Michael KreponVictory Kudos

Exceptional performances deserve recognition, and there are many worth noting after the Senate’s consent to ratifying New START with seven votes to spare on December 22nd. Here’s my short list:

1) The White House. President Obama had little choice but to place a new strategic arms reduction treaty at the top of his “to do” list in the nuclear field, given the December 2009 drop-dead date for START I, and the gossamer constraints of the Bush administration’s Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. SORT’s reductions would have been obligatory only at the very last second of the Treaty’s duration – on December 31, 2012 – after which, everyone would be free to do whatever they wished and could afford. SORT’s reductions would not have been subject to on-site monitoring or, for that, matter, verification arrangements of any kind. An arms-reduction treaty with Moscow in name only did not serve U.S. national security interests and needed to be replaced.

Reducing nuclear dangers requires top-down leadership. If the two largest holders of nuclear weapons can’t agree on structures, rules, and monitoring arrangements for arms reductions, all of the other rules governing nonproliferation become weaker. The glue for the global nonproliferation system is produced in many locales, but no one can substitute for manufacturing shortfalls in Washington and Moscow. President Obama’s ambitions for nuclear reductions were pared down at the negotiating table, but he succeeded in bringing home an agreement that further reduced nuclear forces in a structured, verifiable way, while protecting all necessary and worthy options for ballistic missile defenses. Domestic deal-making associated with ratification shored up the nuclear labs, establishing conditions for deeper reductions down the road. Along the way, the President delivered the Prague speech, convened a nuclear security summit, and produced a nuclear posture review.

Vice President Biden led a well-crafted vote-getting process on Capitol Hill, which succeeded, for the first time ever, in garnering a two-thirds super-majority in the Senate against the preferences of the Minority Leader and his Republican Whip. The White House’s game plan worked: Senator Kyl, the Minority Whip who held Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proxy, was said to be negotiating in good faith. His many questions were answered and his stated concerns were addressed with funding add-ons and delays in considering the Treaty. Presidential pledges were submitted during the end-game. Reasonable, substantive concerns of Republican Senators were addressed. Complaints over due process did not gain traction because calls for further delay were clearly a surrogate for shelving the Treaty. When the White House finally decided to roll the dice and call the roll on New START, its strategy succeeded in splitting off sufficient Republican votes from Irreconcilable Senators, including, not surprisingly, Senator Kyl. A high-stakes game of poker, no doubt, but the White House created a winning hand.

2) Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates. In my adult lifetime, I cannot recall an administration in which the Secretaries of State and Defense worked so well together. There was no room for error in handling this Treaty, and both had the standing and the connections on Capitol Hill to work the Senate, even after Democrats were shellacked in the mid-term elections. Their designated treaty negotiators, Rose Gottemoeller and Ted Warner, demonstrated stamina and grit.

3) Senators Dick Lugar, John Kerry, and Harry Reid. Senator Lugar rarely gets in front of a treaty ratification process and stands up against Party Leaders. He did so this time, when the stakes were very high and when moderate Republicans in the Senate needed a leader. He held the fort until enough of the cavalry came. Senator Kerry earned his stripes as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He was a workhorse in Committee and on the floor of the Senate. Majority Leader Reid clarified the importance of his re-election by once again demonstrating his tenacity and counter-punching skills. It took fifteen rounds, but New START won.

4) Graybeards, especially of the Republican variety. The quality, character, and experience of prior administration officials, former Senators, and ex-military commanders who supported New START spoke volumes about the utility of the Treaty and its pedigree. These elders provided just enough anchor to Republicans on Capitol Hill who are in danger of losing their moorings on arms control.

5) Thirteen tradition-minded, yet forward-looking Republican Senators who remembered that their Party has championed nuclear-arms reductions and who understood the down-side risks of torpedoing New START. They are a dwindling breed. The last arms control treaty to be ratified by the Senate, the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, garnered 29 Republican ‘Yeas.’

6) Senator Kyl and the Heritage Foundation also deserve recognition: they turned a modest, moderate, uncontroversial treaty into a cause célèbre. In doing so, they have narrowed the administration’s options and solidified opposition to nuclear arms control by Republicans on Capitol Hill and among those running for their Party’s presidential nomination in 2012.

