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

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
United States

Future of Open Skies Remains Bleak


May 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States could officially submit its intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty by the end of September, despite strong support for the treaty in Congress and from allies and former U.S. officials.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media in Washington on March 5. He has reportedly recommended a U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper have decided to move forward with a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, the Guardian reported on April 5. The report indicated that a statement of intent would be forthcoming soon, with an official notification to withdraw coming likely by the end of September. Per the treaty text, the U.S. decision would take effect six months after the official notice.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested on April 23 that, “based on contacts with the Americans” and other states-parties to the treaty, the United States has decided to withdraw from the treaty. Russia’s response to the move will “depend on the wording of this decision, on what it exactly means,” Lavrov added.

On April 7, four leading congressional Democrats released a statement urging the Trump administration not to withdraw. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) were joined on the statement by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“This decision would have far-reaching, negative repercussions for our European allies, who rely on this treaty to keep Russia accountable for its military actions in the region,” they wrote. “During a time when we need to push back against Russian aggression, we cannot continue to undermine our alliances—which is exactly what U.S. withdrawal from this treaty would do.”

On April 6, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) made public a March letter to President Donald Trump, Pompeo, Esper, and National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien expressing their recommendation that the United States remain party to the treaty.

Schulz, Perry, and Nunn argued that concerns about Russian compliance with the treaty “can and should be solved through professional, pragmatic diplomacy, not by abandoning treaty commitments.”

The United States asserts that Russia is violating the agreement by “imposing and enforcing a sublimit of 500 kilometers over the Kaliningrad Oblast” and by establishing a 10-kilometer corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, according to the latest State Department report on arms control compliance. 

According to an April 8 report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, a treaty flight by Estonia, Lithuania, and the United States in February over the Kaliningrad enclave flew for more than 500 kilometers for the first time since Moscow imposed the sublimit in 2014.

Pompeo and Esper are proceeding with the process to withdraw even though a meeting of top officials on the National Security Council (NSC) on the issue has not taken place, according to an April 12 report in The Hill. NSC meetings on the future of the treaty had originally been planned for February and March, but were canceled.

According to a House aide cited by The Hill, the apparent “decision to withdraw prompted strong objection from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Poland.”

A State Department official told the news outlet that the administration is “currently reviewing the costs and benefits associated with our participation and considering all options under the treaty to achieve our national security objectives.”

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan stated on April 22 that “all options” remain on the table with regard to the treaty’s future.

Signed in 1992, the Open Skies Treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. The treaty entered into force in January 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia. Since 2002, there have been nearly 200 U.S. overflights of Russia and about 70 overflights conducted by Russia over the United States, although flights were suspended at the end of March due to the coronavirus pandemic and at press time there was no indication that flights would resume in May.

 

The Trump administration appears close to announcing a U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, possibly by the end of September.

Coronavirus Affects U.S. Nuclear Forces


May 2020
By Kingston Reif

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the nation, the Defense Department is taking special measures to ensure the continued readiness of U.S. nuclear forces.

Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander of U.S. 6th Fleet, center, reviews dive procedures in the control room the ballistic missile submarine USS Florida in the Mediterranean on Oct. 15, 2019. To maintain readiness, U.S. ballistic missile submarine crews were taking special measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  (Photo: Drew Verbis/U.S. Navy)Department officials have expressed confidence that these steps have helped to ensure that the virus does not compromise the ability of the nuclear arsenal to perform its intended mission.

But over time, the rising human and financial toll inflicted by the disease could exacerbate the affordability and execution challenges facing the government’s ambitious plans to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems and warheads and their supporting infrastructure. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Adm. Charles Richard, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters March 17 that “our strategic nuclear forces remain ready to execute the nation's strategic deterrence mission” and “to this point, we have had no impact to our ability to accomplish our mission.”

In the ensuing weeks, Pentagon officials have detailed some of the protocols that have been put in place to safeguard the health of U.S. military personnel that operate nuclear delivery systems.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on April 14 that the crews of 12 deployed ballistic missile submarines “are going into isolation” for 14 days and “are being tested prior to setting sail, as tests become available.”

The Air Force has also adjusted “operations in the nuclear missile fields,” Gen. David Goldfein, the chief of staff of the service, told Air Force Magazine on April 15.

