How to Prevent Saudi Arabia from Getting Nuclear Weapons

DEC. 7 2018

Skeptics of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran warned that it could prompt a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. As they predicted, Saudi Arabia has been seeking assistance from the U.S. in obtaining civilian nuclear capabilities, while also speaking—in imitation of the Islamic Republic—of a “right” to enrich uranium, something it pledged not to do in a 2008 agreement with Washington. Were Riyadh to begin such enrichment, it could also produce the fuel necessary for nuclear weapons. Emily Landau and Shimon Stein warn of the dangers inherent in Saudi proliferation, and discuss how the U.S. and Israel should respond:

So long as the motivation to go nuclear remains strong, states are likely to find a way to develop [nuclear] capabilities, even if they have to pay a price for doing so. In Iran’s case, the major motivation for going nuclear is to enhance its hegemonic power in the Middle East. . . . But in the case of Saudi Arabia, if strong international powers . . . were to take a harsher stance toward Iran’s regional aggressions and missile developments and were to cooperate in order to improve the provisions of the [2015 nuclear deal], this would most likely have a direct and favorable impact on Saudi Arabia’s calculations about whether to develop nuclear capabilities.

A decision by the U.S. administration (or for that matter any other supplier) to allow Saudi Arabia to have enrichment capabilities will confront Israel with a dilemma.

On the one hand, it has been Israeli policy to do its utmost to deny any neighboring country with whom it does not have a peace treaty the means to acquire and develop a nuclear program. If Israel remains loyal to this approach, it should seek to deny Saudi Arabia enrichment capabilities. In practical terms this would imply making its opposition known in Washington.

On the other hand, given the “tactical alliance” with Saudi Arabia which has been primarily developed in response to the common Iranian threat, Israel could consider sacrificing its long-term interest in denying nuclear capabilities for the sake of its current interest in cultivating relations with the Saudis. Israel, [however], should support the traditional U.S. nonproliferation policies that allow states to have access to nuclear fuel for civilian purposes, while denying them the option to produce it themselves.

Babylon the Great’s Nuclear Horn

This Pictures Should Terrify Russia, North Korea and China Like Nothing Else

The bomber’s weapons bay could end up being more of a mission payload bay, with surveillance, communications, drone or electronic warfare packages loaded inside to facilitate a variety of missions, particularly in denied environments. The Raider is on the path to being America’s first multirole bomber.

On October 27, 2015, nearly thirty-four years to the day after Northrop Grumman was awarded the contract to develop the first stealth bomber, the U.S. Air Force awarded Northrop a contract for a new bomber: the B-21 Raider. While many of the details of the Raider are shrouded in mystery, we do know a few things about it, and can infer others.

(This first appeared last year.)

The B-21 Raider bomber takes its name from both the twenty-first century and the legendary 1942 raid by Gen. James “Jimmy” Doolittle’s force of B-25 Mitchell bombers against targets in and around Tokyo, Japan. In invoking the Doolittle Raid, the Air Force is drawing attention to attack’s audacious nature, the strategic and tactical surprise, and the epic distances General Doolittle and his “raiders” flew to accomplish their mission.

A tailless, batlike aircraft, the official rendering of the B-21 Raider released by the Air Force bears a superficial resemblance to the B-2 Spirit bomber. There are important distinctions, however. The B-21 moves its engines closer to the wing root, where they occupy the juncture between wing and fuselage, whereas the B-2’s twin pairs of General Electric F118-GE-100 engines are distinctly apart from the fuselage on the wing. The Raider’s engine air intakes are angled and not serrated like those on the B-2 Spirit. The Raider also has overwing exhausts to mask the infrared signature of the four engines, unlike the B-2. (Interestingly, this is exactly how the B-2’s exhausts were depicted in an April 1988 artist’s conception of that bomber.)

The aircraft appears similar in size to the B-2 Spirit, almost certainly making it a four-engine bomber. The  announcement of Pratt and Whitney in 2016  as a B-21 subcontractor narrows down the new bomber’s engines to two designs: the F-100 and the F-135. The mature F-100, which powers the F-15 Eagle series of fighters, seems a sound choice, but the Air Force may want the F-135, which powers the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, for its growth potential and ability to lower engine costs for the F-35 fleet.

Like its predecessor, the B-21 Raider will be a heavy strategic bomber designed to carry both nuclear and conventional weapons. If the B-2 is of similar size, it follows it will carry a similar amount of ordinance. This means two bomb bays. In order to keep costs down, the Air Force may elect to reuse the Advanced Applications Rotary Launcher from the B-2 bomber. The AARL is fitted one per bomb bay, each capable of carrying eight bombs or missiles.

In the nuclear mission, the Air Force will arm the B-21 with the Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) missile, the next-generation stealthy nuclear cruise missile. It will also carry B-61 free-fall nuclear gravity bombs, particularly the new  B61-12 bomb  with “dial-a-yield” capability. A combination of these two weapons will allow the B-21 to use its stealthy cruise missiles to clear a path through the enemy air-defense network before dropping B-61 bombs on primary and secondary targets.

For conventional missions, the B-21 will carry the  JASSM-ER conventional cruise missile  and two-thousand-pound  GBU-31 Joint Directed Attack Munition  satellite-guided bombs. The B-21 could use these weapons in a similar manner as its nuclear weapons, blasting its way through the enemy’s defenses before dropping JDAMs. Alternately, the B-21 could be used as a missile truck, launching up to sixteen JASSM-ERs at enemy targets from a distance, or penetrating less sophisticated enemy defenses to deliver JDAMs on target. The B-21 will also need to carry the thirty-thousand-pound  Massive Ordnance Penetrator bomb , the largest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal, as the B-2 is currently the only bomber capable of lifting the enormous bomb.

