Did Obama Sell Out Our Closest Ally To Get New START?

A new Wikileaks revelation indicates that the U.S. may have paid a heavy price to get a deal on New START.

The London Telegraph is out this morning with a report dug from the depths of the Wikileaks cables that, if true, could do serious damage to the United States’s relationship with it’s closest ally:

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.

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.

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

Although the treaty was not supposed to have any impact on Britain, the leaked cables show that Russia used the talks to demand more information about the UK’s Trident missiles, which are manufactured and maintained in the US.

Washington lobbied London in 2009 for permission to supply Moscow with detailed data about the performance of UK missiles. The UK refused, but the US agreed to hand over the serial numbers of Trident missiles it transfers to Britain.

The Telegraph’s Nile  Gardiner is, perhaps understandably, a little outraged:

The matter is serious enough to merit Congressional hearings in Washington as well as parliamentary hearings in London. It is easy to see why the Obama team refused to allow the US Senate access to the negotiating documents for New START, as they would have sparked outrage on both sides of the Atlantic that would almost certainly have killed the Treaty. The Telegraph report clearly contradicts repeated claims by the Obama negotiating team that no side deals were struck with their Russian counterparts. Not for the first time, the current US administration has been eager to appease America’s enemies while shamelessly undercutting her allies.

The decision to give the Russians this information even after the British had explicity refused to consent to our doing so is puzzling and just a little bit outrageous. While I still tend to think that New START  will be a net plus for the U.S., both in terms of economics and national security, the idea of selling out an ally with which we’ve had century-long special relationship makes no sense at all. More importantly, it seems to send a message to other allies that they’re subject to having their secrets revealed if it suits our interest. This would seem to make it less likely that they’ll cooperate with us in the future.

I tend to agree with Gardiner that investigations are called for at this point. The Brits will certainly be looking into this, and we should too. Selling out allies is not the way to make friends and influence people

Update: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley has responded to the Telegraph story via Twitter:

Contrary to @TelegraphNews claim, we carried forward requirement to notify #Russia about U.S.-UK nuclear cooperation from the 1991 treaty.

So there’s the beginning of the U.S. response to this. Like I said, the allegation strikes me as serious enough that the question at least needs to be asked. If it turns out there’s nothing to this story, then there’s nothing to this story.

Update 2: I have written more about the State Department’s response to these charges in a separate post.

Update 3: The British Government is backing the State Department.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Europe, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, World Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Chad S says:

    Question: what can you do with a missile’s serial number?

  2. sam says:

    “Russia used the talks to demand more information about the UK’s Trident missiles, which are manufactured and maintained in the US.”

    But if we give the Russians info about our Trident missiles, and our Trident missiles are the same same as those we give to the Brits, what’s the difference?

  3. @Chad

    The serial number may not be all that relevant but the information about the exact number of missiles and their capabilities would be.

    @Sam,

    The difference, as I understand it, is that we’d be giving the Russians information about the size and capability of Britain’s nuclear deterrent force.

  4. Tano says:

    Secrets? Information? This seems like a lot of huffing and puffing over nothing. Everyone knows that the UK has Tridents from the US. EVeryone has a rough idea of how many. No doubt, intelligence agencies have a pretty tight estimate. The Brits have simply refused to specify the exact number. This list of serial numbers (of new transfers – or so it seems) will probably make the estimates easier and more accurate. Big deal. Instead of “roughly 160, it will be “probably 163”. What is the danger in the Ruskies knowing that?

  5. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    “… and just a little bit outrageous.”

    OK, I’ll bite. Just what does it take to really set you off?

  6. TG Chicago says:

    Depending on the size and capability, disclosing the info could increase the M.A.D. effect, which would be a positive — increasing the UK’s security. Remember the lesson of Dr. Strangelove: if you keep your ability to destroy the world secret, it increases the chances of the world’s destruction.

  7. JKB says:

    Try to justify all you want but what this tells our allies is that the US under Obama cannot be trusted to protect defense information about those allies. As such, they will take efforts to keep information out of US hands and be far less inclined to cooperate with US intelligence efforts.