Goldfein said that the crews for Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are now spending 14 days or more at their posts, compared to two or three days at a time previously. All of the roughly 400 deployed U.S. ICBMs are maintained in a state of launch-ready alert, meaning they can be launched within minutes of a decision by the president to do so.

“We’re operating in what we call the new abnormal, operating with the virus,” Goldfein said. He told reporters during a virtual press conference on April 22 that no ICBM or nuclear bomber crews have tested positive for the virus.

The Pentagon announced that day that it is instituting a tiered system for testing personnel for the virus, with top priority given to personnel supporting “critical national capabilities like…our nuclear deterrent.”

“I’m knocking on wood right now [but] so far our measures are working,” Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, deputy commander of Global Strike Command, told Politico on April 23. “We're still flying sorties, the ICBM forces are still on 24 hours, we’re still doing training.”

As of the end of April, the Defense Department reported nearly 7,000 total cases of the coronavirus among department personnel, dependents, and contractors had tested positive for the coronavirus, with hundreds of new cases being reported every day.

The Pentagon in late March stopped reporting the number of positive cases at individual bases and installations. As of early April, more than 150 bases in 41 states had positive cases, including nearly every base that hosts U.S. nuclear delivery systems, according to an April 9 Newsweek report.

The Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reported 40 active cases of the virus at the agency as of the end of April. Nearly all NNSA production facilities had reduced to a minimum mission-critical level of operations as of mid-April, Exchange Monitor Publications reported on April 10. Mission-critical employees include the personnel needed to assemble nuclear weapons and components, maintain key infrastructure, or provide security.

Although U.S. nuclear forces personnel to have largely avoided the virus, the threat to worker safety and health posed by the disease is straining the defense industrial base and is likely to prompt schedule delays to major defense acquisition programs.

Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters on April 20 that the Defense Department is “seeing the greatest impacts in the aviation supply chain, ship-building, and small space launch.”

She added that the department projects “about a three-month slowdown at slower rates in terms of execution” for major acquisition programs and is “just now looking at key milestones that might be impacted.”

Lord said the Pentagon is planning to ask Congress for “billions and billions” in additional funding as part of a future emergency stimulus package for fiscal year 2020 to address possible schedule delays.

Congress provided the Defense Department with $10.5 billion in emergency supplemental funds as part a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill signed by President Donald Trump in March. The additional funding brought total appropriations for national defense in fiscal year 2020 to $756.5 billion.

The potential impact of workforce and supplier slowdowns on the Pentagon’s nuclear delivery system modernization programs remains to be seen.

“We are confident the services, along with industry partners, are able to keep production related to modernization of our nuclear forces on track, while taking appropriate precautions to keep their workforces safe and healthy,” Richard said in March.

But the Congressional Research Service warned in March that the risks of delays at shipyards could be particularly problematic for the program building a new fleet of Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, due in part to the “tight schedule for designing and building the lead boat.”

Meanwhile, the Air Force is slated to award a contract to Northrop Grumman to begin development of a new ICBM system via the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program before the end of the summer. (See ACT, October 2019.)

Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said on April 16 that the Air Force might actually award the GBSD development contract earlier than planned.

At the NNSA, major warhead and infrastructure modernization programs are continuing as planned, a congressional source told Arms Control Today.

In the longer term, many prominent defense experts believe that the financial havoc wreaked by the coronavirus will prompt reductions in military spending. Such cuts could increase the financial burden of the Trump administration’s nuclear modernization plans.

The administration is requesting $44.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 for nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization, an increase of about $7.3 billion, or 19 percent, from the fiscal year 2020 level.

Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, predicted on April 6 that “we are going to see enormous downward pressure on defense spending because of other urgent American national needs like health care that the pandemic is going to raise.”

Pentagon officials, however, maintain that nuclear modernization will remain a top priority even amid declining defense budgets.

“As the budget comes down, there will be more tough choices ahead,” Roper said. “My worry—concern—is less about any program in the nuclear triad. It’s more outside of that: Where would we find that bill payer?”

To prevent the spread of the virus, the Pentagon has announced new health protocols for its personnel staffing U.S. nuclear weapons systems.

