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“I also want to thank Daryl Kimball and the Arms Control Association for allowing me to address all of you today and for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war.”

– Joseph Biden, Jr.
Senator
January 28, 2004
Shannon Bugos

New Chinese Missile Silo Fields Discovered


September 2021
By Shannon Bugos and Julia Masterson

China is constructing at least 250 new long-range missile silos at as many as three locations, fueling concerns that it aims to substantially expand its nuclear weapons arsenal. Beijing’s rapid nuclear buildup, recently revealed through open-source intelligence analysis, could significantly impact the Biden administration’s Nuclear Posture Review and arms control and strategic stability talks between the United States and Russia.

Yumen in northwestern China is among three locations where the Beijing government is constructing at least 250 new long-range missile silos. (Image: Planet Labs Inc. / Analysis: MIIS James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies)U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his concern with the “rapid growth” of China’s nuclear arsenal at an Aug. 6 meeting of foreign ministers at the ASEAN Regional Forum. He said this dramatic expansion indicates a sharp deviation from Beijing’s “decades-old nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence,” according to a readout of the meeting by State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, called the development a “strategic breakout” by China. “The explosive growth and modernization of its nuclear and conventional forces can only be what I describe as breathtaking, and frankly, the word ‘breathtaking’ may not be enough,” he told the Space & Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Ala., on Aug. 12.

China has yet to officially respond to the discovery of two new missile silo sites at Yumen and Hami in northwestern China in June and a potential third in Inner Mongolia in July. The Chinese Foreign Ministry told the Associated Press on July 30 that, with respect to reports about the Hami site, it was not aware of the situation.

China’s nuclear stockpile remains small in comparison to those of the United States and Russia and only grew by an estimated 30 warheads, to 350, between 2020 and 2021, according to a June 2021 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The U.S. Defense Department’s 2020 military power report on China was more conservative, putting China’s nuclear warhead stockpile in the low 200s. (See ACT, October 2020.) Beijing currently has an estimated 20 silos for liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Comparatively, the United States and Russia are believed to have nuclear stockpiles of about 4,000 warheads each.

Republicans in Congress said that the recent revelations confirmed reports during the Trump administration that China was speeding its nuclear buildup and that Beijing’s actions demand an accelerated modernization of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), ranking member on the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, called China’s nuclear buildup “unprecedented” and suggested that China is “deploying nuclear weapons to threaten the United States and our allies.”

China’s nuclear posture has long been one of minimum nuclear deterrence, aimed at maintaining a small but technically sophisticated arsenal capable of a second-strike. Beijing has long asserted that it adheres to a no-first-use policy, meaning that it would only use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a first strike.

But the discovery of new missile silos provides some evidence for the claims made during the Trump administration that China aims to substantially expand the size of its nuclear arsenal in the coming years. In May 2019, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley Jr. predicted that, “over the next decade, China is likely to at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile in the course of implementing the most rapid expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal in China’s history.”

In April 2021, Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, Ashley’s successor, shared his assessment that China is well poised to exceed that estimate. “China probably seeks to narrow, match, or in some places exceed U.S. qualitative equivalency with new nuclear warheads and their delivery platforms,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a briefing on the annual worldwide threat assessment.

At the new missile silo fields at Yumen and Hami, which are located roughly 236 miles apart, Beijing has 229 missile silos under construction. Each site features silos placed about two miles apart in a grid-like pattern, spanning an area of about 300 square miles. The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies first identified the construction of an estimated 119 silos at the Yumen site, as reported by The Washington Post on June 30.

On July 26, the Federation of American Scientists announced its discovery of an additional 110 missile silos outside of Hami, on which construction had begun in March 2021. “The silo construction at Yumen and Hami constitutes the most significant expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal ever,” wrote Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen.

A potential third site, at Hanggin Banner, Inner Mongolia, was disclosed in a report on Aug. 12 that revealed construction of a silo field similar to those found at Yumen and Hami. According to Air University’s China Aerospace Studies Institute, a U.S. Air Force education institute that publicized the location, satellite imagery indicates construction of at least 29 new silos, 13 of which have dome shelters.

Experts suggest that China’s DF-41, a solid-fueled ICBM capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, may be destined for the silos at the new sites. It is uncertain, however, whether Beijing plans to fill every silo with a missile and how many warheads each missile will carry.

“Just because you build the silos doesn’t mean you have to fill them all with missiles,” Vipin Narang, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, told The New York Times on July 26. “They can move them around.”

Employing such a shell-game strategy could be one of China’s motivations for constructing new missile silos. Alternatively, as suggested by Tong Zhao of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, leaders in Beijing may have adjusted their calculus to determine that “a bigger arsenal would make the country’s rivals respect China and exercise more self-restraint when dealing with Beijing.”

Although China once prioritized a sophisticated but small nuclear arsenal, Zhao suggests that recent evidence indicates Beijing “has become more willing to invest in quantity, in addition to its traditional focus on [the] quality” of its nuclear forces.

Caitlin Talmadge, an expert on Chinese nuclear issues at Georgetown University, shared her assessment July 1 on Twitter that “China is working hard to entrench [the United States] in a deeper state of mutual vulnerability” through its nuclear buildup.

“Beijing has a good ways to go still, but true nuclear stalemate would make it much more challenging for [the United States] to reassure [and] defend allies in the face of Chinese conventional threats,” she concluded.

