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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Kingston Reif

Pentagon Wants to Resume JLENS Exercise

March 2016

By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Army is asking Congress for additional funding to resume an exercise of a blimp-borne radar system designed to detect and track objects such as cruise missiles and other airborne threats despite a major malfunction last October.

Defense News last month quoted Adm. Bill Gortney, head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, as saying that “[i]t is in the best interest of the nation to continue the program.”

“Investigators took a hard look at the causes of the incident, and I am confident that we have a plan of action to safely fly the aerostat again,” he added.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter concurred with the decision to resume the exercise, according to multiple news reports.

One of the two tethered blimps that make up the current test deployment of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) detached from its mooring station near Baltimore last October, dragging 6,700 feet of cable for three hours before finally coming to rest. (See ACT, December 2015.)

At the time of the crash, the system was in the midst of a planned three-year exercise over the area around Washington. The exercise was designed to demonstrate the system’s capabilities for homeland defense and determine its future.

In the fiscal year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, Congress slashed $30 million from the budget request of $40.6 million for JLENS in the wake of the crash. (See ACT, January/Feburary 2016.)

InsideDefense.com reported on Feb. 17 that, in order to resume the exercise, the Defense Department is asking lawmakers to transfer an additional $27 million to the program for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. It is not clear where the additional funds will come from.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Feb. 14 that the blimp crashed because a device designed to automatically deflate it in the event of trouble failed to activate because batteries had not been installed as a power source.

Meanwhile, in a new report released in January, Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director for operational test and evaluation, reiterated concerns he has raised in the past about whether JLENS can work as intended. The report identified numerous problems, including vulnerability to electronic interference, that could undermine the effectiveness and suitability of the ongoing exercise of the system. 

The U.S. Army is asking Congress for additional funding to resume an exercise of a blimp-borne radar system designed to detect and track objects...

Last Obama Budget Goes for Broke on Nuclear Weapons

Consider the following facts. The United States is planning to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad and their associated warheads at a cost and on a schedule that many military leaders say is unsustainable. In addition, these plans would leave the United States with a larger deployed strategic nuclear arsenal than President Barack Obama has said is needed for U.S. security. Unfortunately, the president’s final budget request released today is divorced from reality. The Fiscal Year 2017 proposal contains significant increases for several Defense and Energy department nuclear weapons...

Lowering Nuclear Risks: An Interview With Former Defense Secretary William Perry

January/February 2016

Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Kingston Reif

William Perry, shown in this March 2015 photo, was secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997. (Photo credit: Glenn Fawcett/Defense Department)William Perry is the Michael and Barbara Berberian professor emeritus at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the university’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He was secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997, having previously served as deputy secretary of defense and undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. He is the author of My Journey at the Nuclear Brink (2015).

Perry spoke by telephone with Arms Control Today on December 8, 2015.Much of the conversation focused on the current impasse in U.S.-Russian relations and the nuclear weapons programs in those two countries.

The interview was transcribed by Elizabeth Philipp. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: In your book, you write that Russia’s ongoing and planned production of new nuclear delivery systems is likely to motivate Moscow to test new warheads for its new missiles and that you expect it to withdraw from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT] soon and begin those tests. Can you elaborate on why you believe that to be the case?

Perry: First of all, let me say that I don’t have any inside information from anybody in the Russian government. That’s not what my point was. It’s just that I know they are developing new nuclear weapons. They’ve said so themselves. I’m confident that that will lead the weapons designers to request new tests. That will put [Russian President Vladimir] Putin up to a decision. He will have to decide whether to allow that or not. I don’t know what that political decision will be, but I do believe that the pressure to test will be strong. So it will come down to a political decision on Putin’s part. Will he accept their recommendations, or will he think the political costs are too high? One of the reasons the political costs will not be as high as they should be is because we have not yet ratified the CTBT. That makes a decision to test easier for him.

ACT: Given that, is there any feasible way to prevent the resumption of Russian testing?

Perry: The best thing we could do is to ratify the CTBT. That would make the political costs substantially higher for Putin. That might lead him to decide then not to test.

ACT: Following up on the issue of U.S. ratification, even if the United States were to ratify the CTBT tomorrow, entry into force could still be years away if not longer. What steps should the United States pursue in the near term to strengthen the global moratorium against nuclear testing, especially in light of your belief that Russia may be on a path to the resumption of testing?

Perry: I think it’s very important to get China to ratify. I do believe that our ratification will put very strong political pressure on them to ratify, and I believe that they would. If that happens, then I think we’ve got a pretty good case to go forward, pushing to bring the treaty into force even if, let’s say, North Korea does not ratify.

I think a good argument can be made that we should not let an outlier like that stop the whole treaty from coming into force, but that decision is still ahead of us. The first step is to get the U.S. to ratify, then put the pressure to China, and then I think we should go forward with a program to try to bring the treaty into force even if the outliers do not ratify. 

ACT: Shifting to another treaty, the United States has accused Russia of being in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] Treaty. Russia has denied the accusation and charged the United States with being in violation of the agreement. How do you evaluate the situation?

Perry: I don’t have enough data to make a judgment on whether or not Russia is in violation. That’s what our government has stated, and that’s all I have to go on. But I do not have an independent judgment of that.

ACT: Do you have any thoughts on how to get out of the impasse that the two countries seem to be in with regard to this violation alleged by the United States?

Perry: On that point, as well as other points of contention we have with Russia, what is badly needed is serious and meaningful dialogue with Russia, which we do not have today, at high levels. So I think it’s imperative for the United States to begin serious dialogue with Russia. It’s imperative for both countries to take the political step of high-level and serious dialogue. Even if there is disagreement, the dialogue is not only desirable, but necessary.