North Korea Spurns Diplomacy With United States


May 2020
By Julia Masterson

Pyongyang is no longer interested in diplomatic dialogue with Washington, according to a March 31 statement published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). “We will go our own way. We want the U.S. not to bother us. If the U.S. bothers us, it will be hurt,” the statement asserted.

President Donald Trump speaks in the White House on April 28. He has reportedly reached out to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the coronavirus pandemic, but North Korea has said it wants no more nuclear dialogue.  (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)The statement, authored by the unnamed director-general of North Korea’s new Foreign Ministry for Negotiations With the United States, was written in response to U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s plea to world leaders at the Group of Seven summit in March to “stay committed to applying diplomatic and economic pressure over [North Korea’s] illegal nuclear and ballistic missile program.”

Days before the summit, North Korea announced on March 22 through the KCNA that U.S. President Donald Trump had penned a personal letter to leader Kim Jong Un offering support through the coronavirus pandemic. North Korea has rejected such assistance from the United States, but accepted humanitarian assistance from other states.

Pompeo’s remarks on the heels of Trump’s offer led Pyongyang to “misjudge who the real chief executive is” in the United States. According to the March 31 statement, “[H]earing Pompeo’s reckless remarks, we dropped the interest in dialogue with further conviction, but have become more zealous in our important planned projects aimed to repay the U.S. with actual horror and unrest for the sufferings it has inflicted upon our people.”

An April 14 statement published by the KCNA notes that North Korea’s recently implemented annual state budget calls for “increasing the capability of national defence, by adjusting and reinforcing the economy as a whole, and concentrating investment in the training of talents and developing science and technology.” Changes to the national budget are reflective of North Korea’s ideological drive for self-reliance and self-defense.

At a meeting of the 7th Central Worker’s Party of Korea in December 2019, Kim said that “the huge and complicated work of developing the ultramodern weapon system possessed only by countries with advanced defence science and technology presupposed [Pyongyang’s] own innovative solution in terms of the scientific and technical aspect without anyone’s help.” Kim announced North Korea’s planned possession of a “promising strategic weapon” that would guarantee the country’s sovereignty and right to existence.

North Korea’s criticism of U.S. calls for maintaining international sanctions and its declaration of intent to improve its military capabilities are likely designed to show the regime’s frustration with what it sees as the inflexible position of the United States on denuclearization and peace talks following the unsuccessful Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi.

North Korea also continues to test new missile systems, including on April 14, the eve of the birthday of the North Korea’s first leader, Kim Il Sung, and South Korea’s general election. According to preliminary assessments by the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, the round of tests on April 14 are believed to have been North Korea’s first launch of a cruise missile since June 2017.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency on April 15 that Washington “continue[s] to call on North Korea to avoid provocations, abide by obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and return to sustained and substantive negotiations to do its part to achieve complete denuclearization.”

Other U.S. officials, however, have downplayed the significance of the North Korean missile tests. Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley noted in an April 14 Pentagon briefing that the missile tests were not “particularly provocative or threatening” to the United States. Rather, he said they may have been “tied to some celebrations that are happening inside North Korea, as opposed to any deliberate provocation” against the United States.

Since announcing it would no longer be bound by its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing, North Korea has conducted five rounds of tests of shorter-range missiles in 2020. (See ACT, April 2020.) North Korea has not tested a long-range missile since ending its moratorium, but many independent missile experts assess that Pyongyang’s continued testing of its shorter-range systems are an indication that North Korea is also pursuing the further development of longer- and possibly intercontinental-range missiles.

North Korea has continued to test new missile systems and develop other new weapons as the United States aims to press sanctions.

Pentagon Invests in AI, Issues Principles


May 2020
By Michael Klare

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 Defense Department budget request prioritizes spending on artificial intelligence (AI) research and procurement of AI-enabled weapons systems, including unmanned autonomous ships, aircraft, and ground vehicles. Among these requests is $800 million for accelerated operations by the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), the Pentagon’s lead agency for applying AI for military purposes, and for Project Maven, a companion project that seeks to employ sophisticated algorithms in identifying potential military targets among masses of video footage. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks at the Pentagon on March 5. He announced in February that the Pentagon would adopt a set of ethical principles for using artificial intelligence in military applications. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)In February, when presenting the Pentagon’s proposed budget, Deputy Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist indicated that some existing weapons programs would be cut or trimmed to free up funds for increased spending on sophisticated systems needed for what he called the “high end” wars of the future. Such engagements, Norquist suggested, will entail intense combat with the well-equipped forces of great power competitors, notably China and Russia.

