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"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."

– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
October 20, 2014
Daryl Kimball

Arms Control ‘David’ v Nuclear Lobby ‘Goliath’

Since the Arms Control Association was founded in 1971, we have taken on some consequential issues. Despite being a small organization, we have been able to punch above our weight class and make a difference by catalyzing action, informing better policy decisions, and holding decision-makers accountable to reduce the dangers posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons. Now, we are in a battle with the powerful "ICBM Lobby" over the size and the scope of the proposed $1.7 trillion U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program. Bill Hartung writes in an article in the forthcoming issue of Arms...

The UK’s Nuclear U-Turn


April 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

In recent years, the United Kingdom has touted itself as one of the most transparent of the five nuclear-armed states recognized by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and its leaders leaned heavily on the fact that it was reducing the size of its nuclear force.

The HMS Vengeance returning to its homeport on the River Clyde in Scotland in 2007. Vengeance is one of four Vanguard-class nuclear-armed submarines operated by the British Royal Navy. Photo: Tam McDonald/MODBut in a major reversal that will complicate efforts to strengthen the NPT and exacerbate tensions with other nuclear-armed states, the UK announced on March 16 that it will move to increase its total nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling by 44 percent, to 260, and reduce transparency about its nuclear arsenal.

At the 2010 and 2015 NPT review conferences, UK officials said they would reduce their force to no more than 180 warheads on their four Vanguard-class strategic missile submarines. Open source estimates put the current size of the UK arsenal at 195 warheads. They described this decision as a contribution toward Article VI of the treaty, to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

So, why the change? Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s integrated review of security, defense, development, and foreign policy attributes increasing the warhead ceiling to “the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats.”

But the review fails explain how adding 80 warheads to the arsenal will enhance deterrence against these ill-defined threats, nor can UK diplomats explain how the increase strengthens the NPT. The UK now joins China and perhaps Russia as NPT-recognized nuclear-armed states planning to increase the size of their warhead stockpiles.

Tensions between the major powers are certainly high, but it is irresponsible to react by engaging in nuclear arms racing. Truly “responsible” nuclear-armed states seek to reduce tensions and increase stability by advancing serious arms control, risk reduction, and disarmament measures based on the principles of transparency and restraint.

Making matters worse, the UK also announced that it will “no longer give public figures for [its] operational stockpile, deployed warhead or deployed missile numbers.”

Like the United States, the past UK commitment to transparency about its nuclear forces has set it apart from other nuclear-armed states. Both have rightly criticized China for its excessive nuclear secrecy. Such opacity is irresponsible and unworthy of a democracy.

The new UK policy direction not only violates its NPT disarmament obligations, but it is completely out of step with U.S. President Joe Biden’s pledge to “take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons” in U.S. national security strategy. Biden has also recently said the United States “does not need new nuclear weapons.”

The UK government is headed in the opposite direction on new nuclear weapons too. The government, which claims it has an “independent” nuclear arsenal even though it depends heavily on U.S. support for its nuclear weapons program, is lobbying the U.S. Congress to appropriate U.S. taxpayer funds for a newly designed submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead, dubbed the W93.

This warhead, which the Trump administration proposed as a third type of SLBM warhead, is not only costly but unnecessary, given that the United States already has two SLBM warheads and has recently invested billions on refurbishment programs to extend their service lives. The W93 warhead is also unnecessary for the British nuclear force, which does not need a newly designed U.S. warhead to maintain its sea-based nuclear force.

Pursuit of the W93 also violates the Obama administration’s 2010 policy, which stated that the United States “will not develop new nuclear warheads. Life Extension Programs will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities." Although a decade old, this remains the right policy for security and nonproliferation reasons.

The best way for the White House and members of Congress to support their allies in London is to remind them that nuclear buildups and new nuclear weapons are unnecessary strategically and unhealthy for international security and U.S.-UK relations.

The new UK nuclear policy will also complicate Biden administration efforts to pursue further bilateral arms control and reduction measures with Russia, which wants future arrangements to take into account the arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states, especially the UK and France. One option should be for China, France, and the UK to agree to cap their arsenals and provide more transparency regarding their nuclear stockpiles and doctrines, as Washington and Moscow move forward on further nuclear cuts.

The approaching 10th NPT review conference was already going to be difficult without the UK adding itself to the list of states acting inconsistently with its treaty commitments. The United States, along with other responsible nations, will need to redouble efforts to secure consensus on a meaningful action plan that holds the UK and the other nuclear-weapon states, plus the other parties to the NPT, accountable to their disarmament and nonproliferation obligations.

In recent years, the United Kingdom has touted itself as one of the most transparent of the five nuclear-armed states recognized by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and its leaders leaned heavily on the fact that it was reducing the size of its nuclear force.

Congress Mandates Studies on Nuclear War


April 2021

Congress has mandated a new assessment from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on “the potential environmental effects of nuclear war” to be completed within 18 months. This study requirement, which was included in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), follows a less ambitious requirement on related issues that was tucked into the fiscal year 2020 version of the defense bill.

The new study mandate from Congress calls for “an evaluation of the non-fallout atmospheric effects of plausible scenarios for nuclear war, ranging from low-quantity regional exchanges to large-scale exchanges between major powers.” The study is to assess current models of nuclear explosions with respect to fires, atmospheric transport of gases from nuclear war-related explosions, and the consequences of soot and other debris on weather, agriculture, and long-term ecosystem viability.

The law requires that the secretary of defense and director of national intelligence provide the study group with information relating to relevant nuclear war scenarios and that the final report be submitted in an unclassified form with an optional classified annex.

