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"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement
July 1, 2020
Shannon Bugos

Countries Urge Entry into Force of Nuclear Test Ban at UNGA

In the midst of this year’s United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City on Sept. 25, ministers of foreign affairs and diplomats representing nearly 50 countries spoke at a biannual conference in favor of entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) signed by 184 countries. Signed in 1996, the CTBT prohibits “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any nuclear explosion” no matter what the yield, anywhere in the world. According to Article XIV of the treaty, the agreement cannot enter into force until it has been both signed and ratified by the 44 countries listed in...

Saudi Arabia Seeks to Enrich Uranium


October 2019
By Shannon Bugos

Saudi Arabia intends to enrich uranium to fuel its planned nuclear power program, the country’s new energy minister said on Sept. 9. The Saudi position could run afoul of a recently disclosed Trump administration policy to seek a Saudi commitment to refrain from such activities in exchange for U.S. nuclear technology.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry speaks with reporters in May. He has delivered a letter to Saudi officials demanding they agree to refrain from enriching uranium or separating plutonium in exchange for peaceful U.S. nuclear technology. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)“We are proceeding with it cautiously.… We are experimenting with two nuclear reactors,” said Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman at the 24th World Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi on Sept. 9. Saudi officials have announced plans to build 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion. (See ACT, April 2018.) Currently, companies from the United States, Russia, South Korea, China, and France are competing for a contract to build the first two nuclear power reactors, with a Saudi decision reportedly expected by the end of this year.

To receive U.S. nuclear materials or technology, Saudi Arabia would need first to sign a 123 agreement with the United States. Named after the section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act requiring it, a 123 agreement sets the terms and authorizes cooperation for sharing U.S. peaceful nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries. A 123 agreement can involve what is known as a “gold standard” commitment in which a country forgoes the enrichment of uranium or the reprocessing of plutonium, which are two pathways to making nuclear weapons. The State Department is leading negotiations for this agreement, and once complete, it will require congressional approval.

Those negotiations apparently include a U.S. demand for the gold standard. In September, Energy Secretary Rick Perry sent a letter to Saudi officials outlining the U.S. requirements that Saudi Arabia must adopt an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and commit to the gold standard.

“The terms of the 123 Agreement must also contain a commitment by the kingdom to forgo any enrichment and reprocessing for the term of the agreement,” said Perry’s letter, as reported by Bloomberg.

Energy Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette recently spoke in favor of a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia. “If there’s going to be any transfer of technology, you can’t do it without it,” he said. He did not, however, specifically mention whether the gold standard would be a part of such an agreement.

Negotiations on a 123 agreement have slowed over the past year as Riyadh has refused to relinquish the possibility of enriching uranium. (See ACT, December 2018.) Further complicating the talks were March 2018 remarks by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

Also muddying the situation is an ongoing investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee into allegations that top Trump administration officials, such as former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, pushed for U.S. companies to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia without a 123 agreement and in potential violation of ethics laws. (See ACT, March 2019.) The committee first revealed its investigation in February 2019 and released a second interim report on its investigation this past July.

Shortly after its first report in February, members in both houses of Congress introduced legislation requiring congressional oversight over any 123 agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Those bills also state that no 123 agreement with Riyadh should be approved until Saudi Arabia becomes transparent about the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a commentator for The Washington Post, in October 2018. The U.S. intelligence community determined last November that the crown prince ordered the killing of Khashoggi, but U.S. President Donald Trump has defended Riyadh.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who introduced the House bill alongside Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), told Arms Control Today that “Saudi Arabia’s government isn’t known for its transparency, but on the nuclear issue, the kingdom has been crystal clear: it wants to enrich uranium to have the capability to build nuclear weapons. In light of this, a failure to secure a 123 agreement with gold standard safeguards would be reckless and irresponsible. If you can’t trust a regime with a bone saw, you shouldn’t trust it with nuclear weapons.”