If U.S. forces are to prevail in such encounters, he added, they will need to possess technological superiority over their rivals, which requires ever-increasing investment in “critical emerging technologies,” especially AI and autonomous weapons systems.

In advocating for these undertakings, senior Defense officials have consistently emphasized the need for speeding the weaponization of AI and autonomous weapons systems.

“Leadership in the military application of AI is critical to our national security,” Gen. John (“Jack”) Shanahan, the commander of JAIC, told reporters last August. “For that reason, I doubt I will ever be entirely satisfied that we’re moving fast enough when it comes to [the Defense Department’s] adoption of AI.” At the same time, however, top leaders insist that they are mindful of the legal and ethical challenges of weaponizing advanced technologies. “We are thinking deeply about the ethical, safe, and lawful use of AI,” Shanahan insisted.

The Pentagon’s recognition of the ethical dimensions of applying AI to military use stems from three sets of concerns that have emerged in recent years. The first encompasses fears that as human oversight diminishes, AI-enabled autonomous weapons systems could “go rogue” and engage in acts that violate international humanitarian law. (See ACT, March 2019.) The second arises from evidence that facial-identification algorithms and other AI-empowered systems often contain biases of some sort that could result in unfair or illegal outcomes. Finally, analysts worry that it can be very difficult to identify and trace the algorithmic flaws that might result in such outcomes.

In recognition of these concerns, the Defense Department has taken a number of steps to demonstrate its awareness of the risks associated with hasty AI weaponization. In 2018, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asked the Defense Innovation Board (DIB), a semiautonomous body reporting directly to senior Pentagon leadership, to develop a set of “ethical principles” for the military application of AI. After conducting several meetings with lawyers, computer scientists, and representatives of human rights organizations, the DIB delivered its proposed set of principles last Oct. 31 to Secretary Mark Esper. (See ACT, December 2019.) After an internal review, Esper’s office finally proclaimed its acceptance of the DIB formula Feb. 24.

In announcing his decision, Esper made it clear that the rapid weaponization of AI and other emerging technologies remains the department’s top priority. The United States, he declared, “must accelerate the adoption of AI and lead in its national security applications to maintain our strategic position [and] prevail on future battlefields.” At the same time, he noted, adoption of the new AI guidelines will buttress “the department’s commitment to upholding the highest ethical standards.”

Of the five ethical principles announced by Esper, four, covering the responsible, equitable, traceable, and reliable use of AI, address the risk of bias and the need for human supervisors to oversee every stage of AI weaponization and be able to identify and eliminate any flaws they detect. Only the final principle (governable) addresses the risk of unintended and possibly lethal action by AI-empowered autonomous systems. Under this key precept, human operators must possess “the ability to disengage or deactivate deployed systems that demonstrate unintended behavior.”

If fully implemented, the five principles adopted by Esper in February could go a long way toward reducing the risks identified by critics of rapid AI weaponization. But this will require that all involved military personnel be educated about these precepts and that contractors abide by them in developing new military systems. When and how this process will unfold remain largely unknown. Devising the five principles, Shanahan explained on Feb. 24, “was the easy part.”

“The real hard part,” he continued, is “understanding where those ethics principles need to be applied.” At this moment, that process has barely begun, but the acquisition of AI-enabled weapons systems seems to be advancing at top speed.

The U.S. Defense Secretary made clear the Pentagon will pursue military artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies as a top priority.

U.S. Makes Noncompliance Charges


May 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

The United States cited a number of concerns about other states’ compliance with major nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons agreements in a summary of the State Department’s annual compliance report, which was issued April 15. The report, “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” assesses activities during 2019 and was prepared by the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance with input from the intelligence community.

On April 16, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China remains committed to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)The report says that, in 2019, “the United States continued to be in compliance with all of its obligations under arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament agreements.” Other states, including China, North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, Russia, and Syria, are not meeting all of their obligations, the report says.

