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U.S. Modifies Arms Control Aims with Russia

September 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The Trump administration has softened its demand that China immediately participate in trilateral nuclear arms control talks with the United States and Russia and says it is now seeking an interim step: a politically binding framework with Moscow that covers all nuclear warheads, establishes a verification regime suitable to that task, and could include China in the future.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and U.S. President Donald Trump speak at the 2019 G20 summit in Japan. U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien recently said "we'd love to have Putin" come to the White House to sign a nuclear arms control accord, but the lead U.S. arms control negotiator said the two nations "remain far apart on a number of key issues." (Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)Still, the administration continues to oppose an unconditional five-year extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and wants Moscow’s support for limiting all types of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads and strengthening the New START verification regime as a condition for prolonging the treaty.

Russia supports an unconditional extension and says that it will not agree to any changes to New START.

The impasse continues to cast an ominous shadow over the future of the last remaining arms control agreement limiting the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals five months before it is slated to expire.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea said on Aug. 18, following a round of talks in Vienna with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, “that New START is a deeply flawed deal negotiated under the Obama-Biden administration, and it has significant verification deficiencies.”

According to Billingslea, these deficiencies include the absence of sufficient exchanges of missile telemetry and the limited frequency of on-site inspections.

He said that he would recommend that President Donald Trump consider extending the treaty only “if we can fix” the flaws “and if we can address all warheads, and if we do so in a way that is extensible to China.”

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

New START expires next February but can be extended by up to five years if the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to do so. The treaty caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

Billingslea met with Ryabkov in Vienna from Aug. 17–18. A July 23 call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and as working group discussions between U.S. and Russian technical experts later that month, paved the way for the August meeting, according to Billingslea.

The working groups met in Vienna from July 28–30 to discuss issues such as nuclear doctrine, unconstrained nuclear warheads, transparency, and verification.

Trump said on July 30 that the United States is in “formal negotiations with Russia on arms control.” Although the U.S.-Russia discussions this summer have marked the most sustained period of dialogue on arms control issues since the Trump administration took office, they would be more accurately described as the continuation of a longer standing, less concrete dialogue on strategic security.

National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien suggested on Aug. 16 that Putin could visit the White House to seal a new bilateral arms control understanding. “We’d love to have Putin come here to sign a terrific arms control deal that protects Americans and protects Russians.”

Billingslea, however, said that the two sides “remain far apart on a number of key issues.”

Ryabkov told the Russian news agency Interfax following his meeting with Billingslea that “any additions” to New START “would be impossible both for political and procedural reasons.”

He added that Russia would not support an “extension at any cost.”

“If the U.S. embellishes its possible…decision in favor of extension with all sorts of preconditions and burdens this work with all possible additional requirements, then I think the problem of extending the treaty won’t be that easy to resolve,” he said.

When Billingslea and Ryabkov last met on June 22 in Vienna, the United States pressured China to join, but Beijing declined and remains strongly opposed to trilateral talks with the United States and Russia. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

China’s unalterable opposition appears to have convinced the administration that the only hope for progress lies in bilateral engagement with Russia, at least at the outset.

Trump told reporters on July 30 that “China right now is a much lesser nuclear power…than Russia.” He said that he would focus on arms control talks with Russia and then “go to China together.”

Billingslea said in Vienna that “we’re not going to negotiate another bilateral arms control treaty.”

He added that “the framework that we are articulating” with Russia “will be the framework going forward that China will be expected to join.”

The Trump administration has yet to detail its specific objectives for arms control with China, a fact that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized on July 29. “Let them at least document what they have in mind,” he said.

CBO Weighs Cost of New START Expiration

The U.S. Defense Department could incur modest to staggeringly high costs if the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) expires in February 2021 and the United States increases its arsenal above the treaty limits, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found in an August report.

On the modest end, expanding forces to reach the limits set by the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) would not increase the Pentagon’s cost relative to its current plans, since the New START limits are comparable to the SORT limits.

At the high end, the Pentagon could pay $410 billion to $439 billion as a one-time cost and $24 billion to $28 billion annually in pursuit of a more flexible approach that involves buying more delivery systems.

