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April 8, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

The Obama administration is placing a key element of its nuclear deterrence strategy in the hands of the United Nations, an organization with one of the poorest records for controlling the spread of nuclear weapons.

Keith B. Payne, a former Pentagon official in charge of nuclear weapons policy, said an alarming feature of the Nuclear Posture Review, made public Tuesday, is that the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the foreign powers that are represented in it will be able to indirectly set U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

"The new NPR appears to place the UN's IAEA and its Board of Governors at the heart of determining U.S. nuclear deterrence strategy options," e-mailed Mr. Payne, who has published several books on nuclear deterrence.

According to the new strategy, the U.S. will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear members that sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, known as the NPT, and comply with its terms. For strategic deterrence purposes, in the case of extreme provocation, the U.S. keeps the right to use or threaten to use nuclear arms against nuclear states and NPT signatories for failing to abide by its terms.

The paramount question is: Who will determine whether a state is complying with the treaty?

"This question becomes central to U.S. nuclear deterrence policy," Mr. Payne said in an e-mail to Inside the Ring. "A quick check will reveal that NPT compliance is determined by the IAEA's Board of Governors a board made up of 35 states, including Russia, China, Venezuela, Mongolia and Cuba."

Mr. Payne is president of the Virginia-based National Institute for Public Policy.

In addition, the standards used to determine compliance or noncompliance are designed intentionally to be flexible in order to give the board latitude in its findings. Thus, there is no standard definition of noncompliance.

The result is that the Obama administration's new strategic nuclear deterrence policy gives a U.N.-based international organization broad authority in the United States' use of nuclear arms.

"Under this policy, it appears that Russia, China, and many others would be in a position to shape the decision as to whether a state is or is not compliant with the NPT, and thus its position vis-a-vis U.S. deterrence strategies," Mr. Payne said. "The opportunities for mischief and politicization here are obvious."

Iran, North Korea and Syria all signed the NPT but later were found to have used their access to nuclear technology to develop weapons or technology for weapons.

The military's ceramic body armor is one of the most-watched budget items on Capitol Hill, as critics question its testing and performance.

The Interceptor system is also one of the most valuable pieces of equipment issued to combatants as they fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and risk danger inside a base camp as well as in the field. The Army, the lead buyer, says the system, with its tactical vest and Small Arm Protective Inserts (SAPI) has saved countless lives and has never failed.

Its importance is why Congress last year used legislation to order the Army to make a separate procurement, and research and development lines in the budget, for body armor, just as it does for vehicles, guns and aircraft.

Body armor is funded in a catchall operations-and-maintenance account that includes ammunition, fuel and food. Committee staffers say that by separating body armor from the rest, lawmakers can better track how much the military is spending and make adjustments if needed. It also would help the industry know what the Pentagon is willing to pay in a quest for even lighter inserts, as today's soldier is carrying more weight than ever before.

Congress was chagrined, however, when President Obama's 2011 defense budget came out in February. Contrary to Congress' order, body armor stayed stuck in O&M, as it is called, reports special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.

It surprised some members, especially because Army Secretary John McHugh was the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee last year when the staff wrote the language.

When Mr. McHugh recently appeared before the committee, several members asked him about the slight.

"We have fought very hard on our subcommittee to make this a dedicated R&D and procurement line," said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican. "We thought this would enhance the focus on this. And we think this is really needed. This didn't happen, you know. Why didn't it happen, and how can we make it happen so that we can have the focus we believe we need to reduce the weight and increase the effectiveness of this body armor?"

Mr. McHugh dodged the questions by saying he would look into the situation.

Under the new strategy outlined in the Nuclear Posture Review report made public this week, the Obama administration is seeking to improve global stability with plans for nuclear talks with the Chinese.

One major problem not addressed in the report is Beijing's continued refusal to conduct in-depth talks on its nuclear arms program, which is being modernized with new missiles.

Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS, said China has said it was willing to hold nuclear talks "at the appropriate time" but has not agreed to specific meetings.

"Beijing's attitude used to be 'Call us when you get down to 500 warheads, and then we can talk,'" Mr. Cossa said. "But the Chinese realize that this will no longer fly."

To justify cuts in U.S. nuclear forces at a time when China and Russia are modernizing their arsenals, the nuclear review makes "reinforcing strategic stability" a main element of the new strategy.

"Given that Russia and China are currently modernizing their nuclear capabilities -- and that both are claiming U.S. missile defense and conventionally-armed missile programs are destabilizing -- maintaining strategic stability with the two countries will be an important challenge in the years ahead," the report says.

The objective is to "pursue high-level, bilateral dialogues with both Russia and China which are aimed at fostering more stable, resilient, and transparent strategic relationships."

The Russia challenge appears less of a problem. The so-called "New START" treaty to be signed Thursday in Prague is based on a yearlong negotiation with Moscow.

But defense officials say there has been little or no progress in holding talks with China since at least 2006, when the issue was raised directly by President George W. Bush during a summit in Washington with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The issue of future nuclear talks is expected to be raised by President Obama when he meets Mr. Hu next week at the nuclear security summit.

The goal of talks with Beijing, according to the report, is to enhance confidence, improve transparency and reduce mistrust.

The report says both the U.S. and China's neighbors in Asia are worried about the "pace and scope of China's current military modernization efforts, including its quantitative and qualitative modernization of its nuclear capabilities."

"China's nuclear arsenal remains much smaller than the arsenals of Russia and the United States. But the lack of transparency surrounding its programs - their pace and scope as well as the strategy and doctrine guiding them raises questions about China's future strategic intentions." China's new strategic systems include four nuclear-capable missiles: the road-mobile DF-31 and DF-31A, the JL-2 submarine-launched missile and the long-range DH-10 land-attack cruise missile.

Basic unknowns about Chinese nuclear weapons include who controls them, under what circumstances they would be used, what are the current numbers of warheads and delivery systems, and where the current nuclear buildup is headed.

James N. Miller, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters on Tuesday that "we'd like to have conversations both about where the capabilities are going over time and what is the Chinese thinking about the purpose of these capabilities as well."

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