Nuclear Threat Initiative
By Douglas P. Guarino
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON -- U.S. efforts to dismantle and secure nuclear and chemical weapons in Russia will be substantially limited under a new bilateral agreement the White House announced Monday, experts say.
Kenneth Luongo, a former nonproliferation advisor for the Energy Department, said the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction effort within Russia’s borders would be “totally different,” under the new accord announced Monday. “This agreement is a continuation of a program in a very truncated form,” said Luongo, now president of the Partnership for Global Security.
Since the early 1990s, the CTR program actively worked in Russia to dismantle and secure Cold War-era weapons of mass destruction. Among the activities the Defense program was directly involved with was the destruction of Russian bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, along with the construction of facilities needed to destroy Soviet-era chemical weapons.
Though the initiative had become increasingly globalized in recent years as it expanded to address biological threats outside the former Soviet Union, the program had continued to do some work in Russia, including additional destruction of submarine-launched ballistic missiles that still remained. With the expiration of a 20-year-old umbrella agreement this week, however, the Defense Department presence in Russia will largely cease to exist, sources tracking the issue say.
“It’s all over,” Thomas Moore, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Monday regarding the physical dismantlement efforts in Russia that the Defense Department had been involved with for two decades. Until earlier this year, Moore was a top aide to now-retired Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who along with retired Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), helped establish the CTR program in the early 1990s.
What exactly U.S. nonproliferation programs -- and particularly those run by the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration -- will be able to do in Russia under the new agreement remains unclear, however.
A statement issued by the White House Monday said only that joint U.S.-Russian nuclear security activities would now be conducted under the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program, which historically has provided a legal framework under which member-nations can assist Russia with spent nuclear fuel safety and radioactive waste management.
“This new bilateral framework authorizes the United States and the Russian Federation to work in several areas of nonproliferation collaboration, including protecting, controlling and accounting nuclear materials,” the White House statement said.
It remains unclear, however, whether the new agreement will allow the NNSA Global Threat Reduction Initiative to still access Russian sites where the United States has made investments toward the security of dangerous nuclear materials, the experts say. The extent of Defense involvement is also unclear -- Moore suggested it might be limited to conducting joint-training exercises with Russia, but added that it was not yet certain.
The White House, Defense Department and Energy Department did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Given that Pentagon efforts to destroy Russian weapons leftover from the Cold War had already been winding down in recent years, Luongo suggested that the most significant impact of the new arrangement could be its political effect on Capitol Hill. Luongo said the Defense Department’s CTR efforts in Russia had historically formed the “political core” of the program’s broader initiatives across other countries and raised concerns that lawmakers could use its discontinuation as justification for budget cuts to nonproliferation programs.
Luongo said it would be important for the Obama administration to explain the details of the change to Congress and convey to lawmakers that the program is doing crucial security work outside of Russia that merits continued funding.
“If you let that go, you’re never going to get that back under the current fiscal circumstances,” Luongo said. “The political poles holding up this tent have taken a bit a hit.”
Given that concern, Luongo said he found it “amazing” that the new agreement was apparently signed last week and “no one said a word” about it until Monday. Moore speculated the Obama administration was seeking to downplay the limitations of the new agreement so as not to be seen as criticizing Russia, as the two nations grapple with other high-profile disagreements such as the Syrian civil war.
Bryan Lee, formerly the director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s International Counterproliferation Program, said his biggest concern would be what happens with U.S.-Russian cooperation on the security and destruction of chemical and biological weapons in Russia -- neither of which is addressed in the new agreement.
“I have confidence they can handle it, but I don’t have confidence they can handle it in our best interest,” Lee said, regarding the security of Russian chemical and biological materials.
In a statement Monday, Nunn acknowledged that “key elements of what we have known as Nunn-Lugar will not be carried forward under this umbrella agreement, including certain defense work and reducing the very serious risks posed by chemical and biological weapons.”
He added: “We must find ways beyond this agreement to work together on these critical issues.”
Despite the concerns, experts this week stopped short of laying blame for the lapse of the Nunn-Lugar umbrella agreement on the Obama administration. Most agreed it was inevitable, due to Russia becoming increasingly reluctant to be perceived in recent years as a nation that is a proliferator or one that needs assistance.
Moscow officials were already unwilling to provide the United States with access to their biological facilities, Moore said, and their military was no longer willing to have U.S. officials “mucking about” at Russian defense facilities, added Lee.
“If this is what President Putin wants, this is what he gets,” said Lee.
Nunn praised President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin “for setting aside historical animosities and demonstrating that responsible leadership requires acting together to reduce nuclear risks.” He said one of the "most encouraging elements of [the new] agreement is the fact that we will be moving forward as equal global partners.”
U.S. government monitoring of private communications has aided in thwarting more than 50 possible terror incidents since Sept. 11, 2001, the head of the National Security Agency told lawmakers on Tuesday.
No fewer than 10 of the plans were "homeland-based threats," the New York Times quoted NSA Director Keith Alexander as saying in testimony to the House intelligence committee. He said most of the cases had to stay classified for protection of operational details.
