Pantelis Ikonomou, a former IAEA nuclear safeguards inspector who holds a PhD in nuclear physics from the University of Vienna, writes:
Nuclear capability is a key factor in global alignments and strategic balances. President Trump has upset both:
- He has failed to block North Korea’s nuclear program or insist on its adherence to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
- He has encouraged US friends such as Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to obtain nuclear weapons, in breach of the NPT, which could initiate such efforts by other middle powers, including Turkey and Egypt.
- During his visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel, Trump did not refer to a Middle East Nuclear-Weapons-Free-Zone, a goal set by UN Security Council Resolution 687 (April 1991) and reinforced in the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Neither did the US president urge the Saudis to abandon the notion of a possible nuclear capability under “certain circumstances,” as often expressed by Saudi Arabian officials.
- The US president has suggested abandoning the P5+1 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which would end the related International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring mission that provides unprecedented transparency for the Iranian nuclear program.
- President Trump additionally disrespected basic international commitments (NPT article VI and the New Start Treaty) by planning to extend and upgrade the US nuclear arsenal.
These moves cast a shadow over the NPT, which is the cornerstone of global arms control and non-proliferation efforts. Lack of US adherence dramatically weakens the treaty, since universality is already its Achilles heel.
The May 2015 NPT review conference in New York failed to produce conclusions, which demonstrated the gap between the nuclear weapons states (and their allies) and the rest of the world. Most UN member states have now joined an effort to produce this year a legally binding global treaty to make nuclear weapons illegal. The objective is to pressure the nuclear powers to eliminate nuclear weapons.
German chancellor Angela Merkel at the Munich Security Conference this year questioned the President’s understanding of the UN and EU. She wondered “will we be able to act in concert together or (will we) fall back into parochial policies?”
Trump has not offered a clear vision of a new world order. Nor does he (and the rest of the Western world) appear ready to accept the ongoing redistribution of power and international realignments. Aristotle defined the “final cause” as “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done.” Trump’s purposes remain obscure. The world remains concerned and uncertain.
It’s hard not to celebrate the departure of General Flynn from the position of National Security Adviser. He was both pro-Russian and anti-Muslim beyond reason. A sworn enemy of the American intelligence establishment, he got caught by them talking sanctions relief with the Russian ambassador even before Donald Trump was sworn in. Then he allegedly lied to the Vice President about what was said. His comeuppance is well-merited.
Congressional Republicans are now pledging not to investigate him. Why would they do that? They are trying to contain the damage. Their reluctance suggests it is more than likely that Trump knew what Flynn was discussing with the Russians. Flynn’s testimony, or that of others cognizant of the contents of the phone calls, would call into question the President’s own behavior: did he authorize Flynn to discuss sanctions? Was he pleased that Flynn did so? Was this part of a broader scheme of accommodating Moscow’s interests?
The Congressional cover raises other questions: was it part of a deal to obtain Flynn’s resignation? Why wasn’t Flynn just fired? What are his non-disclosure arrangements with the Administration?
Whatever the answers, it is clear that Flynn’s resignation does not solve the basic problem, which is Trump’s unrestrained and so far unconditional desire for an improved relationship with Vladimir Putin. The President has never made it clear what he expects from this improved relationship, only that it would somehow magically make things better in the world. He also hasn’t specified what he would be prepared to give up in return: recognition of Russian annexation of Crimea? Southeastern Ukraine? Independence of Transnistria? Annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are already nominally independent? NATO accession of Montenegro, now on the Senate’s agenda for ratification? Further NATO expansion in the Balkans? NATO expansion further into Scandinavia? An end to American support for rebels in Syria?
These questions persist even without Flynn. Secretary of Defense Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson may restrain the White House from some particularly bad impulses, especially Trump’s inclination to ditch NATO altogether, but their leverage will be limited. If the President is prepared to pursue a rapprochement with Russia despite the failures recorded by his two immediate predecessors, he will no doubt pick a new National Security Adviser prepared to pursue his policy direction. I doubt that can be David Petraeus, who in any event is already tarred with the brush of security violations. But I trust there are lots of other people who will do the work if given the opportunity.
