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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Russia

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, Sept 13, 2019

U.S. Tests Ground-Launched Cruise Missile On Aug. 18, less than two weeks after the official collapse of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States tested a ground-launched variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile that would have been prohibited by the treaty. The test was a clear signal that the United States can and will pursue such systems in the absence of the INF Treaty. In a statement, the Defense Department said the “test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight. Data...

If Trump Ends Another Nuclear Treaty, it Will Be the Height of Folly

During his first two and a half years in office, President Donald Trump and his administration have laid waste to numerous international agreements originally designed to strengthen US security, bolster US alliances, and constrain US adversaries. The toll has been particularly high with respect to deals concerning nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. Over the past 14 months, the administration has withdrawn from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and abandoned the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty . Both of these valuable agreements have been discarded without a viable plan to...

Close the Door on Nuclear Testing


September 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Everybody knows that nuclear weapons have been used twice in wartime and with terrible consequences. Often overlooked, however, is the large-scale, postwar use of nuclear weapons: At least eight countries have conducted 2,056 nuclear test explosions, most of which were far larger than the bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States alone has detonated more than 1,030 nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, underwater, and underground.

Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, outside the P-1 area at the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Eastern Kazakhstan, August 2018.Hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions more have suffered from radiation-related illnesses directly caused by the fallout from nuclear testing. The global scale of suffering took too long to come to light.

Secrecy ruled over safety from the start, such as 70 years ago, on Aug. 29, 1949, when the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test in eastern Kazakhstan near the secret town of Semipalatinsk-21. Authorities understood that the test would expose the local population to harmful radioactive fallout, but they pushed ahead in the name of national security, only acknowledging the damage after information leaks in the late-1980s revealed that far more people were exposed to radiation, with more harmful effects, than the Kremlin had previously admitted.

Today, the Kazakh government estimates that Soviet-era testing harmed about 1.5 million people in Kazakhstan alone. A 2008 study by Kazakh and Japanese doctors estimated that the population in areas adjacent to the Semipalatinsk Test Site received an effective dose of 2,000 millisieverts of radiation during the years of testing. In some hot spots, people were exposed to even higher levels. By comparison, the average American is exposed to about 3 millisieverts of radiation each year. The rate of cancer for people living in eastern Kazakhstan is 25 to 30 percent higher than elsewhere in the country.

By 1989, growing concerns about the health impacts of nuclear testing led ordinary Kazakh citizens to rise up and demand a test moratorium. They formed the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear organization. The grassroots movement grew, and popular pressure against testing surged, prompting the Kazakh political establishment, including then-president of Soviet Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to finally shut down all nuclear testing at Semipalatinsk on Aug. 29, 1991.

On Oct. 5, 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced a one-year nuclear test moratorium, which led a bipartisan U.S. congressional coalition to introduce legislation to match the Soviet test halt. In 1992 the bill became law over the protestations of President George H.W. Bush. The following year, under pressure from civil society leaders and Congress, President Bill Clinton decided to extend the moratorium and launch talks on the global, verifiable Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which were concluded in 1996.

The CTBT has established a powerful taboo against nuclear testing. Global support for the treaty, which now has 184 state signatories, is strong, and the treaty’s International Monitoring System is fully operational and more capable than originally envisioned. Today, for the first time since 1945, no nuclear-armed state has an active nuclear testing program.

Yet, the door to further nuclear testing remains ajar. Although the treaty has been signed by 184 states, its entry into force is being held up by eight states, most notably the United States, China, and North Korea, which have refused to ratify the pact.

Making matters worse, the Trump administration has accused Russia of cheating on the CTBT without providing evidence, has falsely asserted there is a lack of clarity about what the CTBT prohibits, and has refused to express support for bringing the CTBT into force.

Given their existing nuclear test moratoria and signatures on the treaty, Washington and Beijing already bear most CTBT-related responsibilities. But their failure to ratify has denied them and others the full security benefits of the treaty, including short-notice, on-site inspections to better detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing.

The treaty’s entry into force also would prevent further health injury from nuclear testing and allow responsible states to better address the dangerous legacy of nuclear testing. In Kazakhstan, for example, access to the vast former test site remains restricted. Many areas will remain unusable until and unless the radioactive contamination can be remediated.

In the Marshall Islands, where the United States detonated massive aboveground nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s, several atolls are still heavily contaminated, indigenous populations have been displaced, and some buried radioactive waste could soon leak into the ocean. The U.S. Congress should act to include the downwinders affected by the first U.S. test in 1945 in the health monitoring program established through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990.

For the safety and security of future generations and out of respect for the people harmed by nuclear testing, our generation must act. It is time to close and lock the door on nuclear testing by pushing the CTBT holdout states to ratify the treaty and address more comprehensively the devasting human and environmental damage of the nuclear weapons era.

Everybody knows that nuclear weapons have been used twice in wartime and with terrible consequences. Often overlooked, however, is the large-scale, postwar use of nuclear weapons: At least eight countries have conducted 2,056 nuclear test explosions, most of which were far larger than the bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Risky Business: Four Ways to Ease U.S.-Russian Nuclear Tension


September 2019
By Sarah Bidgood

The era of traditional U.S.-Russian arms control appears to be ending.1 The latest casualty of the crisis in relations between the two nuclear powers, the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, was suspended in February when Washington declared it would withdraw from the pact because of alleged Russian noncompliance. Moscow made no great effort to resist U.S. intentions, and with surprisingly little fanfare, the treaty expired in early August.

From left to right, Andrea Thompson of the United States, Fu Cong of China, and Nicolas Roche of France attend a Jan. 31 panel discussion following a P5 nuclear powers meeting in Beijing. P5 representatives could not agree to reaffirm the Reagan-Gorbachev Cold War motto: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” (Photo: Thomas Peter/AFP/Getty Images)This leaves just one bilateral arms control agreement in place, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is itself due to expire in 2021. The treaty could be easily extended for up to five years, thus ensuring a vital degree of transparency and stability in U.S.-Russian relations, but the Trump administration has shown little outward enthusiasm for this step. If the clock is allowed to run out on this crucial element of strategic stability, it will mark the first time that the United States and Russia have not had an arms control treaty in place or under negotiation in nearly five decades.

The potential lack of treaty constraints on nuclear arms increases the need for other tools to minimize misunderstandings, avoid accidents, and build confidence between the United States and Russia. Such risk reduction measures have contributed to maintaining stability in the past, and they are needed now more than ever as U.S.-Russian arms control falters.

