"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement
July 1, 2020
Kingston Reif

Congress Puts Bipartisan Arms Control Policies at Risk



Volume 9, Issue 5, July 17, 2017

The future of U.S. nuclear weapons and missile defense policy is at a crossroads. The Trump administration is conducting comprehensive reviews—scheduled to be completed by the end of the year—that could result in significant changes to U.S. policy to reducing nuclear weapons risks.

As the possessors of over 90 percent of the world's roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia have a special responsibility to avoid direct conflict and reduce nuclear risks. Yet, the U.S.-Russia relationship is under significant strain, due to to Moscow’s election interference, annexation of Crimea, continued destabilization of Ukraine, and support for the brutal Assad regime in Syria. These tensions have also put put immense pressure on the arms control relationship.

It is against this backdrop that the House and Senate Armed Services Committee versions of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) include provisions that if passed into law would deal a major, if not mortal, blow to longstanding, bipartisan arms control efforts.

The House approved its version of the NDAA July 14 by a vote of 344-81 and the Senate could take up its bill later this month. 

The problematic arms control provisions in the bills would undermine U.S. security by eroding stability between the world's two largest nuclear powers, increasing the risks of nuclear competition, and further alienating allies already unsettled by President Donald Trump’s commitment to their security. In fact, some are so radical that they have even drawn opposition from the White House and Defense Department.

The bills also fail to provide effective oversight of the rising costs of the government’s more than $1 trillion-plan to sustain and upgrade U.S. nuclear forces and propose investments in expanding U.S. missile defenses that make neither strategic, technical, or fiscal sense.

Sowing the Seeds of the INF Treaty’s Destruction

The United States has accused Russia of testing and deploying ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The treaty, which remains in force, required the United States and the then-Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA 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 requires development of a conventional missile whereas the Senate bill would authorize a dual-capable (i.e., nuclear) missile.

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.

These provisions are drawn from legislation introduced in February by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in the Senate and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) in the House to “provide for compliance enforcement regarding Russian violations” of the INF Treaty.

Development of a new treaty-prohibited GLCM is militarily unnecessary, would suck funding from other military programs for which there are already requirements, divide NATO, and give Russia an easy excuse to publicly repudiate the treaty and deploy large numbers of noncompliant missiles without any constraints.

The report accompanying the Senate bill notes that the Senate “does not intend for the United States to enter into violation of the INF Treaty.” (The treaty does not ban research and development of treaty-prohibited capabilities.) But this claim is belied by the report’s statement that development of a GLCM is needed to “close the capability gap opened” by Russia. Moreover, supporters of a new GLCM also argue it is needed to counter China, which is not a party to the treaty.

Before rushing to develop a new weapon that the Pentagon has yet to ask for and NATO is unlikely to support, the administration and Congress must at the very least address concerns about the suitability and cost-effectiveness of a new GLCM. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) offered an amendment to the bill on the House floor that would have done just that, but it was defeated by a vote of 173-249.

Meanwhile, mandating that the United States in effect withdraw from the 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 administration's statement of policy on the House NDAA objected to the House INF provision on requiring a new GLCM, stating "[t]his provision unhelpfully ties the Administration to a specific missile system, which would limit potential military response options.” The statement also noted that bill would “raise concerns among NATO allies and could deprive the Administration of the flexibility to make judgments about the timing and nature of invoking our legal remedies under the treaty.”

Instead of responding to Russia’s violation by taking steps that could leave the United States holding the bag for the INF treaty’s demise, Congress should emphasize the importance of preserving the treaty and encourage both sides to more energetically pursue a diplomatic resolution to the compliance controversy. Lawmakers should also encourage the Trump administration to pursue firm but measured steps to ensure Russia does not gain a military advantage by violating the treaty and reaffirm its commitment to the defense of those allies that would be the potential targets of Russia’s noncompliant missile.

Cutting Off Our Nose to Spite Our Face on New START

One of the few remaining bright spots in the U.S.-Russia relationship is 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Signed in 2010, the treaty requires each side to reduce its deployed strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems by 2018. It also includes a comprehensive suite of monitoring and verification provisions that help ensure compliance with these limits.

The agreement, which is slated to expire Feb. 5, 2021, can be extended by up to five years if both Moscow and Washington agree.  The House bill includes a provision that would prohibit the use of funds to extend New START until Russia returns to compliance with the INF treaty. This 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.

For these reasons and more, the U.S. military and U.S. allies continue to strongly support New START.

Undermining the Norm Against Nuclear Testing

A small but influential group of Republican lawmakers are seeking to cut U.S. funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and undermine international support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the global nuclear test moratorium.

Sen. Cotton and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced legislation on Feb.7 to “restrict” funding for the CTBTO and undermine the U.S. obligation – as a signatory to the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – not to conduct nuclear test explosions.

Rep. Wilson successfully offered the bill as an amendment to the House NDAA and Sen. Cotton could seek to do the same on the Senate bill.

