Trump’s Terrible Nuclear Posture: More weapons, higher spending, lower threshold, less control

Published in Cape Breton Observer, 7 March 2018

On February 2, the United States released its first Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) since the 2010 study commissioned by President Barack Obama. The Obama NPR disappointed many disarmament advocates in its doctrinal timidity – its failure to declare the US would never use nuclear weapons first, and only ever use them in response to a nuclear attack on itself or its allies – and its strategic conservatism – its recommitment to a ‘triad’ of land-, sea- and air-launched long-range weapons. It did, though, seek to both diminish the number of warheads in the American arsenal (and, through arms control negotiations, the arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states) and limit the role of such monstrously indiscriminate ‘weapons’ to always and only deterring war.

In stark contrast, the Trump NPR seeks, at immense cost, new ways to make nuclear war more thinkable, ‘practical’, and ‘winnable’, including deploying new, ‘low-yield’ systems blurring the lines between conventional and nuclear conflict, and lowering the ‘threshold’ at which their use becomes ‘acceptable’. While building on Obama’s ill-conceived, 30-year $1.2 trillion modernization of the triad, the Trump blueprint has been widely denounced (by both champions and critics of deterrence) as a defence of the indefensible, nuclear war as a legitimate exercise of military power, at a time of heightened nuclear danger in the Korean peninsula and beyond.

Read More (external link, Cape Breton Spectator, 7 Mar 2018)

Folding the Umbrella: Nuclear Allies, the NPT and the Ban Treaty

Summary

The adoption of the Nuclear Weapons Prohibi­tion Treaty (NWPT) by 122 states in July 2017 introduced a powerful new dynamic into the stagnant realm of nuclear disarmament. The decision by the nuclear weapon states (NWS) and their nuclear dependent allies to boycott the NWPT negotiations created a schism within the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) community that will not be easily repaired. The NWPT did not come out of the blue, but was in itself a manifes­tation of the building frustration of non-NWS over the failure of the NWS to deliver on their nuclear disarmament commitments. While shar­ing some of this frustration, the nuclear depend­ent allies opted to privilege adherence to the doctrine of nuclear deterrence over advancing nuclear disarmament goals. If the NPT regime is not to suffer serious erosion, these nuclear de­pendent allies will need to convince their NWS partners to undertake tangible nuclear dis­armament action. The Nonproliferation and Dis­armament Initiative grouping of states (which includes both pro and anti NWPT states) may have a special role to play in this regard.

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The Caricaturing of UN Peacekeeping

Published in Policy Options, 20 February 2018

Complex, multidimensional, multipurposed modern peacekeeping has been the default framework for a long time, despite what critics would have us believe.

Peter MacKay has written a provocative and useful Policy Options article about the dark side of peacekeeping. While he is mostly wrong on many levels, we should be indebted to him for amassing so many of the straw man arguments in one place.

MacKay suggests that traditional peacekeeping is antiquated and obsolete. What Lester Pearson was awarded the Nobel Prize for, a mission where peacekeepers stand between warring parties that have agreed to a truce, is no longer the most requested operation type. MacKay is without question correct that this kind of peacekeeping is mostly not what happens these days (although it still has a place). But nobody denies this! Complex, multidimensional, multipurposed modern peacekeeping has been the default framework for a very long time — and at least since the 2000 Brahimi Report on United Nations peace operations. A quick read of the UN Peacekeeping website is warranted for those who think “traditional” peacekeeping is what the UN still mostly does.

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A reminder from Hawaii

On January 13, the residents of Hawaii received a startling phone alert: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Within seconds, fear spread across the island state as people sought shelter.

At the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA), a different type of panic was sweeping through the building. Employees soon realized that procedures to officially cancel a ballistic missile alert had not yet been created.

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BMD: Cooperative Protection or Strategic Instability

It’s hard to believe, but less than a decade ago, academics, policy analysts, and even officials were exploring US-NATO-Russia cooperation on ballistic missile defence1 – begging the question: why is that no longer considered an appropriate subject for polite company? Missile defence cooperation is still happening, of course, but it’s between Russia and China on one side and among the US and its friends and allies on the other. Unless, however, missile defence is pulled back from its current competitive dynamic to one of east-west accommodation and cooperation, nuclear tensions, and arsenals, will only grow. Canada has joined the competitive fray in Europe through NATO, but, to its credit, continues to resist direct involvement in the strategic North American version of ballistic missile defence.

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Our WMD treaties are working

ABSTRACT

As new technologies change the face of war, whether and how to pursue arms-control and disarmament treaties is an urgent question. Our past treaties show us that codified commitments can have an influence on state conduct. The author reviews what we can learn from existing agreements on weapons of mass destruction, including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Iran nuclear agreement, and the conventions on biological and chemical weapons. Though in some cases they have had more impact than others, these agreements have been effective in curbing the spread and use of our most devastating weapons.

Read the full article at https://doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2017.1413058 (controlled access)