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January 19, 2011
Kingston Reif

New START Future Uncertain

January/February 2018
By Kingston Reif

The United States and Russia are on track to fulfill their obligations under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by the agreement’s Feb. 5 implementation deadline, but the future of the agreement is in doubt.

In a display of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate provided its advice and consent to ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by a vote of 71-26 on December 22, 2010. Then-Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who together led the push for treaty ratification, met with reporters a day earlier, after winning a procedural vote. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)The treaty is one of the few remaining bright spots in the U.S.-Russian relationship, as both sides have abided by its terms.

Signed in 2010, the treaty requires each country to reduce its strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed delivery systems, and 800 deployed and nondeployed delivery systems by the February implementation deadline. New START also includes a comprehensive suite of monitoring and verification provisions to help ensure compliance with these limits.

As of the most recent biannual exchange of treaty data compiled by the State Department last September, the United States had met the limits for all three of the central weapons categories ahead of the deadline. Russia had reached two of the limits and was a mere 11 deployed warheads above the required limit of 1,550.

New START is set to expire on Feb. 5, 2021, and can be extended by up to five years without further approval by the U.S. Senate or Russian Duma if both presidents agree. But U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the treaty and in a January 2017 phone call responded negatively to a suggestion from Russian President Vladimir Putin that their countries work to extend the treaty, according to Reuters report.

Mikhail Ulyanov, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s nonproliferation and arms control department, said in a Dec. 19 interview with Interfax that Russia is willing to consider a five-year extension but that the United States is not currently “prepared for this kind of conversation.”

The U.S. administration is conducting a Nuclear Posture Review, which could involve consideration of the New START limits. (See ACT, March 2017.) The review is scheduled to be completed in February.

If New START is allowed to lapse with nothing to replace it, there would be no limits on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces for the first time in decades.

In November, Christopher Ford, then-special assistant to the president and National Security Council senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation, told an audience in Washington that New START “remains a valuable tool for ensuring transparency and predictability between the United States and Russia.”

“We hope that after the February deadline is met” and the administration’s nuclear posture and ballistic missile defense reviews are complete, “we can begin to assess whether or not extending New START for an additional five years…is in our national security interest,” said Ford, who is now assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation.

U.S. military leaders continue to see value in New START. Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress in March that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”

But some Pentagon officials have said that it is too early to consider extending New START. There is “no need to extend New START today,” Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee in March.

Apart from New START, other key pillars of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control architecture, like the bilateral relationship more broadly, are under siege, most notably the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating that accord.

The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act would have prohibited the use of funds to extend New START unless Russia returns to compliance with the INF Treaty. (See ACT, September 2017.)

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said at an event in Washington in July that by threatening New START and the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, two accords that Russia hopes to preserve, the United States demonstrates a “firm and unyielding response” to Russian noncompliance.

The final version of the authorization bill signed by Trump in December did not include the House language on New START.

The United States and Russia are on track to fulfill their obligations under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by the agreement’s Feb. 5 implementation deadline, but the future of the agreement is in doubt.

Hypersonic Advances Spark Concern

January/February 2018
By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department in the fall conducted its latest test of a hypersonic missile, a new type of high-speed weapon that potentially holds great military promise but also great peril as the United States and other nations seeking to exploit the dizzying pace of technological advances.

Artist’s concept of the X-51A Waverider in flight. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne scramjet engine, it is designed to ride on its own shockwave and accelerate to about Mach 6 (4,500 miles per hour). (U.S. Air Force graphic)Although it could be a decade before hypersonic weapons are ready for use, U.S. military planners and contractors salivate over the prospect they could provide a game-changing military advantage. But other nations, including other nuclear-armed powers, are developing similar capabilities as they seek to counter more than 25 years of U.S. post-Cold War military dominance.

The pursuit of this emerging technology is drawing warnings that it could lead to new escalation dangers in a conflict, including to the nuclear level, and that interested countries are not giving enough attention to the potential for a dangerous arms race and increased risks of instability. To further complicate matters, hypersonic missiles could provide a new means of delivery for nuclear warheads.

Unique capabilities make hypersonic weapons more difficult to defend against than legacy missiles and “further compress the timelines for a response by a nation under attack,” according to a major 2017 Rand Corp. report, “Hypersonic Missile Nonproliferation: Hindering the Spread of a New Class of Weapons.” There is “probably less than a decade available to hinder the proliferation process,” the report says.

Hypersonic missiles can travel at approximately 5,000 to 25,000 kilometers per hour, or 1 to 5 miles per second. They can change their trajectories during flight and fly at odd altitudes. The flight altitude and maneuverability result in less warning time than in the case of higher-flying ballistic missiles. Any effort to thwart such systems would be “challenging to the best missile defenses now envisioned,” according to the Rand report.

