Brief commentary, and notes, for
immediate release December 22, 2010
START" Ratification Likely End of Obama's "Disarmament
Vision," and of Arms Control Era, as New Political Alignments,
Fresh Crises Loom
Contact: Greg Mello,
505-265-1200 office, 505-577-8563 cell
Albuquerque, NM -- What
began as a business-as-usual replacement for a Cold War arms treaty,
and then became a major legislative challenge for the Obama
Administration, was finally ratified by the U.S. Senate today after
unusually-involved negotiations with Senate Republicans. New
START is a force-affirmation treaty, designed to clarify, but not
change or disarm, U.S. and Russian nuclear arms. There
is no disarmament required by the treaty. There is no
indication that it is a "first step" toward "further"
These negotiations resulted in
extensive commitments by the Administration to new spending and
upgrades to U.S. strategic armaments, including nuclear weapons and
nuclear weapons infrastructure, missile defense research,
development, and deployments, and continued development of
conventional global strike weapons -- much of which is applicable to
nuclear delivery systems as well, being currently barred only by
ballistic missile delivery systems have already been developed (but
not deployed) under this last program.
The full cost of
this treaty cannot yet be assessed, as not all the details of
understandings reached have been made public, and the full import of
some which have depends on future decisions and events. Just
this week, and on top of announcements of two major increases in
nuclear weapons spending, President
Obama promised four senators (including two Democrats) that
nuclear weapons complex spending would be exempt from any future
fiscal austerity measures that might otherwise apply to
appropriations in the Energy and Water subcommittees. The prior
increases are posted here and analyzed here and elsewhere at www.lasg.org.
The long struggle to ratify the treaty, and its huge final
cost in the very coin of arms control which the treaty purports to
advance, signals just how weak the Cold War arms control consensus
has become. Prospects for ratification of the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), for example, appear nil for the foreseeable
future. The U.S. will ratify this treaty, if it does, only when
its progressive ratification by other states has reached a point of
embarrassment wholly incompatible with U.S. geostrategic
The way forward for arms
controllers is not clear. Russia has made clear on numerous
occasions that it has no intention of pursuing further nuclear cuts
and has halted the financially-driven erosion of its nuclear forces.
With Russia now the world's largest oil producer and the supplier of
a controlling fraction of natural gas to Europe -- a fraction that is
expected to grow considerably in the coming years -- Russia is not
the weak negotiating partner that it was during, say, the START II
negotiations. The reality of Russian power -- and U.S. weakness
vis-a-vis military operations in the oil- and gas-rich regions south
of Russia -- was not lost on Republican ratification opponents.
While on their face most of the Republican objections to
ratification appeared foolish and ill-informed, these objections also
conveyed a deep unease about the future of American global power,
which is hardly misplaced.
The makeup of the incoming
House and Senate (112th) is likely to be much more hostile to arms
control than the (111th) Congress now concluding.
ahead, prospects for conventional arms control appear worse.
There are 23 Democratic Senate seats up for election in 2012,
including 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats, compared to
only 10 Republican seats. In 2014 Democrats are currently
expected to have 20 seats up for election, and Republicans 13,
although obviously this could change. For these and other
reasons, prospects for conventional arms control measures appear
bleak for the foreseeable future.
At the same time
fresh and far
more severe crises are looming, which, in their earliest
manifestations, have already begun to capture Congress's (and
The implications for the New
Mexico laboratories are complex. As noted here,
they will suffer from an unprecedented infusion of cash -- about six
times the total scale of the Manhattan Project in New Mexico,
measured in constant dollars. But will this bring better
morale, better science, better community relations, a more wholesome
community in Los Alamos -- or even better stockpile management?
That is very far from assured. The reverse, I think, is very
likely true. The best days of Los Alamos are in the past, and
if the day ever dawns when excavation begins on the giant plutonium
complex slated to cost a factor of ten more any federal or state
project ever conceived for New Mexico, save the Interstate Highways,
it will be a dark day.
As Robert Oppenheimer put it on
the 16th of October, 1945, "If atomic bombs are to be added as
new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of
nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will
curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima. The people must unite,
or they will perish."
Now we know that it may or not be
atomic weaponry which kills them, but rather the distraction they
have brought, and misprioritization of scarce resources they incur.
Today's treaty ratification is not an occasion of joy for the world,
but rather a somber warning of the failure of our political system to
understand and defend against the true dangers we face.