In the meanwhile, the resignation of the National Security Adviser (and according to the press his deputy) will throw a National Security Council already roiled by leaks into further turmoil. President Trump has already failed to respond with anything but a few thin words of support to Japan when North Korea tested a missile in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. He is looking unprepared for a crisis, which of course means that someone somewhere on earth is likely to think this is a good time to precipitate one. An already messy transition has unsettled America’s relationships across the globe and now seems likely to open the door to a serious security challenge.
It is easy enough to say good riddance to Flynn. But there are real risks involved in a presidency committed to cooperation with Putin’s aggressive Russia and unprepared to meet even the challenge of a North Korean missile test.
I’m doing a press briefing on the implications of the American election for foreign policy in a few hours. Here are the speaking notes I’ve prepared for myself:
- It is a pleasure to be with you tonight, as America concludes an ugly election campaign and decides on its 45th president.
- I won’t pretend to be neutral: I have supported Hillary Clinton with words, money, and even knocking on doors in West Philadelphia.
- But in these opening remarks, I would like to focus first not on the candidates but rather on the process, which is a complicated one.
- One consequence is that there is little uniformity: as you’ll see tonight, the states will close their polls at different times, starting in just a few minutes at 7 pm with Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia.
- The initial results will likely favor Trump, but swing states North Carolina and Ohio close their polls at 7:30 pm and by 8 pm lots of Clinton states close their polls.
- Key then will be Florida and Pennsylvania, and at 9 pm Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Clinton could be in trouble if she doesn’t win there.
- In the meanwhile, you’ll be getting exit polling from many of the “swing” states, those that might go one way or the other. Exit polls in my view are not terribly reliable: sampling errors can be significant, and in many states a significant percentage of people have already voted.
- Not only are rules and procedures decided by the states, but the vote in each state determines that state’s votes in the electoral college that meets in state capitals on December 19.
- Each state has a number of electoral votes equal to its number of Representatives and Senators. Because each state has two senators, this favors less populous (more Republican) states, but the reliably Democratic District of Columbia, which has no senators, gets three votes as well.
- As a result, an election can be close in the popular vote (polling suggests Trump and Clinton are within 3 or 4 percentage points of each other), but the electoral college difference can be big.
- If Trump were to get fewer than 200 electoral votes (and Clinton the remaining 338 plus), that might be considered a landslide, even if the popular vote is close.
- It is also possible for a candidate to lose the popular vote and win in the electoral college. That happened with George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000. I went to bed convinced Gore had won.
- By morning, the Florida controversy had erupted and the election was eventually decided in the Supreme Court, which allowed Florida’s determination of the winner to stand and Bush to become President without a popular vote majority.
- The lesson here is don’t go to bed too early tonight. It may be late before the outcome is clear and unequivocal. In the last three elections it was past 11 pm.
- What does it all mean for foreign policy?
- First, I think an uncontested and clear outcome is highly desirable. The world does not need another month of uncertainty about who will be the 45th president.
- Second, there are dramatic differences between Trump, who prides himself on unpredictability, and Clinton, who has a long track record well within the post-911 foreign policy consensus.
- Trump is erratic, inconsistent, and hyperbolic. He wants to put America first, which he has defined not only as ignoring others, blocking immigrants, and doubting America’s alliances but also destroying the existing international trading system and illogically pursuing a bromance with Vladimir Putin.
- Clinton is committed, studious, internationalist, all perhaps to a fault. She once pursued a reset with Putin that failed. She wants to maintain the stability of the international system and restore American authority some think President Obama surrendered in his retrenchment.
- A word or two about what this all means in some important parts of the world.
- In the Middle East and Europe, including the Baltics and Ukraine, Clinton is far more likely to push back on Russian aggressiveness than Trump.
- In Asia, Trump has occasionally talked tough about China’s trade policy and suggested that South Korea and Japan might want to get their own nuclear weapons.