With North Korea threatening to conduct a sixth nuclear test explosion, it is essential that the United States reinforce, not weaken, the global nuclear testing taboo

More information on the problematic provision in the House bill is detailed in a recent issue brief on CTBTO funding.

Nuclear Weapons Spending Run Amok

The Trump administration’s first Congressional budget request pushes full steam ahead with the Obama administration’s excessive, all-of-the-above approach to upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Both the House and Senate bills authorize the requested level of funding for these programs, and even increase funding for some programs beyond what the Trump administration requested.

As the projected costs for programs designed to replace and upgrade the nuclear arsenal continue to rise, Congress must demand greater transparency about long-term costs, strengthen oversight over high-risk programs, and consider options to delay, curtail, or cancel programs to save taxpayer dollars while meeting deterrence requirements.

A February 2017 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report estimates that the United States will spend $400 billion (in then-year dollars) on nuclear weapons between fiscal years 2017 and 2026. The new projection is an increase of $52 billion, or 15 percent, over the CBO’s most recent previous estimate of the 10-year cost of nuclear forces, which was published in January 2015 and put the total cost at $348 billion.

In fact, the CBO’s latest projection suggest that the cost of nuclear forces could greatly exceed $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

What makes the growing cost to sustain the nuclear mission so worrisome for military planners is that costs are scheduled to peak during the mid-2020s and overlap with large increases in projected spending on conventional weapon system modernization programs. Numerous Pentagon officials and outside experts have warned about the affordability problem posed by the current approach and that it cannot be sustained without significant and sustained increases to defense spending or cuts to other military priorities.

Unfortunately, the House rejected two Democratic floor amendments that would have shed greater light on the multidecade costs of U.S. nuclear forces. One amendment would have required CBO to extend the timeframe of its biennial report on the cost of nuclear weapons from 10 years to 30 years. Another would have required extending the timeframe of a Congressionally mandated report submitted annually by Defense Department and National Nuclear Security Administration from 10 years to 25 years.

In addition, the House defeated by a vote of 169-254 an amendment offered by Rep. Blumenauer that would have restricted funding for the program to develop a new fleet of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles at the FY 2017 enacted level until the administration completes its Nuclear Posture Review and a detailed assessment of the need for the program.

Though the administration requested a major increase for the new missile and associated warhead refurbishment program in FY 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis has repeatedly stated that he is still evaluating the need for the weapon.

The House Rules Committee also prevented debate on a floor amendment that would have required the Pentagon to release the value of the contract awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp. in October 2015. The department has refused to release the contract value citing classification concerns.

Tripling-Down on Missile Defense Despite Technical Flaws

Both the House and Senate bills authorize significant increases in funding for U.S. ballistic missile defense programs. The House bill authorizes an increase of $2.5 billion above the administration’s FY 2018 budget request of $7.9 billion for the Missile Defense Agency. The Senate bill authorizes a $630 million increase.

The bills also include provisions that would authorize a significant expansion of the ground-based midcourse (GMD) defense system in Alaska and California, which is designed to protect against limited long-range ballistic missile attacks from North Korea or Iran, and accelerate advanced technology programs to increase the capability of U.S. missile defenses. The GMD system has suffered from numerous reliability problems and has a success rate of just over 50 percent in controlled and scripted flight intercept tests.

In addition, the House bill includes a provision that would require the Pentagon to submit a plan for the development of a space-based missile defense interceptors and authorize $30 million for a space test bed to conduct research and development on such interceptors. The House bill would also require the Pentagon, pursuant to improving the defense of Hawaii, to conduct an intercept test of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile against an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) target. The interceptor, which is still under development, is designed to defend against medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and the department has no public plans to test it versus an ICBM.

Rushing to deploy more unreliable GMD interceptors or building additional long-range interceptor sites is not a winning strategy to stay ahead of the North Korean ICBM threat. Quantity is not a substitute for quality.

Any consideration of building and deploying additional homeland interceptors or interceptor sites should wait until a new ground-based midcourse defense kill vehicle under development is successfully tested under operationally realistic conditions (including against ICBM targets and realistic countermeasures). The first test of the new kill vehicle under these conditions is not scheduled until 2020 and deployment is not scheduled until 2022.

In addition, future testing and deployment of new capabilities should not be schedule-driven, but based on the maturity of the technology and successful testing under operationally realistic conditions. Accelerating development programs risks saddling them with cost overruns, schedule delays, and test failures, as has been the case with previous missile-defense programs.

Despite numerous nonpartisan studies that have been conducted during both Republican and Democratic administrations which concluded that a spaced-based missile defense is unfeasible and unaffordable, a small faction of missile defense supporters continues to push the idea. Most recently, a 2012 report from the National Academy of Sciences declared that even a limited space system geared to longer-burning liquid fueled threats would cost about $200 billion to acquire and have a $300 billion 20-year life cycle cost (in FY 2010 dollars), which would be at least 10 times any other defense approach. 