Obama administration officials addressed the panel to defend two recently exposed monitoring operations; one has gathered e-mail and telephone conversations involving foreign nationals outside the country, and the other has maintained a permanent collection of "metadata" from U.S. telephone contacts. Rationales for the programs went largely unchallenged by lawmakers, according to the Times.
Surveillance of communications by a Yemeni-based "extremist" enabled NSA officials to flag a Kansas City resident planning to destroy the New York Stock Exchange, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce said. Separately, metadata allowed authorities to track unusual telephone contacts by an individual in San Diego who intended to transmit funds to extremists in Somalia, according to the official.
The United Kingdom's governing Conservative Party will reject any "reckless" call in a forthcoming government report to build fewer replacement ballistic missile submarines than the four now planned, or to end the continuous at-sea presence of British nuclear-armed vessels, Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told the London Telegraph in comments published on Monday.
The party supports a "like-for-like" plan to spend a minimum of $30 billion building four new Vanguard-class submarines that would be armed with Trident ballistic missiles. The government has agreed to withhold final approval of the plan until after the next general election in 2015.
A study of alternatives to the plan is due out within weeks from the Liberal Democrats, the British coalition government's junior member.
"Even if you downgrade the capability significantly, the amount of money to be saved is pretty small," Hammond said, noting a smaller submarine fleet would still require the United Kingdom to maintain existing assembly and manufacturing sites.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed doubts to President Obama on Monday over Western assertions that Syria's Moscow-backed government has conducted chemical attacks against opposition forces in the country's civil war, White House insiders told the New York Times.
Obama said he and Putin hold a common goal of “securing chemical weapons and ensuring that they’re neither used nor are they subject to proliferation.” However, the Russian president did not reference Syria's chemical arsenal in comments on his discussions with Obama at the Group of Eight nations summit in Northern Ireland.
The Obama administration has linked plans to arm Syrian rebels with findings that government forces had carried out limited sarin nerve agent strikes in the conflict, which largely through conventional attacks is believed to have killed more than 90,000 people. The CIA has received instructions to start deliveries of weapons to opposition forces, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
The Russian president should join his G-8 counterparts in denouncing any chemical arms use by the Syrian government, French President Francois Hollande said.
Moscow, though, plans to issue its own statement on the chemical assault claims as an addendum to the group's statement, a high-level Russian envoy told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.
"We cannot agree to biased interpretations and groundless claims that the government of Syria has used chemical weapons," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Tuesday in comments reported by the Associated Press.
He called for a new probe into the claims by the World Health Organization and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. President Bashar Assad's government has prevented an existing group of U.N. inspectors from entering Syria to look into the allegations.
The G-8 joint remarks "condemn any use of chemical weapons in Syria and call on all parties to the conflict to allow access to the U.N. investigating team ... in order to conduct an objective investigation into reports of use of chemical weapons."
"The U.N. team should make their report and deliver it to the U.N. Security Council for their assessment," the Canadian Press quoted the document as saying. "We are determined that those who may be found responsible for the use of chemical weapons will be held accountable."
Putin said he and Obama had "agreed to push the parties to the negotiations table," the Times reported. Still, gains by the Syrian military in past days have reduced the likelihood of Assad making concessions to his opponents, the newspaper said.
Obama earlier said there has been no sign of "a serious commitment on the part of both the Assad regime and the Russians to deliver" on commitments made last year on phasing out Assad's leadership.
"Until we see a commitment for a serious negotiation, as opposed to just stalling tactics, I don’t want Assad to have comfort in thinking that he can simply continue to kill people on the ground, not engage politically -- and that at some point the international community loses focus,” Obama told U.S. journalist Charlie Rose in comments aired on Monday.
Obama said employing armed force in Syria would risk accidentally striking a chemical arms storage site, potentially "dispersing chemical weapons and killing civilians," al-Arabiya reported on Tuesday.
“If you set up a no-fly zone ... you may not be actually solving the problem,” Obama said. "Ninety percent of the deaths that have taken place haven’t been because of air strikes by the Syrian air force.”
Meanwhile, Assad said "Europe's backyard will become terrorist" if governments on the continent supply arms to his opponents, Agence France-Presse reported on Monday.
"Terrorists will gain experience in combat and return with extremist ideologies," he told the German publication Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in remarks published on Monday. "For Europe there is no alternative to cooperating with the Syrian state, even if Europe doesn't like it."
Iran plans to join further atomic discussions with several key powers after it establishes a new governing administration, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in Tuesday remarks reported by ITAR-Tass.
A succession of meetings between Tehran and the six negotiating countries -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- has borne little fruit in resolving international fears that Tehran's ostensibly peaceful nuclear program is aimed at establishing a weapon capability. The sides most recently met two months ago in Kazakhstan.
"No official information" is available on the timing of any new atomic meeting, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi said.
Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani, who is scheduled to take office in early August, on Monday said the United States must respect "all Iranian rights including the nuclear ones" before Tehran would join Washington in any bilateral discussions, the Xinhua News Agency reported. The United States and the other five negotiating powers have resisted Iran's demand for acknowledgement of its legal entitlement to refine uranium for civilian applications; the enrichment process can also produce bomb material.
Other countries "should respond appropriately," in part through "step-by-step halting and cancelation of sanctions -- unilateral ones and those enacted by the U.N. Security Council," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Kuwait News Agency in comments released on Tuesday.
