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Gray-haired readers of ACW will remember when the acronym RSVP was treaty-related. During the first term of the Reagan administration, arms-control opponents compiled a long list of the Kremlin’s treaty violations and circumventions, real or imagined. They then commissioned studies on how to respond. RSVP became shorthand for Responding to Soviet Violations Policy.

The question arises once again after the Obama administration’s finding that the Kremlin has violated the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. There has been no shortage of suggestions how to respond.

Let’s start with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page:

One apt response would be to withdraw from New Start. Russia was already below the limits in this treaty on strategic nuclear weapons and launchers, obliging only the U.S. to reduce its stockpiles. The White House should also restore the ground-based missile-defense interceptors that it abandoned in 2009 in a misguided attempt to appease the Kremlin.

The Reagan administration didn’t take this advice. Rather than junking the unratified SALT II Treaty, it abided by Treaty limits until in a position to breach them.

Friend of ACW and year-end contest judge Tom Nichols, writing in the National Interest, has a different idea:

The West should emphasize what the Russians fear most: NATO’s considerable conventional edge. Washington should accelerate the halting steps we’ve taken since the invasion of Ukraine and the seizure of Crimea, and work with our NATO partners to build up stronger conventional forces in Europe. If the Russians are keeping nuclear arms as insurance against losing a conventional war, it’s only because they still think they have some kind of a shot a conventional fight in the first place. We can close that loophole, and must, soon.

James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment — in the same publication — would tighten this aperture significantly:

The United States is currently developing a new cruise-missile detection system known as JLENS, which consists of tethered airships carrying radars. Although it may sound oddly old-fashioned, it’s a clever idea because airships can be based at a high altitude for prolonged periods and can monitor large areas on a full-time basis. Plans to test this system in Maryland are currently in jeopardy because the House of Representatives is seeking to reduce its funding significantly. This presents the Obama administration with an opportunity. Washington should now announce revamped plans to conduct the JLENS test in the territory of an Eastern European ally if Russia does not take corrective actions in, say, six months.

Steven Pifer of Brookings has called for diplomatic initiatives as well as the following:

The Pentagon could consider devoting a small budget to a feasibility study on possible new U.S. intermediate-range missiles. Given budget pressures and the current lack of a defined priority military requirement, there would be little sense in proceeding to develop or acquire such missiles. However, the prospect of a future Pershing III or advanced ground-launched cruise missile might get Russia’s attention and remind Moscow of the value of the INF Treaty.

Last but certainly not least, ACW Founding Father Jeffrey Lewis, in this instance at Foreign Policy, has offered the following:

This is a political challenge that requires a political response. NATO must assure its new members that Russia’s nuclear forces will not deter Western Europe from meeting its security commitments to the former Warsaw Pact states now sheltering under the North Atlantic Alliance… If this is a political problem more than a military one, NATO must ensure its response will strengthen the political cohesion of the alliance, not break it apart.

Here are my suggestions, for what they’re worth: First, the Senate could usefully underline its concerns over Russian noncompliance by confirming Frank Rose to be Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance. He was nominated for this post by President Obama more than a year ago. By refusing to act on his nomination, Senate Republicans leave themselves in the awkward position of arguing that Russian noncompliance matters greatly, but not so much as to help the administration prosecute this case.

Second, exiting the Treaty doesn’t make sense, for reasons that many have already stated. If Putin wants to go first, let him burn a few more bridges to Europe. We have no good reason to precede him. Nor do I think it’s wise to respond in kind to Russian violations. New land-based, intermediate-range, ground-launched missile programs will be costly to build, take time to deploy, and offer Moscow wedge-splitting opportunities with respect to forward basing. Why go there?

In my view, narrow technical rejoinders won’t get the job done, either. As Jeffrey has argued, Russia’s INF violation poses a political challenge, not a technical or military one. If the flight-testing of an INF-prohibited system — and subsequent deployments – is about leveraging Russia’s neighbors and NATO partners, the most useful U.S. counters would reassure those under pressure. U.S. nuclear-related responses will not be reassuring. Other options will have more military and political utility.

Therefore, I suggest the following guidelines for suitable rejoinders, in addition to diplomatic efforts to reinforce INF Treaty provisions:

  1. Steps that reaffirm U.S. commitments to friends and allies.
  2. Steps that do not further undermine the objects and purposes of a treaty Washington would like Moscow to stop disrespecting.
  3. Steps that would not be very hard politically, financially, and technically to implement.
  4. Steps that Washington could make a point of implementing right away.
  5. Steps that could be adjusted, upwards and downwards, depending on Putin’s subsequent moves. If he decides to continue to undermine the INF Treaty’s objects and purposes by flight-testing and then deploying INF-prohibited weapon systems, the United States could continue to ramp up rejoinders. If he shifts course in a positive direction, Washington could dial back.

And what might these rejoinders be? Ramping up steps that the Obama administration has already begun, including port visits by U.S. Naval vessels, some equipped with sea-launched cruise missiles; visits by U.S. Air Force planes, including those equipped with air-launched cruise missiles; increasing the tempo and size of combined military exercises; increasing the scope, size and tempo of U.S. training missions; cooperating with friends and allies on Open Skies cooperative aerial monitoring flights; and accelerating plans for forward-based missile defenses. Existing plans could be expanded if Putin continues on his present course.


