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ACA's journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General
Greg Thielmann

Op-Ed: Opponents of Nuclear Cuts Misread Trends

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The press recently reported that the Pentagon is preparing options for President Barack Obama as part of the Nuclear Posture Review implementation study. The mere notion of restructuring U.S. nuclear forces unleashed panicked reactions from Capitol Hill’s most ardent nuclear weapons enthusiasts.

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By Greg Thielmann

The following piece was originally published in Roll Call on April 18, 2012.

The press recently reported that the Pentagon is preparing options for President Barack Obama as part of the Nuclear Posture Review implementation study. The mere notion of restructuring U.S. nuclear forces unleashed panicked reactions from Capitol Hill’s most ardent nuclear weapons enthusiasts.

With the president reaffirming in his visit to South Korea that he will seek to negotiate further reductions, the pro-nuclear camp will be up in arms. It shouldn’t be.

U.S. security will only be improved by further reductions. For the most part, opponents of nuclear cuts focus their concerns on Russia, but they have difficulty figuring out how to characterize the Russian threat more than 20 years after the end of the Cold War. In one moment, they cite Moscow’s surly rhetoric and stated intention of reinvesting in Russia’s strategic defense budget. In the next breath, they dismiss arms control efforts as unnecessary in light of Russia’s decline and as irrelevant for addressing more urgent threats from China, North Korea and Iran.

Policymakers need to engage in a serious discussion about what the U.S. nuclear arsenal can and should deter, but smart planning should be grounded in the reality that the U.S.-Russia relationship, while contentious, is no longer the zero-sum game of a prior era.

A prerequisite for that overdue debate is a sober and realistic accounting of the existing balance of forces — a process fiercely resisted by devotees of nuclear weaponry. Thirty-four Members of the House wrote to Obama, warning of “the growth in quantity and quality of nuclear weapons capabilities in Russia, the People’s Republic of China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and, perhaps soon the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

They declined to provide a time frame for this alleged “growth,” no doubt because the reduction in Russian forces during recent years has actually led to an overall reduction in the number of nuclear weapons possessed by America’s potential enemies.

In an attempt at resuscitating a debate he lost in 2010, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) declared in February that “Not a country in the world has reduced warheads since the signing of the New [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] except the United States,” but the latest data exchanged under the treaty shows a March 1 Russian warhead number lower than the initial count one year earlier — already below the New START limit. The U.S. remained 187 warheads above the limit.

Of course, any consideration of U.S. nuclear policy should start with an evaluation of Russian trends because the nuclear forces controlled by Moscow dwarf those of all other nuclear weapons states, except our own. Such consideration reveals a continuing decline from the enormous arsenal Moscow inherited from the Soviet Union.

While both parties are obligated to reduce operational warhead levels further before the New START’s 1,550 ceiling goes into effect in 2018, many U.S. and Russian experts predict that Russia’s actual warhead count may fall significantly below that. This is a trend we should encourage.

Rather than giving Russia an incentive to rebuild its nuclear forces after their numerical decline, it is in America’s security interest to safely follow a similar path, seizing the opportunity to eliminate unnecessary U.S. nuclear forces and using the savings to provide a boon to America’s fragile economic recovery.

The anxious Representatives’ letter also warned of China’s “ambitious” nuclear program. But China fields about 50 warheads on intercontinental systems, compared with the 1,737 deployed by the United States — a roughly 35-to-1 ratio. And China has no intercontinental bombers, no adequate strategic warning and no multiple warheads on its ballistic missiles.

An objective look at the nuclear balance and the narrowed function of nuclear weapons should lead to a number of important changes, including eliminating categories of targets only appropriate for nuclear war-fighting rather than deterrence and easing requirements for rapid launch capabilities, thus removing pressure on national command authorities to make hasty decisions.

Empowered with updated and modernized guidance, American planners can significantly reduce the number of weapons in the nuclear arsenal, both enhancing U.S. national security and saving billions of tax dollars in the bargain.

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The Breakout Option: Raising the Bar for the Supreme Leader

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The U.S. intelligence community still assesses that Tehran has not yet actually decided to build a nuclear weapon. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be the one to give that order and the one who would control the weapons. It is therefore worth pondering what steps could discourage him from proceeding down the nuclear weapons path.

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April 5, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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The U.S. intelligence community still assesses that Tehran has not yet actually decided to build a nuclear weapon. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be the one to give that order and the one who would control the weapons. It is therefore worth pondering what steps could discourage him from proceeding down the nuclear weapons path.

If Khamenei's foremost goals are the survival of the Islamic Republic with himself as supreme leader, developing nuclear capabilities may be seen an asset, even with the damaging sanctions that result. By positioning himself as a defiant defender of Iranian nuclear progress against foreign bullying, he can reinforce the domestic legitimacy of the clerical regime.

If he came to believe that Iran could forestall continuing economic punishment and eventual military attack only by abject capitulation, he might decide that breaking out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to build a bomb would be the preferred path for restoring Iran's international position and securing the Islamic revolution.

The challenge for the United States is to devise policies that would make it as difficult as possible for Khamenei to retain domestic support and international sympathy if he were to go for a bomb.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.

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ACA Senior Fellow speaks about Territorial Missile Defense at Paris Conference

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Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association, delivered March 6, 2012 at the Salle de la Commission de la Defense in Paris at a conference sponsored by the: Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg; Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques; British American Security Information Council; and Arms Control Association.

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Territorial Missile Defense and
Reassurance of Flank States

Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association

IFSH/IRIS/BASIC/ACA Conference
“NATO’s Future Deterrence Posture: What Can Nuclear Weapons Contribute?”
Paris, France
March 6, 2012

The Lisbon Summit Declaration of November 2010 included a decision “to develop a NATO missile defence capability to provide full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces…”  And it invited Russian cooperation in this task.  The stated target of these systems was “the increasing threats posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles.”