Saudi Arabia announces plans to enrich its own nuclear fuel just as the Trump administration demands restraint. 

U.S. Raises Treaty Compliance Concerns


October 2019
By Shannon Bugos

The United States has concerns about Russian and Chinese compliance with nuclear weapons-related treaties, according to a newly released State Department report. The annual compliance report provides additional background details on Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and repeats Trump administration concerns about possible nuclear testing by Russia and China.

The U.S. State Department's annual compliance report reiterated that Russia's 9M729 cruise missile violated the INF Treaty, leading to the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty. (Photo: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)The report, made public on Aug. 22 and titled “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” primarily covers activities during 2018. The State Department released a shorter version of the report in April, which sparked controversy in Congress about the potential politicization of intelligence with regard to Iran, as well as other countries.

The full report said that Russia continued to violate the INF Treaty in 2018, a charge the Trump administration cited before formally withdrawing the United States from the treaty on Aug. 2. The 1987 pact banned the possession or testing of all nuclear and conventional, ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing, possessing, and fielding an illegal ground-launched cruise missile known as the 9M729. The report asserts that Russia began development of the missile “probably by the mid-2000s” and concluded in 2015 a “comprehensive” flight-test program. By the end of 2018, Russia fielded multiple battalions of the 9M729, the report says.

“The history of Russia’s anti-INF [Treaty] overtures leading up to missile tests, its attempt to covertly exploit a treaty exception permitting ground-based flight tests of intermediate-range missiles not subject to the treaty, its lack of an explanation for these tests, and its overall secrecy” about the 9M729, the report declares, “provide important context for Russia’s violation.”

The compliance report also raises concerns about alleged Russian nuclear weapons testing and compliance with the 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT), which prohibits nuclear tests with explosive yields exceeding 150 kilotons. The report states that “based on available information, Russian activities during the 1995–2018 timeframe raise questions about Russia’s compliance with its TTBT notification obligation.”

In addition, the report echoes remarks made earlier this year by the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) regarding Russian nuclear testing. In May, DIA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley said that “Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard outlined” in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). (See ACT, July/August 2019.) The CTBT, although not yet in force, goes a step farther than the TTBT by prohibiting nuclear tests, no matter what the yield.

The August report said, “The United States…has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.” In an apparent attempt to back up this statement, the report adds that, “[d]uring the 1995–2018 timeframe, Russia probably conducted nuclear weapons-related tests at the Novaya Zemlya Nuclear Test Site.”

The report also mentions Ashley’s remarks regarding China. In May the DIA director said that China may be preparing to operate its nuclear test site year-round and is continuing to use explosive containment chambers at that site. According to the compliance report, these activities, as well as a lack of transparency from China, “raise questions” about Beijing’s adherence to the zero-yield nuclear weapons testing moratorium.

On Iran, the compliance report states that “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons development activities judged necessary to produce a nuclear device” and that the United States will continue with its “maximum pressure campaign” on Tehran until Iran agrees to “a comprehensive deal that resolves all U.S. concerns.”

The report says that the information in the cache of documents seized by Israel on Iran’s past nuclear weapons-related activities, known as the nuclear archive, has not revealed evidence of any ongoing weapons work. The report argues, however, that Tehran retained those documents, which are still under review by the U.S. intelligence community, to potentially “aid in any future decision to pursue nuclear weapons” and may have “taken active measures to deliberately deceive” officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

As for North Korea, the compliance report states that the United States “believes there is a clear likelihood” of “unidentified nuclear facilities in North Korea” besides those at Yongbyon, the country’s nuclear center. The report does not provide additional information on those secret facilities.

In response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s declaration in 2018 that Pyongyang would end all nuclear testing and demolish the P’unggye Nuclear Test Site, the report states that the results of the demolition at the test site in May 2018 “are almost certainly reversible.”

The compliance report emphasizes that the administration “remains committed to continued diplomatic negotiations with North Korea toward the goal of achieving the final, fully-verified denuclearization of North Korea.”

