THE LAST U.S. CHEMICAL WEAPON: AN ARMS CONTROL VICTORY
This year, we — the Council, the United States, the world and supporters like you — got to celebrate a massive arms control victory: elimination of the last weapon in the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. Look for an op-ed about this topic from Senior Fellow John Isaacs and Board member Joe Cirincione in the next few weeks.
While there are many differences between chemical and nuclear weapons, we can apply some lessons from the quest to eliminate chemical weapons to the quest to eliminate nuclear weapons, wrote Senior Policy Director John Erath in July after the last U.S. chemical weapon was destroyed.
“The lesson to be learned from chemical weapons elimination is that security is possible without reflexively trying to match potential adversaries… We have now successfully shut down the chemical arms race left over from the Cold War, and we should use the example to avoid a renewed nuclear arms race while preserving national security.”
The Council has been involved in the fight to eliminate chemical weapons from the very beginning. One of our founders, Matthew Meselson, was integral in convincing President Richard Nixon to stop chemical weapons production. Senior Fellow John Isaacs, who has worked for the Council for more than 40 years, was active in the fight to get the Senate to approve ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Meselson and Isaacs were invited to a Biden administration celebration of the end of U.S. chemical weapons last week, a fitting end to a journey that spanned 10 presidential administrations.
RUSSIA STOCKPILES MISSILES FOR WINTER ATTACKS
After weeks of relative quiet, Kyiv was attacked overnight on December 11 with multiple long-range ballistic missiles. Over the course of the past month, there has been little shift in tactical control of the battlefield, though Russia is reportedly pursuing offensives at several points across the front lines. Despite worsening weather conditions in eastern Ukraine, Russian forces continued pushing along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border and have consistently carried out ground attacks in the western Zaporizhia Oblast. Russia has continued to unleash drone attacks on Ukrainian troops and has increasingly targeted Ukraine’s energy facilities.
NATO’s Secretary General remarked recently that Russia has amassed a sizeable missile arsenal that it intends to use to punish Ukrainian civil society throughout the winter as Ukraine has raced to establish stronger defensive positions along strategic points including Avdiyivka. Further support from the United States remains deadlocked by partisan politics while European aid has also been dwindling in recent months.
GOVERNMENT FUNDING DEADLINE LOOMS (AGAIN)
As we reported last month, Congress passed a second short-term continuing resolution (CR) in November to avert a government shutdown. The CR had staggered deadlines for different government funding bills. Four of the bills (Energy and Water, Agriculture-FDA, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD) will expire on January 19 while the other eight will expire on February 2.
Since then, no major progress has been made on government funding bills, except for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As Congress prepares to depart for the holidays, this raises major concerns about the possibility of agreement ahead of next month’s deadline. At least one Senator has already remarked that he would not be surprised if a full-year CR was the ultimate outcome. This would mean that all government programs not covered by a bill passed by Congress (of which there are currently none) would continue to operate at FY 2023 levels.
One thing to keep an eye on is whether a full-year CR will trigger 1% across-the-board spending cuts, known as “sequestration;” there continues to be confusion among lawmakers about what might trigger the cuts.
FY2024 NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT NEAR ENACTMENT
Negotiators in the House and Senate completed their work on the Conference Report for the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law. This marks the 63rd straight year that Congress has passed this bill. Some of the most extreme provisions added in the House were dropped in the final bill, including those related to abortion-related policies and Pentagon diversity programs. Read the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation’s latest analysis of the final NDAA.
DISAPPOINTMENT FOR SURVIVORS OF NUCLEAR-RELATED INJUSTICE
The final NDAA excludes expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) despite vast bipartisan support. RECA expansion would allow for long overdue compensation for more survivors of nuclear-related injustice like nuclear testing and uranium mining than were previously eligible.
The Council has long worked alongside partners and frontline communities to achieve this expansion, which would have affected all survivors of nuclear weapons mining, testing and cleanup in New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, Missouri and Guam. The Council will continue its advocacy to ensure that these survivors are not left to fend for themselves when RECA expires in June 2024.
IRAN PROXY FORCES CONTINUE MISSILE ATTACKS
Iranian-backed proxy forces have continued to issue missile attacks against U.S. and Israeli forces while proclaiming solidarity with the Palestinian cause, highlighting the dangers of ballistic missile proliferation. Additionally, Houthi rebel groups have harassed and even captured shipping vessels in the Red Sea, heightening threats to commercial shipping. On multiple occasions in recent weeks, U.S. warships have had to shoot down approaching drones launched from Houthi-controlled territory, adding to concerns of a larger conflict in the region directly involving the United States.