    Now the irony is, they guy who is selling them out was who Europe wanted as opposed to that mean ole cowboy. Yippy-ki-ya, MFs

  8. Tano says:

    How could you possibly have a nuclear arms control treaty without specifying the number of nuclear arms that you have? And sorry Brits, but if we make them, arm them and maintain them, then they are going to have to be accounted for. Imagine if the Russians built and armed nuclear missiles and gave them to their closest ally, say Belarus, for example. Wouldn’t we need to know that number if an arms control treaty would have any meaning?

  9. Chad S says:

    Doug: I’d like to specifically what we told Russia about the missiles we’re selling to Britain. I don’t know how much of an outrage this is since the British Foreign Sec revealed exactly how many Nuke warheads they have a year ago:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/26/uk-nuclear-weapons-stockpile-warheads

    If we told them some information that could be used against their missiles, thats an outrage. Telling them what I can find with a google search doesn’t seem like an outrage imo.

  10. Davebo says:

    OUTRAGE!!

    What next? Will we give the Chinese the address to Buckingham Palace?

    Seriously Doug, get a grip already.

  11. Tano says:

    HmmmZels, lets see. We build the missiles. We arm them with nukes. We set them up in the UK. And we maintain them. And this is “British information”???
    Why do you instinctively take the side of a foreign power against your own country?

    Its our information, dammit, and if we want to release it in order to advance our national interests, then that is what we should do.

  12. Tony says:

    This is probably worth looking into, but I think it’s important not to go bananas ahead of time. Nile Gardiner has a long track record of getting into a tizzy and blowing things completely out of proportion.

  13. Drew says:

    “puzzling and just a little bit outrageous.”

    Ya think? And to all the others starting to make apologies on technical grounds. You’ve completely missed the point. Its the trust issue.

    Doug, I presume you are in partnership. Would you do this to a partner? I have 3, I wouldn’t.

    And for all of you who I know will cry “reality” the problem here is that this was a) done against the UK’ principals expressed desires and b) rather than man up and just tell those principals “we are going to have to agree to disagree,” they took the scummy route and did it secretly.

    I’ve seen this stuff in my business life, and it confirms my view on Obama: inexperienced rookie for sure, perhaps not a man you can do business with.

  14. Drew says:

    BTW – Tony makes a correct observation: let’s make sure the facts are as they seem.

  15. anjin-san says:

    > As such, they will take efforts to keep information out of US hands and be far less inclined to cooperate with US intelligence efforts

    Fine. Since we are carrying a pretty large portion of their defense burdens anyway, we can tell them “have it your own way, and pay your own way”. Then we can spend more of our money at home.

  16. Usotsuki says:

    The article is tendentiously written but it doesn’t claim what Mr Mataconis appears to believe it claims. There’s no actual support for this conclusion :

    “The decision to give the Russians this information even after the British had explicity refused to consent to our doing so is puzzling and just a little bit outrageous.”

    The Daily Telegraph doesn’t allege that information about the performance of UK missiles was transferred over UK objections, nor does it note any UK objection to the transfer of serial numbers.

    It’s possible I suppose that somewhere in the cables there is a reference to a US decision to transfer the serial numbers despite the wishes of the UK’s government but it’s not something one can assume based on the information given in the article.

  17. Tano says:

    “rather than man up and just tell those principals “we are going to have to agree to disagree,” they took the scummy route and did it secretly. ”

    How do you know that? There is nothing in the reports that claims that the British government did not know exactly what we were doing at every step of the way. They might not have agreed, but there is no indication that they weren’t told. You are just making stuff up, because you want to claim your prejudices are confirmed.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    Much ado . . .

  19. What do you expect from the grandson of a Mau Mau?

    Apparently ZR3 isn’t just a violent nut, he’s also racist.

    Can we PLEASE ban him now? Or are you just going to give him another toothless “Warning”?