Like many new weapons systems, the Air Force has instructed Northrop Grumman to build the bomber with a so-called “open architecture” hardware and software system. As a result, unlike previous bombers, the B-21 could become much more than just a heavy bomber. The open-architecture specification should ensure that future upgrades will be relatively easy to integrate into the B-21, and for the bomber to adapt to a slew of new, different missions. The bomber’s weapons bay could end up being more of a mission payload bay, with surveillance, communications, drone or electronic warfare packages loaded inside to facilitate a variety of missions, particularly in denied environments. The Raider is on the path to being America’s first multirole bomber.

The B-21 Raider is set to fly in the mid-2020s, and the Air Force plans to buy at least a hundred of the bombers to replace the B-52H Stratofortress and B-1B Lancer bombers. A larger fleet of up to two hundred bombers is possible, but entirely bound to fiscal realities. We don’t know what the Raider in its final form will look like, or when the Air Force will release more information on an aircraft it wants to carefully protect. The B-21 has disappeared into the “black” world of military technology, and will only reemerge when the bomber is ready.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the  Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring  and the  Daily Beast.  In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter:  @KyleMizokami.

The United States Will Never Prevent Saudi Arabia from Getting Nuclear Weapons

Can the United States Prevent Saudi Arabia from Getting Nuclear Weapons?

After having sought negotiations with previous U.S. administrations on civilian nuclear cooperation, Saudi Arabia has recently renewed these efforts with the Trump administration, for the development of nuclear energy, power plants and desalination reactors. Negotiations on a possible deal are ongoing, although according to a recent New York Times article, the administration refuses to say where things currently stand. Saudi Arabia claims that it is seeking purely civilian capabilities, but it has also insisted on retaining its “right” to work on the fuel cycle and enrich uranium, which can lay the ground for a military nuclear capability in the years ahead. However, it is also clear that the Saudis’ nuclear plans are intimately tied to Iran’s, and since 2010 Saudi leaders have become more and more open about the fact that if Iran attains nuclear weapons, they will quickly follow suit. The latest statement was by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in March 2018, in the context of an interview to 60 Minutes. He noted that while Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire nuclear weapons, if Iran develops nuclear weapons, so would Saudi Arabia. Generally speaking, the Iranian program has been a trigger for additional Gulf states to establish or revitalize civilian nuclear programs.

The United States has always been very concerned about the proliferation risks involved in nuclear cooperation, and in 2008 it was able to achieve a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia on nuclear energy cooperation whereby the latter pledged to acquire nuclear fuel from international markets, rather than producing it indigenously. But ten years later, it seems that Saudi Arabia no longer views itself as bound by that understanding. The current challenge for the United States is how to insist on what is known as a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia, meaning that the agreement explicitly denies Saudi Arabia the right to work on sensitive nuclear technologies (enrichment capabilities and plutonium reprocessing), without driving it into the hands of other nuclear suppliers, such as Russia, China and South Korea, that may be less worried about ensuring these restrictions.

There are concerns that the Trump administration might be willing to concede to Saudi Arabia sensitive capabilities, and the fact that it is not willing to divulge information regarding the status of the negotiations does not bode well in this regard. The administration is keenly aware of the link to Iran’s nuclear posture, and that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) set a very negative precedent for nuclear cooperation with other states when it legitimized Iran’s enrichment capabilities. While Iran must cap its stockpile of enriched uranium for the duration of the deal, it is allowed—under the explicit terms of the deal—to work on R&D into an entire range of advanced centrifuges. Iran has plans to install and operate these centrifuges eleven years into the deal. There is a real question of how these capabilities can be denied to states like Saudi Arabia who are in good standing with the NPT, whereas Iran—who blatantly violated the nonproliferation treaty—was granted the right to continue with these dangerous enrichment-related activities.

The dilemmas of nuclear cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia have recently come into sharper relief against the backdrop of the Jamal Khashoggi murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month. This brutal murder, and the ensuing Saudi evasion has sparked a major debate in the United States and around the world about the reliability of MBS as a strategic partner. There are many calls in the United States—from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress—for the administration to not only punish Saudi Arabia for this gross transgression, but to rethink its relations with the kingdom, and certainly not to reward it with cooperation in the nuclear realm.

But Saudi Arabia is not dependent solely on the United States for cooperation in the nuclear realm. Will other potential suppliers be willing to agree not to cooperate with Saudi Arabia unless it forsakes sensitive nuclear technologies? Will they agree to set up a supplier mechanism and insist that Saudi Arabia, and other states seeking nuclear cooperation, can only buy fuel from this source? With lucrative deals on the table, it might prove difficult to garner this kind of commitment. Moreover, there have long been suspicions that, after Saudi Arabia financed Pakistan’s nuclear program, a deal might have been struck whereby Pakistan will return the favor by providing some kind of nuclear cover—whether by transferring technologies directly to the kingdom or providing a nuclear umbrella from Pakistan—in Saudi Arabia’s hour of need. As such, the nonproliferation challenge remains, whether or not the United States concludes a deal on civilian nuclear cooperation. And if it is the United States that makes the deal, it can insist that Saudi Arabia ratify the Additional Protocol (which would grant the International Atomic Energy Administration additional inspections rights), return spent fuel and generally supervise the project.

Beyond attempts to deny Saudi Arabia technologies and capabilities, it is important also to address Saudi motivation for going nuclear. There is no doubt that Saudi Arabian concerns focus on the Iranian nuclear threat; the kingdom’s concern with Iran’s capabilities—as a motivation to go nuclear itself—is reflected in the few explicit Saudi statements on the topic. As long as the motivation to go nuclear remains strong, states are likely to find a way to develop capabilities, even if they have to pay a price for doing so. In Iran’s case, the major motivation for going nuclear is to enhance its hegemonic power in the Middle East—a difficult motivation to address. But in the case of Saudi Arabia, if strong international powers—the P5+1 and perhaps others—were to take a harsher stance on Iran’s regional aggressions and missile developments, and were to cooperate in order to improve the provisions of the JCPOA, this would most likely have a direct and favorable impact on Saudi Arabia’s calculation of whether or not to develop nuclear capabilities.

