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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
Professor of History, Montgomery College (Takoma Park, Maryland)
July 1, 2020
United States

BRIEFING: "Trump’s Effort to Sabotage New START and the Risk of an All-Out Arms Race"

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Friday, October 9, 2020
9:00 – 10:15am Eastern time
via Zoom webinar

In four months, the last treaty limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals is due to expire. If the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) lapses with nothing to replace it, there would be no legally-binding limits on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

However, the treaty permits an extension “for a period of no more than five years” so long as both the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to it.


 

Russia has offered to extend New START by five years without any preconditions, but the Trump administration has conditioned extension on Russian support for changes to the New START verification system and acceptance of a new framework that limits all types of nuclear warheads and that can involve China in the future.

Russia has rejected the U.S. offer, which it calls “absolutely unrealistic.” In response, Trump officials say they will “raise the price” for New START extension after November. Unless President Trump adjusts course, or Joe Biden is elected in November, there is a high risk that New START will disappear.

Our speakers, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and the panelists explained the value of New START, evaluated the Trump administration’s approach, and outlined pathways for extending the treaty, pursuing negotiations on deeper nuclear reductions, and guarding against an unconstrained arms race if New START is allowed to expire.

Speaker

  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), co-sponsor of the "Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces" Act

Panelists

  • Alexandra Bell, senior policy director, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association
  • Kingston Reif, moderator, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, Arms Control Association

A question and answer session followed both the speaker’s remarks and the panel. This event was open to the press and is on the record.

Description: 

Briefing with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Alexandra Bell, and Daryl G. Kimball on the value of New START, the Trump administration’s approach, and guarding against an unconstrained arms race if New START is allowed to expire.

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Time Running Out: Extend New START Now

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Volume 12, Issue 7, October 7, 2020

Four months remain until the last U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty is slated to expire Feb. 5, 2021, and with it the last remaining verifiable limits on the size of the still enormous U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has so far refused Russia’s offer to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for five years as allowed by the treaty.

Instead, the administration has conditioned consideration of a short-term extension of New START on Russia’s acceptance of a one-sided, 11th hour offer that Russia has rejected. In recent days, the two sides have exchanged additional ideas with U.S. officials claiming some measure of “progress.”

The stakes could not be higher. The untimely death of New START with nothing to replace it would open the door to a costly and dangerous new quantitative U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race.

Barring an October surprise in which President Trump orders a more reasonable approach than what the administration has currently offered to Russia, the fate of the treaty will likely be decided by the presidential election Nov. 3. Former Vice President Joe Biden has expressed support for an extension of New START without conditions.

 

The U.S. August Proposal

Following an August meeting in Vienna with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea sketched out the U.S. proposal for a politically binding framework deal with Russia. The framework, he said Aug. 18, must cover all nuclear warheads, establish a verification regime suitable to that task, and be “extensible” to China in the future.

In addition, Billingslea characterized New START as “a deeply flawed deal negotiated under the Obama-Biden administration” and alleged the agreement has “significant verification deficiencies.” He said President Trump would not agree to extend New START unless these purported deficiencies, including an inadequate number of inspections, are fixed. Billingslea later clarified that even if Russia agrees to the U.S. terms, only a short-term extension, likely no more than a year, is on the table.

“[I]f Russia would like to see that treaty [New START] extended, then it’s really on them to come back to us,” Billingslea said, citing a mandate from Trump. “The ball is now in Russia’s court.”

Trump administration officials insist that the conditions represent a reasonable offer. They note that China’s immediate participation in trilateral arms control talks is no longer a condition for consideration of an extension of New START (though they continue to insist that the framework agreement must specifically mention China and that the next arms control treaty must include China).

Left unsaid is what the administration is willing to put on the table in return for Russia agreeing to the U.S. demands. The answer appears to be that Russia must agree to the U.S. demands for free.

Meanwhile, the administration should not get credit for being mugged by reality and relaxing its insistence on China’s immediate participation in talks. There was never any chance that China would do so, despite Billingslea’s ineffective efforts to embarrass China to the table.

Predictably, Russia has repeatedly poured cold water on the administration’s proposal, calling it “absolutely unrealistic.” Ryabkov reiterated Oct. 1 that the U.S. proposal is “clearly a nonstarter for us.”

In addition to making unrealistic demands, the administration has resorted to wild threats and petty insults in an attempt to coerce and embarrass Russia to the table. Billingslea is now publicly saying that if Russia refuses the unrealistic U.S. terms, “we will be extremely happy to continue…without the START restrictions” and threatened that the United States would immediately begin building up its nuclear arsenal the day after New START expires. He has also threatened to slap additional conditions on the U.S. offer if Russia does not accept it by the November election.

Such an approach has zero chance of success and is far more consistent with running out the clock on New START (and trying to pin the blame on Russia and China) rather than a serious effort to make progress on further arms control.

The Latest Exchanges

Billingslea and Ryabkov met again Oct. 5 in Helsinki. A senior Trump administration official told The Wall Street Journal that “substantial progress” was made at the meeting and that Russia brought “concrete proposals” to the table for the first time. The official added that the framework agreement the sides are discussing would include a politically binding commitment to freeze the total number of warheads possessed by each side and entail a short-term extension of New START.

A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry after the talks said only that “further prospects on the track of bilateral cooperation on arms control” had been discussed. As Billingslea and Ryabkov were meeting in Helsinki, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his belief that New START "is going to die." He said that "The conditions they [the Trump administration] set are absolutely unilateral and do not take into account either our interests or the experience of many decades, when arms control was enforced to everyone’s satisfaction and was welcomed by all countries."

A politically binding warhead freeze could be a useful confidence-building measure as Washington and Moscow engage in what are sure to be complex and lengthy talks on a new nuclear disarmament agreement. However, it remains to be seen what such a freeze would entail, what Russia might seek in return, and whether the Trump administration is open to relaxing its heretofore unacceptable conditions for a deal, especially the demand for changes to the New START verification regime.   

The Case for Extending New START

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each. It also put into place a verification regime greatly valued by the U.S. military for the insight it affords into the Russian nuclear arsenal.

Article XIV of the treaty allows for an extension “for a period of no more than five years” so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents mutually agree. Members of Congress from both parties and most U.S. allies have expressed support for the treaty’s five-year extension.

The pursuit of a new arms control agreement that captures all types of nuclear warheads and additional nuclear-armed states is a laudable goal. But not if that pursuit comes at the expense of or as a condition for extending New START. New START should be extended for the full five years in order to ensure that the verifiable limits put into place by the treaty do not disappear as talks on a new agreement are pursued. New START is too valuable to allow to expire.

If New START lapses with nothing to replace it, there would be no negotiated limits on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. The end of the treaty would further damage relations with our allies, undermine the fraying health of the global nonproliferation regime, exacerbate an already fraught U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship, and provide Washington and Moscow with a greater incentive to make additional costly nuclear force investments.

Below are additional key points about the case for extending New START for five years and the problems with the Trump administration’s proposal for a new framework agreement with Russia.

The U.S. military greatly values and relies upon the verification regime established by New START. Billingslea has argued that the New START verification regime “has significant loopholes in the way verification is physically conducted, which the Russians have been exploiting.” But the U.S. military has raised no such concerns.

New START’s extensive monitoring and verification regime provides essential real-time insights directly into Russian strategic forces and modernization programs. Allowing the treaty to die would deprive us of a vital flow of information about Russia’s strategic forces that cannot be obtained via other means.

Vice Adm. David Kriete, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in July 2019 that “those verification procedures that the U.S. gets to execute all the time provides great insight into Russia’s capabilities, numbers, and all kinds of things associated with their nuclear weapons.” If those procedures disappeared, he said, then “we would have to go look for other ways to fill in the gaps.”

The treaty’s verification regime is more than adequate to monitor Russia’s compliance with the treaty. Indeed, a State Department report published in February reiterated that Russia remains in compliance with the treaty and that the treaty limits and the “verification regime established by the treaty both regulate competition and provide key data, information, and insights regarding Russian strategic nuclear forces.”

