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No First Use of Nuclear Weapons: An Option for US Nuclear Weapons Policy?

stencil NO

Courtesy Dr Case/flickr

This article was originally published by the E-International Relations (E-IR) on 28 September 2016.

In July 2016, reports in U.S. newspapers indicated the Obama Administration considered adopting a declaratory policy stating that the United States would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in conflict. Subsequent reports, however, indicated that the United States was unlikely to adopt this particular change in U.S. declaratory policy before the end of the Obama Administration because both military and civilian officials in the Administration oppose the declaration of a “no first use” policy. The press reported that, during deliberations on the policy change, Pentagon officials argued that current ambiguity provides the President with options in a crisis. For example, Admiral Haney, the Commander in Chief of Strategic Command, noted that the shift could undermine deterrence and stability in an uncertain security environment. The reports stated that Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Carter also raised concerns about the possibility that a “no first use” policy could undermine the confidence and security of U.S. allies. The press reported that several U.S. allies also weighed in against the change in policy. Some in the U.S. Congress, like Senator Dianne Feinstein, argued that the only moral use for U.S. nuclear weapons is as a deterrent to their use. Others, including Representative Mac Thornberry and a number of Republican Senators, argued that changes in U.S. nuclear policy could lead to a more dangerous world by undermining nuclear deterrence and “shattering the trust” of U.S. allies.

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Can the US-Philippine Alliance Endure Duterte?

Don't Spook the Gun

Courtesy of Thomas Hawk / Flickr

This article was originally published by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on 14 September 2016.

Philippine President Roberto Duterte is continuing his anti-American campaign with two latest bombshell statements, first calling for the fewer than 200 American Special Operations Forces advising and training Philippine troops to exit the southern Philippines. “I don’t want a rift,” he told the press this week, “but they have to go.” The terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, he explained, would kill them on sight, a curious claim since U.S. forces have been helping to counter threats in the southern Philippines for years. Perhaps Duterte’s real motives are designed to permit him to conduct military and law-enforcement operations without worrying about international scrutiny, while at the same time letting China know he is willing to distance himself from his ally if that is the price of major capital investment.

Whatever the real drivers behind Duterte, the Philippine president managed within a mere 24-hours to shock the world by ordering his defense secretary to work on security pronouncements with China and Russia to combat drug traffickers and insurgents and cease joint patrols in the South China Sea alongside the U.S. Navy. In case it wasn’t abundantly clear at this point, Duterte spelled out his position: “I do not like Americans. It’s simply a matter of principle for me.” For a leader actively supporting extra-judicial killings, “principle” may be a relative concept. But the biggest problem is the potential long-term damage that could be caused by Duterte airing his emotions in public.

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Is Globalisation Really Fuelling Populism?

One world / courtesy of Kai Schreiber/flickr

This article was originally published by the the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) on 11 May 2016.

On both sides of the Atlantic, populism on the left and the right is on the rise. Its most visible standard-bearer in the United States is Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee. In Europe, there are many strands – from Spain’s leftist Podemos party to France’s right-wing National Front – but all share the same opposition to centrist parties and to the establishment in general. What accounts for voters’ growing revolt against the status quo?

The prevailing explanation is that rising populism amounts to a rebellion by ‘globalisation’s losers’. By pursuing successive rounds of trade liberalisation, the logic goes, leaders in the US and Europe ‘hollowed out’ the domestic manufacturing base, reducing the availability of high-paying jobs for low-skilled workers, who now have to choose between protracted unemployment and menial service-sector jobs. Fed up, those workers are now supposedly rejecting establishment parties for having spearheaded this ‘elite project’.

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US forces – Between Europe and Asia

Aircraft carrier USS George Washington near Guam.

Aircraft carrier at sunset, courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr

This article was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) on 26 May 2016.

On 3 May 2016, with traditional pomp and circumstance, General Curtis M. Scaparrotti replaced General Philip Breedlove as commander of US forces in Europe (EUCOM), and at the same time became NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

General Scaparrotti assumes command in a very different environment from when his predecessor arrived in Europe three years earlier. Since the US ‘pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific region was announced in 2011/2012, EUCOM has steadily lost resources and forces. During the peak of the Cold War, there were over half a million US personnel assigned to the European theatre of which 200,000 belonged to the US army alone. Today, around 65,000 US military personnel remain permanently stationed in Europe of which some 33,000 are US army soldiers.

However, recent developments to the east and south of Europe have pushed European defence back onto the agenda in Washington. A sign of this was the announcement by US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in February 2016 to change military spending priorities with more support for NATO allies and more spending on advanced weapons. This reflects a new strategic environment marked by five big evolving geo-strategic challenges: Russian assertiveness; global terrorism and in particular the rise of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); China; North Korea; and Iran.

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Orbiting Around a Public-Private Strategy for Space

Earth and International Space Station (ISS), courtesy NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 6 May 2016.

In the latest sign of how new entrants are upending the space launch industry, the Air Force announced last week that an $83 million contract awarded to SpaceX to put a GPS satellite into orbit would cost the government 40 percent less than the competing bid from United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. As impressive as that is, SpaceX’s competitiveness is set to increase further after the firm achieved a milestone in the history of space exploration. After numerous failed attempts, SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of one of its rockets on a “drone ship” floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket’s payload, a cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS), was successfully lifted into orbit.

The achievement is a first step towards the reuse of SpaceX rockets (or more precisely the first of the rocket’s two stages), which previously would be lost after a single use. The next step will be to attempt to refurbish and reuse a rocket — potentially many times over — at acceptable cost and risk. The Space Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters parachuted to sea and were recovered by ship, but they did not themselves lift payloads into orbit and were very expensive to refurbish. Another rocketry firm, Blue Origin, has also managed to safely land its rockets after launch, but those are sub-orbital vehicles not meant to reach the ISS or place satellites aloft. ULA has studied reusability but has not implemented it.

The major implication of rocket reusability – and the reason it has been so feverishly pursued — is to reduce the price of placing a payload into orbit. SpaceX’s per-launch price is reportedly $60 million, well below the $200 million charged by ULA or the $137 million charged by Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium. Rocket reuse stands to reduce SpaceX’s price even further, to perhaps just $40 million. To put that in perspective, it is about the same as it costs to stage the Oscars.

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