Login/Logout

*
*  

"I learned so much about arms control and disarmament at ACA! I learned more about arms control here in four months than I had in all three years at my college."

– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
Intern, Fall 2016
December 16, 2016
United States

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

Sections:

Body: 


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

Description: 

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.

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

New Iranian President May Prolong Deal Talks

Iran’s president-elect Ebrahim Raisi has expressed support for returning Iran to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal if U.S. sanctions are verifiably lifted. Raisi’s election, however, appears to be responsible for delaying the resumption of talks in Vienna to restore the accord as the president-elect’s advisers are reviewing the progress that negotiators made in the first six rounds of talks. The sixth round concluded June 20, two days after the election, and it is still unclear when the seventh round will commence. Raisi’s position on the nuclear deal is consistent with the position taken...

If a Nuclear War Must Never Be Fought, Then What?


July/August 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

After more than a decade of rising tensions and growing nuclear competition between the two largest nuclear-weapon states, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed at their June 16 summit to engage in a robust “strategic stability” dialogue to “lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Joe Biden prior to the US-Russia summit at the Villa La Grange, in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)Just as importantly, the two men also reaffirmed the commonsense principle, agreed on by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

The summit communiqué, albeit modest and overdue, is a vital recognition that the status quo is dangerous and unsustainable. It is a chance for a course correction that moves the world further from the brink of nuclear catastrophe.

Now, each side must walk the talk. The first step is promptly beginning a robust, bilateral, results-oriented nuclear risk reduction and disarmament dialogue. With the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the last remaining bilateral nuclear arms control agreement, expiring in 2026, there is little time to negotiate new arrangements necessary to further reduce the bloated U.S. and Russian strategic and nonstrategic nuclear stockpiles.

Second, if the two presidents are serious about nuclear wars being unwinnable, they need to formally declare that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter or respond only to a nuclear attack, not non-nuclear threats. Once a nuclear weapon is used first by design, accident, or inadvertence, there is no guarantee that all-out nuclear war can be averted. Given the catastrophic effects of even limited nuclear use, neither side would be the winner.

Unfortunately, current Russian and U.S. nuclear use doctrines suggest that each side believes regional nuclear wars can be fought and won because such wars somehow can be kept limited.

In its 2020 iteration of policy, Russia “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons…in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” Whether Russia might contemplate an even lower threshold for use in a regional conflict has been the subject of much debate.

In 2018, the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) expanded the “extreme circumstances” under which the United States would contemplate first use of nuclear weapons to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” The document
says “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” could include chemical and biological attacks, large-scale conventional aggression, and cyberattacks.

These U.S. and Russian nuclear use policies are far too permissive and risky and must change. In a March 2020 Foreign Affairs essay, Biden said, “I believe that the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be deterring—and, if necessary, retaliating against—a nuclear attack.” As president, Biden must put those words into practice.

Third, if a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought, the United States and Russia should not be expanding their capabilities to fight and prevail in such a war.

Russia has an obscene arsenal of some 1,500–2,000, lower-yield tactical nuclear weapons, and the United States believes this arsenal is poised to grow in the years ahead. The Trump administration meanwhile proposed to double the types of lower-yield nuclear options in the U.S. arsenal.

Even though Biden, as a presidential candidate, said “[t]he United States does not need new nuclear weapons,” his fiscal year 2022 budget proposes funding for a new nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile,
one of the two new low-yield options pursued by Trump to provide additional strike options in a regional war.

Another way in which the “nuclear war cannot be won” statement can serve as a steppingstone to global risk reduction would be for all five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5) to support that principle. At a P5 meeting last year, China proposed a joint statement along these lines, but the United States vetoed the idea. Shortly before the Biden-Putin summit, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi revived the proposal.

When the Security Council’s permanent members meet in France later this year on nuclear matters, it should endorse the Biden-Putin statement to signal a shared interest in avoiding nuclear war and agree to launch an expanded set of talks on nuclear risk reduction and arms control. In addition, Washington and Beijing could launch their own bilateral strategic stability dialogue to explore practical ideas for heading off destabilizing nuclear competition.

Luckily, nuclear weapons have not been used in combat since the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But someday, our collective luck is certain to run out, with catastrophic consequences, unless the leaders of the world’s nuclear-armed states act now to forestall a new nuclear arms race and rediscover the path to a world free of nuclear weapons.

After more than a decade of rising tensions and growing nuclear competition between the two largest nuclear-weapon states, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed at their June 16 summit to engage in a robust “strategic stability” dialogue to “lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.”