No plans exist to dial back or postpone economic penalties against Iran in response to the outcome of its presidential election, but the six negotiating powers are conferring on potentially intensifying engagement efforts in months ahead, U.S. and European government personnel told the Wall Street Journal for a Tuesday report.
Washington has no intention of proposing new atomic compromise terms to Iran, AP reported on Monday. The five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany are waiting for Tehran to respond to their offer from April, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday.
President Obama said his administration is willing to pursue further nuclear discussion with Tehran, AP reported. Tehran, though, must understand any sanctions curbs would first require substantive Iranian action to address fears over its atomic intentions, Obama told U.S. journalist Charlie Rose in comments aired on Monday.
The United States is poised on July 1 to begin targeting users of Iranian bank notes, the Journal reported.
"I don't see any impact" on Iran's nuclear program from international sanctions, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano added.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief brushed off concerns that his agency is over-reliant on Washington and its partners for data on Iran's atomic efforts. "The information comes from a larger number of countries (and) we have our own information," he said.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday said that were the United States and North Korea to convene bilateral talks, Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program must be on the agenda, the Associated Press reported.
"For any dialogue to be meaningful it should be firmly anchored in the common goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Ban spokesman Eduardo del Buey said in responding to a question about the U.N. chief's views of the North's Sunday offer to hold two-way talks with Washington that would focus on improving security relations.
The Obama administration is not expected to accept the offer as Pyongyang said it would not accept any demands within the talks to end its nuclear weapons work if the United States is not prepared to do the same. The U.S. State Department on Monday said it has seen no substantive change in the North's stance in its latest proposal for dialogue, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
The United States is willing to hold two-way meetings with North Korea only if they are within the framework of the broader aid-for-denuclearization negotiations that also include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said to reporters.
A number of observers believe the North's strategy is to leave the six-nation talks behind in favor of pursuing international recognition as a nuclear-armed country and obtaining concessions from the United States.
Meanwhile, President Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye over the phone on Monday discussed dealing with North Korea and the results of the U.S. leader's recent summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Korea Times reported.
During the summit, the Chinese leader affirmed that his government would not acknowledge the North as a nuclear-armed state, Park's spokeswoman Kim Haing said to journalists.
Park also told Obama that convening talks merely to renew engagement would only allow Pyongyang more space "to raise its nuclear ability," a Park official later said.
Korea University scholar Hong Kwan-hee said it is important that Seoul and Washington not allow themselves to be divided by the North, which in recent days has suggested separate bilateral talks with each country.
Congressional auditors in a new report questioned the utility of a nuclear fuel bank that the International Atomic Energy Agency plans to open next year, likely in Kazakhstan.
The idea behind the multilateral repository is it could be an absolutely certain source for low-enriched uranium for approved countries' civilian atomic energy programs in the event of an interruption in the flow of fuel sources from other nations. Proponents of the fuel bank say the guaranteed access to LEU material would disincentivize countries from pursuing their own domestic uranium enrichment capabilities, which hold the potential of aiding the illicit development of nuclear weapons.
The Government Accountability Office, however, said it is not clear there ever would be a disturbance in global uranium supply markets that would necessitate the establishment of the IAEA repository. Both Russia and the United States have opened up their own fuel banks, whose supply they guarantee.
"In addition, IAEA does not have a plan in place for the long-term operation and funding of the bank, although agency officials told GAO they intend to complete such a plan in 2013," the report reads.
Separately, GAO auditors faulted the U.N. nuclear watchdog for not explicitly spelling out how it intends by next year to enact "state-level concepts" for all IAEA member countries with safeguards compacts in place. The concepts would specify exactly what type of safeguards activities are to be implemented in individual nations.
"As a result, several countries are concerned that the state-level concept may be applied in a subjective, potentially discriminatory manner or that it could allow IAEA to be too intrusive into their civilian nuclear operations," according to the GAO assessment.
The Philippines has joined a multilateral initiative to prevent the proliferation of unconventional weapons, bringing the program's total membership to 26, the Obama administration announced on Monday.
The Group of Eight nations’ Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction was established in 2002 by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The nations in 2011 pledged to continue the program past its originally planned expiration this year and -- joined by a number of other contributor states -- are looking to expand efforts beyond the former Soviet Union.
"The Philippines’ membership marks an important expansion of Southeast Asian representation in the GP, a subsidiary body of the G-8, which addresses nuclear and radiological security, biosecurity, chemical security and scientist engagement, as well as facilitates the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540 through cooperative projects," the U.S. State Department said in a press release.
The South Korean government's weapons acquisitions office on Tuesday said it was seeking $10.5 billion in 2014 in order to pay for new armaments, including more ballistic missiles, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
The high-altitude missiles will be used as part of the South's evolving "kill chain," a defense system that aims to preemptively neutralize a North Korean ballistic missile attack. Once an imminent North Korean missile launch is detected via a network of remotely-piloted aircraft and surveillance satellites, South Korean missiles and fighter planes would be launched against the threat.
The South Korean military anticipates having the kill chain technology fully operationalized no later than 2020.
The South is planning on purchasing additional Patriot Advanced Capability 2 missiles and enhancing its existing stockpile of PAC-3 interceptors.