 

An annual State Department report reinforces Trump administration charges of arms control treaty violations. 

U.S. Intel Sheds Light on Russian Explosion


October 2019
By Shannon Bugos

U.S. intelligence analysts have bolstered earlier assessments that an Aug. 8 explosion near a Russian missile test site involved a nuclear-powered cruise missile undergoing development and testing. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The incident began with a blast at the Nenoksa Missile Test Site, on the coast of the White Sea. According to a statement from Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) two days later, five employees died in the accident, which involved “isotopic sources of fuel on a liquid propulsion unit.” Two military personnel also reportedly died from the blast.

A subsequent U.S. intelligence assessment determined that the blast was caused by a recovery mission to salvage a nuclear-powered cruise missile from the ocean floor from a previous test, CNBC reported on Aug. 29.

“There was an explosion on one of the vessels involved in the recovery, and that caused a reaction in the missile’s nuclear core, which lead to the radiation leak,” a person with direct knowledge of the intelligence assessment told CNBC. A number of media outlets have reported releases of a variety of radioactive isotopes.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Norwegian Norsar Research Institute suggested that there may have been two explosions at the test site. Anne Lycke, the institute’s chief executive, said that seismographic readings suggested an explosion first on the ground or water, and then an infrasonic air-pressure sensor pointed to a second explosion two hours later, likely in the air. The second one “coincided in time with the reported increase in radiation,” she said. The governor of the region in which the blast took place denied the possibility of a second explosion.

Some U.S. nuclear experts and intelligence officials initially assessed that the accident likely involved a failed test of a nuclear-powered cruise missile known as the 9M730 Buresvestnik by Russia and the SSC-X-9 Skyfall by NATO. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov appeared to confirm this assessment Aug. 21, stating that a “nuclear-propelled missile” was being tested at the time of the accident.

No official explanations have come from Russia. President Vladimir Putin said only that “this is work in the military field, work on promising weapons systems.”

CNBC released another report on Sept. 11 citing an intelligence finding that, despite numerous test failures, the 9M730 would be ready for deployment in 2025, about five years earlier than previously assessed.

 

A mysterious August explosion at a Russian missile test site likely involved a prototype nuclear-powered weapon. 

Turkey Shows Nuclear Weapons Interest


October 2019
By Shannon Bugos

Complaining that nuclear-armed nations retain an unacceptable monopoly on nuclear weapons, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a recent Turkish holiday to seemingly suggest that his nation acquire its own nuclear arsenal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2019. Earlier in the month, he suggested that Turkey may be interested in acquiring nuclear weapons. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)“Several countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But [they tell us that] we can’t have them. This I cannot accept,” Erdogan said on the centennial of the Turkish independence movement. “There is no developed nation in the world that doesn’t have them.”

In fact, many developed countries do not have nuclear weapons. Only nine countries—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel—possess nuclear weapons, with Washington and Moscow owning 93 percent of them.

In a comment to The National Interest, a U.S. State Department official reminded Turkey that it is a party to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and emphasized the “great importance of Turkey’s continued adherence to its obligations under the treaty.”

Turkey signed the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state in 1980, meaning that Ankara agreed to forgo developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. Turkey has also signed the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear test explosions.

Additionally, since 1952, Turkey has been a part of NATO. Under NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements, five European countries—Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey—host U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. At Incirlik Air Base, Ankara stores the most of any NATO state, about 50 B61 nuclear gravity bombs. Turkey, however, neither trains its pilots to fly nuclear missions nor possesses the required aircraft to deliver those weapons. Meanwhile, despite concerns over the past few years about maintaining these weapons at Incirlik, there remains no indication that the United States or NATO has moved to withdraw them.

As the State Department also pointed out, Turkey is “covered by NATO’s Article 5 collective defense clause, which bolsters Turkey’s defense and security.”

