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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."

– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Kingston Reif

Peninsula in peril

News Date: 
September 11, 2017 -04:00

Nuclear Restraint Agreements Under Serious Threat

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Volume 9, Issue 7, September 5, 2017

Since the dawn of the nuclear age over 70 years ago, rarely has the world faced as difficult an array of nuclear weapons-related security challenges as it is facing now. Unfortunately, Congress will soon enact legislation that could further imperil the global nuclear order.
 
The Senate is scheduled to take up the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 National Authorization Act as early as this week. The House approved its version of the NDAA July 14 by a vote of 344-81. Both bills contain several problematic provisions that if enacted into law would deal a major, if not mortal, blow to several longstanding, bipartisan arms control and nonproliferation efforts and increase the risks of renewed nuclear arms competition with Russia.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in the East Room of the White House on December 8, 1987. (Photo credit: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)Tensions between the U.S. and Russia have worsened over the past few years, thanks to Moscow’s election interference, annexation of Crimea, continued destabilization of Ukraine, alleged violation of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and support for the Assad regime in Syria. Nevertheless, the two countries continue to share common interests. In particular, as the possessors of over 90 percent of the roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, they have a special responsibility to avoid direct conflict and reduce nuclear risks. The downward spiral in relations makes these objectives all the more urgent.
 
While some meaningful cooperation continues, such as adherence to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, there is no ongoing dialogue on further nuclear risk reduction steps.
 
Instead of rushing to hasten their demise, Congress must seek to preserve and strengthen the existing architecture of arms control and nonproliferation agreements, key pillars of which have their origin in the vision of President Ronald Reagan. These agreements constrain Russia’s nuclear forces, provide for stability, predictability, and transparency in the bilateral relationship, and have only increased in value as the U.S.-Russia relationship has deteriorated.
 
Below is a summary of the current status and arguments in support of four key agreements put at risk by the Senate and/or House NDAAs. 
 


The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)
 
Background: The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) requires that the United States and Russia each reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems by 2018. The agreement, which is slated to expire in 2021, can be extended by up to five years if both Moscow and Washington agree.
 
Current Status: So far both sides are implementing the agreement and there are no indications that they do not plan to continue to do so. Russia has indicated that it is interested in beginning talks with the United States on extending the treaty, but the Trump administration has yet to respond to these overtures. In January phone call with President Putin, President Trump reportedly dismissed the idea of an extension and called the treaty a “bad deal.” The House-passed version of the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would prohibit the use of funds to extend the New START treaty unless Russia returns to compliance with the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/NewSTART

Key Points:

  • New START caps the size of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and provides the United States with additional tools to monitor Russia’s forces. The treaty includes a comprehensive suite of monitoring and verification provisions that help ensure compliance with treaty limits and enable the United States to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile, which aids U.S. military planning.
  • The deterioration of the U.S.-Russian relationship has only increased the value of New START. The treaty provides for bilateral stability, predictability, and transparency, thereby bounding the current tensions between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
  • The U.S. military and U.S. allies continue to strongly support New START. For example, in March 2017, Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), “I am big supporter of the New START Agreement.” Hyten added that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”
  • Connecting New START extension with INF treaty compliance is senseless and counterproductive. By “punishing” Russia’s INF violation in this way, the United States would simply free Russia to expand the number of strategic nuclear weapons pointed at the United States after New START expires in 2021. If the treaty is allowed to lapse, there will be no limits on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces for the first time since the early-1970s. Moreover, the United States would have fewer tools with which to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile.

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
 
Background: The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty required the United States and Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers. Russia and the United States destroyed a total of 2,692 short/medium/intermediate-range missiles by the 1991 deadline.
 
