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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili,
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Maggie Tennis

Senate Puts Trump’s Saudi Arms Sales Plans on Notice

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Senate Puts Trump’s Saudi Arms Sales Plans on Notice

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For Immediate Release: June 13, 2017

Media Contacts: Jeff Abramson, senior fellow (646) 527-5793; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director (202-463-8270 x107)

(Washington, D.C.)—Congressional votes to block major arms deals are very rare, but today a substantial, bipartisan group of 47 Senators voted to support S.J. Resolution 42, a resolution of disapproval to transfer U.S. precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, which is waging a controversial military campaign in Yemen. The close vote was a rebuke of Trump’s Middle East policy. In the final tally, 47 Senators voted for full consideration of the resolution, while 53 rejected that step.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meets with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 19, 2017. DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. BrantleyThe growing opposition to the roughly $500 million sale indicates that President Trump will face tough resistance should he try to move forward with other elements of the still mostly undefined $110 billion arms package he announced last month to Saudi Arabia.

“The Senate’s bipartisan stand today against the sale of precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia puts the Trump administration on notice that their approach is off target,” said Jeff Abramson, nonresident senior fellow at the Arms Control Association.

“The United States should not be sending more weapons into an unwinnable conflict and into the hands of a country that uses U.S. weapons against civilian targets. Instead, the Trump administration should use its influence to find a political solution to the disastrous war in Yemen, which has led to a massive humanitarian crisis,” Abramson added.  

“Current U.S. conventional arms transfer policy includes the goal of ‘Ensuring that arms transfers do not contribute to human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.’” Abramson noted.

“With today’s vote, the Senate is sending a strong message that U.S. arms transfers should not go to states that target civilians and violate human rights.”

Additional resources

  • “Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain Should Be Rejected,” Arms Control Association Issue Brief, Volume 9, Issue 3, May 2017.
  • “Defiant Congress Sparks Showdown With Trump Over Saudi Arms Deal,” Arms Control Today, June 2017.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

Can the United States and Russia Bridge the Growing Gap on Arms Control?

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said May 14 on Meet the Press that the United States needs to “improve the relationship between the two greatest nuclear powers in the world.” “I think it’s largely viewed that it is not healthy for the world, it’s certainly not healthy for us… for this relationship to remain at this low level,” Tillerson told Chuck Todd. “But I think the President is committed, rightly so, and I am committed with him as well, to see if we cannot do something to put us on a better footing in our relationship with Russia.” If the Trump administration truly desires better...

INF Dispute Adds to U.S.-Russia Tensions

INF Dispute Adds to U.S.-Russia Tensions 

June 2017

By Maggie Tennis

Reacting with strong language to a U.S. report alleging arms control treaty violations, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the United States of “creating dangerous conditions” that could trigger a nuclear arms race. Further, Russia warned that U.S. missile defense development may give “hot heads” in Washington the “pernicious illusion of invincibility and impunity” that could lead to misguided unilateral action, as it claims occurred when the United States launched a missile strike against a Syrian airbase on April 7.

The annual U.S. report on arms control compliance, which for the fourth consecutive year alleges Moscow’s noncompliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and the Russian Foreign Ministry’s response reflect contrasting views on arms control and nonproliferation issues and demonstrate the precarious condition of the U.S.-Russian bilateral arms control regime.

The State Department’s “Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” dated April 2017, also raised “serious” concerns with Russia’s compliance with the 1992 Treaty on Open Skies and cites Moscow for suspending the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), an accord intended to reduce stockpiles of weapons-usable plutonium that had stood as an example of U.S.-Russian cooperation against nuclear proliferation risks.

Russian Complaints

The report asserts that the United States last year remained in compliance with all of its treaty obligations. The Russian Foreign Ministry disputed the alleged violations and countered with what it said are U.S. violations of the INF Treaty stemming from its missile defense and drone programs, as well as citing other actions it said hinder arms control efforts.

The United States contends that Russia has tested and deployed a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 to 5,000 kilometers, a class of weapons prohibited by the treaty. The State Department report details steps Washington took in 2016 to resolve the dispute, including convening a session of the Special Verification Commission, the technical dispute-resolution venue created by the treaty. (See ACT, December 2016.)

Specific Details

The State Department, which previously provided no details of those consultations, disclosed in the new report elements of its evidence. The United States presented information to the Russians that included Russia’s internal designator for the mobile launcher chassis and the names of the companies involved in developing and producing the missile and launcher, the report says. The United States detailed “the violating GLCM’s test history, including coordinates of the tests and Russia’s attempts to obfuscate the nature of the program,” according to the report.

Further, the report says the missile in dispute is distinct from two other Russian missile systems, the R-500/SSC-7 Iskander GLCM and the RS-26 ballistic missile. The R-500 has a Russian-declared range below the 500-kilometer INF Treaty cutoff, and Russia identifies the RS-26 as an intercontinental ballistic missile treated in accordance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The report also appears to suggest that the launcher for the allegedly noncompliant missile is different from the launcher for the Iskander.