- Clinton would certainly not want that but might also be tough with China on trade. She would likely want to continue to build up American alliances in Asia, including with India and Vietnam.
- Both Clinton and Trump oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), but Clinton would likely want to renegotiate parts of it and proceed while Trump would scrap it entirely.
- Presidents do not always get to decide which issues they focus on. I would expect Moscow and Beijing, and perhaps others, to take an early opportunity to test the new president.
- An incident involving China in the South China Sea? North Korean launch of a missile that could reach the US? A new push by Russian-supported insurgents in Donbas? An incident with Iranian ships or missiles in the Gulf? A massive cyberattack?
- Clinton understands the capabilities and limits of American power, as well as the need for allied support. Trump does not. He mistakes bravado for strength and unpredictability for leverage.
- Most of the world understands this and favors Clinton. Moscow may not be alone in favoring Trump, but it is certainly lonely.
- Those of us who enjoy foreign policy for a living—Republicans as well as Democrats like me—will likewise be almost universally relieved if she, not he, becomes president.
- But the evening is young. Let’s enjoy it with some questions!
President Obama’s remarks at Hiroshima yesterday are worth reading:
Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.
Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not so distant past. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 in Japanese men, women and children; thousands of Koreans; a dozen Americans held prisoner. Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.
It is not the fact of war that sets Hiroshima apart. Artifacts tell us that violent conflict appeared with the very first man. Our early ancestors, having learned to make blades from flint and spears from wood, used these tools not just for hunting, but against their own kind. On every continent, the history of civilization is filled with war, whether driven by scarcity of grain or hunger for gold; compelled by nationalist fervor or religious zeal. Empires have risen and fallen. Peoples have been subjugated and liberated. And at each juncture, innocents have suffered, a countless toll, their names forgotten by time.
The World War that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet, the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes; an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints. In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die — men, women, children no different than us, shot, beaten, marched, bombed, jailed, starved, gassed to death.
There are many sites around the world that chronicle this war — memorials that tell stories of courage and heroism; graves and empty camps that echo of unspeakable depravity. Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction; how the very spark that marks us as a species — our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our tool-making, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.
How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth. How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause. Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness, and yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill. Nations arise, telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats, but those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different.
Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds; to cure disease and understand the cosmos. But those same discoveries can be turned into ever-more efficient killing machines.
The wars of the modern age teach this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution, as well.
That is why we come to this place. We stand here, in the middle of this city, and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war, and the wars that came before, and the wars that would follow.
Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering, but we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again. Someday the voices of the hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness. But the memory of the morning of August 6th, 1945 must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change.
And since that fateful day, we have made choices that give us hope. The United States and Japan forged not only an alliance, but a friendship that has won far more for our people than we could ever claim through war. The nations of Europe built a Union that replaced battlefields with bonds of commerce and democracy. Oppressed peoples and nations won liberation. An international community established institutions and treaties that worked to avoid war and aspire to restrict and roll back, and ultimately eliminate the existence of nuclear weapons.
Still, every act of aggression between nations; every act of terror and corruption and cruelty and oppression that we see around the world shows our work is never done. We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations –- and the alliances that we’ve formed -– must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.
We may not realize this goal in my lifetime. But persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe. We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles. We can stop the spread to new nations, and secure deadly materials from fanatics.
And yet that is not enough. For we see around the world today how even the crudest rifles and barrel bombs can serve up violence on a terrible scale. We must change our mindset about war itself –- to prevent conflict through diplomacy, and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun; to see our growing interdependence as a cause for peaceful cooperation and not violent competition; to define our nations not by our capacity to destroy, but by what we build. Read more
The Obama Administration has been desperately trying to counter any suggestion that the President’s visit to Hiroshima today represented an apology, which would add to the “apology tour” narrative the Republicans have tried to stick on him. The Japanese government is cooperating by denying that it expects one. There is no point in asking for what you know you won’t get. The United States notoriously does not apologize. This is sad and unbecoming, not the least because the United States is not shy about asking other countries to apologize.