Evolution of U.S. Missile Defense Objectives

I am going to begin with some blunt talk about the achievability of territorial defense against ballistic missile attack, based on the American experience.  The United States has, at various points, vigorously pursued such defenses.

Missile defense was first directed against Soviet attack; then it was reoriented as a defense against a much smaller Chinese attack; then population defense was dropped, in favor of defending ICBM fields.  The U.S.-Soviet ABM Treaty, signed in 1972, limited the number and location of such defenses and specifically prohibited deployments designed to provide defense of the national territory.   Although the U.S. “Safeguard” strategic missile defense system was compliant with that treaty, it was scrapped for cost-effectiveness reasons only nine months after becoming operational.

During his two terms as president, Ronald Reagan revived America’s interest in missile defense with his dream of “rendering ballistic missiles impotent and obsolete.”   Reagan launched his “Strategic Defense Initiative” in 1983 and promised the exploitation of new technologies, including the use of exotic space-based weapons.

His administration buttressed its case for the weapons by pointing to Soviet violations of the ABM Treaty and by portraying Soviet missile defense research and development efforts as evidence that the Soviets were themselves preparing to break out of the treaty.

Soviet Missile Defenses

For their part, the Soviets had long sought to defend their capital and national leadership against U.S. air attack – targeting first bombers, and later ballistic missiles.  In the 1960s, they began deploying a ring of strategic missile interceptors with nuclear warheads around Moscow.  Yet they never succeeded in creating a reliable and effective missile defense; U.S. warheads and the options for countermeasures were too numerous and the radars on which the Moscow system relied too vulnerable.  The Reagan administration’s depiction of Soviet R&D development efforts on energy weapons turned out to be greatly exaggerated.  Moreover, when the Soviets were caught building the Krasnoyarsk radar – a major, albeit technical, treaty violation – they were ultimately forced to dismantle it.

A vestige of Moscow’s ABM system remains to this day, but the Russian Federation is now far behind in strategic missile defense technology and harbors few illusions about the feasibility of territorial defense against ballistic missile attack.

America Keeping the Faith

Not so the United States.  America retains its faith-based approach to strategic missile defense.  Having invested well over $100 billion since Reagan launched what critics dubbed “Star Wars,” total expenditures for missile defenses over the last decade have been running roughly $10 billion per year, even though the stated mission objective is now confined to dealing with “simple” ballistic threats from newly emerging, nuclear weapons states.  The Reagan era program was downgraded under the presidencies of the elder George (H.W.) Bush, and Bill Clinton, who limited yearly expenditures to around $1 billion.

But an alarmist report by the Rumsfeld Commission on ballistic missile threats in 1998 and an attempted satellite launch by North Korea using a three-staged rocket a few months later had a huge impact on public and congressional perceptions.  By March 1999, the U.S. Congress had passed a bill by large margins in both houses, declaring it to be the policy of the United States “to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack.”  Three consecutive U.S. presidents have now embraced this policy.

In the year 2000, President Clinton judged the technology not sufficiently ripe for deployment, but that turned out to be merely a bump in the road toward implementation of a territorial missile defense policy.  Ready or not, the new administration of George W. Bush wasted no time in withdrawing from the ABM Treaty and deploying the first strategic missile defense interceptors in Alaska and California by the fall of 2004.

It is important to note that the threat against which these strategic missile defenses were developed has not materialized.  The Rumsfeld Commission predicted that Iraq, North Korea, and Iran could each have ICBMs by 2003, but nine years later, none of them do.

Where are the ICBMs? -- In Russia and China, of course!

Not in Iraq.  Saddam’s ballistic missile threat had already been cut short by the First Gulf War.  Even before the March 2003 invasion, Saddam was being forced to destroy the most capable ballistic missiles left in his inventory – the short-range  al-Samouds.

Not in North Korea.  The DPRK has conducted two flight tests of the Taepo Dong 2 ICBM class system.  The first flight in 2006 failed shortly after launch.  An attempt to launch a satellite with the same booster rockets failed in 2009.  Last week, North Korea announced agreement to a moratorium on further long-range missile launches.

Not in Iran. The Islamic Republic has not yet conducted any flight tests of an ICBM.  Senior U.S. military officials have indicated Iran is currently concentrating on development and deployment of medium-range ballistic missiles with ranges of roughly 2,000 km.  Iran’s last MRBM test occurred more than one year ago.

Current ballistic missile threats from hostile proliferants come not from long-range systems, but from those with ranges below 3,000 km.  Theater ballistic missile defenses are potentially useful against such shorter-range missiles topped with high explosives – to mitigate losses to civilian populations, military forces, and infrastructure – but they do not affect the strategic balance.

Opportunity Costs

Unfortunately, U.S. determination to protect the option of deploying strategic ballistic missile defenses of the national territory, has not only diverted attention from acute threats to U.S. forces and regional allies, it has also carried heavy opportunity costs.  The United States missed two chances to negotiate significant cuts in strategic offensive arms – with the Soviet Union at Reykjavik in 1987 and, with Russia in the late 1990s during efforts to bring START II into effect.  Depending on how we handle missile defenses in the months ahead, we may be on the verge of missing a third chance.

I’ve tried to be frank in describing the nature of the ballistic missile threat we face, taking note of the exaggerations that plague our public discussion of the issue.  I must be equally frank in acknowledging that delusional thinking about strategic missile defense is now deeply engrained in U.S. declaratory policy and public consciousness.