While missile defense has a role to play as part of a comprehensive strategy to combat the North Korean missile threat, it’s neither as capable nor as significant as many seem to hope. More realism is needed about the limitations of defenses and the longstanding obstacles that have prevented them from working as intended.

The potential blowback of an expansion of U.S. missile defense capabilities from Russia and China must also be considered. Missile defense does not provide an escape route from the vulnerability of our allies, deployed forces, and citizens in the region to North Korea’s nuclear and conventional missiles.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament policy


The House and Senate Armed Services Committee are currently considering defense authorization legislation that if passed into law would deal a major, if not mortal, blow to longstanding, bipartisan arms control efforts.

Country Resources:

With Fraying U.S.-Russian Ties Comes Fraying Arms Control

News Source / Outlet: 
RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty
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July 11, 2017 -04:00

Contentious Nuclear Missile Program Moving Forward

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Real Clear Defense
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July 7, 2017 -04:00

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policies: A Conversation with Michèle Flournoy

July/August 2017
Interviewed by Kingston Reif and Maggie Tennis

Michèle Flournoy (Photo credit: Erin Scott/Erin Scott Photography)Michèle Flournoy is co-founder and chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security. She served as undersecretary of defense for policy from February 2009 to February 2012. The interview was conducted May 25 by Kingston Reif and Maggie Tennis. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

ACT: The Defense Department announced in April that the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) had commenced. Each president since the end of the Cold War has undertaken such a review. President Donald Trump has declared his ambition to “greatly strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities, and he has also criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia. Do you think the NPR is likely to set in motion significant changes in U.S. policy or is likely to reflect more continuity than change?

Flournoy: I don’t think we know yet. What we can say is that some of the president’s early statements on these issues are not based in any deep policy review or any in-depth briefings he’s received. He hasn’t really focused on this set of issues yet as far as I know. I think we’ve also learned in other areas that as he dives into an issue, he can evolve his position, he can learn and refine his views. So, I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on some of his initial statements or first gut reactions to topics as they have come up.

That said, I do think this NPR will be very consequential because it’s coming at a time when we face major decisions about how much and how to reinvest in the nuclear triad. So many systems are up for modernization. Do we modernize everything that we have, which is essen­tially the current plan, or do we use the opportunity of the NPR to ask some more fundamental questions about what we need for deterrence in the future? I think this NPR has the potential to be very consequential.

On arms control, the administration will need to decide, along with Russia, whether to extend New START and its monitoring regime for five years beyond its February 2021 expiration date as allowed by the treaty, to negotiate some kind of follow-on agreement, or to go forward without legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. What would be the consequences if the United States withdraws from New START or did not seek to extend it? How do you think the administrations should seek to engage Russia on arms control?

If we withdrew or failed to extend New START, it would be an unforced error on our part. An easy win is to pursue an extension of the treaty as is. It buys us predictability. It buys us transparency and verification measures. It buys us a lot that contributes to stability at a time when the other dimensions of the relationship with Russia are both in flux and under tremendous scrutiny. It’s probably unrealistic to expect, based on what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has said and what Russia is actually doing, that we can negotiate a new arms control framework anytime soon. I think politically that would be a tough thing on our side until we get to the bottom of questions like Russia’s role in our elections and in campaigns to undermine other Western democracies. My view is that we should pursue an extension to buy some time and to buy some stability and then see what’s possible in the future.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy testifies with General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing April 2, 2009. (Photo Credit: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)Shifting to another arms control agreement, the United States has accused Russia of deploying a ground-launched cruise missile with a range prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Do you think it’s possible to convince Russia to return to compliance, and how should the United States respond to Russia’s alleged violation?

It’s pretty clear that they are violating the treaty. I think we should respond in a multidimensional way. First, press them through diplomatic channels to come back into compliance. I think this could be a multilateral diplomatic effort to put some pressure on Russia to come clean. There’s been some precedent for this. Back in the day when we believed that the Krasnoyarsk radar was violating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, they denied it, they denied it, they denied it for years; and then finally, as the political context changed, they eventually admitted it and stopped the construction. We have some track record of Russia coming back into compliance. Do I think that’s likely anytime soon on the INF Treaty? No. But the last thing we should do is say we’re going to walk away from the treaty because then the failure of the treaty regime would be on us and not them.

The second key dimension of this is that we need to do a clear-eyed analysis of the military relevance of this new system and what are the ways that we can counter it. I think people are too quick to jump to a symmetric response: “Oh, well this means we need to redeploy U.S. nuclear intermediate-range missiles in Europe.” Well, not necessarily. Let’s take a look at how significant these systems are. What is the full range of countermeasures that we might adopt? I suspect there are a range of conventional countermeasures and other asymmetric approaches that might be used to make this militarily not a huge problem for us.