The most significant charge relates to earlier U.S. claims that Russia and China have engaged in activities that are inconsistent with the “zero-yield” standard regarding nuclear testing, established through the negotiations on the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits all nuclear test explosions regardless of yield.

The report says that the United States “assesses that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons-related experiments that have created nuclear yield,” but appears to walk back earlier claims.

May 2019, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency claimed that Russia had violated the zero-yield standard at its former nuclear test site in Novaya Zemlya. The State Department had earlier made this charge in its compliance report on 2018 activities. That report stated that, “during the 1995–2018 timeframe, Russia probably conducted nuclear weapons-related tests” at Novaya Zemlya. Further information was not provided, however, and many experts cast doubt on the allegation.

The latest State Department compliance report asserts that some Russian activities since 1996 “have demonstrated a failure to adhere to the U.S. ‘zero-yield’ standard, which would prohibit supercritical tests.” The report added the caveat that “the United States does not know how many, if any, supercritical or self-sustaining nuclear experiments Russia conducted in 2019.”

Russia, like the United States, signed the CTBT in 1996. Russia ratified the CTBT in 2000. The United States has not ratified the treaty.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov responded to the report on April 16, asserting that Russia “did not take any steps that would include elements of deviation from our obligations stemming from our unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing and from our ratification” of the CTBT. He countered by alleging that the United States “may well be bringing their test site in Nevada on high alert.”

The State Department report notes that Russia is still adhering to its commitments under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is scheduled to expire in February 2021. The Trump administration has not yet decided whether to take up Russia’s offer to extend the treaty by another five years.

The report also claims that certain activities at China’s former nuclear testing grounds at Lop Nur “raise concerns” that Beijing might not be complying with the zero-yield nuclear weapons testing. It mentions China’s “use of explosive containment chambers and extensive excavation activities at Lop Nur.” It also accuses China of “blocking the flow of data from the monitoring stations” set up in China by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to verify compliance with the CTBT.

But these interruptions were part of the normal process of certifying the stations. According to The Wall Street Journal, a CTBT spokeswoman said that “[d]ata transmission from all certified stations was interrupted in 2018 after the testing and evaluation and certification process was completed.” She said that, “[i]n August 2019, ongoing negotiations on post-certification activity contracts with Chinese station operators were concluded and data transmission resumed for all five certified stations.”

These stations are part of the global network of more than 300 test ban monitoring stations worldwide. If and when the CTBT formally enters into force, states-parties can also request short-notice, on-site inspections to resolve compliance concerns. A number of experts have also suggested that former nuclear testing states, including China, Russia, and the United States, could agree to confidence-building measures to resolve questions about test site activities.

On April 16, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian replied to questions about the U.S. charges. “China was among the first group of signatories to the CTBT. It supports the purpose and objective of the treaty, stays committed to the nuclear testing moratorium, and has made important contribution[s] to the work of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization,” he said.

“In recent years, the U.S. has stated explicitly in the Nuclear Posture Review report that it will not push for the ratification of the treaty and will even resume underground nuclear explosive testing if called upon to do so,” he added. “The international community should stay on high alert to this dangerous tendency and urge the U.S. to change course.”

Regarding Iran, the State Department report notes that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in November 2019 that agency inspectors detected particles of chemically processed uranium at an undeclared site and that as of March 2020, the matter is still unresolved.

The report says that “Iran’s intentional failure to declare nuclear material subject to IAEA safeguards would constitute a clear violation of Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement required by the [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)] and would constitute a violation of Article III of the NPT itself.” (See ACT, April 2020.)

Concerning the Open Skies Treaty, the report repeats earlier charges that Russia was not in compliance in 2019 for imposing a sublimit of 500 kilometers over the Kaliningrad Oblast for treaty flights, for refusing access to observation flights along Russia’s border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and for denying planned U.S.-Canadian flights over a Russian military exercise in September 2019.

U.S. officials have indicated the United States may unilaterally withdraw from the treaty over these issues.

But the report fails to note that Russia recently approved and allowed a joint U.S.-Estonian-Latvian treaty flight over Kaliningrad this year. In addition, on March 2, Jim Gilmore, U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said Russia will no longer raise an “objection” for the United States and its allies to “fly over one of their major exercises.” (See ACT, April 2020.)

The State Department renews concerns that China and Russia may have conducted prohibited nuclear testing activities.

