PONI Debates the Issues Blog

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  • Critics of the U.S. response to the crisis in Crimea have provided no shortage of hindsight solutions. Some - like the suppositions that we should have been less “indecisive” toward Russia or that we just should have seen it coming – have been less helpful than others. But the most interesting retrospective proposals have surrounded Ukraine’s choice to give up its nuclear weapons. After the Cold War, Ukraine secured financial aid and security guarantees in exchange for disarming and surrendering its inherited Soviet arsenal.  The argument, according to the Ukrainian proliferation optimists, is that nuclear weapons would have deterred Russia from…

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  • In his 2009 Prague address, President Obama clearly defined nuclear nonproliferation and arms control as issues central to U.S. foreign policy.

    Following the nonproliferation achievements of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia and a landmark interim nuclear agreement with Iran, the Obama administration appears eager to make progress on its next nuclear policy priority – the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).

    At the opening ceremony of the first session…

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  • Japanese Nationalism: A Cause for Concern?

    On December 26, 2013, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine located in Chiyoda, Tokyo. Abe’s trip marked the first time in seven years that a Japanese Prime Minister traveled to the shrine, and the visit was met with harsh criticism by both the U.S. government as well as leaders of Japan’s neighboring countries. Founded by Emperor Meiji in 1869, the Yasukuni Shrine commemorates Japanese soldiers who died in service of their country from the 1868 Boshin War through World War II. Yet, the shrine also serves as the resting place for several convicted Japanese war criminals from World War II, and the memorial has been interpreted by China and the Korean Peninsula as a controversial and even repugnant sign of Japanese imperialism and aggression. After Abe’s actions attracted international ire, the motives behind the Prime Minister’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine should be called into question.

    In recent years, a nationalist fervor has swept…

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  • The US and Russia keep nearly 2000 strategic nuclear weapons deployed and ready to launch. Modern strategic nuclear weapons generally have much larger yields than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A single nuclear warhead has easily enough explosive power to destroy a city and kill millions. An exchange of 100 of these weapons—which would be devastating in itself—would kick enough soot into the atmosphere to disrupt the global climate and cause a worldwide famine. A more total conflict between the US and Russia could threaten the survival of the human race and of life on Earth more generally.

    No country wants to fight a nuclear war over Ukraine. Nor is it very likely that Russian intervention in Crimea will lead to a nuclear war. But it's not just the lives and…

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  • Stories broke late last week about South Korea’s investment in creating cyberweapons “similar to Stuxnet” designed to damage or disrupt North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure. Cyberwarfare represents a largely unfamiliar and ill-defined frontier to the nuclear field, so it’s no surprise that assessments of and reactions to the news have varied widely; some, like the University of Surrey’s Alan Woodward, have warned against opening the Pandora’s Box of cyberwarfare. It’s safe to say that if South Korea actually makes meaningful progress on cyberwarfare capabilities in the near future – or receives assistance to that end – it could have a range of implications for crisis stability on…

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  • By Daria Azarjew

     

    The global community currently finds itself on the threshold of an historical agreement, as negotiations on the final deal with Iran have begun this week.  Iran and major powers have been working hard together to reach a consensus and repair broken relationships, making the interim deal itself a monument of progress in international cooperation and diplomacy. Implemented on January 20, 2014, it is an important first step towards halting the development of Iran’s nuclear program for six months, setting up limited sanctions relief in exchange for permission for unprecedented monitoring and verification.  

    The clock is now ticking, as the two sides need to move quickly to reach an agreement while the circumstances still make it possible. The P5+1 have six months to arrive at a final consensus, with the possibility of only one additional six-month extension. While the interim agreement was a large success, it was much easier to…

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  • Last Friday, January 31, 2014, the Hudson Institute hosted a panel discussion entitled “The United States, Iran, and the Post-Geneva Middle East: What’s Next after the Joint Plan of Action is Implemented?” The event, moderated by Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Lee Smith, featured regional experts debating the prospects for a successful final deal over Iran’s nuclear program and the consequences of the broader U.S. strategy in the Middle East. The featured speakers included Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Hillel Fradkin, director of the Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World at the Hudson Institute, and Michael Doran, Senior Fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

    The event began with each speaker lending their perspective on the nuclear deal and the near-term future of the region. Dr. Takeyh began by discussing the Joint Plan of Action that emerged from the…

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  • Event Recap: PONI Live Debate on Triad Modernization

    On Monday, January 27, the Project on Nuclear Issues hosted a live debate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies discussing the future of the U.S. nuclear force. The formal topic was “Resolved: The United States should modernize only one leg of the nuclear triad.” Two senior experts – Dr. Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and Mr. Elbridge Colby, Fellow at the Center for a New American Security – shared their positions on the topic for the evening.