Through the commission and other formats, the United States has provided “more than enough information for the Russian side to identify the missile in question and engage substantively on the issue of its obligations,” according to the report.

The Foreign Ministry, in its statement April 29, said Washington has failed to provide clear evidence to support its assertions. The United States has put forward only “odd bits and pieces of signals with no clarification of the unfounded concerns,” the ministry said.

The Foreign Ministry statement repeated Russian allegations that the United States is violating its INF Treaty obligations by positioning a missile defense system in Romania. “The system includes a vertical launching system, similar to the universal Mk-41 VLS, capable of launching Tomahawk medium-range missiles,” the ministry said. “This is undeniably a grave violation under the INF Treaty.” Yet, the U.S. Tomahawk intermediate-range cruise missiles are permitted under the agreement as a sea-based weapon. In addition, the Mk-41 has not fired GLCMs, and Washington says the launchers to be deployed in Romania and Poland are different than the ship-based version that has been used to fire Tomahawks.

Russia also cited the United States for testing ground-based ballistic missiles characteristic of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles and developing percussion drones that “fall under the definition of land-based cruise missiles contained in the INF Treaty.” It said Washington has been “simply ignoring Russia’s serious concerns.” The State Department report does not mention those disputes.

The Foreign Ministry statement identified the U.S. missile defense system as the No. 1 “unacceptable action” by the United States on a list of 11 areas of arms control concerns, which includes the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and the U.S. failure to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

“It should be understood that the [U.S.] anti-missile facilities placed around the world are part of a very dangerous global project aimed at ensuring universal overwhelming U.S. superiority at the expense of the security interests of other countries,” according to the statement.

Plutonium Disposition

The State Department report found “no indication” that Russia had violated its PMDA obligations, but said that Moscow’s decision to “suspend” the accord “raises concerns regarding its future adherence to obligations” under the agreement. The Foreign Ministry said the report’s finding “does not correspond to reality” because Moscow only suspended the PMDA in response to Washington’s “hostile actions toward Russia” and a “radical change of circumstances” since the agreement was signed in 2000.

The Foreign Ministry said the Obama administration initiated plans to transition to a new method of plutonium disposition without obtaining proper consent from Russia. The statement reiterated Moscow’s position from October that Russia would resume the agreement if the United States adheres “to the agreed method of disposal,” which called for mixing the plutonium with uranium to create mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for power plant use, and reverses the other measures that prompted Russian suspension. Specifically, the ministry called for the U.S. to lift its sanctions against Russia enacted in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, compensate Russia for the damage caused by the sanctions, and reduce the U.S. military presence on the territory of NATO member states that joined the alliance after 2000.”

Pentagon Reviews Nuclear Policies

Pentagon Reviews Nuclear Policies

May 2017
By Maggie Tennis

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has initiated the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to be completed by the end of the year, according to an April 17 Defense Department press release. The NPR will affect defense policy and planning. (See ACT, March 2017.) The review will also influence how the White House proceeds on arms control issues, such as whether to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Trump has expressed an intention to “greatly strengthen and expand” the U.S. nuclear arsenal and an ambition to be at “the top of the pack” of nuclear-armed countries. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, urged that the NPR prioritize strategic stability and nuclear nonproliferation. “It is time to rethink what the priorities should be for a strong yet affordable nuclear arsenal, rather than embarking on a trillion-dollar modernization plan that will drag us into perilous nuclear competition,” he said in an April 17 statement.

Russia Suggests Revived Arms Talks

Russia Suggests Revived Arms Talks

May 2017
By Maggie Tennis

During talks April 12 with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed interest in resuming a “pragmatic” dialogue on strategic stability and arms control, although neither diplomat offered any public details about how that may proceed given strains from accumulating grievances.

Tillerson’s meeting with Lavrov in Moscow, his first as secretary of state, took place amid tensions over Russian actions in Syria and Ukraine, a U.S. airstrike against Syria government forces after their chemical weapons attack on civilians, and ongoing investigations into what role Russia covertly played in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Although it is unclear whether an arms control dialogue can proceed unhindered by the discord, Lavrov said that “we hope to resume our contacts on bilateral strategic stability and arms control and that they will take place in a business-like and pragmatic manner with a view to ensuring strict compliance with our agreements.”

Rex Tillerson, on his first visit to Moscow as U.S. Secretary of State, shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after a press conference April 12. Credit: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty ImagesNeither diplomat in public remarks mentioned U.S. allegations that Russia is violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty (see ACT, April 2017) or Russia’s objections to U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe. The two countries also appear to disagree on whether to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for five years beyond its current February 2021 expiration date, as provided for in the treaty. (See ACT, March 2017.) Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the prospect of the extension during a Jan. 28 phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, who called the accord a bad deal for the United States, according to a Reuters report.

