Friday, June 7, 2013

Reducing Nuclear Weapons Presents Several Opportunities

Amb. Steven Pifer spoke at the World Affairs Council about reducing nuclear weapons.  His work at the Brookings Institution Arms Control Initiative advocates further reductions in the US and Russian nuclear arsenals, and he even thinks the world can get to zero nuclear weapons.  He is not alone in this opinion.  Luminaries have lined up behind the Global Zero movement to make it happen.

Amb. Pifer's talk at WAC NorCal revealed some "inside baseball" on arms control that I've never heard before.  Arms control has matured beyond considering the "throw weight" of multi-warhead delivery systems whose warheads may have different yields.  Official math counts a bomber as a single delivery system and the limits on their deployment are not as firm as rules for ICBMs.  Bombers have a flight time to target of 8-10 hours, so limits on their numbers are flexible because they can be recalled in flight.  The US is confident that its "national technical means" can locate most of our competitors' ICBMs and the FAS Nuclear Information Project has good unclassified estimates of warhead counts.  Tactical and "surplus strategic" warheads are kept in storage; they are not loaded on deployed systems.  The US military maintains one reserve warhead for every one deployed.  

I'm intrigued by the ambassador's proposal for a joint NATO/Russia cooperative missile defense.  This would coordinate two independent systems through a joint operations center.  The rationale for cooperation is that radars on Russian territory have the best view of Iran.  Sharing data would make NATO and Russia seem less like adversaries and more like allies, sending a tremendous positive message to Russia.  Amb. Pifer has written that the US's restructuring of its BMD plan for Europe opens the door for Moscow to cooperate.  

He noted further at the WAC NorCal talk that if Iran achieves full nuclear capability, Pakistan would be immediately prompted to arm Saudi Arabia with nukes.  A strike by the US or Israel would only delay Iran's nuke program.  It would stop all IAEA inspection visits to Iran and the world would lose access to the country's data.  The IAEA's access to their data now has led to the conclusion that Iran cannot enrich uranium at this time.  I'll observe that the ancient Arab-Persia rivalry cannot be contained if both sides own nukes.  I am not at all confident that leaders in Riyadh and Tehran are as rational as the Cold War strategists in Washington and Moscow.  Nuclear arms control in the Middle East means prevention of proliferation.  I'll endorse the ambassador's NATO/Russia cooperative idea.  

I believe there is precedent for the US and Russia to open their military networks in such a cooperative way. The US and Russia opened joint video monitoring centers in December 1999 to gain visibility of each others' nuclear power plants in advance of any Y2K problems.  The US and Russia also jointly staffed each others' nuclear warfighting command centers on New Year's Eve 1999 as a human fail-safe assurance against systems failures.  DOD guidance on establishing the Center for Year 2000 Strategic Stability (CY2KSS) needs to be dusted off and reused for cooperative missile defense.  I was on duty that evening too, at one of the US Forces Korea secure command centers in the Republic of Korea.    My small contribution to Y2K assurance was to ensure our own C4ISR systems were running through the midnight hour as 1999 became 2000.  

I say get the JASON advisory group involved in getting nukes to zero.  They need something to do or else they might get careless and knock over some beakers by accident.  I'd love to help but I'm not qualified.  I predict that the NATO/Russia cooperative missile defense joint operations center will be a windfall for folks in Eastern Europe, or wherever it stands up.