This site examines the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War international security environment, which faces emerging and constantly evolving threats from state and non-state actors alike. Specific topics discussed include arms control; deterrence; civilian nuclear power; South Asian nuclear strategy and power balance; nuclear terrorism; and the role of the United States in nonproliferation.

9.30.2010

The US Defense Establishment Is Tied Inextricably to China

Cross-posted with the Huffington Post.
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This might be old hat to others, but this morning I read a fascinating and eye-opening Businessweek article on the intricacies of defense acquisition for the Pentagon and how much of the essential components required to operate critical equipment -- from submarines to tanks to laser-guided smart bombs -- come from China.

In particular, China produces 97% of the world's supply of so-called "rare earth" elements, including neodymium, yttrium, dysprosium and 14 others, which have long been recognized as essential to the development of defense equipment ranging from helicopters to tank guns to missiles. These elements are bought by defense contractors who work with the US Department of Defense, including Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. According to Brett Lambert, director of the Pentagon’s Office of Industrial Policy:
The department has long recognized that rare-earth elements are important raw material inputs for many defense systems and that many companies in our base have expressed concern regarding the future availability of the refined products of these elements.
That concern over future availability is driven by a recent hike in export quotas and taxes, which are driving up prices and making acquisition more costly for US defense contractors. Yet there aren't many other options: at present, it would take about 15 years for the US to rebuild a rare earths manufacturing supply chain of its own.

This means that in the meantime, the ability of the United States to defend itself through all three legs -- land, air and sea -- is contingent upon its continued cooperation with its largest economic rival.

In related news, the Global Security Newswire reported just earlier today that the US and China are looking to renew military ties -- an interesting juxtaposition that underlines the intricate web of government military interests and those of private-sector contractors, all within the context of international business and global politics and economics.

9.08.2010

When International Treaties Stall at Home

Cross-posted with the Huffington Post.
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Last week, I was sitting in a class on international treaty obligations and compliance with Antonia Chayes, Professor of International Politics and Law at The Fletcher School. We were discussing the difficulties of (a) ratifying an international treaty at home and (b) complying with said treaty after ratification, and I couldn't help but think of the recent news off the Global Security Newswire that Senator John Kerry (D-MA) has submitted a draft ratification resolution for New START, which was signed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev earlier this year.

I'm not interested here in the fine-print details of Kerry's draft proposal. Rather, what fascinates me is the degree to which domestic politics influence international relations, and vice-versa. Obama won the national election two years ago (can you believe we're already halfway through this term?) on a platform that focused on increasing American national security by lowering our reliance on nuclear weapons, especially in light of the relatively new global threat of nuclear terrorism. And, whether he deserved it or not, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize shortly after being inaugurated. He also made some very powerful speeches, put out a forward-looking Nuclear Posture Review, and even hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit a few months ago. He actually followed through on his commitment to advance arms control talks with Russia, and one year after announcing in Prague that the United States is committed to a world free of nuclear weapons, he and Medvedev kept their promise and signed New START.

But despite all this progress and momentum, not all is good and harmonious on the nuclear front. Things have stalled here at home, and from the beginning, New START in particular has faced a steep uphill battle from Senators on both sides of the party divide, though the more vocal opponents are Republican. And given that national Congressional elections are just two months away, and that the President's national approval ratings have dropped by over 20 percentage points since he took office, people are clamoring for change -- and our elected officials are all too happy to pander to those interests. From playing on electorate fears to just giving the people what they want to hear, many of our Representatives and Senators are losing sight of the big picture. They think ratifying New START would undermine national security, would cut funding for critical defense projects, and would make us appear to the rest of the world as weak apologists who are all too eager to disarm unilaterally.

The reality is precisely the opposite. Our Congressmen and women really could learn a lot from paying attention to smart people like James Acton at the Carnegie Endowment, who writes that, contrary to the picture Republicans in particular are painting of the President as a naïve idealist, the Obama administration is composed of realists who understand that "the world must be made a significantly safer place before nuclear weapons are eliminated:"
... trying to create the conditions that would allow nuclear weapons to be safely eliminated is not “dangerous” [...] On the contrary, because a prerequisite to abolition would be much stronger bulwarks against states that violate international laws and norms -- including nonproliferation ones -- creating the conditions for abolition would significantly enhance U.S. security.
Ratification of New START would be one such condition for eventual global and mutual abolition, and getting the treaty passed through Congress would actually serve to enhance national security, not erode it.