Nevertheless, Erdogan once again hinted at Turkey’s potential pursuit of nuclear weapons during his speech at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, saying “the position of nuclear power should either be forbidden for all or permissible for everyone.”

Erdogan’s comments come as Ankara began in July to receive shipments of the S-400 Russian missile defense system. Turkey and Russia signed the S-400 deal, worth $2.5 billion, in December 2017. The United States has opposed it, citing concerns that Russia might use the system to gather intelligence about advanced fighter jets that Turkey purchased from the United States but has not received.

After the initial delivery of the S-400 system to Turkey, the Trump administration decided on July 17 to remove Ankara from the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, canceling the shipment of more than 100 F-35s and causing Turkey to lose its production work on the jet. On Sept. 4, the Turkish Ministry of National Defense said that it had moved ahead with the training of their air force personnel to operate the S-400 system in Gatchina, Russia. The ministry said on Sept. 15 that the delivery of a second battery of the system has been completed and that the S-400 missiles would become active in April 2020.

Erdogan’s remarks may have been more an expression of desire to build its status as a world power than an actual goal, according to some analysts.

“The Turkish president was not actually signaling an imminent decision to develop nuclear weapons,” wrote Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Instead, Stein says, Erdogan is arguing that the West has failed to treat Turkey equally and, in order “to right the wrong,” demanding a seat at the table.

Turkey’s president said, “There is no developed nation in the world that doesn’t have them.” 

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, Sept 13, 2019

U.S. Tests Ground-Launched Cruise Missile On Aug. 18, less than two weeks after the official collapse of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States tested a ground-launched variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile that would have been prohibited by the treaty. The test was a clear signal that the United States can and will pursue such systems in the absence of the INF Treaty. In a statement, the Defense Department said the “test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight. Data...

U.S. Completes INF Treaty Withdrawal


September 2019
By Shannon Bugos

Less than one year after President Donald Trump informally announced that the United States would withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the State Department announced on Aug. 2 that the move was officially complete. The treaty’s death leaves just the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in place to limit U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons deployments, and that pact is due to expire in February 2021.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears at the State Department's anniversary celebration on July 29, three days before the United States withdrew from the INF Treaty. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)For several years, the United States has alleged that Russia was in violation of the INF Treaty by testing and deploying a banned missile system, and Washington pinned its treaty withdrawal squarely on Russia. “Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in announcing the U.S. move. “Over the past six months, the United States provided Russia a final opportunity to correct its noncompliance. As it has for many years, Russia chose to keep its noncompliant missile rather than going back into compliance with its treaty obligations.”

Russia and China strongly criticized the Trump administration’s action and sought to blame the United States for the end of the treaty. “Instead of engaging in a meaningful discussion on international security matters, the United States opted for simply undercutting many years of efforts to reduce the probability of a large-scale armed conflict, including the use of nuclear weapons,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an Aug. 5 statement. He added that Moscow will mirror the development of any missiles that the United States makes.

Similarly, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Aug. 2 that “[w]ithdrawing from the INF Treaty is another negative move of the U.S. that ignores its international commitment and pursues unilateralism. Its real intention is to make the treaty no longer binding on itself so that it can unilaterally seek military and strategic edge.”

For its part, NATO supported the U.S. decision, saying in a statement that “a situation whereby the United States fully abides by the treaty, and Russia does not, is not sustainable.” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, however, lamented the end of the treaty, saying that “a piece of Europe’s security has been lost.”

Signed in 1987, the INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing, possessing, and fielding an illegal ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM), known as the 9M729. (See ACT, September 2014.)

In October 2018, on the sidelines of a campaign rally, Trump stated that he planned to “terminate” the INF Treaty. Since then, U.S. and Russian officials held only a few unsuccessful meetings to discuss the treaty.


 

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Pompeo announced on Feb. 2 that the Trump administration would suspend its obligations under the treaty and withdraw from agreement in six months if Russia did not return to full compliance. When formally withdrawing on Aug. 2, Pompeo argued that “Russia’s noncompliance under the treaty jeopardizes U.S. supreme interests as Russia’s development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners.”