The implications of the Republican Party’s drift from its moorings are very worrisome. But ‘tis the season to count one’s blessings and to be grateful for gifts – including a lame duck Congress that has advanced U.S. and international security.


  1. Coyote (History)

    Be of good cheer, Michael.



    • krepon (History)

      Happy holidays & best wishes. We have much to discuss in 2011.

  2. Tim W (History)

    Excellent assessment of New START ratification process, especially point #6. Much of could have been offered in Senate negotiations with CTBT or a FMCT have now been used to get START ratified (e.g. stockpile modernization). The arguments which seemed most persuasive to GOP Senators — verification of Russian warheads or keeping weapons out of the hands of terrorists — may not as easily apply to CTBT/FMCT.

    I wonder whether the White House’s next efforts will be directed at these agreements or towards a non-strategic warheads reduction with Russia. Or is this it in terms of large arms control items for Obama White House until a potential 2nd term?

    Happy holidays.


    • Scott Monje (History)

      I’d be interested in what other people have to say about this. Was the Republican reaction to START not really about START at all but calculated to make later treaties less likely?

  3. Tjewel (History)

    “We should all be of good cheer, now that the New START is passed!”

    Hey it’s no big deal. It’s not about the treaty objectives. It’s about Political power to ensure that the direction of the enterprise is not controlled by ones political opponents. We’re looking at a one-term president & a treaty that will at some point be revised. As for the nukes , there here to stay for a long time.

  4. Pat Flannery (History)

    I still like the idea of us having only around a thousand-and-a-half strategic nuclear weapons somehow makes us dangerously under-armed compared the North Korea, Iran, and Syria.
    I listened to all the Senate debate yesterday on C-Span, and I’ve never heard such a mass of gibberish and misleading statements in my entire life on the part of the treaty’s opponents.
    My favorite was about how the west “has historically paid a high price if it ignores the security of Poland”.
    Excuse me, but wasn’t the west’s response against aggression toward Poland the start of WW II?
    I also had no idea that nuclear weapons were first developed in the 1930’s, which could have _really_ made the Doolittle raid impressive. 😀

  5. anon (History)

    Can I ask for a shout-out to the staff who helped make this happen? There is, at the first order, the highly capable staff on SFRC who worked diligently crafting compromises, hearing complaints, crafting eloquent speeches, and venting frustrations, while supporting the Members who made this happen. Senators Lugar and Kerry mentioned many of them, and we could all see their tired faces sitting by the Members after days of debate. There are also several staff Members who work for Senators who were less visible in the process, yet they still dug for data, searched for compromises, and gave voice to the many well-crafted statements we heard over the past few weeks. (OK, some were not so well-crafted, I have no idea where Hutchinson got the idea that Russian nuclear weapons have been moved to North Korea…).

    Anyway, the principals clearly took the lead here, but they could never had succeeded without the folks who had their backs.

  6. krepon (History)

    Dear Readers:
    Math was never my strong suit. The U.S. Constitution requires a two-thirds majority for the Senate’s consent to treaty ratification. One Democratic Senator was recovering from cancer surgery. Three Republican Senators were absent for the vote. So 96 Senators voted, meaning that 64 votes were needed. The Obama administration topped this mark by seven.

  7. Anon (History)

    btw, there is a new GAO report out on MD — ironic (I hope) that this damning report came out just after New START passage….


  8. Anon (History)
  9. shaheen (History)

    I would hate to spoil the Christmas party, but –
    It is a sad measure of the state of both the international strategic debate and domestic US politics that such a small step as New Start was turned into a major political issue. That is true for both its opponents and its proponents. What’s with the prayers and Christmas carols? C’mon people, New Start does not achieve any serious disarmament by any measure. It’s good ol’ arms control, with its real but quite limited value and merits. And one should be mindful that it’s the end of the Obama administration agenda, not the beginning. However, I applaude the symbolism of having an arms control treaty signed by a Democratic administration and ratified by a Republican-dominated Congress. For that, congrats to the White House.

    • Scott Monje (History)

      Technically, it’s not a Republican-dominated Congress.