CBO estimated the cost if the United States increases its deployed strategic nuclear forces to the levels of three previous arms control treaties: the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which capped warheads at 6,000 for each side; the 1993 START II agreement, which sought to limit warheads to 3,000 to 3,500 but was never entered into force; and SORT, which limited warheads to 1,700 to 2,200.

New START limits the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads on 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles. The Trump administration’s plans to sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal are likely to exceed $1.5 trillion over the next several decades after including the impact of inflation.

CBO examined two approaches for expanding U.S. forces to reach each of the three treaty’s levels. The lower-cost and less flexible approach would involve increasing the number of warheads allocated to each missile and bomber and minimize any potential purchase of additional delivery systems. The more flexible yet more expensive approach would purchase more delivery systems to reach the number of desired warheads.

The United States could also take an approach that lies between those two approaches, CBO noted.

CBO said that the projected cost to increase the arsenal could be even higher, as the office’s estimates did not include the cost of producing additional warheads by the Energy Department, any new operating bases or training facilities if needed, or an expansion in delivery system production capability.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, requested the report in September 2019.

The CBO report comes on the heels of a July 30 report by the Government Accountability Office, which found that the Defense Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have not considered how the potential expiration of New START may affect their nuclear modernization plans and spending.

“DOD 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 GAO said in a July 30 report.

“NNSA similarly has not considered the implications of the potential expiration of New START on the assumptions underlying its overall program of record and future-years funding projections as described in the fiscal year 2021 budget justification,” the GAO noted. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Following U.S.-Russian arms control talks in Vienna in mid-August, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, Deputy Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said that the U.S. military is “agnostic” on the question of whether extending New START is in its best interests.

Bussiere added, “We do believe, however, that it does provide increased international security.”—SHANNON BUGOS

Billingslea claimed that many “countries have already called out the Chinese for their failure to negotiate with us in good faith, and that chorus of calls…would accelerate dramatically once we have created an architecture to control all nuclear weapons.”

Fu Cong, China’s director general of the Department of Arms Control and Disarmament, said on July 8 that “it is unrealistic to expect China to join the two countries in a negotiation aimed at nuclear arms reduction” given the differences in the sizes of nuclear arsenals of three countries. The United States and Russia have about 6,000 total nuclear warheads each, China is believed to have about 300.

Fu also accused the United States of using Beijing’s refusal to join trilateral talks as “a ploy to divert world attention and to create a pretext under which they could walk away” from New START.

Fu added “that China stands ready to discuss all issues related to strategic stability and nuclear risk reduction in the framework of P5, i.e. among China, Russia, U.S., UK, and France.”

Russia continues to say that it will not force China to come to the table and that if a multilateral nuclear agreement is to be negotiated then nuclear-armed France and the United Kingdom must be part of it as well.

Although the Trump administration is now willing to negotiate with Russia before bringing China into talks at a later date, it has not specified what a politically binding framework with Russia should contain and what it would be willing to put on the table to incentivize Russia’s agreement.

Billingslea told Axios on Aug. 20 that Russia raised “a range of issues with U.S. capabilities” in Vienna, but that Moscow’s non-nuclear concerns about for example U.S. missile defenses are not on the table as part of a possible framework deal.

Billingslea has offered few clues about how a new agreement should capture U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons that have never before been limited by arms control, such as shorter-range tactical nuclear warheads and warheads held by each country in reserve.

He hinted, however, that the preferred U.S. approach would not necessarily hinge on counting individual unconstrained warheads.

“What we likely will see is a hybrid approach that would maintain limitations on the strategic systems but which would provide for a method of ensuring that the overall inventory of warheads writ large is static,” he said.


Committee Advances Billingslea Nomination

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced Marshall Billingslea’s nomination to become undersecretary of state for arms control and international security on July 29. The committee voted in favor of the nomination on a 11–10 party line vote, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) abstaining. The full Senate has yet to schedule a date to consider Billingslea’s nomination.

Billingslea, currently the U.S. special presidential envoy for arms control, sat before the committee on July 21 for his nomination hearing.

