported EDM ever. He was in panels at the UN in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, together with Steven Starr of PSR, with detailed papers on nuclear weapons operating status/operational readiness.