I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Kingston Reif

UN Mulls Rival Disarmament Proposals

November 2015

By Kingston Reif

Robert Wood, U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, shown above in a September 2014 photo, said a recent Mexican proposal for a disarmament working group is “unacceptable.” [Photo credit: U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva/Dominique Nicolas]UN member states are considering two competing proposals to advance nuclear disarmament, a reflection of the continuing differences among states on how to accelerate progress toward a world without nuclear weapons.

Each of the two proposals under discussion in the UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with nuclear disarmament, would create an open-ended working group, a forum in which all UN members can participate.

The creation of a working group was a recommendation in the draft final document from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference that took place earlier this year. (See ACT, June 2015.) The proposal for the working group grew out of the frustration of many states with the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament.

According to the NPT document, the purpose of the working group would be “to identify effective measures for the full implementation of Article VI” of the NPT, “including legal provisions or other arrangements,” and to do so on the basis of consensus. Under Article VI, the treaty parties are to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

One working group proposal in the First Committee, submitted by Iran, closely resembles the language contained in the draft review conference document. It calls for a discussion on advancing nuclear disarmament and would operate on the basis of consensus. The working group would meet for four sessions of 10 working days each, with two sessions in 2016 and two in 2017. The group would send a report on its work, including agreed recommendations, to the UN General Assembly during the 2017 session.

Mexico, on behalf of a group of countries associated with the so-called humanitarian initiative, an effort focused on raising awareness of the humanitarian and societal impacts of nuclear weapons use, has offered an alternate proposal. A key difference with the Iranian approach is that under the Mexican resolution, the working group would operate according to the General Assembly’s normal rules of conducting business on the basis of a majority vote. The group would convene in Geneva in 2016 for up to 15 days and would present a report on its work to the General Assembly at its session next year.

The original version of the Mexican proposal also differed from the Iranian approach by specifying the end result of the working group’s effort: “to negotiate with a view to reaching agreement on concrete effective legal measures…that will need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.” But an Oct. 29 version of the Mexican proposal is closer to the Iranian proposal in calling on the group “to substantively address” the legal measures.

The contrasting proposals have sparked a contentious debate within the First Committee about the purpose of the working group.

In an Oct. 29 tweet, Robert Wood, U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said “Mexico [is] still pursuing an unacceptable” proposal for an open-ended working group. He added that the aim of the proposal “is to subvert [the] established [UN] disarmament machinery” and that it “will not succeed.”

Alexander Kmentt, director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, encouraged states to support the Mexican resolution. In an Oct. 27 statement, he said that a forum is needed to allow all states to engage in discussions on nuclear disarmament “without the procedural setup that stifles progress in other fora of the UN disarmament machinery.” Austria is a co-sponsor of the Mexican resolution.

It remains to be seen if both proposals will come to a vote this month and, if so, which proposal will garner the most support. Resolutions in the First Committee require a simple majority to pass.

In remarks on Oct. 16 at a conference in Prague, Kim Won-soo, the acting UN high representative for disarmament affairs, said he expects “common ground” to be found on a working group concept that meets the needs of key member states.

The current session of the First Committee runs through Nov. 9.

Two competing proposals on disarmament reflect continued differences among UN states on how to achieve that goal.   

Overkill: The Case Against a New Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile



Volume 7, Issue 13, October 19, 2015

In an Oct. 15 op-ed in The Washington Post, William Perry, President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and Andrew Weber, President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, call on President Obama to cancel current plans to build a new fleet of approximately 1,000 nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs).

Nuclear-armed cruise missiles “are a uniquely destabilizing type of nuclear weapon,” they write, and foregoing the development of a new version “would not diminish the formidable U.S. nuclear deterrent in the least" and "could lay the foundation for a global ban on these dangerous weapons.”

The op-ed marks a significant development in the debate about whether to build a new nuclear-capable cruise missile, as Perry was one of the fathers of the current version of the ALCM when it was first conceived in the 1970s.

The ongoing development of a new ALCM is part of the Defense and Energy Department’s plans to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad and their associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure at a cost of $348 billion over the next decade, according to a January 2015 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report. An August 2015 report by the Center for Strategy and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) estimated that the sustainment and modernization of nuclear forces could consume almost $1 trillion over roughly the next 30 years.

The projected growth in the nuclear weapons budget comes at a time when other big national security bills are also coming due and Congress has mandated reductions in military spending through the end of the current decade relative to current plans. In addition, despite the fact the president and his military advisors have determined that the United States can reduce the size of its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to one-third below the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) levels, the proposed spending is based on maintaining the New START levels in perpetuity.

Given that current U.S. nuclear weapons spending plans are excessive and unsustainable, it behooves the administration and Congress to more closely evaluate options that would both be more cost-effective and promote the reduction of nuclear risks around the world. As the Arms Control Association detailed in a report last year, tens of billions can be saved over the next decade and beyond by trimming portions of the arsenal and scaling back current modernization plans.

As it prepares its budget submission for fiscal year 2017, the president should heed the advice of Perry and Weber and not request funds to advance the development of a new nuclear ALCM.