Additionally, without minimizing the impact of the crisis atmosphere surrounding the Khashoggi affair, it is nevertheless important to consider whether significantly downgrading ties with Saudi Arabia is the right way to go, from a proliferation point of view. While this might not be the most opportune time to reward the Saudi’s desired nuclear cooperation, U.S. security guarantees to the Saudis could be another route to lowering their motivation to achieve a nuclear deterrent vis-à-vis Iran.

A decision by the U.S. administration (or for that matter any other supplier) to allow Saudi Arabia to have enrichment capabilities will confront Israel with a dilemma. On the one hand it has been Israeli policy to do its utmost to deny any neighboring country with whom it does not have a peace treaty the means to acquire and develop a nuclear program. If Israel remains loyal to this approach, it should seek to deny Saudi Arabia enrichment capabilities. In practical terms this would imply making its opposition known in Washington. On the other hand, given the “tactical alliance” with Saudi Arabia which has been triggered primarily by the common Iranian threat, Israel could consider sacrificing its long term interest in denying nuclear capabilities for the sake of its current interest in cultivating relations with the Saudis. Israel should support the traditional U.S. nonproliferation policies which allow states to have access to nuclear fuel for civilian purposes, while denying them the option of self production.

US Ready to Break Russian Nuclear Deal

Pompeo says US suspending landmark nuclear deal because of Russian violations

By Conor Finnegan

Dec 4, 2018, 1:48 PM

One of the key treaties that helped to end the Cold War and reduce nuclear tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and now Russia could be dead within a matter of months.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced at NATO Headquarters Tuesday that the U.S. will suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty in 60 days because of Russia’s continued violations of the treaty, shortly after NATO’s foreign ministers affirmed its support for that conclusion in a new joint statement.

“We had a party– a treaty that had two parties, only one of which is compliant!” Pompeo said Tuesday in Brussels, Belgium. “That’s not an agreement, that’s just self-restraint, and it strategically no longer made sense to remain in that position.”

President Trump and National Security Adviser John Bolton had previously suggested the U.S. would withdraw from the treaty, but Pompeo’s announcement Tuesday officially starts the clock.

The decision comes as the U.S. seeks to counter a “larger pattern of Russian lawlessness on the world stage,” according to Pompeo, but also to take on China’s growing military power, with the top U.S. diplomat warning the treaty gives China a military advantage. But to some arms control experts and Democrats in Congress, the decision was a hasty one that will make the world less safe.

The U.S. will remain in compliance for the next 60 days and then begin the six-month notice period before withdrawal, he said, adding that if Russia comes back into compliance before then, the U.S. could remain in the agreement.

“We would welcome a Russian change of heart, a change in direction, the destruction of their program, and their followed-on continuance of the terms of the treaty, and so over the next 60 days they have every chance to do so,” he said. “But there’s been no indication to date that they have any intention of doing so.”

Pompeo said there is “complete unity” among NATO members on this decision, and it comes after the Foreign Ministers of NATO released a joint statement that says Russia’s development and deployment specifically of the 9M729 missile system “poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security” and “is in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty,” paving the way for U.S. withdrawal.

The U.S. has remained in compliance of the treaty, the group added, despite claims by Russia to the contrary.

Russia has denied violating the INF treaty, at first denying the existence of the weapons system and then later admitting it existed but arguing it was in compliance.

President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting at Finland’s Presidential Palace on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki.

Russia’s violations of the landmark nuclear treaty are also part of a “larger pattern of Russian lawlessness on the world stage,” Pompeo added, citing its invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, its intervention in Syria in support of the Assad regime, its election interference in the U.S. and other countries, its use of a nerve agent against an ex-spy in the U.K., and most recently its seizure of Ukrainian ships and sailors in international waters.

But Pompeo did give other reasons for U.S. withdrawal, including the fact that China is not a party to the treaty and is beefing up its military capabilities.

China, North Korea, and Iran are not obligated by the treaty’s limitations, and, “This leaves them free to build all the intermediate range missiles they would like,” he said. “There is no reason the United States should continue to cede this crucial military advantage to revisionist powers like China, in particular when these weapons are being used to threaten and coerce the United States and its allies in Asia.”

There was no immediate response in Moscow to Pompeo’s announcement, but Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said earlier on Tuesday that he and President Vladimir Putin had discussed how to take measures to increase Russian troops’ “military capabilities” in response to a potential new “arms race.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S. National security adviser John Bolton shake hands during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Oct. 23, 2018.

“Measures were looked at for increasing the military capabilities of troops and forces in the conditions of an arms race, connected with the plans of the U.S. to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty,” Shoigu said, according to Russian-state media.

President Trump lamented this possible arms race in a tweet Monday, calling on Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping to meet to “start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race.”

I am certain that, at some time in the future, President Xi and I, together with President Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race. The U.S. spent 716 Billion Dollars this year. Crazy!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2018

It’s that concern that upset Congressional Democrats, blasting the administration’s decision as a dangerous move that “play[s] directly into President Putin’s plans,” according to Rep. Adam Smith, the incoming Democratic chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

“The Trump administration should instead work with our allies to take meaningful actions to hold Russia accountable for its violation of the treaty, press Russia back into compliance, and avoid a new arms race,” said Smith, D-Washington, in a statement.

ABC News’s Patrick Reevell contributed to this report from Moscow.

Of Course Saudi Arabia is Building Nukes (Daniel 7)

Medina, Saudi Arabia. Photo Credit: khadim-un-nabi Rao, Wikimedia Commons.