Rose Gottemoeller, the chief U.S. negotiator of New START during the Obama administration, recently wrote that New START’s verification setup used what worked in previous treaties and discarded what was no longer necessary and cumbersome and costly to implement. “In the end,” she said, “the United States got what it wanted in the New START verification regime: streamlined inspection procedures at a sufficient level of detail to be effectively implemented.”

There is no evidence that withholding an extension of New START or dangling a short-term extension of the treaty enhances U.S. leverage to push Russia to agree to U.S. demands for a bilateral framework agreement or a new trilateral arms control treaty. The Trump administration believes that Russia is “desperate” to secure an extension of New START. But Russia has said that it will not agree to an extension “at any cost.” Ryabkov said Sept. 21 that the Trump administration needs to give up its preconditions for extension “and then we can start the talks about something, or there’s no deal.”

The administration’s refusal to date to extend the treaty by five years has produced no meaningful leverage. Moreover, assuming Moscow would even agree to multiple short-term extensions totaling less than five years, preparing and posturing for such extensions would distract from the broader talks the administration says it seeks.

A five-year extension would provide the most breathing room to pursue negotiations on a new deal. U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control negotiations have in the past been complex and time-consuming, and the Trump administration is proposing an agreement unprecedented in scope. The Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT), for example, took place from November 1969 to May 1972. New START was notable for the relatively short time it took to negotiate, but it still took the United States and Russia 10 months.

The Trump administration does not have a successful track record trying to force Russia’s hand on arms control. For instance, the Trump administration’s threats to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty did not bring Russia back into compliance, and the United States officially withdrew from the treaty in August 2019. Likewise, the U.S. announcement in May of its intent to withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty has not pressured Russia to address U.S. concerns about Russia’s implementation of the accord. The United States is slated to formally exit the treaty shortly after the election.

The outcome of U.S. efforts to seek new arms control arrangements will succeed or fail based on whether those arrangements comport with the security interests and address the concerns of the parties involved. Neither Russia nor China can be coerced or embarrassed to the negotiating table (and Moscow has said that it will not cave to U.S. pressure to force Beijing to join trilateral arms control talks).

Apart from allowing New START to expire and threatening a nuclear buildup, the Trump administration has refused to detail what the United States is willing to put on the table to incentivize Russia (and China) to agree to the administration’s arms control goals. Any agreement as sweeping and unprecedented as the one proposed by Billingslea will, of course, require mutual concessions by both Washington and Moscow. But as it stands, the politically binding framework proposed by Billingslea demands unilateral concessions from Russia.

In addition to China, Russia has long called for France and the United Kingdom to join the next arms control agreement after New START. Moscow also seeks to capture other factors it deems essential to maintaining strategic stability, such as missile defense, ground-based short- and intermediate-range missiles, space weapons, and hypersonic weapons. As the United States wants an agreement that covers Russia’s unconstrained stockpile of nonstrategic, or tactical, nuclear weapons, so does Russia want Washington to remove the estimated 150 U.S. tactical nuclear bombs based in five European countries.

But Billingslea has already dismissed the idea of limits on U.S. missile defense as well as the removal of U.S. tactical weapons in Europe.

There is no national security need to increase the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal above the New START limits, and the Pentagon and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) are unprepared to do so anyway. Following Billingslea’s threat that the United States will start increasing the arsenal after New START expires, news reports revealed that the Pentagon has been asked to evaluate how long it would take to execute a buildup. Billingslea does not appear to have consulted the Pentagon before making his threat.

James Anderson, the undersecretary of defense for policy, wrote in July that, “Our intention is to remain within the New Start limits of 700 strategic missiles and bombers and 1,550 deployed strategic warheads.” According to a July 30 report by the Government Accountability Office, the Pentagon “is basing its plans on the assumption that New START will be extended, and it currently has no plans to change its force structure.”

The United States has not increased the size of the U.S. deployed nuclear arsenal in decades and doing so would be a major departure from longstanding U.S. policy.

Billingslea’s call for a nuclear buildup follows his outlandish claim earlier this year that the United States can spend Russia and China “into oblivion” in a new arms race. More U.S. spending on nuclear weapons won’t force the current Russian and Chinese leadership to capitulate to maximalist U.S. demands and would be fraught with peril.

The United States is already planning to spend an excessive sum to sustain and upgrade the current arsenal, which is based on the New START limits. As a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office demonstrated, the possibility of unconstrained nuclear competition could create even greater costs that would divert funding from higher priority U.S. national and health security priorities.

Ever-increasing spending on nuclear weapons without an arms control framework that bounds U.S. and Russian nuclear forces is a recipe for a less secure United States. Such an approach also flies in the face of longstanding bipartisan Congressional support for the pursuit of modernization and arms control in tandem.

Extend New START Now

The Trump administration’s approach to arms control with Russia has not been a serious starting point for negotiations on extending or replacing New START.

With little more than four months until New START expires, the best course forward is to immediately extend the treaty for a full five years and then pursue follow-on agreements that address legitimate U.S. and Russian concerns about unconstrained nuclear weapons, the nuclear arsenals of other nuclear-armed states, and non-nuclear weapons and policies that could impact strategic stability.

Extending New START would prolong the limits on Russia’s deployed strategic forces, continue an otherwise unobtainable flow of information about those forces, and provide the necessary foundation from which to seek more far-reaching arms control goals.

The Trump administration’s demand for unilateral concessions from Moscow in exchange for a short-term extension of New START is a recipe for failure and risks setting the United States on the road to an expensive arms race that it can ill afford.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant

Description: 

The stakes could not be higher. The untimely death of New START with nothing to replace it would open the door to a costly and dangerous new quantitative U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race.

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WEBINAR: "The Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal and the NPT"

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Thursday, October 1, 2020
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time
via Zoom webinar 

The Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has led Iran to retaliate by exceeding key nuclear limits set by the deal. The U.S. strategy has hobbled but not unraveled the agreement and increased tensions with Iran and the international community. Unless Washington and Teheran return to compliance, however, the deal could collapse entirely creating a serious new nuclear crisis in the region.

In this edition of the “Critical NPT Issues” webinar series sponsored by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Arms Control Association, our panelists reviewed the benefits of the JCPOA, the current status of noncompliance, pathways to repair the situation, and the potential effects on the global nonproliferation system and the upcoming 10th Review Conference of Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Panelists:

  • Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association;
  • Ellie Gerenmyah, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program and Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations; and
  • Emad Kiyaei, Director, Middle East Treaty Organization (METO)

Our next webinar in the Critical NPT Issues series will address steps to fulfill Article VI of the NPT. We encourage you to sign up to receive invitations to future webinars and other updates from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Arms Control Association.

RESOURCES

For more information on the JCPOA, subscribe to the P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert from the Arms Control Association, which provides periodic news and analysis on the negotiations and implementation of the nuclear deal. 

If you want to follow discussions on nuclear weapons during the 2020 session of the UNGA First Committee, subscribe to the First Committee Monitor, a publication of WILPF’s disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will, or visit their resource page for more information.

 

Description: 

In this edition of our “Critical NPT Issues” webinar series, we will review the benefits of the JCPOA, the current status of noncompliance, pathways to repair the situation, and the potential effects on the upcoming NPT Review Conference.

Country Resources:

Trump’s Disingenuous Disarmament Diplomacy


October 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

For the first three and a half years of President Donald Trump’s term in office, he and his team have dithered and delayed on nuclear arms control matters.

In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in February 2017, Donald Trump reportedly denounced New START, and when Putin raised the possibility of extending the treaty, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was. (Photo: Joyce N. Boghosian/White House) Now, at the 11th hour, they are pursuing an ill-advised strategy that has little chance of success and is probably designed to run out the clock on the last remaining treaty limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals: the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Unless Trump somehow overrules his hard-line advisors and adjusts course or Joe Biden wins the presidential election and makes good on his pledge to extend New START, the treaty very likely will disappear. That would open the door to an ever-more dangerous and costly global nuclear arms race.