U.S. defense officials are also watching to see if China will use its civilian nuclear power infrastructure to expand its weapons-grade fissile material stockpile. Richard warned in April that Beijing’s new nuclear power reactors “could change the upper bounds of what China could choose to do if they wanted to in terms of further expansion of their nuclear capabilities.” Nuclear infrastructure intended for civilian use could be maladapted for the production of weapons-grade material.

China’s rapid expansion has prompted questions about how it could affect arms control and strategic stability talks between the United States and Russia. Washington and Moscow kicked off the dialogue in July in Geneva.

The Trump administration pursued efforts in 2020 to bring China into trilateral arms control talks with Russia, but Beijing repeatedly refused. (See ACT, November 2020.) At one point, the Trump administration conditioned an extension of the 2010 U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which was set to expire in February 2021, on China’s involvement in a new trilateral arms control agreement. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

Trump left office with the treaty’s future in doubt, but the Biden administration agreed to extend New START just days before its expiration. Even so, Blinken said on Feb. 3 that Washington will not only seek future arms control covering all Russian nuclear weapons, but also “pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal.”

On Aug. 10, Price echoed the secretary’s remarks after the silo field revelations, saying that “we encourage Beijing to engage with us on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races and conflict.”

The desire for a dialogue on strategic stability with China is shared by some U.S. military leaders. “A dialogue allows us to communicate our national security or diplomatic objectives, and then to understand Chinese national security diplomatic objectives,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Lutton, commander of the 20th Air Force, which has responsibility for the U.S. ICBM force, on Aug. 10. “I think it is beneficial to work with the Chinese.”

In addition to China’s construction of new missile silos, a July 30 report by National Public Radio revealed satellite images of the construction of a new tunnel and roads at Lop Nur, the former Chinese nuclear test site. The U.S. State Department has previously expressed concern that Beijing may be seeking to increase activities at Lop Nur. (See ACT, May 2021.)

China’s construction of new long-range missile silos is raising concerns.

 

U.S., Russia Expected to Continue Stability Talks


September 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia are expected to continue talks in September in an attempt to make progress on nuclear arms control before the last remaining agreement limiting the two countries’ nuclear arsenals expires in less than five years.

Flags representing Russia and the United States. Strategic stability talks between these nuclear powers will substantially determine the future of arms control. (Photo by Vladimir Gerdo\TASS via Getty Images)U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to relaunch a bilateral strategic stability dialogue during their June summit, and delegations representing Washington and Moscow held their first meeting in Geneva on July 28. (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

During the “professional and substantive” talks in Geneva, “the U.S. delegation discussed U.S. policy priorities and the current security environment, national perceptions of threats to strategic stability, prospects for new nuclear arms control, and the format for future strategic stability dialogue sessions,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Biden pronounced himself “hopeful” in brief comments to journalists on July 30 when asked about his views on how the talks went and the prospects for success.

The Russians have not been much more forthcoming. In a statement on July 28, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the two countries held “a comprehensive discussion of the sides’ approaches to maintaining strategic stability, the prospects for arms control, and measures to reduce risks.”

“We have significant differences on key issues,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said after the talks concluded, but “there are also points of convergence, and we intend to capitalize on them.”

Following the dialogue, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on an Aug. 11 call “to support transparency and risk-reduction efforts,” according to a Pentagon statement.

In the weeks ahead of the July meeting, multiple Russian officials called for the dialogue to focus first on conducting “a joint review of each other’s security concerns,” given the differing priorities on strategic stability.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman led the U.S. delegation in a first round of the U.S.-Russia stability talks in Geneva in July with the Russian delegation, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. The two sides are expected to meet again this month. (Photo by Vladimir Gerdo\TASS via Getty Images)The U.S. delegation was led by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Bonnie Jenkins, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. The U.S. team included officials from the National Security Council and the Defense, Energy, and State departments. Ryabkov led the Russian delegation.

This was the first round of U.S.-Russian strategic stability talks since Biden took office and the two countries extended the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) until 2026. (See ACT, March 2021.) The Trump administration held multiple rounds of the dialogue between September 2017 and August 2020, but failed to agree on extending New START, which was scheduled to expire in February 2021.

A key goal of the dialogue is to “lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures,” according to the joint U.S.-Russian presidential statement from the June 16 summit in Geneva. Biden told reporters afterward that he expected results relatively quickly. “We’ll find out within the next six months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters,” he said.

The two countries have agreed to meet again formally in September and to meet informally before then “with the aim of determining topics for expert working groups at the second plenary,” Price said. But so far, no specific dates have been announced.

“This focused approach has been used repeatedly in strategic stability consultations in the past,” commented Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, on July 29. “It has proven to be effective in situations where the parties need to discuss a wide range of issues and not superficially.”

The number of working groups and their topics remain to be decided. Last year, the two countries formed three strategic stability working groups on nuclear warheads and doctrine, verification, and space systems. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters after the dialogue that, in addition to arms control, the two sides touched on issues related to space and the strategic implications of artificial intelligence and cyberspace policy, which suggests possible subject matters for the groups. Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for New START, told Defense One that some topics could be missile defense, new and emerging technologies such as hypersonic glide vehicles, and the framework for a successor agreement to New START.

As for the different priorities, the Biden administration has expressed a desire to address Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons and new nuclear delivery systems, as well as to bring China into the arms control process.

Beijing repeatedly rejected calls by the Trump administration to join trilateral talks with Washington and Moscow, but expressed a willingness to engage in arms control discussions in other settings, such as a meeting with the five nuclear-weapon states or in a bilateral dialogue.