Medina, Saudi Arabia. Photo Credit: khadim-un-nabi Rao, Wikimedia Commons.

Is Saudi Arabia Building A Nuclear Weapons Program? – OpEd

Nauman Sadiq

November 29, 2018

David Sanger and William Broad reported in The New York Times [1] on Thursday that before Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was implicated in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, American intelligence agencies were trying to solve a separate mystery: was the prince laying the groundwork for building an atomic bomb?

According to the report, the Saudi heir apparent had been overseeing negotiations with the US Energy Department to get Washington to sell designs for nuclear power plants to the kingdom. The deal was worth upward of $80 billion, depending on how many plants Saudi Arabia decided to build.

But there is a hitch: Saudi Arabia insists on producing its own nuclear fuel. Such fuel can be used for benign or military purposes: if uranium is enriched to 4 percent purity, it can fuel a power plant; at 90 percent, it can be used for a bomb. Saudi Arabia has vast uranium reserves and there are currently five nuclear research centers operating in the kingdom.

The report further states that the Crown Prince set off alarms when he declared in a CBS News interview in March, “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

Regarding Saudi Arabia’s clandestine nuclear activities, in November 2013, BBC’s defense correspondent, Mark Urban, published a report [2] that Pakistan’s military had made a secret deal with Saudi Arabia that in the event of Iran developing a nuclear weapon, Pakistan would provide ready-made nuclear warheads along with delivery systems to Saudi Arabia.

Similarly, in 2004, it emerged during the investigation of Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who has been dubbed as “the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program,” that he had sold centrifuge designs to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Additionally, in recent years, Pakistan’s defense production industry, with Chinese assistance, has emerged as one of the most sophisticated military-industrial complex in the region. Not only does it provide state-of-the-art conventional weapons to the oil-rich Gulf states, but according to a May 2014 AFP report [3], Pakistan-made weapons were used in large quantities in Sri Lanka’s Northern Offensive of 2008-09 against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Moreover, in May last year, Pakistan’s former army chief, General Raheel Sharif, has been appointed to lead a 40-member military alliance of Muslim nations dubbed as “the Muslim NATO.” Although the ostensible purpose of the alliance is to combat terrorism, in fact the alliance of Sunni Muslim nations has been cobbled together by Saudi Arabia as a counterweight to Iran’s meddling in the Arab World, which Saudi Arabia regards as its own sphere of influence.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that Pakistan’s military and Saudi Arabia have forged very deep and institutionalized ties: thousands of Pakistani retired and serving army officers work on deputations in the Gulf Arab States. And during the 1980s, when Saudi Arabia lacked an efficient intelligence set-up, Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) virtually played the role of Saudi Arabia’s foreign intelligence service.

Regarding the murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, a question would naturally arise in the minds of astute readers of alternative media that why did the mainstream media, Washington Post and New York Times in particular, take the lead in publicizing the assassination?

One apparent reason could be that Khashoggi was an opinion columnist at The Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon. Washington Post has a history of working in close collaboration with the CIA because Bezos had won a $600 million contract [4] in 2013 to host the CIA’s database on the Amazon’s web-hosting service.

It bears mentioning that despite the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman being primarily responsible for the war in Yemen that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has created a famine in Yemen, the mainstream media hailed him as a “moderate reformer” who had brought radical reforms in the conservative Saudi society by permitting women to drive and by allowing cinemas to screen the Hollywood movies.

So what prompted the sudden change of heart in the mainstream media that the purported “moderate reformer” was all of a sudden vilified as a brutal murderer? It could be the nature of the brutal assassination, as Khashoggi’s body was barbarically dismembered and dissolved in acid, according to the Turkish sources.

More significantly, however, it was the timing of the assassination and the political mileage that could be gained from Khashoggi’s murder in the domestic politics of the US. Khashoggi was murdered on October 2, when the US midterm elections were only a few weeks away.

Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner in particular have known to have forged close business relations with the Saudi royal family. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia and Israel for his first official overseas visit in May last year.

Thus, the mainstream media’s campaign to seek justice for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was actually a smear campaign against Donald Trump and his conservative political base, which is now obvious after the US midterm election results have been tallied. Even though the Republicans have retained their 51-seat majority in the Senate, the Democrats now control the House of Representatives by gaining 39 additional seats.

Finally, two factors were mainly responsible for the surprising defeat of the Republicans in the US midterm elections. Firstly, the Khashoggi murder and the smear campaign mounted by the neoliberal media, which Donald Trump often pejoratively mentions as “fake media” on Twitter, against the Trump administration.

Secondly, and more importantly, the parcel bombs sent to the residences of George Soros, a dozen other Democratic Congressmen and The New York Times New York office by Cesar Sayoc on the eve of the elections. Though the suspect turned out to be a Trump supporter, he was likely instigated by shady hands in the US deep state, which is wary of the anti-establishment rhetoric and pro-Russia tendencies of the so-called “alt-right” administration.

Sources and links:

[1] Saudis Want a U.S. Nuclear Deal. Can They Be Trusted Not to Build a Bomb?

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-nuclear.html

[2] Saudi nuclear weapons ‘on order’ from Pakistan: BBC’s defense correspondent, Mark Urban.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24823846

[3] Pakistan-made arms were used against Tamils in Sri Lanka:

http://newsweekpakistan.com/the-war-that-wasnt-live/

[4] Jeff Bezos Is Doing Huge Business with the CIA, While Keeping His Washington Post Readers in the Dark:

http://www.alternet.org/media/owner-washington-post-doing-business-cia-while-keeping-his-readers-dark

Babylon the Great Withdraws from Nuclear Treaty

US makes case for withdrawal from missile treaty with Russia

Maria Danilova, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Russia has for years been developing, testing and deploying a missile that violates a landmark nuclear weapons treaty, a senior White House official said Tuesday, making a case for the administration’s planned withdrawal from the accord ahead of a scheduled meeting between the leaders of the two nations.