With the treaty’s Feb. 5, 2021, expiration date and the U.S. presidential election fast approaching, the Trump administration continues to reject Russia’s proposal of a five-year extension of the treaty.

Instead, Trump’s new arms control envoy, Marshall Billingslea, is demanding that Russia agree to changes to New START verification rules and U.S. terms for a future arms control agreement involving all types of warheads and eventually including China. Even if Russia agrees to the U.S. terms, Billingslea and other officials say Trump would only consider a short-term extension.

If Russia refuses, Billingslea said in September, “we will be extremely happy to continue...without the [New] START restrictions.” He added that the United States would redeploy weapons that had been removed from deployment in order to meet New START limits once the treaty expires.

Washington and Moscow could quickly “upload” several hundred additional warheads on existing deployed delivery systems to exceed the treaty’s 1,550 warhead ceiling.

Billingslea’s threat to build up the U.S. deployed arsenal, something the nation has not done in decades, follows his warning in May that if Russia and China do not agree to Trump’s terms for a new agreement, “we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion.”

In reality, unconstrained nuclear arms racing would be unaffordable and dangerous for both sides. A Congressional Budget Office report published in August estimates the Pentagon could incur costs as high as several hundred billion dollars if Washington tries to build additional delivery systems to increase the arsenal above New START levels.

These costs would be in addition to the $1.5 trillion in minimum planned spending to sustain and upgrade the existing arsenal, which is based on New START limits, over the next several decades.

No one wins an arms race. Each side already deploys far more weapons than it needs to deter nuclear attack.

Billingslea is also demanding unnecessary “fixes” to New START’s monitoring and verification system. No such demands were raised by the United States until Billingslea arrived on the scene in May 2020, for good reason.

As Rose Gottemoeller, the lead U.S. New START negotiator, has written, the treaty “contains detailed, streamlined procedures that make inspections reliable in confirming information that the Russians provide to the United States, and, of course, vice versa.”

Billingslea also rejects Russia’s suggestion that U.S. tactical nuclear weapons and growing strategic missile defense capabilities should be on the negotiating table. In addition, he says Washington rejects Moscow’s long-standing insistence that if China joins future arms control talks, France and the United Kingdom should also be involved.

Not surprisingly, Russia is not budging. Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Sept. 21, “[T]here are no grounds for making any deal in the format proposed by our Washington colleagues. We believe that the...[U.S.] preconditions for extending the New START...do not include any positive elements.”

Russia can and should adjust its long-standing terms for a New START follow-on agreement, but it is naive to think President Vladimir Putin, on the eve of U.S. elections, would agree to unilateral concessions in the hope that Trump might agree to a short-term extension of New START.

In the event of a Biden victory in November, he would have just 16 days after Inauguration Day to reach agreement with Russia on its offer of a clean extension of New START “and use that as a foundation for new arms control agreements.” In that case, it is imperative that Washington and Moscow move swiftly to secure a five-year extension.

No matter who occupies the White House, the sensible path forward is a clean extension of New START and pursuit of follow-on discussions and agreements to address unconstrained nuclear warheads, non-nuclear weapons that impact strategic stability, and the inclusion of other nuclear-armed states in the arms control process.

The Trump administration, which to this point has only dismantled nuclear risk reduction agreements, wants you to believe that its 11th-hour arms control offer to Russia is a reasonable policy that Putin could accept “tomorrow.” On closer examination, it is a losing strategy for Trump, for the United States, and for the world.

For the first three and a half years of President Donald Trump’s term in office, he and his team have dithered and delayed on nuclear arms control matters.

Creating an Opportunity to Withdraw U.S. Nuclear Weapons From Europe


October 2020
By Pia Fuhrhop, Ulrich Kühn, and Oliver Meier

In May 2020, a debate erupted in Germany on the future of NATO nuclear sharing and Berlin’s participation in the arrangement that has seen U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in European nations for decades. This may well turn out to be an opportunity for the alliance, European security, and arms control. Even though it might not sound very realistic today, within the next five years the United States could withdraw the tactical weapons it deploys in Europe with no negative consequences for NATO unity and the security of Europe. In order to secure such an outcome, German leaders and NATO policymakers will have to combine reassurance and arms control in novel and smart ways.

Tornado fighters are the only nuclear-capable aircraft in Germany's arsenal. A plan to replace them has sparked a debate over whether the nation and other NATO allies should continue to host U.S. nuclear weapons. (Photo: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)The German nuclear debate was triggered by a mid-April decision by the German Defense Ministry to replace its current fleet of Tornado dual-capable aircraft with 90 Eurofighter Typhoon and 45 U.S. F-18 fighter aircraft. Thirty of the F-18s would be certified to carry U.S. nuclear weapons.1

The plan, announced by German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), quickly attracted criticism not only from opposition parties. Rolf Mützenich, leader of the Social Democrat (SPD) group in the Bundestag, made clear that a discussion about the Tornado replacement would have to include a debate about the new aircraft’s nuclear role. Mützenich argued that the risks associated with continued deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons would outweigh their potential security benefits. He concluded that “it is about time that Germany in the future excludes the deployment” of nuclear weapons on its territory.2 The SPD is a partner in the nation’s governing coalition with the CDU.

Kramp-Karrenbauer clarified that it would be up to the next Bundestag to make a decision on the procurement of a new aircraft and conceded there would be plenty of “room for debate” on the aircraft decision during the campaign for the September 2021 parliamentary elections and while negotiations on a new coalition government would take place.3

Under nuclear sharing arrangements, NATO allies jointly discuss, plan, and train nuclear missions. According to estimates, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey are hosting up to 150 U.S. B61 nuclear gravity bombs on their territories. These countries, except for Turkey, provide their own dual-capable aircraft for the delivery of nuclear weapons in times of war.4 Details of the arrangement remain shrouded in secrecy, although an estimated 20 U.S. nuclear weapons are deployed at Büchel air base in western Germany.

Social Democratic Party of Germany politician Rolf Mützenich speaks to the media in June in Berlin. In May, Mützenich initiated a discussion over the possibility of no longer hosting U.S. nuclear weapons on its German territory. Mützenich’s call for a debate on NATO nuclear sharing triggered predictable criticism. Proponents of the status quo argued that the security situation in Europe provides neither political nor military room for changing NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements. They also maintained that a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany would undermine alliance solidarity. Some even argued that questioning nuclear sharing would hand Russian President Vladimir Putin a diplomatic victory. Others are concerned that Berlin would lose influence over NATO’s nuclear policies, should Germany give up its role as a host nation.5

Beyond such well-known positions, the debate revealed interesting nuances and unique insights. In contrast to previous discussions, many participants distinguished between the operative and technical aspects of sharing associated with the forward deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, on the one hand, and the political aspects involving consultations on NATO’s nuclear policy in the alliance’s respective consultative bodies. Thus, supporters of changes to nuclear sharing pointed out that a withdrawal of nuclear weapons does not mean the end of Berlin’s involvement in nuclear sharing. Even without hosting the B61s, Germany would still participate in NATO nuclear discussions, planning, and exercises, for example in the Nuclear Planning Group. Also, there is now broad agreement across the political divide in Berlin that nuclear weapons deployed in Europe do not have a military role that other conventional or nuclear weapons assigned to NATO could not fulfill. Last but not least, the security concerns of central and eastern European allies, and therefore Germany’s responsibility for European security, turned out to be a key issue in the debate.

Although the debate has subsided since May, the nuclear controversy will return when the Tornado replacement decision comes up in parliament. Hence, there is good reason and sufficient time to explore how steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons can be brought in line with the security and arms control priorities of Germany, its NATO partners, and ideally Russia.