Trump echoed that statement in Aug. 2 comments, saying that “if [Russia is] not going to live up to their commitment, then we have to—we always have to be in the lead.” The White House previously also cited concerns about the intermediate-range missile arsenal of China, which is not party to the treaty and has deployed large numbers of missiles with ranges that Washington and Moscow were long prohibited from deploying.

Attention has now shifted to how the United States and NATO should approach a world without the agreement. The Defense Department has requested nearly $100 million in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would exceed the range limits of the treaty.

“Sooner rather [than] later, we want to develop this capability and [make] sure we can have long-range precision fires, not just for [Europe], but for the theater that we’re deploying to as well, because of the importance of great distances we need to cover, and how important an intermediate-range conventional weapon would be to the [Pacific Command] theater,” said Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Aug. 2.

The Pentagon conducted the first test of one of these systems Aug. 18, when it fired a GLCM from San Nicolas Island, off the coast of California, to a target more than 500 kilometers away, according to an official statement. A test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile is expected in November.

With limited time remaining, New START could be extended for up to five years by agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents. The treaty caps U.S. and Russian deployments of strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550 and intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers at 700. The treaty also has a comprehensive verification regime, including on-site inspections and routine data exchanges. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

If New START does expire with nothing to replace it, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly half a century.

New START is the only pact left to limit U.S. and Russian nuclear weapon deployments.

U.S. Hosts Nuclear Disarmament Working Group


September 2019
By Shannon Bugos

Aiming to break loose stagnant progress toward nuclear disarmament, officials from more than 40 nations agreed to an initial framework of a U.S. initiative during a two-day meeting in Washington ending July 3. The U.S. State Department hosted the plenary meeting for participants of its Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) initiative.

The officials discussed “ways to improve the international security environment in order to overcome obstacles to further progress on nuclear disarmament,” according to the State Department’s media note released on the first day. As stated in a summary report of the working group obtained by Arms Control Today, three particular topic areas were identified: the reduction of the perceived incentives for states to acquire or increase their nuclear stockpiles, the involvement of multilateral institutions in nuclear disarmament, and potential interim measures to reduce risks related to nuclear weapons.

Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, opened the session saying he wanted the process “to be as free and open an engagement as possible…. While no one should be asked to abandon strongly held policy views, I would encourage you to focus more upon how we can build a better world together than upon trading recriminations about the present.”

The United States first proposed the CEND initiative at the May 2018 meeting of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee, held in advance of the NPT’s 2020 review conference. (See ACT, July/August 2019.) U.S. officials characterized the initiative as an effort to hold a dialogue on the “discrete tasks” necessary in order “to create the conditions conducive to further nuclear disarmament.”

The recent meeting, consisting of about 100 representatives from nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states, as well as non-NPT nations, was randomly divided into three groups and rotated through each of the three topic areas. Afterward, a subject matter expert in each group summarized the areas of convergence that emerged from each session.

On the issue of reducing incentives to acquire or retain nuclear weapons, the participants agreed to future discussion of the need for states to clearly articulate the full scope of threats they perceive from others, according to the summary report. Additionally, the officials agreed on their desire to buttress existing arms control, nonproliferation, and security mechanisms, as well as compliance with them. Some participants, for example, expressed support for two existing agreements: the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which curbed Iran’s nuclear program, and the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which they encouraged the United States and Russia to extend.

The summary reported that the discussion of the role of multilateral and other types of institutions found general agreement that the CEND initiative could provide “an innovative format for strengthening existing forums.” Other areas of convergence included the need to reaffirm the importance of the NPT as the “cornerstone” of the global nonproliferation and disarmament architecture and to develop a list of practical measures, such as negotiating and implementing confidence-building measures, to improve the security environment.