Two types of hypersonic missiles are currently under development. A hypersonic boost-glide vehicle is fired by rockets into space and then released to fly to its target along the upper atmosphere. Unlike ballistic missiles, a boost-glide vehicle flies at a lower altitude and can change its intended target and trajectory repeatedly during its flight. The second type, a hypersonic cruise missile, is powered through its entire flight by advanced rockets or high-speed jet engines. It is a faster version of existing cruise missiles.

The United States, China, and Russia are leading the emerging race in the development of hypersonic weapons, but they are not the only countries engaged in research and development on the technology or that might seek to acquire it.

In 2003, Washington began formally pursuing options to quickly strike high-value targets with conventional weapons anywhere on the globe at the outset of or during a conflict. The effort has become known as conventional prompt strike.

Supporters inside and outside of government put forward several rationales for this mission, including countering increasingly sophisticated air and missile defense systems, destroying rogue-state nuclear forces, and targeting terrorists.

The United States conducted its first successful flight test of a boost-glide weapon in 2011, when the Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) flew for 2,400 miles from Hawaii to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

On Oct. 30, 2017, the Navy conducted a $160 million test in the Pacific of a modified version of the AHW that could be deployed atop missiles on Virginia- or Ohio-class submarines. Additional program flight tests are planned in 2020 and 2022.

The Defense Department has spent a total of $1.2 billion on its prompt-strike program. It requested $202 million for the program in its fiscal year 2018 budget request published in May, including $197 million for the AHW.

China and Russia have not sat idle. The two countries appear to be developing the technology in part to penetrate U.S. missile defenses.

Since 2014, China has conducted at least seven tests of a hypersonic glide vehicle, which U.S defense officials call the WU-14. It is believed to have conducted one or two tests of a hypersonic cruise missile.

In addition, The Diplomat reported in December that China in November conducted two flight tests of a new, medium-range glide vehicle, dubbed the DF-17, that is intended for operational deployment as early as 2020.

Russia has repeatedly expressed concern that U.S. prompt-strike efforts could threaten the survivability of Moscow’s nuclear deterrent. Russia is engaged in its own work on hypersonic missiles, notably the Tsirkon, or Zircon, hypersonic cruise missile.

It is uncertain whether China and Russia are developing hypersonic weapons to deliver nuclear or conventional weapons.

After the United States, China, and Russia, the two governments that have made the most progress on hypersonic technology are France and India. Both are pursuing hypersonic cruise missile options. Australia, Japan, and the European Union are also pursuing research and development programs in hypersonic technology.

The most highlighted risk to strategic stability posed by hypersonic or other prompt-strike weapons armed with conventional warheads is that they could be mistaken for nuclear weapons. This could trigger a nuclear-armed country, targeted by such a conventional attack, to launch its nuclear weapons in response.

But there are arguably more significant stability concerns. For example, the deployment by nuclear-armed states of conventional hypersonic missiles could pose a threat to the survivability of their nuclear forces and potentially reduce the available response time. By increasing fears of a disarming attack, a threatened state could take steps that would increase crisis instability, such as increasing the readiness of its nuclear forces or adopting a policy of pre-emption.

Chinese and Russian officials and analysts have expressed concerns about this type of scenario.

Further, the advent of hypersonic weapons could increase the growing risks of inadvertent escalation related to the “entanglement” of non-nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons and their supporting capabilities, such as command-and-control functions. Given that the actual targets of a hypersonic missile attack might not be apparent until the last minutes of flight, a state could misattribute an attack aimed at its conventional forces as an attack against its nuclear forces nearby.

The proliferation of hypersonic weapons beyond the United States, China, and Russia could exacerbate stability concerns. The Rand study noted that the spread of the weapons “could result in lesser powers setting their strategic forces on hair-trigger states of readiness and more credibly being able to threaten attacks on major powers.”

Experts concerned about the risks to stability have proposed ideas to mitigate them. For instance, as a unilateral step, countries developing these missiles could make escalation risks a key factor in the decision about whether to acquire and deploy the weapons.

James Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 21 interview that the U.S. hypersonic program is technology driven and the Pentagon has not adequately explained why it needs such a capability or assessed the benefits, risks, and costs.

Cooperative steps also could be pursued, although progress does not appear likely in the near term given tensions among the major powers. As one idea, the United States could initiate separate dialogues with China and Russia on stability and escalation concerns and on developing confidence-building measures. Such measures could include data exchanges on hypersonic deployment and acquisition plans.

In addition, the three countries could agree to multilateral export controls to restrain the proliferation of hypersonic technology.

More far-reaching measures could also be contemplated. In a report published last November by the Carnegie Endowment, Russian scholars Alexey Arbatov, Vladimir Dvorkin, and Petr Topychkanov urged the inclusion of intercontinental boost-glide systems under the central limits of a successor to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Some analysts have called for enacting a moratorium on hypersonic testing and eventually establishing a test ban treaty. Mark Gubrud, a physicist and adjunct assistant professor in the peace, war, and defense curriculum at the University of North Carolina, has written that a test ban would be “a simple, risk-free, and highly verifiable way” to avoid “a new round of an old arms race.”