A Five-Year Moratorium

To provide the ground for potential political compromises, Russia and NATO should refrain from introducing new, destabilizing weapons to Europe until 2025. Such a five-year moratorium would make sense given that the next German and U.S. administrations would be in office until 2025. During those five years, the next review cycle of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) will be completed. From a German perspective, a five-year freeze would be feasible because the Tornado aircraft can be kept operational at least until 2025.

 

Germany has a crucial role to play as an interlocutor. Berlin should urge Moscow and Washington to make use of the current window of opportunity to discuss reductions to nuclear weapons in Europe. A moratorium could prepare the ground for a more comprehensive, sustainable debate on security and stability in Europe. To achieve that goal, NATO should propose to Russia specific, reciprocal, and politically binding arms control measures. One should expect that many NATO allies would support such a moratorium as long as its goals are well communicated and the process is coordinated at NATO headquarters. At the same time, Berlin’s ability to bring all necessary actors to the table would be a litmus test of Germany’s influence in the alliance.

Moscow, for its part, would have to commit not to deploy additional land-based, nuclear-capable, short- and medium-range missiles in the European part of Russia. Moscow has already declared that it keeps warheads for such weapons separate from missile launchers and other means of delivery.6 To increase the credibility of that pledge, Russia would need to be transparent with regard to its central storage sites and communicate the movement of nuclear warheads.7 Russia’s infamous 9M729 missile, which NATO believes violates the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, must be verifiably stored at these sites, at least until 2025.

NATO in return would commit to refrain from deploying additional land-based, intermediate-range missiles in Europe. This would build on the alliance’s commitment not to deploy additional nuclear weapons in Europe in response to the demise of the INF Treaty.8 The alliance would also pledge not to transfer new, modernized B61-12 weapons to Europe before 2025.9 NATO’s Aegis Ashore missile defense site in Poland, currently under construction, would only become operational by 2025 at the earliest.

On the basis of such a moratorium and on reciprocal commitments to halt the deployment of destabilizing weapons, Germany could wait for the results of U.S.-Russian talks before deciding on the procurement of new aircraft. As a consequence, the Tornado might have to fly a few years more. This should be a price worth paying in exchange for giving arms control a serious chance.

As such, an agreement on a moratorium would be a success in its own right and pave the way for confidence-building measures between NATO and Russia. In close coordination with its allies, Berlin could push three parallel debates: on the forward deployment of nuclear weapons, on NATO reassurance, and on arms control between the alliance and Russia.

Forever Forward Deployment?

The five allies hosting U.S. nuclear weapons could use the moratorium to begin consultations among each other on their perspectives on and possible reforms of nuclear sharing. In Belgium and the Netherlands, political support for the continued deployment of nuclear weapons is fragile. The German public has also consistently opposed hosting nuclear arms.10 U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey are in dangerous vicinity to the war in Syria, and Ankara has recently flirted with the idea of its own nuclear arms.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has just appointed a new experts group,11 a brainchild of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. If former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidential election in November, the group might well be charged with preparing the alliance’s next Strategic Concept in the context of the NATO 2030 reflection process. The group should therefore immediately discuss the future of nuclear sharing arrangements. Given the unpopularity of the presence of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in many European host nations, it would be important that the group, which is co-chaired by former U.S. diplomat Wes Mitchell and former German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, discuss nuclear issues as transparently as possible. Including all relevant stakeholders in that process would increase the legitimacy of any recommendations the group might produce.

Strengthening Reassurance

Proponents of the nuclear status quo often argue that reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe are at odds with the security interests of central and eastern European NATO allies. From this perspective, a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons, for example from Germany, would undercut the principles of burden sharing and of alliance solidarity. Therefore, all allies would have to thoroughly discuss and agree on changes to NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe.

Berlin has a particular responsibility for its partners to the east. At the same time, Germany has to do a better job at bringing together collective defense via NATO and cooperative security with Russia. Combining reassurance with arms control, Germany would be following in the best of NATO traditions, such as the 1967 Harmel Report, which recommended a combination of strength and dialogue to overcome conflict and division.12 Particularly in times of U.S. unilateralism, it should not be difficult to find many supporters of such a dual-track approach. With such a unifying strategy, a German “Sonderweg,” leading to a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons, would also be much less likely.

German solidarity would have to begin with a greater contribution toward substantive reassurance measures. Currently, 24 allies contribute to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Poland and the three Baltic states. It is no secret that the four countries would like to see additional reinforcements, given Russia’s conventional edge in the region.

Germany should step up to the plate. As an essential first step, Berlin should actually provide those conventional capabilities that it has already promised. Currently, gaps exist in Germany’s contribution to NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which would be the first to respond should NATO’s eastern flank come under attack. The German government recently had to concede that the forces it contributes are not fully equipped or readily deployable. Over the next three years, German armed forces probably would have to improvise if they were to take on the role as VJTF lead nation. Germany could also contribute more toward air policing and surveillance of the NATO-Russian border region.

Critics might argue that additional efforts to enhance NATO conventional reassurance toward eastern Europe would violate the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act. Among other things, the act prohibits the permanent stationing of additional “substantial combat forces” on the territories of new member states. Although the term was never officially clarified, possible additional conventional German units on the eastern flank might be in violation at least of the spirit of the act.

A new combination of collective and cooperative security would also be necessary, however, because the NATO-Russia Founding Act has de facto established two different zones of security within the alliance, a recurring cause for valid complaint in eastern Europe. In 2022 the act will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Until then, the conventional reassurance of eastern Europe must become part of an overall package between Russia and NATO, which ideally would make the act redundant.

Time for Action

Any such comprehensive agreement would be more sustainable with Moscow’s support. French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative for strengthened arms control might still be a starting point for engaging with the Kremlin. To test Russia, the alliance should offer talks about conventional and nuclear arms control. Internally, the allies could agree on their position on arms control in NATO’s Special Advisory and Consultation Committee on Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.13 Reaching agreement on an arms control initiative, the allies would place the ball in Russia’s court.

In any case, talks on transparency and perhaps even limits on conventional forces would be complicated and would have to focus on the most urgent threat perceptions.14 Concerns about a Russian land grab indicate that traditional conventional force imbalances still matter. There are also concerns that Moscow might prepare a surprise attack under cover of one of its notorious snap exercises. Russia must therefore be willing to discuss constraints on certain conventional forces and capabilities close to the NATO-Russian border. Of course, it would also be desirable to limit dual-capable, long-range strike weapons and novel weapons technologies, as well as hybrid forms of warfare, but it is rather easy to overburden the agenda. The security of central Europeans would already be improved if it were possible to significantly reduce the risk of surprise attacks.

In parallel, both sides should urgently discuss measures to reduce nuclear risks. The forward deployment of nuclear weapons would have to be part of such an agenda. For years, Moscow has repeated its mantra that it is willing to address its own stockpile of an estimated 2,000 tactical nuclear warheads were the United States to withdraw its nuclear arms from European soil. It is about time to turn the table and ask the Kremlin which reductions to its tactical stockpile it would accept, should the alliance be willing to change its nuclear posture in Europe. It is not a sign of NATO’s strength that allies avoid bold initiatives by simply pointing to Russian intransigence.

A Package Deal

NATO needs to bring together the interests of the nuclear host nations with the legitimate security requirements of the other allies. This can be done by pursuing three parallel tracks on reforming the forward deployment of nuclear weapons, strengthening reassurance, and getting serious about arms control. Should the alliance succeed in reaching an agreement with Russia on specific measures to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in Europe, withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from all host nations and in a coordinated and consistent manner would be possible.

Intermediate steps are feasible. Washington might relocate B61 warheads to the United States but keep the nuclear infrastructure intact until Moscow has irreversibly removed its tactical nuclear arms from the European part of Russia. In any case, NATO would continue nuclear consultations, for example on the UK and U.S. strategic nuclear weapons assigned to the alliance.

If Moscow rejects the alliance’s arms control initiative after a five-year period, Germany would likely decide to continue hosting U.S. nuclear weapons, but Berlin would do so on the basis of having invested serious political capital in significantly strengthening stability through reassurance and arms control. Ideally, Germany would have initiated a process that leads to reducing instabilities and which puts NATO cohesion on a more solid footing. Simply continuing the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe without addressing Europe’s underlying insecurities contributes neither to stability or cohesion.