In his opening remarks, Billingslea touted his “support for arms control that advances U.S. security, and which is both enforceable and verifiable.”

Billingslea was formerly an adviser to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an ardent opponent of many arms control agreements.

Committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) asked Billingslea for his “thoughts on the fact that” the administration’s arms control efforts are “probably going to be bilateral as opposed to trilateral,” referring to the administration’s desire for a new nuclear arms control agreement with not only Russia but also China.

Billingslea responded that efforts with Russia and China “need to converge in the direction of a trilateral arms control arrangement that brings back many of the most effective verification mechanisms that we once had in the original [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] and which also address the unconstrained warheads that Russia is now building.”

Asked about the Trump administration’s view on extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), due to expire in February 2021, Billingslea said, “We have not arrived at a decision one way or another on extension of the agreement and, if so, for what period of time.”

In addition to New START, Billingslea also faced questions about hypersonic weapons from Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

Billingslea said that some of the new strategic nuclear weapons Russia is developing, such as the hypersonic glide vehicle called Avangard, would be covered under New START. “But other of these weapons, I would not want to say they should be captured because we frankly don’t think these weapons should exist at all,” he said, referring to weapons such as the nuclear-powered cruise missile named Burevestnik.

Billingslea also said the United States would not “restrict” its missile defense options in any arms control negotiations. Moscow has previously said it would only limit its nonstrategic nuclear weapons if Washington were to limit its missile defenses.

Addressing his earlier Pentagon service, when the George W. Bush administration promoted interrogation techniques that Congress later banned as torture, Billingslea said, “I never advocated for any technique that was characterized to me as torture.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) cited Billingslea’s record on torture as a major concern with him potentially taking up the top arms control job at the State Department.

“When I come to ask you in your new position whether you argue for taking human rights into account before approving the export of more bombs to Saudi Arabia to drop on Yemen or whether you advocated for stronger U.S. protections in an arms treaty with Russia, I’m wondering whether we’ll get the truth,” said Menendez.—KINGSTON REIF and SHANNON BUGOS

The Trump administration eases demand for Chinese participation in new arms control talks.

Russia Tests ASAT Weapon, U.S. Says

September 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The U.S. Space Command alleged that “Russia conducted a non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon” on July 15, ahead of lengthy but inconclusive talks between Washington and Moscow in Vienna on space security. Moscow disputed the claim that it conducted such a test.

A Russian rocket topped with the Cosmos 2543 satellite is erected in November 2019. Successfully launched in December, the satellite flew "in abnormally close proximity" of A U.S. satellite in July, according to U.S. officials. (Photo: Russian Defense Ministry)In a July 23 statement, Gen. John Raymond, commander of U.S. Space Command, said that the test “is further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk.”

Space Command said a Russian satellite, Cosmos 2543, “operated in abnormally close proximity to a U.S. government satellite in low-earth orbit before it maneuvered away and over to another Russian satellite, where it released another object in proximity to the Russia target satellite. This test is inconsistent with the intended purpose of the satellite as an inspector system, as described by Russia.”

The United States has previously suggested that such an object can be used as a weapon to target other satellites.

Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth, head of the United Kingdom’s Space Directorate, also expressed concern of the launching of “a projectile with the characteristics of a weapon.”

“Actions of this kind threaten the peaceful use of space and risk causing debris that could pose a threat to satellites and the space systems on which the world depends,” he said on July 23.

The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the statements by the United States and UK and said that the test had “not endangered any other space object” or “infringed on any norms and principles of international law.”

“The inspector satellite was launched to inspect a Russian satellite at close range, using special equipment for this purpose,” said the ministry on July 24. “This mission has collected valuable information about the technical maintenance status of the inspected spacecraft and transmitted it to the ground-based command system.”

This latest test comes after Space Command alleged that Russia tested a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile in April and two Russian satellites, Cosmos 2542 and 2543, made maneuvers near U.S. government satellites in February. (See ACT, May 2020.)

Delegations from the United States and Russia met in Vienna on July 27 for a dialogue on space security. Officials from the State, Defense, and Energy departments and the National Security Council made up the U.S. delegation.