But, it is fair to ask, is there anything to apologize for?
The argument in favor of the first use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima is pretty strong, if you ignore the indiscriminate killing of civilians that was already a feature of the war: President Truman was anxious to avoid a large-scale invasion of Japan, which would have cost many American lives, and to end the war quickly. Prolongation of the war would have not only cost American but also Japanese lives. It would also have put at risk America’s capacity to sustain the war effort. If you thought Japanese unconditional surrender vital to US national security, the bombing looked like the quickest and most effective way of achieving the goal. No wonder President Truman embraced it.
Why not perform a demonstration rather than bomb a city? The short answer seems to be that the Americans feared the test might fail. Saving face is not only a Japanese concept.
The arguments in favor of bombing Hiroshima don’t apply to Nagasaki, attacked three days later, before the Japanese had determined for sure that the bomb used was an atomic one. The bombing of a second city looks gratuitous in retrospect, but at the time it was considered just a continuation of the effort to get Japan to surrender. It is unclear whether Japan would have surrendered if only Hiroshima had been bombed, but it is all too clear that the Japanese had insufficient time to make that decision before Nagasaki was bombed.
There is an important lesson here. War is politics by other means. Its purpose is to convince the enemy to do what you want him to do. It is important to leave him the time and space required to comply. Sure, Japan might have surrendered in the three days after the Hiroshima bombing, but it is hard now to see how allowing a week would have hurt the American cause. A week might have saved almost 40,000 lives.
But they would have been Japanese lives. At the time, they weighed little, if at all, in the American calculus. That, if anything, is what the Americans might consider apologizing for: the failure to minimize the loss of Japanese lives. The bombing of Nagasaki was at best overly hasty and at worst completely unnecessary. Is it too much to ask that we acknowledge those facts?
I suppose so. The President barely mentioned Nagasaki today. The second bombing has been lost in the press coverage of the President’s visit to Hiroshima, just as it has been lost in the popular consciousness in the US ever since 1945. We would do better to remember.
- Future of the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral relationship | Tuesday, March 29th | 10:30-11:30 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The strengthening of the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral relationship comes at a critical time when North Korea’s unabated nuclear ambitions pose a growing threat to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific. Moreover, transnational challenges will require a concerted approach from all three allies. On March 29, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at Brookings will host The Honorable Antony J. Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State, for a discussion on the United States vision for the future of the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral relationship and the next steps for improving and expanding cooperation. Katharine H.S. Moon, the SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies, will offer welcoming remarks and Brookings President Strobe Talbott will provide introductions. Deputy Secretary Blinken will take questions from the audience following his remarks, which will be moderated by Richard Bush, director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies.
- The Nuclear Summit and Beyond: Progress or Regress? | Tuesday, March 29th| 11:00-12:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In a landmark speech in Prague in April 2009, President Obama laid out a bold agenda to move toward a nuclear-free world. Over the next seven years, his Administration reached a treaty with Russia to reduce strategic arm stockpiles, convened international summits to secure nuclear materials against transfer or theft, and concluded an historic nuclear agreement with Iran. But some developments were less encouraging: arms control with Russia stalled; China, Pakistan, and North Korea significantly increased the size of their arsenals; and the rise of ISIS accentuated the threat of WMD terrorism. Against this evolving backdrop, the United States is refurbishing its nuclear weapons— what critics characterize as a destabilizing move toward smaller, more precise weapons that would be tempting to use in a crisis. On the eve of the Nuclear Security Summit and the Prague speech’s anniversary, join us for a National Conversation with top experts in arms control, taking stock of the Administration’s progress toward its lofty arms control goals. Speakers include Jane Harman, Wilson Center Director, Ambassador Robert L. Gallucci, former Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, Franklin C. Miller, former National Security Council Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control, Frank A. Rose, State Department Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, and Robert S. Litwak, Directory of International Security Studies.