    Dr. Preble, affirming the resolution, argued that modernizing the SSBN force would be sufficient to deter serious adversaries without incurring the startlingly high costs of upgrading the entire arsenal. In a tight fiscal environment, nuclear weapons (and the defense budget) are likely to come under siege – so preserving the most cost-effective deterrence solutions is…

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  • On January 21, 1954, the USS Nautilus was launched – the first indication that maritime forces would play a major role in the Cold War strategic deterrence relationship. Sixty years later, with reports that India’s nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) INS Arihant is inching closer to active deployment, joined by speculation that Pakistan is working to modernize its own sub fleet, the complexities and challenges posed by a transition to sea-based deterrence in South Asia have come into focus.

    While both India and Pakistan have expressed interest in shifting from an air-and-land based dyad to a flexible nuclear triad, the two are at vastly different stages of SSBN development: New Delhi is…

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  • By Daria Azarjew

    Over a decade ago, in its effort to preserve military superiority and a powerful deterrent, the United States identified the need for a new capability. This led the U.S. military to create the controversial concept of a high precision global strike capability. The Conventional Prompt Global Strike program (CPGS) aims to develop weapons capable of performing a highly precise non-nuclear strike anywhere in the world within an hour of making the decision to attack. Such a conventional ability would fill a strategic gap and enhance the strength of U.S. deterrence. However, there are also several destabilizing factors inherent to the program, such as its reliance on the development of long-range missiles with conventional explosives in the place of nuclear warheads, which could easily lead a state to mistake a CPGS weapon for a nuclear warhead. Therefore, while the concept would provide the United States with an unmatched military capability, the potential…

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  • As the State Department noted, Tuesday marked the twentieth anniversary of the Trilateral Statement between Ukraine, Russia, and the United States on the issue of leftover Soviet nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The agreement created a plan – completed successfully in 2001 – to export or destroy the remaining nuclear warheads, delivery vehicles, and fissile material in the country in exchange for security guarantees and financial compensation. A Brookings study from 2011 noted the reasons for the success of the trilateral process and its potential applicability to future nuclear nonproliferation deals. Looking back, did we learn anything useful from negotiations with Kiev that could help…

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  • PONI Research Intern - Accepting Applications

    The Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is seeking a research intern to support its effort to develop the next generation of leaders in nuclear science and policy. 

    The research intern’s primary responsibilities will consist of supporting PONI staff in coordinating and organizing events; providing research support for PONI staff, including director Clark Murdock; authoring posts for the PONI Debates the Issues blog; assisting in the review and editing of papers submitted for publications; and other administrative duties as assigned. Interns are strongly encouraged to pursue their own research and write about issues of interest to them and will have time to do so. Interns are also encouraged to attend all Nuclear Scholars Initiative meetings and, if funding permits, travel to conferences. 

    The internship is full-time, paid, and for a maximum of 6 months. Competitive applicants will have a serious…

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  • Uranium enrichment is a tricky subject, both chemically and politically.  A key portion of the Iran negotiations rests on what autonomy Tehran will maintain to enrich uranium for its domestic nuclear program. The United States and several allied countries in the P5+1 (not to mention Israel) would prefer that Iran dismantle its entire enrichment infrastructure, agree to permanent, intrusive inspections, and rely on international sources of enriched fuel if it maintains any nuclear energy program. Without the ability to read Tehran’s intentions perfectly, it’s safe to say Iran would prefer fewer enrichment obstacles. The interim deal provided little resolution on the issue, with both sides reading what they wanted into the Joint Statement that emerged in November.

    It’s not a surprise that the United States doesn’t trust Iran to pursue a solely peaceful program; beyond decades of hard-earned enmity from both sides, Washington’s position is consistent with its previously…

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  • Are the Senkakus the United States’ Munich?