“While our efforts are aimed at finding constructive paths forward for space security, we will certainly emphasize our great concern with ongoing Russian as well as Chinese efforts to weaponize the space domain,” said Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation and international security, ahead of the talks.

Ford said that “our hope is that this meeting will allow us to explore ways to increase stability and security in outer space, as well as to advance the cause of developing norms of responsible behavior in that vital domain.” He later mentioned applying “the usual international humanitarian law or Law of Armed Conflict rules” to space and establishing “operator-to-operator engagement” as specific potential goals.

That same day, Ford also released a paper on arms control in outer space in which he urged Russia and China to “abandon [their] dreams of counterspace warfighting, and [their] unverifiable, ineffective, and disingenuous arms control proposals, and join with the United States in a new space security initiative.”

In June, the Defense Department released the Defense Space Strategy, outlining its goals for desired conditions in space over the next 10 years, which said that “China and Russia each have weaponized space as a means to reduce U.S. and allied military effectiveness and challenge our freedom of operation in space.”

The State Department issued a statement at the conclusion of the space dialogue, which lasted for more than 13 hours. “The two sides exchanged views on current and future space threats, policies, strategies, and doctrine, and discussed a forward-looking agenda to promote safe, professional, and sustainable activities in space,” said the department. Statements from the State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the countries will aim to continue discussions on space security.

Russia maneuvered a satellite in July to within “abnormally close proximity” of a U.S. satellite, according to the U.S. Space Command.

Getting Back on Course

September 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

Seventy-five years after the horrific atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we all still live under the existential threat of a catastrophic nuclear war. Although citizen pressure and hard-nosed U.S. diplomacy have yielded agreements that have cut the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, prevented their proliferation, and banned nuclear testing, there are still far too many nuclear weapons, and the risk of nuclear war is growing.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)As the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki recently warned “We are badly off course in efforts to honor the plea of the hibakusha, the survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings, and end the nuclear threat.”

Tensions among many of the world’s nine nuclear-armed states are rising, and each is working on costly upgrades of their deadly arsenals. Leaders in Washington and Moscow cling to Cold War-era “launch under attack” postures and the option to use nuclear weapons first. Both are seeking new nuclear capabilities, including “more usable,” lower-yield warheads.

Unfortunately, U.S. President Donald Trump came into office without a clear plan for reducing the nuclear danger. In one breath, he will threaten to “win” a new arms race; in the next, he will declare his hope for arms control deals that more effectively constrain U.S. adversaries.

Under Trump, no new nuclear deals have been struck. After threatening North Korea with nuclear “fire and fury” in 2017, he squandered chances to negotiate peace and denuclearization with its leader, Kim Jong Un. As a result, Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities are expanding.

Ignoring the value of the hard-won 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Trump pulled out of the agreement and reimposed U.S. sanctions. Predictably, this led Iran to retaliate rather than negotiate a new deal. Although the United States no longer has the legal standing to do so, Trump is seeking to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran. Nearly all other UN Security Council members reject the ploy and remain determined to preserve the nuclear deal.

Trump has also discarded key agreements, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty, that have kept U.S.-Russian nuclear competition in check. Worse yet, Trump has so far refused to take up Russia’s offer to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Events and decisions in the coming weeks will determine our nuclear future for years to come. It is highly unlikely that Trump, if elected for a second term, is capable of a course shift. On the other hand, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who has a long history of support for effective arms control, could be expected to try to address many but not all of Trump’s missteps.

