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30 Jan 19. Warren, Smith introduce bill to bar US from using nuclear weapons first. Two key Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday that would ensure the U.S. does not fire nuclear weapons first in a potential future war. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 presidential hopeful and Senate Armed Services Committee member, offered a bill — “The No First Use Act” — to establish in law that it is the policy of the United States not to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict.
Though previous administrations have resisted such moves, and the GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the legislation, the players are notable. As chairman, Smith may elevate the issue by inserting the language into the annual defense policy bill, and Warren’s potential candidacy means the issue could reach the wider public on a future presidential debate stage.
Because the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review states the U.S. reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” such as attacks on the U.S., its allies and its nuclear infrastructure, some lawmakers have criticized that policy as over-broad.
“Our current nuclear strategy is not just outdated—it is dangerous,” Smith and Warren said in a joint statement. “By making clear that deterrence is the sole purpose of our arsenal, this bill would reduce the chances of a nuclear miscalculation and help us maintain our moral and diplomatic leadership in the world.”
Both lawmakers have previously advocated for military restraint and signaled in recent weeks that such a move was coming. Warren, called for a “no first use” nuclear weapons policy in a speech last month, and Smith did likewise in November, in a speech to the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-nuclear weapons group.
One of the arguments against President Barack Obama adopting such a policy when he considered in 2016 was that declaring it could undermine allies’ confidence in U.S. commitment to their defense—and spur them to pursue their own nuclear weapons. Removing the threat of nuclear escalation could embolden countries like North Korea, China, or Russia, who might believe that they could overwhelm U.S. allies before the U.S. could respond, the thinking goes.
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, blasted the proposed measure in a statement Wednesday. She pointed to presidents from both parties who have rejected it, “because it erodes deterrence, undermines allied confidence in U.S. security guarantees and risks emboldening potential adversaries.”
“Calculated ambiguity has long been an element of U.S. nuclear declaratory policy,” Fischer said. “With Russia and China increasingly attempting to intimidate their neighbors – some of whom are U.S. allies – this is the wrong message to send. It betrays a naïve and disturbed world view.”
Fischer quoted the 2009 bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, saying “Potential aggressors should have to worry about the possibility that the United States might respond by overwhelming means at a time and in a manner of its choosing.”
Should Smith seek to include the language in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, it could trigger pushback from other key Republicans, such as HASC’s ranking member, Rep. Mac Thornberry, and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe—who have both been supportive of the Trump administration’s direction on nuclear weapons.
The Union of Concerned Scientists hailed Smith and Warren’s bill in a statement on Wednesday. The organization said that such a policy would “reduce the risk of miscalculation during a crisis with Russia, China or North Korea; strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by demonstrating the United States is serious about reducing the role of nuclear weapons in its security policy, and reduce risks associated with the president’s sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons by removing the option of using them first.”
“The purpose of US nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on the United States and its allies. Any other purpose simply makes nuclear war more likely,” said Stephen Young, Washington representative for the UCS Global Security Program. (Source: Defense News)
30 Jan 19. Trump targets intel chiefs over threat assessment of North Korea, Iran, ISIS. U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing back on his top national security advisers’ assessments of the threats posed by the North Korea, the Islamic State group and Iran. The president’s foreign policy tweetstorm Wednesday morning comes a day after U.S. intelligence agencies told Congress that North Korea is unlikely to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, that ISIS remains a threat and that the Iran nuclear deal is working. They did not mention the crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border for which Trump has considered declaring a national emergency.
“North Korea relationship is best it has ever been with U.S.,” Trump said on Twitter, pointing to a halt in nuclear and missile tests by North Korea, the return of some U.S. service members’ remains, and the release of Americans once detained there as signs of progress.
“Decent chance of Denuclearization,” he added.
Trump’s assessment contrasts with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will seek to retain its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because he views them as critical to regime survival.
Kim committed to denuclearization after meeting with Trump last year. A second Trump-Kim meeting is expected in February.
The “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report, on which Coats based his testimony, said Kim’s support at his June 2018 Singapore summit with Trump for “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” is a formulation linked to an end to American military deployments and exercises involving nuclear weapons.
The president’s comments drew rebukes from the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House intel panels, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, respectively.
“The President has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality,” Warner said in a tweet. “People risk their lives for the intelligence he just tosses aside on Twitter.”
Said Schiff: “It is a credit to our intelligence agencies that they continue to provide rigorous and realistic analyses of the threats we face. It’s deeply dangerous that the White House isn’t listening.”
On the Middle East, where the intelligence assessment undercut Trump’s rationale for his order of a full withdrawal of U.S. troops, the president pushed back again, saying ISIS “will soon be destroyed, unthinkable two years ago.” The militant group, he said, was “running rampant” when he became president, but there’s since been “tremendous progress … especially over the last five weeks.”