Trump Appoints Special Arms Control Envoy


May 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

President Donald Trump has officially appointed a special envoy to negotiate an unprecedented trilateral arms control deal with Russia and China as the fate of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control agreement, hangs in the balance.

Marshall Billingslea, then assistant secretary of treasury, speaks in Washington in March 2019. He was named as the State Department's special presidential envoy for arms control on April 10. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Marshall Billingslea, previously assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department, will lead arms control negotiations on behalf of the United States as special presidential envoy for arms control, according to an April 10 statement by the State Department.

“President Trump has charged this Administration with beginning a new chapter by seeking a new era of arms control that moves beyond the bilateral treaties of the past,” the department said. “The appointment of Marshall Billingslea reaffirms the commitment to that mission.”

On May 1, Trump also announced his intent to nominate Billingslea to fill the vacant post of under secretary of state for arms control and international security. Billingslea was an advisor to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an ardent opponent of arms control who opposed U.S. ratification of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and supported U.S. withdrawal in 2002 from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, strongly denounced Billingslea’s appointment, stating, “This is not who should be put in charge of our nuclear diplomacy.”

Trump first proposed a trilateral approach to arms control more than a year ago, but the administration has yet to unveil a specific proposal and provided no timeline for when it might do so. (See ACT, May 2019.)

Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, outlined the Trump administration’s priorities for “next-generation arms control” with Russia and China in an April 6 paper.

Ford, who is currently serving the functions of undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that the next stage of arms control must continue to control Russia’s deployed strategic weapons currently limited by New START and address new Russian strategic delivery systems and Russia’s large and growing arsenal of nonstrategic weapons. Ford also said that a future agreement must “rein in” China’s “destabilizing nuclear buildup.”

Ford did not explain how the administration plans to convince Russia to limit additional types of nuclear weapons, convince China to participate in arms control for the first time, or describe what the United States would be prepared to include in a new agreement.

China is strongly opposed to multilateral arms control talks and has yet to respond to a December 2019 U.S. offer for a bilateral dialogue on strategic security.

Ford also did not address the future of New START, which will expire in February 2021 unless Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to extend it by up to five years.

New START limits U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads on 700 missiles and heavy bombers. Under the treaty, the United States and Russia exchange data every six months on the exact number of limited warheads and delivery systems.

The latest data exchange, current as of March 1 and publicly released April 1, demonstrates that the treaty is working, as Moscow and Washington fall at or under the imposed limits. As of March 1, the United States deployed 1,372 warheads on 655 missiles and heavy bombers. Russia deployed 1,326 warheads on 485 delivery systems.

The treaty also allows the United States and Russia to conduct on-site inspections. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, both countries agreed in late March to suspend inspections until May 1. The suspension has been extended until June 1, a congressional source told Arms Control Today. The next meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, the implementing body of the treaty, has been postponed until this fall. (See ACT, April 2020.)

April marked 10 years since the signing of New START by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Prague. The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on April 8 on the anniversary, urging the United States to issue “a speedy response in the affirmative” to Moscow’s offer to unconditionally extend the treaty.

“We are convinced that this would meet the interests of both Russia and the United States, as well as those of the entire international community, guarantee predictability in the nuclear weapons sphere, and help maintain strategic stability,” the ministry wrote.

But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated in an April 17 call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “that any future arms control talks must be based on President Trump’s vision for a trilateral arms control agreement that includes both Russia and China.”

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan commented on April 22 that the administration was still reviewing a possible extension of New START. “There will be movement and discussion soon that will illuminate this issue more for all of us,” he added.

Citing the Trump administration’s continued indecision on the future of the treaty, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov said on April 16 that “all the signs” indicate the United States “is on the threshold of making a decision not to extend this document.”

Trump and Putin held a call on April 12, during which they discussed “current issues of ensuring strategic security,” according to a statement from the Kremlin. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later clarified that New START was a point of discussion.

Although the United States and Russia remain at odds over the future of New START, the countries could soon resume their dialogue on strategic security, with a specific focus on space security. The last round of the U.S.-Russian strategic security dialogue took place Jan. 16 in Vienna. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Ryabkov said on April 11 that the two sides had agreed to establish a working group to discuss space issues. Additional details, such as a time and date for the discussion, have not been publicly shared.