NORTH KOREA FIRES BALLISTIC MISSILE, ENDS AGREEMENT, REINSTATES BORDER GUARDS
On December 17, North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile into the sea from near its capital of Pyongyang, in what South Korea calls a “clear violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
This follows another successful launch of its Malligyong-1 reconnaissance satellite into orbit after two previous unsuccessful attempts. After South Korean officials were able to recover remnants of the Chollima-1 space-launch vehicle after both prior attempts suffered third-stage failures, the North appears to have self-detonated the first stage of the latest launch to prevent recovery of what analysts believed would have been an upgraded rocket motor. It is notable that the North’s success comes after reportedly receiving technical assistance from Russia on its space-launch program in exchange for the delivery of small arms and ammunition. As satellite launch technology is virtually identical to that for ballistic missiles, Russia’s involvement add to the danger of renewed conflict.
North Korea terminated the 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement with South Korea after the South suspended parts of the agreement in response to the satellite launch. Within days of the termination, the North began reinstating border guard posts along the DMZ that had been removed as part of the agreement.
CONGRESSIONAL RETIREMENTS CONTINUE, INCLUDING BIG NAMES
Last month, we told you that announcements of congressional retirements were already ramping up ahead of the 2024 election. Since then, there have been some notable additions to that list; none more notable, perhaps, than former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who announced he will depart Congress at the end of 2023. He likely will continue to play an important role in House Republican politics as an effective candidate recruiter and fundraiser.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who briefly served as interim Speaker after Rep. McCarthy’s ouster, also announced he will not seek reelection in 2024. The House of Representatives also voted to expel Rep. George Santos (R-NY) in a historic move. As of the writing of this newsletter, 38 Members of Congress (seven Senators and 31 Members of the House) have announced they will not seek reelection. That number does not include members like Rep. Santos, who are no longer in Congress. A full list of congressional retirements can be found here.
NUCLEAR FILM HEISTS AND HEROES MAKE FOR APATHY ON THE WEAPONS THEMSELVES
In her first ever opinion piece, Communications Associate Farah Sonde analyzes for Inkstick what Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters teach audiences about their role in nuclear weapons policy and how arms control advocates can change the narrative.
“If the predominant image of those fighting against nuclear weapons is of people who are beyond normal human mental and physical limitations, what role does that leave for the average person?”
NEW ON THE NUKES OF HAZARD BLOG: SOUTH KOREAN NUCLEAR WEAPONS, U.S. NUCLEAR TESTING
Would A Nuclear Weapon Make South Korea Safer? With recent escalation in the pace of North Korea’s nuclear provocation, China’s aggressive nuclear buildup and waning confidence in the U.S. commitment to extended deterrence, the question of whether a nuclear deterrent might be necessary for South Korea has experienced a resurgence.
Program Coordinator Emma Sandifer responds to this question, arguing: “although a nuclear weapon might make South Koreans feel safer, at least temporarily, it would not make the country any more secure. Conversely, creation of a nuclear weapon will undermine South Korean efforts to protect itself against a North Korean threat.”
No Good Reason for Nuclear Testing, Part 2: For decades, the Departments of Energy and Defense have routinely stated that explosive nuclear testing was not necessary to be confident in the safety and security of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, but the reality is more complex than that, writes Senior Policy Director John Erath after a visit to the Nevada National Security Site.
“[T]he entire nuclear weapons program, including the current modernization, has been specifically designed so as not to require further testing such as was done during the Cold War. In other words, should Russia and/or China decide to cast aside the de facto moratorium on testing observed since the CTBT’s completion, there would be no imperative for the United States to follow suit.”
OUR ENDORSED CANDIDATES LIST KEEPS GROWING
The Council has just endorsed a slate of new candidates that we can’t wait to share with you! You’ll learn more about them in the coming weeks, but for right now we want to spotlight two candidates: Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM-03) and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) who is running for Senate.
Rep. Leger Fernandez is a true champion fighting for compensation for those affected by the legacy of U.S. nuclear weapons production and testing. Rep. Blunt Rochester has pushed back against developing new nuclear weapons, believes in reforming nuclear command and control, and wants to cut wasteful Pentagon spending.
You can see the full list of our endorsed candidates at the bottom of this newsletter from now until November 2024. Meanwhile, we urge you to flag the following pages that will be updated throughout the election cycle: Donate to all or some endorsed Senate candidates | Donate to all or some endorsed House candidates | Donate to all or some endorsed House and Senate candidates.
You can also find bios and donation links for all of candidates on our respective House and Senate candidate list pages. As a reminder, the Council is now and has always been nonpartisan; unfortunately, like nearly every other issue in Washington today, nuclear arms control has become an issue that is perceived as partisan and that therefore often limits who we endorse.
CONSIDER BECOMING A MONTHLY DONOR
As election season continues, the Council is also hard at work on its advocacy on Capitol Hill. Have you considered making a monthly donation to support our efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear threats through political action? You can donate as little as $1 a month. Become a monthly supporter today!