This summer, I’ve been thinking and writing about the delusional, aspirational notion of deterrence stability between antagonistic nuclear-armed states. For the short form of my argument, see my essay in Dawn. The long form will be part of a second collection of essays on deterrence stability and escalation control to be published by the Stimson Center.

Deterrence stability between nuclear-armed states works just fine when they have nothing to fight about. When, on the other hand, states acquire nuclear weapons because of serious friction, the quest for deterrence stability is chimerical. Conceptualizers of deterrence stability predicated that the mutual acquisition of secure, second-strike capabilities would be the precondition of success. The United States and Soviet Union met this requirement early on – and kept going. The more they competed, the less secure they felt, regardless of overkill capabilities.

I think there’s still a reasonable chance that India and China will avoid repeating on a smaller scale the mistakes made by the United States and the Soviet Union. If, however, these two rising powers embrace MIRVs and counterforce targeting, negative ramifications will spread well beyond southern Asia. More on this in another post.

At present, the clearest manifestation of the chimerical pursuit of deterrence stability is between Pakistan and India. Both are in the process of achieving secure, second strike capabilities – if they haven’t already gotten there – but their competition isn’t winding down.

Writing projects are an occasion to let my fingers to do the walking through old 4X6 cards in shoeboxes to find quotes stashed away and long forgotten. Younger wonks: The reference here is to the “Yellow Pages” — a fat book of alphabetical business listings on flimsy yellow paper. Mad Men encouraged us to use this relic of the Analog Age with a long-running advertising campaign to let our fingers do the walking until we found the right page. We also let our fingers do the walking looking for books in card catalogues at the library.

Here’s a sampling of dusty quotes on 4×6 cards on the nuclear competition on the subcontinent:

“You can proclaim to the whole world without hesitation that I am beyond repair. I regard the employment of the atomic bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science.” — Mahatma Gandhi in Harijan, July 7, 1946.

“We must protect our integrity, but our missiles must not be targeted against the people of India, with whom Pakistan has no enmity. Our culture and our traditions demand that we refrain from making cities and civil population as targets. We must only aim at nuclear installations and military installations, if at all that eventually is thrust on Pakistan.” – editorial in The Muslim (Pakistan), June 1, 1998.

“For India to initiate a nuclear attack in the subcontinent would be a betrayal of the human spirit.” — Raja Ramanna, a key figure in India’s nuclear weapons program, cited by K. Subrahmanyam in the Economic Times, May 26, 1993

“More is unnecessary if less is enough.” – General K. Sundarji, one of the founding fathers of India’s nuclear posture

“India will not engage in any arms race. We shall not, therefore, pursue an open-ended program.” – Jaswant Singh, then India’s Minister of External Affairs, December, 1999.

“If the safety and security of the nation require deployment of conventional and non-conventional weapons on the border, the Government will not hesitate to do so.” – Salman Khursheed, then India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, September, 1994.

“India may be a billion-plus nation with six times Pakistan’s GNP, but in the prevalent nuclear environment, such superiority is meaningless. Therefore, the Indian leadership should face reality and accept Pakistan as an equal.” — Lt. Gen. Javed Nasir, former Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, in The News, September 7, 2000.

“Our deterrence strategy is defensive. We have no design to go and attack the enemy. But if we are attacked we are going to be offensive in defending ourselves.” – Pervez Musharraf, then President and Chief of Army Staff, at the commissioning of an Agosta-class submarine, December, 2003.


Pakistan is ramping up fissile material production capabilities for military purposes while vetoing a fissile material cut-off treaty negotiation at the Conference on Disarmament. India is also increasing production capacity, but the FMCT’s problems extend well beyond these two states. Non-aligned members at the CD believe a cut-off treaty isn’t ambitious enough, and it’s hard to gin up much enthusiasm from Russia and China.

There is, however, some forward movement. Useful discussions have begun in March in a newly-convened Group of Governmental Experts chaired by Canada. India has a seat at this table. Pakistan, which voted against the establishment of the GGE, is not among its 25 members. Pakistan has now felt obliged to engage more substantively on these issues in parallel, informal discussions at the CD. For the first time ever, two diplomatic channels are wrestling with the challenges of dealing with fissile material production for weapons.

Pakistan has long held the view that existing stocks should be covered under a treaty – hence its use of the acronym FMT, as opposed to FMCT, to broaden the agreement’s scope. Pakistan’s veteran Ambassador to the CD, Zamir Akram, argues for an expanded scope “because of the asymmetry existing in our region – that has been compounded by the discriminatory civil nuclear cooperation agreements and NSG waivers.” The object of Pakistan’s nuclear diplomacy is to constrain India’s nuclear capabilities without placing any constraints on its existing stocks. Failing this unlikely outcome, Rawalpindi has sought, so far successfully, to compete effectively with Indian nuclear weapon capabilities.

