Tag: arms control

Did the NRA Kill the Arms Trade Treaty?

UN members last month failed to reach agreement on the Arms Trade Treaty after a month-long conference.  This is the latest setback in a decades old attempt to control the trade in small arms.  A broad network of states, NGOs, and the UN bureaucracy had pushed for the treaty and earlier measures.  In their view, proliferation of guns contributes to hundreds of thousands of casualties per year in conflict zones and to large numbers of shooting deaths in countries at peace.

But the international campaign to control the illicit trade in small arms has long faced skepticism from certain states, most notably the U.S, but also Russia, China,  India, and others.  For an interactive map of state views on the ATT, click here.  Since its start in the early 1990s, the campaign has also faced outright opposition from NGOs such as America’s National Rifle Association.  The NRA and other American gun groups have joined with overseas counterparts to promote gun rights and the right to self-defense.  Most notable is the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities (WFSA) and more recently the International Association for the Protection of Civilian Arms Rights (IAPCAR).  The groups help one another in their own countries and work together to lobby states against international gun control.
It is this network, spanning governments and NGOs, that killed the ATT.  The Obama administration administered the coup d’grace, but other American politicians and civil society groups strongly influenced this decision.  Other states cheered them on, if only privately. All of this holds important  lessons for studying international policymaking and transnational advocacy.

The ATT had been billed as an alternative to a prior, failed try at controlling the illicit trade, in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  This began as the Cold War ended and ethnic warfare became the fear du jour of the early ’90s (as terrorism is today), with gun proliferation blamed for much of the bloodshed.  The Bush administration gutted that attempt in 2001, using a UN conference’s consensus rules to allow only the nonbinding Programme of Action on Small Arms (PoA).  The PoA was so weak that a key proponent of small arms control, Human Rights Watch, dubbed it a “program of inaction” and shuttered its campaign.  Nonetheless, this zombie policy—alive on paper but in reality dead—lurched along until 2006, when the U.S. finally killed the PoA completely at another UN confab. 

The ATT was supposed to be different, negotiated only by likeminded states and without the consensus rules that allowed key opponents to block an effective PoA.  In the Bush era, this seemed the best that could be achieved, given the close ties between gun groups and the U.S. administration.  But keeping America out of the ATT negotiations would have led to another form of zombieism—a key arms exporter not part of the treaty, notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. already has some of the world’s toughest export controls.  Thus when the Obama administration took office and expressed interest in the ATT, members of the ATT coalition opted to allow it in, accepting its demand that consensus rules again be followed and U.S. laws be used as a basis for negotiations.  (At the time, a number of activists raised red flags, warning that it could end with the ATT’s failure, but to no avail.)
From the start, American gun groups decried the ATT because of its supposed threat to American gun rights.  State negotiators did their best to reduce controversial issues.  And by the end of the conference last month, a cascade of some 90 states supported the text.  But opposition remained strong in many states, particularly to the marking of ammunition and to sales of guns to nonstate actors.  In the U.S., opposition was particularly ferocious, as encapsulated in a letter signed by 51 U.S. Senators, including Democrats, expressing “grave concern” about the “dangers” to U.S. sovereignty and individual rights under the Second Amendment.  The Senators, voicing the views of American gun groups, warned that the treaty’s draft text could force the U.S. to monitor and control domestic transfers, to maintain records of imports and shipments, and to increase regulations to prevent transfers to illicit or unintended end users.
Farfetched?  Although the intent of the draft was clearly to control the illicit international trade, its terms, if broadly construed, could be read in these ways.  And there is little doubt that in an issue as hot as guns, American control advocates would have read them in this way, to score points and influence judicial and legislative outcomes.  The real menace to American gun rights is doubtless small, given the power of the Second Amendment and the fact that, even if the U.S. had signed, the 51 Senators opposing the draft, meant that the ATT could not be ratified.  But the vehement opposition is nonetheless explicable as part of the bitter warfare between gun and gun control proponents in the U.S.
Ultimately, in an election year, the Obama administration bowed to these pressures and refused to agree to the final draft of the ATT.  Some gun groups celebrated this “grassroots victory” for the right to self-defense, but others, like a commentator at Ammoland, were more cautious: “We cannot view this as a victory for us because the Treaty has not been abandoned. Nor can we view it as a defeat for its proponents—merely a temporary setback.”
Indeed, it is likely that some form of ATT will be reintroduced at the next UN session, and it is possible that a substantial number of states will agree to controls.   Whatever the precise outlines of the final ATT, there are some broader lessons here:
  • States remain key players in transnational advocacy networks.  Focusing on the NGOs, as much of the academic literature does, is too narrow a perspective. 
  • NGOs and civil society networks nonetheless influence states, especially democratic states.  But they probably do so more through everyday lobbying at home, than by efforts in UN hallways or in some kind of transnational normative space.
  • International civil society, just like domestic civil society, is ideologically diverse and conflictive.  Conservative groups are powerful there, as activists in the trenches well know.  It is by no means the exclusive preserve of progressive groups, notwithstanding scholars’ focus on them. 
  • As a result, zombie policy and failed policy are far more common than policy successes—although, as the gun control case shows, one network’s failure is usually another’s triumph.  As scholars, we can learn a great deal by dissecting the corpses and living-dead that strew policy battlefields.  By contrast, to focus only on the relatively few policies that stagger, battered and bruised, off the field (typically to face further attacks in ongoing policy wars) is misleading.