Articles of Faith

The Missile Defense Act of 1999 remains our political charter, even if its evidentiary foundations are built on sand.  Domestic political dynamics are conspiring against rational course correction.

Opponents of New START ratification found missile defense an effective line of attack against the treaty.  Even the treaty’s recognition of “the interrelationship between strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms,” was depicted as a shameful concession to Russian negotiators.

Every defense policy shift or budget reduction is now judged by according to whether it implies a failure of commitment to the cause of strategic missile defense.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney last week accused President Obama of just such a failure.

But would they work?

Last October, Secretary of Defense Panetta referred to the existing strategic missile defense system as “very remarkable.”  Senior military figures have joined the official chorus attesting to its effectiveness against future Iranian or North Korean missiles.

Yet none of the ongoing tests of these systems have occurred under operationally realistic conditions. U.S. intelligence officials have acknowledged that any state capable of building an ICBM can also build simple decoys to spoof missile defenses.  But U.S. strategic missile defenses have never demonstrated the ability to discriminate decoys and other clutter.  The Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation reported in January: “To date [the system] has demonstrated a limited capability against a simple threat.”  He also noted that the last two flight tests had failed.  The last successful test under carefully controlled conditions was in 2008; the next test has been postponed to allow for causes of the last failure to be addressed.

Russian Concerns

Moscow does not seem particularly troubled by the 30 U.S.-based strategic interceptors.  However, the advanced Aegis systems planned for the later phases of Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach have caused acute concerns.  Whether real or feigned, Russia has reacted with alarm to the prospect of seeing European-based and highly mobile strategic interceptors on its periphery by the end of the decade.

Moscow has demanded legal assurances that U.S. missile defenses are not intended to threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent.  For the reasons to which I alluded, such formal assurances have not been forthcoming, and if they were, they would probably be rejected by the Senate.

Presidential campaigns in the United States and Russia have not created a propitious climate for reaching political compromise.  But it may yet be possible to secure agreement on a blueprint for cooperation prior to NATO’s Chicago Summit in May.  The more cooperation that can be achieved, the less threatening U.S. missile defenses will seem to the Russians.

DDPR

NATO’s upcoming Deterrence and Defense Posture Review provides an opportunity for progress.  Several of you were involved in drafting a joint letter to NATO Secretary General Rasmussen last July.  Among other things, the letter suggested the DDPR reiterate NATO’s assurance that its current and future missile defense capabilities are not “targeted” at Russia’s strategic forces and that NATO member state missile interceptor deployments would be designed and configured to address third party missile threats as they emerge.  Such a written assurance could form the basis of a missile defense cooperation framework.

There have been a number of creative ideas for making cooperation concrete.  A Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative (EASI) Working Group chaired by former senior officials of the United States, Russia, and Germany, have recommended pooling and sharing data and information from early-warning radars and satellites in Cooperation Centers staffed by U.S., NATO, and Russian officers working together.  The latest issue of Arms Control Today features in its cover story a proposal by Dean Wilkening to build a joint ballistic missile early warning radar in central Russia.

Guidelines to Consider

Let me end by listing my own conclusions on the subject of our panel.

All NATO states have enormous stakes in the success of U.S.-Russian negotiations to further reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles.  U.S. missile defense forces are more likely to be an obstacle rather than an inducement to Russian movement in the desired direction.

Russia’s attitude is not pathological.  Russia is doing what the United States did when the tables were reversed.  During the Cold War, U.S. fears about Soviet ABM systems helped stoke the large increase in U.S. ballistic missile warheads.  It was only after the 1972 ABM Treaty capped strategic missile defenses that the path was opened toward eventual reductions in deployed offensive warheads.

Russia responded favorably to Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach as a substitute for Bush’s “Third Site” plan.  Future deployments were tied to actual rather than theoretical ballistic missile threats and strategic missile defenses in Europe were not anticipated before the end of the decade.

But if phases 3 and 4 of Obama’s plan are truly “adaptive,” then they must be contingent on the actual progress and intent of Iran’s ballistic missile program.  This link must be made convincing and explicit to the Russians. Moscow must be able to see something other than immovable dates for the deployments and vague place-holders in the matrix showing the number of interceptors to be deployed.  As it is, Moscow sees the quantity of advanced SM-3 interceptors as infinitely expandable and NATO’s “territorial defense” language as pointing toward Russia’s strategic forces – not those coming from Iran during the next 6-8 years.

If U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe are tied to the level of threats from the Middle East, then they should not be expected to address other security concerns.  European flank states should enhance their security through other measures, which do not gratuitously provoke their large eastern neighbor.

Alternative ways to strengthen the alliance bond might include: periodic presence of U.S. and other NATO troops for training purposes; active participation in alliance institutions and activities; and greater political integration within the EU.

Reasons for Hope

U.S. missile defense efforts have the potential of derailing continued progress in reducing the bloated nuclear arsenals of the Cold War.  But I see two reasons to hope for a different outcome:

-- First, fiscal pressures on the U.S. defense budget will force the Administration and the Congress to get off the Cold War autopilot.  They will create strong incentives for the U.S. military to shift resources away from political programs like strategic missile defense toward those, which can increase military capabilities that count in the real world.

-- Second, Europe is now a player at the missile defense table.  NATO has offered political support, real estate, and financial resources for the Phased Adaptive Approach.  Europe therefore has a new ability to tame some ill-considered American instincts.   I hope it will actively seek to influence U.S. policy when that policy veers in a direction, which provides a net loss to the security of the alliance.

I’ve seen it happen before with regard to INF in the 1980s.  The Europeans – particularly the basing countries (Germany, the UK, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands) – made it very clear to a reluctant Reagan administration that it could not have one part of the Dual-Track Decision (deploying new weapons) without the other (seeking to reduce that category of weapons through arms control).