The utility of serious discussions on fissile material was demonstrated at the CD on June 5th, when Ambassador Akram clarified Pakistan’s stance regarding how to deal with existing stocks:

“We propose that this weaponized fissile material may not be touched by the treaty, and be dealt with in the future Convention on Nuclear Disarmament.

“[Regarding] fissile material that has not been weaponized as yet, but set aside either for new warheads or for the replacement and refurbishment of existing warheads, [including] irradiated fuel and reactor-grade separated plutonium produced from any unsafeguarded reactor – military or otherwise, [w]e propose that this non-weaponized fissile material should be brought under the verification coverage of the treaty and placed under safeguards to ensure its non-diversion for nuclear weapons manufacturing. The transfer of this material to safeguarded civil and non-proscribed military use may be permitted… A second option would be to reduce this sub-category of fissile materials to the lowest possible levels necessary for the safe maintenance of nuclear arsenals through mutual and balanced reductions on a regional or global basis.

…Material assigned for nuclear weapons including the fissile material released from retired warheads and those in the dismantlement queue, including such material that is already in waste disposal sites… should also be brought under safeguards in accordance with the principle of irreversibility to preclude its re-weaponization. Its transfer to safeguarded civil and non-proscribed military use would be permitted.

“…[As for] fissile material not assigned for nuclear weapons [e.g.,] material designated for civil purposes; excess material for military purposes; and material for non-proscribed military activities like naval propulsion etc., we propose that each of these three sub-categories of fissile material should be brought under safeguards – both the future and past production – to ensure their exclusive use for non-prohibited purposes only. Leaving the past production of these types of material outside of safeguards would provide a potential source for thousands of nuclear weapons.

These are useful distinctions that can be discussed in detail, but none of the other states possessing nuclear weapons will accept Pakistan’s positions that fence off its own previous production while capturing the stocks of others or incentivizing the weaponization of existing stocks. Pakistan cannot hold its own against an economic powerhouse like India if New Delhi decides to crank up fissile material production for military purposes. So why would Pakistan insist on provisions that would only extend the timeline for an FMCT during which it could fall increasingly behind India?

One possible reason is that Pakistan’s nuclear stewards feel relatively comfortable about the nuclear competition, at least in the near-term. When Pakistan feels more concerned about its relative position, or when it feels it has sufficient stocks, it will change its stance on the FMCT. Another possibility is that Pakistan truly believes its worst case scenario, in which India’s eight unsafeguarded nuclear power plants are applied to bomb-making instead of electricity and that India’s fast-breeder reactors will somehow operate far more efficiently than those in the United States, Russia, Japan, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

There are now diplomatic fora to unpack and discuss these assumptions, including Pakistan’s worst case, which is completely over the top. In the meantime, progress will remain slow while Pakistan and India gear up their bomb-making capacity.


Fellow ACW readers, can you recall a time when the world seemed more inflamed and disordered? Governed spaces are shrinking. Wild men lay waste. The dogs of war have been unleashed and peaceful settlements seem more distant than ever. “World Wars” and “splendid little wars” are historical phenomena. The twenty-first century has given us a profusion of messy wars with indeterminate endings. The biggest of the lot, in Afghanistan and Iraq, are likely to produce unending sorrows, setting a template that has spread widely.

Another Israeli offensive in Gaza has resulted in more than 550 killed so far – reportedly 75 per cent of them noncombatants — along with 25 Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians. Sunnis are slaughtering Shia, and vice versa, across the Fertile Crescent. Iraq is a cauldron, Syria a slaughterhouse. A new Caliphate led by Osama bin Laden’s faithful has expelled Christians from Mosul and is at the gates of Baghdad. Vladimir Putin has annexed Crimea. His thuggish surrogates in eastern Ukraine have been trained in the black arts of operating air defense batteries that can shoot down passenger jets. Deranged leaders of Boko Haram in Nigeria have seized young girls from schools, holding them for ransom. Iran’s religious supremo has publicly declared a future requirement for centrifuges capable of producing 190,000 separative work units. Once-promising negotiations for an Iranian nuclear deal now look cloudy. If a deal can still be struck, many on Capitol Hill will gear up to foil it.

Not all the news in bad. There has not been a flash point in the East or South China Sea over Beijing’s quest for energy security. Pakistan’s armed forces are engaged in a campaign to reclaim national authority along the Afghan border. Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are in decent shape. Pakistan and India are getting along passably well.

But here’s the rub: The good news is perishable. The bad news will be with us for a long time.