By Michael Hirsh
WASHINGTON -- By appeasing the West, Iran's new president may well divide it. And that would secure Tehran's nuclear program from dismantlement or attack.
In many ways, the election of Hassan Rouhani to Iran's presidency is excellent news, coming when there are so many other distractions in the region, especially the civil war in Syria. Rouhani, a moderate on foreign policy, authored the only nuclear suspension pact that Iran ever made with the West, and he has pledged to isolation-weary Iranians that he will address the sanctions that strangle their economy.
But in other ways Rouhani may prove more difficult to deal with than the president he is replacing, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With his bilious rhetoric about Israel and the Holocaust and often erratic behavior, Ahmadinejad made Iran an easy target around which to rally tougher sanctions. The soft-spoken Rouhani, Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator, has proved skilled in the past at buying time by appearing reasonable and conciliatory, even as he, like others, has committed himself to moving ahead with uranium enrichment.
Rouhani has been frank in saying that this is his approach: In a speech in 2005, Rouhani detailed how Iran had evaded the U.N. Security Council, playing America's hardline position off against others of the five veto-bearing permanent members, including China and Russia, along with Germany. He acknowledged exploiting "the intense competition" between Western countries in nuclear negotiations, saying "we can use that competition to our advantage." At one point Rouhani described the disagreement between the U.S. and Britain over the issue as "beautiful to see."
The International Atomic Energy Agency recently concluded that Iran is speeding up its accumulation of nuclear material and installing next-generation centrifuges. Beyond that, Rouhani is a cleric who is devoted to the Islamic Republic, one reason that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei--who will still dictate policy on the "nuclear file" -- allowed him to become a presidential candidate at all. "We may very well now see a charm offensive by the Iranians, and we have to be very skeptical of it," says Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary of State who handled Iran.
As a national-security expert, Rouhani will no doubt calculate that, with the United States newly committed to a military role in Syria, he will have a couple of big cards to play against President Obama, Israel and the West. First, with the U.S. president trying to edge his war-weary public toward limited involvement in Syria, Obama is likely to have even less taste for military conflict with Iran than he did before. Second, Rouhani knows that as a major supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, Iran now possesses an extra degree of leverage against the United States, which has pledged military support for the Syrian rebels.
Above all, Rouhani is adept at conciliation. During the 2000s, as the U.S. joined in European-led efforts to secure a nuclear suspension deal with Tehran, the Iranians often appeared to be intent on stringing out the talks in the way the Persian Queen Scheherazade once did. Under Rouhani and other negotiators, Iran played the West somewhat as Scheherazade, their ancestral forbear in the famous fairy tale, appeased her angry husband the king for a thousand and one nights. For years they told agreeable stories of future cooperation, avoiding conclusive ultimatums, and thereby sowing self-doubt among their adversaries. Burns, who was part of that effort, insists that Rouhani was unsuccessful in the end, especially after President George W. Bush announced in February of 2005 that he would become part of what became known as the "P-5 Plus One" talks led by the European Union and consisting of Britain, France, Russia China, Germany (the "Plus One"). "If he thinks he was dividing us it didn't work," says Burns now. Still, the Iranians later benefited from in Obama's "outstretched hand" in 2009, which Tehran spurned for another year before the U.S. began applying tougher sanctions.
Rouhani has reason to hope that a new outstretched hand will be the outcome of his efforts to reopen dialogue with the West, which he insisted "should speak to the Iranian people with respect and recognize the rights of the Islamic Republic," as he said at his first news conference. For the Iranians, the term "rights" has always been code for their right to uranium enrichment. Nonetheless praise poured in on a tide of relief and hopefulness. The White House said it wanted a "diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program," echoing conciliatory statements from France, Britain and Catherine Ashton, the EU representative for foreign affairs.
By Douglas P. Guarino
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON -- The United States is entering into a new agreement with Russia that would continue in some form the Cooperative Threat Reduction program that aims to lock down vulnerable nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union, Global Security Newswire has learned.
A senior defense official told GSN there is a new pact effective Monday -- the same day the prior umbrella accord that provided the legal framework for the initiative was due to expire.
“It does represent some changes when compared with the old one but the U.S. is pleased with it,” said the official, who asked to not to be named, lacking authorization to discuss the matter publicly. The official did not provide additional details, but said the State Department was expected to release a statement later on Monday.
State Department officials did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Negotiations over extending the agreement were expected to be difficult, largely due to liability provisions that had long been a concern of Russia.
Under the old deal, the U.S. government and its contractors were shielded from virtually all liability stemming from any incidents that could occur in the course of CTR work with nuclear and chemical weapons. This was confirmed in October when Russian officials announced they were unwilling to extend the old terms.
The agreement, originally forged in 1992, was last renewed in 2006 when Russia at the 11th hour agreed to extend the original pact without making substantial changes.
At press time, it was not yet clear what changes were included in the new pact.
By Elaine M. Grossman
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON -- The top U.S. combat commander for nuclear arms last week said he would like to see the Navy buy more than its planned complement of 12 new ballistic missile submarines, despite mounting indications that even that number might be unaffordable.
The so-called SSBN(X) is set for initial fielding in 2031 and is to eventually replace all of today’s Ohio-class vessels, which carry nuclear-armed Trident D-5 missiles.
