The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The chill in U.S.-Russian relations has dimmed prospects for a slash in America’s nuclear weapons arsenal, experts say.

Since his historic 2009 appeal in Prague, President Barack Obama has sought to make disarmament a cornerstone of his presidency.

But much hinges on Moscow.

In a major address in Berlin in June, Obama urged Russia to jointly reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles by a third, taking them to the 1,000 mark.

“These are steps we can take to create a world of peace with justice,” Obama said with the German capital’s Brandenburg Gate as a backdrop.

At the time, Russian officials reacted coldly to the appeal and relations have only got frostier now that Obama has scrapped a summit next month with counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Washington said one of the reasons was its disappointment over Moscow’s granting asylum to intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

But the fact that the White House also cited “lack of progress” in a host of areas indicates that preparatory talks on disarmament beyond the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty are at a standstill, experts say.

Under the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) negotiated with Moscow during Obama’s first term, the two former Cold War foes agreed to limit nuclear warheads to 1,550 each by 2018.

The topic of new arsenal cuts wasn’t even mentioned in the Pentagon’s readout of a meeting in Washington last Friday between U.S. defense chief Chuck Hagel and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.

“Given what the Russian military doctrine is, given where Russian security policy is, given where Russian military modernization is, it was highly unlikely that the Russian government was willing to go substantially below New Start levels,” Celeste Wallander, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, told AFP.

“The big picture obstacles to nuclear reductions have to do more with broader issues in Russian military doctrine: the greater reliance on nuclear weapons, the enhanced role of nuclear weapons in Russian military doctrine, the Russian uncertainty about China, [and] the continuing relative weakness of Russian conventional forces,” added Wallander, who is now a professor at American University.

Robert Norris, senior fellow for nuclear policy at the Federation of American Scientists, said prospects for a negotiated disarmament are slim because “Russia just doesn’t believe that stated intent from the U.S.”

“It’s a very old issue, one that doesn’t go away,” he told AFP.

Faced with a “nyet” from the Russians, Washington could go it alone and disarm unilaterally. Obama paved the way for this with his appeal to the Russians in Berlin.

The move could relieve some budget pressure, with the Pentagon anticipating to spend $215 billion over 10 years to maintain and modernize its arsenal. That amount seems to be both an “underestimate and unaffordable in the current climate of defense budget austerity,” according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In parallel, the Pentagon faces $500 billion in automatic spending cuts over the same period.

Cutting the U.S. arsenal to a thousand or fewer deployed warheads could result in $39 billion in taxpayer savings over the next decade, according to a study by the Arms Control Association.

“If the United States is serious about getting Russia on board with further nuclear cuts, it should start with unilateral reductions to its number of deployed warheads that go beyond the New START limits,” nuclear physicist Pavel Podvig wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

“Strictly speaking, these reductions would be reversible and somewhat symbolic, as the hedge is not going away any time soon and the legally-binding upper limit would still be set by New START,” he wrote. “Russia would then face a choice between joining the nuclear cuts and keeping the leverage that comes with being an active participant in the process, or risking a US decision to embrace unilateralism and steer nuclear policy in a discomforting direction.”

According to Podvig, Moscow is not ready to take that risk.

“If the goal is to force or incentivize Russian reciprocal, unilateral reductions, I’m highly skeptical that would be the result,” said Wallander.

For Norris, a partial unilateral disarmament seems impossible due to Republican opposition in Congress “which is suspicious of any move he can make.”


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Dr. Mehmet Oz and Sean Hannity

Youtube Screenshot

Fox News prime-time host Sean Hannity is priming his audience to see election fraud in any defeat for Dr. Mehmet Oz, his favored candidate who currently leads the GOP primary for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania with two percent of votes outstanding. If the fast-closing hedge funder Dave McCormick takes the lead and the Oz camp claims the election has been stolen, it could set up a potentially explosive proxy war with Hannity’s colleague Laura Ingraham, whose Fox program favors McCormick and has suggested he is likely to prevail when all the votes are counted.

The GOP primary was a chaotic slugfest that split Fox’s slate of pro-GOP hosts in an unusually public way. Hannity was Oz’s most prominent supporter, reportedly securing the support of former President Donald Trump and using his program to endorse the TV personality, give him a regular platform, and target the challenge from right-wing commentator and Fox & Friends regular Kathy Barnette. Ingraham, meanwhile, used her Fox program (which airs in the hour following Hannity’s) to promote McCormick, criticize Oz, and defend Barnette.

Keep reading... Show less
Youtube Screenshot

Overturning Roe v. Wade is very unpopular, yet another poll confirms. Nearly two out of three people, or 64 percent, told the NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll that Roe should not be overturned, including 62 percent of independents. The poll also includes some good news for Democrats.

According to the poll, the prospect of the Supreme Court striking down Roe in the most extreme way is motivating Democratic voters more than Republicans: Sixty-six percent of Democrats say it makes them more likely to vote in November compared with 40 percent of Republicans. That echoes a recent NBC poll finding a larger rise in enthusiasm about voting among Democrats than Republicans.

Keep reading... Show less
{{ }}