A friend and I have an ongoing debate about the reasons for the plague of partisan rancor now afflicting Washington in general and arms control in particular. For my friend, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) was the Rubicon. Before Obamacare, he points out that important domestic legislation received bipartisan support. These numbers back up his argument:

Social Security Act of 1935
60 Democrats yes; 16 Republicans yes
1 Democrats no; 5 Republicans no
284 Democrats yes; 81 Republicans yes
15 Democrats no; 15 Republicans no

Civil Rights Act of 1964
46 Democrats yes; 27 Republicans yes
21 Democrats no; 6 Republicans no
152 Democrats yes; 138 Republicans yes
96 Democrats no; 34 Republicans no

Affordable Care Act
58 Democrats yes; 2 Independents yes; 0 Republicans yes
0 Democrats no; 39 Republicans no
219 Democrats yes; 0 Republicans yes
34 Democrats no; 178 Republicans no

After the White House and the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill rammed through Obamacare, my friend believes that Republican Members of Congress resolved not to work with President Obama. In my view, the absence of bipartisanship predates the battles over health care, reflecting quarter-century-long trends within the Republican Party and deepening divisions within the country at large.

Here’s my reasoning: Trends toward assured incumbency, reinforced by two decades of redistricting and gerrymandering prior to Obamacare, have led to sharper partisanship. When seats are assured to one party or the other, the locus of competition shifts from general elections to primaries, and cross-over voting on Capitol Hill becomes rarer. Bipartisan votes were a regular occurrence on motherhood-and-apple-pie issues. They are now restricted to apple pie. The “do nothing” Congress that Harry S Truman used as a foil to win the presidency in 1948 passed 906 bills. Compare that with what passes for legislating at present.

Much political commentary dwells on the defeat of Tea Party candidates as an indicator of the supremacy of Main Street Republicanism, even though every serious challenge from the Right – regardless of the outcome — reinforces the Tea Party agenda on Capitol Hill. The most dramatic Tea Party upset win — the defeat of Minority Leader Eric Cantor, who was traveling the country playing out ambitions to become Speaker instead of stumping his district — was attributed to his openness to immigration reform legislation. Immigration legislation is now dead for the foreseeable future. An analysis in the New York Times of genial, low-key Senator Thad Cochran’s narrow Senate primary victory over a Tea Party challenger in Mississippi offered a cautionary note to Republicans: “It is no longer enough to quietly represent your constituents. You have to join the partisan fray.”

This kind of partisanship doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. The internationally-minded wing of the Republican Party in the Senate has been decimated since the George H.W. Bush administration negotiated two strategic arms reduction treaties with Russia. Its remaining spokespersons, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, lost their standing by championing wars prosecuted by the George W. Bush administration that were poorly conceived and badly executed.

If the reluctant Jeb Bush declines to run for President in 2016, the current crop of Republican contenders will be headlined by (1) Ted Cruz, whose principal achievements in the Senate to date are temporarily closing down the government and blocking ratification of a Treaty recognizing the rights of the disabled; (2) Rand Paul, the Republican analog to George McGovern; and (3) Marco Rubio, whose impact on the Senate has been felt mostly by placing holds on the Obama administration’s nominees. What they have in common, besides opposition to arms-control treaties as an infringement of U.S. sovereignty and military capabilities, is the resolute pursuit of deficit reduction at a time of declining U.S. influence in the world.

The biggest Democratic makeover during the past quarter-century was when Bill Clinton moved his Party toward the center. The Republican Party’s biggest makeover has been to move away from the political center. Self-professed Reagan Republicans like Cruz actually have little in common with Reagan’s record of legislation in Sacramento and Washington. One example: Reagan wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons. Republicans on Capitol Hill now want to stop dismantling empty missile silos.

When did the Republican Party lose its moorings? Barack Obama’s presidency and his pursuit of the Affordable Care Act were certainly accentuating factors, but the shift away from the legacies of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush started earlier.

In retrospect, the pivot point might have been George H.W. Bush’s defeat by Bill Clinton in 1992. Four years later, Fox News was launched, broadcasting its daily dose of fear and loathing. Then came the Clinton impeachment circus in 1998. What clearer indicator can there be of going off-kilter than to elevate a sexual indiscretion to the level of impeachment proceedings? Whitewater has been followed by Benghazi, with stops in between during every news cycle. There’s more to come, as Hillary gears up for another presidential run.

What does all this mean for arms control? The first rule of pursuing treaty ratification is to avoid partisanship. Democrats in the Oval Office will have a harder time doing this than Republicans, but it’s unclear when the next Republican President will be sworn in, since the Republican Party has adopted political agendas that work far better in safe Congressional districts than nationally. Meanwhile, Republicans on Capitol Hill are chipping away at the treaties Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush once championed. What mainstream Republicans used to consider agreements that advanced U.S. national security are now considered infringements on America’s freedom of action.


We at the Stimson Center are celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary this year. A quarter-century ago, the Cold War was receding at a rapid pace and the Soviet Union was in its last stages of decomposition. Washington and Moscow were on course to reduce their nuclear arsenals by previously unthinkable percentages. It was, in other words, a perfect time to start a think tank. Co-founder Barry Blechman and I were steeped in the practices of strategic arms control. What would we – and the Stimson Center – do now?

After huddling with funders, two new programming initiatives took shape. Barry would convene wise veterans of the Cold War to revive the notion of seeking the complete elimination of nuclear weapons; I would carry the “toolbox” of confidence-building and nuclear risk-reduction measures that helped keep the Cold War from becoming hot to troubled regions. My game plan was to offer countries wishing to avoid dangerous nuclear competitions a menu of choices that could be suitably adapted to fit regional circumstances.