Russia, meanwhile, wants to focus on developing “a new security equation” that addresses all nuclear and nonnuclear, offensive and defensive weapons that affect strategic stability. That would include U.S. missile defense systems, which Washington has long resisted putting on the table.

The State Department official noted that the Russian delegation brought up U.S. missile defenses during the dialogue and that the U.S. delegation responded by arguing that those defense systems are meant to counter threats from Iran and North Korea rather than Russia.

Moscow has suggested including France and the United Kingdom, as well as China, in arms control discussions. It has also continued to propose a moratorium on the deployment of ground-launched missiles that would have been prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (See ACT, November 2020.)

Although separate from any formal negotiations on an arms control agreement or arrangement to follow New START, the strategic stability dialogue and its corresponding working groups could help establish the foundation for those formal talks in the future.

New START, signed in 2010, caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads
and 700 deployed delivery vehicles and heavy bombers each. Ryabkov noted on June 25 that the two countries are working on restarting the inspections conducted under the treaty, which have been paused since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but “there are no agreements yet.”

 

Neither side has said much about where the process stands.

Key Arms Control Officials Confirmed


September 2021
By Shannon Bugos and Julia Masterson

The Biden administration made progress over the past two months in filling key arms control and national security posts within several departments.

Bonnie Jenkins, a former Arms Control Association board member with decades of experience as an arms control and nonproliferation expert, is the new undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. She is among the unusually high number of women named to national security positions by President Joe Biden. (Photo by U.S. Mission-Geneva)Bonnie Jenkins was sworn in on July 25 as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Just three days later, she led the U.S. delegation, alongside Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, in a round of the U.S.-Russian strategic stability dialogue in Geneva.

“I am committed to reduce the risk of nuclear war by effective arms control, limit Russian and [Chinese] nuclear expansion, strengthen biosecurity, and pursue accountability for the use of chemical weapons,” Jenkins posted on Twitter following her swearing-in ceremony.

The Senate confirmed Jenkins on July 21 by a vote of 52–48. Biden nominated her for the post in March. (See ACT, April 2021.)

Jenkins, a former board member of the Arms Control Association and former coordinator for threat reduction programs at the State Department under President Barack Obama, will oversee bilateral talks with Russia on strategic stability and nuclear arms control, as well as guide U.S. strategy for the upcoming 10th review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

In addition, Biden nominated Mallory Stewart on July 2 to become assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, a position that reports to Jenkins. Stewart currently serves as a special assistant to the president and senior director for arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation on the National Security Council. She previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for emerging security challenges and defense policy during Obama’s second term.

Stewart’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has yet to be scheduled.

Also among the Obama administration alumni tapped to join the Biden team is Laura Holgate, who was nominated July 27 to be the U.S. representative to the Vienna office of the United Nations and to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Holgate previously served as U.S. ambassador to the IAEA from July 2016 until January 2017.

At the Pentagon, Biden nominated Sasha Baker as deputy undersecretary of defense for policy and Deborah Rosenblum as assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense. Baker is now the White House’s senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council and served as deputy chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ash Carter during the Obama administration. She was nominated Aug. 10, and her confirmation hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Rosenblum, an executive vice president at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a nongovernmental organization, previously held multiple senior positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Following her nomination April 27, she was confirmed by a voice vote of the Senate on July 29, and Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said on Aug. 10 that the department recently welcomed her to its ranks.

With a bipartisan vote of 79–16, the Senate confirmed Jill Hruby on July 22 as undersecretary of energy for nuclear security and administrator at the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency at the Energy Department. Biden nominated Hruby, a former director of Sandia National Laboratories, in April.

Hruby will “lead our efforts to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent and protect our national security,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm following Hruby’s confirmation. “She is a brilliant leader, a model public servant, and an inspiration to engineers and rising stars everywhere.”

Frank Rose was sworn in Aug. 2 as NNSA principal deputy administrator. Rose, nominated in April, previously served in Obama’s State Department as assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance and deputy assistant secretary for space and defense policy.

Biden also announced on Aug. 4 his nomination of Corey Hinderstein as deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the Energy Department. She previously served as senior coordinator for nuclear security and nonproliferation policy affairs in that office and currently is the NTI vice president of international fuel-cycle strategies.

“If confirmed, she would lead our nonproliferation work and help keep our nation and our world safe from nuclear threats,” Granholm said about Hinderstein’s nomination.

 

Bonnie Jenkins, the new undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, is among the officials recently confirmed by the Senate.

Members Discuss Open Skies Treaty After Russia Withdraws


September 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The remaining members of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty are moving forward with determining how the treaty will function after Russia withdraws in December 2021, a year after the United States also pulled out.

Royal Canadian Air Force members prepare their CC-130J aircraft for an Open Skies Treaty training flight in 2018. Now that the United States and Russia have withdrawn from the treaty, Canada and Hungary, the treaty depositaries, convened a video conference in July to chart the way forward. (Photo by John Hillier/U.S. Air National Guard/DVIDS)Canada and Hungary, the treaty depositaries, convened the states-parties for a videoconference on July 20 to discuss Russia’s announcement in June that it will withdraw from the accord Dec. 18. (See ACT, July/August 2021.) The conference brought together 183 representatives from the 33 states-parties, according to a statement by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

The representatives discussed “the overall impact on operational functionality of the Treaty, the impact on the allocation of observation quotas and on financial arrangements within the Treaty, and other potential effects on the Treaty,” the OSCE statement said. “The discussion was extensive with 28 States Parties to the Treaty offering a broad range of views on several key topics pertaining to the effect of the decision by the Russian Federation to withdraw from the Treaty,” the statement added.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in his address to the conference that the U.S. withdrawal in 2020 destroyed “the balance of interests, rights, and obligations of the participants” in the treaty. He reiterated that the states-parties’ refusal to provide written guarantees that they will neither share data collected under the treaty with the United States nor prohibit overflights of U.S. bases in Europe informed Moscow’s decision to leave the accord. (See ACT, December 2020.)