Arms Control in Trouble

The depth of the demise was illustrated in January 2019 when the P5—the five nuclear powers recognized under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—convened in Beijing for the eighth meeting of the P5 process.2 China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States identified three measures to strengthen their coordination and safeguard the NPT, but they could not agree to endorse the simple motto established in 1985 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”3 What should have been a relatively easy lift, delivering a joint statement capturing this sentiment, was torpedoed when only China was prepared to endorse it. In a climate where agreeing to this most basic principle is no longer tenable, it is not surprising that more ambitious actions required to sustain bilateral arms control now appear to be out of reach.

These circumstances make a return to nuclear arms racing more likely not only by established nuclear powers, but also by nations that have forsworn such weapons. Although Moscow and Washington worked closely to prevent new parties from acquiring a nuclear capability during the darkest days of the Cold War, these joint efforts have all but halted.4 Their disengagement has contributed to the turmoil within the nonproliferation regime, where past commitments are left unfulfilled and the way forward is far from clear.5

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev shake hands after signing the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Prague on April 8, 2010. If the treaty expires in 2021, there will be no negotiated limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)The degree to which the United States and Russia are now at odds in this domain has been impossible to ignore during the run-up to next year’s NPT review conference. Russia has accused the United States of violating the NPT through its NATO nuclear-sharing arrangement, while the United States has lambasted Russia for undermining the norm against the non-use of weapons of mass destruction and allegedly violating the INF Treaty. The two sides certainly have not seen eye to eye on all nonproliferation issues in the past, but they placed such a premium on presenting a united front to the other NPT states that they were often accused of “superpower collusion.”6 Today, however, there seems to be little interest in maintaining even the pretense of alignment on key issues. This development is revealing of the state of the bilateral relationship today, and it does not portend well for global security.

A less visible consequence of the collapse of U.S.-Russian nuclear engagement is the precipitous decline in opportunities for routine interaction between diplomats and policymakers from the two countries. The result is an erosion of trust that could make accidents, miscommunications, or misinterpretations more likely to escalate into nuclear use because there is no assumption of benign intent on either side. This development is especially problematic when reviewing the litany of close nuclear calls in U.S. and Soviet/Russian history.

That these have not culminated in nuclear use in the past is, in many cases, thanks to human decision-makers who determined, for example, that automatic missile warning systems were giving false alerts. This past January marked 25 years since one such scenario, in which Russia’s early-warning system misidentified a research rocket launched off the coast of Norway as a U.S. Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile. Russian nuclear attack response procedures were reportedly triggered, but Russian President Boris Yeltsin ruled out the likelihood of a surprise U.S. nuclear strike and decided not to retaliate.7 Were there to be a replay of this incident today, is it realistic to assume that decision-makers on either side would act in a similar fashion? It is only a matter of time before this hypothetical is put to the test.

In the absence of cooperation on arms control and nonproliferation and faced with urgent crises that require U.S.-Russian efforts, the challenge for the nuclear policymaking community today is twofold. It must find and support feasible opportunities for U.S.-Russian engagement on nuclear issues so that more ambitious efforts to shore up strategic stability and the nonproliferation regime are possible in the future. It must also actively pursue steps to prevent a nuclear catastrophe while the two sides get their relationship in this domain back on track. Fortunately, these two goals are mutually reinforcing and served by a renewed focus on nuclear risk reduction.

Practical Steps to Reduce Nuclear Risk

The United States and Russia could pursue at least four meaningful risk reduction measures that would contribute to these efforts. Even more significant steps than these are needed, but this menu comprises points of entry that may be feasible under the current circumstances.

A Parallel Risk Assessment
U.S. and Russian officials could engage in a parallel risk assessment, where both sides would identify independently the technologies, behaviors, and past and future scenarios they believe are most likely to lead to nuclear use and then compare their answers.8 This exercise would lay the groundwork for determining what types of risk reduction efforts are most needed. It could also serve as an opportunity to clear up misconceptions about the other’s capabilities or practices, including with respect to the alleged Russian policy of “escalate to deescalate.” The 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review report states that Russia might conduct a limited nuclear first strike to end a conventional conflict on its terms, but this strategy is not described in any official Russian documents pertaining to its nuclear doctrine. Determining conclusively that this policy is not part of Russian strategy would free up both sides to focus on mitigating actual, rather than assumed, nuclear risks.

The P5 process presents a useful forum to operationalize this recommendation, at least initially. Not only is it already in place, but conducting a parallel risk assessment in this setting would contribute to the nuclear-weapon states’ attempts to better understand each other’s nuclear doctrines. The fact that all five delegations committed to making the “utmost efforts” to prevent nuclear risks at their 2019 Beijing meeting suggests that this recommendation might be welcomed as a concrete first step.9 Furthermore, this exercise could appeal to states with different perceptions of risk because its focus would be on identifying similarities and differences in their views, rather than on a preordained list of concerns with which all states might not agree.

Revive Consultations on Nuclear Risk Reduction
While many channels for U.S.-Russian nuclear engagement have now shut down, recent strategic security meetings held by Russian and U.S. officials raise the prospect of renewed high-level dialogue on arms control, nonproliferation, and related topics.10 Washington and Moscow should capitalize on this opening to initiate regular consultations on nuclear risk reduction. The United States and Russia are destined to cooperate on this issue by virtue of their vast nuclear arsenals. Their shared responsibilities are even greater under the present circumstances, in which mutual suspicion, acrimony, and instability in their bilateral relationship increase the likelihood of nuclear use, intentionally or by mistake.

Bilateral dialogue has always been recognized as a key component of risk reduction. It is mandated in the 1971 USSR-U.S. Agreements to Reduce Risk of Nuclear War, which obliges the two sides to “hold consultations, as mutually agreed, to consider questions relating to implementation of the provisions of this agreement, as well as to discuss possible amendments thereto aimed at further implementation of the purposes of this agreement.”11

Reviving these consultations would contribute to international security while paving the way for more routinized and wide-ranging dialogue in the future. Not only would they provide a forum for officials to interact, which could itself reduce the likelihood of nuclear use, but they would also facilitate discussions on risks associated with emerging technologies, which have significant implications for the future of strategic stability. Given this orientation, these consultations would benefit from the involvement of scientific and technical experts, as well as policymakers and government officials. Cooperation on technical issues can flourish even during difficult moments in the bilateral relationship. Emphasizing this dimension of these consultations could increase the likelihood that they would generate meaningful results.12