I think we need Europe’s help again.

Thank you for your attention.

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Books of Note

The Politics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia, Bhumitra Chakma, ed., Ashgate Publishing Co., 2011, 280 pp.

Nuclear Jihad: A Clear and Present Danger?, Todd M. Masse, Potomac Books, 2011, 339 pp.

The Politics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia

Bhumitra Chakma, ed., Ashgate Publishing Co., 2011, 280 pp.

Kelsey Davenport

This volume examines how India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programs affect the two countries’ domestic political and military strategies and the broader regional dynamics in South Asia. The authors aim to address the “key issues” of South Asian nuclear weapons politics rather than provide an exhaustive study of the topic. The first of the book’s four sections differentiates nuclear deterrence and force building in South Asia from how those concepts apply to the “traditional” nuclear-weapon countries—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In this section, Rajesh M. Basrur contributes an astute chapter, which, after comparing nuclear deterrence in South Asia with other systems, such as the U.S.-Soviet nuclear rivalry, concludes that the practice of minimum deterrence in the region works. Part two includes an in-depth discussion of command and control issues and the development of nuclear doctrines in India and Pakistan. Part three takes a broader look at the regional impact of India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear deterrents and examines the role that China and the United States play in shaping South Asian nuclear deterrence. Binoda Kumar Mishra’s chapter in this section on the relationship between Beijing and New Delhi concludes that, in the long run, China, not Pakistan, will play the key role in shaping India’s nuclear policy. The final section of the volume examines the challenges to nuclear arms control and suggests potential confidence-building measures aimed at preventing the authorized or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons in South Asia. In particular, Dipankar Banerjee’s chapter in this last part offers several concrete options that India and Pakistan could pursue to reduce the nuclear threat within the region.

 


 

Nuclear Jihad: A Clear and Present Danger?

Todd M. Masse, Potomac Books, 2011, 339 pp.

Benjamin Seel

In this balanced assessment of the threat of nuclear terrorism, Todd M. Masse, a branch chief in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s nuclear security office, frames the debate as one between “skeptics” and “conventionalists.” Focusing on the significant barriers that stand in the way of terrorist groups actually carrying out such an attack, skeptics view the efforts to combat nuclear terrorism as a sidetracking of efforts that would be better directed toward preventing traditional acts of terrorism. Conventionalists view nuclear terrorism as a threat that is increasing in likelihood and deserving of a comprehensive policy approach to combat it. Drawing from both arguments, Masse concludes that U.S. national security policy should attack both the supply side and the demand side of the nuclear terrorism equation. He argues that the United States should focus on securing the stockpiles of nuclear material around the world and “preventing future nuclear proliferation among nation states.” However, he says, it should also continue its intelligence, national security, and law enforcement efforts to constrain the operational planning and training of groups such as al Qaeda and to block the flow of funds to them. Masse highlights the existing gap between the stated desires of terrorist groups to carry out a nuclear attack and their ability to bring such an attack to fruition. That disconnect makes the threat of nuclear jihad clear but not present, he says. He ends by cautioning that although the “[a]bsence of evidence is not…evidence of absence,” sweeping statements implying that terrorist groups have capability and intent are “unwarranted” and serve only to elevate the threat level “unnecessarily.”

Opponents of U.S. Nuclear Cuts: Still Being Chased by the Russian Bear?

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Volume 3, Issue 1, February 24, 2012

Last week, the press reported on Defense Department options for Presidential guidance that were being prepared as part of the Nuclear Policy Review implementation study. The notion that the President might consider deep cuts in U.S. nuclear forces unleashed some intemperate reactions that brought to mind Shakespeare's most famous stage direction (in "The Winter's Tale"): "Exit, pursued by a bear."

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Volume 3, Issue 1, February 24, 2012

Last week, the press reported on Defense Department options for Presidential guidance that were being prepared as part of the Nuclear Posture Review implementation study. The notion that the President might consider deep cuts in U.S. nuclear forces unleashed some intemperate reactions that brought to mind Shakespeare's most famous stage direction (in "The Winter's Tale"): "Exit, pursued by a bear."

Just as thespians have struggled over the years with staging the bear's pursuit of Shakespeare's character Antigonus, critics of further reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons have difficulty figuring out how to represent the Russian bear following the end of the Cold War. The U.S. nuclear deterrent is still primarily sized and shaped by, and oriented against, the Russian Federation. Moscow's strategic forces still retain the ability to annihilate the United States. And even though the ideological conflict is over and Russia now contains far fewer targets and weapons than did the Soviet Union, Cold War assumptions and calculations still govern nuclear force planning.

The critics of nuclear cuts ratchet back and forth on Russia - in one moment warning of the threat, citing Moscow's surly rhetoric and stated intention of re-investing in Russia's strategic defense budget - and in the next breath, dismissing U.S.-Russian arms control efforts as unnecessary and irrelevant for addressing more urgent threats from a powerfully resurgent China, a nascent nuclear North Korea, and a recalcitrant and potentially nuclear Iran.

Policymakers need to engage in a serious discussion about what the U.S. nuclear arsenal can and should deter. This dialogue must absorb the new reality of an often contentious, but no longer zero-sum U.S.-Russian relationship. It must re-examine the archaic premise that the United States needs to maintain not only a capability to assure the survival of its retaliatory forces in the event of a Russian first-strike, but also to launch a pre-emptive first-strike against Russia.