Ryabkov also rejected the call made by NATO in its June communiqué for Russia to return to full compliance with the treaty and emphasized that Moscow will not change course. “The train has left,” he said during his closing remarks. “If you were really interested in Russia remaining in the [Open Skies Treaty], you would have acted differently.”

The deputy foreign minister concluded with a warning that if the treaty “is further terminated, the entire blame for such an outcome will also fall on the United States and its allies.”

Other states-parties at the conference, such as France and the United Kingdom, expressed their disappointment with Russia’s withdrawal decision and their intention to remain fully committed to the treaty. Susanne Baumann, German commissioner for disarmament and arms control, said that Russia’s withdrawal places “significant strain” on the treaty and that “a new approach to conventional arms control is much needed.”

Katarina Kertysova, a policy fellow at the European Leadership Network, in a July article encouraged the remaining states-parties to keep the treaty alive because there is “ongoing value in overflying Ukraine, Georgia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina,” as well as in conducting extraordinary observation flights, as occurred in Ukraine in 2014. Kertysova also suggested possible ways in which the treaty could be reimagined and expanded, such as by verifying international arms control agreements and extending the geographical scope of the treaty outside of the Euro-Atlantic region.

Meanwhile, Alexander Graef, a researcher at the Institute for Peace, Research, and Security Policy in Hamburg, emphasized on July 20 that “[n]o amount of national technical means can replace the value of [military-to-military] contacts” provided through the treaty’s implementation.

Entering into force in 2002, the Open Skies Treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. The Biden administration informed Moscow in May that it would not seek to rejoin the accord after the Trump administration withdrew Washington from the treaty in November 2020. (See ACT, June 2021.)

The remaining members of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty are trying to figure out how the treaty will function once Russia withdraws in December.

U.S. Hypersonic Glide Vehicle Test Fails Again


September 2021

The U.S. Air Force’s air-launched hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, known as the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), failed another flight booster test in July after a failure three months earlier.

Air Force crew prepare for a test of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in 2020. The hypersonic weapon travels at five times the speed of sound. (Photo by U.S. Air Force)The rocket motor for the ARRW test missile did not ignite after the missile “cleanly separated” from a B-52 bomber and “successfully demonstrated the full release sequence” during the July 28 test over Point Mugu Sea Range near southern California, the Air Force said in a July 29 statement. During a booster test in April, the test missile failed to complete the launch sequence. (See ACT, May 2021.)

“Developing first-of-its-kind missiles is difficult business, and this is why we test,” said Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force’s program executive officer for weapons, after the test.

The Air Force has said that the ARRW system is designed to provide the ability to destroy high-value, time-sensitive targets and will expand the capabilities of precision-strike weapons systems by enabling rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets. The service’s fiscal year 2022 budget request included $238 million for continued research and development and $161 million for initial procurement of the hypersonic system. (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

The Air Force plans to begin deploying the ARRW system in 2022, but that date may be pushed back. Collins told reporters on Aug. 4 that figuring out what went wrong with the test “may impact our ability to meet our next test window as we go forward.” The hypersonic system must successfully complete booster and all-up-round test flights before a contract is awarded to manufacturer Lockheed Martin so production can begin.

The July booster test followed the first detonation of an ARRW warhead earlier in the month, which the Air Force dubbed as successful in a July 7 statement. The missile will be armed with what is known as a fragmentation warhead, according to a July 16 Aviation Week report, which would limit the ARRW system to destroying soft targets.—SHANNON BUGOS

U.S. Hypersonic Glide Vehicle Test Fails Again

New Report Released on the Allure and Risks of Hypersonic Weapons

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For Immediate Release: Sept. 14, 2021

Media Contacts: Shannon Bugos, research associate, [email protected], and Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, [email protected]

(WASHINGTON, DC)—A new report from the Arms Control Association details the growing allure but also the risks of the aggressive pursuit of hypersonic weapons by the United States amid a renewed emphasis on military competition with China and Russia. The report also proposes action items for Congress to better understand the Defense Department’s plans for the weapons and mitigate strategic stability risks.

The debate concerning hypersonic weapons has gained increased attention in recent years as the United States has poured billions of dollars—and plans to pour billions more—into accelerating the development of hypersonic weapons and as China and Russia make headway in developing and deploying their own such weapons. The Pentagon is funding no less than eight prototype hypersonic weapons programs with the aim of fielding an initial capability of at least some of those by 2022.

“[T]he U.S. rush to field hypersonic weapons merits a more critical examination by the Biden administration and Congress given the many unanswered questions about their rationale, technical viability, cost-effectiveness, and escalatory risks,” write Shannon Bugos, a research associate, and Kingston Reif, the director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association.

“It is time—in fact, past time—for Congress to demand these answers before the military begins fielding the weapons in great numbers,” they say.

The report, Understanding Hypersonic Weapons: Managing the Allure and the Risks, outlines the scope of the unanswered questions about the case for hypersonic weapons, details the underappreciated risks to stability posed by the weapons, assesses the viability of arms control as a tool to reduce these risks, and suggests recommended action items for Congress to better its understanding about the Pentagon’s plans for the weapons, eliminate potential redundancies in weapons capabilities, and mitigate stability risks.