Nuclear-armed ALCMs are part of the U.S. nuclear triad of delivery systems consisting of land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and long-range bombers, which can carry ALCMs and gravity bombs. ALCMs are carried by the B-52 long-range bomber and can attack targets at long distances. The United States also deployed large numbers of nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) during the Cold War, but ceased deployment of these weapons in 1992.

The original military rationale for developing the ALCM emphasized the cruise missile’s value as a standoff weapon that could overwhelm Soviet air defenses. The B-52’s ability to penetrate Soviet airspace was under pressure in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and standoff capability allowed a B-52 to hold strategic targets at risk in relative safety despite its large radar cross section and subsonic speed.

The Air Force’s lone remaining ALCM variant is the AGM-86B, up to 20 of which can be carried by a B-52H bomber. The missile, which has a range of more than 1,500 miles, was first fielded in 1982 with a planned service life of 10 years. Multiple life extension programs have kept the missile in service for more than 30 years. The Air Force is planning to retain the missile until 2030. 

The Air Force currently retains 572 nuclear-capable ALCMs, down from the original production run of 1,715 missiles, which concluded in 1986. Roughly 200 of these missiles are believed to be deployed at Minot Air Fore Base in North Dakota with the W80-1 nuclear warhead. New START does not cap the number of bombs or cruise missiles that can be carried on treaty limited strategic bombers.

The Air Force is developing the long-range standoff cruise missile (or LRSO) to replace the existing ALCM. The new missile will be compatible with the B-2 and B-52 bombers, as well as the planned Long-Range Strike bomber. 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. According to the service, the planned purchase of 1,000 missiles includes far more missiles than it plans to arm and deploy with nuclear warheads.

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request proposed to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of the LRSO and the modified W80-4 warhead that it would carry, partially reversing the fiscal year 2015 proposal to delay development of both by three years.

The total cost to build the LRSO and refurbish the associated warhead could reach $25 billion (in then-year dollars). CSBA estimates the development cost of the LRSO at nearly $15 billion. The Energy Department projects the cost of the life extension program for the ALCM warhead to be between $7 billion and $9.5 billion. 

Dubious Rationale

The two main arguments the Pentagon has made in support of building a new ALCM do not withstand close scrutiny.

First, supporters of the LRSO cite anticipated improvements in the air defenses of potential adversaries as a reason to develop the new cruise missile. However, as Perry and Weber note, the LRSO weapon is just one element of the Air Force’s plan for the air-based leg of the triad.

The service is planning to spend over $100 billion to build 80-100 new stealthy penetrating strategic bombers. One of the top rationales for building a new bomber is to extend America’s air dominance in advanced air defense environments. In addition to carrying the LRSO, the new long-range strike bomber (or B-3) will be armed with refurbished B61 mod 12 nuclear gravity bombs. Upgrading the B61 is expected to cost roughly $10 billion. The B-3 is scheduled to remain in service for 50 years while the B61 mod 12 is expected to last for 20-30 years.

The United States already has redundancy built into its strategic forces posture with three independent modes of delivery. The requirement that the air-leg of the triad have two means to assure penetration against the most advanced air-defenses constitutes excessive redundancy. Other standoff weapons, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles, can penetrate air defenses with high confidence.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is significantly increasing the lethality of its conventionally armed cruise missiles.

For example, the service is purchasing an extended-range precision air-to-surface standoff cruise missile known as the JASSM-ER. This missile will have a range of over 1,100 kilometers and be integrated onto the B-1, B-52, B-2, F-15E, and F-16 aircraft – and likely on the F-35 and long-range strike bomber as well. The Air Force is planning to arm the JASSM-ER with a new computer-killing electronic attack payload. The technology is designed to have an effect similar to an electromagnetic pulse.

This raises the question of what is so unique about the penetrating mission of a nuclear ALCM that can’t be addressed by other U.S. nuclear and conventional capabilities?

Second, proponents of the nuclear ALCM mission say that the missile, by virtue of the lower yield of the nuclear warhead it carries, provides the president with flexible options in the event of a crisis and the ability to control escalation. In other words, the missiles would come in handy for nuclear war-fighting.

Yet, U.S. nuclear capabilities would remain highly credible and flexible even without a nuclear ALCM. The arsenal includes other weapons that can produce more “limited” effects, most notably the B61 gravity bomb.

More importantly, the notion that nuclear weapons can be used to carefully control escalation is dangerous thinking. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work noted at a June 25 House Armed Services Committee hearing: “Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”

This is wise counsel and speaks to the limited utility and added risks of seeking to fine-tune deterrence. It is highly unlikely that an adversary on the receiving end of a U.S. nuclear strike would (or could) distinguish between a large warhead and a small warhead. Large or small, nuclear weapons are extremely blunt instruments, both in terms of their destructive power and the taboo associated with the fact they have not been used in 70 years.

In fact, instead of controlling escalation, nuclear-armed cruise missiles could entail a significant risk of miscalculation and unintended nuclear escalation.

Former British Minister of Defense Philip Hammond drew attention to this problem in explaining the United Kingdom’s decision to reject a sea-launched cruise missile alternative to its current force of sea-launched ballistic missiles.