Reality Check

However, a prerequisite for that fundamental and overdue debate is undertaking a sober and realistic accounting of the existing balance of forces. That has not yet been done by the vocal critics of nuclear cuts. Thirty-four Republican members of the House of Representatives wrote to President Obama last week, referring to "the growth in quantity and quality of nuclear weapons capabilities in Russia, the People's Republic of China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and, perhaps soon the Islamic Republic of Iran..." The Representatives did not provide a time frame for this "growth," no doubt because the reduction in Russian strategic forces during recent years has actually led to an overall decline in aggregate numbers of nuclear weapons possessed by America's potential enemies.

The U.S. House members also cited the "...ambitious nuclear weapons modernization programs of Russia, communist China, Pakistan and others..." In this context, it would seem relevant to mention that China's "ambitious" program has added, over the last three decades, about 30 warheads that could reliably reach the United States. China now fields some 40-50 warheads on intercontinental systems, compared to the 1,790 deployed by the United States that could reach China.

China's strategic nuclear systems are relatively less sophisticated and diverse than those of the United States. China's newest-class ballistic missile submarine, which will provide the sea-based leg of its nuclear deterrent, is very noisy, according to an unclassified report of the Office of Naval Intelligence. These strategic submarines would thus be very vulnerable to stalking and destruction by much quieter U.S. attack submarines. Moreover, China has no intercontinental bombers, no adequate strategic warning, and no multiple warheads on its ballistic missiles - four decades after MIRVs were first deployed by the United States.

The Shrinking Bear

In a February 16 Senate Floor speech, Sen. Jon Kyl continued his jihad against the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) by noting: "Not a country in the world has reduced warheads since the signing of the New START treaty except the United States." In so doing, Kyl focuses on a slight uptick in Russia's deployed warhead count from six months earlier, ignoring a slight numerical reduction in the number of Russia's deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers over the same period. More importantly, he obscures the long-term trend line, which shows Russia today with some 300 warheads fewer than two years ago and projects further reductions of similar magnitude over the next few years, putting Russia well below New START's warhead ceiling.

It is appropriate to consider carefully Russian nuclear force trends when considering future U.S. nuclear policy. After all, Russian strategic forces dwarf those of all other countries against which U.S. nuclear weapons could be used. U.S. and Russian strategic forces together contain over 90 per cent of all nuclear weapons in the world. Moreover, Russia is the only country, which has any counter-force capability against the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

However, such consideration reveals a conspicuous and continuing decline in Russian strategic forces from the robust base Moscow inherited from the Soviet Union. Because the warhead-rich SS-18 and SS-19 ICBMs are reaching the end of their service lives and the new Bulava SLBM has suffered delays, the decline promises to last for years, even if Moscow moves forward with development and deployment of a new, heavy, multiple-warhead ICBM.

The latest figures exchanged under New START show that Russia had 1,566 warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers (counted-as-one for each aircraft)--224 less than the United States. While both parties are obligated to reduce operational warhead levels further before the treaty's 1,550 ceiling enters into effect in February 2018 many U.S. and Russian experts predict that Russia's warhead count may fall significantly below that ceiling. For example, Russian academician Alexei Arbatov, says Russia's New START accountable warhead count could total only 1,000-1,100 within the decade as the deployment of new systems fails to keep pace with the retirement of legacy systems.

What is to be done?

Rather than induce Russia to build up its strategic nuclear forces, it is in the security and financial interests of both countries to pursue further, parallel reductions in such forces. An updated look at the nuclear balance and the narrowed function of nuclear weapons proclaimed by President Obama should lead to a number of important changes in nuclear policy guidance:

  • Entire categories of targets -- only appropriate for nuclear war-fighting rather than deterrence -- should be eliminated from U.S. nuclear war plans.
  • Overblown requirements for damage expectancy should be scaled back.
  • Requirements for rapid launch capabilities should be eased, removing pressure from national command authorities for hasty decisions and reducing overall force requirements - for example, for the number of SSBNs on station.

Empowered with updated presidential guidance, force planners can responsibly and significantly reduce the number of weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

"Chased by a bear" may work as stage direction for dramatic performances to an early 17th Century English audience, which was accustomed to bear baiting as public entertainment. It is less suitable as a framework for U.S. nuclear policy in the 21st Century, which needs to be based on honest assessments of nuclear threats and an accurate understanding of the limited role of nuclear weapons. The bear chase is over.--Greg Thielmann

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

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Iran Nuclear Brief: The Path to Avoiding War and Resolving the Nuclear Crisis

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The Nov. 2011 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency details why the international community remains deeply concerned about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. While sanctions and other measures have slowed down Iran’s movement toward acquiring a nuclear weapons option, Tehran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities and has so far refused to implement the confidence building steps necessary to ensure it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

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January 4, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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U.S.-Iranian relations are bad and getting worse. The New Year has opened with rising tensions between the United States and Iran and an increased prospect of war—either intentional or accidental.

The Nov. 2011 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency details why the international community remains deeply concerned about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. While sanctions and other measures have slowed down Iran’s movement toward acquiring a nuclear weapons option, Tehran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities and has so far refused to implement the confidence-building steps necessary to ensure it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

The latest round of U.S. unilateral sanctions has been met with Iranian threats of closing the Straits of Hormuz through which 35% of the world’s seaborne oil passes. Iran reinforced those threats with ten days of military exercises in nearby waters that included launches of anti-ship missiles. These and other developments highlight how relatively minor incidents could quickly escalate into a major military conflict.

At the same time, Iran proposed on December 31 a new round of talks with the P5+1 group of nations, suggesting that that diplomatic options to resolve the nuclear concerns about its nuclear activities have not been exhausted.

In the following Iran Nuclear Brief, ACA Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann argues that in order to avoid unintentional conflict with Iran, there is an urgent need to establish better lines of bilateral communication at all levels—between military forces in the region, between diplomats, and between senior officials. Thielmann also explains why pragmatic diplomatic engagement is essential to a successful strategy to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Additional presentations and analyses from ACA’s "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" project are available here.