Lastly, the risk reduction discussion identified the need to manage and prevent conflict from escalating to nuclear war, according to the summary report. Increased dialogue and communication were noted as potential areas for future work, particularly in respect to having nuclear-armed states provide greater detail on what is feasible for nuclear risk reduction. The most discussed options among participants for specific risk-reduction measures included improving crisis communication channels, standardizing pre-launch notifications to prevent misunderstandings, and eliminating certain categories of nuclear weapons or launch systems.

The next meeting of the CEND initiative has not been announced, but some reports have indicated it will take place later this year in Europe. Finland, the Netherlands, and South Korea will serve as co-chairs of the three discussion subgroups, and three additional co-chairs are expected to be named.

A new survey finds that some global tech firms have no policies to ensure their applications are not used for lethal autonomous weapons.

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, August 8, 2019

U.S. Withdraws from INF Treaty; Missile Tests to Begin This Month On Aug. 2, 2019, the United States formally withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, prompting harsh reactions from Russia and China and concerns about the beginning of a new, more dangerous phase of global military competition. This treaty , signed in 1987, led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The United States accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing,...

The Post-INF Treaty Crisis: Background and Next Steps

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Volume 11, Issue 8, August 7, 2019

*(Updated Aug. 19)

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, negotiated and signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was one of the most far-reaching and successful nuclear arms reduction agreements in history.

The treaty led to the verifiable elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet missiles based in Europe. It helped bring an end to the Cold War nuclear arms race and paved the way for agreements to slash bloated strategic nuclear arsenals and withdraw thousands of tactical nuclear weapons from forward-deployed areas.

The pact served as an important check on some of the most destabilizing types of nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia could deploy. INF-class missiles, whether nuclear-armed or conventionally armed, are destabilizing because they can strike targets deep inside Russia and in Western Europe with little or no warning. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis.

Despite its success, the treaty has faced problems. A dispute over Russian compliance has festered since 2014, when the United States first alleged a Russian treaty violation, and has worsened since 2017 when Russia began deploying a ground-launched cruise missile, the 9M729, capable of traveling in the treaty’s prohibited 500-5,500 kilometer range.

The INF Treaty prohibited all U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The official figures above show missiles deployed November 1, 1987, shortly before the INF Treaty was signed. The treaty also required destruction of 430 U.S. missiles and 979 Soviet missiles which were in storage or otherwise not deployed. The treaty prevented the planned deployment of an additional 208 GLCMs in the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. The Pershing IAs, under joint U.S.-German control, were not formally covered by the INF Treaty but were also to be eliminated by U.S. and West German agreement.The Trump administration developed a response strategy in 2017 designed to put pressure on Russia to address the U.S. charges, but in October 2018, President Trump abruptly shifted tactics and announced the United States would leave the agreement.

On Feb. 2, 2019, the Trump administration formally announced that the United States would immediately suspend implementation of the INF Treaty and would withdraw in six months if Russia did not return to compliance by eliminating its 9M729 missile.

On Aug. 2, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Russia was still in “material breach of the treaty” and announced the United States had formally withdrawn from the INF Treaty.

According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that the Russians possess four battalions of 9M729 missiles (including one test battalion). The missiles are “nuclear-capable,” according to the Director of National Intelligence, but they are probably conventionally armed.

Without the INF Treaty, the potential for a new intermediate-range missile arms race in Europe and beyond becomes increasingly real. Furthermore, in the treaty’s absence, the only legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals come from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in February 2021 unless Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend it by up to five years.

Reactions to the U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty

Following the U.S. withdrawal announcement Aug. 2, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated, “The denunciation of the INF Treaty confirms that the U.S. has embarked on destroying all international agreements that do not suit them for one reason or another.”

A few days later, Aug. 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that Moscow will mirror the development of any missiles that the United States makes. “Until the Russian army deploys these weapons, Russia will reliably offset the threats…by relying on the means that we already have,” he said. Putin also ordered “the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Foreign Intelligence Service to monitor in the most thorough manner future steps taken by the United States.”