The Biden Administration’s North Korea Challenges


July/August 2021

In 1985, North Korea acceded to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which, in theory, meant it had forsaken nuclear weapons. In January 1992, it signed the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula with South Korea, thus committing both countries not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons” or to “possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.” By the end of that year, however, there were growing concerns about Pyongyang’s ambitions that in time proved all too real and spurred a decades-long push for increasingly stricter sanctions and some kind of negotiated solution.

In this photo, released on July 4, 2017 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is reported to be inspecting the test-fire of its first intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-14, at an undisclosed location. What Kim sees today in terms of possible engagement with the Biden administration is anybody's guess.  (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)The 1994 Agreed Framework between Washington and Pyongyang, concluded during the Clinton administration, froze the North’s plutonium program until the deal unraveled in 2002. Despite repeated diplomatic efforts by the United States and other countries in the intervening decades to check North Korea’s capabilities, Pyongyang today possesses the fissile material for an estimated 40 to 50 nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. Moreover, the arsenal continues to expand in size and sophistication.

President Barak Obama’s hands-off “strategic patience” approach to North Korea was not successful at reversing the trend. Neither was President Donald Trump’s unorthodox, effusive embrace of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The nuclear program remains a threat to stability on the Korean peninsula and to East Asia more generally. The question today is, can President Joe Biden do any better?­—CAROL GIACOMO
 

 

The Biden Administration’s North Korea Challenges

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 Continues Trump Nuclear Funding


July/August 2021
By Kingston Reif

As the Biden administration prepares to initiate a review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, its first budget request would continue the expensive and controversial nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization efforts it inherited from the Trump administration.

The submission has prompted mixed reactions in Congress. Republicans have generally expressed support, but some Democrats said it is inconsistent with the concerns President Joe Biden raised on the campaign trail about the ambition and price tag of the modernization plans, which grew significantly over the past four years.

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report published in May estimated the cost of the Trump administration’s approach at $634 billion from fiscal years 2021 through 2030. (See ACT, June 2021.) That is an increase of $140 billion, or 28 percent, from the CBO’s previous 10-year projection two years ago. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Whether the fiscal year 2022 budget proposal turns out to be a placeholder pending the outcome of the administration’s forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) or a harbinger that Biden intends to stick with the Trump plans remains to be seen.

The administration is requesting $43.2 billion in 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 percent of the total national defense request of $753 billion.

A direct comparison of the Biden submission to what President Donald Trump requested and Congress largely supported in fiscal year 2021 ($44.5 billion) and what Trump projected to request for 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.

“The nuclear triad remains the bedrock of our national defense and strategic deterrence,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 10.

The 2022 budget “invests in nuclear modernization efforts, and the department will always seek to balance the best capability with the most cost-effective solution,” he added.

The budget request would notably continue the controversial Trump proposals to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities. (See ACT, March 2018.) It includes $15 million to begin development of a new low-yield nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), nearly $134 million for a new high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead (the W93) and associated aeroshell, $98.5 million for indefinite sustainment of the megaton-class B83-1 gravity bomb, and nearly $1.9 billion to build the capability to expand the production of plutonium pits, or cores, for nuclear warheads to 80 per year.

As with most new administrations, the Biden administration only had time for a quick reexamination of the fiscal year 2022 budget plans bequeathed by its predecessor. But the Pentagon did review some nuclear weapons programs, notably the Trump plans for a new low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead variant, known as the W76-2, and the new nuclear-armed SLCM. (See ACT, April 2021.)

The Navy began fielding the W76-2 in late 2019. (See ACT, March 2020.) The new cruise missile is undergoing an analysis of alternatives to determine possible options for the weapons system.

The future of the new cruise missile appears to be a controversial issue within the Pentagon. Despite the inclusion of funding for it in the budget request, guidance issued by acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker on June 4 called on the service not to fund the weapons system in fiscal year 2023.

The budget request would also sustain plans that began during the Obama administration to replace long-range delivery systems for all three legs of the nuclear triad.

Three of these programs—the long-range standoff missile program for a new fleet of air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), the Columbia-class program for a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines, and the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program for a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)—are slated to receive altogether a nearly 15 percent increase above what the Trump administration was planning to request in 2022.

The proposed growth in spending on nuclear weapons continues to force difficult choices for the Pentagon as to what other priorities must be cut back, especially at a time when military budgets are flat. Overall, the administration is seeking $753 billion for national defense programs in 2022, an increase of 1.7 percent from 2021 but a 0.8 percent decrease from the Trump inflation growth projection for 2022 of $759 billion.

Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, the Navy’s budget director, told reporters on May 28 that the service’s decision to 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[-class submarine] recapitalization.”

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

The request for NNSA weapons activities is the first decrease from a prior year request since fiscal year 2013 and from a prior year projection since fiscal year 2016, albeit from a much larger baseline. Last year, Congress provided approximately $15.4 billion, a mammoth increase of $2.9 billion above the fiscal year 2020 appropriation. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

In addition to funding the new warhead and facility projects first proposed by Trump, the request also keeps on track programs for the B61-12 gravity bomb, W87-1 ICBM, and W80-4 ALCM warhead upgrade.

The budget request would seem to be inconsistent with statements Biden made during the campaign to adjust Trump’s spending plans.

Biden told the Council for a Livable World in responses to a 2019 candidate questionnaire that 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.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) expressed concern that the budget request “expands almost every nuclear [weapons] program proposed by the previous administration” at a June 9 hearing on the budget request with acting Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young.

Young said that as the administration begins the NPR process, Biden “remains committed to taking steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons.” She added, “So you see a continuation of a program but [it’s] certainly subject to what [the NPR process] will yield out.”

Austin said that process will begin “very shortly,” and other administration officials have indicated it will be closely tied to a larger Pentagon defense strategy review. It remains to be seen, however, whether the review will be a stand-alone review, as past ones have been, or subsumed within an integrated deterrence review that also addresses missile defense, space, and cyberspace issues.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, on June 10 echoed other Republicans when she lauded the request for prioritizing nuclear modernization and keeping the programs to recapitalize the nuclear triad “on track.”

But she and other Republican lawmakers expressed concern about reports that the Navy might cancel the SLCM program prior to the commencement of the NPR process.

“We have serious questions for senior Pentagon leaders on this reported decision and how it was reached,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a joint statement June 9.

Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the memo was “predecisional” and that the fate of the weapons system would be determined by the administration’s review.

Despite concerns voiced on the campaign trail about the ambition and price tag of modernization plans, President Biden sticks with Trump era increases in nuclear weapons funding.

New Iran President May Complicate Nuclear Talks


July/August 2021
By Kelsey Davenport and Julia Masterson

Iran’s election of conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi to be the country’s next president may complicate efforts to restore the United States and Iran to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, but is unlikely to alter Tehran’s interest in reviving the accord.

Ebrahim Raisi is pictured June 21 during his first press conference since his election as Iran's next president. The victory of the hardline cleric could complicate efforts by Iran and the United States to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.  (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)Raisi, the former head of the judiciary and a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opposed the nuclear deal in 2015, but during the campaign voiced his support for restoring it. Although Raisi will not take office until August, he is expected to weigh in on the ongoing negotiations to restore the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Raisi’s election was expected after a number of possible challengers were ruled ineligible to run by the 12-member Guardian Council, which vets and approves all presidential candidates.

Raisi won 62 percent of the vote, but less than half of eligible voters cast ballots, suggesting low enthusiasm for the candidates. In the 2017 presidential election, when Raisi ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Hassan Rouhani, 73 percent of the population voted.

Prior to the election, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, told al-Jazeera that if Raisi were elected, “there will be no disruption” in talks to restore the nuclear deal. He said that Iran’s policies are “unchanging, irrespective of different administrations.”

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan similarly said that Iran’s position on talks to restore the JCPOA is unlikely to change with Raisi’s election. Sullivan told ABC on June 20 that the “ultimate decision” to return to the deal will be made by the supreme leader and “he was the same person before the election as he is after the election.”

In a June 21 press conference, Raisi reiterated Iran’s position on restoring the deal, saying that U.S. sanctions must be lifted and their removal verified.

The sixth round of indirect talks between the United States and Iran on restoring the JCPOA wrapped up June 20, two days after the election.

Araghchi told journalists that day that progress has been made in all areas, but some “major differences” have not been resolved. He said the remaining issues “require serious decisions in the capitals.”

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, tweeted on June 17 that progress was made during recent talks on one of the most controversial issues, the sequencing of steps each side needs to take. He also noted that “difficult and time-consuming topics” remain unresolved.

One of the outstanding issues appears to be Iran’s demand that the United States provide some guarantee that it will not withdraw from the nuclear deal again and reimpose sanctions, as President Donald Trump did in May 2018. Araghchi told Iranian state TV on June 20 that Iran seeks “guarantees that assure” that “what the previous [U.S.] administration did…will not happen again.” He said some progress has been made on this issue but it requires more work.