Current Status: The United States has accused Russia of testing and deploying ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the treaty. Moscow denies it is violating the agreement, and instead has accused Washington of breaching the accord. Both the House-passed and Senate Armed Services Committee versions of the FY 2018 NDAA would authorize programs of record and provide funding for research and development on a new U.S. road-mobile GLCM with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The House bill also includes a provision stating that if the president determines that Russia remains in violation of the treaty 15 months after enactment of the legislation, the prohibitions set forth in the treaty will no longer be binding on the United States. A similar provision could be offered as an amendment to the Senate bill.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/INFtreaty
 
Key Points:

  • The United States and Russia need to work to preserve the INF Treaty. This should include using the Special Verification Commission, the treaty’s dispute resolution mechanism, to address mutual concerns. The Trump administration should make it clear to Moscow that so long as Russia remains in violation of the treaty, the United States will pursue steps to reaffirm and buttress its commitment to the defense of those allies threatened by the treaty-noncompliant missiles.
  • Development of a new GLCM sets the stage for Washington to violate the agreement and would take the focus off Russia's violation. Russia could respond by publicly repudiating the treaty and deploying large numbers of noncompliant missiles without any constraints.
  • Development of a new GLCM is militarily unnecessary and Pentagon has not asked for one. The United States can legally deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten the same Russian targets. There is no reason to believe that development of a new GLCM will convince Russia to return to compliance. A new GLCM would also take years to develop and suck funding from other military programs for which there are already requirements. The administration's statement of policy on the House NDAA objected to the INF provision on requiring a new GLCM.
  • NATO does not support a new GLCM and attempting to force it upon the alliance would be incredibly divisive. It is thus a weapon to nowhere. A divided NATO would also be a gift to Russia.
  • Mandating that the United States in effect withdraw from the INF treaty if Russia does not return to compliance by the end of next year raises constitutional concerns. If Congress can say the United States is not bound by its obligations under the INF Treaty, what is to stop it from doing the same regarding other treaties?

The 1990 Treaty on Open Skies
 
Background: The Treaty on Open Skies, which entered into force in 2002 and has 34 states parties, aims to increase confidence in and transparency on the military activities of states, particularly in Europe, by allowing unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants for information gathering purposes. The parties have equal yearly quotas of overflights and must make the information they acquire available to all Treaty parties.
 
Current Status: The United States has raised numerous concerns about Russia’s compliance with the treaty. Republican lawmakers have voiced concern that Russian flights under the treaty, which now employ more advanced sensors and cameras as allowed by the treaty, amount to spy missions. The House-passed version of the FY 2018 NDAA would annually bar, for each of the next five years, any U.S. Open Skies Treaty skies flights until Pentagon and intelligence community submit a plan for all of the treaty flights in the coming year. The bill would also bar DOD from acquiring a more effective, more timely, more reliable digital imaging system for conducting flights over Russian territory.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/openskies

Key Points:

  • The Open Skies Treaty provides a significant contribution to the security and stability of North America and Europe. According to Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear and Strategic Policy Anita E. Friedt, almost a dozen U.S. and NATO member flights over Ukraine and Western Russia in 2014 during the Ukraine crisis “resulted in valuable data and insights.” The treaty mandates information-sharing about military forces that increases transparency among members, thereby contributing to stability and improving each participating state’s national security.
  • U.S. allies continue to value and rely on the Open Skies Treaty for imagery collection. The United States and its allies typically carry out many more overflights than Russia. These flights strengthen ties between the United States and its allies and reassure non-NATO members on Russia’s periphery.
  • Russia would gain a unilateral advantage as a result of restricting funding for upgrading aircraft used by the United States for treaty observation flights. This would stymie U.S. efforts to match Russian sensor upgrades, thereby limiting the value of the Open Skies treaty to U.S. national security.
  • The Russian sensors and cameras in question do not pose a threat to U.S. security. According to Vice Admiral Terry Benedict, director of Navy Strategic Systems Programs, all states party to the Open Skies treaty are permitted to certify new sensors and aircraft. Furthermore, he said, “the resolution of Open Skies imagery is similar to that available in commercial satellite imagery.” He added that Russian information compiled as a result of Open Skies flights is “of only incremental value” among Russia’s many means of intelligence gathering. 

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)
 
Background: The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is the the intergovernmental organization that promotes the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has yet to enter force, and maintains the global International Monitoring System (IMS) to deter and detect nuclear test explosions.
 