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said in a statement: “A situation whereby the United States fully abides by the treaty, and Russia does not, is not sustainable.”

At the same time, some European countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany have expressed regret over the termination of the treaty and concerns about potential new U.S. missile deployments.

On Aug. 2, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the end of the INF Treaty meant that Europe was “losing part of its security.” Maas also told Germany’s Spiegel Online Jan. 11, 2019: “We cannot allow the result to be a renewed arms race. European security will not be improved by deploying more nuclear-armed, medium-range missiles. I believe that is the wrong answer.”

Also Aug. 2, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that NATO “will respond in a measured and responsible way and continue to ensure credible deterrence and defence.” Stoltenberg suggested that NATO will increase readiness exercises programs; increase intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and bolster air and missile defenses and conventional capabilities in response to the termination of the INF Treaty.

According to press reports, the NATO response strategy may involve more flights over Europe by U.S. warplanes capable of carrying nuclear warheads, more military training, and the repositioning of U.S. sea-based missiles.

What Missiles Could Each Side Now Deploy in the Absence of the INF Treaty?

With the treaty’s termination, each side is now free to develop, flight test, and possibly deploy previously banned INF-range systems in Europe and in Asia.

President Putin stated Dec. 18 that in the event of U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, Russia would be “forced to take additional measures to strengthen [its] security.” He further warned that Russia could easily conduct research to put air- and sea-launched cruise missile systems “on the ground, if need be.” This could involve additional numbers of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile on mobile launchers, as well as its Kaliber sea-based cruise missile system.

Even before the Aug. 2 termination date, the Trump administration was seeking to develop new conventionally armed cruise and ballistic missiles to “counter” Russia’s 9M729 missile. The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, for example, required “a program of record to develop a conventional road-mobile [ground-launched cruise missile] system with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometers,” including research and development activities.

Last year, Congress approved a Defense Department request for $48 million in fiscal year 2019 for research and development on concepts and options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the INF Treaty.

Earlier this year, the Defense Department requested nearly $100 million for fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would violate the range limits of the treaty.

One new missile program of interest to the Pentagon is a ground-launched variant of the Air Force’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile or the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-based cruise missile. On Aug. 19, the Department of Defense announced it conducted "a flight test of a conventionally-configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California. The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight." The missile was reportedly launched from a Mk. 41 mobile launcher.

Another option under consideration is a new intermediate-range ballistic missile designed to strike targets in China. The day after the formal U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty, newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that he was in favor of deploying conventional ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia “sooner rather than later,” but “those things tend to take longer than you expect.”

China’s reaction has been negative. “If the U.S. deploys missiles in this part of the world, China will be forced to take countermeasures,” said Fu Cong, director-general of the arms control department at China's foreign ministry, speaking to reporters Aug. 6. “I urge our neighbors to exercise prudence and not to allow the U.S. deployment of intermediate-range missiles on their territory.”

Alternative Risk Reduction Strategies in the Absence of the INF Treaty

Any new U.S. intermediate-range missile deployments would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. They are also militarily unnecessary to defend NATO allies or U.S. allies in Asia given that existing air- and sea-based weapons systems can already hold key Russian and Chinese targets at risk.

Any U.S. moves to actually deploy these weapons are likely to prompt Russian and Chinese countermoves and vice-versa. The result could be a dangerous and costly new U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese missile competition.

Therefore, the U.S. Congress can and should step forward to block funding for U.S. weapons systems that could provoke a new missile race—and provide the time needed to put in place effective arms control solutions.

In January 2019, 11 U.S. senators reintroduced the “Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019,” which would prohibit funding for the procurement, flight-testing, or deployment of a U.S. ground-launched or ballistic missile—with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers—until the Trump administration provides a report that meets seven specific conditions. These include identifying a U.S. ally formally willing to host such a system and, in the case of a European country, demanding that all NATO countries agree to that ally hosting the system.