ENDNOTES

1. Oliver Meier, “German Politicians Renew Nuclear Basing Debate,” Arms Control Today, June 2020.

2. Rolf Mützenich, “Es wird Zeit, dass Deutschland die Stationierung zukünftig ausschließt,” Tagesspiegel, May 3, 2020.

3. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, “Eine Bückentechnologie,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, April 22, 2020.

4. Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons, 2019,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 75, No. 5 (2017): 252–261.

5. For an overview of such arguments, see Sophia Becker and Christian Mölling, eds., “(Nuclear) Sharing Is Caring: European Views on NATO Nuclear Deterrence and the German Nuclear Sharing Debate,” DGAP Report, No. 10 (June 2020).

6. The director of NATO’s nuclear policy directorate, Jessica Cox, confirmed that, by 2010, Russia had “consolidated its tactical nuclear weapons at ‘central storage facilities’” and “removed tactical nuclear weapons from its ground forces.” See Jessica Cox, “Nuclear Deterrence Today,” NATO Review, June 8, 2020, https://www.nato.int/docu/review/articles/2020/06/08/nuclear-deterrence-today/index.html.

7. For a proposal on how to monitor such an arrangement, see Pavel Podvig, “Nuclear Weapons in Europe After the INF Treaty,” Deep Cuts Issue Brief, No. 10 (June 2020), https://deepcuts.org/files/pdf/Deep_Cuts_Issue_Brief_10-NW_Post-INF_Europe.pdf.

8. “Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Following the Meetings of NATO Defence Ministers,” June 26, 2019, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_167072.htm?selectedLocale=en.

9. Deployment of the B61-12 is expected to begin during 2022-2024 at the earliest. See Kristensen and Korda, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons, 2019,” p. 258.

10. A July 2020 poll found that 83 percent of Germans support complete withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany. Other polls have consistently found that approximately two-thirds would support such a move. See, “Greenpeace-Umfrage zu Atomwaffen und Atomwaffenverbotsvertrag,” July 2020, https://www.greenpeace.de/sites/www.greenpeace.de/files/publications/umfrage_atomwaffenverbotsvertrag__0.pdf.

11. “Secretary General Appoints Group as Part of NATO Reflection Process,” March 31, 2020, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_174756.htm.

12. Ulrich Kühn, “Deter and Engage: Making the Case for Harmel 2.0 as NATO’s New Strategy,” New Perspectives, Vol. 23, No. 1 (2015): 127–157.

13. See Oliver Meier, “NATO Agrees on New Arms Control Body,” Arms Control Now, February 26, 2013, https://www.armscontrol.org/blog/2013-02-26/nato-agrees-new-arms-control-body.

14. Wolfgang Zellner, Olga Oliker, and Steven Pifer, “A Little of the Old, a Little of the New: A Fresh Approach to Conventional Arms Control in Europe,” Deep Cuts Issue Brief, No. 11 (forthcoming).


Pia Fuhrhop leads the Berlin office of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg. Ulrich Kühn heads the institute’s Arms Control and Emerging Technologies research. Oliver Meier is a senior researcher at the institute.

A revitalized debate in Germany offers a path to reducing or removing U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.

U.S., Allies Spar Over Iran Sanctions


October 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States threatened to sanction any country that does not enforce UN restrictions on Iran that the Trump administration claims were reimposed last month, but the UN secretary-general said he will not take any steps to implement those measures, and other states dismissed U.S. claims as invalid.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks to the media in Brussels on Sept. 21. He indicated that month that the United States has no standing to demand the reimposition of UN sanctions on Iran. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)UN sanctions on Iran were lifted or modified in 2016 as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the seven-party deal that limited Iran’s nuclear activities. Recently, the Trump administration asserted on Sept. 19 that the sanctions had been restored after the United States initiated a so-called snapback mechanism, created by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which contains language allowing participants in the nuclear deal to reimpose UN sanctions in a manner that cannot be vetoed. The U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018 has created a dispute over U.S. standing to demand the return of UN sanctions under the terms of Resolution 2231.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sept. 19 that the United States expects “all UN member states to fully comply with their obligations under these reimposed restrictions.” Pompeo said failure to do so would result in the United States using “domestic authorities to impose our consequences for those failures.” He later threatened that “no matter who you are, if you violate the UN arms embargo on Iran, you risk sanctions.”

But Reuters reported on Sept. 19 that UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council in a letter that due to “uncertainty” over the status of the UN sanctions, he will not take any action to implement the measures. Guterres said that “it is not for the secretary-general to proceed as if no such uncertainty exists.”

The same day, Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted the U.S. “illegal and false ‘deadline’ has come and gone” and that Security Council “member states continue to maintain [the] U.S. is NOT a JCPOA participant, so its claim of ‘snapback’ is null and void.”

The United States issued a snapback notification to the Security Council president and Guterres on Aug. 20, but Security Council members, including the presidents in August and September, rejected the Trump administration’s claim that it was entitled to use the mechanism in Resolution 2231 to reimpose UN sanctions. The Trump administration took that step after it failed to pass a Security Council resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran, which is set to expire in October according to the terms of the nuclear deal and Resolution 2231. (See ACT, September 2020.)

The United States argues that it is still listed as a participant in the nuclear deal under Resolution 2231, despite having withdrawn from the accord. The Security Council presidents and other Security Council members, including the remaining parties to the nuclear deal, have argued that the United States lacks the standing to trigger a snapback, despite still being listed as a JCPOA participant.

In a Sept. 18 letter to the Security Council, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom said the U.S. snapback is “incapable of having any legal effect” due to Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA.

France, Germany, and the UK, along with Russia and China, are all parties to the JCPOA and sit on the Security Council.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who coordinates the group of JCPOA participants known as the P4+1, said on Sept. 19 that “sanctions-lifting commitments under the JCPOA continue to apply.” He also referred to a Sept. 1 statement after a meeting of the P4+1 and Iran, which noted that the United States has not participated in JCPOA-related activities since it withdrew in May 2018 and “therefore could not be considered as a participant state.”

Russia’s ambassador to the UN tweeted more bluntly “Is Washington deaf?” and noted that “we all clearly said in August that U.S. claims to trigger snapback are illegitimate.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed his appreciation at the UN General Assembly for the Security Council’s “decisive and resounding” rejection of the U.S. attempt to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran. The United States is in “self-created isolation,” he said on Sept. 22.

Despite the widespread rejection of the U.S. claim that UN sanctions were reimposed, the Trump administration issued a Sept. 21 executive order aimed specifically at sanctioning entities that engage in conventional arms trade with Iran. The order stated that “transfers to and from Iran of arms or related materiel or military equipment represent a continuing threat to regional and international security.”

It is unclear why the Trump administration issued the order, as existing U.S. authorities already allow the president to sanction arms transfers to and from Iran.

Iran views UN sanctions relief, specifically the expiring arms embargo, as one of the few remaining benefits of continued participation in the nuclear deal after the United States withdrew and reimposed U.S. sanctions in May 2018.

But given the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s arms sales, which remained in place even when the United States was a participant in the JCPOA, the EU embargo on Iranian arms sales, and other UN measures that prohibit arms sales to Lebanon and Yemen, Iranian arms transfers will still face a number of restrictions once the UN embargo expires in October.

The United States also announced on Sept. 21 specific sanctions against individuals that are “directly involved” in Iran’s production of enriched uranium in excess of the nuclear deal’s commitments and individuals involved in Iranian-North Korean missile cooperation.

Iran initially threatened to retaliate if the UN snapped back sanctions on Iran, but did not immediately announce any new steps to violate the accord or ratchet up existing nuclear activities in response to the Trump administration’s actions. The near-universal rejection of the U.S. attempt to reimpose the UN measures appears to have mollified Tehran.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Sept. 21, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif underscored Iran’s continued commitment to the nuclear deal and its willingness to return to full implementation if all parties do the same.