The two officials agreed that North Korea “has to be denuclearized” and discussed the “constructive role Russia can play in encouraging the regime in North Korea to change its course,” Tillerson said. “We have agreed to establish a working group to address smaller issues and make progress toward stabilizing the relationship so that we can then address the more serious problems,” he said.

Just how challenging cooperation will be was demonstrated by the recent behavior of both countries. On the eve of the meetings, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement condemning U.S. policies and actions in a number of global conflicts. Trump, in an interview that aired April 12, blamed the crisis in Syria on Russian support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

In a bit of diplomatic one-upmanship, Putin avoided committing in advance to meet with Tillerson, which also demonstrated a different relationship than when he awarded the Order of Friendship medal in 2013 to Tillerson when he was chief executive of Exxon Mobil. Tillerson described his almost two-hour meeting with the Russian leader as “productive.”

“I expressed the view that the current state of U.S.-Russia relations is at a low point and there is a low level of trust between our two countries,” Tillerson said. “The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.”

In public remarks, Lavrov was more assertive about his government’s objectives and grievances than his counterpart. Lavrov cited many “irritants” in the bilateral relationship, in large part blaming Obama administration policies. “I think that if both sides apply a pragmatic approach, this will yield results and it will go to make our relations much more healthy,” he said. In contrast to Lavrov, a confident diplomat who has dealt with five U.S. secretaries of state since taking his post in 2004, Tillerson, just six weeks on the job, appeared cautious and kept his language mostly vague and generic. At one point, he cited a need for the two countries to clarify “areas of common objectives” and “sharp difference.”

The contrast may reflect more than just Tillerson’s diplomatic inexperience because Trump’s approach to Russia is unsettled. During the Tillerson-Lavrov meeting, Trump described relations as “at an all-time low,” but later tweeted that “things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia.”

Pulling the U.S.-Russia Relationship Back from the Nuclear Brink

News Source: 
The National Interest
News Date: 
April 12, 2017 -04:00

Reducing the Risks of U.S.-Russia Nuclear Conflict

The violence in Ukraine and rising tension in the Baltics, combined with concern about Russian nuclear doctrine and posturing, has heightened the risk of nuclear conflict in Europe. As William Perry, former Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton, recently warned , “A new danger has been rising in the past three years and that is the possibility there might be a nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia.” A recent uptick in fighting in Ukraine, last week’s unrest in Belarus and Russia , and increasing concern in Washington and Brussels about the solidity of the NATO...

U.S. Cites Russia for Banned Missile

A keys arms control treaty is in jeopardy due to alleged Russian violations and potential U.S. countermoves.

April 2017

By Maggie Tennis

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with the permanent members of the Russia Security Council in Moscow on March 31, 2017. (Photo credit: Aleksey Nikolskyi/AFP/Getty Images)Russia has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by deploying ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs), a senior U.S. military official told Congress, escalating a dispute over the same type of missile that the Obama administration in 2014 accused Russia of illegally producing and flight testing.

Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly confirmed news reports, attributed to unnamed U.S. officials, that Russia had fielded the new missile, known as the SSC-8. “We believe that the Russians have deployed a land-based cruise missile that violates the spirit and intent” of the INF Treaty, he said at a March 8 hearing by the House Armed Services Committee. “And we believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility.”

His testimony provided new ammunition to Russia critics in Congress seeking a strong U.S. countermove by the Trump administration, as Republican lawmakers pressed for action on their proposed legislation for further missile defenses in Europe and U.S. development of a nuclear-capable GLCM in what they present as an effort to pressure Russia to return to treaty compliance.

The dispute endangers a Cold War-era accord that laid the groundwork for major U.S.-Russian treaties limiting strategic nuclear weapons (see here). U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty in 1987, agreeing to eliminate permanently their entire arsenals of nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty prohibits such missiles based on land.

Responding to Selva’s testimony, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied any Russian violation. “Russia has been, remains, and will remain committed to all international obligations, including those arising from the INF Treaty,” he told reporters. “I want to remind you of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s words about the fact that Russia sticks to the international obligations, even if in situations where sometimes it doesn’t correspond to Russia’s interests. Russia still remains committed to its obligations, so we disagree and reject any accusations on this point.”

Russia previously has levied its own allegations of treaty violations against the United States, stemming from elements of the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system in Europe and from heavy-strike unmanned aerial vehicles that Russia says fit the treaty’s definition of GLCMs. In November 2016, the United States and Russia held a meeting—the first in 13 years—of the Special Verification Commission (SVC), a forum established by the INF Treaty for dispute resolution.

