The Nuclear Club Nobody Wants to Join

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When I was born three nations had nuclear weapons: The United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union.  By the time I graduated from high school, that group of three had grown to only five, with the addition of France and the People’s Republic of China.  Since that time only four more nations have been added to that list, India, Pakistan, North Korea and (despite on-going denials) Israel.  Currently, through the NATO nuclear weapons sharing program, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey have U.S. nukes in their possession. None of these five countries however has the capability to build their own atomic weapons.

Building an atomic bomb is not easy.  In fact, it’s beyond really hard.  Most people think that is preferable.  Very preferable.  Except there are, of course, those who want one so bad, those meaning in this case, a country, they will go to any length to manufacture their own.

For years, we have worried about North Korea and its psychotic leadership, first in what appears to be a case of intra-genocide by starvation of the entire nation, with the notable exception of those in power, to spare no expense to build their nuke, and second, now they have it, the fact they only need to toss it over the DMZ and a substantial percentage of the South Korean population is annihilated.

To date, they have been contained, probably due to the North Korean autocrats needing to keep enough of the citizenry alive so as to provide the labor for their military and their personal extravagances, so the only bargaining chip they have with the world is to not act on their sabre-rattling rhetoric to procure enough essential supplies of food and oil to maintain their horrendous status quo.  It also is relevant that another source of their restraint, to date, is having the Great Chinese Fire Dragon on their northern border that could annihilate the entire country with their nuclear arsenal should the Kim boys misstep.

Actually, the Chinese know they wouldn’t even have to use any of their nuclear weapons. Simply amassing a few million Red Army soldiers on the line between the two countries would send a message even the highly deluded Despot in Pyongyang would understand.  Well, maybe.

Here’s my question: For how much longer will the United States be the only nation ever to use a nuclear weapon in an act of war continue?  Read More…

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START Treaty: When Will We Ever Get a STOP Treaty?

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The New START Treaty: When Will We Ever Get a STOP Treaty?

A Guest Post by Dr. John Bogen, M.D.

The First Atomic Blast "Trinity" Taken by Jack Aeby. July 16, 1945. The only color photo taken of the blast. Photo: PD

Rich Lowry, Editor of the National Review wrote an op-ed column titled  A Poor START for the online political website, RealClearPolitics on November 22, 2010.  Lowry questions why the New START Treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), signed earlier this year by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian Federation President Dmitri Medvedev, is being promoted as such a crucial issue by the Obama Administration that requires immediate ratification by the U.S. Senate before the end of the lame-duck session in December.

Lowry concludes that “the administration wants the treaty because it thinks it makes the Russians feel good and fosters a ‘reset.’ The benefits of reset are overrated, though. Yes, the Russians voted for the fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran, but only after watering them down along with the Chinese. They have made it clear they won’t support more stringent sanctions outside the U.N.”

START’s History

U.S. Pres. Richard Nixon & Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev at the signing of the SALT I Treaty in 1972. Photo: Nixon Presidential Library

The history of the START goes back over forty years to 1969, when negotiations began for the original SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) Treaty between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This ultimately culminated in the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972.

In 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev signed SALT II, which was not ratified by the U.S. Senate in part due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan later in 1979. Nevertheless, both countries agreed to abide by the terms of the treaty until 1986, when, per Wikipedia, “the Reagan Administration withdrew from SALT II after accusing the Soviets of violating the pact.”

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated certain intermediate-range missiles for the primary purpose of enhancing the security of Western Europe.

START I, signed in 1991 by U.S. President George H.W. Bush and the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, expired in December 2009, and with it, among other things, verification provisions that each country was actually in compliance with the treaty. (START II was signed by United States President George H.W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1993 and was subsequently ratified, but never activated. A START III treaty was negotiated, but was never signed.)

Russian Pres. Putin and U.S. Pres. Bush signing the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), better known as the "Moscow Treaty," 2002. Photo: The White House Archives.

The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), better known as the Moscow Treaty, was signed in 2002 by U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, further limiting the numbers of nuclear warheads, yet failing to contain verification provisions. SORT expires in December 2012.