The nuclear-capable missile, the official said, can reach over 300 miles (500 kilometers), in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was signed amid Cold War hostilities in 1987 and which the Trump administration is now seeking to exit.

Russia developed the weapon between 2000 to 2010 and completed testing by 2015, the official said. But when questioned about it in recent years, Moscow officials have denied violating the treaty and demanded to know how the U.S. detected the apparent violation, the official said.

The official said the Trump administration believes it was Russia’s intention to keep the U.S. constrained by the treaty while they developed and deployed the illegal missiles that threaten Europe. The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive foreign policy issue.

The future of the treaty is likely to come up this week when President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 Summit in Argentina. Administration officials have said it is time to withdraw from an accord that is outdated, has prevented the U.S. from developing new weapons and has already been violated with this Russian missile, the 9M729.

It comes amid heightened tensions between the two countries. Trump suggested Tuesday in an interview with The Washington Post that he may cancel the sit-down with Putin over Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval ships last weekend.

Russia has denied that it has violated the treaty, saying the 9M729 has not been tested for the range that would make it prohibited. Moscow has also alleged the United States has also breached the accord.

Putin has warned that a U.S. decision to withdraw from the treaty would destabilize Europe and prompt Russia to “respond in kind.” On Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reiterated that position.

“We won’t be able to turn a blind eye to the potential deployment of new U.S. missiles on the territories where they may threaten Russia,” Ryabkov said.

The senior U.S. official said the administration, which is seeking support for withdrawal from NATO allies, can still reverse its plan to pull out if Russia acknowledges its violations and takes corrective steps.

Democrats Try to Take Away Trump’s Nuclear Option

Democrats going nuclear to rein in Trump’s arms buildup

Control of the House will give them ‘the power of no — the ability to block programs, cut funding, withhold agreement.’

By BRYAN BENDER 11/24/2018 07:15 AM EST

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) who is set to become the first progressive in decades to run the House Armed Services Committee. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democrats preparing to take over the House are aiming to roll back what they see as President Donald Trump’s overly aggressive nuclear strategy.

Their goals include eliminating money for Trump’s planned expansion of the U.S. atomic arsenal, including a new long-range ballistic missile and development of a smaller, battlefield nuclear bomb that critics say is more likely to be used in combat than a traditional nuke.

They also want to stymie the administration’s efforts to unravel arms control pacts with Russia. And they even aim to dilute Trump’s sole authority to order the use of nuclear arms, following the president’s threats to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea and other loose talk about doomsday weapons.

The incoming House majority will have lots of leverage, even with control of only one chamber in the Capitol, veterans of nuclear policy say. They point to precedents in which a Democratic-controlled House cut funding for Ronald Reagan’s MX nuclear missile and a Democratic-led Congress canceled the development of a new atomic warhead under George W. Bush.

They can block funding for weapon systems,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington. “The Democrats’ ascendancy will prove a much-needed check on the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons policy and approaches.”

Leading the charge is Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, who is set to become the first progressive in decades to run the House Armed Services Committee, which is responsible for setting defense policy through the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

Smith has long criticized both President Barack Obama and Trump’s $1.2 trillion, 30-year plan to upgrade all three legs of the nuclear triad — land-based missiles, submarines and bombers — as both unaffordable and dangerous overkill.

He’s made it clear in recent days that revamping the nation’s nuclear strategy will be one of his top priorities come January, when he is widely expected to take the gavel of the largest committee in Congress.

“The rationale for the triad I don’t think exists anymore. The rationale for the numbers of nuclear weapons doesn’t exist anymore,” Smith told the Ploughshares Fund, a disarmament group, at a recent gathering of the Democratic Party’s nuclear policy establishment.

The daylong conference included leading lawmakers, former National Security Council aides, peace activists and an ex-secretary of Defense, William Perry, who was once an architect of many of the nation’s nuclear weapons but is now a leading proponent for a major downsizing.

Arms control and disarmament groups see Smith’s emergence as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to craft a much more sensible approach to nuclear weapons and reduce the danger of a global conflict.

The mere appearance of a would-be Armed Services chairman at the recent gathering demonstrated how much circumstances have changed.

“I have never seen a chairman give nuclear policy such a high priority, have such personal expertise in the area, and be so committed to dramatic change,” said Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund.

Cirincione served as a staffer to then-Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), who chaired the panel during the fierce debates over nuclear weapons policies in the 1980s, which he sees as an instructive period for today.

“I know that a Democratic House can have a major impact on nuclear policy,” he said. “It is the power of no — the ability to block programs, cut funding, withhold agreement to dangerous new policies. Democrats may not be able to enact new policies, but they can force compromises.”

High on the priority list is halting or delaying the development of a planned new nuclear bomb that would have less explosive power than a more traditional atomic bomb. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review called for the so-called low-yield weapon last year.

Advocates assert that the weapon, to be launched from a submarine, will provide military commanders with more options and better deter nations such as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran that are building up their own nuclear arsenals. Such a modest nuke would not destroy a city but would devastate a foreign army — and adversaries would have reason to fear that the U.S. might use it in a first strike.

But Smith, who will also influence the House Appropriations Committee’s recommendations for Pentagon funding, insists such a new weapon “brings us no advantage and it is dangerously escalating.”

“It just begins a new nuclear arms race with people just building nuclear weapons all across the board in a way that I think places us at greater danger,” he told Ploughshares Fund.

Democrats are expected to revive legislation proposed earlier this fall in both the House and Senate to try to roll back the program.

There’s no such thing as a low-yield nuclear war,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), one of the co-sponsors, who also gave his pitch at the Ploughshares Fund gathering this month. “Use of any nuclear weapon, regardless of its killing power, could be catastrophically destabilizing.”