  10. archjr (History)

    Well done all. Big step forward. Before Christmas Eve, I offer a caution:

    No victory laps. Start thinking about next steps. It became obvious during the debate that many Republicans in the Senate want something done on tacnukes, or non-strategic weapons, whatever they want to call them. Well here’s an idea: define them, develop a strategy, and go negotiate them out of existence. This of course will be appealing to intellectually-honest opponents of arms control (of whom, I am almost sorry to say, Kyl is one) who raised the SPECTRE (pun intended) of Europe-based Russian weapons as a reason to oppose newstart. Admit that this was a dodge to oppose the new treaty, but acknowledge it as a legitimate concern. Work with these folks. If the debate over newstart exposed nothing else, it is that we learned the value of the right political atmosphere to the success of arms control. This was not a testosterone-fueled exercise in wearing down the nay-sayers. So let’s get it right at the same time we pursue next measures, and I will of course enjoy the great, spirited converstion on this website as to where to go next.

    Back to this on Monday. Happy holidays to all!

  11. Mark Gubrud (History)

    You’ve got to hand it to Senator Kyl. Even before the Treaty arrived, he and his colleagues had extracted from this reputedly liberal administration a promise to fund a rejuvenated and revamped nuclear weapons production complex, something Bush was never able to get past public and Congressional opposition. Then for long months he tortured the administration to give even more, more even that they were able to give. Which, in the end, freed Kyl to vote No anyway.

    Nobody can come out of this under the illusion that CTBT or a further round of reductions, let alone a serious initiative on space arms control or a rollback of missile defense follies, is likely to be on the agenda in the next two years.

    Kyl did not position himself as presidential timber with this extended stunt, but that was not going to happen anyway. I basically think he and his hard Right friends got everything they really wanted and could reasonably expect out of this. And why? Because, as usual, Obama had surrendered nearly all of it before the opening round, and once again, never, or at best very belatedly, took the issue to the Court of Public Outrage, where he could have easily won much earlier.

  12. FSB (History)

    The lesson learnt from the New START escapade is that the dem’s need to dumb down their message to an equivalent level as the republicans — all the academic and rational arguments are very distracting to the important work facing this country.

    I suggest the following tack to Mr. Kerry:

    “I sure don’t understand why Mr. Kyl likes us to make new nuclear weapons and more and more nuclear weapons — these things kill people, even fetuses — our unborn children die when nuclear devices go off Mr Kyl. Do you really want to kill unborn children Mr. Kyl? On the eve of the birthday of the baby Jesus I call on Mr. Kyl to throw his weight behind arms control and stop his advocacy of killing unborn children. Now, I am a smart man and can understand the prophylactic benefits of M.A.D., but really, in this holiday season when the baby Jesus was born, is that the message we want to get out? To use prophylactics? That is just un-Christian Mr. Kyl. I hope in 2011 Mr. Kyl will give up his advocacy of killing fetuses and using prophylactics.”

    Democrats: For the love of God, please stop the rationality!

  13. Not so fast ... (History)

    Russia Will Pull Out From START in Case of U.S. Full-scale Missile Deployment – Lavrov

    Moscow Interfax 24 Dec 10

    MOSCOW. Dec 24 (Interfax) – The implementation by the United States of its plans to deploy a full-scale missile defense system will lead to Russia’s withdrawal from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

    “I stress that the content of the treaty unequivocally points to the correlation between strategic offensive weapons and missile defense, it is set out in the preamble, whereas the text the treaty contains an article that allows either party to withdraw in the event of an emergency. We are convinced that the implementation of the full-scale global missile defense by the U.S. will be precisely such an emergency,” Lavrov told the State Duma.

    U.S. Senate’s Interpretation of Conventional Warheads Unacceptable For Russia – Lavrov

    Moscow Interfax 24 Dec 10

    MOSCOW. Dec 24 (Interfax) – Russia found the U.S. interpretation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty’s provision that the treaty does not apply to strategic systems with non-nuclear warheads unacceptable, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

    “We find unacceptable the unilateral American interpretation of the treaty according to which future strategic range systems with non-nuclear warheads not meeting the parameters stated in the treaty shall not be regarded as new types of strategic offensive weapons covered by the treaty,” Lavrov said in the State Duma that is holding the first reading of the treaty.

