The new strategic arms treaty with Russia is a gift for Republicans, not as a political weapon against President Barack Obama, but as the fruit of their own labors. The treaty is a logical, modest step down the long road of strategic nuclear arms control, led by Republicans from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan. In all those years of the Cold War, whether by détente or confrontation, they sought to restrain an existential threat and create rules and stability in a world of mistrust and uncertainty.
The new treaty goes further toward those goals than the hawks of yesteryear could have ever imagined. Republicans ought to vote for ratification and tell voters they fulfilled Reagan's greatest wish, to lock in lower levels of the most dangerous weapons on Earth. Reagan often talked about "peace through strength," and this treaty measures up to the slogan.
"1945-1998" by Isao Hashimoto (Japan, © 2003)
An animated history of nuclear testing in which each month is a second. (When you get to 1985, notice the Soviet test moratorum imposed by Mikhail Gorbachev. It goes by quickly; the moratorim ended in February, 1987.) The creator, Isao Hashimoto, has said:
"This piece of work is a bird's eye view of the history by scaling down a month length of time into one second. No letter is used for equal messaging to all viewers without language barrier. The blinking light, sound and the numbers on the world map show when, where and how many experiments each country have conducted. I created this work for the means of an interface to the people who are yet to know of the extremely grave, but present problem of the world."
On nuclear testing, we've been there, done that.
A new film, Countdown to Zero, aims to be 'An Inconvenient Truth' for nuclear danger. But is terrifying people the only way to get the message across?
The Economist carries an interesting cover story this week which suggests the internet has become a "fifth domain" for warfare after land, sea, air and outer space. This is a sprawling, complex topic, but I thought the article captured one very important observation: cyberwar is an elusive threat -- like terrorism and biological weapons -- that can be diffuse, compact and transnational.
The magazine says:
The internet was designed for convenience and reliability, not security. Yet in wiring together the globe, it has merged the garden and the wilderness. No passport is required in cyberspace. And although police are constrained by national borders, criminals roam freely. Enemy states are no longer on the other side of the ocean, but just behind the firewall. The ill-intentioned can mask their identity and location, impersonate others and con their way into the buildings that hold the digitised wealth of the electronic age: money, personal data and intellectual property.
Can traditional arms control or diplomacy be useful in this situation? Would nations sign a global pact to foreswear cyber war? Could it be enforced, and would it be effective against the legions of hackers and cyberwarriors who exist outside of state control, or are loosely allied with state security agencies? Is this threat too big for arms control as we've known it?
The answer may not be another treaty, nor promises of good intentions. We need fresh thinking for a new age.
Update, July 14: Here's another perspective on from Jeffrey Carr.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images
What are nuclear weapons good for? In the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the answer was simple: deterrence. We put Moscow at risk of destruction to prevent our own annihilation. A 1984 television advertisement for Ronald Reagan's re-election campaign warned Americans to be wary, saying the Soviet threat was out there somewhere, “a bear in the woods." But today, the Soviet Union is gone--and there's an urgent need to re-examine the concept of deterrence.
The bear? Well, Dmitry Medvedev was wearing blue jeans during his visit to Palo Alto last week. The Russian president read his speech aloud at Stanford University from an iPad and signed up for Twitter. He was attempting to drum up support for building a Russian equivalent of Silicon Valley in a town outside of Moscow. If he manages to succeed at this feat, will the town be put on the target list for U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles? Let's hope not.
In fact, both countries still have thousands of ballistic missiles on launch-ready alert based on a concept of deterrence that is out of date. Last week, a group of Russian and American specialists sat down to talk about the future of nuclar arms control, and many of them touched on the need to rethink deterrence. The session was sponsored by the PIR Center, a think-tank on security and nonproliferation issues in Moscow, and the Ploughshares Fund, a foundation supporting efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
Barack Obama got off a good line at his press conference with Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. Obama noted that Medvedev had just opened a Twitter account, and added, "I have one as well, so we may be able to finally throw away those ‘red phones’ that have been sitting around for so long."
No, Mr. President. It is not a good idea to throw away the hotline to Moscow and use Twitter instead. But your comment is another reminder of important business that has eluded both the United States and Russia for too long -- reducing the possibility of misunderstanding over a missile launch.
The United States still maintains about 1,000 nuclear-armed missiles on launch-ready alert, in silos and on submarines, and Russia may have even more. If given a warning of a missile attack, a president would have only minutes to decide how to respond. In the digital age, we should be able to find a way to ease this dangerous situation and give a president more time to avoid a terrible mistake. Here's an earlier article about the dangers.
Obama acknowledged the problem in his Nuclear Posture Review, issued in April. The president decided not to change the current alert status of U.S nuclear missiles. But the report said "efforts should continue to diminish further the possibility of nuclear launches resulting from accidents, unauthorized actions, or misperceptions and to maximize the time available to the President to consider whether to authorize the use of nuclear weapons."
Unfortunately, an agreement in 2000 between the United
States and Russia to set up a center to monitor ballistic missile and space
launches never got off the ground. The center would be a good first step and it
is something tangible Obama and Medvedev can do to ease the danger. It
mentioned by the presidents this week, but cries out for action. As long as
nuclear missiles remain on alert, we need more than a tweet to the Kremlin.
Update: In a joint summit statement on "strategic stability," Obama and Medvedev said they are committed to setting up this missile monitoring system, and that experts would meet "soon" to work on it. The statement is here (in pdf). Let's hope they have more success than the last attempt a decade ago.
DAVID E. HOFFMAN
Very sad news from Moscow: Alexander Pikayev, one of the leading analysts of security issues in Russia, has died at 48. Sasha, as he was known, was an invaluable source to those of us trying to puzzle out developments in defense and national security affairs. He was particularly good on nuclear weapons and nonproliferation. He spoke softly and you had to listen carefully, but what he had to say always cut through the official fog and helped crystalize the truth. He will be sorely missed. A tribute from Bill Potter at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies is here.
James Martin Center For Nonproliferation Studies
Sai Thein Win
A former Army major has courageously parted the curtains on what looks like secret efforts at missile and nuclear activity in Burma. Sai Thein Win delivered to a dissident group, the Democratic Voice of Burma, a fascinating cache of color photographs and personal recollections that reinforce the suspicion that the generals who run the country have launched a primitive quest for nuclear weapons.
Looking at the evidence, retired United Nations weapons inspector Robert E. Kelley wrote: “Photographs could be faked, but there are so many and they are so consistent with other information and within themselves that they lead to a high degree of confidence that Burma is pursuing nuclear technology.” Kelley’s report, co-written with Ali Fowle of Democratic Voice of Burma, can be found here, and a discussion of the technical side at Arms Control Wonk.
Aside from the revelatory nature of the materials, what’s so interesting about Sai Thein Win’s cache is that he decided to bring it out. He reminds us that despite the very best technology in intelligence and monitoring -- satellite imagery and listening devices -- there’s tremendous value in the eyewitness account of a participant in a closed state like Burma, also known as Myanmar.
Some of the snapshots inside the Burmese program -- pieces of equipment, drawings and such -- could never have been captured by a satellite. Sai Thein Win was not a nuclear expert, but a missile engineer, and in some cases he is reporting on overheard conversations or trying to puzzle out bits and pieces of evidence. Nonetheless, the generals who rule the country must be just fuming.
Photo: DVB, DEMOCRATIC VOICE OF BURMA
David E. Hoffman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and a contributing editor to Foreign Policy.