Our advice to President-elect Biden: Break the dangerous pattern of nuclear competition with Russia
By Jerry Brown, William J. Perry, David Holloway | January 18, 2021
Via the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Dear Mr. President-elect,
After the most bizarre presidency in US history, you are now about to take charge and begin restoring a sense of normalcy to our troubled nation. But these are anything but normal times, and your task will be enormous.
The pandemic, the brazen attempts to overturn the presidential election, and now the assault on the Capitol itself make this a period of profound uncertainty. The challenges are both domestic—getting the coronavirus vaccine distributed and the economy rejuvenated—and foreign. Trump undermined our alliances and withdrew America from hard-fought agreements such as the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. He also repudiated important agreements with Russia. Achieving the goals set at Paris and getting the Iran deal back on track will be difficult. But the most arduous task will be putting our relations with Russia on a safer path and breaking the dangerous pattern of repeated escalation of tension between the two countries.
Russia poses the most serious threat imaginable to the United States; it could launch—possibly by mistake or miscalculation—hundreds of nuclear missiles, with absolutely catastrophic consequences. We, of course, pose a similar threat to the Russians.
While everyone knows this at some level—that an absolutely catastrophic US-Russian nuclear blunder is possible—few political leaders call for a resumption of even the level of dialogue that once existed between America and the Soviet Union. Name calling, sanctions, and outrage are the order of the day, while the older practice of serious dialogue among civilian, military, and scholarly experts is frowned upon or not widely appreciated. When there is trouble—like the recent massive intrusion into US government computer systems—the preferred US response is to punish Russia by curbing communication. This is a huge mistake.
As with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Russia today is an essential partner in managing the global nuclear order—in spite of the hostile relations between our two countries. It was cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union that made the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty possible. More recently, Russia played a key role in negotiating and implementing the Iran Nuclear Deal.
In light of this, your announced intention to extend New START, which will otherwise expire on February 5, is absolutely the right step to take. It will enhance the predictability of our strategic relationship with Russia and provide time for negotiating new agreements or understandings with Russia—and ideally with China, too. Revival of the Iran nuclear deal is also a vitally important goal to pursue.
It’s long past time that we honestly confront the addictive and self-reinforcing quality of our current tit-for-tat relationship with Russia—one that perpetuates ever-higher nuclear spending and ever-higher levels of danger. Each nuclear ratchet upward by one country provokes a reciprocal nuclear response.
The United States must deal with Russia as it is, not as we wish it to be. This means engagement and diplomacy on the issue that threatens all of humanity. Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty requires Russia and the United States to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date.” Too often, and especially in recent years, we have blatantly shunned this obligation—in part, because of actions Russia has taken that we Americans find unacceptable. But that is not what the treaty permits, and it is not what makes sense.
In this current state of dismal relations, dialogue is not a reward or an exercise of naivete; it is an imperative for survival. When things are bad—as they are now—is precisely the time to talk.
Only you, Mr. President, can make that happen.
Strategic Demands Reporting on Nuclear Risk
Witnessing the End of Nuclear Weapons Control
End of the INF, New START — the Global Architecture Collapses
Via Los Alamos Study Group, Santa Fe, New Mexico
LASG: The Weapons Activities funding provided by Congress in this bill is greater — both in absolute amount in constant-dollars and in year-on-year growth — than at any prior time in U.S. history. The U.S. is now spending annually, in constant dollars, more than three times what the US did for comparable activities during the Cold War.
H.R. 133 funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)…
Overall, Congress appropriated $19.73 billion (B) for NNSA …
More Nukes, More ‘Usable’ Nuclear Weapons
StratDem: The four years of the Trump administration has produced a collapse of nuclear arms agreements and a new U.S. rush to produce a next generation of ‘usable’ nuclear warheads and delivery systems.
Think about what’s going thru the minds of North Korea, China, Russia… think about the collapse of INF negotiations, the end of New START negotiations… consider how one after another of the previous generations nuclear weapons agreements are ‘biting the dust’ … ask yourself how any potential for constructing lasting nuclear agreements comes about as the hard-won agreements are peremptorily abandoned. Those who deconstruct the arms control will have a legacy to live with and it is one of less security and greater national and global security risk.
As the US unilaterally abandons, withdraws from, violates or sets aside (pick ur phrase) existing arms control agreements, the consequences will be judged.