The initial agenda for these consultations could focus on reviewing Cold War-era nuclear risk reduction measures and identifying ways to update and multilateralize them. Aside from the 1971 USSR-U.S. Agreements to Reduce Risk of Nuclear War, other relevant agreements include the 1972 U.S.-USSR Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents on the High Seas,13 the 1973 U.S.-USSR Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, and the 1987 Agreement Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Establishment of Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers. They could also meaningfully include risk reduction measures that were considered in the past but never formalized or adopted, such as this recommendation itself, which was borrowed from a similar proposal put forward by the Soviet delegation to the UN General Assembly in October 1977.14

Updating and multilateralizing U.S.-Soviet risk reduction agreements could open the door to engaging other nuclear-armed states in these efforts, particularly China. Doing so could introduce greater stability and predictability into the trilateral relationship while reducing the likelihood that nuclear entanglement in the three countries will escalate into nuclear exchange.15 Although Beijing has established its own crisis hotlines with Moscow and Washington, a host of other risk reduction measures are part of past agreements and could be meaningfully implemented today.16 Exploring opportunities to do so would represent a more realistic way to deliver President Donald Trump’s desire to include Beijing in a future arms control agreement with Moscow, which is unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon.

Despite these advantages, revisiting U.S.-Soviet proposals carries risks of its own, which include the potential for past points of contention to resurface with detrimental outcomes. For example, Russia could reprise failed Soviet calls for the United States to remove forward-deployed nuclear weapons from Europe in the name of preventing their accidental or unauthorized use.17 Although U.S. experts have made similar proposals in recent years, Washington may suspect Moscow of using risk reduction to advance its national interests, which could cause talks to fail. Similarly, efforts to multilateralize past agreements could falter if Russia and China press for limits on U.S. ballistic missile defense as a step toward reducing the risk of nuclear use.18 Avoiding these pitfalls will require thoughtful compartmentalization, where participants find ways to work around larger strategic stability concerns without dismissing them as illegitimate in the process.

Ban on Cyberattacks on C3 Systems
The United States and Russia could conclude an agreement that cyberattacks on nuclear command, control, and communications (C3) systems are off-limits.19 Such an agreement would be consistent with recent Russian and U.S.-sponsored UN General Assembly resolutions that emphasize the need for rules to govern state behavior in cyberspace. Although Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential elections has made cooperation in the cyber domain exceptionally difficult in recent years, the potential risks posed by the cyber vulnerabilities of nuclear systems are significant enough to warrant treatment in a separate category. An agreement not to exploit these vulnerabilities would contribute significantly to reducing nuclear risk while complementing ongoing efforts to articulate and codify cyber norms in other areas of international security.20

Concluding such an agreement could be complicated by the reliance of many C3 systems on at least some dual-use assets. Because early-warning satellites are used to detect nuclear and non-nuclear missile launches, for instance, a cyberattack intended to limit an adversary’s ability to defend against a conventional strike would also constitute an attack on its nuclear C3 system.21 The United States and Russia would need to determine how to disentangle these assets in a way that still addressed their potential to precipitate nuclear escalation. In this process, the two sides should consider how best to make use of the cyber hotline, which was installed in the U.S. and Russian Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers in 2013. The hotline was designed to allow both sides to “make inquiries about cybersecurity incidents of national concern.”22 It could provide invaluable crisis stability during a cyberattack without requiring significant changes to existing infrastructure.

Joint Statement at the 2020 NPT Review Conference on Risk Reduction
The United States, Russia, and potentially the other nuclear-weapon states should issue a joint statement at the 2020 NPT Review Conference reaffirming the importance of nuclear risk reduction and reporting on any concrete measures they have adopted during the review cycle. Considering that the five countries will likely have little progress to report on nuclear disarmament, doing so would demonstrate some progress toward fulfilling the commitments they made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cuts the ceremonial ribbon at the opening of the updated U.S. Nuclear Risk Reduction Center at the State Department on Oct. 24, 2012. The center and its Russian counterpart are operational at all times and intended to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict. (Photo: State Department)A particular selling point of this recommendation is the importance of nuclear risk reduction in avoiding the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from nuclear use. From this vantage, nuclear risk reduction may constitute one of only a small handful of issues on which nuclear-weapon states, proponents of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and supporters of the humanitarian initiative could agree. The nuclear-weapon states would need to be careful not to frame risk reduction as a substitute for nuclear disarmament in the NPT setting, but if they succeed, this issue could represent an opportunity to find common ground at a time when few others exist. A focus on risk reduction would also align with the NPT preambular language, which recognizes the “devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war.” Reaffirming the shared assumptions that underpin the NPT would be appropriate at the 50th anniversary of its entry into force.

Little Risk in Risk Reduction

These recommendations represent four steps that the United States and Russia could take to reduce nuclear risks today. They appear to align with both countries’ national security interests, which should increase their appeal among policymakers and may make it possible to implement them in spite of the current crisis in relations. In Washington, at least, these proposals may benefit from the lack of constraints they would place on U.S. military flexibility. Their narrow scope could help them gain traction with the current U.S. administration when more far-reaching and effective measures such as the defunct INF Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and New START have not.

If these recommendations nevertheless prove too ambitious, the United States and Russia could take a host of other, more modest steps to reduce the risk of nuclear use. Indeed, because bilateral relations are in such a deep state of crisis, virtually any activity that fosters dialogue or lends predictability to the two countries’ interactions would likely hit this mark. Moreover, risk reduction, unlike arms control, can take many different forms, from treaties to confidence-building measures to the installation of dedicated crisis-management infrastructure.23 This flexibility provides scalable options that may appeal to decisionmakers in both Moscow and Washington.

The latitude afforded by nuclear risk reduction may help explain why some U.S.-Russian engagement in this domain continues, albeit on an insufficient scale. The National Risk Reduction Centers in Washington and Moscow still operate 24 hours a day, providing an uninterrupted channel for crisis communication as they have for the last three decades. Likewise, the United States and Russia continue to co-chair the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, where they have overseen efforts to prevent unauthorized nuclear use for more than 15 years. These operational channels reinforce the notion that, if expanded, risk reduction measures could preserve what is left of the bilateral relationship while laying the groundwork for closer cooperation. In a quickly deteriorating environment with few other alternatives, this argument is as good as any for seeing where these efforts could lead.

 

ENDNOTES

1. See Steven Pifer, “Nuclear Security, Arms Control, and the U.S.-Russia Relationship,” American Ambassadors Review, Spring 2019, https://www.americanambassadorslive.org/post/nuclear-security-arms-control-and-the-u-s-russia-relationship.

2. The P5 process was established in 2009 with the goal of identifying transparency and confidence-building measures leading toward progress on nuclear disarmament. See Andrea Berger and Malcolm Chalmers, “The Art of the Possible: The Future of the P5 Process on Nuclear Weapons,” Arms Control Today, October 2014.

