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?
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.