President Obama, who ran on a platform of a nuke-free world, took office in January 2009, and had his administration negotiate with the Russians a New START treaty as a follow-on to START I and SORT. This was signed in April 2010.

Lowry asks a legitimate question in his op-ed piece, why the sudden rush for ratification of New START?  As noted above, past treaties have been adhered to without formal ratification. The Senate and in fact the entire Congress faces more pressing issues, such as deciding on an extension of the Bush (43) tax cuts and dealing with the economy, not to mention immigration reform and energy policy.  Isn’t the New START a relic of a Cold War that came to an end almost twenty years ago with the dissolution of the old Soviet Union in 1991?  And in light of the growing nuclear threats from Iran and particularly North Korea dominating the news on November 23, 2010, why is the president pushing so hard for ratification of an obsolete treaty that does little to make the world safer from nuclear conflict?

We Should Be Negotiating “STOP” not START

Personally, I think any treaty between the U.S. and Russia that falls short of completely eliminating nukes is meaningless. Both countries have no desire for war let alone nuclear war.

There exists a new global war, to be politically incorrect, between a growing list of nations and Muslim extremists. Nuclear powers including the U.S., Russia, China, India, Britain, France, Israel, and Pakistan all face conflicts with radical Muslims. These jihadists have also murdered hundreds in Spain, Turkey, Indonesia, the Philippines, and several African nations. And that doesn’t even count Iraq or Afghanistan. Regional hotspots also exist with rogue nations such as North Korea having recently acquired nukes and Iran widely believed to be endeavoring to do so.

U.S. Pres. Obama and Russian Pres. Medevev signing the "New START" treaty, April 8, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Courtesy AP.

So, I believe New START is irrelevant in today’s world. The U.S. and Russia are moving towards smaller arsenals through attrition and both countries do not have the money to keep the numbers up. Regardless of the treaty, both countries still have enough nukes to destroy the world many times over. Does it really matter if you have 2,200 or 1,550 or 500 or 100 nukes? This treaty is obsolete even before it has been ratified. Inspections could be extended without even mentioning numbers, and the numbers would come down on their own through obsolescence.

Completely eliminating nukes from the arsenals (except for maybe a token number just in case they are needed for example, for asteroid mitigation–not unlike the stocks of smallpox kept secure in the U.S. and Russia, needed for the manufacture of vaccines should the disease reappear somewhere in the world) would be a bold step the U.S. and Russia could take.  This might reduce the desire for nuclear proliferation throughout the world, or at least embarrass rogue nations by making them appear less civilized (e.g. “We are civilized. Nukes are so ‘yesterday.'”).

Even if the U.S. gets nuked someday by a terrorist bomb via a shipping container smuggled into a port city, or by an ICBM from a rogue nation, the U.S. won’t respond indiscriminately with a nuke.  And that is the biggest reason to abandon New START – a treaty designed to reduce yet continue the obsolete military doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).

Trident II-D5 Nuclear Capable Missile Submarine Launch. Photo: U.S. Navy/PD

The current conflict over New START ratification between Democrats and Republicans is purely political posturing and is meaningless from the national security standpoint. I disagree with Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) trying to get more money (which we don’t have) appropriated for modernization of our nuclear arsenal. However, he does have a valid concern that Russia wants to limit the U.S.’s ability to field an anti-ballistic missile system, which most certainly would be for protection against limited missile strikes from rogue nations, rather than to defend against Russian attack.  I also disagree with the Democrats for making this treaty out to be more important than it really is, and who just wish to deliver a foreign policy victory to President Obama, following his recent lackluster Asian and European trips. The political void of the November-December lame duck period is about as empty as Washington D.C. is every August – much ado is made about nothing.

Ratification of New START should hardly be the highest priority for the Senate when the economy, unemployment, tax rates, and the deficit / debt are far more pressing issues. The Congress and President Obama should get their priorities straight. And so that the Russians do not feel ignored, I would begin negotiations on START IV, a.k.a. STOP (as in STOP ALL NUKES), a much bolder push to lead the entire world away from dangerous and destabilizing nuclear weapons.