Iran will “absolutely not” renegotiate the JCPOA, he said, but a “more for more” deal may be possible if the United States commits under the nuclear deal “that it will not violate it again, that it will not make demands outside the scope of the deal, [and] that it will compensate Iran for the damages.”

The Trump administration has failed to win support for its effort to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran.

U.S., Russia Hit Impasse on New START


October 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

As the clock winds down on the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control treaty, the United States and Russia remain locked in a stalemate with numerous obstacles blocking the path to prolonging the agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration will only contemplate a short-term extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) if Russia agrees to a framework for a new trilateral treaty that verifiably covers all nuclear warheads, includes those of China in the future, and makes changes to the painstakingly negotiated New START verification regime.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov arrives for nuclear talks with U.S. officials in Vienna on June 22. The discussions yielded little progress, and more recently he said "there are no grounds for any kind of deal in the form proposed." (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)Moscow, which supports an unconditional five-year extension of the treaty, has called the U.S. proposal “absolutely unrealistic.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that “there are no grounds for any kind of deal in the form proposed” by Washington in a Sept. 21 interview with Kommersant. New START permits an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree.

The U.S. approach raises several questions, such as whether the Trump administration is actually interested in extending New START at all, what the United States would be willing to put on the negotiating table in exchange for concessions from Russia, and why the administration believes that withholding an extension of the treaty provides the United States leverage in negotiations.

With Russia showing little sign of agreeing to the framework, the Trump administration will soon face the choice of whether to extend the treaty as is or set it on a path to expiration in February, which could trigger a costly arms race.

The Trump administration has also suggested that, if Russia does not agree to framework prior to the U.S. presidential election in November, Washington will tack on additional conditions for New START extension. What those conditions would be are unknown.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said that if he is elected president in November and New START has not been extended, he will pursue the treaty’s extension and “use that as a foundation for new arms control arrangements,” according to his campaign website.

Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, told Kommersant on Sept. 21 that if Russia does not agree to the Trump administration’s framework, the United States will not extend New START. Billingslea also threatened that the United States would increase the deployed strategic arsenal "immediately after the expiration of the treaty in February."

The U.S. insistence on the framework and refusal to extend New START without unilateral concessions by Moscow has prompted some skeptics to wonder whether the Trump administration is attempting to set Russia and China up to take the blame for an expiration of the treaty.

U.S. officials said that, with four months until New START expires on Feb. 5, 2021, sufficient time remains for Russia to agree to the U.S. offer before a decision must be made on an extension. Yet even if Russia were open to discussions with the United States on its demands, negotiating the specifics of a framework could take weeks if not months.

In addition, according to officials from the Russian Foreign Ministry, Moscow might need months to process a “technical extension” of the treaty.

Billingslea has claimed that the United States has significant leverage because Russia is desperate for an extension of the treaty. But Russia has said that it desires an extension of the treaty only as much as the United States and will not pursue an extension at any cost.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in July that, if the Trump administration does not agree to extend New START, “we will not insist.”

Extending the treaty for a period of less than five years, as the Trump administration is contemplating, also poses risks. Negotiations on arms control treaties are difficult and time consuming. A new agreement along the lines proposed by the Trump administration could take years.

Billingslea has declined to say how long an extension the administration has proposed, telling Kommersant that it “depends on how flexible the Russian leadership will be.”

Moreover, assuming Moscow would even agree to multiple short-term extensions totaling less than five years, preparing and posturing for such extensions could distract from the broader talks the administration says it seeks.

Although any framework agreement is likely to require mutual concessions from Washington and Moscow, the Trump administration refuses to detail what it would be willing to put on the negotiating table, besides a short-term extension of New START, in order to secure Russia’s agreement.

Russia has long said that it prioritizes the inclusion of U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom in arms control discussions. In addition, Moscow seeks to capture other factors it deems essential to maintaining strategic stability, such as missile defense, ground-based short- and intermediate-range missiles, space weapons, and hypersonic weapons.

Billingslea, however, has dismissed the idea of including limits on U.S. missile defenses, involving France and the UK in multilateral talks, and removing U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.

The Trump administration also has yet to describe what it would be willing to do in order to bring China to the table. Billingslea told CNN on Sept. 18 that Russia could persuade China to join talks, although Moscow has previously refused to do so.

“It’s [Russian President] Vladimir Putin,” he said. “He’s got all kinds of leverage. If they really wanted to help, they could.”

China has repeatedly declined to join trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia. The only way that Beijing would join, said Fu Cong, director-general of the Chinese Department of Arms Control and Disarmament, in July, was if the United States decreased its nuclear arsenal to the size of China’s. (See ACT, September 2020.) The United States has an estimated 6,000 nuclear weapons, including retired warheads; China’s arsenal numbers in the low 200s, according to a U.S. Defense Department report in September.

Billingslea claims that the verification regime put into place by New START suffers from significant loopholes and deficiencies, such as the absence of sufficient exchanges of missile telemetry and the limited frequency of on-site inspection.

The U.S. military, however, places great value on the treaty’s inspections and has not indicated that such flaws exist. Vice Adm. David Kriete, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in July 2019 that “those verification procedures that the U.S. gets to execute all the time provide great insight into Russia’s capabilities, numbers, and all kinds of things associated with their nuclear weapons.” If those procedures disappeared, he said, then “we would have to go look for other ways to fill in the gaps.”

Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for New START, also emphasized the importance of New START’s verification setup, saying that it used what worked in previous treaties and discarded those elements that previously encountered issues with implementation. “In the end,” she said in May, “the United States got what it wanted in the New START verification regime: streamlined inspection procedures at a sufficient level of detail to be effectively implemented.”

Although the Trump administration has expressed its willingness to let New START expire, members of Congress continue their calls for the treaty’s five-year extension.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) sent a Sept. 8 letter to Trump calling for the United States to extend New START.

According to an internal State Department report for Congress obtained by Foreign Policy in September, U.S. allies are “concerned about the potential repercussions to the international security environment should New START expire before its full term.”

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have continued a pause on inspections under New START and a postponement of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), which oversees implementation of the treaty.

“The United States is studying how and when to resume inspections and the BCC while mitigating the risk of COVID-19 to all U.S. and Russian personnel,” a State Department spokesperson told Arms Control Today. “The United States continues to implement and abide by” New START.

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

 

U.S. demands for new nuclear restrictions appear to foreshadow the demise of the last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty.

U.S. Aims to Add INF-Range Missiles


October 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States is moving quickly to develop and deploy missiles formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to Trump administration officials, but questions remain about what missiles the military might develop and where they would be based.

A U.S. Navy Tomahawk cruise missile launches during a 2018 exercise. A senior Army official said his service was considering deploying a land-based version of the missile, a weapon that would have been prohibited by the INF Treaty.  (Photo: William Collins/U.S. Navy)“Now that we are out of the INF Treaty, the department is making rapid progress to field ground-launched missiles,” said Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist on Sept. 10 at the Defense News Conference.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea in August told Nikkei Asian Review, a Japanese news outlet, that the United States aims to talk with its allies in Asia about where to base such missiles.

The Trump administration wants to “engage in talks with our friends and allies in Asia over the immediate threat that the Chinese nuclear buildup poses, not just to the United States but to them, and the kinds of capabilities that we will need to defend the alliance in the future,” said Billingslea on Aug. 15.

Billingslea specifically highlighted the ground-launched variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile that the United States tested shortly after withdrawing from the INF Treaty in August 2019. (See ACT, September 2019.) Washington also tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile in December 2019. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The cruise missile is “exactly the kind of defensive capability that countries such as Japan will want and will need for the future,” said Billingslea.

Meanwhile, Defense News reported on Sept. 2 that the U.S. Army is planning to develop a ground-launched missile prototype with a range between 500 and 2,000 kilometers. The Army aims to begin fielding the prototype by 2023.