No matter who occupies the White House in 2021, unrelenting and focused pressure from civil society, Congress, and responsible governments around the globe will be needed to correct U.S. nuclear policy. Key elements of an action plan should start with

  • reaffirming the 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev declaration that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought;”
  • extending New START by five years and pursuing a deal for deeper cuts, although if New START is lost, Congress should bar funding for U.S. nuclear deployments above the treaty’s limits, as long as Russia does not exceed them;
  • engaging with other nuclear-armed states to create a framework for further progress, including pledges to halt the development of new types of nuclear warheads and destabilizing missile systems;
  • declaring that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons and phase out Cold War-era launch-on- warning policies, which would significantly decrease the risk of miscalculation;
  • reinforcing the global taboo against nuclear weapons testing, negotiating transparency measures to address compliance concerns, and pursuing entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • renewing serious, sustained diplomacy with North Korea on a step-for-step plan on peace and denuclearization, starting with a nuclear and missile flight-test freeze and the dismantlement of bomb production facilities;
  • waiving sanctions reimposed on Iran since 2018 in exchange for Iran returning to full compliance with its nuclear obligations under the nuclear deal; and
  • radically revising Trump’s $1.5 trillion, 30-year plan to replace and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which is unaffordable and exceeds any plausible deterrence requirements, and redirecting the savings to programs that address real human needs, including the long-term cleanup of nuclear weapons sites and expanding and renewing the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

The historic 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which will soon enter into force, is an important step toward the delegitimization of nuclear weapons possession and use. Even if the United States cannot join the treaty yet, Washington should welcome its arrival as a part of the legal framework for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

Today’s dizzying array of nuclear dangers requires bold action. Getting the world back on the road toward a world without nuclear weapons will not be easy, but it can be done.

Seventy-five years after the horrific atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we all still live under the existential threat of a catastrophic nuclear war.

CBO Report Strengthens Case for New START Extension

A new report published Aug. 25 by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) further strengthens the already no-brainer of a case for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and eviscerates the irresponsible claim by the Trump administration’s top arms control official that the United States can spend Russia and China “into oblivion” in a new arms race. The report demonstrates that the already excessive, surging, and unsustainable financial costs to maintain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal could soar even higher if the treaty expires in five months and the...

U.S.-Russian Arms Control Working Groups Meet | U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, August 5 2020

U.S.-Russian Arms Control Working Groups Meet Delegations representing the United States and Russia met in Vienna from July 27-30 for four days of talks on space security and nuclear arms control amid the Trump administration’s continued push for an unprecedented new trilateral arms control deal and uncertainty about the fate of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ). The four days of meetings marked the most sustained period of dialogue on arms control issues between professional experts from the two sides since the Trump administration took office. But few details have...

No Progress Toward Extending New START

July/August 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia concluded the latest round of their strategic security dialogue on June 22 without agreeing to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining arms control agreement limiting their nuclear arsenals.

U.S. arms control envoy Marshall Billingslea speaks to the media in Vienna on June 23 after holding talks the day before with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. (Photo: Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images)The United States is “leaving all options available” on the future of the treaty, said Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, who led the U.S. delegation at the talks in Vienna, during a June 24 briefing in Brussels.

“We are willing to contemplate an extension of that agreement but only under select circumstances,” he said. Those circumstances include making progress toward a new trilateral arms control agreement that has strong verification measures, covers all nuclear warheads, and involves China, according to Billingslea.

New START will expire in February 2021 unless U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to extend it by up to five years. Russia has repeatedly stated that it is ready to extend the treaty without any preconditions and warned that there is not enough time to negotiate a new agreement to replace it before next February. U.S. allies have also urged the Trump administration to extend the treaty.

Trump administration officials, however, have argued that New START is outdated and are instead prioritizing the pursuit of a broader agreement. (See ACT, May 2019.)

Billingslea characterized the talks with Russia in Vienna as “positive” and said the two sides had agreed to form technical working groups to discuss key issues.

The special envoy said he was hopeful that the working groups would make “sufficient progress” to allow for a second round of talks “at the end of July or maybe beginning of August,” when “China again will be called upon to attend.”

The Wall Street Journal on June 23 quoted an unnamed U.S. official who said that the topics for the working groups would be nuclear warheads, especially Russia’s unconstrained stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and doctrine; verification; and space systems. But a June 24 report in Kommersant cited Russian officials saying Moscow did not necessarily agree to discuss nuclear warheads.

Asked about the discrepancy, Billingslea replied that he would have “to circle back” on this issue with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who had led the Russia delegation in Vienna.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said at the conclusion of the talks that “the delegations continued discussing the future of arms control, including extending [New START] and maintaining stability and predictability in the context of the termination of the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty, as well as a comprehensive dialogue on resolving international security problems.”