The full report is available for download at ArmsControl.org/Reports.

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This new report details the growing allure—and risks—of hypersonic weapons being pursued by the United States amid a renewed emphasis on military competition with China and Russia. The report also proposes action items for Congress to better understand the Defense Department’s plans for the weapons and mitigate strategic stability risks.

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U.S., Russia Strategic Stability Meeting Held in Geneva

The United States and Russia restarted in July a bilateral dialogue to discuss strategic stability and the future of arms control and agreed to meet again in late September. U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to relaunch the dialogue during their June summit to begin what will likely be a long, contentious process to make progress on nuclear arms control before the last remaining arms control agreement between the two countries expires in under five years. During the “professional and substantive” talks July 28 in Geneva, “the U.S. delegation discussed U.S...

Biden’s Disappointing First Nuclear Weapons Budget

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Volume 13, Issue 4, July 9, 2021

As the Biden administration prepares to initiate a review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, its first budget request proposes to continue every part of the unnecessary and unsustainable nuclear weapons spending plans it inherited from the Trump administration. This includes the controversial additions made by President Trump to the Obama-era program, such as additional, more usable lower-yield nuclear capabilities.

The budget submission is a disappointing and unfortunate missed opportunity to put the plans on a more stable and cost-effective footing. The request is also inconsistent with President Biden’s stated desire to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy and seek new risk reduction and arms control arrangements with Russia and perhaps China.

During the campaign, President Biden rightly said the United States “does not need new nuclear weapons” and that his “administration will work to maintain a strong, credible deterrent while reducing our reliance and excessive expenditure on nuclear weapons.”

Current U.S. nuclear weapons policies exceed what is necessary for a credible nuclear deterrent, and the financial and opportunity costs of the current modernization plan are rising fast amid a flat defense fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget request and the potential for no growth beyond inflation budgets over the next several years.

According to the most recent Congressional Budget Office assessment of the cost of nuclear forces published in late May, the United States as of the end of the Trump administration is planning to spend $634 billion over the next decade to sustain and modernize the arsenal. This is an increase of $140 billion, or 28%, from the previous 10-year projection just two years ago.

The Biden administration maintains that its budget request ensures that the nuclear modernization effort is “sustainable.” But the warning signs indicating that the plans cannot be achieved on budget or on schedule are everywhere. And they are increasingly flashing bright red. It is not at all clear that the Biden administration fully appreciates the magnitude of the challenge it is facing.

Whether the budget proposal turns out to be a placeholder pending the outcome of the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that may lead to adjustments of the current program of record, or a harbinger that Biden intends to stick with the Trump administration’s more expansive nuclear plans remains to be seen.

Regardless, sticking with the Trump plans for another year could make it harder to adjust course later. The Biden administration could – and should – have paused some of the most controversial modernization efforts pending the outcome of its NPR.

In keeping with President Biden’s views, the administration’s forthcoming NPR should pursue a nuclear posture that is more stabilizing, supports the pursuit of additional nuclear risk reduction and arms control measures, and frees up taxpayer dollars for higher priority national and health security needs.

The Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request

The Obama administration committed to an overhaul of nearly the entire nuclear arsenal in 2010 as part of its effort to win Republican support in the Senate for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). At the time, the effort was estimated to cost approximately $200 billion over the ensuing ten years.

What the Obama administration kickstarted, the Trump administration continued and expanded in the name of countering Russian and Chinese nuclear advancements and more aggressive behavior. Spending on nuclear weapons grew significantly over the past four years, due in part to cost overruns in programs that began under the Obama administration and new nuclear capabilities proposed by the Trump administration. 

Now, the Biden administration is requesting $43.2 billion in fiscal year 2022 for the Defense and Energy Departments to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems and warheads and their supporting infrastructure. That includes $27.7 billion for the Pentagon and $15.5 billion for the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The proposed spending on nuclear weapons constitutes about 5.7% of the total national defense request of $753 billion.

A straight “apples to apples” comparison of the Biden submission to what Trump requested and Congress largely supported in fiscal year 2021 – $44.5 billion – and what Trump projected to request for FY 2022 – $45.9 billion – is difficult because the Biden proposal appears to reclassify how spending on nuclear command, control, and communications programs is counted, leading to a lower requested amount.

Based on the CBO’s estimates, continuing with the Trump administration’s plans would consume as much as 9% of the Biden administration’s plans for total national defense spending over the next decade. In the latter years of the decade, spending on nuclear weapons could exceed 10% of the military budget. 

The budget request would notably continue the Trump proposals to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities. The additions and their requested funding amounts include:

  • $15 million for early development of a new low-yield nuclear sea-launched cruise missile;
  • nearly $134 million for continued early development of a new high yield submarine launched ballistic missile warhead (the W93) and associated aeroshell;
  • $98.5 million to sustain the B83-1, the only remaining megaton class warhead in the arsenal, including to begin alterations to extend its service life; and
  • nearly $1.9 billion to build the capability to produce at least 80 plutonium pits – or cores – for nuclear warheads per year at two sites.

The requests for the W93, B83-1, and pit production are all very similar to the Trump administration’s projected funding levels in fiscal year 2022. It is not clear what the Trump administration would have proposed for the new sea-launched cruise missile.

