Note: this post was updated to fix some formatting errors (the inset to show quoted text from the ABC article was done incorrectly) and for clarity.
Sometimes it’s better to take your lumps and let things fade away than to continue to draw attention to an issue. I seem to recall one of those strategic communication platitudes is something like “control the narrative.”
That (controlling the narrative, not taking your lumps) is what the State Department is now trying to via ABC given the WikiLeaks assertion that the U.S. provided UK nuclear deterrence information to Russia during New START negotiations against the desires of the UK.
Both the U.S. and British governments disputed on Saturday a London Telegraph report asserting that the "U.S. secretly agreed to give the Russians sensitive information on Britain’s nuclear deterrent to persuade them to sign a key treaty."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called the report "nonsense," saying the information sharing about U.S. transfers of nuclear weapons to the U.K. dates back to the original START treaty, an assertion backed up by the White House and British government officials.
So it would seem the ‘nonsense’ confirms at minimum at least a part of the Telegraph story. The Telegraph said the information transfer had occurred. Crowley is also saying it did, so the points of dispute are therefore whether the information in question is identical to that being provided before and if the UK government was agreeable with such information being revealed to the Russians. And because the world is much different than 1991, it is entirely possible to think even if the UK was ok with it then, they might not be now.
The report, based on a Wikileaked cable from February 2010 during negotiations over the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear disarmament treaty, discussed an agreed statement on the transfer of Tridents II SLBMs to the United Kingdom.
The parties agreed that "in order to increase transparency in relation to the use of "Trident-II" SLBMs, transferred by the United States of America to equip the Navy of Great Britain, the United States of America shall provide notification to the Russian Federation about the time of such transfer, as well as the unique identifier and the location of each of the transferred missiles. The Parties agree that, upon conclusion of the life cycle of ‘Trident-II’ SLBMs transferred by the United States of America to equip the Navy of Great Britain, the United States of America will send notification to the Russian Federation about the time and method of elimination, as well as the unique identifier for each of the transferred missiles."
Err..except this is a bilateral treaty between the U.S. and Russia. I don’t think the UK is a signatory to the treaty (consider that to be in sarcasm font), so did the UK agree to this revelation as a part of the contract to purchase the Tridents? If so, the storyline would be significantly different…but that isn’t addressed.
Crowley emailed ABC News that "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 to the U.K., 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 U.K.’s independent nuclear deterrent." (emphasis added)
Err…except this is New START, not the 1991 version and if the UK didn’t want information regarding their nuclear deterrent revealed, why wasn’t the old pattern of behavior discontinued? Does Crowley’s statement mean everything from the 1991 START should be in the New START? If so, why didn’t the parties just agree to extend the conditions of the treaty with new numbers for weapons and delivery systems? Same telemetry exchanges, on-site monitoring, and the likes which are weakened in New START? He’s trying to have it both ways.
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.
It’s still an interesting issue and the fundamental question is “Did the U.S. reveal UK nuclear deterrent information to Russia against the desires of the UK?”
And you still can’t spell Assange without a-s-s.