Prior to the start of the June 22 talks, Billingslea tweeted a picture of the table, with some empty seats reserved with Chinese flags. “Vienna talks about to start,” Billingslea said. “China is a no-show…We will proceed with Russia, notwithstanding.”

Fu Cong, director-general of the Department of Arms Control in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, replied, “What an odd scene… Good luck on the extension of the New START! Wonder how LOW you can go?” The United States and Russia are currently believed to possess about 6,000 total nuclear weapons apiece, while China has roughly 300.

Following the Vienna talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on June 23 that the U.S. placement of Chinese flags at empty seats “is unserious, unprofessional, and unappealing for the U.S. to try getting people’s eyes in this way.”

Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea tweeted this photo of empty seats designated for China at nuclear talks on June 22 in Vienna. Earlier in the month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “China has repeatedly reiterated that it has no intention of participating in the so-called trilateral arms control negotiations with the United States and Russia.” (Photo: @USArmsControl/Twitter)He also noted the incorrect design of the flags that the United States set on the table. “We hope certain people in the U.S. can do their homework and improve their general knowledge to avoid becoming a laughing stock,” he said.

The Trump administration claims that China is engaged in a secret, crash program to build up its nuclear forces and that future arms control efforts must include Beijing.

China has repeatedly refused to join trilateral talks with the United States and Russia and bilateral talks with the United States. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

Billingslea on June 8 invited Beijing to join the talks in Vienna, but the following day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying declined the invitation. “China has repeatedly reiterated that it has no intention of participating in the so-called trilateral arms control negotiations with the United States and Russia,” she said. “This position is very clear.”

Billingslea urged China to reconsider. “Achieving Great Power status requires behaving with Great Power responsibility,” he tweeted on June 9. “No more Great Wall of Secrecy on its nuclear build-up.”

Russia has refused to pressure China to change its position and join the talks. “China should itself decide whether these talks are beneficial for the country,” said Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, on June 20. “We will not force our Chinese friends.”

Antonov also repeated a longtime Russian stance that if China joins arms control talks, then U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom should as well.

Billingslea acknowledged that the U.S. “definition of multilateral might be different, but the principle remains the same.” He claimed that China’s nuclear buildup poses a much greater threat than the French and UK nuclear arsenals.

The Trump administration has yet to put forward a concrete proposal for what it wants arms control with China to achieve or detail what the United States would be willing to put forward as concessions in trilateral talks with Russia and China.

Prior to and following the talks in Vienna, Billingslea touted the support of U.S. allies for the Trump administration’s approach to arms control.

Allies have praised the administration for resuming talks with Russia and seeking to bring China into the arms control process, but they also continue to urge the Trump administration to extend New START by five years.

During the Brussels Forum on June 23, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that he welcomes “Russia and the United States sitting down and talking to each other on arms control” and agrees “that China should be involved.”

Still, he added, “in the absence of any agreement that includes China, I think the right thing will be to extend the existing New START agreement.”

“We should not end up in a situation where we have no agreement whatsoever regulating the number of nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

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

Under its monitoring and verification regime, the treaty allows for short notice, on-site inspections.

As the Trump administration continues to assess whether to extend New START, inspections under the accord have been suspended since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is not clear when such inspections might resume.


Prospects remain dim for extending New START or engaging China in nuclear arms control efforts.

Russia Releases Nuclear Deterrence Policy

July/August 2020
By Shannon Bugos

Russia publicly expanded on the circumstances under which it might employ nuclear weapons in a policy document on nuclear deterrence signed by President Vladimir Putin on June 2.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) attend a June 24 Victory Day parade in Moscow to mark the 75th anniversary of defeating Germany in World War II. Three weeks earlier, Putin signed a new document outlining Russia's nuclear deterrence policies. (Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)The 2020 document, called “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence,” marks the first time Russia has consolidated and publicly released its nuclear deterrence policy, which previously was classified.

The document presents four scenarios that might warrant nuclear use, two of which did not appear in the 2014, 2010, and 2000 versions of Russia’s military doctrine. (See ACT, March 2010; January/February 2000.)