    Brinksmanship is a game of escalation measured in moves and counter moves. You push your adversary to the edge and hope he folds. If he doesn't, push harder. As the eminent game theorist and Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling would say, you allow circumstances to grow increasingly out of hand. Eventually someone gives in – either before the shooting starts or after.

    Throughout 1938 and 1939, Germany tested and teased the Western powers until it had consumed swathes of Europe. Czechoslovakia, a strategically important state given its level of industry and proximity to Romanian oilfields, was essential to Hilter’s Lebensraum. Neither the British nor the French were willing to go to war to rescue the Czechs, and in September 1938, British and French leaders met the Axis…

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  • At present, the prospects for denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula are a little underwhelming. Despite optimism that the United States could carry over its success from Geneva, signs from Pyongyang don’t indicate that a resumption of Six-Party Talks can be expected anytime soon. The United States has demanded, as a prerequisite, that North Korea “move meaningfully in the direction of the demands that have been made by the international community to give up nuclear weapons.” Pyongyang has not shown interest in any such behavior.

    North Korea seems to view nuclear weapons as an integral part of its long-term defensive…

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  • By Daria Azarjew

     

             It is increasingly evident that China’s military power and capabilities are continuing to grow and improve. Historically, China has declared that the primary purpose of its military arsenal has been to serve defensive ends; however Beijing’s recent behavior suggests that China’s strategy may be changing.

             China’s self-defensive military strategy, as articulated in previous government white papers, emphasizes that the aim of Beijing’s nuclear arsenal is to “deter other countries from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against China” and to uphold “the principles of counterattack in self-defense and limited development of nuclear weapons.” In these papers, Beijing has historically been transparent about nuclear policy and strategy but not about its weapons and capabilities.

              For these reasons, the recent unprecedented…

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  • Among those who viewed negotiations with Iran positively, the opportunities to double down on the Geneva breakthrough elsewhere may seem irresistible. Geoffrey Cain, writing in Salon, weighed whether the United States would be able to “ride the momentum” of the Geneva negotiations to successfully refocus international pressure on North Korea.  Arms Control Wonk posted recently that the “pendulum” of the nuclear world may have swung back in favor of nonproliferation, and that the Iran deal offers a “respite from negative momentum” that would otherwise imperil arms control efforts for the next decade or more. This pattern of thinking isn’t out of the ordinary for commentary on nuclear issues; the atmosphere resembles the sentiment…

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  • Around 3 A.M. on Sunday morning in Geneva, Iran and the P5+1 agreed to an interim deal to restrict Tehran’s nuclear program. In short, the arrangement caps uranium enrichment at 5%, stops buildup of low-enriched uranium, freezes the progress of the “plutonium track” Arak reactor, “neutralizes” the current stocks of 20%-enriched uranium, and allows for “unprecedented” transparency and monitoring. These restrictions come in exchange for reversible – and minimal – financial sanctions relief, largely leaving in place the sanctions architecture governing the oil sector and Central Bank. The agreement lasts six months, theoretically enough time for more extensive negotiations to work out stockpile neutralization issues and a more complete sanctions rollback timetable.

    Since then, a substantial amount of criticism has been levied at the Obama administration and the P5+1 for failing to extract enough concessions from Iran. The usual suspects – the …

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  • By Kyle Deming

    Last week, the BBC published a lengthy piece speculating that Saudi Arabia is in the process of acquiring a nuclear weapon from Pakistan.  Based on recent anonymous reports within NATO intelligence, analysis of satellite-photographed Saudi missile sites, and a helping of Cold War-era circumstantial evidence, the article claims that Riyadh has warheads “on order,” paid for and ready for delivery if Iran makes a move toward nuclear weapon capabilities. Ignoring, for the moment, the pretty serious flaws in the assumption that Saudi Arabia even wants a domestic nuclear deterrent, the conclusions reached by the article are unjustified based on the evidence.

    First, the article claims that a source within NATO and an Israeli official have shared…

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  • By Kyle Deming

    China has recently mounted an effort to show off its ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN) fleet, ostensibly demonstrating its seriousness about modernizing its naval force and strengthening its deterrent. While there is reason to be skeptical of certain state media assertions about Beijing’s nuclear arsenal development (the new JL-2 missile’s range reaching across the United States, for example)  the implications of SSBN development progress for Chinese second strike capabilities are worth considering.

    For some time, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been exploring options to ensure a survivable nuclear response force in the event of a strike against its…

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