Did Obama agree to expose British nuke secrets in START pact? Update: State Dept strongly disputes report; Update: UK backs State

posted at 8:53 am on February 5, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

How desperate was Barack Obama to sign a new START agreement with Russia?  Until now, we just thought his desperation went far enough to hamper our missile-defense system in eastern Europe.  According to Wikileaks, the Poles and the Czechs aren’t the only allies to feel the sting of an American betrayal:

Information about every Trident missile the US supplies to Britain will be given to Russia as part of an arms control deal signed by President Barack Obama next week.

Defence analysts claim the agreement risks undermining Britain’s policy of refusing to confirm the exact size of its nuclear arsenal.

The fact that the Americans used British nuclear secrets as a bargaining chip also sheds new light on the so-called “special relationship”, which is shown often to be a one-sided affair by US diplomatic communications obtained by the WikiLeaks website.

The rest of the revelations from this round of published diplomatic cables are nowhere near as explosive. The worst among them was a revelation that the US spied on the British Foreign Office by “gathering gossip,” apparently for later use in pressuring diplomats to cooperate with our efforts. The Duchess of York, Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson, embarrasses the British government, and millions of pounds in foreign aid got spent on personal amenities by despots and dictators.

And in other news, water is wet.

The revelation about the deal with the Russians is huge, however.  According to the Telegraph’s report on the cables, the Obama administration asked permission of the British government to share the details of their nuclear program, and were refused.  The Obama administration agreed to do it anyway without letting the UK know.  We apparently will hand over all of the serial numbers of the Trident nuclear missiles we sell to the Brits so that Russia can keep track of them.  This means that the UK’s relatively small but ambiguous nuclear deterrent can be more easily calculated, and perhaps neutralized if the necessity arises.

This is a disgrace, of course.  Remember when Obama the candidate insisted that he would restore our standing with friends and allies after the supposedly inept diplomacy of the Bush administration?  We do not increase our standing among friends or foes when we stab the former in the back for the sake of the latter.  Instead, we look craven, disloyal, and inept.

Regardless of what Obama thinks of American nuclear deterrents and policy, he has no right to undermine the policies of our closest ally and stalwart friend, especially as they fight with us in Afghanistan.  Congress should immediately investigate this, and if possible the Senate should revoke its ratification of START.

Update: Via Teresa Kopec on Twitter, State Dept spokesman P. J. Crowley tweets, “Contrary to @TelegraphNews claim, we carried forward requirement to notify#Russia about U.S.-UK nuclear cooperation from the 1991 treaty.”  But if that were true, why did the UK refuse permission to do it again?

Update II: Doug Mataconis updates OTB with this slightly more extensive pushback from Crowley at Time:

This is bunk. Under the 1991 START Treaty, the U.S. agreed to notify Russia of specific nuclear cooperation with the United Kingdom, such as the transfer of SLBM’s [submarine launch ballistic missiles] to the UK, or their maintenance or modernization. This is under an existing pattern of cooperation throughout that treaty and is expected to continue under New START. We simply carried forward and updated this notification procedure to the new treaty. There was no secret agreement and no compromise of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent.

If that’s all this is, then Doug says it’s really no big deal.  But did the previous agreement include the serial numbers of Trident MIRVs, indicating the specific number of such missiles in the British inventory?  And again, if this is just a continuation of the 1991 START process, then why did the UK object to it?

Update III: The UK is quietly backing the Obama administration, Jake Tapper reports:

A knowledgeable source with the British government, speaking anonymously because his government has a policy of not commenting on Wikileaks, says his understanding of the policy conforms with that asserted by the State Department.

Update IV: Just FYI, here’s the part of the memo leaked by Wikileaks, emphasis mine:

10. (S) Orlov asked about the U.S. practice of transferring Trident II missiles to the United Kingdom (UK) in reference to the Russian-proposed agreed statement on the subject. Trout pointed out that most of the provisions contained in the proposed agreed statement were already covered by other sections of the treaty. He noted that notifications existed for the transfer and return of missiles to and from a third party. Additionally, he pointed out, the Russian Federation will receive unique identifiers for each of the missiles transferred to the UK, which was more information than was disclosed under START. Trout acknowledged that the proposal to send a notification of a UK flight test was not covered under START nor had it been included as part of this treaty but argued that this was the flight test of a missile owned by a third country. He said the United States had no legal responsibility for such a notification. Trout said he assumed the UK would send a notice to mariners and airmen prior to any flight test.