Finally, the requisite plug:  For more on battles over transnational gun control—as well as lots more on conservative transnationalism, policy conflict, and zombie policy—see my new book, The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics.
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The Opposition to New START and the Short-Term Future of Arms Control

Rob Farley notes the existence of long-standing conservative opposition to arms control. While the hacks at the Heritage Foundation lost this battle, Rob argues, their influence on Republican international thought is waxing rather than waning. Thus, more of opposition to New START was principled than many observers recognize, and this bodes ill for future arms control.

The New START debate over the last month has been held largely under the assumption that the treaty would die if it wasn’t ratified during the lame duck session. I suspect that this assumption is accurate. Moreover, the two most important potential GOP presidential candidates have “authored” op-eds that are essentially collections of Heritage Foundation talking points. Finally, the GOPsters who supported the treaty are mostly (although not all) old and outside of the GOP mainstream.

I’m afraid that I have to concur with Mary Beth Sheridan’s account; Heritage failed, but demonstrated its strength within the GOP caucus. The anti-arms control faction of the GOP was much more careful and serious about developing a network of institutional support than the pro-arms control faction, and at this point the latter is on life support.

Is Rob right? I’m not entirely convinced.

This much is certainly true:

  • Some GOP Presidential hopefuls declared themselves against New START;
  • A significant number of incoming GOP representatives and senators came out against New START, or at least against ratifying it during the lame-duck session; and
  • In doing so, they, like Romney’s staff writers, cribbed from whatever “substantive” anti-New START talking points they received from conservative think tanks.

But that does not imply much about the long-term influence of anti-arms control elements in the GOP because, at heart, much of the opposition to New START was driven by both a desire to deny Obama “victories” and by GOP partisan cueing. New START would have been relatively uncontroversial if it had been negotiated by a Republican president. Some hard-core anti-arms control conservatives would have pumped out the same dire warnings, but with far less traction among Republican politicians and voters.

I can’t prove any of this, of course. By the same token, however, we don’t (yet) have strong evidence of an upsurge in the influence of foreign-policy hardliners among the GOP.  We’ve certainly seen a resurgence of fringe right-wing beliefs among some GOP activists, but it remains a long road from that observation to declaring victory for anti-arms control conservativism.

On the other hand, a variety of other factors will likely to preclude significant progress on arms control. For example, there’s no evidence of an improved climate for CTBT from that of the 1990s–irrespective of partisan cueing or changes within the GOP. The Russians, for their part, have little incentive to negotiate further reductions in nuclear arsenals–they depend too heavily on nuclear weapons to compensate for their conventional weaknesses and reductions below 1500 warheads start implicating their deterrence posture with respect to China. And Beijing has displayed no interest in limitations on its own capabilities, which, in the nuclear arena, are still relatively modest.