Initially, Stimson convened workshops on CBMs in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India and Pakistan. The need for Stimson programming to promote nuclear-related CBMs in the Southern Cone melted away with the advent of civilian governments. And back in the early 1990s, Stimson was stretched too thin to sustain CBM programming in the Middle East.

In contrast, it was easy to establish comparative programming advantage in South Asia. Very few foreign NGOs were active in the region, and none were involved in programming that addressed the dangers inherent in covert Pakistani and Indian nuclear programs. My early field trips were spent listening, learning, and rebutting arguments that CBMs weren’t needed. Back then, the counter-arguments were that these measures were a Western imposition and that India and Pakistan were too sensible to engage in a nuclear arms competition. The Line of Control dividing Kashmir was a long way away from the Fulda Gap.

Over time, positions softened. One reason was that Stimson hosted over 70 visiting fellows from India and Pakistan — professors, researchers, journalists, policy entrepreneurs at NGO start-ups, and military officers – to delve into the theory and practice of CBMs. A second reason was that Stimson’s analytical products turned out to be prescient. All of the nuclear choices facing India and Pakistan were previously conceived in the West, and some constructs, such as the stability/instability paradox (i.e., possessing nuclear weapon capabilities could actually embolden risk-taking behavior below the nuclear threshold) proved applicable to South Asia.

New Delhi was risk-averse in a pre- and post-nuclear environment, but Rawalpindi wasn’t. With each crisis on the subcontinent, the need for CBMs and nuclear risk-reduction measures became more apparent. Stimson developed a new product line – case studies of crisis dynamics and crisis management. These case studies have been widely read, and have helped the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations develop and update diplomatic playbooks. The current focus of our in-house research and commissioned essays is deterrence stability and escalation control on the subcontinent.

Every one of the measures that the governments of India and Pakistan have agreed to – e.g., the use of hotlines between leaders and senior military officers, prior notifications of certain military exercises and flights, as well as notifications of nuclear accidents – were midwifed in Stimson Center workshops, Track II meetings, and publications. We have helped identify and promote many other measures with obvious utility — an Incidents at Sea agreement, the verifiable withdrawal of troops from the Siachen Glacier, a cruise missile flight test pre-notification agreement, and many others — but finalizing these accords has not been a priority Indian and Pakistani leaders.

Nuclear dangers have grown on the subcontinent. The nuclear arms competition continues to pick up speed while Pakistan’s governance and internal cohesion continue to decline. The advent of a muscular government in India could impart a new impetus to improved relations, but it’s unclear at present whether this will be a priority and, if so, whether the usual blocking moves in Pakistan will again result in stasis – or worse.

I hear a sense of worrisome complacency from colleagues in India who confidently predict that the Modi government will strike back after another spectacular act of terrorism that is traced back to Pakistan. Don’t worry, they say, because responsible parties will prevent unwanted escalation. With Rawalpindi’s track record, there will be a presumption of guilt – at least by association – in the event of another crisis-triggering event, and Washington is in no position to offer advice against the targeted killing of extremist groups.

The Obama administration, preoccupied with Iran, Syria, Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and Ukraine, is very poorly organized to engage in crisis management in South Asia. The State Department’s regional bureau is bifurcated with an Assistant Secretary focused on India and a Special Representative (in the process of retiring) who does Pakistan. Likewise, in the Department of Defense, PACOM handles India while CENTCOM does Pakistan. These structural oddities can be overcome by strong interlocutors, but regional expertise on South Asia at the top rungs is typically thin, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns is retiring, and Washington doesn’t have an Ambassador to India. The administration is just finding its footing with the new Indian government, and relations with Pakistan, while improved, are not yet on solid ground.

Whoever gets tapped to be the principal US crisis manager won’t be able to rely on the gambit used to defuse previous crises. Promises extracted from Pakistani leaders to clamp down on those behind the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament building, and again in 2008 after the carnage in Mumbai, were hollow. They worked to defuse crises because Indian leaders were reluctant to take military action. The next time around, cost/benefit calculations may be different.


Horse cavalry gave way mechanized warfare, and tank armies are giving way to drone warfare. Drones flourish where national sovereignty is weak and international borders are extremely permeable. Since it’s not a good idea for Washington to set precedents it does not want others to follow, greater care relating to US drone strikes is warranted. Two studies on this subject were released last week. Their recommendations clarify the value of trying to devise international standards on the use of drone warfare and the difficulty of doing so.

The two reports have many common threads and policy recommendations. The report written by Micah Zenko and Susan Kreps of the Council on Foreign Relations states the dilemmas of being a precedent-setter plainly:

The actions of the United States would serve as a benchmark against which others are judged, and therefore provide legitimacy for and reduce the political and diplomatic costs of other countries emulating U.S. practices.

