Foreign Policy Blogs

A look back at the nuclear spring

Hi there! While Jodi is out and about, I will be guest blogging (glogging?) for her. I’m not nearly as witty, so I apologize in advance. I told her I’d ponder BMD and next steps after New START, and I’ll get to those while she is slackingrelaxing, but since today is the anniversary of the closing of the Nuclear Security Summit, let’s take a quick look back at highlights from last year’s busy nuclear April.

Nuclear Security Summit: One year ago today, Obama concluded the Nuclear Security Summit, one of the high-profile components of last year’s “nuclear spring” (the signing of New START and the release of the Nuclear Posture Review being the other core components). The administration conceived of the NSS to discuss how to secure to stockpiles of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium. The fear, of course, is nuclear terrorism. 46 countries came to play in Washington (plus representatives from the IAEA, EU, and UN), where Obama laid out the ambitious goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in four years.

The Arms Control Association and Partnership for Global Security have released a status update on the commitments made at the summit (available here—it is a useful reference). They conclude that 60 percent of the national commitments made at the summit have been fulfilled and “notable progress” has been made on another 30 percent. Not bad. But the 2010 summit commitments, while a good first step, were just that—first steps. The summit process Obama initiated seems to be on a promising track, and the Fukushima crisis has refocused attention on the consequences of nuclear material being released, whether accidentally or deliberately. But given the four-year timeframe, the 2012 Seoul summit will need to do much more, including expanding the number of states involved in the discussions, working towards international safety and security standards, and move from nonbinding voluntary national commitments to verifiable binding commitments. That’s a pretty tall order but these are the kind of steps that would be necessary to strengthen the evolving nuclear material security regime. (Kenneth Luongo lays out a road map for the 2012 summit that suggests these steps and more.)

New START: Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed the START follow-on treaty in Prague last April. A protracted negotiation process with the Russians was followed by a contentious and protracted negotiation process with Senate Republicans (a couple of Democrats needed a good talking to as well). In the end, as we all know, the Senate consented to the treaty during its lame duck session. But the cost of this ratification was high, both financially (I’m looking at you NNSA budget) and politically. One of the bigger costs: a CTBT ratification vote. In the past, arms control and disarmament treaty votes have been pretty straightforward—overwhelming bipartisan support. The exception, of course, is 1999’s CTBT vote (and in a way, this was pretty straightforward as well in that it was not even close: 51-48). Let’s go to (some of) the numbers:

LTBT: 80-19

ABM: 88-2

NPT: 83-15

SALT I: 88-2

START I: 93-6

START II: 87-4

SORT: 95-0

New START: 71-26

What this tells me is that a vote on CTBT is not going to happen in the 112th Congress. Obama’s promise to “immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification” of the CTBT has been overtaken by the reality of partisan politics. If New START barely squeaked by (and looking at the numbers above, it was a relative squeaker), CTBT would fail in a spectacular way (and not the good spectacular but the really really bad spectacular). If New START had, in the end, received the same kind of “yea” votes that security treaties have traditionally received, the administration might have been able to pursue CTBT with the expectation that it would be a closer vote (something along the lines of, oh, I don’t know, 71-26). But it is off the table at least for the next two years.

Jacqueline McLaren Miller is a Senior Associate at the EastWest Institute in New York.



Jodi Lieberman

Jodi Lieberman is a veteran of the arms control, nonproliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear safety trenches, having worked at the Departments of State, Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She has also served in an advisory capacity and as professional staff for several members of Congress in both the House and Senate as well as the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Jodi currently spends her time advocating for science issues and funding as the Senior Government Affairs Specialist at the American Physical Society. The views expressed in her posts are her views based on her professional experience but in way should be construed to represent those of her employer.

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