Current Status: The United States currently contributes nearly a quarter of the annual CTBTO budget. In April 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joined with other Foreign Ministers at the G-7 foreign minister summit in a statement expressing support for the CTBTO. The Trump administration’s FY 2018 budget request would fund the U.S. contribution to the CTBTO at roughly the same level as the Obama administration. The House-passed version of the FY 2018 NDAA would prohibit funding for the CTBTO and calls on Congress to declare that the September 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2310 does not “obligate…nor does it impose an obligation on the United States to refrain from actions that would run counter to the object and purpose” of the CTBT.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/test-ban-treaty-at-a-glance

Key Points:

  • The CTBTO and IMS support and provide detection capabilities that supplement U.S. national intelligence capabilities to detect nuclear testing. Reducing U.S. funding for the CTBTO would  adversely impact the organization’s ability to operate and maintain existing nuclear test monitoring stations. This is due to the fact that a wide range of organization’s personnel and assets directly or indirectly support the IMS.
  • The CTBTO is a neutral source of information that can help to mobilize international action against any state that violates the global norm against nuclear testing. U.S. action to restrict funding could prompt other states to reduce their own funding for the CTBTO or lead states to withhold data from CTBTO monitoring stations that are based in their territory, thus undermining the capabilities of the system to detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing. Contrary to what the Cotton-Wilson bill implies,
  • Resolution 2310 (which was endorsed by 42 states, including Israel) does not impose any new obligations on the United States. Rather, it encourages states to “provide the support required” to the CTBTO and the IMS, and urges states to refrain from nuclear testing and urges those states that have not ratified to do so. It also takes note of a Sept. 15 joint statement by the five permanent Security Council members that formally “recognized” that a nuclear explosion would “defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT.” 
  • Asserting that the United States is not required to respect our obligations as a CTBT signatory would signal to other states that that the United States may be seeking to back out of its commitment to a global and verifiable nuclear test ban and is considering the resumption of nuclear testing. With North Korea having conducted a sixth nuclear test explosion, it is essential that the United States reinforce, not undermine, the CTBTO and the global nuclear testing taboo. 

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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Instead of rushing to hasten their demise, Congress must seek to preserve and strengthen these four key pillars of arms control and nonproliferation.

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Disputes Cloud U.S.-Russian Arms Talks


By Kingston Reif
September 2017

The United States and Russia are preparing to resume talks on strategic stability amid deep divisions on a host of bilateral issues, including arms control, and in the wake of new congressionally imposed sanctions on Moscow that U.S. President Donald Trump grudgingly signed into law last month.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Manila, Philippines on August 6, 2017. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of State/Public Domain)U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached an agreement in principle at their May meeting in Washington to resume dialogue on nuclear and related issues. Such talks would provide an important venue for discussions between Washington and Moscow at a difficult time in the relationship on steps to reduce the risks of nuclear weapons use and to reinforce and build on existing arms control mechanisms.

But the two sides have yet to agree on when the talks will begin and who will attend. There is no indication that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed nuclear weapons issues during their July 7 bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

“We have agreed in principle to hold a bilateral, interagency exchange on a number of issues related to maintaining strategic stability between Russia and the United States,” a State Department official wrote in an Aug. 23 email to Arms Control Today. “We do not have any scheduled meetings to announce at this time.”

Russia wants talks on arms control, nonproliferation issues, “and, accordingly, strategic stability,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said in an interview with Kommersant published Aug. 8. “Unfortunately, so far under the new administration, a dialogue on this topic is extremely slow,” he said. “But we expect that in the near future the relevant contacts will resume.”

The Obama administration had sought to begin talks with Russia on strategic stability last year, but Russia demurred, preferring to await the new U.S. administration.

Trump Seeks Better Relations

Before and after taking office, Trump stated repeatedly that he would like to improve relations with Moscow. Reflecting that sentiment, Tillerson said on May 14 on “Meet the Press” that the United States needs to “improve the relationship between the two greatest nuclear powers in the world.”