So yes, they got notified under the earlier START protocols of transfers of nuclear weapons — but they didn’t get the unique identifiers, which would quantify and specify the number of weapons transferred.  That’s what the British refused to accept, and apparently what we agreed to do anyway.


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Comment pages: 1 2 3 4

Aiding or giving comfort to one’s enemies is such a high crime. As is treason.

Del Dolemonte

maybe when you’re signing a treaty of cooperation with a nation, particularly one with which you are not at war, and one with which you have not been at war, they don’t fall into the category of enemy.

do you have other suggestions?

audiculous on February 5, 2011 at 6:53 PM

You’re so predictable, it’s boring.

By your “logic”, any country that we haven’t engaged in violent conflict with isn’t our enemy. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Besides being boring, you’re breathtakingly gullible. I would use the word naive, but it’s too good for you.

Del Dolemonte on February 5, 2011 at 9:42 PM

Tramster alert. Another vermin with tiny pink feet slimed its way in here.

Geochelone on February 5, 2011 at 9:45 PM

By your “logic”, any country that we haven’t engaged in violent conflict with isn’t our enemy. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Besides being boring, you’re breathtakingly gullible. I would use the word naive, but it’s too good for you.

Del Dolemonte

no, you dumbass bassett, you can’t charge somebody with “aiding and comforting” an “enemy” unless you can prove that legally they’re an enemy.

not liking and trusting each other might mean we are, in common parlance, enemies but that don’t mean spit for the use you’re suggesting.

you’re out to lunch on that.

audiculous on February 5, 2011 at 9:51 PM

And don’t forget…

…. that was NOT a ballistic missile that was fired off the coast of California!

Seven Percent Solution on February 5, 2011 at 10:03 PM

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Del Dolemonte on February 5, 2011 at 9:42 PM

If I might so rude as to ask, why are you wasting yours on audiculous there?

jarodea on February 5, 2011 at 10:30 PM

I think that Lavrov means that the Iranians simply aren’t going to negotiate away their nuclear program and that we would have to ramp up sanctions to completely destroy their economy (which he finds distastefully excessive and ultimately counterproductive) and still might not get them to stop.

audiculous on February 5, 2011 at 9:26 PM

The Russians are playing a very dangerous game. You can pay the piper now, or you can pay the piper later, but if you pay the piper later, the cost will be far greater.

unclesmrgol on February 5, 2011 at 10:34 PM

And if Mr Trout, who was working on the Treaty ON OUR BEHALF is mistaken in saying they are getting more than what is in Start than that is scary. He should know that Treaty word by word, paragraph by paragraph, section by section.

journeyintothewhirlwind on February 5, 2011 at 8:23 PM

Nobody said they weren’t getting different information than they used to:

We simply carried forward and updated this notification procedure to the new treaty. There was no secret agreement and no compromise of the U.K.’s independent nuclear deterrent.”

You people sound like retarded conspiracy theory types. You’re just making things up.

DaveS on February 5, 2011 at 10:35 PM

4. (C) Michael Grace, of the U.S. Desk, said that the UK was still considering the proposed U.S. language on missile defense, but London’s initial view is that such a reference is best kept out of the EU context and is more appropriate for inclusion in a NATO text and discussions. Grace said he would press his Foreign Office colleagues for more specificity on the UK view, but said he understood other EU Members are strongly opposed and the current language may be as much as “the traffic can bear” on the EU side. Visit London’s Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX LeBaron

journeyintothewhirlwind on February 5, 2011 at 10:54 PM

Search: Clar (Clarifications) comes up something like UK feels US Pain but…

journeyintothewhirlwind on February 5, 2011 at 10:55 PM

When will Ed learn that one headline does not a truth make? Disgrace, betrayal, etc. etc. The sky is always falling.

Bradky on February 5, 2011 at 11:16 PM

look, it does not matter who the Republicans run against Obama. We all have to do our very best to see Obama defeated.

kelley in virginia on February 5, 2011 at 8:57 AM

Yes, anybody but Øbama.
Huckabee, Romney, you name it, though I’m not at all fond of them. Anyone GOP would be better.

Hell, maybe even Hillary would be less extreme leftist than what’s there now. In fact, most in the Dem party would be an improvement on this anti-American leftist.

petefrt on February 5, 2011 at 11:22 PM

Ed, I agree with your understanding of the issue: the US has, in fact, agreed to give Russia more information on the Tridents sent to the UK than we did under START I.