3. Li Song, “Briefing on P5 Beijing Conference,” February 5, 2019, https://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B8954/(httpAssets)/2A29BA6AFFA30F6CC125839B0051305C/$file/China_for+website.pdf (presented to the Conference on Disarmament); Jerry Brown and William Potter, “Open Forum: Time for a reality check on nuclear diplomacy,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 24, 2019 <https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Open-Forum-Time-for-a-reality-check-on-nuclear-13793344.php?psid=ftMG0>

4. For examples of cooperation, see William C. Potter and Sarah Bidgood, eds., Once and Future Partners: The United States, Russia, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies [IISS], 2018).

5. Paul Meyer, “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament: Striding Forward or Stepping Back?” Arms Control Today, April 2019.

6. William Potter and Sarah Bidgood, “The Good Old Days of the Cold War: U.S.-Soviet Cooperation on Nonproliferation,” War on the Rocks, August 7, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/08/the-good-old-days-of-the-cold-war-u-s-soviet-cooperation-on-nonproliferation/.

7. Patricia Lewis et al., “Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy,” Chatham House Report, April 2014, p. 17, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/field/field_document/20140428TooCloseforComfortNuclearUseLewisWilliamsPelopidasAghlani.pdf.

8. For more, see William C. Potter and Sarah Bidgood, “Chapter 8: Lessons for the Future” in Once and Future Partners: The United States, Russia, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation, ed. William C. Potter and Sarah Bidgood (London: IISS, 2018).

9. Song, “Briefing on P5 Beijing Conference.”

10. “Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Participation in Strategic Security Dialogue With Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov,” U.S. Department of State, July 17, 2019 < https://www.state.gov/deputy-secretary-sullivans-participation-in-strategic-security-dialogue-with-russian-deputy-foreign-minister-sergey-ryabkov/>

11. “Agreement on Measures to Reduce the Outbreak of Nuclear War Between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” September 30, 1971.

12. For examples, see Siegfried S. Hecker, ed., Doomed to Cooperate (Los Alamos, NM: Bathtub Row Press, 2016).

13. The continuing relevance of this agreement was underscored by the near collision of U.S. and Russian warships in the Pacific Ocean in June 2019. See “U.S. Navy: Russian Warship’s ‘Unsafe’ Move Nearly Caused Collision With Cruiser,” National Public Radio, June 7, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/06/07/730593184/u-s-navy-russian-warships-unsafe-move-nearly-caused-collision-with-cruiser.

14. “32 UNGA: New Soviet Initiative,” October 18, 1977, https://aad.archives.gov/aad/create
pdf?rid=252139&dt=2532&dl=1629
(cable from secretary of state to U.S. Mission to NATO).

15. For a definition of entanglement and an explanation of how it could precipitate nuclear use, see James Acton, Tong Zhao, and Li Bin, “Reducing the Risks of Nuclear Entanglement,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 12, 2018, https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/09/12/reducing-risks-of-nuclear-entanglement-pub-77236.

16. Avery Goldstein, “First Things First: The Pressing Danger of Crisis Instability in U.S.-China Relations,” International Security, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Spring 2013): 49–89.

17. Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Semenov issued this call in an October 1974 meeting on SALT II. “Deputy Minister Semenov’s Statement of October 4, 1974,” October 4, 1974, https://aad.archives.gov/aad/createpdf?rid=221079&dt=2474&dl=1345 (cable from U.S. delegation to SALT II to the secretary of state).

18. Laura Grego lays out arguments both countries could reasonably make. See Laura Grego, “The Faulty and Dangerous Logic of Missile Defense,” Scientific American, April 24, 2018, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-faulty-and-dangerous-logic-of-missile-defense/?redirect=1.

19. Wilfred Wan also makes this proposal in Nuclear Risk Reduction: A Framework for Analysis (Geneva, Switzerland: UNIDIR, 2019), p. 29, < http://unidir.org/files/publications/pdfs/nuclear-risk-reduction-a-framework-for-analysis-en-809.pdf>

20. See Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, “Norm Package Singapore,” November 2018, https://cyberstability.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/GCSC-Singapore-Norm-Package-3MB.pdf.

21. For an overview of the challenges that dual-use command-and-control assets create for risk reduction, see James M. Acton, “Inadvertent Escalation and the Entanglement of Nuclear Command-and-Control Capabilities,” International Security Policy Brief, October 29, 2018, https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/inadvertent-escalation-and-entanglement-nuclear-command-and-control-capabilities.

22. The White House, “Fact Sheet: US-Russian Cooperation on Information and Communications Technology Security.” June 17, 2013 < https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/17/fact-sheet-us-russian-cooperation-information-and-communications-technol>

23. Joseph Nye made a similar point in 1984. See Joseph S. Nye Jr., “U.S.-Soviet Relations and Nuclear-Risk Reduction,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 99, No. 3 (Autumn 1984), p. 404.


Sarah Bidgood is director of the Eurasia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) in Monterey, California. She also leads the Young Women in Nonproliferation Initiative at CNS.

Risk reduction measures are needed more than ever as just one U.S.-Russian treaty limits the size of the two nations’ strategic nuclear arsenals.

Russian Weapons Accident Raises Nuclear Concerns


September 2019
By Greg Webb

An accidental explosion on Russia’s White Sea coast has triggered questions about the Kremlin’s strategic weapons development efforts and concerns that Russia may have shut down sensors to deny information to international observers.

Officials examine a radionuclide detector stationed on the roof of the Vienna International Centre, home of CTBTO headquarters.  Russia has deployed seven such detectors on its territory as part of the CTBTO's monitoring system, but some stopped transmitting information after a Russian weapons accident on Aug. 8. (Photo: CTBTO)The Aug. 8 incident began with a blast at a military test site near Severodvinsk, where Russia tests missile systems. Conflicting media reports and a lack of official Russian information have led to extensive speculation about the weapon that exploded.

The accident involved “isotopic power sources,” according to a Aug. 10 statement from Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) that also reported the deaths of five employees, but no other official descriptions have been offered. Some media outlets reported that radiation levels had increased following the explosion, and one local doctor was later found to have been contaminated by cesium-137, a by-product of nuclear fission, the Moscow Times reported on Aug. 16.

Extensive open-source research has led analysts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies to assess that Russia was testing a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a technology long discarded by the United States as too expensive and impractical. The Middlebury finding was based on postaccident satellite imagery and ship-tracking information that revealed the presence of a Rosatom-owned vessel that specializes in transporting nuclear cargo.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov appeared to confirm the Middlebury assessment on Aug. 21, saying that a “nuclear-propelled missile” was being tested at the time of the accident, according to The Washington Post.