In 2014 the Obama administration launched a review of U.S. options after determining Russia had flight-tested a GLCM with a range prohibited by the treaty. At a December 2014 hearing held jointly by House Foreign Affairs and House Armed Services subcommittees, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said that potential military response options cover “three broad categories: active defenses to counter intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missiles, counterforce capabilities to prevent intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile attacks, and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” The administration was reviewing “a broad range of options, some of which would be compliant with the INF Treaty, some of which would not be,” he testified.

At the March 8 hearing, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) asked, “What is the [new] administration’s plan to deal with what seems like a flagrant violation of a treaty?” Selva replied that the Pentagon has “been asked to incorporate a set of options” during the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). “So, it would be premature for me to comment on what the potential options might be for the administration,” he said.

In February, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced legislation that they said would allow the United States to “take steps to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty” that include developing similar missile systems that the United States could deploy. Reps. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) introduced companion legislation in the House. The legislation “makes clear that Russia will face real consequences if it continues its dangerous and destabilizing behavior,” Rubio said in a statement.

Gary Samore, executive director for research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said Russia’s INF Treaty violation “frees us from any obligation” to abide by the accord. Still, U.S. responses, such as a decision to deploy systems now banned by the treaty, may limited due to opposition from European allies, he told the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee on March 8.

“It’s important to recognize that there would be some political cost to doing that, especially in Germany and the Netherlands and other countries,” he said. “This would be controversial, so we need to weigh the military benefits of deploying systems, if they’re necessary, against the potential political complications and figure out a strategy for overcoming those political complications.”

 

Congressional hearings reveal “no military requirement” for new low-yield weapons

Witnesses with military, policy and technical expertise all rejected the notion of a “military requirement” for new low-yield weapons in a series of hearings before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees March 8 and March 9. This evident agreement among experts from a range of positions and backgrounds should demonstrate to Congress that there is little credible argument for the additional development of low-yield nuclear weapons, despite language in a December 2016 Defense Science Board report recommending the development of such weapons. The Defense Science Board is an advisory body...

Nuclear Arsenal Costs Rising

CBO’s 10-year cost estimate is $52 billion more than two years ago. 

March 2017

By Maggie Tennis

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that current plans to sustain and upgrade U.S. nuclear forces will cost $400 billion over the next decade, which amounts to about 6 percent of the defense spending anticipated for that period in President Barack Obama’s final budget request to Congress in February 2016.

The spending estimate, released in February 2017, is $52 billion more than the CBO’s previous projection published in 2015 and comes as the Trump administration prepares to undertake a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy (See ACT, March 2017.). President Donald Trump has said that he favors unspecified actions to “strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear capabilities, which could lead to a greater increase in spending than projected by the CBO.

The February report, titled “Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017 to 2026,” is the second update of a study first published by the CBO in 2013. (See ACT, January/February 2014.) Lawmakers included a provision in the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that mandated that the CBO prepare a 10-year nuclear cost estimate to assist Congress in making decisions about the future of the arsenal. Congress later amended the provision to require that the CBO update the cost analysis every two years.

The $400 billion estimate captures spending on nuclear delivery systems and command and control systems at the Defense Department and on nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure at the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The projection, in then-year dollars, includes inflationary increases expected over the life of the program.

Nearly every element of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is slated to be modernized over the next 20 years. Most of these efforts are in the early stages, and a few others have yet to begin. During the Obama administration, Pentagon and NNSA officials warned about the growing cost, but argued that the modernization is necessary to maintain safe, reliable systems and a credible nuclear deterrent. 

In a report last December, the CBO estimated that the U.S. government could save more than $60 billion in required funding over the next decade by reducing the number of nuclear delivery systems and adjusting current nuclear modernization plans while still retaining all three legs of the nuclear triad.

The CBO attributes the $52 billion increase over its 2015 estimate to “the fact that the current estimate spans a 10-year period that begins and ends two years later than the 2015 estimate and thus includes two later years of development in nuclear modernization programs.” The CBO notes that “development costs of weapon systems typically increase as a program proceeds, which means that the current estimate replaces two lower-cost years with two higher-cost years.” 

The largest single cost disparity between the 2017 and 2015 reports concerns the spending estimate for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The 2017 report estimates spending for maintaining and modernizing ICBMs to reach $43 billion over 10 years, a $16 billion increase over the 2015 estimate.

For its 2015 report, the CBO “assumed that the existing Minuteman III missiles would be refurbished rather than replaced.” But the current modernization plan for the ICBM leg of the triad is “much larger in scope—and thus is expected to cost more—than the plans that CBO assumed for its 2015 estimate,” according to the CBO. (See ACT, October 2016.

The CBO estimate also includes $56 billion in “additional costs that would be incurred over the 2017-2026 period if the costs for those nuclear programs exceeded planned amounts at roughly the same rates that costs for similar programs have grown in the past.”

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