But Acton told Arms Control Today he is skeptical about the feasibility of a test ban. He noted that there is no clear dividing line between boost-glide vehicles and terminally guided ballistic missiles, such as the Chinese DF-21, which maneuvers to its target after re-entering the atmosphere. “If all maneuvering re-entry vehicles are banned,” Acton said, “China will never sign up.”

The Defense Department in the fall conducted its latest test of a hypersonic missile, a new type of high-speed weapon that potentially holds great military promise but also great peril as the United States and other nations seeking to exploit the dizzying pace of technological advances.

U.S.-Saudi Nuke Pact Talks to Begin

January/February 2018
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration is poised to begin negotiating a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia amid concerns of some lawmakers about whether the administration will seek sufficiently strong nonproliferation safeguards.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry (L) and Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih (R) shake hands after a signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding on carbon management, on December 4, 2017 in Riyadh. (Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)During a visit to Saudi Arabia in early December, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said that formal talks will begin soon on a civilian nuclear pact, known as a 123 agreement. Such an agreement, named after the section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act that requires it, sets the terms for sharing U.S. peaceful nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries.

In a Dec. 13 briefing for Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff members, officials from the State and Energy departments said that the administration has yet to determine whether it will insist that Saudi Arabia agree to forgo uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing should talks begin, according to a Reuters report. These activities are considered sensitive because they can be used to make fuel for nuclear power reactors and produce nuclear explosive material.

Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans for nuclear power, but currently has no nuclear power plants. The kingdom plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, according to the World Nuclear Association.

On Nov. 28, Christopher Ford, then-special assistant to the president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation on the National Security Council staff, told the committee in testimony that a ban on enrichment and reprocessing in an agreement with Saudi Arabia “is not a legal requirement, it is a desired outcome.” He said the preliminary talks with the Saudis on a nuclear deal had begun but that he could not provide details in public.

Ford was confirmed by the Senate in December as assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation.

Supporters of a ban on enrichment and reprocessing say that such an approach is critical to nonproliferation efforts and that the United States should demonstrate leadership in this area. They note that the Middle East is an unstable region and some current and former Saudi officials and members of the royal family have warned of matching Iran’s nuclear capability.

Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at the Nov. 28 hearing that a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia should include the same nonproliferation standards as those contained in the agreement the United States negotiated with the United Arab Emirates in 2009.

In that agreement, the UAE made a legally binding commitment not to pursue an indigenous enrichment or reprocessing program. (See ACT, June 2009.) “[I]f we don't draw a line in the Middle East,” Cardin said, “it's going to be all-out proliferation.”

An aide to Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) told Arms Control Today that “if the Trump administration is negotiating a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia, Congress must be notified and involved.” “We should not compromise on important nonproliferation controls before even being asked to do so in an attempt to conclude an agreement that could enable commercial cooperation,” the aide added.

Opponents of a ban on enrichment and reprocessing argue that such a policy would likely be unacceptable to Riyadh, stymie prospects for U.S. companies to sell nuclear goods, and drive potential buyers to nuclear supplier countries such as France and Russia, which have less rigorous nonproliferation requirements than the United States.

President Donald Trump has pledged to revitalize the U.S. nuclear industry by allowing it to better compete with other supplier countries. The administration is currently conducting a review of U.S. policy toward civil nuclear power.

After the Indian nuclear test explosion in 1974, Congress amended the Atomic Energy Act in 1978 to mandate that nuclear cooperation agreements include tougher bulwarks to prevent U.S. nuclear assistance from being diverted to military uses. The amendment put in place nine provisions, including the requirement that recipients of U.S. civil nuclear cooperation have in place full-scope international safeguards and may not conduct activities such as uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing unless Washington first consents. The Atomic Energy Act has not been updated since 1978.

In a May 2008 memorandum of understanding with the United States on nuclear energy cooperation, Saudi Arabia committed “to rely on international markets for nuclear fuel and to not pursue sensitive nuclear technologies.” The Obama administration beginning in 2012 engaged in periodic talks with Riyadh on a 123 agreement, but was unable to strike a deal, in part due to Saudi Arabia’s unwillingness to stick to that 2008 pledge.

Saudi Arabia ratified the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1988 and concluded a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2009. But Riyadh has neither signed nor ratified an additional protocol, which provides the IAEA with expanded rights of access to nuclear information and locations.

The United States has not in recent years negotiated a 123 agreement with a state that had not signed an additional protocol.

The Trump administration is poised to begin negotiating a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia amid concerns of some lawmakers about whether the administration will seek sufficiently strong nonproliferation safeguards.

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