Leading Democrats also have their sights on a new intercontinental ballistic missile that is under development as the future land-based leg of the nuclear triad. The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent is set to replace current ICBMs that are deployed in underground silos in Western states such as Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.

“The ICBM is where the debate will focus,” predicted Mieke Eoyang, vice president of national security at Third Way, a centrist think tank, and a former aide on the House Intelligence Committee.

One key argument will be cost, she added.

“People make the case for all three legs of the triad, but when you look at the budget situation, the Pentagon is going to have to make some tough choices,” Eoyang said in an interview. “The modernization of the triad is a big-ticket item that comes over and above what current Defense Department needs are — at a time when budget pressures are coming the other way.”

Critics also argue that the ICBM has outlived its usefulness.

Perry, who served as Pentagon chief for President Bill Clinton, has argued that the land-based ICBM is the leg of the triad that is most prone to miscalculation and an accidental nuclear war. He said submarine- and aircraft-launched nuclear weapons would provide a sufficient deterrent on their own.

But not everyone thinks cutting one leg of the triad will be easy. They cite the political clout of defense contractors and their political supporters in both parties, including the so-called ICBM Caucus — especially in the Senate, which will remain under Republican control.

“They won’t be able to take on the triad,” warned former Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, who chaired the national security and foreign affairs panel of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee.

But Tierney and others said the House can pursue other areas for reshaping nuclear policy — and force the Senate to take up their proposals.

One way is to revive legislation adopting a “no first use” policy for nuclear weapons, declaring that a president could not order the use of nuclear weapons without a declaration of war from Congress.

“We want to avoid the miscalculation of stumbling into a nuclear war,” Smith said. “And this is where I think the No First Use Bill is incredibly important: to send that message that we do not view nuclear weapons as a tool in warfare.”

The unfolding strategy will also rely on inserting new reporting requirements in defense legislation as a delaying tactic on some nuclear efforts or to compel the administration to reconsider its opposition to some arms control treaties.

While the president negotiates treaties and the Senate is vested with the constitutional authority to ratify them, the House also has some power to force the administration’s hand.

Trump, citing Russian violations, has threatened to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that Reagan signed with the then-Soviet Union in 1987. He recently sent national security adviser John Bolton to Moscow to relay the message.

But critics say the landmark treaty, which banned land-based missiles with ranges from 50 to 5,500 kilometers, is still worth trying to salvage with the Russians. And Democrats can try to force the Trump administration to curtail plans for a new cruise missile that would match the Russians.

The Democrats can put the cruise missile “back on its heels,” Tierney said. “Sometimes they can delay, sometimes defeat.”

Democrats also worry that the Trump administration will opt to not renew the New START Treaty with Russia, which expires in early 2021. That pact, reached in 2010, mandates that each side can have no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons and requires regular inspections to ensure each side is complying.

Trump and his advisers “are opposed to multilateralism just based on principle,” Smith told the crowd of arms control advocates. “That is John Bolton’s approach, that he doesn’t want to negotiate with the rest of the world, almost regardless of what it is that we negotiate.”

But Kimball, who met recently with Smith, said Democrats have options on that front, too.

“If the Trump administration threatens to allow New START to expire in 2021, the Democrats are not under any obligation to fund the administration’s request for nuclear weapons,” Kimball said.

He pointed out that Obama secured bipartisan Senate support for ratifying the New START treaty in return for a pledge to increase spending on upgrading the nuclear arsenal and new missile defense systems. “That linkage works the other way, too,” Kimball said.

What is clear is that the nuclear arms control crowd sees Smith as the best hope for change in many years.

“I don’t think it is going to be easy, but we see a chance that we haven’t seen in a long time to have a different path forward on nuclear weapons,” said Stephen Miles, director of Win Without War, an antiwar group. “There isn’t enough money available for the wild plans we had before, let alone Trump’s new objectives.”

The Danger of the Merchant of Merchants (Revelation 16)

America’s greatest danger: Nuclear war decision-making by Donald Trump

GREG NASH

BY LOUIS RENÉ BERES, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR

An inappropriate or irrational nuclear command decision by President Donald Trump is plainly conceivable. Nothing accurate can ever be said about the true probability of such a scenario, but it is not an unfounded worry.

Might this American president become subject to various forms of psychological debility? On 14 March 1976, in response to my specific query, I received a letter from General (USA/ret.) Maxwell Taylor, a former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, concerning nuclear risks of U.S. presidential decisional irrationality. Most noteworthy, in this handwritten response, is the straightforward warning contained in the closing paragraph. Ideally, cautioned Taylor, presidential irrationality is a problem that should be dealt with during an election, and not later on: “As to dangers arising from an irrational American president, the best protection is not to elect one.”

There are assorted structural protections built into any presidential order to use nuclear weapons, including substantial redundancy. Nonetheless, virtually all of these reassuring and mutually reinforcing safeguards could become operative only at the lower or sub-presidential nuclear command levels.

The safeguards do not apply to the Commander-in-Chief.

This means there likely exist no permissible legal grounds to disobey any presidential order to use nuclear weapons. In principle, certain very senior individuals in the designated military chain of command could sometime choose to invoke applicable “Nuremberg Obligations,” but any such last-minute invocation would almost surely need to yield to considerations of U.S. domestic law.

Should an American president operating within a bewildering chaos of his own making issue an irrational or seemingly irrational nuclear command, the only way for the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the National Security Adviser, and several possible others to effectively obstruct this order would be illegal “on its face.” Under the very best of circumstances, such informal safeguards might somehow manage to work for a time, but accepting the unrealistic assumption of “best case scenario” is hardly a rational or sensible path to nuclear security.

It follows that we Americans ought to ask for more predictable and promising institutional impediments to any debilitated president.