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Iran Nuclear Brief: Making Sense of the IAEA’s Latest Report on Iran’s Nuclear Program

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The release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program in early November attracted intense media interest and stimulated strong political reactions in the United States and around the world. The IAEA report and its 14-page annex represented a milestone for the Vienna-based agency in terms of its willingness to present detailed information to the public on activities of concern in Iran’s nuclear program.

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December 5, 2011
By Greg Thielmann

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The release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program in early November attracted intense media interest and stimulated strong political reactions in the United States and around the world. The IAEA report and its 14-page annex represented a milestone for the Vienna-based agency in terms of its willingness to present detailed information to the public on activities of concern in Iran’s nuclear program.

The Arms Control Association provided an in-depth assessment of the IAEA report on November 8, 2011. Yet much of the subsequent press coverage has been inaccurate in its comparison of the IAEA’s latest report with past characterizations of Iran’s nuclear activities – most notably, the public summary of the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate.

The following Iran Nuclear Brief elucidates the similarities and differences in those two documents, incorporating an earlier article by ACA’s senior fellow, Greg Thielmann, and Benjamin Loehrke, senior policy analyst for the Ploughshares Fund, which was published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on November 23, 2011.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.

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Books of Note

Eliminating Nuclear Weapons: The Role of Missile Defense

Tom Sauer, Columbia University Press, 2011, 155 pp.

Tom Sauer’s short but comprehensive volume analyzes the interaction between the goals of eliminating nuclear weapons and having a missile defense system to protect against any illicit nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that may appear. Judging nuclear deterrence unsustainable, Sauer assumes ultimate elimination of nuclear arsenals worldwide and does not dwell on the near-term difficulty of further reducing strategic offensive arsenals in an environment of unconstrained strategic missile defenses. He suggests that policy choices on missile defense will help determine whether global nuclear disarmament will be able to prevent nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. Key to Sauer’s overall analysis is his contention that the actual technical capabilities of the current generation of missile defenses have been greatly exaggerated and that it is “extremely doubtful” a reliable missile shield could be built over the next couple of decades. He ranks the desirability of three possible configurations of missile defenses for achieving a stable and effective ban on nuclear weapons: Best would be a regime banning all defensive as well as offensive ballistic missiles; second best would be limiting missile defenses to theater systems; and third would be sharing large-scale strategic missile defense systems with all major powers. Sauer contends that other scenarios for missile defenses, including the current trajectory of U.S. programs, will lead to new arms races in defensive and offensive weapons.—GREG THIELMANN

 


Deterrence: Its Past and Future

George P. Shultz, Sidney D. Drell, and James E. Goodby, eds., Hoover Institution Press, 2011, 230 pp.

This two-part book discusses the evolving role of deterrence and its utility against emerging international security threats. Part I is a compilation of summaries of papers presented at a conference on deterrence held in November 2010 at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Remarks delivered at the conference by former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), and Admiral Michael Mullen also are included in the volume. The summaries touch on a variety of issues, including the feasibility and challenges of preventing states from reconstituting nuclear arsenals after the elimination of nuclear weapons, the debate over de-alerting nuclear forces, and the need to reassess conventional thinking on nuclear deterrence in a multipolar environment in which nonstate actors challenge national security. In Part II, Steve Andreasen and Michael Gerson analyze how states with nuclear weapons (China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the United Kingdom), NATO, and Iran perceive the broader international security environment, view the role that nuclear weapons play in deterrence, and think about the abolition of nuclear weapons. The two authors focus on how these viewpoints are known and understood in the United States. The purpose of this approach, according to Andreasen and Gerson, is to prevent misinterpretation of other states’ views on the role and utility of deterrence. —KELSEY DAVENPORT

Op-ed: GOP candidates, what do you say about savings in military budget?

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By Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association

The following piece was originally posted online at The Des Moines Register on August 4, 2011.

Washington is obsessed these days with reducing the deficit. The GOP presidential contenders crisscrossing Iowa give prominence to the issue as well. But even as they call for ever deeper budget cuts, they have been reluctant to look at trimming the $27 billion annual cost of operating and maintaining our bloated Cold War nuclear arsenal and the $125 billion planned for building new weapons in the decade ahead.

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By Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association

The following piece was originally posted online at The Des Moines Register on August 4, 2011.

Washington is obsessed these days with reducing the deficit. The GOP presidential contenders crisscrossing Iowa give prominence to the issue as well. But even as they call for ever deeper budget cuts, they have been reluctant to look at trimming the $27 billion annual cost of operating and maintaining our bloated Cold War nuclear arsenal and the $125 billion planned for building new weapons in the decade ahead.

Iowa Republicans can use the state’s privileged place in the presidential sweepstakes to ensure that candidates stop ignoring the nuclear elephant in the room. They can refer to the dramatic deficit reduction proposal recently advanced by one of the most conservative members in the U.S. Senate, Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who called for cutting $79 billion from U.S. strategic nuclear forces over the next decade.

The potential impact of fiscal policy on defense programs was highlighted last year by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he said, “the single biggest threat to our national security is our debt.” Coburn’s proposal addresses the way defense cuts can contribute in turn toward restoring fiscal balance — improving the economic fundamentals on which national prosperity depends, while maintaining the nuclear deterrent at the heart of U.S. national security strategy.

Further reductions in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile can now be safely contemplated, because the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is in force. The treaty, approved by the U.S. Senate in a bipartisan 71-26 vote last December, has enhanced predictability for both sides.