In July, the House of Representatives narrowly approved an amendment introduced by Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020. The amendment prohibits funding for missile systems noncompliant with the INF Treaty unless the Trump administration demonstrates that it exhausted all potential strategic and diplomatic alternatives to withdrawing from the treaty and unless the Secretary of Defense meets certain conditions.

In addition, with the end of the INF Treaty now official, it is critical that President Trump, President Putin, and NATO leaders explore more seriously some arms control arrangements to prevent a destabilizing new missile race:

  • One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that no alliance members will field any missiles in Europe that would have been banned by the INF Treaty so long as Russia does not field once-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove its 50 or so 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia.

    The United States and Russian presidents could agree to this “no-first INF missile deployment plan” through an executive agreement that would be verified through national technical means of intelligence. Russia could be expected to insist upon additional confidence-building measures to ensure that the United States would not place offensive missiles in the Mk 41 missile-interceptor launchers now deployed in Romania as part of the Aegis Ashore system and, soon, in Poland. (Russian officials have long complained to their U.S. counterparts about the missile-defense batteries’ dual capabilities.)

    This approach would also mean forgoing President Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, conventionally armed cruise missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no military need for such a system.
     
  • Another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As a recent United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research study explains, the sophisticated verification procedures and technologies already in place under New START can be applied with almost no modification to verify the absence of nuclear warheads deployed on shorter-range missiles. Such an approach would require additional declarations and inspections of any ground-launched, INF Treaty-range systems. To be of lasting value, such a framework would require that Moscow and Washington agree to extend New START by five years.
     
  • A third variation would be for Russia and NATO to commit reciprocally to each other—ideally including a means of verifying the commitment—that neither will deploy land-based, intermediate-range ballistic missiles or nuclear-armed cruise missiles (of any range) capable of striking each other’s territory.

INF Termination Is Bad. Failure to Extend New START Would Be Worse.

With the collapse of the INF Treaty, the only remaining agreement regulating the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles is New START. Signed in 2010, this treaty limits the two sides’ long-range missiles and bombers and caps the warheads they carry to no more than 1,550 each. It is due to expire Feb. 5, 2021, unless Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend it for up to five years, as allowed for in the treaty text.

Key Republican and Democratic senators, former U.S. military commanders, and U.S. NATO allies are on the record in support of the treaty’s extension, which can be accomplished without further Senate or Duma approval.

In addition, the NDAA for fiscal year 2020 includes bipartisan efforts to preserve New START. The House bill includes legislation proposed by Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), for the administration to extend New START and require reports from the secretaries of state and defense plus the director of national intelligence on the possible consequences of the treaty’s lapse. For its part, the Senate version of the NDAA does not include an provision calling for the extension of the treaty, though in May, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution calling for the administration to consider an extension of New START and begin discussions with Russia. On Aug. 1, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) also introduced legislation calling for an extension of New START until 2026.

Unfortunately, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton may be trying to sabotage this treaty. Since arriving at the White House in April, he has been slow-rolling an interagency review on whether to extend New START and refusing to take up Putin’s offer to begin extension talks. In June, Bolton also said in an interview with The Washington Free Beacon that “there’s no decision, but I think it’s unlikely” that the administration will move to extend the treaty. In late July, he further said that the treaty “was flawed from the beginning” and that, “while no decision has been made,” the administration needs “to focus on something better.”

Extension talks should begin now in order to resolve outstanding implementation concerns that could delay the treaty’s extension.

Without New START, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. Both countries would then be in violation of their Article VI nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

Bottom Line

Without the INF Treaty and without serious talks and new proposals from Washington and Moscow, Congress as well as other nations will need to step forward with creative and pragmatic solutions that create the conditions necessary in order to ensure that the world’s two largest nuclear actors meet their legal obligations to end the arms race and advance progress on nuclear disarmament.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant

Description: 

Without the INF Treaty—or new proposals from Washington and Moscow—creative and pragmatic solutions are needed to advance progress on nuclear disarmament.

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