In short, it simply won’t matter very much whether the GOP is a bit more or less favorably disposed to major arms-control initiatives.

[Image: a test-firing of a Bulava SLBM. Source.]

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The Good Old Days….

…when ideology reigned over science in arms control debates. With the new START about to pass through the Senate, here’s a classic from San Fransisco’s KRON Channel 4 back in 1986:

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The NYT op-ed page remains a fact-free zone

Even if John Bolton’s and John Yoo’s latest missive against New START ratification had been scrawled in crayon on the back of a cardboard box, it still would have been a waste of precious resources.

Rather than explain why, I’ll just outsource to Fred Kaplan.

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Election 2010: the Foreign Policy Elephant in the Room (updated)

CBS Nevada reporter Nathan Baca tried to approach [Sharron] Angle during a stroll through the airport and the airport parking lot with questions about her foreign policy views.

After going through several evasive answers, an irritated Angle replied: “I will answer those questions when I’m the senator.”

Much of the liberal reaction to Angle’s latest evasion of the press has taken the form of “if she can’t face reporters, how can she a U.S. Senator?” In light of Angle’s general bizarreness, I can understand the comparative lack of attention given to issue areas she refused to address. But, as Dan Drezner’s noted, the 2010 elections have been marked by an almost total absence of foreign-policy debate. That’s not surprising. The Obama Administration hasn’t exactly been “soft on terrorism,” the unemployment rate hovers near ten percent, and Republican politicians basically support U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In short, international affairs doesn’t provide particularly rich soil for harvesting votes.

However, this election may prove quite consequential for U.S. foreign relations. Even if the the Democrats hold onto a slight majority in the Senate, the legislative branch is about to shift significantly rightward. This is not a terribly comforting thought, given that the current GOP combines an impoverished foreign-policy playbook with a scorched-earth mentality toward the Obama Administration.


Consider three signs of what’s to come.

First, Republican opposition to New START. While New START is not without its problems, none of them bear any resemblance to the outlandish criticisms offered up by the GOP. Even Robert Kagan admits that conservative objections to the treaty don’t justify blocking ratification. The charge that the administration, whose deterrence policies depend on a robust commitment to the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) to Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), is willing to let Moscow veto BMD policy, should strike any observer as particularly ludicrous.

New START is, in many respects, a rather modest nuclear arms-control agreement; the major differences between a world with and without ratification are twofold: in the latter, the U.S. (1) lacks important tools to monitor Russian nuclear happenings and (2) loses significant credibility when it comes to negotiating binding agreements with not only Moscow, but other foreign powers. Yet all indications are that the Republicans will block ratification.

Second, the tenor of Republican media on U.S. foreign-policy issues. For example, The 2010 Nuclear Security Summit contained its share of successes and failures. Among the latter was a series of botched attempts to forward Turkish-Armenian normalization, which only succeeded in undermining US-Turkish and US-Azerbaijan relations (the latter wasn’t even invited to the Summit). During all of this conservative media was interested in one burning question: was a stylized version of the Bohr model actually a quasi-secret sign of Obama’s interest in imposing Sharia law in the United States, appeasing Iran, or something. Otherwise, the summit was mostly met with conservative silence.

Third, the commitment to unlimited defense budgets. Even as conservatives criticize the Obama administration for record deficit spending, they still find time to complain that military spending is too low. Seriously. The “finest” foreign-policy minds in the GOP think the Obama Administration is jeopardizing U.S. military preparedness against decades-away threats by not pushing a sufficiently large increase in U.S. defense spending. That sound you hear is Zombie Eisenhower crying.

So we’re likely in for an opposition with international-affairs positions variously inherited from the Bush Administration, dictated by a desire to oppose and embarrass the President at every turn, and determined to avoid talking about substantive foreign-policy problems. The irony, of course, is that we desperately need a “loyal opposition” to highlight and correct serious failures in Obama foreign policy. Which we’re not likely to get.

Oh, goody. I can’t wait.

UPDATE: Foreign Policy’s list of influential GOP foreign-policy congresscritters pretty much makes the point.