The United States is already navigating in uncharted waters.

While President Kennedy did engage in personal nuclear brinkmanship with the Soviet Union back in October 1962, he had calculated his own odds of a consequent nuclear war as “between one out of three and even.” This seemingly precise calculation, corroborated both by JFK biographer Theodore Sorensen, and by my own later private conversations with former JCS Chair Admiral Arleigh Burke (my colleague and roommate at the Naval Academy’s Foreign Affairs Conference of 1977) suggests that President Kennedy was either irrational in imposing his Cuban “quarantine” or that he was wittingly acting out certain untested principles of “pretended irrationality.”

JFK operated with serious and manifestly capable strategic advisors.

The most urgent threat of a mistaken or irrational presidential order to use nuclear weapons flows not from any “bolt-from-the-blue” nuclear attack – whether Russian, North Korean, or American – but from an uncontrollable escalatory process. Back in 1962, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev “blinked” early on in the “game,” thereby preventing mutual and irrecoverable nuclear harms. Now, however, any escalatory initiatives undertaken by President Trump could express very unstable decision-making processes.

Donald Trump should understand the unprecedented risks of being locked into an escalatory dynamic. Although this president might be well advised to seek escalation dominance in selected crisis negotiations with determined adversaries, he would also need to avoid catastrophic miscalculations.

Whether we like it or not, and at one time or another, nuclear strategy is a bewildering game that President Donald Trump will have to play. To best ensure that this easily-distracted president’s strategic moves will be rational, thoughtful, and cumulatively cost-effective, it will first be necessary to enhance the formal decisional authority of his most senior military and defense subordinates.

At a minimum, the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor, and one or two others in appropriate nuclear command positions should immediately prepare to assume more broadly collaborative and secure judgments in extremis atomicum.

The only time for clarifying such indispensable preparations is now.

Louis René Beres, Ph.D. Princeton, is emeritus professor of international law at Purdue University. He is the author of 12 books and several hundred articles dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war. His newest book is “Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018)

The Saudi Nuclear Horn Courtesy of Trump (Daniel 7)

The Crown Prince May Build Himself a Nuclear Kingdom

The horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi shed light on the reckless and dangerous decisionmaking process of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MbS). In addition to the latest crisis The New York Times recently published a story about how the prince’s closest security personnel sought to hire private foreign companies to assassinate senior Iranian officials—an act that could have trigger a regional military conflict. This conduct follows a string of other bizarre events in the last few months, initiated by MbS.

The crown prince has demonstrated arrogant, cruel, amateur and capricious behavior. His aggression has been left almost unmonitored by checks and balances inside the Saudi hierarchy. Indeed, MbS has constrained all his potential rivals and has taken full control of Saudi Arabia’s security and intelligence bodies. As the Khashoggi scandal has proven—such power enables dictators to secretly execute dangerous operations. In parallel, he managed to become the darling of the West after he initiated economic reforms and launched his so called modern 2030 vision .

Now add Saudi’s long history of nuclear ambitions to the mix. For years, Saudi officials have warned that Saudi Arabia will not curb its nuclear ambitions if it will sense a threat to its national security, or if Iran advances in its nuclear program. Rumors were that Pakistan was obliged to provide the Saudis a ready-for-use nuclear weapon if and when the time comes. Things only got more complicated once the nuclear agreement (JCPOA) with Iran was signed in 2015, practically legitimizing Iran’s rights to maintain and develop its uranium enrichment capabilities. At the beginning of November 2018, the crown prince participated in the opening ceremony marking the launch of construction of Riyadh’s first research reactor . It’s still early days and only a symbolic act—the Saudis lack knowhow, technicians, infrastructure and academic expertise—but the country has both enough ambition and funds to advance anyway. Shortly after that the Saudi energy minister said the kingdom launches uranium exploration program.

Over the last decade, purchasing sixteen nuclear power reactors—later scaled back to two reactors—plus uranium enrichment capabilities preferably from the United States, has featured prominently on the Saudi agenda. The official rationale is the country’s future needs to supply energy —with self-sufficient nuclear materials. While having enrichment capabilities can serve to counterbalance Iran, it may also constitute a future military nuclear program. During previous negotiations with Saudi officials, the Obama administration insisted that Saudi Arabia must comply with the “ gold standard ,” reflective of the conditions imposed on the UAE when it agreed to buy U.S. reactors in 2009. This standard requires a commitment not to enrich uranium or to produce plutonium as a strict condition for any agreement to sell nuclear reactors. According to current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration has maintained this policy . In an interview with CBS in March 2018, MbS maintained that “without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we would follow suit as soon as possible.”

Following the murder of Khashoggi, Senate members urged the Trump administration to curb any intention to sell nuclear reactors to the Saudi regime. This move is certainly necessary, but not nearly enough. An American refusal to his demands can push the prince to seek an alternative option elsewhere, with producers that will be all too happy to assist—for the right price.

Much of MbS’s current conduct lies parallel to previous experience with three other Middle East tyrants: former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Libya’s leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. These cynical dictators have a common denominator in their infinite ambitions, which ultimately led them to secretly promote a nuclear weapons program. They all relied heavily on their security systems in initiating these plans. Libya and Syria had no sufficient nuclear infrastructure, so they bought a turnkey nuclear project from Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan Network, and in the Syrian case from North Korea .

The Saudi nuclear issue has placed a challenge before the administration. If the prince is successful in surviving the current crisis, then that could prompt him to make even riskier decisions, including taking the nuclear path. Much like in Iraq, Libya and Syria, all the necessary components for that are now in place: A de facto dictator with delusions of grandeur and poor judgment, full control over the security services, unlimited funds for the purpose, a national sense of isolation, an acute threat, and a long-term nuclear vision. As Iran seems to be complying with the JCPOA, a Saudi move could instigate a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. To avoid this, the Trump administration should warn and restrict the Saudi heir. It should also keep a very close eye on Saudi Arabia’s nuclear connections and activities.