My colleague at the Stimson Center, Rachel Stohl, convened a task force of heavy hitters from the U.S. intelligence community and the Departments of Defense, State, and Commerce to issue a report on drone warfare. The Task Force was co-chaired by former CENTCOM Commander General John P. Abizaid and former Counselor to the Undersecretary of Defense Rosa Brooks. The recommendations of Stimson’s report include:

  • Conducting a rigorous strategic review and cost-benefit analysis of the role of lethal drones in targeted counterterrorism strikes.
  • Improving transparency through the release of a detailed report from the administration explaining the legal basis for US conduct of targeted killings; the approximate number, location and organizational affiliations of those killed by drone strikes; the identities of civilians killed as well as the number of strikes carried out by the military versus the CIA.
  • Transferring general responsibility for carrying out lethal drone strikes from the Central Intelligence Agency to the military.
  • Developing robust oversight and accountability mechanisms, including an independent commission to review drone policy and past strikes.
  • Fostering the development of appropriate international norms for the use of lethal force outside traditional battlefields.
  • Assessing drone-related technological developments and likely future trends and creating an interagency research and development strategy.
  • Reviewing and reforming drone-related export control rules and Federal Aviation Administration rules.

The report issued by the Council on Foreign Relations calls on the Obama administration to “pursue a strategy that places clear limits on its own sale and use of armed drones lest these weapons proliferate and their use becomes widespread,” and to actively promote these guidelines abroad. The CFR report’s recommendations include:

  • Tasking the intelligence community to publish an unclassified survey of the current and future trends of unmanned military technologies—including ground, sea, and autonomous systems—as they do for ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
  • Commissioning an unclassified study by a federally funded research institution to assess how unmanned aerial systems have been employed in destabilizing settings and identify the most likely potential future missions of drones that run counter to U.S. interests.
  • Directing administration officials to testify—for the first time—before Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees hearings on the principles and criteria that should guide armed and unarmed drone exports.
  • Appointing a high-level panel of outside experts to review U.S. government policies on targeting decisions and their transparency and potential effect on emerging proliferators, and propose reforms based on the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communication Technologies.

It’s easy to fulminate about drone strikes, and hard to stop them when U.S. policy makers don’t have diplomatic and economic leverage and when other military options appear even worse. The fundamental policy question — whether drone strikes do more good than harm – has been answered affirmatively by Presidents as dissimilar as George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Their cost/benefit calculus is cloudy, since those targeted in the field are replaceable and since the efficacy of targeted killing in disrupting plots can’t be quantified. Washington can, however, count dead bodies and can measure the length of time between attacks by terrorists on the U.S. homeland. Also quantifiable, as much as possible through the limits of public opinion polling in weak states wracked by domestic violence, is a direct correlation between U.S. drone strikes and U.S. unpopularity.

I follow this issue mostly through the lens of Pakistan, where a standard defense mechanism is to blame outsiders – now led by the United States – for the ills affecting the state. The Obama administration suspended drone strikes while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sought to forge a domestic consensus on military action by first talking to representatives of the Pakistani Taliban. This pause had the practical effect of nullifying the domestic argument that Washington was to blame for explosions regularly carried out by one or another group affiliated with the TTP.

Drone strikes have resumed after attacks on Karachi’s international airport, alongside the long-delayed, intensified military activity by Pakistan’s armed forces in North Waziristan. The first strike after this hiatus, on June 11, was reportedly against Uzbek fighters linked in unspecified ways to the airport attacks. It elicited the standard public demarche by Foreign Ministry spokespersons about the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Any goodwill with the Pakistani military for targeting Uzbek fighters may have been negated the very next day by a drone strike reportedly against members of the Haqqani network, which has notably been unaffected by this military campaign.

More drone strikes are in store as more countries acquire armed drones. Pakistan seeks this capability and China, worried about violent Uyghur extremists that use Pakistan for training purposes, may well oblige. The current military offensive, like previous ones, was preceded with long forewarning, allowing noncombatants and militants alike to get out of harm’s way. Rawalpindi will now have to deal with safe havens for extremists across the Durand Line, a problem with which the Pentagon is quite familiar. Looking not too far into the future, both states might conduct drone strikes on Afghan territory.

The coordination of drone strikes between the United States and Pakistan would be one way to address common concerns. If cooperation is publicly acknowledged and framed by Islamabad as a way to regain the writ of the state, bilateral relations could improve markedly. One of Nawaz’s interlocutors with the TTP, Rustam Shah Mohmand, forthrightly told Dawn, a Pakistani daily, that “Drones are more precise in targeting militants than the jets the [Pakistan] air force is using, which cause heavy collateral damage. The government should have formed a strategy in collaboration with the US to carry out strikes using drones.”

This stunning suggestion seems unlikely to be acted upon. It would take a great deal of a political courage on Nawaz Sharif’s part and, besides, U.S. and Pakistani target lists diverge. Still, there is enough of an overlap of national interests to cooperate tacitly, at least some of the time.


The Nonproliferation Review will be publishing my book review of Ken Adelman’s Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours that Ended the Cold War. (Where would we be without publishing license and hyperbolic subtitles?) In the meantime, here are some quotes from the book, which tells a story that is endlessly fascinating:

“Reykjavik changed each man, changed their relationship and thus that of the superpowers.”