“At the point of firing, other states could have no way of knowing whether we had launched a conventional cruise missile or one with a nuclear warhead,” he wrote in 2013. “Such uncertainty could risk triggering a nuclear war at a time of tension.”

Instead of investing billions in a new fleet of nuclear ALCMs, the Air Force should prioritize continued investments in longer-range conventional cruise missiles. Further investment in conventional standoff weapons would provide the Air Force with a more readily useable capability without the unintended escalation risks associated with the possession of nuclear and conventional ALCMs. It would also help set the stage for an eventual global phase-out of nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

Excessive Cost

In light of the modernization needs of other defense systems and congressionally-mandated reductions in planned military expenses required by the Budget Control Act, military leaders continue to warn that the United States is facing an affordability problem in the near future when it comes to sustaining and modernizing nuclear forces.

“[W]e do have a huge affordability problem with that basket of [nuclear weapons] systems,” said Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, in April. “It is starting to poke itself into the [future years defense plan] — the five-year plan now. And we're trying to address it.”

Funding for the LRSO program over the next 10-15 years will come at the expense of other costly Air Force priorities such as the acquisition of the long-range strike bomber, KC-46A tanker, the F-35, and a replacement for the existing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system.

Though no one knows for sure what the military budget will look like after the expiration of the Budget Control Act, it seems unlikely that there will be enough money to fund all of the military’s nuclear and conventional modernization plans, especially during the decade of the 2020s when costs are expected to be at their highest. Tradeoffs will have to be made.

Given the nuclear ALCM’s redundant mission and inherently destabilizing dual-use nature, its replacement is not necessary.

A Global Ban

The United States, Russia and France are the only nations that currently acknowledge deploying nuclear-armed cruise missiles. However, countries such as China and Pakistan are believed to be working on them. U.S. security would benefit if they do not deploy such weapons.

Chinese nuclear-armed cruise missiles would add to U.S. concerns about Beijing’s capabilities and would be able to more easily circumvent U.S. missile defenses, which are mainly oriented against ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s program would add to tensions in South Asia and could motivate India to follow suit.

As part of its strategy to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty the United States should express its willingness to engage in technical discussions and agree to special inspections to resolve compliance concerns if Russia is willing to engage with U.S. concerns. Moving forward the United States should promote a global dialogue on limiting and eventually phasing out all nuclear-armed cruise missile systems.

Verifying limits and later a ban on all types of nuclear-armed cruise missiles would no doubt be a significant challenge, though not an insurmountable one. One early preparatory step toward building a transparency and monitoring regime is for the United States to pressure Russia to resume the exchange of data on nuclear-armed SLCMs that occurred under START I.

Rather than spend billions on a nuclear weapon that is not needed to deter potential adversaries, the United States should cancel its new cruise missile program. This would be a win-win for the military budget and U.S. security.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy


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


In an Oct. 15 op-ed in The Washington Post, William Perry, President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and Andrew Weber, President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for nuclear...

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U.S. Nuclear Weapons Funding in Limbo

October 2015

By Kingston Reif

Defense Secretary Ash Carter delivers remarks at an Air Force Association conference in National Harbor, Md., on September 16. He warned of the impact on U.S. military forces if Congress passes a spending bill that does not allow military funding to rise above current levels. (Photo credit: Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/U.S. Air Force)Congress failed to pass any fresh appropriations bills for fiscal year 2016, raising questions about whether the Defense and Energy departments can carry out the nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization activities they have planned for the year.

In the fiscal year 2016 budget request, the Obama administration requested a major funding hike above the previous fiscal year for programs to sustain and to rebuild nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and their associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure. (See ACT, March 2015.) If these programs are not funded at the requested levels, the result could be schedule delays and cost increases.

Pentagon leaders already are issuing warnings about the danger to U.S. security if Congress passes a year-long continuing resolution that would extend the previous year’s funding levels.

“[T]he longer a continuing resolution is, the worse it becomes, eventually resulting in a $38 billion deficit in resources for our military if Congress chooses to pursue this path for a full year,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Sept. 16 at the Air Force Association’s annual conference in National Harbor, Md.

Overall, the administration requested $561 billion for national defense in fiscal year 2016, which includes the Defense Department’s regular budget activities and the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs. This spending proposal is roughly $38 billion above the cap in the 2011 Budget Control Act and $40 billion above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level.

The impact of a year-long continuing resolution on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department, would depend on whether Congress makes an exception from the general no-increase constraints of a continuing resolution so that nuclear weapons funding can increase above the fiscal year 2015 level, a congressional staffer told Arms Control Today in a Sept. 16 e-mail.

The NNSA has been successful in seeking such an exception in the past, the staffer said.

As Arms Control Today went to press, Congress appeared poised to approve a short-term continuing resolution that would extend the previous year’s funding levels for a few months, buying time to negotiate new funding levels for fiscal year 2016 later this year.

In fiscal year 2015, Congress passed a continuing resolution for the first three and a half months of the year, followed by the passage last December of a $1.1 trillion conglomeration of 12 appropriations bills, known as an omnibus appropriations bill. The omnibus bill provided new funding for Defense and Energy department programs at roughly the level of the administration’s fiscal year 2015 request. (See ACT, January/February 2015.)