Earlier, other analysts suggested the destroyed weapon could have been a conventional rocket coupled with a radioisotope thermal generator, a technology that has been used successfully for decades to produce small amounts of electricity for spacecraft or remotely located scientific equipment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted in March 2018 that Russia was developing a nuclear-powered cruise missile that would have virtually unlimited range and would be “invincible against all existing and prospective missile defense and counter-air defense systems.” Russia has dubbed the missile Burevestnik, or the 9M730. NATO has named the system Skyfall, or the SSC-X-9.

Reacting to the incident, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Aug. 12, “The United States is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia. We have similar, though more advanced, technology. The Russian ‘Skyfall’ explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!” There is no evidence that the United States is developing any nuclear-powered aircraft.

Further confusing the situation, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) reported that some Russian radionuclide sensor stations began to halt transmissions two days after the accident. The CTBTO’s global network of sensors to detect nuclear explosions includes 80 radionuclide stations that sniff for by-products of nuclear fission and fusion. Russia has contributed seven such stations to the network, but by Aug. 13, only two were sending information to the CTBTO, although two more resumed their data flow by Aug. 20, according to information shared with Arms Control Today. Russian officials told the CTBTO that the stations were experiencing “communication and network issues,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 18.

The outage raised concerns that Russia could be trying to conceal evidence of a radioactive release from the accident, as the information from the CTBTO network is available to all 184 signatories of the treaty, including the United States. Identifying the isotopes that may have been released in the accident could help to understand the nature of the weapon under development.

Russia has accused the CTBTO of meddling by sharing information with the public. “The data transmissions from stations of the national segment of the international monitoring network is strictly voluntary for any country,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax on Aug. 20. “The mandate of the CTBTO…does not cover development of any types of weapons.”

Russian transparency has also come into question in the context of the 1986 Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident. Quickly developed following the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the convention commits its parties, including Russia, to notify the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about transboundary threats from “any accident involving facilities or activities…from which a release of radioactive material occurs or is likely to occur.” The agreement identifies several types of relevant facilities and activities, including “the manufacture, use, storage, disposal and transport of radioisotopes for agricultural, industrial, medical and related scientific and research purposes; and…the use of radioisotopes for power generation in space objects.”

After being contacted by the IAEA, Russia told the agency that the convention did not apply to the accident. “This facility does not belong to the facilities for the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” said a statement to the agency from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, adding that “after the incident the radiation level in the region is equal to the natural radiation background, as confirmed by the data from the automated radiation situation monitoring system.”

Russian opacity fuels speculation about a weapons test gone wrong.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Resigns


Jon Huntsman Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Russia, has announced his resignation effective Oct. 3. He stated in his Aug. 5 resignation letter that his time in Moscow had been a “historically difficult period in bilateral relations.” His service, beginning March 2017, was marked by infighting within the U.S. government over the correct approach to diplomacy with Russia. It also coincided with the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a decision he described in December 2018 as necessary “to preserve the viability and integrity of arms control agreements more broadly.”

“We must continue to hold Russia accountable,” he said in his resignation letter.

Huntsman previously served as U.S. ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011 and to Singapore from 1992 to 1993. Political observers have speculated that he may seek to become the governor of Utah, a post he has already won twice. The White House has not yet nominated Huntsman’s replacement.
—OWEN LeGRONE

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Resigns

New U.S. Intermediate-Range Missiles Aren’t Needed for Precision Strike in Europe

With the Aug. 2 withdrawal of the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which ended the deployment of intermediate-range missiles by NATO and the former Soviet Union in Europe, plans to develop a new generation of treaty-noncompliant missiles have led to fears that they will return to the continent. Defense Secretary Mark Esper referred that same day to the need for “proactive measures” to develop new intermediate-range capabilities in the European theater. The Department of Defense requested nearly $100 million in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new...

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Thanks for writing to your Senators and Representative urging their engagement on extending the New START agreement with Russia by cosponsoring the "Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces" bills in the House and the Senate.

These bills are a step in the right direction if we are to prevent a new destabilizing nuclear arms race with Russia.

More Senators and Representatives need to hear from us on this. 

Can you spread the word to keep up our momentum?

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  • Copy and paste this letter in an email to your friends:

    Subject: Send a letter: Tell Congress to Extend the New START Agreement

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    Dear Friend.

    I have just written a letter to my members of Congress in support of the Arms Control Association’s campaign urging them to support an extension of New START, a crucial nuclear disarmament agreement between the United States and Russia.

    In early August, President Trump officially withdrew the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which since it was signed in 1987, has led to the elimination of nearly 3,000 nuclear-armed missiles from our respective arsenals and helped to end the Cold War.

    Now, New START is the only piece of arms control limiting the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles. Under this treaty, the United States and Russia are each confined to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 bombers and missiles.

    New START is set to expire in February 2021, but Presidents Trump and Putin can choose to extend it by five years.

    However, National Security Advisor John Bolton has long been critical of the treaty, and he recently said that, although a final decision has not yet been made, an extension is “unlikely.”

    A growing number of key Republican and Democratic members of Congress are voicing their support for the treaty and its extension. There are bills in each the House and the Senate—both named, “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces”—that express support for extending New START until 2026.

    Will you join me by writing to your members of Congress today and urging them to support these pieces of legislation?

    Can you join me and write a letter? Click here: 
    https://www.armscontrol.org/take-action/extend-new-start

    Thanks!


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P.S. If you can help us with a small donation, this campaign will spread even further. Or better yet, become a card-carrying member of the Arms Control Association and receive 10 issues of Arms Control Today to keep abreast of this and other arms control challenges. Join here.

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TAKE ACTION: Extend New START

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With the Aug. 2 termination of the INF Treaty, the New START agreement is now the only treaty putting limits on the world’s two largest nuclear weapons arsenals—and it too is in jeopardy.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher and Sen. Dick Lugar relentlessly pursued steps to reduce nuclear risks and to enhance strategic stability during their time in Congress and afterwards. New START, or the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, is set to expire in 2021, although the U.S. and Russian presidents can extend it—and its irreplaceable verification and monitoring system—for up to five years if they choose.

But given the Trump administration’s demonstrated antipathy toward important arms control treaties, it may be up to Congress to save it.

A growing number of Republican and Democratic members of Congress are voicing their support for the treaty and its extension. For instance:

  • In the House, Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas) introduced the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (H.R. 2529) bill, which expresses the Sense of Congress that the United States should seek to extend the New START Treaty so long as Russia remains in compliance.
     