- Democracy in Crisis in Turkey | Tuesday, March 29th | 2:00-3:30 | Bipartisan Policy Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party has been increasingly successful in muzzling the country’s once outspoken press. The dramatic decline in press freedom in Turkey has included government-imposed bans on reporting on controversial topics, witch hunts against journalists amid accusations of “terrorism,” and prosecuting journalists for stories perceived to be insulting to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This assault on media freedom has escalated dangerously in the past several months, with the Turkish government demonstrating a willingness to seize control over entire news outlets—on March 4, a Turkish court ordered the seizure of one of Turkey’s most widely circulated opposition newspapers, Zaman. A new Bipartisan Policy Center report, Mechanisms of Control: How Turkey is Criminalizing Dissent and Muzzling the Press, discusses the issue.
- Conference on Syrian Refugee Crisis with a Keynote Address by H.E. Mrs. Emine Erdogan | Wednesday, March 30th | 9:45-3:00 | SETA Foundation | Lists of panels and speakers may be found here.
- A Conversation with Afghanistan’s First Lady Rula Ghani | Thursday, March 31st | 9:30-10:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center invites you to a conversation with Afghanistan’s First Lady Rula Ghani about the challenges and opportunities facing Afghanistan. Rula Ghani’s commitment to activism, women’s rights, and social justice cannot be overstated. As a woman, a Lebanese Christian, and First Lady, she has taken a central role in elevating national discourses on violence against women, the rule of law, and the power of religion. A scholar and educator in her own right, she breaks many conventions in Afghanistan as the first presidential spouse in decades to be so publicly outspoken. Time Magazine, citing Ghani’s commitment to improve Afghan women’s living standards, named her among the top one hundred most influential people in the world in 2015. Drawing on her years of activism, Rula Ghani will discuss Afghanistan’s efforts to overcome the challenges the people of Afghanistan face and the new government’s efforts to usher in a new era of prosperity for Afghanistan.
- Challenges to the future of the EU: A Central European Perspective | Thursday, March 31st | 10:00-11:00 | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Today, the European Union faces critical risks to its stability. The possibility of a Brexit. The ongoing Ukraine/Russia conflict. The strain of mass migration. ISIL and other terrorism threats. The lingering financial crisis in Greece and beyond. These issues pose distinct challenges for the EU, its 28 member countries, and their 500 million citizens. How will these developing problems affect Europe? On March 31, Governance Studies at Brookings will host Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka to discuss the current status of the EU as seen through the lens of a Central European nation, close U.S. NATO ally and current Chair of the Visegrad Group. Prime Minister Sobotka will offer insight into how the EU will address these issues, and where its future lies. After the session, Prime Minister Sobotka will take audience questions.
- U.S.-Mexico Economic Cooperation for a Competitive Region: A Conversation with Mexican Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo | Friday, April 1st | 9:15-10:15 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute invites you to join Mexican Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo for a discussion on U.S.-Mexico trade and economic cooperation; North American competitiveness; and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
- The emerging law of 21st century war | Friday, April 1st | 10:00-12:00 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | As the threats posed by violent extremism rise worldwide, governments are struggling to respond in ways that are both effective and in conformity with international and domestic laws. Halting terrorist financing, online recruitment and radicalization, and cyberwarfare are just some of the areas that demand a careful balancing of multiple interests including the protection of freedom of speech, religion, privacy and the Internet. Tools employed in more recent warfare such as the use of drones, private security contractors, and controversial detention tactics add further complexity to the delicate tension between protecting security and human rights. The transnational nature of terrorism requires better international cooperation and coordination across multiple disciplines, as well as greater coherence amongst legal regimes. We are also honored to feature Ard van der Steur, the Netherlands minister for justice and security and current chair of the European Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, who will provide a national and European perspective on these issues. Ingrid van Engelshoven, deputy mayor of The Hague will provide brief opening remarks. Following the keynote presentation, Koh, Minister van der Steur, and Michele Coninsx, the president of Eurojust, will join a panel discussion moderated by Abi Williams, president of The Hague Institute for Global Justice. After the program, the speakers will take questions from the audience. This event will be live webcast. Join the conversation on Twitter at #BreyerLecture.