Gen. Robert Kehler, who heads U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb., said on Wednesday that despite Navy plans on the books to buy a dozen of the new-design submarines, each fitted with 16 ballistic missiles, no final decision on vessel quantity must be made in the near term.
However, in a surprise twist, he added that from his perspective, even more than 12 SSBN(X) submersibles could be needed.
“Do we have to make a decision today on how many we eventually buy, and as I would say selfishly, beyond 12?” the Air Force four-star general said at a breakfast event on Capitol Hill. “The answer is no, you don’t have to make a decision today.”
Kehler is not the first senior Defense official in recent days to talk up the idea of protecting from expected deep Pentagon budget cuts what is considered the nation’s most survivable leg of the nuclear triad -- sea-based warheads -- leaving atomic-armed bombers and ground-based ballistic missiles seemingly more vulnerable to the budget ax.
His words come, though, as the naval service itself has questioned the effort’s affordability.
Despite advocating for the new submarine effort, the Navy recently warned that it might lack sufficient funds to buy the vessels at an estimated total cost of $90 billion and, at the same time, meet its objective of retaining a 300-ship surface fleet.
In a May cover letter to Congress accompanying Navy shipbuilding plans, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel flagged the cost concerns, saying that in the long term “there will be resourcing challenges … largely due to investment requirements associated with the SSBN(X) program.”
Kehler, in testimony last month before a House panel, addressed lawmaker worries about an anticipated dip to just 10 operational ballistic missiles submarines for more than a decade -- mostly in the 2030s -- during the transition to 12 replacement vessels.
“I think the ultimate number of submarines that we procure is still an open question,” the general told the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee on May 9. “I think you have a lot of time here to decide how many submarines we eventually deploy.”
Some issue specialists warn that budget considerations could force either a smaller submarine fleet or a less ambitious ballistic-missile vessel design.
“As budgets tighten, speculation is growing that the Navy will not be able to afford” its current plans, Tom Collina of the Arms Control Association wrote in an analysis early this month..
He cited recent comments by Representative Randy Forbes (R-Va.) that the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan is “an exercise in wishful thinking” and by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who called service blueprint “a fantasy.”
Kehler last week suggested that while the program of record may be to buy 12 submarines – and that this number appeared about right for planning purposes – evolving threats and military needs could alter that figure. However, he did not overtly account for a revision downward.
“Once we are replacing Ohio … then I believe the nation will have a number of decision points, at which the nation can decide if we need to purchase more than 12,” the strategic commander said.
“What that number looks like and why -- whether that’s reacting to a future world situation, whether that’s reacting to other decisions that might be made along the way -- that is not a decision you have to make immediately,” he told the event audience. “Nor do I believe that we should think upfront that 12 is all we would ever purchase.”
On Sunday, Collina -- who directs research at his organization -- cast skepticism on the general’s forecast.
“Given the downward trend for both defense dollars and the U.S. nuclear arsenal, I would doubt that 12 SSBN(X) subs will ever be built, and certainly no more than that unless you believe budgets and the arsenal will increase dramatically,” he told Global Security Newswire. “There is no need to have more than 10 subs in the 2030s, since the requirement is for 10 operational subs, and at that point they will all be operational. It’s only later, when some subs are in overhaul, that you would need 12 total. But that is a long way off.”
Collina’s guess is that “if the Navy is forced to choose, it would rather have a 300-boat fleet than 12 SSBN(X)s,” he said. “If the president reduces the requirement for nuclear weapons in general, and subs in particular, then the Navy would be off the hook.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin traded barbs with Western counterparts on Monday over plans to arm opponents of President Bashar Assad's Moscow-backed government in the 2-year-old Syrian civil war, Reuters reported.
Washington last week indicated it would equip Syrian rebels with rapid-fire guns, rocket-fired bombs and other lethal aid, according to the wire service. Military steps to curb regime flight operations were reportedly under discussion, but Moscow pledged on Monday to block any such action.
The Obama administration has linked planned military assistance to findings that government forces had carried out limited sarin nerve agent strikes in the conflict, which largely through conventional assaults is believed to have killed more than 90,000 people. Russia questioned the assertions of chemical-weapon use.
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday acknowledged concerns about unintentionally aiding extremist elements of the Syrian opposition. Still, he cited a need to support "Syrians who want a democratic and peaceful future for their country and one without the man who is currently using chemical weapons against them,” the New York Times reported.
Persuading Putin to bring Assad into peace talks was an anticipated objective for President Obama during Monday talks with the Russian leader on the sidelines of the two-day Group of Eight nations summit in Northern Ireland, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Israeli armed forces are conferring on means to spot and eliminate Syria's WMD stocks in a variety of contingencies, Time magazine reported. Assad's disappearance for any reason could result in U.S.-Israeli missions to secure such arms at roughly 18 holding locations. Washington and Tel Aviv might also employ armed force if opposition fighters appear to be closing in on the materials.
The Obama administration has not ruled out the possibility that Syrian rebels had tampered with evidence of chemical arms use in a bid to prompt greater foreign intervention, a U.S. intelligence insider told Foreign Policy magazine for a Friday report.