General Joseph Martin, vice chief of staff of the Army, said on Aug. 21 that the Army is “looking at land-based, land-launched Tomahawk missiles and SM-6s, which are in the Navy’s inventory.”

The new missile would join other ground-launched missiles already under development by the Army with a range formally prohibited by the treaty, including the Precision Strike Missile and the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon.

“What we want to do is provide arrows in the quiver… options to our combatant commanders that present multiple dilemmas to our competitors,” Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, the head of the Army’s development of long-range fires, told Breaking Defense, on Sept. 8. “That’s how we deter.”

The Marine Corps fiscal year 2021 budget request released in February included funds to purchase Tomahawk missiles, ostensibly for use as a ground-launched capability. (See ACT, June 2020.)

In October 2019, Taro Kono, Japan’s defense minister, downplayed the idea of Tokyo hosting INF-range missiles from the United States, saying that the two countries “have not been discussing any of it.” (See ACT, December 2019.) Australia and South Korea have also poured cold water on the prospect.

Both China and Russia responded to Billingslea’s remarks, saying they will respond if the United States deploys new ground-launched missiles.

“China firmly opposes U.S. plan to deploy land-based medium-range missiles in the Asia Pacific,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian Aug. 21. “If the U.S. is bent on going down the wrong path, China is compelled to take necessary countermeasures to firmly safeguard its security interests.”

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Aug. 20 that, “Undoubtedly, the deployment of new American missile systems in the region would provoke a dangerous new round of the arms race.” Such a move by Washington “would call for compensatory response measures,” she added.

Meanwhile, Billingslea rejected the idea of a moratorium on deploying missiles that were once banned by the INF Treaty, a proposal made by Russian President Vladimir Putin after the U.S. withdrawal.

“I really wouldn’t spend a lot of time thinking about or worrying about an INF moratorium because, simply put, that’s not going to happen,” said Billingslea during a June 24 press briefing.

NATO officially rejected the proposal in September 2019. France and Italy have acknowledged the moratorium proposal as an opportunity for dialogue.

Signed in 1987, the INF Treaty 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 Pentagon is continuing to develop options for deploying missiles that were once banned by the INF Treaty.

Pentagon Warns of Chinese Nuclear Development


October 2020
By Julia Masterson and Shannon Bugos

A new U.S. Defense Department assessment of China’s military power found that China continues to expand its nuclear capabilities, but the report seems to provide a less alarmist view of Beijing’s nuclear weapons policy and plans than some Trump administration officials have suggested.

Chinese military vehicles display DF-26 ballistic missiles during a 2015 parade in Beijing. The missiles would be the most likely to field a low-yield nuclear warhead, should China develop one, according to Pentagon assessments. (Photo: Andy Wong/Getty Images)According to the Pentagon’s 2020 report to Congress assessing China’s military capabilities, Beijing is estimated to possess a total nuclear warhead stockpile “in the low 200s.” The September report says that Beijing will likely “at least double its warhead stockpile,” which affirms an earlier department estimate, and that it will do so without new fissile material production.

The report, which covers Chinese security and military developments through 2019, marks the first time the U.S. government has provided a public estimate of China’s nuclear arsenal. U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley assessed in May 2019 that China had an arsenal of warheads in the “low couple of hundreds,” but did not provide a specific estimate at that time.

The Pentagon’s estimate of China’s stockpile of nuclear warheads is lower than previously held expert assessments of China’s nuclear capabilities. Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists estimated that China had 290 nuclear warheads in 2019, but the Pentagon’s assessment likely does not include warheads for weapons that have yet to become operational or for dormant bomber weapons, Kristensen and Korda said in a Sept. 1 article.

China has consistently shied away from disclosing the exact size of its nuclear stockpile or corroborating any estimates of its capabilities.

The report also describes China’s pursuit of nuclear-capable, land- and air-based missiles and a potential shift in its nuclear policy doctrine. Although Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, has claimed that China is in the midst of a “secretive crash nuclear buildup,” the Pentagon’s assessment does not appear to substantiate the envoy’s statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticized the Pentagon’s assessment and called the report “a deliberate distortion of China’s strategic intentions.”

“China’s strategic intentions are transparent and consistent,” she said Sept. 2.

The report states that China is in the process of further developing its land-based missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.

Beijing’s fixed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) arsenal consists of 100 missiles, including some equipped with multiple independently targetable reentryvehicles (MIRVs) to carry more than one warhead. The Pentagon assesses that China’s development of new ICBMs and advanced MIRV capabilities will strengthen its nuclear deterrent and necessitate increased nuclear warhead production.

Within the next five years, according to the Pentagon’s report, China aims to deploy close to 200 warheads on its land-based ICBMs, which can threaten the United States.

China will also expand its current inventory of more than 200 DF-26 ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic missiles that are capable of delivering nuclear and conventional warheads to the Pacific and Asian regions.

The Defense Department highlights speculation by Chinese strategists that Beijing may need a low-yield nuclear weapon to “increase the deterrence value of China’s nuclear force without defining specific nuclear yield values.” The report suggests that the DF-26 would be the most likely missile to carry a low-yield warhead due to its capacity to deliver precision strikes. China is not currently known to field any low-yield nuclear weapons.

China aims to diversify its nuclear triad by developing a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile, says the report. During the October 2019 military parade, China revealed the H-6N as a long-range strategic bomber, which would be capable of carrying such a missile.

China’s nuclear policy doctrine, meanwhile, prioritizes the maintenance of a nuclear force so as to survive a first strike and soundly retaliate. Beijing has long held a no-first-use stance, but the Pentagon cites ambiguity with the conditions under which this policy would not hold. Some officers in the People’s Liberation Army have suggested that China should reserve the right to strike should the survival of its nuclear forces or regime be threatened, although no official statement on this front has been made.

Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters on Sept. 14 that he sees “China developing a stack of capabilities that would be inconsistent with a no-first-use policy.” But Caitlin Talmadge of the Brookings Institution noted in a Sept. 16 tweet that even if China is not moving away from a no-first-use policy, “survivability improvements to Chinese nuclear forces are likely to intensify competition with [the United States.]”

China stated in a 2019 defense white paper that it maintains a minimum nuclear deterrent, but the Pentagon report says that Beijing has placed its nuclear forces on a path to exceed the size of such a deterrent, making its posture “more consistent” with a limited deterrent, which Chinese armed forces have described as a level between a minimum and maximum deterrent.

Furthermore, as part of its nuclear policy, China has “almost certainly” kept the majority of its nuclear forces on a peacetime status, with launchers, missiles, and warheads separated. The Defense Department report claims, however, that Beijing is seeking to keep a portion of its forces on a launch-on-warning posture, which would require mating missiles and warheads. As evidence, the report cites exercises by the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force that include “assigning a missile battalion to be ready to launch and rotating to standby positions as much as monthly for unspecified periods of time.” It also mentions an investment in silo-based forces and an improvement in early-warning capabilities and command and control, but this evidence is unclear and circumstantial, according to Kristensen and Korda.

Following the report’s release, Billingslea reiterated his insistence that China has a crash nuclear buildup program. Beijing needs to “come clean” about this program, he said in a Sept. 4 tweet, and “sit down for in-person talks, as so many nations have urged.”

Billingslea has led the Trump administration’s push to bring China into trilateral arms control talks with Russia, but China has so far rejected the U.S. effort, pointing to the difference in size of its nuclear arsenal as compared to those of the United States and Russia.

Although the report puts China’s nuclear warhead arsenal in the low 200s, the United States and Russia are each believed to have about 6,000 total nuclear warheads, including retired nuclear warheads awaiting dismantlement. Even if Beijing expands its nuclear arsenal as predicted by the Defense Department, it would still be far below that of the United States or Russia.

“We urge the United States to abandon the outdated Cold-War mentality and zero-game mindset,” said Hua on Sept. 2, and to “do more things that are conducive to the China-U.S. military-to-military relations.”

