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Author Topic: National Security Council conference call  (Read 4595 times)
Gordon Mitchell
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« on: April 20, 2010, 05:05:48 PM »

Tonight, the Union of Concerned Scientists is hosting a national conference call, "The Next Generation Speaks - A Briefing and Discussion on Critical U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy Initiatives" (Tuesday, April 20, 7pm - 8:15pm EDT).

According to the UCS, "The purpose of the call is to engage and inform young people on a range of timely, critical nuclear weapons issues and related events, including the recently completed START nuclear reduction agreement with Russia, the May Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, the Administration's Nuclear Posture Review and prospects for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)."

President Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes will join the call to provide his perspective on the policy landscape for critical and current nuclear weapons issues. In addition, there will be brief presentations by other experts, including senior policy experts and national nuclear weapons advocacy organizers.

I understand numerous debaters and coaches are on the line (including Joe Packer and myself here in Pittsburgh), and it would be great to share live and extended feedback on this thread. Here's the agenda, as provided by UCS:

7:00 pm EDT Welcome/Overview

7:10 - 7:40 pm Obama Administration perspectives on START/ Prague agenda -- Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor (incl. Q&A)

7:40 - 7:55 pm Key Issues -- START Treaty, CTBT, Upcoming NPT Review Conference, Kingston Reif, Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation (incl. Q&A)

7:55 - 8:15 pm Youth Engagement/Ways To Be Involved (moderated discussion: Sean Meyer, Union of Concerned Scientists and Katie Mounts, Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation)
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Gordon Mitchell
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« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2010, 05:11:21 PM »

Sean Meyer of UCS welcoming participants - over 70 "student leaders" on the line. Keynote: building momentum post-Prague. Susan Shaer, Women's Action for New Directions introduces Ben Rhodes. Susan met Dartmouth debater Jennifer on an airplane several months ago and noticed "from their massive files" that they were debaters. Susan followed up with Jennifer, trying to get students involved in the nuclear non-proliferation issue. Ben Rhodes is also a young man, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications in the Obama Administration.
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Gordon Mitchell
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« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2010, 05:15:02 PM »

Ben Rhodes opening comments. His job includes speech writing for Obama on nuclear non-proliferation issues, worked with Obama campaign when nuclear initiatives were being developed. POTUS' interest in nukes dates back to college days - he chose to focus on that issue at Columbia University. When joining Senate, it was the issue he first dug into with Dick Lugar. Obama's first trip abroad was to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan to study loose nukes. First foreign policy speech on foreign soil was in Prague, Obama insisted on including the nuclear issue in that speech, which was unusual (could easily have been U.S.-European relations). What we did in that speech was lay out a comprehensive agenda. Goal is a world without nuclear weapons. Setting that as a marker is key to establish U.S. leadership and invigorate efforts. Key to move on a whole host of issues at once. The reason why efforts were not working was because we were not working in a comprehensive way.
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Gordon Mitchell
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« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2010, 05:21:43 PM »

(Ben Rhodes opening, cont.)

Elements of comprehensive strategy:

1) Reductions in U.S. arsenal, as per recent START agreement with Russia. New treaty keeps commitment U.S. and Russia have under NPT. Foundation of arms control, for many decades, has been NPT, but it needs to be reinvigorated. In working with Russians, we are working to revitalize NPT.

2) Reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. nuclear strategy. Done specifically with NPR - changed declaratory policy - when U.S. would use nukes. Those states in compliance with NPT will get assurance from U.S. that we will not use or threaten to use nukes against them. Is important because it a) reinforces commitment to NPT; b) begins to reduce the role of nukes in national security and planning. NPR charts goal to zero; no-first-use as horizon goal. Not building new nuclear warheads. Can maintain current deterrent through maintenance of current stockpile.

3) Summit to rein in loose nuclear material, especially plutonium and HEU. Wanted to galvanize international action to harness those materials, keep them away from the wrong people. Brought together 47 nations, were immediately able to maintain important commitments, ranging from a number of countries committing to get rid of HEU, to nations signing on to treaties, to nations adopting best practices. All nations signed communique and work plan committed to adopting best practices in consolidating or getting rid of stockpiles of these materials. Important for addressing most immediate danger.
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Gordon Mitchell
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« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2010, 05:25:29 PM »

(Ben Rhodes opening cont.)

Having worked on Obama campaign, I was one of the oldest people in the campaign, now one of the youngest in the White House. My boss knows the power of young people. In some cases, this issues are complex and technical. It takes a commitment to follow through. Long-term proposition; goal of zero nuclear weapons won't be achieved during this administration. Going to take efforts over many many years and multiple admins to make progress. Investment that young people take today critical. Urge you to take a long-view, just as Obama did in the 1980s.
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Gordon Mitchell
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« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2010, 05:31:56 PM »

Question (Aziva - sp?): What is involved in securing loose nuclear material?

Answer (Ben Rhodes, BR): Dirty bomb involves scattering radiological material. Focus at summit was nuclear yield explosions that involve HEU to make a nuclear bomb. Some nations have HEU and are trying to get rid of material and convert it to LEU or different forms of electricity. Regarding security concerns, regional centers of excellence could be created where nations will benefit from creations of best practices where other nations come to benefit. International community can work toward solutions through cooperation. Complicated network.
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Gordon Mitchell
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« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2010, 05:41:48 PM »

UCS: The next question comes from the line of Joe Packer.

Joe Packer (JP): This is a two-part question. First, is it currently the policy of the Obama administration to use nuclear weapons to deflect asteroids and if so under what circumstances? If there are circumstances, how does a long-term commitment to nuclear asteroid deflection square with the Obama administration's "global zero" aspirations?