“The Russian side has handed in its proposals on the essence of this work to the U.S. side and now expects the response,” he said.

The selection of Marshall Billingslea as special presidential envoy for arms control has drawn criticism from arms control proponents.

Raytheon to Build New Nuclear Cruise Missile


May 2020
By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Air Force announced last month that it plans to continue development of a new fleet of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) with Raytheon Co. as the sole contractor.

The United States plans to deploy a new nuclear-armed cruise missile on B-52H bombers, like the one above, and planned B-21 bombers. (Photo: Justin Wright/U.S. Air Force)“After an extensive evaluation of contractor programmatic and technical approach during…preliminary design reviews, the Air Force decided to focus on Raytheon’s design,” according to an April 17 service press release.

In August 2017, the Air Force awarded a $900 million contract to Raytheon and a $900 million contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. to proceed with development of the ALCM replacement, known as the long-range standoff (LRSO) weapon. (See ACT, October 2017.) The contracts were intended to cover a 54-month period of development after which the Air Force would choose one of the contractors to complete development and begin production.

The service’s rationale for focusing on one contractor roughly two years earlier than planned is unclear.

Lockheed Martin’s exit from the LRSO program “is completely in line with the existing LRSO acquisition strategy, which included periodic reviews to assess contractor designs,” said Maj. Gen. Shaun Morris, Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center commander and program executive officer for strategic systems.

“Lockheed Martin has been an excellent contractor and partner…and this pivot to Raytheon does not represent a lack of effort or commitment on their part,” he added.

Morris also argued that the Air Force’s decision not to proceed with Lockheed Martin’s design for the missile is “different than Boeing’s decision last year not to bid on the EMD contract for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent,” the planned replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. (See ACT, October 2019.)

The award of the main LRSO program development contract remains slated for year 2022, but the Air Force is evaluating whether any acceleration of the program might be possible, a service spokeswoman told Air Force Magazine on April 21.

Current Air Force plans call for the procurement of about 1,000 new nuclear-capable missiles to replace the current fleet of AGM-86B missiles, which have been operational since 1986. The service says a new ALCM is needed because the existing missiles are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and losing their ability to penetrate sophisticated air defenses. The new missile will be compatible with the B-52H and planned B-21 bombers.

The new missile will be dubbed the AGM-181 when it becomes operational.

The Air Force in 2016 projected the total acquisition cost of the LRSO program at $10.8 billion after including the impact of inflation. (See ACT, September 2016.) The National Nuclear Security Administration is developing the warhead for the new missile, which as of last summer was projected to cost $11.2 billion.

The Trump administration is requesting $1.5 billion for the missile and warhead in fiscal year 2021. (See ACT, March 2020.)

The U.S. Air Force is moving to procure 1,000 nuclear-capable cruise missiles to replace its current arsenal.

Russian ASAT Test Sparks War of Words


May 2020

The U.S. military reported on April 15 that it tracked a Russian test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile (ASAT). The test did not involve the destruction of a satellite, which can produce space debris.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Ryabkov (right) speaks with Russian Ambassador Grigory Berdennikov at a 2017 meeting. Ryabkov said in April that Russia would not be the first nation to place weapons in space. (Photo: National Nuclear Research University (MEPhI)/CTBTO)The Pentagon pointed to Russia’s test as evidence of Russia’s malign intentions. The “test provides yet another example that the threats to U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious and growing,” said Gen. John W. Raymond, commander of U.S. Space Command and Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force.

Raymond added that the “test is further proof of Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counterspace weapons programs.”

TASS reported April 16 that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Moscow remains committed to not being the first to place weapons in space and criticized the United States for refusing to engage with Russia on the subject.

For more than a decade, Russia and China have proposed talks on a treaty that would ban the placement of any type of weapon in orbit or on celestial bodies and obligate states-parties “not to resort to the threat or use of force against outer space objects.”

“If the United States rejects [the Russian] proposal, the natural conclusion that we draw is that they are headed for the creation of attack systems for deployment in outer space,” Ryabkov told TASS on April 16.

In an April 6 briefing, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford called the Russian-Chinese proposal a “terrible” idea in part because “it would by careful design fail to address in any meaningful fashion the terrestrially–based ASAT systems.”