Another issue that does not appear to have been resolved is the U.S. desire for Iran to agree to future talks on a range of issues once the nuclear deal is restored. U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled his determination to pursue further negotiations with Iran to build on the nuclear deal and to address regional security issues.

Raisi’s election may complicate those goals. In his June 21 press conference, Raisi said Iran seeks a balanced relationship with the outside world and the country’s foreign policy does not begin and end with the nuclear deal. He said that Iran’s ballistic missile program will not be a subject of negotiations. Raisi also asked why Iran should engage with the United States on a broader range of issues when Washington has not met its obligations under the nuclear deal.

U.S. policymakers have frequently raised concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile activities, which are limited by UN Security Council Resolution 2231 but not covered by the nuclear deal. Biden is also under pressure to force Iran to end support for its militant proxies such as Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a June 21 press briefing that the administration is confident that if the nuclear deal is restored, the United States will have “additional tools” to address issues outside of the nuclear deal, including ballistic missiles. He said Iran has “no doubt” about where the United States stands on follow-on diplomacy.

 

Iran’s election of Ebrahim Raisi to be the country’s next president could complicate efforts to restore compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.a

Pyongyang Cool to Washington Talks


July/August 2021
By Sang-Min Kim

North Korea is dismissing offers by the United States to begin diplomatic contacts, signaling a diminished potential for talks on the North’s nuclear weapons program and other major issues for the foreseeable future.

Ri Son Gwon (C), now the North Korean foreign minister, arrives at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone on January 9, 2018 for the first official face-to-face talks with South Korea in two years. At the moment, the North Koreans are reportedly resisting contacts with both Seoul and Washington. (Photo by Korea Pool/Getty Images)The latest rebuke came from Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon, who said on June 23 that North Korea is “not thinking about any meaningless contact with the U.S. or its possibility, where we would lose precious time,” according to a translation by the website 38 North.

The minister’s comments, reported by the state news agency, came after Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, announced on June 21 that he was ready to meet North Korean officials “anytime, anywhere without preconditions.”

One day earlier, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, appearing on ABC News, characterized remarks by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a recent party meeting as an “interesting signal.” Kim had said he was preparing for “dialogue and confrontation” in his dealings with the new Biden administration.

Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s sister, on June 22 warned Washington against interpreting signals from Pyongyang “the wrong way” because that “would plunge [the United States] into a greater disappointment.”

Pyongyang has also resisted efforts at engagement by Seoul, which reportedly has called North Korea every day for the past year without a response.

Meanwhile, North Korea began operating the steam plant at its Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory in February, marking a plausible length of time for a reprocessing campaign to produce weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel for nuclear weapons, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Although reprocessing cannot be confirmed, the North’s “nuclear activities remain a cause for serious concern. The continuation of [its] nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi told the agency’s Board of Governors on June 7.

A reprocessing campaign would increase Pyongyang’s stockpile of nuclear weapons-useable material. It is estimated that North Korea already has enough fissile material for 40 to 50 nuclear warheads, according to a 2021 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

North Korea has also continued to operate some of its other nuclear facilities, including Yongbyon’s experimental light-water reactor and a suspected second enrichment site at Kangson, Grossi reported. The IAEA observed no ongoing operations at Yongbyon’s five-megawatt electrical reactor, which is capable of producing seven kilograms of plutonium annually, or at the complex’s centrifuge enrichment facility, which produces enriched uranium, he added.

The United States has failed over many decades to halt the North’s nuclear weapons program. President Joe Biden recently pledged to undertake a new diplomatic policy, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on June 3 that the appointment of veteran diplomat Sung Kim as the special representative for North Korea signals “readiness for dialogue.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 10 that Washington “will remain focused” on the increasing threat from North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and will work to mitigate its destabilizing and provocative behavior, leading with diplomacy.

The Group of Seven industrialized countries struck a stronger tone in its June 13 summit communiqué, calling for “the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the verifiable and irreversible abandonment of [North Korea’s] unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has also been engaging with regional states affected by North Korea’s behavior. Its special representative on Korean peninsula affairs, Liu Xiaoming, had a phone call with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov on June 7 to discuss views on the Korean peninsula and affirmed China’s desire to “play constructive roles.”

Yang Jiechi, a member of China’s Politburo and director of the Office of Foreign Affairs, spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 11 and committed to work together for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

North Korea is brushing away overtures from the United States for new talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

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.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - United States