Recall this language in the JCPOA. Paragraph 26 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) states: The United States will make best efforts in good faith to sustain this JCPOA … and to prevent interference with the realisation of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting specified… The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions. Iran has stated that it will treat such a re-introduction or re-imposition of the sanctions specified in Annex II, or such an imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions, as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.
The President of the United States (phone in hand)…
July 22, 2018, 11:24 PM EST in the White House. Fingers on his Twitter keypad.
Recalling his “first order”, the US president plays a nuclear card as he tweets a late-night threat to the Iranian President and people of Iran.
Strategic Demands proposes Congressional legislation to limit presidential authority to order first-use of nuclear weapons
Analysis / Trump’s Request for More Nuclear Weapons
Extremely dangerous. Damaging to national and global security. Accelerant to nuclear proliferation globally.
China-Russia and nuclear states will now, in turn, multiply nuclear weapon systems far beyond current spending …
Stephen F. Cohen / Summer 2017
“We’re at maybe the most dangerous moment in US-Russian relations in my lifetime, and maybe ever. And the reason is that we’re in a new cold war, by whatever name. We have three cold war fronts that are fraught with the possibility of hot war, in the Baltic region where NATO is carrying out an unprecedented military buildup on Russia’s border, in Ukraine where there is a civil and proxy war between Russia and the west, and of course in Syria, where Russian aircraft and American warplanes are flying in the same territory. Anything could happen.”
President Trump setting the stage
President Trump has called for a new global arms race, and the Pentagon is ready.
Trump’s newly released budget for 2018 contains hundreds of millions of dollars to speed up development of the Long Range Stand Off missile — a jet-propelled nuke designed to be launched from an airborne bomber and stealthily zip to a target virtually anywhere in the world.
It will carry a “variable yield’’ warhead that can be adjusted to deliver an atomic blast ranging from 5 to 150 kilotons — that is, from about one-third of a Hiroshima-sized bomb to as much as 10 Hiroshima bombs…
“This weapon makes fighting nuclear wars even more possible. Its accuracy and potency will be greater. We don’t need it. It’s dangerous. And the weapons that we have already can do the job,’’ said Senator Edward Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat and longtime proponent of a freeze and reduction on nuclear weapons.
“We’re going to ask other countries to engage in restraint while we’re making . . . nuclear war-fighting even more possible, even more imaginable.”
“I miss it, the Cold War. It gave you a reason to get up in the morning.”
— Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, in John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest (1990)
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
The nuclear issue boils down to a question of understanding how America’s spending decisions and actions impact patriotic Russians.
Thirty seconds closer to midnight…
- New START. What is it? Trump: It’s a bad deal!
- In call with Putin, Trump denounces Obama-era nuclear arms treaty
Russia has unveiled the first image of a new thermonuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile, the RS-28 Sarmat. The Sarmat, designed to be fitted with a hypersonic glider warhead, is expected to go into production as early as 2018. US and Chinese hypersonic nuclear weapons, land-, sea-based, air-launched, stand-off cruise missiles in accelerated active development/testing
Calculus of War; Hypersonic Arms Race
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Now is the time to set in place additional protection against first-use
Donald Trump: “Why are we making them?” … ‘If we have them, why can’t we use them?’
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Nuclear Use Scenarios / June 2016
New Nuclear Arsenal / June 2016
Hiroshima / May 2016
Stewards of the Apocalypse / May 2016
Recipe for Proliferation / April 2016
My Journey at the Nuclear Brink / January 2016
Remembering a Day in 1962 / October 2015
Next-Gen Nuclear Weapons / October 2015
Mideast Proliferation v Non-proliferation / Sept 2015
The Iran Deal / August 2015
Iran and Diplomacy / August 2015
A Win for Non-proliferation / July 2015
Deal: Now to Implementation / July 2015
A Day in the Life of a Nuclear Arms Race / June 2015
Hair Trigger Revcon / June 2015
Pits: Future of Nuclear Warhead Cores / May 2015
Nuclear Modernization and the NPT / April 2015
“The Edge”, Europe and Russia – Cold War 2.0 / Feb 2015
Blip on the Screen / Jan 2015
Going Bzhrk / Jan 2015
Nuclear Proliferation, Nuclear Arms Race
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In a desert called Jornada del Muerto
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