"The big thing that changed is an increase in the number of incidents," the insider said. "It's impossible that the opposition is faking the stuff in so many instances in so many locations."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday said “any information on the alleged use of chemical weapons cannot be ensured without convincing evidence of the chain of custody,” the Washington Post reported. He reaffirmed calls for Assad to admit a U.N. team seeking to investigate allegations of chemical arms use in Syria.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said she had given Ban a summary of "information that we think could contribute” to U.N. knowledge if the inspection could move forward.
Washington has "gathered a strong evidentiary basis [of chemical weapons use] through multiple streams of information ... but we also feel very strongly that it's important for the United Nations to be able to do its investigation on the ground inside Syria," she said.
The White House last week said its findings include "reporting regarding Syrian officials planning and executing regime chemical weapons attacks; reporting that includes descriptions of the time, location, and means of attack; and descriptions of physiological symptoms that are consistent with exposure to a chemical weapons agent."
"The assessment is further supported by laboratory analysis of physiological samples obtained from a number of individuals, which revealed exposure to sarin," White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in a Thursday statement. "Each positive result indicates that an individual was exposed to sarin, but it does not tell us how or where the individuals were exposed or who was responsible for the dissemination."
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom could re-establish specially trained and equipped armed forces teams to support possible U.S.-led operations to secure Syrian chemical warfare stocks, the London Telegraph reported on Sunday. London disbanded the forces in 2011.
By Douglas P. Guarino
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON -- House appropriators are looking to provide nearly $200 million less than the Obama administration has sought for nuclear weapons programs in fiscal 2014, even as fellow Republicans on other committees argue the administration is not requesting enough.
The draft energy and water spending bill released by the House Appropriations Committee on Monday would provide $7.7 billion for nuclear weapons activities, nearly $193 million less than the $7.87 billion the White House requested. It is nearly $400 million less than the $8.08 billion that would be allowed by the annual defense authorization legislation drafted by the House Armed Services Committee and approved by the House on Friday.
Republicans on the House Armed Service Committee have argued that the administration’s request is not enough to meet the terms of a 2010 deal made during lawmaker negotiations on ratification of the New START arms control deal with Russia, in which the president agreed to spend $85 billion over 10 years on nuclear arms complex modernization.
A key component of arms modernization is programs aimed at extending the life of various aging nuclear warheads. The spending bill released Monday would require the Energy Department to draft by the end of the year a “report which provides an analysis of alternatives for each major warhead refurbishment program.”
The report would include “summary of the overall cost, scope, and schedule planning assumptions for the major refurbishment activity,” along with a “full description of alternatives considered” and a “comparison of the costs and benefits of each of those alternatives, to include an analysis of trade-offs among cost, schedule, and performance objectives against each alternative considered.”
According to a committee aide, the bill language is intended to ensure that the administration fully conveys to Congress how it makes decisions relative to the often multibillion-dollar life-extension programs. The aide asked to remain anonymous, due to not being authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
Some lawmakers have suggested in recent months that certain life-extension programs are more complex and costly than they ought to be. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, asked during an April hearing why the National Nuclear Security Administration is pursuing $10 billion in upgrades to the B-61 gravity bomb when a simpler, $1.5 billion plan reportedly could have been completed faster.
Feinstein suggested the administration should consider scaling back nuclear weapons updates rather than cut money from nonproliferation programs, as the White House has proposed.
The House appropriations legislation released Monday matches the administration’s request to cut nonproliferation spending. It provides $2.1 million, down from the $2.3 billion Congress allocated in fiscal 2012. This is also in sync with what the House defense authorization bill allows.
The House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee is expected to mark up its bill Tuesday.
The United Kingdom last week urged dozens of other Nuclear Suppliers Group member nations to admit India to the organization despite its possession of atomic arms outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Reuters reported on Friday.
The export control organization seeks to limit members' nuclear ties to those states that are in compliance with the nonproliferation regime, but New Delhi received special permission in 2008 to conduct atomic commerce with NSG member states.
In a report issued in advance of the organization's yearly gathering, London argued for admitting New Delhi in part by citing its nonproliferation record and burgeoning nonmilitary atomic sector.
Indian admittance would require endorsement from all NSG countries, but a high-level insider with one member government said "there is no unanimity on this issue."
The United States has agreed for the time being to leave fielded Patriot missile interceptors in Jordan, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
The U.S. military had sent the Patriot antimissile systems, along with a number of F-16 fighter planes, to Jordan to participate in a recently concluded military exercise aimed at testing response capabilities to a possible Syrian attack. The Jordanian government asked that the planes and air defense systems remain in the country.
"The United States enjoys a longstanding partnership with Jordan and is committed to its defense," Defense Department spokesman George Little said in a statement.
The U.S. military also has based Patriot batteries in Turkey to defend against possible Syrian missile attacks on the NATO member state.
The Obama administration last week announced it would supply Syrian rebels with greater military support, though exactly what material form that support will take is not yet known. A key question is whether the United States will seek to establish a no-fly zone in Syria that would end the Bashar Assad regime's ability to use its air force to target rebel positions and to receive air shipments of weapons from Iran.
Little said: "The Department of Defense continues to plan for a wide range of contingencies but the United States has not made any decision to establish a no-fly zone over Syria or within Jordanian airspace," the Wall Street Journal reported.