Without New START, Russia might have slowed the retirement of its older ballistic missiles, each bearing multiple, city-killing nuclear warheads. Without the hundreds of notifications about Russian strategic force activities that have been received under the treaty and the regular implementation of the treaty’s on-site verification, the United States would have much less confidence in assessing the status of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

The presidential candidates should look at the nuclear balance of forces in the wake of New START. The Russians are already below two of the treaty’s three key limits — 700 for deployed missiles and bombers, and 1,550 for deployed warheads and bombers — nearly seven years before the deadline. The United States is moving slowly toward bringing its forces under the limits, which means it continues to spend money servicing and operating weapons deemed non-essential.

By the time the United States gets down to the treaty limits, it may have hundreds more operational warheads than Russia. It is likely to have 15 times more than China and 300 times more than either North Korea or Iran. U.S. conventional forces will be far superior to any adversary. In light of the growing strategic imbalance in our favor and in consideration of our dire fiscal straits, it is proper to question whether the Pentagon should carry out exorbitant plans to simultaneously modernize all three legs of the nuclear triad. Many defense experts, like Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, say it doesn’t have the money to do so, given other requirements.

The Cold War ended 20 years ago. Our military leadership is now focused on the 21st century threats of nuclear proliferation, peacekeeping, and international terrorism. Even the commander of U.S. Strategic Forces, Gen. Robert Kehler, emphasizes that Cold War competition is over, that Russia is no longer an enemy and that weapons of mass destruction use by terrorists rather than Russia heads his threat list. The rationale is long gone for maintaining thousands of nuclear weapons, each many times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima 66 years ago.

Candidates who aspire to lead the nation need to be able to explain the connection between fiscal and security challenges. Iowa voters need to ask them to do so.

Iranian Missile Messages: Reading Between the Lines of "Great Prophet 6"

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Volume 2, Issue 10, July 12, 2011

In light of justifiable concerns about Iran’s potential as a nuclear weapons state, the country’s latest military exercise, ending last week, provided some grounds for qualified relief. Although the official commentary was predictably defiant in tone, the overall choreography and the weapons actually fired bespoke neither the intent nor a current operational capability for Iran to strike at Israel or Europe. The absence in the exercise of systems likely to serve as nuclear weapons delivery vehicles belies contentions that Tehran is moving rapidly to achieve such a capability.

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Volume 2, Issue 10, July 12, 2011

In light of justifiable concerns about Iran’s potential as a nuclear weapons state, the country’s latest military exercise, ending last week, provided some grounds for qualified relief. Although the official commentary was predictably defiant in tone, the overall choreography and the weapons actually fired bespoke neither the intent nor a current operational capability for Iran to strike at Israel or Europe. The absence in the exercise of systems likely to serve as nuclear weapons delivery vehicles belies contentions that Tehran is moving rapidly to achieve such a capability.

“Great Prophet 6” Fireworks
In a ten-day extravaganza of martial events, dubbed “Great Prophet 6,” Iran conducted a prodigious number of missile launches, showcasing a variety of ballistic and cruise missiles, including some new missile types and a newly displayed silo basing mode. The live-fire exercises provided useful training for the troops and stimulated national pride among the population. Such displays of missile prowess also help Iran’s clerical government rally domestic support behind efforts to defy UN sanctions and send a warning message to potential aggressors.

Missiles Are the Measure
Missiles are the premier weapon of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran’s ballistic missiles, in particular, occupy an iconic place in the power pantheon – they are fast to employ, hard for an enemy to locate and attack prior to launch, difficult to intercept in flight, and can potentially serve as a vehicle for delivering nuclear weapons to targets far from the country’s border. Iran already has medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) in its arsenal, which can reach targets not only in neighboring states, but also in Israel. Moreover, given the heavy concentrations of U.S. troops in the region, even Iran’s shorter-range missiles can easily and quickly put the lives of U.S. soldiers at risk.

Anti-shipping cruise missiles – along with mines – provide one of Iran’s most credible deterrent threats, because they enable Tehran to effectively exploit its geographical position by threatening to interrupt maritime traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, which carries a third of all the world's seaborne traded oil. Such a disruption, even short-term, would have incalculable effects on the international economy.

Iranian missile forces loom large in relative significance because of inadequacies in Iran’s air and ground forces. These forces “are sufficient to deter or defend against conventional threats from Iran’s weaker neighbors…but lack the air power and logistical ability to project power much beyond Iran’s borders or to confront regional powers such as Turkey or Israel,” according to a recent official U.S. assessment. [1] U.S. domination of the seas and skies in any military confrontation drives Iran into a disproportionate reliance on threatening to use missiles to level the odds. Even so, the practical utility of Iranian missiles is primarily limited at present to being an instrument of intimidation or terror when targeted against cities, given that Iran’s ballistic missiles lack accuracy against point targets and Iran’s cruise missiles are not suited to land-attack.

By acquiring nuclear warheads for its medium-range ballistic missiles, Iran could gain the ability to destroy specific targets. The deployments of missile defenses in Israel and the Persian Gulf are unlikely to give the defenders confidence that nuclear devastation would be averted in the event of an actual Iranian nuclear missile attack. Moreover, missile defenses are likely to spur rather than retard Iranian efforts to improve their missiles. Fortunately, Tehran would also be aware that its use of nuclear weapons would provoke retaliation that could result in its annihilation as a nation – a risk disproportionate to any conceivable gain.