According to some estimates, the United States is on track to spend more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years to sustain, replace, and refurbish nuclear delivery systems, warheads, and supporting infrastructure. Numerous Pentagon officials in recent years, as well as outside experts, have warned about the affordability problem posed by the current approach. Are tough trade-offs going to have to be made in the military budget to accommodate the current modernization plans? Do you think there are options to potentially alter the pace and scope that would be more cost effective while still providing a strong deterrent?

While we need to invest in ensuring we maintain a strong, stable, effective nuclear deterrent, we also have to make sure that it’s one that we can afford and sustain. If you look at the full range of challenges we’re going to face in the future and the need to modernize other aspects of our military, there’s a lot of competition for a limited amount of dollars—limited even under the increases that are being projected by this administration. So, trade-offs do have to be made. I think that rather than automatically modernizing every single nuclear program on the books, we should use the NPR as an opportunity to say, “Can we get to a stronger, more enduring, more sustainable nuclear deterrent with a different mix of systems and capabilities?” I do think we need to debate that in looking at the broad architecture of the triad, but also looking at specific systems and what is the most cost-effective approach to creating a more modern set of capabilities.

(Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)The NPR will almost certainly review the existing U.S. nuclear force structure, which currently includes a triad of sea-, land-, and air-based delivery systems. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in January 2015, James Mattis, now the defense secretary, raised the question, “Is it time to reduce the triad to a dyad, removing the land-based missiles? This would reduce the false-alarm danger.” What contribution do you believe that intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) make to deterrence today? Has the rationale for the ICBM leg changed since the end of the Cold War?

In the middle of the Cold War when the risk of a bolt-from-the-blue strike was real or we believed it to be real, I think the ICBM leg was pretty critical to deterrence. In the world we live in now and given the advance of other technologies, I think that it’s a question as to (a) whether we need an ICBM leg and (b) if we do need some ICBM leg, how big does it really have to be to serve the purpose. I think that is one of the fundamental questions that the NPR should take on, whether we should move to a dyad and, even if you believe we should stay at a triad, can the balance change. I think everybody agrees that the most survivable leg, where we have the most competitive advantage, is the submarine leg. The bomber force, we’re going to get for both conventional and nuclear purposes.

From a triad perspective, the focus is going to really be on the future of the ICBMs, what’s strategically necessary and what’s most cost effective. In particular, I think the Defense Department should more seriously consider further extending the life of the existing Minuteman III ICBMs as a cheaper near-term alternative to the current plan to build an entirely new ICBM system.

Moving to the bomber leg, Mattis at his confirmation hearing declined to affirm the need for a new fleet of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), stating that he’d have to study the rationale in more detail. Critics argue that retaining nuclear-armed ALCMs is redundant given current plans to build the stealthy, nuclear-capable B21 “Raider” long-range bomber, armed with the upgraded B61 nuclear gravity bomb, as well as to modernize the other two legs of the triad. There is also the growing lethality of conventionally armed air- and sea-launched cruise missiles. In your view, do ALCMs make a unique contribution to the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent?

This is one where, honestly, I am studying the issue because I haven’t made up my mind. I think if the B21 is everything we hope it will be, you may not need this. But if adversary anti-access, area-denial capabilities, particularly sophisticated air defenses, continue to progress—and perhaps there are issues with the ability of our current and future bombers to penetrate those defenses—you might want a cruise missile in your arsenal. That’s not so much from a war-fighting perspective but more from the perspective of an assured ability to hold targets at risk and therefore deter your adversary.

Do you have any indication from your time in government or since that there are questions about whether our submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) or our ICBMs would be able to reach even the most well-defended targets?

No, no, so you do have the options from ICBMs and SLBMs as well. As I said, I’m working my way through this, but I don’t have a definitive answer.

The Trump administration’s NPR may also reconsider the declaration in the 2010 NPR Report that life extension programs for nuclear warheads “will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.” Is there a military requirement for new or, in particular, low-yield warheads that don’t currently exist in the U.S. nuclear stockpile?

I think you have to add to that question, is that unique requirement worth all that that would mean in terms of starting to design, test, build, and deploy new nuclear weapons? Let’s put it this way, I have yet to hear a case for a new nuclear warhead that is compelling enough to take on both the investment costs and the political costs of going down that road.

As you also know, nuclear weapons figured very prominently in the 2016 presidential election campaign. Many Americans relearned or learned for the first time that the president alone has the ability to launch, particularly ICBMs and SLBMs, within minutes of a decision to do so and that the military retains and exercises the ability to launch ICBMs under attack. In your view, does vesting the power to use nuclear weapons in the hands of one person still make sense? Are there steps that you believe could be taken to reform current U.S. nuclear launch protocols?