“SDI was little more than pie in the colorful sky of Ronald Reagan’s imagination.”

Reagan to Gorbachev from verbatim notes: “[SDI] is exactly the same with offensive strategic weapons. We need a gas mask here.”

“Reagan knew enough about arms control to make his arguments adeptly.”

“Each [Reagan and Gorbachev] was genuinely dumbfounded by what the other believed.”

“Although Reagan was always clear in his views and intentions, he was seldom clear in his instructions. Just as Horace Walpole once said of Prime Minister William Pitt, Reagan kept aloof from all details, drew magnificent plans, and left others to find magnificent means.”

“Iran-Contra showed Reagan at his worst – all instinct with little thinking; all improv with little formal decision making; all emotion with little logic.”

“SDI never worked as Reagan wished. It worked better.”

“Gorbachev wanted to reform the Soviet Union in the worst way possible. And that’s pretty much how he did it.”

“We know the things Reagan did but do not know how he was able to do them.”

And back to that subtitle: “Reykjavik alone did not end the Cold War. Only the uninformed and or the sensationalistic could claim that it did.”


Events on the subcontinent are moving quickly, with uncertain outcomes. In short order, Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a resounding mandate. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended his oath-taking, a savvy symbolic gesture of potential import. One faction of the Pakistani Taliban carried out a brazen attack on Karachi’s international airport, after which Pakistan’s armed forces launched a “comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists” in North Waziristan.

After a year of hesitation, Nawaz’s government has finally joined the fight. But it’s unclear whether the Army has a plan to succeed. It’s hard enough to fight shadows, sleeper cells, hardened Taliban fighters and what euphemistically used to be known as “guest militants,” like the Uzbeks reportedly involved in the airport attack. It’s harder when civil and military leaders spar over punishing Pervez Musharraf for suspending regular order to extend his rule, and when Pakistan’s military and intelligence services treat media outlets and journalists who broadcast unwanted messages as enemies. Whatever plans are unfurled in the weeks ahead will prompt even more explosions. The only question is where.

Many scenarios are in play, ranging from positive to catastrophic. A big boost in direct trade between India and Pakistan can improve Pakistan’s economic prospects, but this won’t be easy for Nawaz. Blocking maneuvers in Pakistan are underway, even Operation Zarb-e-Azb ramps up.

Op-ed pages carried trenchant criticism of Nawaz’s performance in Delhi. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United States and High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, took him to task for failing to defend Pakistan’s diplomatic priorities and concerns, to object to Delhi’s narrative about terrorism, and to take up the Kashmir cause in a public way.

Maleeha’s most significant complaint was that Nawaz’s oddly cobbled-together team – he has yet to appoint a Foreign Minister – is presumed to be open to India’s desire to restructure the “composite dialogue,” which dates back to 1997. This on-and-off-again format – eight baskets of issues including trade, terrorism, nuclear matters, water, Kashmir and lesser territorial disputes – was designed to allow both countries to raise priority concerns and, in theory, to facilitate trades. In reality, few deals have been consummated because priorities differ. In Maleeha’s view,

To so cavalierly abandon Pakistan’s longstanding position – without any sense of what might replace this structure or what India would agree to – is beyond comprehension…

The risks of abandoning a well-established multi-tiered process and recasting the terms of the future dialogue are obvious. India might seek to narrow the bandwidth of talks by cherry picking issues of its priority…

The greatest risk lies in a ‘new architecture’ that might relegate Kashmir to the back channel and take it out of the formal peace process. This will erode its international and bilateral status as a dispute and send an unmistakably negative signal to the Kashmiris.

Other critics seek more muscular remedies. Shamshad Ahmad, Pakistan’s hard-line Foreign Secretary during Nawaz’s previous tenure, urged him to stay home and then hammered him for going, resurrecting rhetoric on Kashmir that was shelved during Musharraf’s tenure:

“What must be clear to [Nawaz] is that peace in South Asia will remain elusive as long as Kashmir remains under Indian occupation. There can be no compromise on this issue.

There is only one fair, just, legal and moral solution to Kashmir, which was provided by the United Nations, and which both India and Pakistan mutually accepted in UN Security Council resolutions.

Translation: The future of Kashmir is fundamental to the future of Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan is justified to turn up the heat across the Kashmir divide, just like in the 1990s when the ISI shifted assets and tactics there from Afghanistan.

Shahzad Chaudry, a columnist, retired Air Vice Marshal, had this to say:

Terror is a two-way concern. And let me add, as long as Kashmir doesn’t resolve… terror will continue to be the only tool that the repressed there will use to assert their voice against the state’s repressiveness. Terror in Kashmir is rooted in Kashmir and is only augmented by regional imports, just as Pakistan faces a conglomerate of threats coalesced under the banner of ideological support to a brand that works against Pakistan.

There are way too many moving parts on the subcontinent at present. A decision to boost direct trade without the usual haggles would produce more winners than losers, but Modi, a far more formidable and less predictable leader than Manmohan Singh, is not trusted. US-Pakistan relations are uncertain, and as US troops leave Afghanistan, the TTP will find safe havens across the Afghan border, an ironic twist. On top of all this, internal security concerns are growing along with the tempo of military operations.