  • In the Senate, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced a companion bill, also named the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (S. 2394). This bill expresses the same as the House bill.

Instead of working toward an extension of New START, the Trump administration is busy arguing that China and Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons must be covered in the treaty as well.

Pursuing talks with other nuclear-armed states, like China, and limits on all types of nuclear weapons is an admirable objective, but such a negotiation would be complex and time-consuming.

The first step should, therefore, be a five-year extension of New START which would provide a foundation for a more ambitious successor agreement.

Use the form below to urge your senators and representative to support these bills.

We need your members of Congress to support these efforts to make sure that the limits on Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal—which help keep us from engaging in an expensive and dangerous arms race—remain in force.

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U.S. Claims of Illegal Russian Nuclear Testing: Myths, Realities, and Next Steps

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Updated August 21, 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball
Executive Director, Arms Control Association

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In prepared remarks delivered at the Hudson Institute May 29, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr., charged that “Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard outlined in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).”

Russia has vigorously denied the allegation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the accusation “a crude provocation” and pointed to the United States’ failure to ratify the CTBT.

On June 12, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, “we are acting in full and absolute accordance with the treaty ratified by Moscow and in full accordance with our unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests.”

The DIA director’s remarks, and a subsequent June 13 statement on the subject, are quite clearly part of an effort by Trump administration hardliners to suggest that Russia is conducting nuclear tests to improve its arsenal, and that the United States must be free of any constraints on its own nuclear weapons development effort, and, indirectly, to try to undermine the CTBT itself—a treaty the Trump administration has already said it will not ratify.

The challenges posed by the new U.S. allegations are significant and they demand a proactive plan of action by “friends of the CTBT” governments for a number of reasons.

First, any violation of the CTBT by Russia, which has signed and ratified the agreement, or any other signatory, would be a serious matter. But thus far, the Trump administration has not presented any credible information to back up the allegation. As late as December 2015, it was the view of the United States government that the only state in recent years that has tested nuclear weapons in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea. This begs the question of what, if anything, has changed since then that would support a different conclusion.

The most effective way, of course, to enforce compliance is to bring the CTBT into force, which would allow for intrusive, short-notice, on-site inspections to detect and deter any possible cheating. In response to the recent U.S. allegations, CTBT states parties should encourage the U.S. government, if it believes it has credible evidence that Russia is violating its CTBT commitments, to negotiate arrangements for mutual confidence-building visits to the respective U.S. and Russian test sites, involving technical experts, to address any compliance concerns.

Second, the DIA allegations falsely suggest there are different national interpretations of what activities the CTBT prohibits. According to the U.S. State Department, the United States, Russia and China and all of the other NPT nuclear-weapon states have publicly affirmed that the Treaty’s Article I prohibition on “any nuclear weapons test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion” bans all nuclear test explosions, no matter what the yield.

Third, even if Russia or other advanced nuclear-armed states are conducting very low-yield nuclear test explosions, it is technically incorrect for the DIA to suggest that low-yield nuclear explosions are militarily significant for states that have extensive experience with nuclear weapons testing when, in reality, they are not militarily useful.

Finally, the allegations could prompt some officials in the Trump administration to advocate for the “removal” of the U.S. signature from the list of 184 states parties to the treaty—an action that Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, once advocated when he held a senior position at the State Department in 2002. Such a move could have a ripple effect that could undermine necessary financial and political support for the CTBT Organization’s International Monitoring System, and over time, weaken the taboo against nuclear weapons testing itself.

In response, governments that support the CTBT should:

  • reaffirm that CTBT states parties agree that the CTBT’s prohibition on nuclear weapon test explosion bans nuclear explosions of any yield;
  • develop and advance a multilateral plan for resolving charges of noncompliance based on the treaty’s provisions for confidence-building measures; and
  • clarify the costs of any attempt by the United States (or any other signatory state) to “un-sign” the treaty.
     

The Myths and Realities of the DIA Allegations

When pressed in the question and answer session of the May 29 event by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Gordon about whether Russian officials have simply set up the Novaya Zemlya test site “in such a way that they could conduct experiments in excess of a zero-yield ban in the CTBT” or are actually conducting nuclear test explosions, Ashley would only say that Russia had the “capability” to conduct very low-yield supercritical nuclear tests in contravention of the treaty.

Ashley also implied that China may not be complying with the CTBT. He claimed that “China’s lack of transparency on their nuclear testing activities raise questions as to whether China could achieve such progress without activities inconsistent with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty,” but he did not provide any evidence that China has violated the treaty.

Tim Morrison, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the National Security Council who spoke on a panel following Ashley at the May 29 Hudson Institute event tried to clarify Ashley’s remarks. “I think General Ashley was clear,” Morrison said, “that we believe Russia has taken actions to improve its nuclear weapons capabilities that run counter or contrary to its own statements regarding the scope of its obligations under the treaty.”

Ashley’s statement was anything but clear. On June 13, in response to numerous press inquiries about the ambiguous charges, the DIA issued another statement, which said: “The U.S. government, including the intelligence community, has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.”

This statement, though still vague, represents a significant shift from other very recent U.S. government and intelligence community assessments that suggest Russia has not violated the CTBT.

In December 2015, former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller told the House Armed Services Committee that “within this century, the only state that has tested nuclear weapons ... in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea.” No charge of a Russian violation of the “zero-yield” nuclear test moratorium was reported by the State Department in its Annual Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, until the August 2019 edition, which simply repeats the June 13 DIA statement.

Furthermore, this June 13 DIA statement does not clarify whether the assessment is a joint intelligence community assessment, what the confidence level is, whether it only represents the view of the DIA and the National Security Council staff.
 


A Familiar Charge Based on Old Information? Given the lack of specificity of the DIA allegations, it may be a case of the new administration’s political appointees interpreting older intelligence data points differently.

The DIA assessment that “Russia probably is not adhering” to the CTBT echoes charges by test ban opponents inside and outside the government that have surfaced intermittently over the years that Russia may be conducting nuclear test detonations are extremely low yields in a containment structure at its Soviet-era nuclear test site on the arctic island of Novaya Zemlya.

In 2002, The New York Times reported that George W. Bush “administration officials have briefed Congress on what they described as disturbing intelligence indicating that Russia is preparing to resume nuclear tests.”

In 2009, the Republican appointees of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, led by former defense secretary James Schlesinger cited earlier intelligence assessments to argue Russia was not complying with the CTBT. Like Lt. Gen. Ashley of the DIA, they also erroneously charged that Russia does not agree with the United States on what the CTBT prohibits.