The passage of higher funding levels in fiscal year 2016 would likely require changing the spending caps set by Congress in the Budget Control Act. But Republicans and Democrats have yet to reach agreement on a total budget for discretionary domestic and military spending.

If Congress fails to pass new funding after a short-term continuing resolution, it could opt to pass a continuing resolution for all of fiscal year 2016.

Cruise Missile Delay Possible

A continuing resolution could have a significant impact on the administration’s plan to buy a fleet of new nuclear-capable cruise missiles. (See ACT, June 2015.)

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request proposed to markedly increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of the long-range standoff missile and the modified warhead that it would carry, partially reversing the fiscal year 2015 proposal to delay development of both by three years. (See ACT, March 2015.

Air-launched cruise missiles are carried by the B-52 long-range bomber and can attack targets at great distances. 

The NNSA is requesting $195 million to begin refurbishing the existing cruise missile warhead that would be delivered by the new missile. That is an increase of $186 million above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation of $9.4 million.

The Air Force is seeking $36.6 million in fiscal year 2016 for research and development for a long-range standoff weapon, more than 10 times as much as the $3.4 million that Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2015.

Impact Debated

In a Sept. 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NNSA spokeswoman Michelle Laver said that unless the NNSA receives a special waiver from Congress to begin funding the warhead refurbishment at the requested fiscal year 2016 level right at the beginning of the year, even a short-term continuing resolution would “delay development and engineering work” on the warhead refurbishment and “coordination activities with the Air Force” and would “result in a slip in the overall schedule including first production.” 

But the congressional staffer was skeptical of the NNSA’s warning, which the NNSA has conveyed to Congress. “I don’t think anyone believes” that a short-term continuing resolution and associated delay to the program “is problematic,” he said.

The Air Force had no specific comment on the impact of a continuing resolution on the development of the new cruise missile. “It is hard to say exactly which programs will be affected until we see the language” of the continuing resolution, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a Sept. 17 e-mail.

In their respective fiscal year 2016 defense appropriations bills, the Senate and House appropriations committees approved funding for the new missile at levels below the administration’s $36.6 million request. Senate appropriators provided $14.1 million while the House provided $27.5 million. According to the reports accompanying the Senate and House versions of the bills, the appropriators approved the smaller amounts because they believed that the Air Force requested more money than it could spend on the program in fiscal year 2016, not because of a lack of faith in the program.

Congress failed to pass any new appropriations bills for fiscal year 2016, raising questions about whether the United States can carry out the nuclear weapons activities planned for the year.

Date Set for 2016 Nuclear Security Summit

By Kingston Reif

The fourth and final nuclear security summit will take place next March 31-April 1 in Washington, D.C., the White House said Aug. 10.

The summits are the most visible feature of an accelerated international effort to prevent nuclear terrorism. U.S. President Barack Obama launched the effort as part of his speech in Prague in April 2009. Summits have been held in Washington in 2010, Seoul in 2012, and The Hague last year.

At the summits, participating countries have announced steps they would take individually and collectively to increase the security of fissile materials. These steps have included the removal of nuclear materials, enhancement of capabilities to counter nuclear smuggling, creation of centers to improve nuclear security and training, and ratification of international agreements that govern nuclear security.

In an Aug. 10 press release announcing the summit date, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the 2016 meeting “will continue discussion on the evolving [nuclear terrorism] threat and highlight steps that can be taken together to minimize the use of highly-enriched uranium, secure vulnerable materials, counter nuclear smuggling and deter, detect, and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism.”

As the United States prepares to host the final summit, Laura Holgate, Obama’s top adviser for nuclear security, was nominated on Aug. 5 as U.S. representative to the Vienna office of the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

For the last six years, Holgate has served in the position of special assistant to the president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction on the National Security Council staff, where she has played a central role on the U.S. negotiating team for the summits. The White House has not named a successor for Holgate.

In an Aug. 5 statement, national security adviser Susan Rice praised Holgate as “the life blood” of the summit process. 

The fourth and final nuclear security summit will take place next March 31-April 1 in Washington, D.C., the White House said Aug. 10.

Next Steps on Disarmament Uncertain

By Kingston Reif

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström speaks at the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations on April 27. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)In the aftermath of a contentious review conference earlier this year, key states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) differ on the best way to pursue disarmament as they look to the UN General Assembly session that opens Sept. 15 and the treaty’s next review conference, in 2020.

The recent review conference ended May 22 without agreement on a final document due to unbridgeable differences over the process for convening a conference on ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, countries clashed over the pace of the nuclear-weapon states’ disarmament efforts. (See ACT, June 2015.)

Although nuclear disarmament was not the “deal breaker” that prevented consensus at the meeting, differences on the issue are “severe and intensifying,” Adam Scheinman, President Barack Obama’s special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, said during a July 16 panel discussion at the U.S. State Department.

Speaking on the same panel, Alexander Kmentt, director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, said that the longer the negotiations on disarmament at the review conference went on, the deeper the divide became.

The conference’s draft final document did not represent “anything close” to a consensus, he said.