The new report would be among the most significant of its kind by the National Academies since its 640-page examination The Medical Implications of Nuclear War, published in 1986.

In response to a separate study mandate in the 2020 NDAA, the National Academies has begun to convene an ad hoc committee of experts on a report on nuclear war risks.

The task of this study group is to “identify risks associated with nuclear terrorism and nuclear war” and “examine the assumptions about nuclear risks that underlie the national security strategy of the United States.” The committee will issue an unclassified interim report and a final report, which may include findings and recommendations supported by classified information.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

Congress Mandates Studies on Nuclear War

New UK Defense Strategy A Troubling Step Back on Nuclear Policy

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For Immediate Release: March 15, 2021

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext 104

The United Kingdom announced today that it will move to increase its total nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling by over 40 percent and reduce transparency about its nuclear arsenal. This is a needless and alarming reversal of the longstanding British policy to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons.

These changes, which are outlined in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, are also inconsistent with the British government’s prior pledges on nuclear disarmament under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The United Kingdom now joins China and perhaps Russia as the permanent members of the UN Security Council that are planning to increase the size of their warhead stockpiles. Open source estimates put the current size of the British arsenal at 195 warheads.

The review attributes the need to increase the total stockpile ceiling from the goal of 180 warheads (which was reaffirmed in 2015) to 260 warheads to “the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats,” but it does not explain how raising the number of warheads will enhance deterrence against these threats.

The United Kingdom’s decision to increase its warhead stockpile will contribute to the growing competition and distrust between nuclear-armed states. There is no compelling military or strategic rationale that justifies such an increase.

The review also states that the United Kingdom, which fields its warheads on sea-based ballistic missiles, will “no longer give public figures for our operational stockpile, deployed warhead or deployed missile numbers.” Like the United States, the United Kingdom’s past commitment to transparency about its nuclear forces has set it apart from other nuclear powers. Both governments have rightly criticized China for its excessive nuclear secrecy, for example. Such opacity is irresponsible and undemocratic.

The next NPT Review Conference slated for this summer was already poised to be a difficult and contentious one given the Trump administration’s efforts to expand the role and capability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Russia’s development of grotesque new nuclear delivery systems (such as a nuclear-armed torpedo), and China’s continued modernization and expansion of its nuclear forces. The United Kingdom’s decision to increase its arsenal and clamp down on transparency will further worsen the atmosphere.

In addition, the United Kingdom’s new direction will complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to pursue further bilateral arms control and reduction measures with Russia. Russia has been adamant that any future nuclear cuts beyond the limits contained in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) should take into account the arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states, especially the United Kingdom and France. Moscow can be expected to make this argument even more forcefully after the United Kingdom’s announcement today.

President Biden and has pledged to “take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.”

With the United Kingdom headed in the opposite direction, the Biden administration should cast an even more critical eye on the Trump administration’s weak rationale for accelerating the development of a newly designed third submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead (known as the W93) - and London’s lobbying of the U.S. Congress for support of U.S. funding for this new weapon.

The Trump administration justified the W93 in part on the grounds that it is vital to continuing U.S. support of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal. But the United States can continue to support its ally without rushing forward with this new and unnecessary new nuclear warhead program.

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Statement from the Arms Control Association 

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Carol Giacomo Joins ACA as Chief Editor of Arms Control Today

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For Immediate Release: March 11, 2021

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kathy Crandall Robinson, chief operating officer, (202) 463-8270 ext 101

(Washington, DC)—The Arms Control Association is pleased to announce that Carol Giacomo, an award-winning diplomatic and national security correspondent, will become the chief editor of Arms Control Today as of April 1.

Carol Giacomo was a member of The New York Times editorial board from 2007-2020 writing opinion pieces about all major national security issues, including nuclear weapons. Her work involved regular overseas travel, including trips to North Korea, Iran, and Myanmar. She met a half dozen times with President Obama at the White House and interviewed scores of other world leaders.

A former diplomatic correspondent for Reuters in Washington, she covered foreign policy for the international wire service for more than two decades and traveled over 1 million miles to more than 100 countries with eight secretaries of state and other senior U.S. officials.

In 2018, she won an award from The American Academy of Diplomacy, an organization of retired career diplomats, for outstanding diplomatic commentary. In 2009, she won the Georgetown University Weintal Prize for diplomatic reporting. She has also won two publisher’s awards from The New York Times.

"We are very excited and honored to have Carol join our team," noted executive director Daryl Kimball. "She will bring a great deal of energy and professionalism, along with creative and insightful ideas, that will make Arms Control Today even better."

Published by the Arms Control Association since 1972, Arms Control Today (ACT) is printed 10 times each year and reaches over 50,000 readers monthly through print and online editions. ACT has a highly targeted circulation, including U.S. and foreign government officials and diplomats, scientists, university educators, students, consultants, contractors, active and retired military personnel, news media, and concerned citizens.

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The Arms Control Association is pleased to announce that Carol Giacomo, an award-winning diplomatic and national security correspondent, will become the chief editor of Arms Control Today as of April 1.

Pressing for Progress on Nonproliferation

The Arms Control Association team remains in the thick of the debate over how and why the United States and Iran should return to compliance with the historic 2015 nuclear deal. Since President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed U.S. sanctions, Iran has retaliated by taking steps to ramp up its nuclear program and, in the process, has exceeded key limits set by the agreement. Both governments say they want to return to compliance, but they have not yet agreed as to how. With each passing day, the window of opportunity to avert a renewed nuclear crisis is narrowing. As I told...

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