With the current construct, the potential for your ICBMs to be under attack or taken out within minutes creates enormous time pressure in the decision-making process if you’re going to launch under attack. As a practical matter, it means that the president has to make a decision with very little information and very little time. He has advisers on the call with him to help. But it is, having gone through the rehearsals for these things, a very compressed timeline for a very momentous decision. I would like to see measures taken to increase the decision-making time. This has been part of what has motivated people like Bill Perry, Sam Nunn, George Shultz, and others to question whether we need to keep launch under attack as a practice. This is part of what their concern has been, along with the risk of accident or miscalculation.

I’m not ready to completely rewrite the decision-making structure of our government on this question, but I do think there’s real value to increasing the decision-making time because, by definition, you’re going to have more knowledgeable experts able to advise the president meaningfully if you give him more time in that circumstance.

Michèle Flournoy stands with other senior members of President Barack Obama’s national security team as he speaks about Afghanistan in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building March 27, 2009. (Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)Can you envision a scenario where a president of the United States would make the most consequential decision a president will have ever made in a matter of minutes?

It’s hard to imagine. When I think of the presidents I’ve worked for, like Barack Obama, it would be hard for such a deliberative, careful, decision-maker to make that kind of decision absent being 1,000 percent sure that we were actually under attack and a nuclear explosion was going to happen on U.S. soil. The whole launch-under-attack scenario assumes a president is willing to make that decision in the absence of certainty. I think that’s an open question in some cases. Would Trump make that decision? Maybe. We don’t know. Let’s hope we never find out. But I think we are failing the president, any president, at some level to put them in that position. There have to be better ways to provide more time to verify information and make a fully informed decision. Because of our history with false alerts and mistakes made where training tapes were thought to be real, we have to be very careful not to miscalculate given the consequences.

Last year, it was reported that the Obama administration considered but ultimately rejected changing U.S. nuclear declaratory policy to state that the United States would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Are there circumstances under which the benefits of first use of nuclear weapons would outweigh the costs, and if nuclear weapons are used by one nuclear-armed adversary against another, what guarantee do we have that such use would not escalate to a full-scale nuclear exchange with the United States or against a U.S. ally?

I think if you have nuclear use by one nuclear power against another, the risk of full-scale escalation is there. The case that has, in recent years, stopped presidents from fully embracing [a] no-first-use [policy] has been the potential for catastrophic weapons of mass destruction [WMD] attacks of a different nature—for example, a successful, massive bio-attack that would have consequences on the order of a nuclear attack in terms of people killed and so forth. It’s that exceptional case that has kept people from making the full statement.

I personally believe that we should emphatically state that the purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter the use of other nuclear weapons. Period. In a real world instance, if a president felt that there was an exceptional case where he had no other option to respond to a catastrophic WMD attack that was non-nuclear, okay, then that’s a presidential decision at that point. But I think there’s benefit to declare that we don’t believe these weapons are for war-fighting and that we stand in opposition and in contrast to countries like Russia who talk in a very cavalier manner about escalating to nuclear use in order to try to stop conventional war, which is incredibly irresponsible and incredibly dangerous. I think there’s room to strengthen U.S. declaratory policy in this area.


'Tremendous Experience'

ACT: One of your first jobs in Washington early in your career was as a senior analyst at the Arms Control Association, working on nuclear weapons policy and defense issues. Could you tell us how that experience impacted your career path?

Flournoy: It was a tremendous experience and opportunity. It was really the first time where I was able to develop a real depth of expertise in a given area and to build a body of work as a young analyst. That became important for a number of reasons. One is, it attracted a very important mentor to me. Based on an Arms Control Today article I had written, Ted Warner reached out to me and introduced himself and said, “I agreed with every word of your article. I’m working on the same thing over at RAND [Corp.] We should meet.” As my career unfolded later, Ted was the person who hired me and gave me my first job in the Pentagon.

The other thing I would say is that there were wonderful mentors within the organization. People like Spurgeon Keeny and Jack Mendelsohn invested enormously in the young people they had working for them and helping ensure that we were developing as professionals. I owe them and the organization a debt of gratitude for helping me get started.

Michèle Flournoy is co-founder and chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security. She served as undersecretary of defense for policy from February 2009 to February 2012. The interview was conducted May 25 by Kingston Reif and Maggie Tennis. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Trump Continues Obama Nuclear Funding

July/August 2017
By Kingston Reif

As the Trump administration conducts a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, its first budget request continues the Obama administration’s costly plans to rebuild the U.S. nuclear triad and its supporting infrastructure.

The Defense Department “must continue with the existing” plans for “recapitalizing” U.S. nuclear forces, Robert Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense, told the House Armed Services Committee on May 25.

Although it remains to be seen whether the administration will make changes following the review, its fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, released on May 23, illustrates the rising cost of the nuclear mission and the challenge those expenses may pose to the administration’s other national security priorities.

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report in February estimates that the United States will spend $400 billion on nuclear weapons from fiscal years 2017 through 2026. (See ACT, March 2017.) That is an increase of $52 billion, or 15 percent, from the CBO’s previous 10-year estimate of $348 billion, which was published in January 2015.