As stated in the two most recent versions of the military doctrine, two of the scenarios in which Russia “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons” include when Moscow is acting “in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” The 2000 military doctrine differed slightly in its description of the latter scenario, as it instead allowed nuclear use in response to conventional attacks in “situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation.”

The two additional scenarios contained in the 2020 document include an “arrival [of] reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies” or an “attack by [an] adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions.”

The two new scenarios had not yet been included in formal policy, but other documents or statements by government officials, including Putin, have hinted at their inclusion, said Olga Oliker, program director for Europe and Central Asia at International Crisis Group, in a June 4 analysis.

Divided into four sections, the document leads with how Russia defines its state policy on nuclear deterrence, which it calls “defensive by nature.” The goal of deterrence is “to prevent aggression against the Russian Federation and/or its allies.”

The document does not explicitly name Russia’s allies and adversaries, but the second section does broadly define adversaries, stating that Russia implements its deterrence “with regard to individual states and military coalitions (blocs, alliances) that consider the Russian Federation as a potential adversary and that possess nuclear weapons and/or other types of weapons of mass destruction, or significant combat potential of general purpose forces.” This definition would include the United States and alliances such as NATO.

The second section of the document further defines Russia’s definition of nuclear deterrence as signaling to adversaries “the inevitability of retaliation in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation and/or its allies.” It also describes military risks presented by adversaries that deterrence is designed to “neutralize,” such as the deployments of medium- and shorter-range cruise and ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons, and missile defense systems. The document does not say how Russia would move to neutralize any of these risks should they elevate to “threats of aggression.”

This section additionally details what Moscow views as “the principles of nuclear deterrence,” to include compliance with arms control agreements, unpredictability for an adversary as to Russian employment of its means of deterrence, and readiness of its forces for use.

The third section covers the four scenarios in which Russia might use nuclear weapons.

The fourth and final section notes the roles of the government and related agencies, including the Security Council and Defense Ministry, in implementing Russia’s nuclear deterrence policy. The document maintains that the Russian president makes the decision to use nuclear weapons.

The document does not explicitly address Russia’s purported willingness to use or threaten to use its much larger arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons to stave off defeat in a conventional conflict or crisis initiated by Russia, a strategy known as “escalate to deescalate.” (See ACT, March 2018.) But, as Oliker points out, “hard[-]core believers” in this strategy may point to the document’s statement that Moscow’s nuclear deterrence policy “provides for the prevention of an escalation of military actions and their termination on conditions that are acceptable for the Russian Federation and/or its allies.”

Oliker instead suggests an interpretation that Russia will not use nuclear weapons “for simple battlefield advantage.” But if Russia decides to use nuclear weapons, it “will do so intending to prevent further escalation and end the conflict as favorably (or acceptably) as possible for itself.”

Nikolai Sokov, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and former Russian Foreign Ministry official, said in a June 3 analysis of the deterrence policy that the document has a deescalation strategy but emphasizes deterrence and views deescalation more as a means of preventing rather than waging war.

Following the publication of the signed document, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on June 3 that “Russia can never and will never initiate” the use of nuclear weapons.

Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, responded to Peskov on June 11, tweeting, “Where is this reflected in the new doctrine?”

Russia publicly releases its nuclear deterrence policy for the first time.

U.S., Russia Boost Shows of Force

July/August 2020
By Michael Klare

As tensions between the United States and Russia have intensified, both nations have engaged in airborne “show of force” operations intended to demonstrate their intent to resist intimidation and defend their territories. Such operations can prove hazardous when the aircraft of one antagonist come perilously close to those of another, a phenomenon that has occurred on numerous occasions over the past few years. The recent maneuvers, however, appear to have raised the stakes, as the two rivals have increased their use of nuclear-capable aircraft in such operations and have staged them in militarily sensitive areas.