The United States announced it was bolstering military support of Syrian opposition forces as a means of making good on its threat of consequences for the Assad regime if it crossed the red line by using chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. The Obama administration on Thursday said it had finally determined that the line had been crossed by the use of sarin nerve agent in a number of low-scale attacks in past months that killed approximately 100-150 people.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that the proof of sarin use that Washington cited is problematic, due to questions about the chain-of-custody of the biological samples, the Times reported.
"There are rules of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which are based on the fact that samples of blood, urine, soil, clothing are considered serious proof only if the samples were taken by experts, and if these experts controlled these samples all the time while they are transported to a proper laboratory," the minister said.
A U.N. team of scientific experts that might have gathered such physiological samples was barred entry from Syria by Damascus. The evidence that was gathered of chemical attacks was smuggled out of the country and provided to France and the United Kingdom, which shared their findings with the United States.
Indian military researchers hope to be able to develop an indigenous ballistic missile defense system with the capability of neutralizing targets as far away as roughly 3,100 miles, the Press Trust of India reported on Sunday.
The initial stage of the missile shield is almost ready to be activated. "The first choice for such a deployment would be the capital, New Delhi, as it is the heart of the country," Indian Defense Research and Development Organization head Avinash Chander told the news agency.
"We are planning to soon carry out the first trial of the Phase II of the program under which we will test our capability to destroy an incoming ballistic missile fired at us from [roughly 3,100 mile range]," Chander said.
Having that kind of a missile interception ability would fulfill "our immediate threat perception," he said.
In developing such longer-range antimissile capabilities, India is understood to be focusing on the possible threat from China and not its long-time rival, Pakistan.
A bipartisan pair of former White House advisers publicly implored President Obama last week not to use the threat of nuclear attack to help deter would-be attackers from using computers to harm the United States.
“It’s hard to see how [a] cyber-nuclear action-reaction dynamic would improve U.S. or global security,” Richard Clarke, a former George W. Bush cybersecurity adviser, and Steve Andreasen, a Clinton-era National Security Council staff director for defense policy and arms control, said in a Friday Washington Post commentary.
“It’s more likely to lead to a new focus by Pentagon planners on generating an expanding list of cyber-related targets and the operational deployment of nuclear forces to strike those targets in minutes,” they wrote. “U.S. cyber-vulnerabilities are serious, but equating the impact of nuclear war and cyberwar to justify a new nuclear deterrence policy and excessive Cold War-era nuclear capabilities goes too far.”
Clarke, who now chairs Good Harbor Security Risk Management, and Andreasen, a consultant to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, urged Obama to use a speech on nuclear policy initiatives this Wednesday in Berlin to “make good on his first-term commitments to end outdated Cold War nuclear policies.”
The two panned a recent Defense Science Board recommendation to threaten atomic retaliation for any existential dangers to the United States posed by cyber attacks. Gen. Robert Kehler, the top U.S. commander for strategic nuclear operations, said he supported the “thrust” of the board’s advice.
Concern has been mounting about the possibility that China, in particular, might wield a capability to attack huge swaths of the U.S. power grid or other critical systems.
To prevent a digital strike so devastating that the government itself might lose control, the former government advisers recommended “more diplomacy” in the form of “multinational cooperation centers [that] could ultimately lead to shared approaches to cybersecurity, including agreements related to limiting cyberwar.”
Editor’s Note: The Nuclear Threat Initiative is the sole sponsor of Global Security Newswire, which is published independently by the National Journal Group.
North Korea on Sunday invited the United States to bilateral discussions aimed at improving relations, though the terms of its invitation make it unlikely any significant headway will be achieved on the nuclear weapons front, the Associated Press reported.
In making the proposal, Pyongyang's top-governing body, the National Defense Commission, said the talks must be on an unconditional basis and there could be no calls for the North to end its nuclear work unless the United States agrees to abide by the same stricture.
The Obama administration responded that it will only agree to two-way talks if Pyongyang first demonstrates its adherence to U.N. Security Council resolutions and earlier international pledges. That essentially means North Korea would have to halt its nuclear weapons development.
"As we have made clear, our desire is to have credible negotiations with the North Koreans, but those talks must involve North Korea living up to its obligations to the world, including compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, and ultimately result in denuclearization," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in released remarks. "We will judge North Korea by its actions, and not its words."
President Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, in a Sunday appearance on CBS said any bilateral talks with the North "have to be real. They have to be based on them living up to their obligations, to include on proliferation, on nuclear weapons, on smuggling and other things."
In asserting that the North would never give up its nuclear arms program until all of the Korean Peninsula is rid of such armaments, the National Defense Commission said that would mean "totally ending the U.S. nuclear threats."
The U.S. military withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in the early 1990s. However, the Navy fields strategic submarines in the area and the vessels occasionally participate in joint maneuvers with the South. U.S. nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 bombers also recently participated in military exercises with Seoul.
Pyongyang's Sunday overture is one more sign that the Kim Jong Un regime has shifted away from the saber-rattling tactics of this spring that saw regional tensions brought to one of their highest points in decades. In making its offer, the North said Washington should propose the schedule and locale for the meeting.