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Nuclear transparency

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration has fully disclosed decades worth of data about the size of America’s nuclear arsenal:

America’s official nuclear silence ended Monday when the Obama administration not only disclosed the number of U.S. nuclear weapons available for use in wartime — 5,113 as of Sept. 30 — but surprised many by also publishing weapons totals for each year dating to 1962. (Data from before 1962 were released in 1993.)

Apparently, administration officials believe that this might put pressure on Russia to likewise disclose information about its arsenal. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told Reuters on May 12 that his country may well follow suit:

“After the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was signed by the Russian and U.S. presidents in Prague on April 8, comes into force, we will likewise be able to consider disclosing the total number of Russia’s deployed strategic delivery vehicles and the warheads they can carry,” he said.

If these disclosures had happened 25 years ago, they would have been truly remarkable:

“This figure is one of the crown jewels of the Cold War when it comes to state secrets,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists in New York.

In 1967, the U.S. had over 31,000 nuclear weapons. The 85% reduction in the size of the U.S. arsenal reflects the remarkable changes that have occurred in the past twenty years. The latest disclosures likewise reflect ongoing efforts to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations.

That said, however, the stockpile numbers are not at all a surprise as Robert S. (Stan) Norris and various colleagues have been publishing very detailed estimates about nuclear stockpiles since the mid-1980s. In defense policy circles, even the cold war numbers were closer to “known knowns” than “known unknowns.”

Incidentally, I still have an early copy of Norris’s Nuclear Weapons Databook on my shelf. I met Norris as a grad student intern at Center for Defense Information in summer 1985; Norris left CDI for NRDC just the year before and sometimes stopped by the old stomping grounds. In summer 2008, loyal readers may recall, I noted that the Obama and Clinton campaigns included several prominent CDI alums — and hoped that their presence might have a desirable affect on U.S. security policy. Maybe Stan called in some debts!

Apparently, the Obama administration is disclosing this data now in hopes that it will promote its “global zero” efforts. In the interim, the goal is to sell that latest arms control deal in the Senate.

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Nuclear Arms Control

Yesterday, in Prague, President Obama signed a new START deal with Russian President Medvedev. In strategic and military terms, the treaty does not make much difference. I think it is generally good to reduce nuclear overkill, but the treaty allows both states to retain 1550 strategic nuclear weapons. That’s plenty for deterrence purposes and still a long way from zero.

Potentially, the 30% cut in nuclear weapons is symbolically important as the U.S. tries to convince other states (like India) that it is serious about its NPT Article VI commitments. Russia shares this interest as well. It makes a nice bookend with the “negative security assurances” announced earlier this week.

Interestingly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Louisville right now, speaking as I type (I’m watching the stream) in support of the treaty. She flew to Louisville from Prague and must be exhausted.

Why would she do that?

That’s easy to answer.

Clinton is speaking at the McConnell Center (for Political Leadership, though that part of the name seems to have disappeared from the website). Indeed, the Secretary was introduced by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. This speech is an obvious effort to make sure that Republicans do not block the new START accord in the Senate. After all, a treaty requires a supermajority in the Senate. Indiana’s Dick Lugar is apparently on board, but the administration will need six more Republicans and clearly wants many more.

They’re apparently aiming for the big enchilada, McConnell. At minimum, they don’t want him to lead a strong opposition movement though he reportedly has concerns about scaled-back U.S. missile defenses. Clinton pointed out in the speech that this treaty does not limit U.S. plans in those areas (though to please Russia, the administration has changed the policy in an earlier action).

The Secretary pointed out in her speech that recent arms control accords (post cold-war, basically) have been approved overwhelmingly, with 90+ votes in support. George W. Bush’s arms accord had zero votes against. Clinton did not mention the CTBT, which her husband failed to get through the Senate. It was a rare outright defeat for a treaty as presidents usually avoid pushing agreements that will fail.

In his opening remarks, Senator McConnell pointed out that Clinton is the 6th Secretary of State to speak in the Center that bears his name. This is not a coincidence. He’s proud of the Center and has used his position on committees or leading his party to leverage speakers. When he had great influence over foreign aid, the University hosted ambassadors from both Israel and Egypt (separately). At the time, guess which states received the most foreign assistance from the U.S.? Hint: Israel is still #1.