Ben Rhodes (BR): Someone mentioned this to me recently as I was getting on the call, and I'm not entirely familiar with our stated policy. It's not a part of our declaratory policy in the NPR. Frankly, I don't have the precise answer to that question, because it has not come up in any discussion, but I can check on this for you. Part of the NPR was to develop conventional means of deterrence that wouldn't have the catastrophic yield of a nuclear explosion, but could fulfill some of the contingencies under which nuclear weapons are held for. Therefore I would think that a range of non-nuclear contingencies would be appropriate for space. The incentives that use of nukes provides for other nations to acquire nukes is a problem. The reason for adopting non-nuclear contingencies is that it provides an incentive for other nations not to pursue nuclear weapons. On the specific question I will look into it.

UCS: Great; Ben, I can serve as an intermediary to get that answer.

BR: It is an interesting question.

JP: Thank you.
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Gordon Mitchell
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« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2010, 05:52:17 PM »

(Joe Packer live blogging)

The last two questions have been about Iran.  The first one asked about how the United States could justify its pressure on Iran to stop development of nuclear weapons, but no pressure on Israel.  The second question dealt with Iran's willingness to engage in various levels of negotiations with the United States over its nuclear weapons program.

Question from Danniel Abbas: Obama has advocated the removal of prompt launch but has not changed the (nuclear missions) are we still on prompt nuclear response or are we on Retaliatory Launch on Warning.

Answer from BR: We have not taken weapons off of hair trigger alert, but we have built in more measures for the president to gather facts, we have extended the clock on how much time the President has to make decisions.  We would like to work in concert with the Russians.  When you look at the range of issues we need to keep on working with Russia this is one of them.  I think its also worth pointing out that we think that is why the START treaty is important.  We think the US and Russia need to be leaders.  Relations had fallen to a Cold War low.  The other issues are further reductions on nondeployed, tactical nuclear weapons, more cooperation on missile defense, closer cooperation on launch issues.

Ben Rhodes signs off.
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Gordon Mitchell
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« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2010, 06:08:17 PM »

(Joe Packer Live blogging)

Kingston Reif Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation Opening comments.

The US and Russia signed the New START agreement.  The treaty has been negotiated but things have not been completed.  The package will be sent to congress in May.  The plan will also include a plan for funding nuclear weapons maintenance.  It will include verification measures.  First it goes to the senate formulations committee, then it goes to the senate.  Some Republicans will be necessary, the debate will resolve around reservations and amendments.  Either the senate foreign relations committee or the senate can drag their feet.  Their are both good and bad sides.  It already has bipartisan support including 6 Republicans.  Three Republican senators support the treaty in principle.  McCain seems to support but may be quiet because of his contentious primary.  Even John Kyle has not come out firmly against the treaty.  Other arms control treaties usually get massive bipartisan support.  Some of the pitfalls is the polarization of the senate may cause Republicans to block the treaty to deny Obama a win before the mid terms.  There isn't much time for debate.  A single senator can delay the debate with procedural motions.  The is some chance of a vote before the election, but its more likely in the lame duck session.  The longer it remains in limbo the longer the verification measures also remain in limbo.  The treaty will pass overwhelmingly the question is when it will pass.  This interrelates with the CTBT, which was defeated before.  Because of the delay on START there is no way there will be a CTBT vote this year.  Modernization funding is going to have a bearing on the debate.  The primary objections before was the CTBT was not verifiable and we need to test.  Obama may be using all of his favors to get START passed.  I think the objections to CTBT are no longer relevant. 
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Gordon Mitchell
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« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2010, 06:20:31 PM »

Live blogged by Packer: Kingston Q&A
Question: If you could do a whip count who would be the options for the Republican moderates who you could get for the CTBT.

Answer:  Senator Lugar has a history of supporting arms control.  Senator McCain is also a moderate and a target.  Other senators are Olympia Snow and Susan Collins, have moderate positions on nuclear weapons issues.  Its going to be difficult to pull of individual senators.  All previous arms control treaties that have passed did so with an overwhelming majority.  Not treaty has passed without the minority leader and Senator McConnell opposes. 

Andrew Kersrock:  The fissile material cut off treaty is part of the global zero plan.  Is there effort from Congress to move forward is the state department taking any action.

Answer:  The treaty is stuck because of Pakistan's objection, any one country can block consensus.  This is part of the larger nuclear agenda and an important part.  The fissile material cut off treaty is going to be a multiyear project to negotiate.  Political issues, verification issues.  It warrants the effort but Obama is focused on earlier steps first and there isn't much pressure from the hill to get moving.

Question from moderator: Do you get the sense that this issue will come up at the review conference.

Since Pakistan is not a party to the NPT its unlikely that it will be dealt with in that forum.

Question: Elli Copper: What is Pakistan's objection?  How does the domestic agenda impact the NPT revcon, what are the things the US can do quickly to boost the revcon.

Answer: Pakistan's policy is directed by its fear of India and Pakistan fears that India has more material, its not the only concern but its one of them.  A lot of the NNWS understand that some issues are at the mercy of the political agenda here.  Obama would have liked to negotiate and ratify START before the Revcon, but it did sign START and the NPR and the summit did not require the senate support and they will help the revcon.  The one issue it can't bring is the CTBT.  It would have liked to bring more but it has made positive steps.  We need to keep the momentum going. 

End of questions for Kingston
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Gordon Mitchell
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« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2010, 06:24:37 PM »

Katie Mounts: Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation on how to be involved

If the debate stay  within the nuclear bureaucracy then we can't win.  The movement is starting to take hold.  There is a lot more nuclear weapons experience before people apply to our organization.  Call your senators. 
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