As with most new administrations, the Biden administration only had time for a quick review of the fiscal year 2022 budget plans bequeathed by its predecessor. However, the Pentagon did review some nuclear weapons systems, notably the Trump plans for a new low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead variant, known as the W76-2, and a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.

The Navy began fielding the W76-2 in late 2019. The new cruise missile is undergoing an analysis of alternatives to determine possible options for the weapon. The CBO estimates the cost of the missile at $10 billion over the next decade.

The future of the new cruise missile appears to be a low priority for the Navy and rightly so given it is a redundant and costly hedge on a hedge. Despite the inclusion of funding for the weapon in the budget request, preliminary budget guidance issued by acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker on June 4 called on the service not to fund the weapon in fiscal year 2023.

Triad Budget Request Grows Beyond Projections

In addition to continuing with the Trump add-ons, the budget request would also sustain – and then some – plans that began during the Obama administration to replace long-range delivery systems for all three legs of the nuclear triad.

In fact, three legacy programs – the long-range standoff missile (LRSO) to buy a new fleet of air-launched cruise missiles, the Columbia class to buy a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines, and the ground based strategic deterrent (GBSD) to buy a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) – are slated to receive a combined nearly 15% increase above what the Trump administration was planning to request. 

The LRSO would receive $250 million more in FY 2022 than the Trump administration was planning to seek. The Air Force has not explained the rationale for this large increase. The service accelerated the program last year following the decision to proceed with a single contractor for the weapon. (The Air Force awarded the development contract to Raytheon on July 1.)

The only major delivery system program that would receive a decrease below what was projected by Trump is the program to further life extend the Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile in the wake of a Congressional cut to the program in FY 2021.

The Columbia-class, GBSD, and B-21 long-range bomber programs are each poised cost between $100-$150 billion after including the effects of inflation and likely cost overruns, easily putting them among the top 10 most expensive Pentagon acquisition programs.

NNSA Budget Is Flat But Remains High

While most of the debate about how to approach nuclear modernization focuses on the Pentagon and the delivery systems, the exploding price tag of the NNSA’s modernization plans continues to fly under the radar. Spending on NNSA weapons activities grew by nearly 70% during the Trump administration. 

The administration’s request of about $15.5 billion for nuclear weapons activities at the NNSA is an increase of about $139 million above the fiscal year 2021 level, but a decrease of $460 million below the Trump projection of $15.9 billion for fiscal year 2022.

In addition to funding the new warhead and facility projects proposed by the Trump administration, the request also keeps on track the Trump plans for the B61-12 gravity bomb, W87-1 ICBM warhead, and W80-4 air-launched cruise missile warhead upgrade programs. In order to prioritize warhead life extension programs and pit production recapitalization, the agency is proposing to reduce funding for stockpile research, technology, and engineering activities as well as efforts to replace aging infrastructure. 

The topline NNSA weapons request is the first decrease from a prior year request since fiscal year 2013 and from a prior year projection since fiscal year 2016 – though from a much bigger baseline. Last year, Congress provided approximately $15.4 billion, a mammoth increase of $2.9 billion above the FY 2020 appropriation. A mere two years ago, the FY 2020 budget request projected a FY 2022 request of $13 billion for weapons activities. Or $2.5 billion less than the actual FY 2022 request.

The reality is that the scope of the NNSA nuclear weapons modernization effort has been overloaded to such a degree that it cannot be executed in the absence of sustained significant growth above inflation over the next several years. And even then, such increases might not be enough to meet the aggressive schedule goals for many of the agency’s nuclear warhead and infrastructure replacement efforts.

For example, the budget request revealed that the estimated cost of a facility at the Savannah River Site intended to produce 50 plutonium pits per year pursuant to the current 80 pit annual goal has risen from up to $4.6 billion – a figure which the Trump administration’s plutonium strategy was based on – to up to $11.1 billion, which is a 141% increase. The agency has also said that completion of the project will be delayed by up to five years. To make matters worse, the design for the facility is only 30% complete.

In sum, the Biden administration has ignored these budget realities in its latest budget request for NNSA weapons activities. It acceded to the Trump baseline, but at a lower level than planned and without changing the scope of the modernization effort. Given the rampaging cost of the agency’s plans, the administration won’t be able to punt again in FY 2023 and beyond. It will need to either produce significant additional budget increases for weapons activities or reduce the ambition of the modernization plans.

Mounting Execution Challenges and Opportunity Costs

While supporters of the status quo on nuclear modernization continue to argue that the effort is affordable and achievable, the facts tell a different story. In the past year alone:

  • The projected 25-year cost of the NNSA’s nuclear warhead and infrastructure sustainment and modernization plans rose from $392 billion to $505 billion. On top of that, as noted above, the projected cost to build the pit production facility at Savannah River rose from up to up $4.6 billion to up to $11.1 billion, and the start date has been delayed by two to five years.
  • The projected GBSD program acquisition cost rose from $85 billion to $95.8 billion.
  • The FY 2022 budget request for the Columbia and LRSO programs is a combined $1 billion more than Trump planned as of last year.
  • The Government Accountability Office concluded that “every nuclear triad replacement program...and every ongoing bomb and warhead modernization program—faces the prospect of delays.”

The CBO report published in May showed that the projected cost of the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans grew by a whopping $62 billion (or 29%) during the six common years (FY 2021-FY 2026) covered by their estimate as of the end of the Obama administration. And there appears to be no end in sight to the growth.