Most of the audience questions after the address pertain to horizontal proliferation (Iran, especially), which I think everyone recognizes is a more important problem than the precise size of the U.S. and Russian arsenals. In her address, Secretary Clinton mentioned “next week’s 40-plus head-of-state nuclear-security conference in Washington.” That event will directly address the broader proliferation problem.

In short, Hillary Clinton was performing political theater for Mitch McConnell. Her script is only indirectly related to the more important foreign policy concerns that are to be addressed in a completely different political context. However, the Obama administration needs McConnell’s tacit support because Article VI of the NPT links horizontal and vertical proliferation. From the U.S. point of view, “getting to zero” is a two-level game and McConnell is a key player in it.

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Kitty Hawk to India?

From Rob at LGM, via Kevin, via Winds of Change:

The latest ROUMINT suggests that Secretary of Defense Gates, now visiting India, might give them the USS Kitty Hawk, CVN-63. The carrier is scheduled to be decommissioned soon, so rather than steaming back to the US, it could steam to India. Potential benefits to the US might include: parts and maintenance contracts, sales of planes to India from Boeing or Lockheed (F-18 and/or F-16), a strategic ally with a Blue Water navy in the Indian Ocean to help fight pirates and such.

The coolest thing came from one of Kevin’s comments:

The Kittyhawk spent most of the last few decades based out of there [Yokosuka] working with the JMSDF (you can see her in Google Earth at 35°17’28.13″N 139°39’47.29″E. Look 1200m S-E at 35°17’6.33″N 139°40’27.91″E and you’ll see the pre-WWI Japanese battleship Mikasa which is a museum piece. Compare the sizes of two first-rate warships of their time…)

I looked, its there, its kinda cool.

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Exploiting the unipolar moment, part II

Another major development on the national-security front today: the US plan to shoot down one of its own spy satellites.

President Bush, acting on the advice of his national security advisers, has decided to attempt to shoot down a malfunctioning spy satellite that is expected to crash to Earth early next month, a spokesman for the National Security Council said today.

NSC spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the president made the decision within the past week and asked the military to come up with plans to destroy the satellite.

Johndroe said that decision, which will be explained at a Pentagon news conference this afternoon, was based on the fact that the satellite is carrying substantial amounts of a hazardous and corrosive rocket fuel, hydrazine.

The satellite was launched in December 2006 but soon lost contact with ground control. Information about the spacecraft is classified, but experts believe it is the first of a new generation of smaller and more precise spy satellites.

Johndroe said the satellite would be destroyed “as it comes to Earth,” which is expected to occur in several weeks.

The US may also be concerned about sensitive technological components falling to the wrong hands.

Some military experts say the Pentagon may be worried the satellite’s top secret spy technology might survive reentry into the atmosphere and end up in the wrong hands. General Cartwright rejected that speculation.

“There is some question about the classified side of this,” he said. “That is really not an issue. Once you go through the atmosphere, and the heating and the burning, that would not be an issue in this case. It would not justify using a missile to take it and break it up further.”

Taking down the satellite is a sensitive issue because of the controversy sparked when China shot down one of its defunct weather satellites last year, drawing criticism from the United States and other countries. The Pentagon said it has briefed other countries about its plans.

Which is well and good. But remember that this comes almost immediately after Russia and China proposed a treaty banning space-based weapons systems and those designed to attack objects in orbit.

The Bush Administration, which seeks to extend the US “command of the commons” to outer space, opposes the treaty.

I can’t help but imagine that the Chinese and the Russians, let alone many other observers, find the timing of this announcement suspicious. After all, what might better demonstrate the importance of anti-satellite weapons than a potential environmental danger from a malfunctioning satellite? And it does give the US an opportunity to flex its muscles.

But even if the timing is completely innocent–and I see no reason to doubt that the decision stems from legitimate concerns–its implications are likely to reverberate in an already deteriorating environment for US-Russian, and possibly Sino-US, relations.

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