Whose Nukes Are You Calling Loose?

The Russian nuclear weapon program has become synonymous with the term "loose nukes." Might that apply to the United State as well?

On Saturday, in an article titled "Russia accuses U.S. of loose weapons control", Reuters reported that "The Russian Foreign Ministry said on its web site the United States had been in breach of several arms-related treaties including the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) and a treaty on conventional weapons."

Cited in the "long list of what it called irregularities [were] a U.S. failure to provide information on ballistic missiles trials. The Foreign Ministry also alleged that some 1,500 sources of ionizing radiation were lost in the U.S. between 1996 and 2001."

Perhaps most insulting, "The ministry also said secret information from the U.S. Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory had ended up at the hands of a drug dealing gang in 2006."

Does this sound exactly like one of the scenarios the United States has long feared unfolding in Russia or what?

After the Soviet Union disbanded, the security of its nuclear weapons and materials became cause for concern, not only because of a new lack of centralized oversight, but because it was thought that a sudden lack of job security for those in the nuclear industry might tempt them to smuggle nuclear weapons parts and material out of facilities and sell them to the Russian mob. In 1992 Congress passed the Nunn-Lugar act, sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, which created the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program for the stated purpose of securing and dismantling weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union states.

The results have been dramatic. Among myriad other measures, more than 6,000 nuclear warheads have been dismantled. But many American conservatives think that by allowing the Americans to do the bulk of securing its nuclear weapons, Russia is thus able to spend whatever funds it might have spent on nuclear security to build advanced conventional weapons.

Whether or not this accurately describes Russian thinking or whether, in fact, they're just grateful for the help, Russians still can't help but be offended by constant references in the U.S. press and in national security circles to the danger of loose nukes winding up in the hands of terrorists. The Russian allegations may have been made in response to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee delaying a ratification vote on the new START. But they may also just be sick and tired of hearing the United States media and national security continually sounding the alarm over loose nukes, a term that has almost entirely come to be synonymous with Russia's nuclear weapons program.

The implication is that Russian security forces are unable to control both the mob in their country and Islamist elements who might seek to buy nukes from the mob. Perhaps Americans should bear in mind that every reference to loose nukes is (whether they deserve it or not) a slap in the face to the Russians.

First posted at Focal Points.

GOP on START: Side Dish of Lard With That Pork, Please

At Wonk Room on Think Progress, Max Bergmann wrote a commentary on how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is shepherding Republican obstructionism on the passage of the new START. As you may have heard, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry felt compelled to delay the scheduled START ratification vote. You may have also heard McConnell's disarming comment: "All they have to do is find enough money to satisfy Senator Kyl... In my view they need to do that, because without that I think the chances of ratification are pretty slim."

What, Bergmann wonders aloud, does McConnell's statement tell us? First, he explains:

... [it] clearly indicates that support for START is all about whether Kyl is satisfied with nuclear modernization funding. [Even though] the administration has already pushed through a massive 15% increase. Yet Kyl and his colleagues are demanding more. [Senator] Corker's chief interest, for instance, is the Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge, TN, which Corker seemingly arbitrarily determined needs between $4-$5 billion, well above the projected $1.4-$3.5 billion that the facility's own contractor projects.

"Side dish of lard with that pork, please." Also, writes Bergmann:

... it's a massive slap in the face of Richard Lugar [Think Lugar-Nunn Act for rounding up loose Soviet nukes. -- RW] and shows the far-right direction the Senate GOP has taken. McConnell's interview basically says if Kyl is given what he wants then everyone will fall into line. But there is no mention of Richard Lugar, who is a strong supporter of the treaty. This demonstrates the ideological direction the GOP is headed. McConnell neglects (and seemingly rejects) his party's foremost authority on nuclear weapons issues in the Senate, in favor of the far right approach of Kyl... It also shows how impotent Lugar is in influencing his colleagues.

Not only has Senator Lugar been elbowed aside, but national security as well. Bergmann again:

When Anthony Weiner went ballistic on the floor of the House because House Republicans refused to vote for health care funding for 9-11 workers, it exposed the do nothing obstructionist bent of the GOP even when it comes to 9-11. Similarly, the one thing you would hope the GOP wouldn't mess with is nuclear stability. Yet without the New START treaty in place the US military is rapidly losing its knowledge of and intelligence about the Russian nuclear arsenal because since the original START treaty expired last December the US no longer has boots on the ground monitoring what Russia is doing with its nuclear weapons.

Republicans, and hawks in general, like to congratulate themselves for looking at the big picture and far down the road. In other words, they're willing to sacrifice security in the short-term -- such as attacks from terrorists we've created through heavy-handed policies, aiding and abetting an Israeli attack on Iran, even missile defense prompting preemptive nuclear strikes -- for policies that they think will make us safer in the long term. A few billion for their constituents doesn't hurt either.

First posted at Focal Points.