The rising cost of the nuclear weapons mission continues to force hard choices for the Pentagon as to what other priorities must be cut back. For example, Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, the Navy’s budget director, told reporters on May 28 that the service’s decision to only buy one instead of two new destroyers “was absolutely an affordability question, where the goal of the department was to balance the first priority, which was investment in Columbia recapitalization.” For the second year in a row, members of Congress have strongly criticized the Navy’s shipbuilding budget proposal as inadequate.

In addition, the Pentagon is once again proposing to slash funding for the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which supports global efforts to detect and secure dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus. The budget request for the program is clearly inconsistent with one of President Bidens’s top priorities, combatting the pandemic, as well as his call for augmenting nuclear material and global health security.

Recommendations for the Nuclear Posture Review

The Biden administration must keep these execution challenges and growing opportunity costs in mind as it conducts its NPR this year. Russia and China are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, developing new weapon capabilities, and, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, projected to increase the size of their nuclear warhead stockpiles over the next decade.

But planned spending on nuclear weapons poses a major threat to security priorities more relevant to countering Moscow and Beijing and assuring allies, such as pandemic defense and response as well as pacing China’s advancing conventional military capabilities.

It is imperative that the White House provide clear direction to the Pentagon to produce real options for decision by President Biden consistent with his goal of reducing the role of and spending on nuclear weapons and seeking new arms control arrangements. These options must include the posture and budget implications of more cost-effective alternatives to the current program of record, which would be in keeping with the administration’s desire to adopt a more integrated approach to deterring adversaries.

Examples of such options include reducing the size of the deployed strategic nuclear arsenal below the New START limits, deferring and/or adjusting the scope and pace of the GBSD program, and scaling back plans at the NNSA to build newly-designed ICBM and SLBM warheads and produce at least 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030.

Reshaping the spending plans consistent with such adjustments could save at least $80 billion through 2030 while still allowing the United States to maintain a nuclear triad. Such an amount would, for example, be more than enough to fulfill Indo-Pacific Command’s request earlier this year for $22.7 billion to augment the U.S. conventional defense posture in the region through fiscal year 2027 via the Pacific Deterrence Initiative.

Moreover, the longer it takes to begin the NPR, which has yet to formally start, the greater the danger that the administration could miss the window to include any potential changes to the current modernization plans in the FY 2023 budget request. Biden administration officials have stated that certain decisions about force structure and modernization will be accelerated during the review process to inform the next budget submission, as past NPR’s have typically taken about a year to complete. But the window will only be open for so long.

The Biden administration missed an opportunity in its first budget request to begin building back a better nuclear strategy. It can’t afford to waste another opportunity to do so. Continuing along the current course is a recipe for a major budget collision that would weaken American security.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and SHANNON BUGOS, research associate

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As the Biden administration prepares to initiate a review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, its first budget request proposes to continue every part of the unnecessary and unsustainable nuclear weapons spending plans it inherited from the Trump administration.

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U.S., Russia Agree to Strategic Stability Dialogue


July/August 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during their June summit to relaunch a bilateral strategic stability dialogue focused on “ensuring predictability,” reducing the risk of nuclear war, and setting the stage “for future arms control and risk reduction measures.”

During their June 16 summit in Geneva, U.S. President Joe Biden (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to relaunch a strategic stability dialogue aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear war. (Photo by Peter Klaunzer—Pool/Keystone via Getty Images)The announcement marked the first step in what could be a long, contentious process to make progress on nuclear arms control after more than a decade of deadlock and before the last remaining arms control agreement expires in five years between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

In a joint statement released following their June 16 meeting, the two presidents said the strategic stability dialogue their countries planned to initiate would be “integrated,” “deliberate,” and “robust.”

Biden added at a press conference after the summit that the dialogue would “work on a mechanism that can lead to control of new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raise the prospects of accidental war.” Biden did not detail what specific weapons systems he has in mind.

He said that “we’ll find out within the next six months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters.”

The date and location of the dialogue is not set, but will soon be determined by officials at the U.S. State Department and Russian Foreign Ministry, Putin noted during his postsummit press conference.

On June 22, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference that Moscow has proposed as “a first step, a joint review of each other’s security concerns.” The next step, he said, would be to “outline possible ways how to address these concerns,” with the goal being an agreed framework that “will be instrumental for further engagement in actual negotiations on eventual, practical agreements and arrangements.”

A strategic stability dialogue was last held in August 2020 under the Trump administration in the lead-up to the expiration of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in February 2021. (See ACT, September 2020.) But two days before the treaty’s expiration, Biden and Putin agreed to extend New START by five years, until 2026. (See ACT, March 2021.)

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) welcomed the dialogue’s planned resumption. “President Biden made clear his administration understands the critical principle that we have to engage with Russia on arms control issues to ensure a nuclear war never happens,” Menendez said in a June 16 statement.

But Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the committee’s ranking member, expressed his disappointment in the outcome of the summit, stating that “Biden made no efforts to address Russia’s Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty violations.” The United States withdrew from the 1987 INF Treaty in 2019, claiming that Russia had violated the treaty by testing and deploying a banned missile system. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The two presidents in their joint statement reaffirmed the 1985 statement by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Dozens of international nuclear policy experts and former senior government officials encouraged the two presidents to reaffirm the Reagan-Gorbachev principle and announce the resumption of a strategic stability dialogue.

But the United States and Russia appear to have different priorities for the dialogue. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on June 10 that the administration will aim to discuss “the very complex set of nuclear arms issues that face our two countries,” such as what may come after New START, “how…we deal with the fact that the INF Treaty is no more, [and] how…we deal with our concerns about Russia’s new nuclear systems.” Washington has also previously expressed its desire to address Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons and bring China into the arms control process.