The budget office’s latest projection suggests that the cost of nuclear forces could far exceed $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 submission contains significant increases for several Defense and Energy department nuclear weapons systems, including increases for some programs above what the Obama administration projected in its final fiscal year 2017 budget submission. The request does not make significant changes to the planned development timelines for these programs.

The largest increase in the budget request is for the nuclear weapons account of the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration. The proposal calls for $10.2 billion, an increase of roughly $1 billion above the fiscal year 2017 appropriation and $570 million above the projection in the Obama administration’s final budget request.

In a December 2015 letter to the Obama White House, then-Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said substantially more money would be needed in future years to meet anticipated weapons program shortfalls. (Photo credit: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)Despite the request for additional funding, none of the additional funds would be spent to accelerate life extension programs for warheads or begin research and design on new warheads. Rather, the increase reflects cost growth in some programs, notably the refurbishment program for the B61 gravity bomb, and a commitment to address infrastructure issues. (See ACT, June 2017.)

The seeds for much of the increase were planted by President Barack Obama’s energy secretary, Ernest Moniz. In a December 2015 letter to the Obama White House, Moniz said that an addi­tional $5.2 billion above the five-year funding plan contained in the fiscal year 2017 budget request would be needed to meet weapons program shortfalls.

The Defense Department’s budget submission also includes larger-than-planned increases for the programs to build new fleets of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Both of these programs saw their price tag rise during Pentagon reviews last summer.

In the case of the new ALCM program, known as the long-range standoff weapon, Defense Secretary James Mattis notably has yet to express support for the program. “[C]oming into the job [of defense secretary], that was one of the weapons that I focused on initially,” Mattis told the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 14. “I’ve not yet completed my own review,” he said. “I’ve got to do more study.”

In addition, an independent Pentagon cost estimate conducted last summer found that the cost of the new ICBM program could be more than double the Air Force’s initial estimate. (See ACT, March 2017.)

In a Jan. 27 executive order, President Donald Trump directed Mattis to undertake a Nuclear Posture Review that should “ensure that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies.”

The review, which commenced in April, is being led by the deputy secretary of defense and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and includes other agencies and departments. The process is scheduled to produce a final report by the end of the year.

If the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review does not alter the current spending trajectory or accelerates or expands on it, spending on nuclear weapons could pose a threat to other national security programs, including non-nuclear military spending, which Trump has pledged to increase.

Trump has declared his ambition to “greatly strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities and has criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, suggesting he may be looking to change nuclear policy in significant ways.

What makes the growing cost to sustain the nuclear mission worrisome for military planners is that costs are scheduled to peak during the mid-2020s and overlap with large increases in projected spending on modernization programs for conventional weapons systems.

Numerous Pentagon officials and outside experts have warned about the affordability problem and said that the nuclear spending requirements cannot be sustained without significant increases to defense spending or cuts to other military priorities. For example, a recent report published in April by the Government Accountability Office disputed as “optimistic” the Energy Department’s claim that its long-term plans to sustain and rebuild U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure are affordable. (See ACT, June 2017.)

Defense Secretary James Mattis, flanked by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford (left) and Under­secretary of Defense (Comptroller) David Norquist, testifies June 13 at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the administration’s defense budget request. (Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee on June 12 that the cost to sustain and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal is affordable if appropriately prioritized.

“I believe that we can…afford survival,” Mattis said.

“We have gone through this [recapitalizing the arsenal] twice before in our history,” Mattis added, referring to major upgrades of the arsenal in the 1960s and 1980s. “Both times, the Congress rose to it.”—KINGSTON REIF

Costs of Selected Nuclear Weapons Programs

B-21 “Raider” Long-Range Bomber

$2 billion: FY 2018 request
$1.34 billion: FY 2017 appropriation
$2.17 billion: FY 2018 projection (as of FY 2017 request)
Program Description/Cost: Would eventually replace the B-52 and B-1 bombers. The current plan is to procure at least 100 new bombers that would begin to enter service in the mid- to late-2020s. A nuclear capability is planned for the new bomber but certification is not planned until two years after initial operating capability. The Air Force has refused to release the value of the first development contract awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp. in October 2015 to develop the B-21 citing classification concerns. Independent experts put the total acquisition cost of the program at north of $110 billion (in then-year dollars).

Columbia-Class Submarines

$1.88 billion: FY 2018 request
$1.86 billion: FY 2017 appropriation
$1.93 billion: FY 2018 projection (as of FY 2017 request)
Program Description/Cost: Would replace the current fleet of 14 Ohio-class submarines with 12 new submarines. The first new submarine is scheduled to enter service in 2031. The funding request includes $1.04 billion in research and development and $843 million in advance procurement funding. The Pentagon last year estimated the acquisition cost of the program at $128 billion (in then-year dollars).