  20. My initial reaction to this is to second Michael’s “much ado” comment, and then take a wait and see approach. There has been an ongoing concern about the “special relationship” that pops up from time to time, yet it all seems to be fine.

    And really, when was the following not the case?it seems to send a message to other allies that they’re subject to having their secrets revealed if it suits our interest.

    I think everyone knows that if state X thinks that revealing secrets of ally Y to state Z will lead to state X having, in it’s opinion, more security than keeping state Y’s secret, then reveal it it will. It is the way of international relations, yes?

  21. anjin-san says:

    > Can we PLEASE ban him now? Or are you just going to give him another toothless “Warning”?

    Have to concur.

    > There are many who comment here who would sing praises of Obama even if he pimped out their 9 year old daughters. Tano included.

  22. anjin-san says:

    > The decision to give the Russians this information even after the British had explicity refused to consent to our doing so i

    Can you document this? Or is it just something you kinda made up, like the Sheila Jackson-Lee thing the other day? The one you never got around to supporting in spite of repeated requests for citations from posters…

  23. sam says:

    @Doug

    “The difference, as I understand it, is that we’d be giving the Russians information about the size and capability of Britain’s nuclear deterrent force.”

    Er, googling ‘how many Trident subs does the UK have”:

    The UK Trident programme is the United Kingdom’s Trident missile-based nuclear weapons programme. Under the programme, the Royal Navy operates 58 nuclear-armed Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and around 200 nuclear warheads on 4 Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines from Clyde Naval Base on Scotland’s west coast. At least one of these submarines is always on patrol as a continuous at-sea deterrent, armed with up to 16 Trident missiles and around 48 nuclear warheads (an average of three warheads per missile), although each submarine can carry up to 160 nuclear warheads with 10 warheads per missile. This is to be reduced to 8 missiles per boat, with a total of 40 warheads per boat, as a result of the 2010 Strategic Defence Review…[Source]

  24. sam says:

    @Drew

    I’ve seen this stuff in my business life, and it confirms my view on Obama: inexperienced rookie for sure, perhaps not a man you can do business with.

    Drew says:
    Saturday, February 5, 2011 at 11:31

    BTW – Tony makes a correct observation: let’s make sure the facts are as they seem.

    Heh.

  25. george says:

    Sorry, but whether its significant or not, you don’t give away information a friend wants to keep secret just because its convenient. This is just wrong. You want to give away your own information, that’s fine, and your business. Basically, this is just another example of the gov’t ignoring the interests of other countries.

    On the plus side, it shows that Obama can be just as indifferent to the interests of other countries as Bush was.

  26. wr says:

    So Glen Beck invents a new boogie man, this time two terrifying academics, one in her 70s, one long dead, who had the audacity to write an article for the Nation. And magically, in Zels-land, now it turns out they’re old friend of Barack Obama. Amazing that no one has ever known of this connection before, or brought it up. The fact that Beck hates them proves Obama is in bed with them.

  27. Jason Fritz says:

    I don’t much like pimping my blog in the comments at other blogs, but it beats synopsizing since I wrote about this exact subject earlier today. It is much ado about nothing, as suggested by some of the earlier commenters. Especially as HMG has released the size of their nuclear force and make their own warheads. Here’s the link:

    http://tachesdhuile.blogspot.com/2011/02/much-ado-about-nuclear-nothings.html

  28. PD Shaw says:

    sam, from the first link in the post, Britain discloses it’s nuclear capabilities and then doesn’t state whether that information is accurate or give Russia the means to verify it. It’s about maintaining strategic ambiguity.

  29. Steve Hynd says:

    It might be worth a bit of background here. Gardiner is a foaming-mouth neocon of the wiorst kind while the Torygraph has a year and a half long campaign in progress to paint the Obama administration as hostile to the UK because, supposedly, Obama hates the Brits. What agenda the rightwing newspaper owned by two feudal-castle living billionaires might have here is just as relevant, if not more so, than the story itself.