“I think it’s largely viewed that it is not healthy for the world, it’s certainly not healthy for us. . . for this relationship to remain at this low level,” Tillerson added.

Still, tensions between the two countries remain due to disagreements over a growing list of issues that, from the U.S. viewpoint, include Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election, continuing involvement in the war in Ukraine, alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and support for Syria’s Assad regime. Russia has complaints of its own, including U.S. sanctions, construction of missile defense systems in Europe, and NATO defensive activities described by Moscow as threatening.

As long as the cloud of the continued congressional and FBI investigations into the Trump campaign’s conduct prior to and after the 2016 election hangs over the administration, there will be significant domestic political constraints on its ability to seek a grand bargain with Moscow, including on significant nuclear arms control measures.

For example, the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly in July to increase sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine and Syria, as well as allegations that it interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. Notably, the bill gives Congress the power to block the president from making any changes to sanctions policy on Russia.

Trump signed the bill Aug. 2, but in a statement said the law was “significantly flawed” and “included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions.” The next day, Trump tweeted that Congress, not Russia, is to blame for the bilateral relationship being “at an all-time & very dangerous low.” 

Challenges to Arms Control

Key pillars of the U.S.-Russian arms control architecture, like the bilateral relationship more broadly, are under siege. 

Although some meaningful arms control cooperation continues, such as adherence to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, there is no ongoing dialogue on further nuclear risk reduction steps.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu as they attend a ceremony for Russia’s Navy Day in Saint Petersburg on July 30. (Photo credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AFP/Getty Images)Putin rebuffed President Barack Obama’s June 2013 proposal to reduce U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear stockpiles by one-third below the ceilings set by New START, which caps the deployed strategic nuclear arsenal of each country at 1,550 accountable warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles. Progress was stymied due in part to disagreement between the two sides about non-nuclear issues that could impact the strategic balance, such as missile defense and advanced conventional weapons.

To make matters worse, the United States has accused Russia of testing and deploying ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) in violation of the 1987 INF Treaty. Moscow denies it is violating the agreement and instead has accused Washington of breaching the accord. Ryabkov said that the INF Treaty is a “very important and stabilizing factor” and that Russia remains committed to the accord.

Meanwhile, some Republican members of Congress are seeking to escalate the dispute by requiring the Pentagon to begin research and development on a U.S. GLCM to counter Russia’s violation. Furthermore, U.S. and NATO officials have expressed concern that Russia is developing new nuclear weapons and lowering the threshold for when it might consider using them.

It remains to be seen how the Trump administration will approach the arms control relationship with Russia. The administration is conducting a Nuclear Posture Review that is examining U.S. nuclear policy and strategy. (See ACT, March 2017.) The review is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

The president has said that global nuclear weapons inventories should be significantly reduced, but he also has pledged to strengthen and expand U.S. nuclear capabilities, denounced New START, and reportedly responded negatively to Putin’s suggestion in a January phone call to extend the treaty. 

An Agenda for Talks

Christopher Ford, special assistant to the president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation, told the Arms Control Association annual meeting on June 2 that the Trump administration is “working very hard to try to re-engage” with Russia “on matters that relate to strategic stability.”

Ford said this engagement includes “broader questions. . . of how various pieces of our security postures fit together and either are conducive to or detrimental to broader questions of global peace and security.”

This would suggest a wide-ranging agenda for talks, including the growing number of factors that influence U.S. and Russian thinking about nuclear force policy, including missile defense, third-country nuclear forces, advanced conventional weapons, the cyber domain, and more.

An early focus of discussion could be forging a better common understanding of strategic stability and how it can be bolstered by arms control and more frequent dialogue.

Another early deliverable from the talks could be agreement on an extension of New START and its verifications provisions by five years until 2026, as allowed by the treaty.

In a July 18 interview with Kommersant, Ryabkov reiterated Russia’s offer to begin talks with the United States on extending the treaty. He said the United States has been “too slow,” particularly in hiring senior personnel empowered to discuss New START implementation and a possible extension.