A U.S. F-22 aircraft accompanies a Russian Tu-95 "Bear" bomber during an intercept near Alaska on June 16. (Photo: North American Aerospace Defense Command)The pace and extent of recent air operations have exceeded anything since the end of the Cold War. The United States has flown a number of missions near Russia, sometimes going places for the first time with strategic bombers. These include (1) two missions in March and June by U.S. B-2 stealth bombers above the Arctic Circle in exercises intended to demonstrate NATO’s ability to attack Russian military forces located on the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s far north; (2) a first-time U.S. B-1B bomber flight on May 21 over the Sea of Okhotsk, a bay-like body of water surrounded by Russia’s far eastern territory on three sides; (3) a May 29 flight by two B-1B bombers across Ukrainian-controlled airspace for the first time, coming close to Russian-controlled airspace over Crimea; (4) a June 15 mission by two U.S. B-52 bombers over the Baltic Sea in support of a NATO exercise then under way, coming close to Russian airspace and prompting menacing flights by Russian interceptors in the area; and (5) a June 18 flight by two U.S. B-52 bombers over the Sea of Okhotsk, a first appearance there by that type of aircraft, again prompting Russia to scramble fighter aircraft to escort the U.S. bombers away from the area.

For its part, Russia conducted a March 12 flight of two nuclear-capable Tu-160 “Blackjack” bombers over Atlantic waters near Scotland, Ireland, and France from their base on the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s far north, prompting France and the United Kingdom to scramble interceptor aircraft. In addition, nuclear-capable Tu-95 “Bear” bombers, accompanied by Su-35 fighter jets, flew twice in June within a few dozen miles of the Alaskan coastline before being escorted away by U.S. fighter aircraft.

In conducting these operations, U.S. and Russian military leaders appear to be delivering two messages to their counterparts. First, despite any perceived reductions in military readiness caused by the coronavirus pandemic, they are fully prepared to conduct all-out combat operations against the other. Second, any such engagements could include a nuclear component at an early stage of the fighting.

“We have the capability and capacity to provide long-range fires anywhere, anytime, and can bring overwhelming firepower, even during the pandemic,” said Gen. Timothy Ray, commander of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command, the unit responsible for deploying nuclear bombers on long-range missions of this sort. Without saying as much, Russia has behaved in a similar manner. From his post as commander of U.S. air forces in Europe, Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian observed, “Russia has not scaled back air operations in Europe since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and the number of intercepts of Russian aircraft [by NATO forces] has remained roughly stable.”

Leaders on both sides have been more reticent when it comes to the nuclear implications of these maneuvers, but there is no doubt that such considerations are on their minds. Ray’s talk of “overwhelming force” and “long-range fires” could be interpreted as involving highly destructive conventional weapons, but when the aircraft involved are primarily intended for delivering nuclear weapons, it can have another meaning altogether.

Equally suggestive is Harrigian’s comment, made in conjunction with the B-52 flights over the Baltic Sea on June 15, that “long-range strategic missions to the Baltic region are a visible demonstration of our capability to extend deterrence globally,” again signaling to Moscow that any NATO-Russian engagement in the Baltic region could escalate swiftly to the nuclear level.

Russian generals have not uttered similar statements, but the dispatch of Tu-95 bombers to within a few dozen miles of Alaska, which houses several major U.S. military installations, is a loud enough message in itself.

Although receiving scant media attention in the U.S. and international press, these maneuvers represent a dangerous escalation of U.S.-Russian military interactions and could set the stage for a dangerous incident involving armed combat between aircraft of the opposing sides. This by itself could precipitate a major crisis and possible escalation. Just as worrisome is the strategic implications of these operations, suggesting a commitment to the early use of nuclear weapons in future major-power engagements.

The nuclear adversaries have recently increased flights of strategic bombers near each other’s borders.

U.S. Continues Stalling on New START | U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, June 26, 2020

U.S. Continues Stalling on New START The United States and Russia concluded the latest round of their strategic security dialogue June 22 without agreeing to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ), the last remaining arms control agreement limiting their nuclear arsenals. The United States is “leaving all options available” on the future of the treaty, said Special Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea, who led the U.S. delegation at the talks in Vienna, during a June 24 briefing in Brussels. “We are willing to contemplate an extension of that agreement but...


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