Nawaz Sharif has not used his electoral mandate to good effect, the ISI is defending its prerogatives, and civil-military relations are frayed. The only thing missing from this combustible mix is increased friction along the Kashmir divide. Sure enough, Pakistani media outlets reported on June 13th that Indian troops initiated indiscriminate firing along the Kashmir divide, prompting Pakistani troops to retaliate. Indian media outlets reported that Pakistani troops initiated the firing, which is far more likely. Why elevate the Kashmir issue now, after such a long hiatus? What good can come from doing so?

One possible reason would be to put India on the defensive — but this strategy has consistently produced more pain than gain for Pakistanis and Kashmiris. A second possibility is to block the prospect of improved India-Pakistan relations. Elevating concerns about Indian misrule in Kashmir and support for separatists in Balochistan could also serve as a prelude or justification for upping the ante across the Kashmir divide – or worse, another attack originating in Pakistan on an Indian city. Praveen Swami, who writes must-read pieces in The Hindu, surmises that, “for Pakistan’s Army, mired in a losing war against the jihadists it once nurtured, hostilities with India offer the sole hope of repairing its relationship with the jihadists.”

Raising the Kashmir cause at this juncture might reflect internal maneuvering between Pakistan’s power centers. Or perhaps this is merely shadow play to prompt the Modi government to recommit to the composite dialogue and to lay off changes in Kashmir’s status — or some combination of the above.

Many scenarios are in play, ranging from positive to catastrophic. Bilateral relations could improve markedly by fast-tracking a significant increase in direct trade. The Modi government could cut Pakistan considerable slack during Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Alternatively, if Rawalpindi raises the stakes on its losing hand in Kashmir, the new Indian government seeks to change the status quo in Kashmir, or if surrogates are not kept in check, trying times lie ahead. The most dangerous scenario is another major crisis sparked by a spectacular act of terror in India carried out by groups that are either unencumbered or aided by Pakistan’s intelligence services.

Bottom line: Buckle your seat belts.


The Republican Party in the United States has adopted positions on social issues and the environment that are at odds with those of the majority of the voting public. Their signature opposition to “Obamacare” is losing ground. Both parties gerrymander and receive large sums from major donors, but Republican legislators benefit more from laws reaffirmed or struck down by a one-vote margin on the Supreme Court. Gerrymandered Congressional districts drawn up by gerrymandered state legislatures have tipped the scales toward the Grand Old Party in the House of Representatives. Republican legislators are betting that they do not have to make deals with the Obama administration to retain control of the House and perhaps win the Senate in November. They cannot win the presidency on domestic issues, but the Obama administration is one damaging foreign policy and national security crisis away from handing the keys to the White House over to the Republican Party in 2016.

Over time, Ukraine may become a signal success for the West, if Kiev has competent leadership and receives sufficient economic and military assistance to deal with domestic challenges and to reorient the country toward Europe. In the short run, however, Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and the tentative, circumscribed nature of U.S. and NATO responses have undermined President Obama’s standing on the world stage. Those around him provide insufficient help for trials of this magnitude.

The daily drumbeat of media opposition to the Obama administration from the echo chamber of Fox News and right-wing radio do not sway the voting public – they reinforce grievances of those already convinced. Foreign and national security crises affect broader audiences. Once a president’s perceived standing to represent U.S. interests abroad begins to slip, it’s easier to slide further downhill than to reverse course. If another damaging crisis accompanies the continued decline in defense spending, a strong Republican presidential candidate can buck demographic trends and move into the White House. Reconsidering deficit reduction is good politics and good for national security.

Three foreign crises could be looming. The first is with China over offshore islands that U.S. friends and allies claim. The second is with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Israel, which is seething over the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran and its response to the formation of a new Palestinian coalition government that includes Hamas. Localized Israeli military action would not come as a surprise, prompted by casualties taken at home. The third is the growing possibility of another confrontation between India and Pakistan in which Washington’s standard crisis-management playbook proves insufficient. The next attack on a major airport could be in India instead of Pakistan.

It’s possible that all three of these crises can be avoided over the remainder of the Obama presidency. China’s leadership is focusing on economic growth, corruption and social cohesion. Palestinian leaders might reason that this is not a good time to carry out attacks against Israelis. President Obama and his partners might succeed in negotiating an outcome with Iran that is far more protective of Israeli interests than the cartoon depiction of the nuclear threat used by Netanyahu to instruct the UN General Assembly in September 2012. And perhaps India and Pakistan will finally improve relations by engineering a substantial growth in direct trade – a deal that will not be interrupted by yet another spectacular act of terrorism in India by the usual suspects in Pakistan, either unencumbered or assisted by Pakistan’s intelligence services. Pakistan’s military and intelligence services are, after all, facing severe internal security threats, and have good reason to avoid another confrontation with India.

Realistically speaking, the odds of avoiding every one of these crises are less than the odds of something going badly wrong. The focus of my next post will be on signs of trouble ahead in South Asia.