If the treaty is allowed to lapse with nothing to replace it, there would be no limits on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.

Strategic stability discussions also would provide a high-level forum to discuss preservation of the INF Treaty and ways to resolve the compliance dispute. A prerequisite for progress would likely require that each side acknowledge the other’s concerns.

The collapse of the treaty could unleash a costly new arms race in intermediate-range missiles, which would undermine security in Europe and Asia, and make continued strategic arms control measures practically impossible.

Disputes Cloud U.S.-Russian Arms Talks

Moon Reverses THAAD Decision


By Kingston Reif
September 2017

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for temporarily installing additional elements of a controversial missile defense system following North Korea’s second long-range missile test on July 28, reversing his prior decision to suspend deployment pending a thorough environmental review.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska in Kodiak on July 11. In the test, the THAAD weapon system successfully intercepted an air-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile target. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency)“President Moon sees North Korea’s missile threat with that much urgency,” a senior South Korean official told reporters on July 29 when asked about Moon’s decision to proceed with the deployment of four additional U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers. “We’re trying to seek procedural legitimacy through the environmental impact assessment, yet feel the need to act fast on the situation that’s unfolding.”

China, which has long objected to the deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea, expressed concern about Moon’s reversal. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the decision “regretable” following a meeting with his South Korean counterpart on Aug. 6.

South Korea decided to deploy the anti-missile system in July 2016 under President Park Geun-hye to enhance the country’s defenses against North Korea. (See ACT, September 2016.) Moon was elected president in May following a corruption scandal that led to Park’s impeachment in late 2016.

The U.S. military declared the system in South Korea operational in early May, just days before the South Korean election. The initial deployment consisted of two launchers and an associated radar. Four other launchers were also brought to South Korea, but were not made operational.

The mobile, ground-based THAAD system is designed to defend against short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles during their terminal, or end, phase of flight. A THAAD battery typically consists of six launchers, 48 to 72 interceptor missiles, a radar, a fire control and communications system, and other support equipment.

After taking office May 10, Moon said he had not been informed of the presence of the additional four launchers on South Korean soil for weeks and ordered an investigation into why the South Korean Defense Ministry withheld this information. During his election campaign, Moon had been critical of his predecessor’s decision to accept the THAAD system without parliamentary approval, arguing that the decision on whether to deploy should be made by the incoming administration after public discussion and debate. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

Following his election, Moon stressed that he did not intend to reverse the deployment of the two launchers and radar, but said he would make a final decision about the fate of the system after the comprehensive environmental review. Many South Korean analysts viewed the review as an attempt by Moon to buy time to persuade China and vocal domestic opposition to the THAAD system in South Korea to accept the deployment.

But North Korea conducted its second successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), designated the Hwasong-14, on July 28, prompting Moon to complete the installation of the additional launchers.

Separately, the THAAD system successfully intercepted and destroyed a mock target having the range of an intermediate-range ballistic missile for the first time in a test July 11. In the test, a THAAD system located at Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska detected, tracked, and intercepted a ballistic missile target air-launched by a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft.

The THAAD system has completed successfully all of the 15 flight and interception tests conducted since 2006, according to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. 

Although the THAAD battery deployed in South Korea is designed to protect the country against North Korean short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the Defense Department deployed a battery to Guam in 2013 to protect the U.S. territory, home to a major U.S. Air Force bomber base, against intermediate-range missile threats.

In an Aug. 10 statement released through the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea said that it was completing plans to test four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missiles that would “hit the waters 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam.”

KCNA announced on Aug. 15 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had reviewed the plan and would “watch a little more” the behavior of the United States before deciding whether to proceed with the launch.

The United States warned that any North Korean missile launched at U.S. territory could result in war between the two countries. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a Aug. 17 press briefing in Washington that if North Korea fires a missile toward “the territory of Japan, Guam, [the] United States, [or] Korea, we would take immediate, specific actions to take it down.”

Moon Reverses THAAD Decision

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