B61-12 Warhead Life Extension

$788.6 million: FY 2018 request
$616.1 million: FY 2017 appropriation
$727.2 million: FY 2018 projection (as of FY 2017 request)
Program Description/Cost: Would refurbish the aging B61 nuclear gravity bomb by consolidating four of the five existing versions into a single weapon known as the B61-12. The first B61-12 is slated to be produced in 2020. The upgraded weapon will be equipped with a new tail-kit guidance assembly. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) estimates the cost of the life extension program will be $7.6 billion but the agency’s independent cost estimate is $10 billion (in then-year dollars).

Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) Weapon

$489.3 million: FY 2018 request
$95.6 million: FY 2017 appropriation
$419.82 million: FY 2018 projection (as of FY 2017 request)
Program Description/Cost: Would develop a replacement for the nuclear-capable AGM-86B air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). The new missile will be compatible with the B-2 and B-52 bombers, as well as the planned B-21. The first missile is slated to be produced in 2026. The current Air Force procurement plan for the LRSO calls for about 1,000 new nuclear-capable missiles, roughly double the size of the existing fleet of ALCMs. The Air Force estimates the program will cost $10.8 billion (in then-year dollars) to acquire.

W80-4 Warhead Life Extension

$399.1 million: FY 2018 request
$220.3 million: FY 2017 appropriation
$462.2 million: FY 2018 projection (as of FY 2017 request)
Program Description/Cost: Would refurbish the aging air-launched cruise missile warhead for delivery on the Long-Range Standoff Weapon. NNSA estimates the cost of the program will be between $7.4 billion and $9.9 billion (in then-year dollars). The first refurbished warhead is scheduled for production in 2025.

B61 Warhead Life Extension (tail kit)

$179.5 million: FY 2018 request
$137.9 million: FY 2017 appropriation
$296.4 million: FY 2018 projection (as of FY 2017 request)
Program Description/Cost: Would provide the B61-12 with a guided tail kit to accuracy. The Air Force plans to procure over 800 tail kits. The program also supports integration of the warhead system on existing long-range bombers and short-range fighter aircraft. The Air Force estimates the tail kit will cost $1.6 billion to develop (in then-year dollars). A 2013 Pentagon report put the total life-cycle cost for the program at $3.7 billion.

Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent

$215.7 million: FY 2018 request
$113.9 million: FY 2017 appropriation
$293.96 million: FY 2018 projection (as of FY 2017 request)
Program Description/Cost: Would design, develop, produce, and deploy a replacement for the current Minuteman III ICBM system and its supporting infrastructure. The system is slated for initial fielding in FY28. The Air Force is planning to procure 666 GBSD missiles and modernize the supporting Minuteman III Infrastructure. The program is estimated to cost $85 billion (in then-year dollars) over 30 years, though the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office projects the cost could be as high as $140 billion.

—Kingston Reif

Sources: Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Arms Control Association

Trump Continues Obama Nuclear Funding

Anti-Missile System Destroys ICBM Target

July/August 2017
By Kingston Reif

In a high-stakes test, the problem-plagued defense system designed to protect the United States from a limited long-range missile attack was able to intercept and destroy a mock intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-range target for the first time.

The successful May 30 test of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system occurred against the backdrop of the growing North Korean ballistic missile threat and calls from some members of Congress to increase U.S. missile defenses in terms of numbers and spending.

A long-range, ground-based interceptor lifts off May 30 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. It successfully intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile-range target launched from the U.S. Army’s Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll. It was the first live-fire test against an ICBM-class target. (Photo credit: U.S. Missile Defense Agency)

The interception was “an incredible accomplishment” and a “critical milestone,” Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), said in a statement. “The system demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat.”

Still, some observers said the test does not resolve doubts about whether the GMD system can be relied on anytime soon to protect the continental United States against a limited attack, such as one launched from North Korea or Iran. “The mock enemy target was only barely of ICBM range, and slower than an ICBM from North Korea to Los Angeles would be,” Philip Coyle, former director of weapons testing for the Defense Department and a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, said in a May 30 statement. In the $244 million test, known as FTG-15, a missile interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California collided with a target, launched from the Army’s Kwajalein Test Site in the Marshall Islands, flying at a range and speed similar to that of an ICBM. Multiple sensors provided the target acquisition and tracking data necessary to execute the interception.

In addition to being the first test against an ICBM-class target, FTG-15 was also the first test of an upgraded kill vehicle, known as the CE-II Block I EKV. The kill vehicle sits atop the interceptor’s booster rocket and is intended to collide with a target in outer space.

A total of 36 GMD interceptors are currently deployed in Alaska and California, and an additional eight interceptors armed with the CE-II Block I EKV will be installed by the end of the year.

Before FTG-15, the GMD system had not been tested against a mock target since June 2014. (See ACT, July/August 2014.) The MDA has now conducted 18 intercept tests of the system, of which 10 have been reported as successful.

The Trump administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, released May 23, seeks $828 million in research and development funding for the GMD system, $140 million less than the enacted level for the current fiscal year but $127 million more than the Obama administration’s final budget request projection.