U.S. and Russian diplomats have held inconclusive on-and-off talks on limiting or banning ASAT systems for decades but have not taken up the question in many years.

Instead, Ford said “U.S. diplomats are looking ... to work constructively with their counterparts in other spacefaring nations to develop approaches to outer space norms that will help improve predictability and collective ‘best practices’ in the space domain.”

In 2007, China used a ballistic missile to destroy one of its aging weather satellites, which produced a large amount of harmful debris in orbit. The 2008, the United States used a modified SM-3 missile to intercept and destroy one of its aging weather satellites. In April 2019, India successfully test-fired an interceptor missile that shot down an orbiting satellite.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

Russian ASAT Test Sparks War of Words

The Future of New START and U.S. National Security

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020
10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Eastern
via Zoom Webinar

With the expiration date for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) less than a year away, the Arms Control Association hosted a discussion with former senior officials on the national security case for the extension of New START, the costs of failing to do so, and why extension is the best next step toward more ambitious arms control talks with Russia and other nuclear-armed states.

Key quotes from the speakers and useful resources are listed below. Some answers to additional questions that participants submitted but that the speakers were unable to address due to time constraints can be found here.

 

Key Quotes

Admiral (ret.) Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007-2011

“Put me down in the column of extension, and the reason for that is the clock is running. Certainly in my experience, getting to the right specifics in a very complex treaty takes a long time. And I would opine at this point we don’t have time to renegotiate—or to negotiate—a new treaty as an option.”

“One of the things that is incredibly important about this treaty is the details of verification, an aspect of which, in addition to national technical means, is spoken to by on-the-ground inspections. I come from a place where there is nothing better than being physically in place in time.”

"Trying to get something done with China between now and February is virtually impossible.”

Rose Gottemoeller, former NATO Deputy Secretary-General, former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and the lead negotiator for New START

“Nowhere is military predictability more important than in the nuclear realm. Our presidents can give a potent sign that they take this matter seriously by an early extension of New START. It would be an act of global leadership, reassuring our publics as they grapple with sickness and uncertainty.”

“Rapid fire negotiation of a follow on agreement was always a difficult proposition, especially the effort to engage the Chinese. Without the potential for hands-on diplomacy, I really think it’s become mission impossible. Extending New START would not only give time for all of the issues to be brought to the table and new actors to be engaged, but also would allow us to get through this pandemic.”

“The last point I would like to emphasize is the firm support for New START extension among U.S. allies, and not only our allies in Europe and North America, but also the ones in Asia. The allies are keen to see the last legally binding nuclear arms reduction treaty remain in force in order to ensure the continuation of a predictable nuclear environment in their regions and to give sufficient time for new negotiations to take place.”

Lt. Gen. (ret.) Frank Klotz, former U.S. Undersecretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration from 2014-2018, and commander of Air Force Global Strike Command from 2009-2011

“Although limiting the number and types of Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons would certainly benefit the security interests of the United States, as well as those of its European and Asian allies, it does not logically follow that the existing limits on longer-range systems imposed by New START should be allowed to lapse because an agreement on shorter-range nuclear weapons has not yet been reached. If that were to happen, there would be more rather than fewer categories and numbers of Russian nuclear weapons that would be unconstrained, including systems that could directly threaten the U.S. homeland. From a military perspective, that hardly makes any sense.”

“Rather than being relevant to the immediate debate on the treaty’s extension, the issue of Russia’s novel nuclear delivery systems is more a matter of those Russian capabilities that might need to be addressed in any follow-on nuclear arms control arrangements.”

“Allowing New START to lapse without replacement would be a grave mistake in terms of our national security.”

Resources

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Special briefing with Admiral (ret.) Michael Mullen, Rose Gottemoeller, and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Frank Klotz

Country Resources:

Potential U.S. Open Skies Withdrawal Announcement Coming Soon | U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch

Potential U.S. Open Skies Withdrawal Announcement Coming Soon The United States could officially submit its intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty by the end of September, despite strong support for the treaty in Congress and from allies and former U.S. officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper have decided to move forward with a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, the Guardian reported April 5. The report indicated that a statement of intent would be forthcoming soon, with official notification to withdraw coming likely by the end of September. Per the...

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