The wording of the proposal suggests that North Korea wants the Obama administration to offer concessions and diplomatic engagement in return for not furthering work on nuclear weapons that could target the continental United States, according to the New York Times.
The Kim regime's bid reveals no "fundamental change" in its foreign posture, Dongguk University North Korea expert Kim Yong-hyun said in an interview.
The U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, Glyn Davies, is slated to host his South Korean and Japanese opposites for three-way talks this week in Washington.
As China is the North's biggest economic benefactor, the United States sees Beijing as playing a crucial role in producing a real lasting change in the regional nuclear impasse. At a recent Wilson Center event, Davies said: "We have every expectation that Beijing will use its special relationship with the D.P.R.K. to encourage Pyongyang to choose a different path," the Christian Science Monitor reported.
In recent months, the Chinese government has signaled that it intends to take a stronger line with its longtime ally, publicly affirming that it would fully implement the latest Security Council sanctions measures and cutting off all financial dealings with a North Korean firm seen as a principal conduit for funding for weapons of mass destruction work.
The timing of Pyongyang's talks proposal suggests that it is seeking to "keep China in check," according Dongguk University's Kim. The aspiring nuclear power is also likely signaling to Seoul that it will try to isolate it from strategic talks if the South does not move to bolster inter-Korean ties, the academic said.
Seoul is at least publicly unconcerned about being cut off from talks. South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae on Monday told lawmakers "there is little worry of Pyongyang trying to bypass the South to talks directly with the United States," the Yonhap News Agency reported.
In a May meeting, a top Kim regime official sought to get acknowledgement from Beijing of North Korea's status as a nuclear-armed nation, an informed insider told Yonhap on Sunday.
"The Chinese side expressed its negative stance on North Korea's request, according to the anonymous source.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday announced that the North's senior atomic negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, is slated to travel to Beijing for a "strategic dialogue" on Wednesday with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, Yonhap separately reported.
Iran will face significant pressure to join new atomic talks before September as part of a bid by Washington and its partners in Europe to assess implications from Hassan Rouhani's victory in last week's presidential election, U.S. and European envoys told the Wall Street Journal for a Sunday report.
Western capitals want to decide soon if the centrist politician's surprising first-ballot win might prompt a more conciliatory atomic stance from Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who will probably retain a firm grip on the country's nuclear course, the newspaper reported. Khamenei, who wields the final word on all Iranian policies, has ruled out any compromise since 2009 in multilateral discussions held over fears that Iran's nuclear program is geared toward development of an arms capacity. Tehran insists its nuclear program is strictly peaceful.
Rouhani is scheduled to take office on Aug. 3, Iran's Press TV reported on Sunday. He would succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has developed a reputation for confrontational international posturing since taking office in 2005.
While vying for the presidency, Rouhani promised to pursue "constructive interaction with the world," the Associated Press reported on Saturday.
"We won't let the past eight years be continued," Rouhani said last week. "They brought sanctions for the country. Yet, they are proud of it. I'll pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace. We will also reconcile with the world."
Speaking on Monday, though, he said Iran “has done nothing to deserve sanctions."
Iran has carried out its atomic operations "within international frameworks," AP quoted him as saying. "If sanctions have any benefits, they will only benefit Israel."
"Our nuclear programs are completely transparent," the BBC on Monday quoted him as saying. "But we are ready to show greater transparency and make clear for the whole world that the steps of the Islamic Republic of Iran are completely within international frameworks."
He ruled out any suspension of his country's uranium enrichment operations, Agence France-Presse reported on Monday. Uranium refinement can generate fuel for civilian applications as well as nuclear weapons.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday said Washington and other governments "remain ready to engage directly with the Iranian government."
"We hope [Iranian leaders] will honor their international obligations to the rest of the world in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program," he added in prepared remarks released by the State Department.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Sunday said he saw Rouhani's win "as a potentially hopeful sign," the New York Times reported. He said Iran has "an opportunity" for rapprochement with the global community, but the nation must “come clean on this illicit nuclear program.”
The chief interlocutor in atomic discussions with Iran said she is dedicated to pursuing a "swift diplomatic solution" to the atomic standoff in cooperation with Rouhani, AFP reported on Sunday.
"Now we will wait for the establishment of the new government, I will continue with my work to urge Iran to work closely with me and the European community to build confidence in the nature of [Tehran's] nuclear program," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added on Monday in comments reported by Reuters. Ashton has communicated with Iran on behalf of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Governments should avoid "wishful thinking" and maintain "pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
"If [Iran] insists on continuing to develop its nuclear program, the answer needs to be clear -- stopping its nuclear program by any means," AFP quoted him as saying. "In the past 20 years the only thing that brought about a temporary freeze in Iran's nuclear program was the fear of aggressive action against it."
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz added that "without continued pressure on Iran, there is no chance of seeing significant change in nuclear policy."
"Rouhani doesn't consider himself a reformer, he defines himself as a conservative. He was ... Khamenei's representative to the National Security Council," Steinitz told Israeli army radio.
"The dialogue on the IAEA-Iran track is ... getting stuck on appointing new teams. But Iran’s position remains unchanged,” an informed envoy said. “The consultations can hardly be held until autumn.”