Overall, the administration seeks $7.9 billion for the MDA, a decrease of $334 million from the current level but an increase of $470 million from the projection in the final Obama submission.

Test Simulates North Korea Scenario

In a May 31 press call, Syring described the test as “very realistic” and said it “actually replicated” an operational scenario that the Pentagon would face if North Korea fired an ICBM at the United States. The test included decoys that North Korea might use to fool the GMD system, he said.

North Korea in July successfully tested for the first time an ICBM that could reach as far as Alaska.

Following the test, the Pentagon’s testing office updated its assessment, which had described the GMD system as having only “a limited capability” to defend the U.S. homeland from a small number of simple long-range missiles launched from North Korea or Iran. In a June 6 memo, the office said that the system has “demonstrated capability” to defend against a small number of long-range missile threats that employ “simple countermeasures.”

Syring told a Senate panel in 2013 that the MDA tests the GMD system “in a controlled, scripted environment based on the amount of time and money each one of these tests costs.” This means the there are limits to the realism of the test scenario.

The GMD system has not been tested against complex decoys and countermeasures that North Korea could develop. The system also has not been tested against more than one target at the same time. In addition, 20 of the 32 interceptors currently deployed in Alaska are armed with an older kill vehicle that failed to intercept the target in its last test in 2013 and has not had a successful interception since 2008.

The next test of the GMD system is scheduled for late 2018 and, for the first time, will involve firing two interceptors against one ICBM target. In a real-world scenario, multiple interceptors would be fired at an incoming missile.

New Kill Vehicle Advances

Syring said that the interceptor tested in FTG-15 will allow the United States to “outpace” the North Korean ballistic missile threat “through 2020.”

A new, redesigned kill vehicle under development “will be the next step to not only improving reliability, but [also to] improving performance against the evolving threat,” he said. The MDA announced in March 2014 that it would build a kill vehicle that would be more reliable and cost effective. (See ACT, July/August 2014.) The first test is slated for 2019 with deployment scheduled to begin in 2022.

The administration’s budget request would provide $465 million for the new kill vehicle, $246 million more than the fiscal year 2017 appropriation. Over the next five years, the MDA is seeking $2.8 billion for this effort, a major increase from the $600 million the agency was projecting to request from fiscal years 2017 through 2021.

In a May 30 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised several red flags. For example, both U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Strategic Command are questioning whether the seeker planned for the kill vehicle will be able “to detect and track threats in an ICBM-range environment,” according to the GAO.

The MDA is pursuing additional efforts to improve the GMD system’s capabilities, including development of a new ground-based sensor to provide enhanced tracking and discrimination capabilities and a new “multi-object” kill vehicle to allow a single GMD interceptor to destroy multiple targets. The MDA aims to begin fielding the multiple kill vehicle in 2025, five years earlier than its previous plans.

Lawmakers Seek Expansion

The Trump administration is conducting a congressionally mandated review of missile defense policy that could signifi­cantly alter policy and have far-reaching implications for the U.S. military budget and strategic relationship with Russia and China. (See ACT, May 2017.)

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget request for the MDA largely continues programs and plans underway during the previous administration. Projected funding for fiscal years 2019 through 2022 “are notional” and will be determined by the outcome of the ongoing policy review, MDA spokesman Chris Johnson said in June.

Meanwhile, some U.S. lawmakers are calling on Congress to expand the GMD system and accelerate new technology development programs.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced legislation May 22 that would authorize procurement of an additional 28 GMD interceptors for Alaska, beyond the 44 currently planned, and require the Pentagon to study having up to 100 interceptors distributed across the United States. The measure has seven co-sponsors, including three Democrats.

Other lawmakers cautioned against rushing to expand the GMD system. “We should avoid adding hundreds of millions of dollars for technologically risky programs or making policy changes that could undermine strategic stability and exacerbate a nuclear arms race,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said June 5.—KINGSTON REIF

SM-3 Interceptor Test Fails

The new Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA failed to destroy a mock medium-range ballistic missile target in a June 21 intercept test, the Missile Defense Agency said.

The SM-3 IIA is being developed cooperatively by the United States and Japan to defeat medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and will have a greater range and more advanced capabilities than existing SM-3 variants. The interceptor is part of the Aegis missile defense system and can be fired from specially designed Aegis ships or land-based sites.

The Defense Department is planning to deploy the SM-3 IIA in Poland in 2018 as part of the third phase of the so-called European Phased Adaptive Approach. (See ACT, June 2016.) It is not clear if the failed test will delay anticipated interceptor deliveries or the 2018 deployment date in Poland.

In the June 21 test, the interceptor launched from the USS John Paul Jones off the coast of Hawaii failed to destroy the target launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii. This was the second intercept test of the new missile. The previous intercept test, conducted in February 2017, was successful. (See ACT, March 2017.)—KINGSTON REIF

Anti-Missile System Destroys ICBM Target


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