Scheinman said countries can take a number of steps before the 2020 review conference. For example, he emphasized the importance of finding a way to bring Russia back to the negotiating table on arms control although he did not suggest how that might be possible in light of U.S.-Russian tensions over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

In addition, Scheinman urged the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to begin negotiations on a global ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, which has effectively been blocked by Pakistan (see, "UN Disarmament Body Still Stalemated"). Scheinman said it would not be possible to move toward much lower numbers of nuclear weapons without a verified cap on fissile material production.

He also called for the development of better lines of communication on nuclear disarmament issues between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states as a way to bridge some of the gaps that persist. He specifically mentioned the possible creation by the UN General Assembly of “an open-ended working group”—a forum in which all UN members can participate—as a “first-order opportunity to have a serious dialogue among the various parties.”

Scheinman expressed hope that there would be progress “quite soon” on the steps he listed.

The U.S. State Department’s Adam Scheinman (left) and Alexander Kmentt of the Austrian foreign ministry (right) discuss the recent NPT review conference during a July 16 panel of the Generation Prague conference at the State Department. At center is moderator Sharon Squassoni of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)The working group was a recommendation in the draft final document from the NPT review conference. According to the document, the purpose of the working group would be “to identify effective measures for the full implementation of Article VI” of the NPT and to do so on the basis of consensus. Under Article VI, the treaty parties are to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

The General Assembly last established an open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament in 2012. (See ACT, December 2012.) In that group, which met in Geneva in August 2013, about 80 states discussed ways to advance multilateral disarmament negotiations, but the nuclear-weapon states declined to participate. The group produced a final report that summarized the content of the discussion.

Kmentt questioned the approach touted by Scheinman, noting that disarmament steps such as a fissile material cutoff treaty have been on the international agenda for nearly two decades, but no progress has been made. He called such a step-by-step approach “extremely incredible” and said it has been “discredited.”

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, also criticized the step-by-step approach and expressed skepticism about the idea of an open-ended working group.

In an Aug. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today, she called the idea of a working group based on consensus “useless” and said the states seeking faster disarmament progress are not pushing this idea.

Fihn said the main issue at the UN General Assembly will be how the 114 signatories of the “Humanitarian Pledge” will seek to take action to fill this gap. The document, which originated at the third conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, held in Vienna last December, calls on states “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.” (See ACT, January/February 2015.)

Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies said in an Aug. 19 interview that it would be “interesting to watch” if an open-ended working group is established at the upcoming General Assembly meeting and if the humanitarian initiative’s leaders, such as Austria, Mexico, and Norway, are able to move the disarmament discussion beyond where it ended at the review conference.

Mukhatzhanova said that the diplomats representing the leading countries of the humanitarian movement are “regrouping.” It is unclear what they will do to advance their agenda at the General Assembly and if they will seek to hold a fourth humanitarian-impact conference, she said. 

In the aftermath of a contentious review conference earlier this year, key states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty differ on the best way to pursue disarmament.

UN Disarmament Body Still Stalemated

By Kingston Reif

Kim Won-soo (center, on dais), acting UN high representative for disarmament affairs, addresses the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on July 7. (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)As the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) nears the end of its annual session, the body mandated to negotiate multilateral disarmament treaties remains stalemated.

Nevertheless, some member states say they think progress is being made toward a global ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

For the third year in a row, an informal working group could not reach consensus on any of the CD’s four core issues: nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and negative security assurances.

The CD, which operates on the basis of consensus, has not negotiated a disarmament agreement since the completion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.

Although some member states praised the efforts of this year’s iteration of the working group, other delegations lamented the recent trend of establishing informal discussion forums.

In an Aug. 17 statement, Mexico said the three years of effort by the working groups “had not left the Conference any closer to the adoption of a programme of work” and had produced “useless outcomes.”

Similarly, Austria said that although it was open to approaches that could advance negotiations on legally binding arrangements on disarmament, it would not “accept any future attempts to lower the expectations for the CD to conduct such negotiations.”

Austria warned that it would “assess…more carefully” the wisdom of continuing to use “scarce resources for informal discussions and activities.”

Since the end of negotiations on the CTBT in 1996, Russia, the United States, and many Western countries have sought a mandate at the conference to negotiate an FMCT. But Pakistan continues to oppose the start of FMCT talks unless the negotiating mandate explicitly includes existing stockpiles of materials in addition to new production. Russia, the United States, and others oppose that approach.

In 2009 the CD approved a preliminary work plan, but the plan collapsed after Pakistan withdrew its support. Pakistan says that it has a smaller stockpile of fissile materials than India and that a production freeze would put Islamabad at a disadvantage.

In an effort to break the FMCT deadlock, the UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with disarmament, in 2012 approved a resolution by Canada to establish a group of governmental experts to discuss how to advance negotiations on an FMCT.

The group, which consisted of 31 experts and diplomats from 25 different countries, met in Geneva over eight weeks during 2014 and 2015 under the auspices of the United Nations. The group submitted its final report to the General Assembly in May.

The group was mandated to make recommendations on the key elements of a notional FMCT. The final report summarized the group’s deliberations and outlined a range of views on a possible FMCT, most notably on the issues of existing stocks versus future production, verification, governance, entry into force, and the definition of “fissile material.”