Just today, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) offered a resolution text that amends Senator Kerry's draft proposal and includes verbiage that, it is hoped, will be more amenable to Republican concerns. Though I don't particularly like the provision that the United States can withdraw from the treaty if the proposed $10 billion for Obama's stockpile plan is not approved by Congress, it certainly should make the treaty more digestible for those GOP Senators who still don't believe ratification of New START is an overall good thing.

And though New START is just one example, it is a particularly salient one of an international legal phenomenon that fascinates me: Treaties are negotiated, sliced and diced, rehashed, renegotiated (with many interim iterations) and finally signed -- only to have all that progress hit a dead end when it comes to ratification and entry of said treaty into force.

What can be done, from both an international treaty negotiation perspective and a domestic political perspective, to prevent roadblocks like this from cropping up all the time? I'm open to any and all answers.

9.01.2010

Why Muslims Should Support Nuclear Weapons Disarmament

Cross-posted with the Huffington Post.
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Sadly, though the current fixation of national debate is still the "Ground Zero Mosque," public opinion polls indicate that American sentiment towards the bomb has become ambivalent, and most recently, dangerously lukewarm -- something I discussed in my piece last week.

But the issue can be refocused in a spiritual light and bring to the ongoing debate on nuclear weapons an angle and voice that were notably absent for the duration of the Cold War.

An excellent interview was published today in the U.S. News & World Report with the Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, an evangelical Christian and founder of the Two Futures Project. According to the website, the Project is:
... a movement of American Christians for the abolition of all nuclear weapons ... We support concrete and practical steps to reduce nuclear dangers immediately, while pursuing the multilateral, global, irreversible, and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, as a biblically-grounded mandate and as a contemporary security imperative ... By joining together with one voice of Christian conscience, we seek to encourage and enable our national leaders to make the complete elimination of nuclear weapons the organizing principle of American nuclear weapons policy. We join in this work to the glory of God. [emphasis added]
I think this is not only absolutely fascinating, it is absolutely necessary. The strategy of the Two Futures Project -- to re-establish a 45-year-long debate on nuclear weapons, historically devoid of religion and faith-based morality altogether, in a contemporary understanding of what it means to be a loving, caring, responsible Christian -- is to be commended. In his interview with U.S. News, the Reverend lays it out very neatly:
From my point of view, there's no legitimate theological basis in the Bible for Christians to justify the killing of innocents. Nuclear weapons also violate the "just war" criteria, for instance. They don't discriminate between innocents and non-innocents, and they are disproportionate. With that theological conviction, there are only two futures: a world in which nuclear weapons are used, and one in which they are abolished. For me, the choice is easy.
For moderate and intellectual Muslims as well, the choice should be simple: either annihilate the human race or eliminate the global threat posed by nuclear weapons. Believe it or not -- and I know I'm opening up a big hole here -- there is plenty of talk in the Qur'an about being good, kind, righteous, giving and generous to one's fellow man, regardless of religious creed. Please note that while the following translations come from Abdullah Yusuf Ali, a renowned Qur'anic scholar, the interpretations thereof are completely mine. A few examples:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other)). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). --Qur'an 49:13
Here's another one, one of my favorite passages, that discusses what righteousness really is:
It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing. --Qur'an 2:177
And finally, a passage that gives credibility to my argument that moderate Muslims should have no problem with, and in fact should support, the Two Futures Project:
Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. --Qur'an 2:62
Hence, and in light of these verses, it is my (admittedly simplistic) conclusion that when it comes to threats to humanity, there should be a Muslim voice to join hands with that of Christians who support the Two Futures Project -- a voice that is grounded in the realities of our time, that is forward-looking and hopeful, that understands Islam to be a faith of peace and an integral part of the Abrahamic tradition and experience, and that advocates for the salvation and dignity of all human life, irrespective of belief or creed.

And that would truly be joining in this work to the glory of God.