They ignored or else were not aware of statements by Russian officials during the process for approval for ratification of the CTBT by the State Duma in 2000 that made it clear that Russia agrees that the CTBT prohibits all test explosions, including “hydronuclear experiments,” whatever the level of
energy released.

In their section of the report, which was not endorsed by the Democratic appointees, the Republican members of the commission asserted that: “With no agreed definition [on the scope of the CTBT or of what a nuclear explosion is] U.S. relative understanding of these capabilities would fall further behind over time and undermine our capability to deter tactical threats against allies.”

The 12-member bipartisan commission was split on whether the United States should seek ratification but agreed that “the United States should seek clarification—and a clear understanding—on what tests are banned by this treaty, since there seems to be some ambiguity and confusion on that point.”

Such an approach may sound appealing to some. However, given that the states parties believe they have a common understanding that the CTBT is a “zero-yield” prohibition, such an option is unnecessary. Rather, a simple reiteration of previous statements is more practical and just as effective.

“Zero-Yield” Understanding: In his May 29 remarks, Ashley also said the DIA assessment was based, in part, on the view that Russia “has not affirmed the language of zero-yield.” This assertion is wrong.

As documented in a series of CTBT fact sheets published by the State Department in September 2011, Russia and China and all of the other NPT nuclear weapon states have publicly affirmed publicly that the treaty’s Article I undertakings “not to carry out any nuclear weapons test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion” prohibit all nuclear test explosions, no matter what the yield.

“At the time the treaty opened for signature, all parties understood that the treaty was a “zero-yield” treaty as advocated by the United States in the negotiations,” according to a Sept. 28, 2011 fact sheet from the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance titled “Scope of the CTBT.”

The “United States led the efforts to ensure the treaty was a ‘zero-yield’ treaty, after the parties had negotiated for years over possible low levels of testing that might be allowed under the agreement,” the document notes. “Public statements by national leaders, confirmed that all parties understood that the CTBT was and is, in fact, a ‘zero-yield’ treaty.”

As the State Department’s paper on “Key P-5 Public Statements on CTBT Scope” notes:

“Some countries prefer to use the term “no threshold,” meaning there is no line (or threshold) below which any amount of yield from a nuclear weapon test explosion would be allowed, and this usage is reflected in statements by senior P-5 government officials. The expression is translated into English in various ways: prohibition of ‘tests at whatever level,’ ‘without any threshold,’ ‘without threshold values,’ ‘regardless of the power,’ ‘any release of nuclear energy,’ or ‘regardless of the level.’ All of these formulations refer to the same concept: zero yield.”

Under this “zero-yield” interpretation, supercritical hydronuclear tests (which produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction) are banned by the treaty, but subcritical hydrodynamic experiments, which do not produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are permitted.

Ambassador Stephen Ledogar, chief U.S. negotiator of the CTBT, testified under oath to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 7, 1999 that Russia and the rest of the P-5 had committed to this zero-yield standard.

Chief U.S. negotiator for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Amb. Stephen Ledogar, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 7, 1999. He stated under oath that: “I have heard some critics of the Treaty seek to cast doubt on whether Russia …committed itself … to a truly comprehensive prohibition of any nuclear explosion, including an explosion…of even the slightest nuclear yield. In other words, did Russia agree that hydronuclear experiments, which do produce a nuclear yield, although usually very, very slight, would be banned and that hydrodynamic explosions, which have no yield because they do not reach criticality, would not be banned? The answer is a categorical ‘yes.’ The Russians as well as the rest of the P-5 did commit themselves.” (Image: C-SPAN)In a March 1996 statement from China’s lead CTBT negotiator, Ambassador Sha Zukang, “the Chinese delegation proposed at the outset of the negotiations its scope text prohibiting any nuclear-weapon test explosion which releases nuclear energy. The future CTBT, he said, will without any threshold prohibit any nuclear-weapon test explosion.”

More recently, Russia has publicly reaffirmed its commitment to this standard. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on July 29, 2009 that: “Under the global ban on nuclear tests, we can only use computer-assisted simulations to ensure the reliability of Russia’s nuclear deterrent.”

Furthermore, Russia reasserted its position in an April 2017 commentary co-authored by Ryabkov and CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo, who wrote that the treaty “prohibits ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,’ anywhere on Earth, whatever the yield.”

Lt. Gen. Ashley acknowledged at the May 29 Hudson Institute event that he was not aware of Ryabkov’s essay.

“Un-signing” the Treaty? According to The Washington Post, Republican Senators Tom Cotton (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), John Cornyn (Tex.) and James Lankford (Okla.) sent a March letter to President Donald Trump asking him whether he would consider “un-signing” the CTBT.

Similarly, back in 2002, The New York Times reported that: “Officials at the Departments of Defense, Energy and State, and at the National Security Council have discussed whether President Bush should renounce Mr. Clinton’s signature on the test-ban treaty.” The chief advocate for un-signing at the time was John Bolton, who was then the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and who is now the National Security Advisor to the President.

Formally withdrawing the U.S. signature from the CTBT would be self-defeating and profoundly counterproductive. If the United States were to formally withdraw its signature from the treaty, it would lose access to the nuclear test monitoring provided by the IMS, which even CTBT opponents acknowledge is valuable for the United States.

According to the Trump administration’s budget request to Congress in 2017: “The U.S. receives the data the IMS provides, which is an important supplement to U.S. National Technical Means to monitor for nuclear explosions (a mission carried out by the U.S. Air Force). A reduction in IMS capability could deprive the U.S. of an irreplaceable source of nuclear explosion monitoring data.”

According to the rules of the CTBT, only state signatories can have access to the IMS monitoring information, and only state signatories have voting rights in the CTBT Organization meetings.

Military Significance of Very Low-Yield Nuclear Test Explosions: The May 29 presentation by the DIA director sought to connect Russia’s ongoing effort to replace and upgrade its nuclear weapons delivery systems with his allegation that “Russia probably is not adhering to” the CTBT.

It is well-documented, however, that from a technical perspective, very low-yield nuclear test explosions, including hydronuclear experiments, are useful only for unboosted nuclear warhead designs with yields of less than 10 tons. There is no mission for such a warhead that conventional warheads could not accomplish with less collateral damage. (See: Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Report of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control, 2002.)