The members of the group expressed confidence that their report and the deliberations that were the basis for it “can serve as a valuable reference for States and should be a useful resource for negotiators of a future treaty.”

Most CD members applauded the work of the group of experts, with some members characterizing the intergovernmental assessment as a potential turning point on the issue of a fissile material production ban.

In an interview with Arms Control Today last October, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that although an FMCT “has been a great source of tension and anxiety,” the group of governmental experts “open[ed] the floodgates for substantive discussions on this matter” and “renewed the issue for the arms control community in the Conference on Disarmament in a very positive way.”

But Pakistan, which declined an invitation to join the group, said in a June 23 statement that the group “had been an ill-conceived experiment, which had failed to produce any consensus recommendation with any substance.” 

Pakistan also said another “downside” of the group was that not all nuclear-weapon states “had been represented in that forum” and that it “rejected [the group’s] report and assertion that the report could form the basis for further consideration” of an FMCT in the CD. 

As the Conference on Disarmament nears the end of its annual session, the body remains stalemated although some member states say they think there has been progress toward a fissile material cutoff treaty.

Nuclear Costs to Jump, Pentagon Says

By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department’s plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal “is a very expensive proposition” and will “roughly double” the percentage of the budget allocated to nuclear weapons for a period of time during the 2020s and 2030s, according to a senior department official.

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on June 25, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said the cost to build and sustain new nuclear missiles, submarines, and bombers and to make needed improvements to nuclear command and control systems is projected to average $18 billion per year from 2021 to 2035 in constant fiscal year 2016 dollars.

When combined with the cost to sustain the current arsenal as the new systems are built, this will increase spending on nuclear weapons from the current level of approximately 3 percent of the overall defense budget to about 7 percent, Work said.

Work’s testimony marked the first time the Pentagon has provided cost information about nuclear forces beyond 10 years. He did not specify for how long nuclear weapons would consume 7 percent of military spending, but he said spending would peak “around 2026 and 2027.”

The projected increase “will require very hard choices and increased risk in some [non-nuclear] missions without additional funding above current defense budget levels,” Work added.

U.S. Strategic Command estimated in September 2014 that maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal “will require close to 10 percent” of the Defense Department budget “for a period of time.” The command has since backed away from that number, stating that the cost is likely to be closer to 5 to 6 percent of the budget. (See ACT, April 2015.)

The Defense Department and the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration are required by law to submit a joint annual report to Congress that includes 10-year budget estimates for nuclear forces and their supporting infrastructure.

The most recent joint report, submitted to Congress in May 2014, projected $298 billion in spending between fiscal years 2015 and 2024 in then-year dollars, according to a July assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress.

In the past, the GAO and some members of Congress have criticized the joint report for undercounting the cost of certain nuclear modernization programs. (See ACT, July/August 2014.) The July GAO assessment found that the May 2014 joint report was much more comprehensive than previous iterations, but said “opportunities exist to further enhance transparency.”

Bloomberg, however, reported on Aug. 17 that, apparently unbeknownst to the GAO, last year’s joint report and the 2015 version, which has yet to be publicly released, misstated the 10-year cost estimate for the long-range strike bomber program. The Air Force is developing a new nuclear-capable bomber to complement and then replace the existing B-52H and B-2A aircraft.

Whereas the May 2014 joint report included a 10-year estimate of $33.1 billion in then-year dollars for the new bomber, the Air Force is now saying the correct number should have been $41.7 billion, according to Bloomberg.

The Air Force told Bloomberg that the estimated cost of the program between fiscal years 2016 and 2025 is also $41.7 billion, a reduction of nearly $17 billion from the $58.4 billion figure cited in the original version of the 2015 joint report submitted to Congress.

In an Aug. 24 press conference at the Pentagon, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the misreporting of the bomber cost to Congress was a “regrettable error” and blamed a lack of “coordination” within the Air Force and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. James did not provide an explanation for why the two corrected estimates are now the same.

Earlier on Aug. 24, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services oversight subcommittee, sent a letter to James, expressing concern about “recent reports indicating massive discrepancies” in 10-year cost estimates for the new bomber. She called on the Air Force to detail the steps it is taking “to ensure the accuracy” of future cost estimates for the program.

Amid questions about the credibility of the Defense Department’s budget estimates for nuclear weapons, an August report published by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments sought to provide a more detailed, long-term assessment of nuclear costs and put them in the context of overall national defense spending.

Written by Todd Harrison and Evan Braden Montgomery, senior fellows at the center, the report estimated that sustaining and modernizing nuclear weapons and their supporting infrastructure will cost $222-253 billion in then-year dollars over the 10-year period between fiscal years 2015 and 2024 and $836-963 billion over the 30-year period between 2014 and 2043.

Harrison and Montgomery concluded, “Although the costs of sustaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear forces are projected to grow in the years ahead…those costs will still account for a small fraction of total defense spending, even at their peak.”