    Regards, Steve Hynd

  30. An Interested Party says:

    It’s rather interesting that some of the same people who were originally outraged with Wikileaks and wanted the head of Julian Assange on a plate probably don’t feel so outraged when leaked information can be used in an attempt to embarrass the president…

  31. sam says:

    Fair enough, PD. But I can’t imagine that the Russians don’t have a pretty good idea of what the Brits have.

  32. michael reynolds says:

    sam:

    Drew’s views will always be confirmed by events.

    It’s easy if you simply exclude consideration of everything that disproves your assumptions, and then distort what remains into a semblance of agreement with conclusions you reached prior to any facts being in evidence.

    Think UFO true believers: everything proves they’re right.

  33. wr says:

    Zels — I know that almost fifty years ago Cloward and Piven wrote an article in the Nation advocating mass enrollment in Welfare, saying that it would overwhelm the system and lead to a nationwide guaranteed income. I don’t get the logic and I don’t think it was very good advice, but I’m not stupid enough to see this as a call to violence just because Glen Beck said it was. And I know exactly how big an effect this one article in a lefty political journal had on the world — zero.

    I call them academics because that’s what she is and he was. She is a professor of political science and sociology at CUNY. Before his death ten years ago, Cloward had taught at Columbia for 47 years. That’s what an academic is. Someone who teaches at a university. I realize there are a lot of letters in the word, but you could look it up.

    Unlike you, I even know how to spell their names. And I know that unlike many teabaggers — and in fact, unlike you, who frequently calls for the murder of people whose political opinions you don’t like, they never called for violent revolution.

    Zels, we all know you’re unemployed. Why don’t you use a little of your free time to do a little research of your own instead of parroting back Beck’s lies. Maybe it wouldn’t be so easy to prove you’re completely ignorant then.

  34. Chad S says:

    FWIW, the State dept emails this to time mag:

    “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.”

  35. PJ says:

    @Chad S:

    1991 START Treaty?

    That was proposed by Reagan and signed by Bush I?

    “Did Bush I Sell Out Our Closest Ally To Get START?”

  36. michael reynolds says:

    Well, surprise! Shock! Amazement!

    Turns out the story is baloney.

    Will this alter Zelsdorf’s rather, um, odd assertion that this shows the blood runs true from Obama’s Mau Mau grandfather to the President?

    Will this change Drew’s equally odd belief that his, well, let’s be polite and call them ‘assumptions,’ are proved accurate?

    Of course not. Mere facts, ladies and gentlemen, are powerless against such penetrating intelligences.

  37. anjin-san says:

    > Turns out the story is baloney.

    Which will not stop wingers from repeating it as God’s own truth for many years to come…

  38. wr says:

    Zels — I certainly believe you know more than me about drugs and alcohol. You prove it with every post.

    Funny thing. You claim Piven has incited violence, and yet you seem to have neglected the link to the Nation article in question. I realize it’s hard to link to a Glen Beck rant you only heard through a drunken haze, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t take your babbling as gospel.

  39. anjin-san says:

    Doug you have yet to support your claims. This is getting to be a bit of a habit with you…

  40. kb says:

    This is one of the main reasons that the UK is signing defence treaties with france.

    As far as the UK is concerned the US is no longer a reliable ally. The UK and france can both build nuclear submarines and france can build missiles.

    And going back to the falklands war, the french are a more reliable ally than the US. After all in 1982 the french backed the UK whilst the US spent a lot of time backing argentina.

  41. anjin-san says:

    > US spent a lot of time backing argentina.

    Interesting viewpoint. Some supporting evidence would be nice…

  42. michael reynolds says:

    kb:

    From what fever dream did this world view of yours emerge? Can you cite anything like evidence? Or lacking evidence, just simple logic?

  43. Rob in CT says:

    Interesting. The “story” turns out to be bunk. No acknowledgement of this whatsoever from the blogger who wrote it up.

    I thought this site was supposed to be about reasonable, fact-based conservatism (something I’m interested in)? Perhaps I was mistaken.