What seems to be in dispute is whether the Brits objected to that. The Telegraph story says they were pressured to accept the idea starting in 2009, but I haven’t seen a cable posted yet with that specific information. The UKT article implies that that info came from a cable. Perhaps it hasn’t been posted at the UKT or another website yet.

There hasn’t been an explicit denial of that particular assertion, about the pressure applied in 2009, from the Brits. Their quiet, non-explicit posture isn’t surprising. I wouldn’t expect angry denunciations of the US from them, even if the UKT story is essentially accurate.

J.E. Dyer on February 5, 2011 at 11:23 PM

17. (C) In a bilateral discussion following the P3 meeting, Leslie and Rood focused on Russia and China. Leslie asked for more information on the draft treaty to replace START, noting that the UK has sensitivities about revealing information about its own nuclear programs. Rood outlined the text of the treaty the U.S. recently sent to Russia and assured Leslie it would not require particular actions by the UK. Rood added that Russia believes conventional weapons are part of the bilateral balance of power and should be covered by the treaty. Nonetheless, he said that Russia will likely postpone intense post-START negotiations until the next administration’s tenure in hopes of a “better deal.”

search:non prolif

journeyintothewhirlwind on February 5, 2011 at 11:35 PM

Treaties are half-lies that countries tell each other while planning to actually do whatever suits their own advantage.

Best not to tell any half-lies that weaken your own side in the process.

Something the Boy King Barack clearly fails to grasp.

profitsbeard on February 6, 2011 at 12:18 AM

so this is false?

Army Brat on February 5, 2011 at 11:02 PM

Sadly,they may. It’s been a long time since Britania ruled the waves. Take a good look at the former Empire.Tell me how things got better. Hell,forget about the former colonies, I would not go back to London.

katy the mean old lady on February 6, 2011 at 12:52 AM

What seems to be in dispute is whether the Brits objected to that. The Telegraph story says they were pressured to accept the idea starting in 2009, but I haven’t seen a cable posted yet with that specific information. The UKT article implies that that info came from a cable. Perhaps it hasn’t been posted at the UKT or another website yet.

J.E. Dyer on February 5, 2011 at 11:23 PM

“Pressured” is a loaded word that can apply to anything that anyone wouldn’t do in a “vacuum”. What’s in dispute–for some reason–is whether the Brits gave their approval. There is no indication, in the UKT article or otherwise, that they didn’t know about it.

DaveS on February 6, 2011 at 2:05 AM

True or not, the reason this is plausible at all is that he has bungled foreign policy in such a pathological manner. Obama seems apologetic for being American half the time and the other half lecturing our allies.

flataffect on February 6, 2011 at 2:36 AM

Liars lying about other liar’s lies. If you doubt that we sold out an ally for a headline and a meaningless treaty that will sound good on a fund raising email, you aren’t paying attention.

SurferDoc on February 6, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Sadly,they may. It’s been a long time since Britania ruled the waves. Take a good look at the former Empire.Tell me how things got better. Hell,forget about the former colonies, I would not go back to London.

katy the mean old lady on February 6, 2011 at 12:52 AM

India was their last gasp. When I first read about how India sent the British packing without a revolution…I felt physically ill.

How the mighty have fallen indeed, when you lose an entire nation to a bunch of unwashed, uneducated, and unarmed peasants with a withered pacifist geezer for a leader.

Dark-Star on February 6, 2011 at 12:38 PM

So it’s ok for the UK to be the US poodle under Barry? Just trying to keep things straight.

aikidoka on February 6, 2011 at 1:11 PM

Ed, I commend the integrity you bring to these story updates. Please don’t take offense, but you appear to be fair and balanced.

Mark30339 on February 6, 2011 at 3:51 PM

Please don’t take offense, but you appear to be fair and balanced.

Mark30339 on February 6, 2011 at 3:51 PM

Why would that be offensive?

Esthier on February 6, 2011 at 3:59 PM

Hello Esthier

When the White House was lambasting Fox News as the greatest manifestation of evil known to man, it’s moniker “Fair and Balanced” became a phrase associated with derision and disdain.
.
By the way, Prof. Jacobson’s take on the nukes story seems to be pretty sensible.

Mark30339 on February 6, 2011 at 4:32 PM

Comment pages: 1 2 3 4