The two analysts calculate that nuclear weapons will not exceed 5 percent of the total national defense budget over the next 25 years, even at the peaks of the anticipated nuclear spending bow wave in the mid-2020s. They dispute the notion that nuclear weapons impose a uniquely significant budget burden, saying, “What the United States can or cannot afford depends on the priorities set by policymakers.”

Harrison and Montgomery’s estimate is lower than the government’s projection due to different assumptions about how to count nuclear costs. For example, they attribute the bulk of the cost of acquiring and operating nuclear-capable bombers to conventional needs and only a fraction to the nuclear mission. The Pentagon includes the full cost of the bombers in its estimate of nuclear costs. 

The Defense Department’s plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal will “roughly double” the percentage of the budget allocated to nuclear weapons, according to a senior department official. 

CSBA Downplays Nuclear Effect on Budget, Potential Nuclear Savings

On August 4 the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) published a detailed estimate of the long-term costs of sustaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons and their supporting infrastructure. The report, written by CSBA’s Todd Harrison and Evan Braden Montgomery, concludes that “Although the costs of sustaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear forces are projected to grow in the years ahead…those costs will still account for a small fraction of total defense spending, even at their peak.” Moreover, they write, “cutting nuclear weapons is unlikely to provide enough savings to...

Air Force Drafts Plan for Follow-On ICBM

July/August 2015

Updated: July 8, 2015

By Kingston Reif

U.S. Air Force airmen install a cable raceway on an intercontinental ballistic missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 3, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder/RELEASED)An initial Air Force proposal for replacing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system calls for procuring 642 missiles, 400 of which would be operationally deployed, multiple sources told Arms Control Today in recent months. The remaining missiles would be used for flight tests and as spares to support the program’s anticipated 50-year lifespan, the sources said.

If the U.S. government moves ahead with the proposal, it will have a capability extending into the 2070s to deploy 400 ICBMs, the number that the United States will have in 2018 under the terms of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

To meet the treaty limits, the Defense Department has said it will reduce the U.S. arsenal from its current level—447 deployed missiles as of September 2014—while retaining 50 nondeployed missile launchers.

During interviews in May and June, the sources said the preliminary acquisition cost estimate for the Minuteman III replacement system—an option studied under the Pentagon’s Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program—is $62.3 billion, which covers a 30-year period between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2044.

In a subsequent e-mail exchange, Air Force representatives confirmed the estimated cost and the number of planned missiles to be purchased and deployed.

The $62.3 billion cost estimate was first reported on June 5 by Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor. The newsletter quoted Ed Gulick, an Air Force spokesman, as saying the draft estimate was completed in February by the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center’s ICBM System Program Office and that it includes $48.5 billion for the missiles, $6.9 billion for command and control systems, and $6.9 billion to renovate the launch control centers and launch facilities.

In a June 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Gulick said that the cost estimate is in “then-year dollars,” meaning it includes inflationary increases expected to occur in the program over the 30-year time horizon of the estimate.

Options Studied

Last summer, the Air Force conducted an analysis of alternatives to sustain the ICBM force beyond the anticipated end of the Minuteman III’s service life in 2030.

Gulick said the analysis initially examined five options, but after discussions with senior officials in the defense secretary’s office, the analysis narrowed its focus to three alternatives: a “baseline” option that would extend the life of the Minuteman III through 2075, a “replacement system capitalizing” on the existing Minuteman III silo infrastructure, and a “hybrid” option that would “mix” the existing Minuteman III silo infrastructure with new road-mobile ICBMs.

A request for information issued by the Air Force on Jan. 23 seeking information and feedback from defense industry companies said the United States “is preparing to acquire a replacement for” the Minuteman III system “that replaces the entire flight system” and “retains the silo basing modes.”

Maj. Melissa Milner, one of the Air Force representatives, said in a June 19 e-mail that the current program cost estimate of $62.3 billion is “focused on a replacement system that reflects a missile similar in size to the Minuteman III.” The Air Force has not provided a public cost estimate for the other options.

Milner did not indicate whether the GBSD missile would have a completely new design or would incorporate significant design features from the Minuteman III.

Deployment of the replacement missile system is scheduled to begin in 2027. 

In remarks at a June 16 event in Washington, Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, the deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said the United States cannot “continue to sustain” the Minuteman III.

Questions Raised

One former government official said the cost estimate for the replacement system suggested a new ICBM, an approach that he questioned.

It’s “hard to believe” the Pentagon would choose to design and build a new missile because there is no military need to do so, retired Col. Mark Cancian, who recently left the U.S. Office of Management and Budget after seven years as director of its force structure and management division, said in June 15 interview.

Cancian, now a senior adviser in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, added that there is “no way the Air Force can afford” a new fleet of ICBMs given the cost of plans to modernize other elements of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, such as building new ballistic missile submarines and long-range bombers.

A 2014 report by the RAND Corp. on the future of the ICBM force found that “any new ICBM alternative will very likely cost almost two times—and perhaps even three times—more than incremental modernization of the current Minuteman III system.”

The GBSD program is slated to face a key acquisition milestone early next year, when the defense secretary’s office will decide whether the program should proceed to the next stage of the acquisition process. This stage includes maturing the technology, refining requirements, and finalizing cost estimates for the program.