That’s out of sync with the intelligence assessment that ISIS “remains a terrorist and insurgent threat” inside Iraq, where the government faces “an increasingly disenchanted public.”
CIA Director Gina Haspel said ISIS is “still dangerous” and that it commands “thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.”
On Iran, Trump said Tehran has curtailed its troublemaking in the Mideast since he withdrew the U.S. in 2018 from the nuclear deal Iran reached with the U.S. and other Western nations. Still, he called Tehran “a source of potential danger and conflict.”
“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!” Trump tweeted. “Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”
Coats did say Iran continues to pose a long-term threat. He pointed to its support for Houthi rebels in the Yemen civil war, its support to Iraqi Shia militants, and its efforts to consolidate its influence in Syria and arm Hezbollah — which have in turn prompted Israeli airstrikes.
When Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal, he called it a terrible deal that would not stop Iran from going nuclear.
The intelligence agencies said that while Iran is looking at ways to escape the terms of the agreement, it continues to work with other parties to remain in compliance, at least temporarily. That in turn has lessened the nuclear threat from Iran, they said. (Source: Defense News)
24 Jan 19. U.S. Official Accuses Russia of Stonewalling on Missile Treaty Demands. Russia is unlikely to meet U.S. demands for more verification on a missile system Washington says has violated a key Cold War treaty, the lead U.S. negotiator on arms control issues said. Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson downplayed the meetings that U.S. and Russian officials had last week in Geneva about the dispute, which has pushed the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to the brink of collapse. And she downplayed an unusual public presentation made a day earlier in Moscow, in which Russian defense officials displayed elements of the disputed missile system, known as the 9M729 or SSC-8.
The Geneva talks weren’t “the normal bluster, propaganda, the kind of dramatics that we associate with some of these meetings,” Thompson said in a private briefing on January 24.
“But as I said before, we didn’t break any new ground. There was no new information. The Russians acknowledged having the system but continued to say in their talking points that it didn’t violate the INF Treaty despite showing them, repeated times, the intelligence, and information,” she said.
Thompson’s remarks were made nine days before a February 2 deadline, when the United States has said it will formally withdraw from the treaty, and suspend its obligations.
“I’m not particularly optimistic” that Russia will meet U.S. demands to show it is complying with the treaty, she told reporters.
The 1987 treaty prohibits the two countries from possessing, producing, or deploying ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The agreement was the first of its kind to eliminate an entire class of missiles and is widely seen as a cornerstone of arms control stability, in Europe and elsewhere.
On January 23, Russian officials held a public briefing for reporters and foreign diplomats in Moscow, where they showed missile tubes and diagrams of the missile in question — part of an effort to push back against the U.S. claims.
Lieutenant General Mikhail Matveyevsky, the chief of the military’s missile and artillery forces, said the missile has a maximum range of 480 kilometers.
“The distance was confirmed during strategic command and staff exercises” in 2017, he said. “Russia has observed and continues to strictly observe the points of the treaty and does not allow any violations.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later accused U.S. officials of rebuffing Russian invitations to hold more talks on the question, something that Thompson disputed.
“While seeking an uncontrolled arms buildup, Washington is actually trying to take down one of the major pillars of current global stability, and this could result in the most painful repercussions for global security,” Zakharova was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency. “It is not late yet for our American partners to work out a responsible attitude to the INF Treaty.”
Thompson said U.S. officials have proposed discussing a wider range of arms control issues on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting scheduled in Beijing next week. The United States first publicly accused Moscow of violating the INF Treaty in 2014. After several years of fruitless talks, Washington began stepping up its rhetoric in late 2017, publicly identifying the missile in question and asserting that Russia had moved beyond testing and had begun deploying the systems.
“These are manned, equipped battalions now deployed in the field,” Thompson said.
Late last year, Washington began providing NATO members and other allies with more detailed, classified satellite and telemetry data, as part of the effort to build support for its accusations.
Thompson said that in addition to providing detailed information on the dates and locations of the missile’s testing and deployment, U.S. officials had also given Russian counterparts a plan for a “verifiable” test of the missile’s range. Moscow, however, countered with its own proposal, which she said wasn’t realistic because Russian officials were in charge of all aspects of such a test.
“When you go and select the missile and you select the fuel and you control all of those parameters, characteristics, you are controlling the outcome of the test,” she said.
(defense-aerospace.com EDITOR’S NOTE: Russia publicly detailed its position on the 9M729missile in a Jan 23 briefing in Moscow, available here in our Word for Word section.) (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Radio Free Europe)
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