In the report, the Pentagon also estimates that China has achieved parity with or potentially exceeded the United States in its deployment of ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCM). Where China currently fields more than 1,250 land-based GLBMs and GLCMs, the United States only fields one, a short-range, conventional GLBM. This gap in capabilities demonstrates the steps that Beijing has taken over the past 20 years to “strengthen and modernize the [People’s Liberation Army] in nearly every
aspect,” the report says.

Beijing seeks to boast a “world-class” military by the end of 2049, according to the report.

China has not defined what it means by its ambition for such a military, but the report says that “it is likely that China will aim to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to—or in some cases superior to—the U.S. military, or that of any other great power that China views as a threat to its sovereignty, security, and development interests.”

 

Report Highlights Chinese Interest in New Technologies

One of the recurring themes of the Pentagon’s 2020 report on military developments in China is the strong emphasis being placed on the utilization of emerging technologies, especially artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous weapons systems, quantum computing and encryption, and hypersonics by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

According to the report, Chinese leaders, from President Xi Jinping on down, recognize that advanced weaponry and command-and-control (C2) systems will play a decisive role in future great-power conflicts, and so Chinese forces must endeavor to match U.S. capabilities in this regard and, if possible, overtake them.

“China seeks to become a leader in key technologies with military potential, such as AI, autonomous systems, advanced computing, quantum information sciences, biotechnology, and advanced materials and manufacturing,” the report says. “China’s implementation of AI and a quantum communication network demonstrates the speed and scale with which it intends to deploy certain emerging technologies.”

The weaponization of AI is said to play an especially critical role in Chinese military planning, given that future wars are expected to unfold at extremely high speeds and to entail simultaneous operations in air, sea, ground, space, and cyber domains. As described by Chinese strategists, future operations increasingly will be “intelligentized,” meaning heavily reliant on AI-powered systems to track enemy movements, assess battlefield conditions, and guide PLA operations, all at machine speed.

“Victory in future warfare, according to PLA strategists, will depend upon which side can more quickly and effectively observe, orient, decide, and act in an increasingly dynamic operating environment,” the report says. “As a result, China is pursuing new technologies like AI to support future military capabilities, such as autonomous command and control (C2) systems, more sophisticated and predictive operational planning, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) fusion.”

As part of this effort, the PLA is said to be placing particular emphasis on the development of autonomous weapons and automated C2 systems. Without providing details, the report claims that significant progress has been made in the development of unmanned surface vessels and unmanned tanks, as wells as “armed swarming drones” using AI “to perform autonomous guidance, target acquisition, and attack execution.”

China is also assessed to be making progress in the development of advanced C2 systems that will use AI “to collect, fuse, and transmit big data for more effective battlespace management and to generate optimal courses of action” by commanders in the field. Such initiatives would appear to parallel similar endeavors in the United States, such as the Pentagon’s Joint All-Domain Command-and-Control (JADC2) system. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Among other emerging technologies highlighted in the Pentagon report, considerable stress is placed on Chinese progress in the development of hypersonic missiles. Such weapons, which can fly faster than five times the speed of sound, are said to play an important role in the PLA’s plans for defense against U.S. forces in a future Pacific-wide conflict. However, few details
are provided on Chinese gains in this area, except to note that the Xingkong-2 (Starry Sky-2) hypersonic glide vehicle was successfully tested in August 2018. —MICHAEL T. KLARE

An annual Defense Department report appears to undermine Trump administration assessments
of China’s nuclear ambitions.

Air Force Awards New ICBM Contract


October 2020
By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Air Force last month awarded a $13.3 billion development contract to the Northrop Grumman Corp. to build a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) amid continuing concern about the sole-source nature of the contract and the need for a new missile.

U.S. Air Force officers prepare for a 2010 flight test of a Minuteman III ICBM at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Air Force has awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman Corp. to begin development of a replacement for the missile. (Photo: Andrew Lee/U.S. Air Force)In a Sept. 8 press release announcing the award for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), the Air Force said the contract “advances the nation’s ability to maintain a robust, flexible, tailorable and responsive strategic nuclear deterrent.”

“The increased accuracy, extended range and improved reliability” of the new missile, the release said, “will provide the United States a broader array of options to address unforeseen contingencies, giving us the edge necessary to compete and win against any adversary.”

The announcement of the award was anti-climactic given that Northrop has not had any competition for the contractsince last summer.

After narrowing the search to two competitors in 2017, the Boeing Co. said last year that it would not bid on the contract, leaving Northrop as the only remaining contender. (See ACT, September 2019.) Boeing subsequently proposed to team up with Northrop, but Northrop refused. (See ACT, October 2019.)

There is no precedent for the absence of competition for a development contract the size of the GBSD program, which has prompted concern from some lawmakers.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) accused the Air Force last October of being “way too close to the contractors that they are working with.”

“This is really, really bad because competition is a good thing,” he said.

The Pentagon, however, has asserted that the GBSD program remains on track. Adm. Charles Richard, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, praised the program in remarks to reporters on Sept. 14 as “a pathfinder.”

“I am fully confident in the Air Force’s ability to deliver the requirements and capabilities that I ask for on time, in the budget that they say that they’re going to need,” he said.

The Defense Department is planning to replace the existing Minuteman III ICBM, its supporting launch control facilities, and command-and-control infrastructure. The plan is to purchase 666 new missiles, 400 of which would be operationally deployed into the 2070s.

The Air Force initially estimated the cost of the GBSD program at $62 billion after inflation, but in August 2016, the Pentagon set the estimated acquisition cost of the program at $85 billion. Bloomberg reported on Oct. 1 that the Pentagon has updated the estimated cost of the program to between $93.1 billion and $95.8 billion.

This does not include the cost for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to build a new warhead for the missile. Known as the W87-1, the warhead is projected to cost $12.4 billion.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget request included $1.5 billion for research and development for the GBSD program and $541 million to continue the design of the W87-1 warhead. (See ACT, March 2020.)

A report published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in September warned that “[i]t is not clear that NNSA will be able to produce sufficient numbers of pits, the fissile cores of the primary, to meet the W87-1 warhead’s planned production schedule.”

The GAO also said that the NNSA “has not yet developed documented risk mitigation plans to address the risk of insufficient pits to sustain W87-1 production.”

The Defense Department argues that a new ICBM is necessary because the fleet of 400 deployed Minuteman IIIs is aging into obsolescence. The Pentagon also argues that a new missile is essential to maintain the current force of 400 deployed ICBMs and defeat advancing adversary missile defenses.

A 2014 Air Force analysis, however, did not determine that extending the life of the Minuteman III is infeasible. Instead, the study found that the price to build a new missile system would be roughly the same as the cost to maintain the currently deployed Minuteman III.

The service arrived at this conclusion by comparing the total life-cycle cost of the two options through 2075 based on the current requirement to deploy at least 400 missiles for the entire 50-year service life of the new missile system.

Critics of the GBSD program claim that if the requirements for 450 missiles, a 50-year service life, and new capabilities are relaxed, then it is possible to extend the life of the Minuteman III for a period of time beyond 2030 and at less cost than the current approach.

“There is plenty of argument that we can extend the life of the existing ICBMs if we rely on fewer,” Smith said last October.

The Congressional Budget Office projected in 2017 that $17.5 billion in fiscal year 2017 dollars could be saved through 2046 by delaying development of a new ICBM by 20 years and instead extending the life of the Minuteman IIIs by buying new engines and new guidance systems for the missiles. (See ACT, December 2017.)

The fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and defense appropriations legislation passed by both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House this summer supported the Pentagon’s funding request for the GBSD program.

The legislation also supported the NNSA request for the W87-1 warhead.

The House-passed version of the NDAA, however, raises concerns about the complexity and cost of the GBSD program. The bill requires a report on the Air Force’s “planning in the event of a delay to full operating of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program of at least four years” and options to mitigate “risks to obsolesce of the Minuteman III weapon systems.”

The Trump administration is pressing to replace U.S. ICBMs.

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