In the lead-up to this decision point, known as a milestone A decision, the Defense Department is reviewing the acquisition strategy for the program.

Cancian said that although the Air Force may be evaluating a new missile, this approach is not yet a formal Air Force plan or recommendation. “A lot could change” when the program “comes up for decision and has to compete with other programs,” he said.

ICBMs make up the land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad of delivery systems, which also consists of submarine-launched missiles and long-range bombers. Long-range bombers can carry air-launched cruise missiles and gravity bombs.

In a speech in Berlin on June 19, 2013, President Barack Obama said he would seek to reduce the numbers of U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third. (Photo by Mathias Krohn/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

The deployed Minuteman III missiles are dispersed in underground silos at three U.S. bases: Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, and F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. Each missile is deployed with one nuclear warhead.

The Minuteman III, which has a range of more than 8,000 miles, was first fielded in 1970 with a planned service life of 10 years. Production of the missile ended in 1977. A total of 794 missiles were acquired at a cost of $41.4 billion, as measured in fiscal year 2012 dollars, according to the RAND report.

Several multibillion-dollar life extension programs have kept the Minuteman III in service for more than 40 years. Nearly the entire missile has been refurbished, including the propellant and guidance and propulsion systems.

President Barack Obama determined in 2013 that the United States could reduce “deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third,” but he conditioned further reductions on negotiations with Russia.

Greg Weaver, principal director for nuclear and missile defense policy in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, told Inside the Air Force on Feb. 20 that given the uncertain prospects for a future arms control agreement with Russia after New START expires in 2021, the GBSD program “is budgeted based on the current policy” and “arms control limits.”

Weaver added that the approach could change if Russia and the United States agreed to further nuclear weapons reductions at some point in the future.

An initial Air Force proposal for replacing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile calls for procuring 
642 missiles.

Obama Signs Nuclear Security Legislation

July/August 2015

By Kingston Reif

Participants attend a session of the 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington on April 13, 2010. At the summit, the United States pledged to accelerate efforts to complete its ratification of two nuclear security treaties. (Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)President Barack Obama on June 2 signed legislation to implement two treaties that strengthen global efforts to prevent and counter nuclear terrorism, five years after he first submitted draft legislation to Congress. 

The legislation, which passed the House of Representatives on May 14 and the Senate on June 2, updates the U.S. criminal code to bring the United States into compliance with the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and the 2005 International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. 

In a June 4 statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said the passage of the legislation  was “yet another indication that the United States is committed on a bipartisan basis to eliminating the greatest threat to global security: nuclear terrorism.” 

The 2005 amendment to the CPPNM expands the original treaty to require parties not only to protect nuclear material in international transit, but also to protect nuclear facilities and nuclear material that is in domestic storage, use, or transit. 

The anti-terrorism convention establishes a framework to strengthen cooperation among countries in combating nuclear terrorism and provides details on how offenders and illicit materials should be handled by states when seized.

The George W. Bush administration submitted the treaties to the Senate in September 2007, and the Senate overwhelmingly approved them in September 2008. But the agreements require all states-parties to establish specific criminal offenses in areas such as the possession and use of radioactive material, nuclear smuggling, and sabotage of nuclear facilities. This required Congress to pass legislation to update the U.S. criminal code.

The Obama administration first submitted a proposal for the implementing legislation to Congress for approval in March 2010, a month before pledging at the first nuclear security summit to accelerate efforts to complete ratification. 

The new law also includes implementing language for two protocols to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.

The House passed implementing legislation for the four treaties in 2012 and again in 2013, but the Senate failed to do so, largely because of a dispute between Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, over whether the Justice Department should be able to pursue the death penalty for a lethal act of nuclear terrorism and seek legal authority for wiretaps to investigate the new crimes created by the legislation. (See ACT, November 2012.

House Judiciary Committee members had negotiated with the administration to remove the controversial measures prior to passing their own version of the legislation. The House bills established a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a maximum fine of $2 million for an “act of nuclear terrorism” resulting in death.

This year, frustrated by the deadlock in the Senate, the House Judiciary Committee attached the implementing language for the treaties to its version of the USA Freedom Act, which passed the full House on May 14 by a vote of 338–88. That act modifies several provisions of the Patriot Act, including the collection of telecommunication metadata. 

The Senate passed the act on the afternoon of June 2 by a vote of 67–32. Obama signed the bill that night. 

At the March 2012 nuclear security summit in Seoul, the participants pledged to seek the entry into force of the CPPNM amendment by the March 2014 summit in The Hague. The amendment’s entry into force requires ratification by two-thirds of the parties to the CPPNM. Of the treaty’s 152 parties, 84—short of the needed 101—had approved the amendment by February 2015, according to the website of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the depositary for the treaty and the amendment. 

The anti-terrorism convention, which entered into force in 2007, has been signed by 115 states and ratified by 99. 

Kerry noted that the ratification would fulfill the commitment the United States originally made in 2010.

“We call on all countries who share our commitment to preventing nuclear terrorism to join and fully implement these treaties,” he added.

President Barack Obama on June 2 signed legislation to implement two treaties that strengthen global efforts to prevent and counter nuclear terrorism. 


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