    • Coyote (History)

      Not so fast…

      The ink is seldom dry on a treaty when reinterpretations become contentious.

      Things have been going very well between us and the Russians. Its sad to think that a treaty could cause more upset in relations than the weapons it seeks to rid.

      The Russians are shrewd and obviously waited until the Senate vote to raise these issues. The Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans will not be happy–especially if it looks as if the Russians hoodwinked our negotiators or if the administration sides with the Russian interpretation, but kept this out of the Senate debate.



    • Scott Monje (History)

      If they pull out of the treaty, where are they going to go? The New START is at least as important to them as it is to us. Some of this is what we over here would call spin.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      “The full-scale global missile defense” is something not defined either by Mr. Lavrov or by the United States. I seriously doubt this refers, for example, to the Obama adminstration’s announced European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), or to any other deployment schedule the US has announced.

      Russia should be making much more noise about EPAA, however, since it commits the United States to deployment of a system which it is already well-known will be ineffective as missile defense given very simple known countermeasures which Iran can easily incorporate into both their conventional and any future nuclear ballistic missiles, yet highly threatening as an antisatellite weapon system capable of a prompt crippling strike against any nation’s constellation in low Earth orbit.

      Not that the US would ever do such a thing (all that debris, etc.) but wouldn’t we howl if the Russians or Chinese announced plans to deploy such a system, and doesn’t it sure make it hard to figure out how Russia and China are supposed to avoid getting into a full-fledged space arms race with Uncle Sam?

      Russians are also very seriously worried about the implications of seemingly serious US moves toward prompt global strike in the form of ICBMs or SLBMs with non-nuclear warheads. In the longer term, such weapons may pose a real first-strike threat against Russian or Chinese nuclear forces, making them very much a part of the full equation not accounted for in New START.

  14. krepon (History)

    Hey! This is a great piece.

    But you left out Adm Mullen, the JCS and the senior retired officers who worked like slaves to educate the Senate and public about the Treaty and to support this vote.

    Please amend!!!

    Janne Nolan

  15. Tjewel (History)

    If you’re celebrating this as a victory, you’ve had a lousy season.

  16. Coyote (History)


    Do you really think that President Obama is determined to install a bunch of kinetic kill ASAT weapons in Europe?

    I don’t.

    I’m not able to identify a military or constabulary advantage gained by doing so–even in a fight for national survival. Other types of weapons have far greater advantages, and come at a fraction of the cost.

    Missile defense–especially if conducted with the Russians as a TCBM–yes, that makes sense. The Russians are convinced that missile defense works–theirs certainly does–and they understand that for countermeasures there are always counter-countermeasures.

    As for a space arms race, what would it look like, given the relatively few satellites on orbit that support the operations of any single state or alliance? Keep in mind that some types of counter space weapons could negate many satellites. In addition, given the dual-use nature of space systems, how could you tell that a television station’s COMSAT van isn’t going to be used nefariously as a jammer?

    In very short order a state could field a full suite of counterspace weapons and hide them in plain sight.



    • Mark Gubrud (History)


      The announced plan for the European Phased Adaptive Approach is as follows:

      2011 – SM-3 Block IA sea-based
      2015 – SM-3 Block IB sea and land-based
      2018 – SM-3 Block IIA
      2020 – SM-3 Block IIB

      The Block IIs are likely to be land-based since the planned booster is reportedly too big for the existing launch tubes on Aegis cruisers.

      The capability of SM-3 Block IA to hit a satellite at 250 km altitude was demonstrated with the destruction of NROL-21/USA-193 in Feb. 2008. It’s pretty unlikely that the Block IB version, with it’s improved seeker, will be less capable. However, both versions do not have the burnout velocity to reach higher altitudes where significant numbers of potential target satellites are stationed. That deficiency is to be corrected with the Block II versions, with their larger boosters enabling them to “better cope with medium- and intermediate-range missiles and the potential future ICBM threat” according to the White House, and also enabling them to intercept militarily important satellites throughout the LEO range of altitudes.

      So, it is not a matter of what I think President Obama is determined to do; those are the plans that have been announced by his administration and they represent the current policy of the United States. As the GAO warns, the deployment schedule is likely over-ambitious and certainly represents a buy-before-you-fly (and never seriously test) approach, and at that, the most threatening components are not slated to be deployed under this president, even assuming he is reelected. But that’s the plan.