What Did the Exercise Actually Demonstrate?
The majority of missiles launched over the course of the exercise were either short-range, battlefield weapons, such as the solid fuel Fateh 110 or cruise missiles, such as the Tondar and Khalije Fars that were claimed to be effective against ships and fixed targets in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. Of some two dozen missiles fired, only one was a medium-range missile with sufficient power and available space to carry a future nuclear warhead, the liquid fuel Shahab 3, a derivative of North Korea’s No Dong MRBM. Yet the Shahab 3’s range of approximately 1,000 km (with a 750 kg warhead) is not sufficient for it to reach Israel from a secure position in Iran. Iran has developed an advanced version of the Shahab 3, the Ghadr 1, to extend the system's range. This was accomplished by lengthening the airframe, using high-strength aluminum, and changing the shape of the missile’s warhead section. Yet the Ghadr 1 did not appear in the recent exercises.

The Iranian media also displayed, for the first time, underground missile silos, allegedly loaded with liquid fuel Shahabs. However, outside experts doubt the accuracy of the descriptions provided in the video coverage of the exercise and question whether Iran has any MRBMs operationally deployed in silos. In any case, such missiles would be far more likely to survive attack in a mobile basing mode than in fixed silos, which can be located in advance and effectively destroyed with little warning by the precision weapons available to the United States.

Iranian television reported further that Iranian forces had been equipped with a new, long-range radar system, the Ghadir, which was featured in the exercises.    

What Was the Intended Message?
Based on the statements of Iranian military leaders and reports in Iran’s media, the main messages of “Great Prophet 6” for friends and foe were: that Iran’s strength is increasing in spite of the UN sanctions; that Iran is not dependent on other nations for its defense; that Iranian missiles could not be effectively preempted or intercepted; and that any attack on Iran would be met with devastating retaliation.

The new radar and missile silos were offered as evidence than Iran cannot be disarmed and that retaliation was inevitable. The salvo launches of missiles were a reminder that missile defenses can be overwhelmed by numbers. The longer-range Shahab 3 symbolized Iran’s reach across the Middle East region, far beyond its own borders. Each of the systems displayed were described as the product of Iranian scientists and engineers, independent of reliance on foreign purchases or technical assistance.

Reading Between the Lines
There are, however, other conclusions to be drawn from Iran’s flexing of missile muscles.  For those seeking to prevent or dissuade Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, the most important question is how much progress the exercises demonstrate toward Iran developing and deploying the missiles, which would carry nuclear warheads.

Realistically, medium-term delivery boils down to two existing systems: the liquid fuel, single stage Ghadr 1 MRBM, an advanced derivative of the Shahab 3, and the solid fuel Sejjil 2 MRBM, a two-stage system with sufficient range to target Israel from launch sites throughout Iran, but not yet operational. Neither missile was flown during “Great Prophet 6.”

The only MRBM launched was announced to be a Shahab 3, an unlikely candidate for fulfilling Iran’s likely nuclear delivery capability aspirations. It is possible that the Iranians foresee using the Ghadr 1 as a nuclear weapons platform, in spite of the disadvantages inherent to liquid fuel mobile missiles – in terms of their limited mobility and greater vulnerability to attack.

It is more likely that the Iranians see the Sejjil 2 as the preferred carrier for a possible future nuclear warhead. Iran is apparently feeling no need to exercise its only operational missile suited for the nuclear mission and the missile best suited for the nuclear mission has not yet reached an operational status appropriate for exercising. Thus, if the U.S. Government is correct in assessing that Tehran has not yet made a decision to build nuclear weapons, there would appear to be time for dissuading it from doing so.

A Long-Range Missile Threat Not Yet in Sight
In a 1999 National Intelligence Estimate, the U.S. intelligence community projected that Iran could test an ICBM within “a few years.” Most analysts predicted back then either “even odds” or a “likely chance” that Iran would test an ICBM by 2010. However, in 2009, senior military and defense officials testified to Congress that shifting from deployment of strategic interceptors to Europe in a third site to a program for deploying theater interceptors in a “Phased Adaptive Approach” was appropriate since the Iranian ICBM threat was evolving more slowly than previously thought.

The Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis reported to Congress in 2011 that Iran was fielding increased numbers of SRBMs and MRBMs, “continuing to work on producing more capable MRBMs, and developing space launch vehicles, which incorporate technology directly applicable to longer-range missile systems.” [2] The still unofficial Report on Sanctions of the UN Panel of Experts completed in May 2011 revealed that the Iranians had conducted two unannounced tests of the Sejjil 2 MRBM (in October 2010 and February 2011) [3] in addition to the five flight tests it had conducted since 2007. (A senior Iranian Republican Guard Corps Commander recently confirmed two previously unannounced “1,900 km-range” missile flights tests in February.)

The Iranians launched their second satellite in May 2011, using the Safir Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) and predicted that it would be followed by another satellite launch in the summer. Unlike the larger Samorgh SLV that had been displayed as a mockup in February, conversion of the Safir SLV to a ballistic missile would still only deliver a nuclear-sized payload about 2,100 km, according to the IISS Strategic Dossier, [4] roughly the same as the Sejjil 2 MRBM.

This summer’s “Great Prophet 6” exercise provides more evidence that, while Tehran makes steady progress on augmenting its stocks of enriched uranium and while R&D work continues on its most likely MRBM candidate for being able to deliver a future nuclear weapon within the region, Tehran’s present military focus is on demonstrating and enhancing its conventional capability to deter and defeat a preventive attack on the Islamic Republic itself. It has not flight-tested, or indeed even asserted a need for, an IRBM or ICBM – the missile categories most relevant to threatening the territories of NATO Europe and the United States.

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Notes

1. Unclassified Report on Military Power of Iran (Congressionally Directed Action), April 2010, p.7

2. Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, Covering 1 January to 31 December 2010, p.3

3. Panel of Experts Established Pursuant to Resolution 1929 (2010), Final Report, p.26, http://www.innercitypress.com/1929r051711.pdf

4. The International Institute for Strategic Studies: “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities: A Net Assessment,” May 2010, p.31

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