Comprising nearly a mile and a half of underground tunnels and alcoves, the U1a facility is a state-of-the-art laboratory dedicated to subcritical experiments and other physics experiments in support of science-based stockpile stewardship. (Photo: Nevada National Security Site)Furthermore, an earlier August 1995 report on “Nuclear Testing” conducted by the independent JASON scientific advisory group for the U.S. Department of Energy determined that:

“So-called hydronuclear tests, defined as limited to a nuclear yield of less than 4 lbs. TNT equivalent, can be performed only after making changes that drastically alter the primary implosion. A persuasive case has not been made for the utility of hydronuclear tests for detecting small changes in the performance margins for current U.S. weapons. At best, such tests could confirm the safety of a device against producing detectable nuclear yield if its high explosive is detonated accidentally at one point.”

Siegfried S. Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory told The New York Times he is skeptical of the charges that Russia was conducting low-yield tests to create new weapons.

If Russia was engaged in any low-yield testing at Novaya Zemlya, where Moscow conducted nuclear tests until it declared a testing moratorium in October 1991, he said it would most likely relate to experiments to enhance the safety and reliability of Russia’s nuclear arsenal—not the development of new types of nuclear warheads. Therefore, Hecker said, if there is very low-yield nuclear testing, “I don’t think it’s militarily significant.”

Next Steps

Pursue Options for Resolving the Compliance Dispute. Under Article VI of the treaty, which addresses the settlement of disputes before or after treaty entry into force, “the parties concerned shall consult together with a view to the expeditious settlement of the dispute by negotiation or by other peaceful means of the parties’ choice, including recourse to appropriate organs of this Treaty.” Such measures could, for instance, involve mutual confidence-building visits to the respective U.S. and Russian test sites by technical experts to address concerns about compliance.

At the November 2002 Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT, Igor Sergeev, adviser to the Russian president on the issues of strategic stability, suggested “examining the possibility of elaborating additional monitoring measures for nuclear test sites, going far beyond the framework of the provisions of the treaty; such measures might include exchanging geological data and the results of certain experiments, the installation of additional sensory devices, and other measures.”

This proposal was originally made by Russian authorities with the hope and understanding that such steps could be pursued after U.S. ratification and entry into force of the CTBT. Given the passage of time and the nature of the new U.S. allegations, such an approach would be useful to consider before CTBT entry into force.

Because the United States and Russia both engage in subcritical experimental activities in underground containment structures at their Cold War-era test sites—the Nevada National Security Site (formerly the Nevada Test Site) and at Novaya Zemlya—it is in the interest of both countries, as well as the international community, to develop and implement transparency measures to increase confidence that neither state is conducting low-yield explosions that are the result of a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

The joint statement that will emerge from the upcoming Sept. 25 CTBT Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the CTBT presents a useful opportunity for states parties to:

  • “underscore that the most effective way to enforce compliance with the zero-yield standard is to bring it into force, which would allow for intrusive, short-notice, on-site inspections to detect and deter any possible cheating, and
  • call upon any signatory or states party that might have credible evidence that one or another state signatory is taking actions that violate the CTBT to pursue confidence building visits by technical experts for the purpose of addressing concerns about compliance.”

Reaffirm that All States Parties Share the “Zero-Yield” Understanding of Article I of the CTBT. Russia and the other nuclear weapon state signatories to the CTBT should reiterate their previous statements on the scope of the CTBT.

Other states parties should also publicly reaffirm their view that Article I of the CTBT prohibits all nuclear explosions at any yield, including hydro-nuclear test explosions in experimental containment chambers.

The joint statement that will emerge from the Sept. 25 conference should reiterate CTBT states parties’ common understanding that Article I of the CTBT prohibits all nuclear explosions at any yield, including any hydro-nuclear test explosions in experimental containment chambers.

Reaffirm Support for Entry Into Force and the Cost of Un-Signing the CTBT. To help deter a possible decision by the Trump administration to formally exit the CTBT, it is essential to make it clear that such a move would lead to international condemnation and carry tangible costs.

Specifically, CTBT states should reiterate that only state signatories can have access to the IMS monitoring information, and only state signatories have voting rights in the CTBT Organization meetings.

The biennial Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the CTBT, which will convene on Sept. 25, 2019 at the United Nations in New York, is a critical opportunity to do more than simply reiterate calls for prompt action by CTBT hold-out states to sign and/or ratify the CTBT in order to bring it formally into force. The joint statement should also:

  • underscore that the most effective way to enforce compliance with the zero-yield standard is to bring it into force, which would allow for intrusive, short-notice, on-site inspections to detect and deter any possible cheating; and
  • if there are credible concerns that one or another state signatory is violating the CTBT, states parties should, as suggested in Article VI of the treaty, agree to mutual confidence-building visits by technical experts to address concerns about compliance.

The 2019 debate on the resolution on the CTBT is another crucial opportunity to express support for these points, and to try to win support from North Korea for the resolution.

In November 2018, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on the CTBT (A/C.1/73/L.26) that “urges all States that have not yet signed or ratified, or that have signed but not yet ratified ... to sign and ratify it as soon as possible.” The resolution was approved 183-1-4. Only North Korea, whose recent nuclear tests were condemned in the resolution, voted no. The United States abstained from the vote.

If the drafters of the 2019 UNGA resolution “welcome North Korea’s unilateral nuclear test moratorium” and call upon all remaining Annex 2 states to sign and/or ratify, there would be a much higher chance North Korea might decide to vote “yes.”

Conclusions

The CTBT has established a powerful taboo against nuclear testing. Global support for the treaty, which now has 184 state signatories, is strong, and the treaty’s International Monitoring System is fully operational and more capable than originally envisioned. Today, for the first time since 1945, no nuclear-armed state has an active nuclear testing program.

Yet, the door to further nuclear testing remains ajar. Although the treaty has been signed by 184 states, its entry into force is being held up by eight states, most notably the United States, China, and North Korea, which have refused to ratify the pact, and North Korea’s voluntary nuclear testing halt, announced in 2018, could easily be reversed.

Given their existing nuclear test moratoria and the U.S. and Chinese signatures on the treaty, these states bear some but not all CTBT-related responsibilities. But their failure to ratify has denied them (and others) the full security benefits of the treaty, including short-notice, on-site inspections to better detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing.

For the safety and security of future generations and out of respect for the people harmed by nuclear testing, it is time to close and lock the door on nuclear testing. “Friends of the CTBT” states need to pursue new, more creative, and sustained strategies to encourage the CTBT holdout states to ratify the treaty, address any credible allegations and concerns about noncompliance prior to formal CTBT entry into force, and take other steps to reinforce the norm against nuclear weapons test explosions, no matter what the yield.

Description: 

In prepared remarks delivered at the Hudson Institute May 29, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr., charged that “Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard outlined in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).”

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