Sullivan added that “whether additional elements get added to strategic stability talks in the realm of space or cyber[space] or other areas, that’s something to be determined as we go forward.”

As for Russia, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on June 9 that “anything that affects strategic stability must be discussed during a dialogue,” including “nuclear and non-nuclear and offensive and defensive weapons.” Russia additionally has suggested the inclusion not only of China in arms control but also France and the United Kingdom.

Ryabkov added on June 22 that “[t]he parties may decide to adopt a package of interrelated arrangements and/or agreements that might have a different status if necessary. Moreover, it might be possible to design some elements in a way to make the room for others to join.”

China welcomed the U.S.-Russian decision to launch a strategic dialogue.

“China always actively supports international efforts in nuclear arms control, and will continue to hold discussions on a broad range of issues bearing on strategic stability with relevant parties within such frameworks as the cooperation mechanism of the five nuclear-weapon states, Conference on Disarmament, and the [UN General Assembly] First Committee. We also stand ready to have bilateral dialogue with relevant sides with mutual respect and on an equal footing,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said June 17.

During a round of the strategic stability dialogue in June 2020, the two countries agreed to form three working groups, which met the next month. (See ACT, July/August and September 2020.) A U.S. official at the time said the topics for the working groups were nuclear warheads and doctrine, verification, and space systems.

Whether those groups have continued their work since then is unclear.

The new strategic stability dialogue would be separate from any future negotiations on a potential arms control agreement to follow New START, but it could help set the foundation for those formal follow-on talks.

Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for New START, emphasized in a June 14 Politico op-ed that the goal for the strategic stability dialogue should be “a good discussion rather than a treaty, although over time the two sides may agree to some measures to build mutual understanding, confidence and predictability.”

Regarding future negotiations on a replacement for New START, Gottemoeller urged Biden and Putin to “issue clear, simple guidance about what exactly the new treaty will cover and when it should be completed.”

The summit between Biden and Putin came at the tail end of Biden’s first international trip as president, which also included the NATO leaders’ summit on June 14. In the communiqué released after that summit, the 30 heads of state expressed “their strong support for [New START’s] continued implementation and for early and active dialogue on ways to improve strategic stability. Allies will welcome new strategic talks between the United States and Russia on future arms control measures, taking into account all Allies’ security.”

The bilateral dialogue could be the first step in making progress on arms control after more than a decade of deadlock.

Biden Budget Cuts Threat Reduction Efforts


July/August 2021
By Shannon Bugos

A key Pentagon program aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus, is once again facing the budget axe, this time under President Joe Biden.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), shown here attending a House Armed Services Committee hearing in 2020, has questioned President Joe Biden's cuts in a key Pentagon program aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges. (Photo by Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)The Trump administration proposed a similar cut to the program last year, a move that was roundly criticized by members of Congress from both parties and ultimately reversed in final appropriations legislation. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Lawmakers have already begun to express similar misgivings about the Biden administration’s submission, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives in the United States and abroad.

“Rather than cut funding, we need to double down, learn from the global pandemic, and support programs that work to increase our capacity to anticipate and respond when another dangerous pathogen arises,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee that oversees this program, told CQ Roll Call on June 8.

The Pentagon is seeking $240 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program in fiscal year 2022, a significant 33 percent decrease from the fiscal year 2021 appropriation of $360 million. (See ACT, January/February 2021.) Congress provided about $120 million more for the program in 2021 than the Trump administration requested.

Of the $240 million, $124 million would be for the Biological Threat Reduction program, a 45 percent decrease from the amount appropriated for 2021. The Trump administration last year sought to slash this program by 38 percent from the fiscal year 2020 appropriation, but Congress rejected the proposal and instead appropriated $225 million.

The Pentagon’s 2022 budget documentation attributed the proposed decrease to the plus-up approved last year by Congress for the program, as well as reprioritization within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The CTR program, commonly known by the authors of the 1991 law that established it, Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), has facilitated the deactivation of thousands of former Soviet nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, the securing of countless biological pathogens, and the destruction of thousands of tons of chemical weapons agents.

The 2022 budget request for the program includes $13 million to secure and eliminate chemical weapons and $59 million to prevent WMD proliferation. To secure and dismantle nuclear weapons, it seeks $18 million, half of the 2021 appropriation.

The Biden administration is requesting $1.9 billion for nuclear nonproliferation programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department that is responsible for maintaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure. That is a decrease of $14 million from the 2021 appropriation and an increase of $178 million from the Trump administration’s projection in last year’s budget request.

The administration requested $343 million for the Material Management and Minimization program, a 14 percent decrease from the 2021 appropriation. The program supports the removal of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium used in civilian nuclear programs around the world. It also converts research reactors and medical isotope production facilities from using HEU, a fissile material that can be used for nuclear weapons, to using low-enriched uranium.

The requested $185 million for the Nonproliferation and Arms Control program, however, would be a 25 percent increase from the previous fiscal year’s appropriation. The increase largely would accelerate “the development of the nonproliferation enrichment testing and training platform for use by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” according to the budget documents.

At the State Department, the administration requested about $320 million for nonproliferation activities, including $95 million for the voluntary U.S. contribution to the IAEA, $86 million for efforts aimed at preventing biological and chemical weapons attacks, and $31 million for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, which oversees the global network used to detect nuclear test explosions.

 

A key Pentagon program aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges is facing the budget axe under President Biden.

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