      I think this is exactly what a space arms race might look like, at this point.

      I think you exaggerate the threat, particularly to hardened military systems, that could be posed by something that looks like a COMSAT van. But the other issues you have raised are too complicated for a brief response right now.

  17. Coyote (History)


    I hope your Christmas and Boxing Day were excellent!

    We need to keep in mind that a properly hardened and signal-encrypted satellite has by definition already made tradeoffs by design and function that simultaneously secure it form some threats, but make it vulnerable to other sorts of negation methods. There is a balancing act between passive defences and preserving operating capability.

    You may relax about what you claim to be an kinetic kill ASAT threat from the SM-3 series. LEO birds typically operate at far greater altitudes, and the ones that are lower are either already in burn-in, or are not the types of satellites that attract the attention of kinetic strike systems. If you are thinking of reconnaissance satellites that may be in that region, a couple low to medium powered lasers aimed at them simultaneously would do the job for pennies compared to an SM-3 strike–and they’re reusable!

    For every pragmatic reason, the military always seeks means with the least Probability of Detection (POD), the least Probability of Attribution (POA), and the least Probability of Retribution (POR). The TOP priority in targeting is to create as little political fall out for your political leaders as possible. Kinetic kill ASATS do NOT meet that expectation.

    Please, write a treaty to ban kinetic kill ASATs. That is a piece of easy-to-do space arms control that would be quickly negotiated and signed into law in just a few months–a huge political victory for all.



    • Mark Gubrud (History)


      I’m not sure what you mean by “tradeoffs” between passive defense and operating capability. Signal encryption and even spread-spectrum techniques may impose modest penalties in processing, hence in satellite mass, but the added mission cost should be small in comparison with the costs of an unrestrained arms race.

      I do not see how these hardening measures would make satellites any more vulnerable to other negation methods. You could argue that if the bird is heavier it has a harder time avoiding a KE ASAT, but you argue that KE ASATs are unlikely to be used. If you did want satellites to evade KE ASATs, you would make them better able to survive acceleration when on-orbit, and give them heavier motors. The mass penalty of software-defined radios will be small in comparison.

      What you say about SM-3 (Block II) not posing a threat is simply untrue. If, as reported, the maximum altitude of SM-3 Block II versions will be ~1200km, that will place more than 80% of LEO satellites within reach.

      I think you exaggerate the vulnerability of even photoreconnaissance satellites to laser attacks; although it should be relatively easy to deny observation of a limited area around a moderate-power laser, it would take a high-power laser to inflict permanent damage, and satellites can be equipped with shutters (or can rotate away) to limit damage, short of outright heating, which takes very high power levels. Also, it should be noted that such laser attacks cannot be covert.

      Which brings me to a broader issue that you’ve raised. You write that “the military always seeks means with the least Probability of Detection (POD), the least Probability of Attribution (POA), and the least Probability of Retribution (POR).” Hmmm, who else does that? Frankly, criminals. And you seem to be painting a picture of a lawless world in which attacks on satellites cannot be controlled and are already being waged – by the United States? – here and there, just one or two at at time to obtain “the desired effects.” Elsewhere, you have suggested that a Code of Conduct should endorse such shadow warfare, or perhaps bring it out into the open under a “constabulary authority.” If such low-level conflict cannot be prevented, you seem to be saying, then why bother trying?

      You may be right that the hijacking of a comm satellite here, the dazzling of a photo bird there, may not be so dangerous in themselves. But then, the serious danger lies at the other end of “the spectrum of conflict.”

      The space arms race has yet to be run. Part of the reason satellites are so vulnerable is that until now there have not been compelling reasons to harden them, given the cost. And after a round of hardening, if the offense remains unconstrained, it will simply migrate to more lethal means. Worse, the arms race will build upon itself, and we will see the stationing of weapons on orbit. This may begin with maneuvering microsatellites equipped for temporary and reversible interference but then, when more than one state has deployed these, the next step will take us back to more violent means of negation, leading to the creation of a dangerous confrontation between space weapon systems deployed on orbit and readied to engage each other.