Ronen Dangoor is the former deputy head of the research and analysis division at the Israeli prime minister’s office.

Image: Reuters

Why Saudi Arabia Will Become a Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Why Saudi Arabia Will Acquire Nuclear Weapons

The Trump administration’s handling of nuclear negotiations with Saudi Arabia promises to lay bare some realities about security issues and nuclear programs in that part of the world that the administration has refused to acknowledge. A front-page article by David Sanger and William Broad in the New York Times reviews some of the still-unresolved questions. The Saudi regime insists on producing its own nuclear fuel, which would be different from terms the United States has negotiated with some other states, including the United Arab Emirates, that have sought U.S. assistance in developing their nuclear programs. The Saudis have balked at comprehensive international inspections to detect any work on nuclear weapons. And Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has explicitly threatened to develop nuclear weapons, ostensibly in response to any similar development by Iran.

A useful model for approaching this situation involves Iran. The model is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral accord commonly known as the Iranian nuclear deal, which Donald Trump has castigated and on which his administration has reneged by imposing new economic sanctions despite continued Iranian compliance with the JCPOA. The JCPOA closed all possible pathways to development of an Iranian nuclear weapon through stringent restrictions on enrichment of uranium, the gutting of reactors that otherwise might be used to produce plutonium, and the prohibition of any reprocessing by Iran of nuclear fuel. The agreement also established a thorough inspection system that involves not only routine monitoring of nuclear facilities but also the ability of international inspectors to inspect any other sites they may have reason to suspect are housing nuclear-related activity, with the other parties to the agreement being able to outvote Iran in the event of disagreement about the relevance of a requested inspection. This is the kind of highly intrusive inspection arrangement that the Saudis reportedly are refusing to apply to themselves.

The principal U.S. negotiator has been Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, for whom this is a learning-on-the-job experience. Perry was initially unaware of the Department of Energy’s nuclear responsibilities and believed his job would consist of promoting the oil industry. (This contrasts with Perry’s predecessor, Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist who played a key role in negotiation of the highly detailed JCPOA.)

Although few details of the negotiations have been made public, the New York Times reports that Perry has been discussing with the Saudis a possible agreement that would place a time limit of ten to fifteen years on any restriction of Saudi fuel production. Ironically, this is the same time frame as the “sunset clauses” that apply to some (though not all) of the provisions in the JCPOA regarding uranium enrichment and that have been a focus of attack by opponents of the JCPOA.

The Saudi regime has been making noises for several years about wanting to “get whatever Iran gets,” as if the JCPOA involved Iran getting something nuclear rather than having its nuclear program set back and restricted. A reasonable U.S. response to such talk would be to say, “All right, you can have an agreement with terms that match what is in the JCPOA.” This would mean, besides strict limits on the amount and level of uranium enrichment, a total ban on domestic reprocessing of spent reactor fuel. So Riyadh would have to discard its dreams of using reactors to make its own nuclear fuel. It would mean the same sort of far-reaching inspection arrangement to which Iran is subject, including challenge inspections of undeclared facilities. And it would mean no assistance from the United States in the form of reactor sales or other help in developing a nuclear program. Saudi Arabia would not “get” anything nuclear from the United States because under the JCPOA Iran didn’t get anything nuclear from the United States either.

One might add that, to match Iran’s experience, Saudi Arabia would be subject to punishing economic sanctions until and unless it agreed to all these terms. Or, if one were to be totally consistent with the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran, Saudi Arabia would be subject to punishing economic sanctions even if it did agree to and observe those terms. But this is merely one of the most blatant ways in which the administration’s policies toward the region have been inconsistent and hypocritical.

Although Iran under the shah got a head start over its cross-gulf Arab neighbors in developing a nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has long presented at least as much of a legitimate worry about nuclear weapons proliferation. Riyadh’s security ties to Pakistan—whose nuclear weapons program, producing the first “Islamic bomb,” the Saudis financed—have provided Riyadh with a valuable chip that it undoubtedly would cash in if it decided to go the same route.

Amid all the talk among opponents of the JCPOA about ballistic missiles, it is worth noting that Saudi Arabia has been ahead of its regional neighbors on that count as well. Two decades ago, Saudi Arabia secretly purchased medium-range missiles from China that, although reportedly configured to carry conventional weapons, were of a type originally designed to deliver a nuclear warhead. The Saudis in more recent years have modernized their missile force, again relying on China as the supplier.

Destabilizing regional activity also implies that Saudi Arabia is more of a worry than most states regarding the implications of possible acquisition of nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia has bombed Yemen into becoming a humanitarian catastrophe, has kidnapped and attempted to coerce into resignation the prime minister of Lebanon, and has used diplomatic facilities in foreign countries to assassinate nonviolent dissidents. The impetuous young prince behind these policies has been moving toward one-man rule, shedding even the restraints of what had been a collective family autocracy.

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has drawn some recent and welcome attention to this pattern of behavior, although it has not budged Donald Trump from his stance of sticking with MbS no matter what he does. California Rep. Brad Sherman has appropriately observed, “A country that can’t be trusted with a bone saw shouldn’t be trusted with nuclear weapons.”

The administration’s assault on the JCPOA may provide the trigger for Saudi Arabia to try to obtain such weapons. If the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign succeeds in negating completely the economic relief Iran was supposed to have received under the JCPOA, then Iranian leaders may yet throw up their hands in disgust and pronounce the agreement null and void. This would release Iran from all its nuclear restrictions under the agreement, which in turn might provide the perfect rationale for Riyadh, especially as long as MbS is in charge, to acquire the bomb.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor at the National Interest and the author of Why America Misunderstands the World .

Image: Wikimedia Commons