Council: Front and Center: May 18, 2019


The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is the Council’s affiliated 501(c)(3) research organization. 

Escalating tensions with Iran
As we predicted, relations between the United States and Iran have gotten worse since President Trump decided to abandon the Iran nuclear deal last year. Iran has now said that it will no longer comply with parts of the agreement and tensions between the U.S. and its allies in Europe are on the rise. This week the State Department pulled non-emergency personnel from neighboring Iraq — typically a signal that conflict is on the horizon.

We can thank one person in particular for our current situation: National Security Advisor John Bolton. As our policy team wrote last year, Bolton has consistently argued for war with Iran, and now, he’s closer than ever to achieving that goal. At the Center and Council, we know that Congress alone has the authority to start war, and will continue to help and advise our allies on the Hill.

North Korea’s latest tests
Twice this month, North Korea has conducted missile tests. President Trump, smartly, has not overreacted and has remained steadfast in his desire for still-ambiguous North Korean “denuclearization.” That’s not to say we shouldn’t be concerned. Senior Policy Director Alexandra Bell said the tests “indicate a growing impatience in Pyongyang over the state of negotiations with the United States” but that North Korea “would do well to practice caution moving ahead, as there are those around President Trump who would use deteriorating diplomatic conditions as an excuse for abandoning negotiations altogether. There is no need to panic or to engage in megaphone diplomacy. We need to consult and reassure our allies in the region and set a course for serious technical negotiations with the North Koreans.”

Meanwhile, Bell reminds the Trump administration that sanctions “are not a magic wand to use when talks aren’t going well. Diplomacy is hard. The Administration needs to accept that. Get back to the negotiations with a real idea of what we want to talk about and it cannot be ‘everything.’ We need achievable, short-term goals. We can then build on success.”

Arms control with Russia and China
The Trump administration has indicated that they are no longer interested in arms control agreements that don’t involve China. While China expanding military investments is a concern, China’s nuclear arsenal is roughly 1/23 the size of the U.S. arsenal. The United States and Russia, on the other hand, possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. 

As Bell told CNN, before taking on the Chinese arsenal, the Trump administration must focus on preserving and extending current agreements with Russia: the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which will likely collapse in August, and the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which will expire in February 2021. Without New START, there will be no constraints on the number and types of strategic nuclear weapons Russia produces and deploys. As Bell said, “We give New START up, we lose that intelligence that gives us a real time view into Russia’s strategic arsenal…then we have to make choices about what we do with our own nuclear weapons based on guessing.”

Meanwhile, multiple bills introduced in Congress are designed to support these critical arms control agreements and guard against an unconstrained nuclear arms race. The Council is lobbying extensively for these bills. 

What else?
Yucca Mountain:
 Center Senior Science Fellow and board member Philip Coyle told the Las Vegas Sun he sees two paths forward for the country’s nuclear waste: develop Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository, or establish monitored, retrievable, better-protected storage on-site at nuclear reactors — the favored solution of many opposed to Yucca Mountain.

Deterrence, Allies and No First Use: Bell and Program Coordinator Abigail Stowe-Thurston wrote in Defense One that President Trump “fixates on the costs that the United States incurs from its alliances with no acknowledgement of how much it would cost to defend an America that is truly alone.”