      The way to secure the space resources we depend on to stabilize our deterrence relationship with other major powers is to impose a flat ban on interference with satellites and on weapons for such interference, so that the further development and proliferation of such weapons is heavily impeded if not completely blocked. We can then make significant but ultimately limited investments in hardening, redundancy, and non-space alternatives, and be able to enjoy a reasonable level of security and stability.

  18. Coyote (History)


    We are already well into the age of space warfare. It goes largely unnoticed because no one dies and property is not damaged–it is not a heroic form of warfare. There is no glory in it. Such subtle actions have never resulted in an escalation of hostilities. On the contrary, such engagements have saved the lives of people, military and civilian, who otherwise would have found themselves in the kill-rings of ground or air attacks if such non-lethal means of engagement had not been employed. Would you ban space warfare at the cost of human lives?

    I would describe the world as already in the middle of an all-out space arms race, and has been for a few decades. However, there are very few satellites that might require negation in full combat, and most negation systems can be used over-and-over. The result is a “race” as inglorious and anticlimactic as space warfare itself. It goes unnoticed. It costs very little. It requires very few people. Many states and non-state actors are in this race, including some that don’t even own or operate satellites.

    I suggest to you that this is why progress on space arms control and the Code of Conduct is proving difficult. Proposals fail to take into account that many states like their space weapons and intend to keep them and use them as they see fit–in compliance with their inherent right of self-defense, and to meet the standard laid out in the Law of Armed Conflict. A lot of water has gone over the dam.

    As for follow-on versions of SM-3, yes, it will be able to achieve a higher altitude, but that does not make it a kinetic-kill ASAT system. I don’t pretend to speak for President Obama, but does anyone really think he is determined to deploy Kinetic-kill ASATS? That notion is laughable.

    The idea of space being used like a shooting gallery is ridiculous. No one wants to cause cascading debris thereby denying all parties (including themselves) access to space. It is as foolish and counterproductive as using poison gas in warfare. We are very close to universal understanding of this point.

    The arms control community should move quickly to draft a treaty banning kinetic-kill ASATS. I would be an ardent supporter of such a treaty. However, a treaty seeking to ban all engagements against satellites or subsets of the services they provide is simply untenable. If someone were to operate their satellite in a hostile or unlawful manner, others would have the obligation and right to protect their interests by negating such a system. The much more common case, however, is the use of temporary and reversible negation (TARN) of subsets of satellite services in lieu of conducting lethal attacks on people and property on Earth.



  19. Mark Gubrud (History)


    You do not say what you mean by this “largely unnoticed” “space warfare” which you claim has “saved lives.”

    You refer to “negation systems” that “can be used over-and-over” but do not say which ones you mean.

    It is hard to assess let alone respond to such vague and suggestive claims. The substance behind them may be very little, exaggerated or inappropriate for other reasons, as far as one can tell.

    As for SM-3, I don’t know the president’s intentions, but more important are the actual capabilities of the systems the US has announced its intent to deploy. That is how the US will judge the intentions and actions of China or any other potential adversaries, and that is how they will judge ours.

    You say we should have a treaty banning KE ASAT, but if all a nation has to do is put a “missile defense” label on their KE ASAT, that is not going to be a meaningful arms control measure. Likewise, a KE ASAT test ban that allows exactly the same kind of weapon to be tested against “suborbital” targets, as “missile defense,” will be meaningless, since the weapon’s effectiveness against satellites can be fully verified in such “missile defense” tests.

    You say you would be an ardent supporter of a KE ASAT ban. Would it allow testing and deployment of GMD, SM-3 and similar exoatmospheric kinetic-kill weapons, ostensibly for midcourse interception of long-range ballistic missiles?

    Suppose the administration takes the bait and proposes such a treaty, and suppose (against the weight of evidence) that the Chinese and the rest of the world decide to play along. If the treaty comes up before the Senate for ratification, and if Sen. Kyl asks whether the treaty places any restraint on testing and deployment of missile defense, and then asks also whether it will be effective in preventing the Chinese from perfecting their KE ASAT and deploying it in numbers, will you be willing to testify and answer “No” to the first and “Yes” to the second question?

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