ACT: Okay, is there anything specific with regard to the INF Treaty, or is it all part of the larger picture?

Perry: No, it is a part of the larger picture. I think it is very desirable to keep that treaty in force. But the bigger problem is the bad relations between the United States and Russia, of which this is just a symptom, I think.

ACT: In a recent appearance in Washington, you said that any reasonable definition of deterrence would not require intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs], the land-based leg of the U.S. triad. You argue that ICBMs are unnecessary and destabilizing because they are an attractive target and entail a greater risk of accidental launch than other nuclear weapons. How would you propose to phase out the ICBM leg of the triad?

Perry: I simply would not recapitalize it. If we decide to keep the ICBMs in the force, then in a number of years, not very many years, we have to begin to focus on building the replacements for the first ICBMs. So instead, I would simply let the present force phase out.

ACT: What would you say to the senators and representatives of those states in which U.S. Minuteman III ICBMs are based who say that the missiles and associated bases are an essential part of the U.S. deterrent and vital to the economies of their states?

Perry: I don’t believe it. They’re not an essential part of the deterrent. We have ample deterrence from the submarine force, and certainly if you add the bomber force to that, that’s an overwhelming deterrence force. So I cannot understand the argument that we also need ICBMs for deterrence. We might need ICBMs for other reasons, for geopolitical reasons, but not for deterrence. Any sane nation would be deterred by the incredible striking power of our submarine force.

ACT: You have said that a desire to maintain parity with the Soviet Union and later Russia has been and continues to be a main driver of the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and that this approach doesn’t make sense. Why do you believe that parity should no longer guide U.S. force requirements?

Perry: Because I don’t think it has anything to do with deterrence. I think deterrence has to do with our power and our ability to strike. The fact that we need to have, for example, ICBMs in the force, which is a kind of a parity, just doesn’t hold up. I don’t understand the argument that we need to have an equivalent number of weapons and equivalent type of weapons as Russia as an argument for deterrence. That is a political argument, and I understand the political argument. But that’s not an argument for deterrence.

ACT: Do you have in mind a rough number of [warheads], what a U.S. nuclear force should look like, should be composed of?

Perry: Certainly less than the numbers we have now. But I also understand the political argument that as we bring the numbers down, we ought to see if we can find some way of having the Russians come down at the same time, whether that be by a treaty or by some sort of a mutual understanding.

ACT: I want to go back to the larger point about U.S.-Russian relations that you raised before. As you were saying, the relations now are at a very low point. Is there anything that Russia and the United States and maybe other countries could do to improve the situation?

Perry: We have a number of points in common with Russia. So I would think our diplomacy would emphasize trying to strengthen cooperation in the areas in which we feel the need to cooperate, the desirability of cooperating. For example, we did cooperate on the Iranian agreement, and that was a big plus. We certainly have a need to cooperate in the field of terrorism and especially nuclear terrorism, and there are certainly trade areas where we could find a reason for cooperating as well, as we did in the Cold War. We should look at issues of mutual importance—certainly preventing nuclear catastrophe has to be highest on that list—and find a way of cooperating in those areas without having to agree with the Russians or having even political accords with Russians in other areas.

ACT: What would an agreement on nuclear terrorism look like that goes beyond what’s already currently agreed under the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism? What more would they be able to do?

Perry: One of the principal actions would be protecting fissile material on a global basis. The program that the president has initiated, the nuclear [security] summit [process], I think is an excellent example of what we can do along those lines. I certainly applaud the administration for their initiative on the nuclear summit and their continued pursuit of it. I think that all we can be sure of at this point is that there will be one more nuclear summit, the one in Washington next spring. So I would put the highest priority on getting major agreements at that summit meeting, and that could be facilitated by prior discussions with the Russians on what one can mutually hope to accomplish at that nuclear summit. Certainly it’s as much for the security benefit of Russia as it is for the United States to solve nuclear terrorism. So it should be a very powerful argument for working together to get major steps forward on the nuclear summit upcoming this spring.

It’s one thing just to go to the meeting and talk. It’s another thing to go to the meeting with a plan worked out with the Russians ahead of time on what the two of us might be able to accomplish to help get the fissile material controlled in other countries. So I think I would put that number one on the list of areas of cooperation with the Russians that can greatly reduce the danger to both of us of nuclear terrorism.

ACT: Do you believe that that’s realistically achievable in the here and now?

Perry: I certainly do. We have still a few months where we can be meeting and talking with the Russians. So we could have a solid program of accomplishment that we mutually agree on that we would like to see come out of that possibly last summit meeting.

ACT: Switching gears slightly, we understand that you have recently visited a number of U.S. allies in Europe and East Asia to discuss nuclear and other related security policy issues. In your conversations with officials, did they express any concerns about the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent in light of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and increasing Chinese assertiveness in its near abroad?

Perry: No, nobody raised that question with me. It seems clear to me that any informed and objective observer would see that our nuclear deterrent is quite powerful.

The nuclear deterrent, however, does not prevent the Russians from doing many things that are not directly nuclear related. I always have believed and I think events have demonstrated that nuclear deterrence is pretty well limited to deterring a nuclear attack, not deterring many other objectionable actions. During the Cold War, Russia took many actions that were very highly objectionable to us, and our nuclear deterrent did not stop them from taking those actions. Arguably, all that U.S. nuclear weapons have done is stop the Russians from carrying out a nuclear attack on us.

ACT: In any of your conversations, did any officials from allied nations take a position on whether the United States can further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in its national strategy?

Perry: The only such issue I have come across, particularly with Japan, is the extent to which our nuclear deterrence is specific to Japan—that is, whether it involved nuclear weapons specifically designed to protect Japan as opposed to general deterrence. That has to do with maintaining shorter-range nuclear weapons. But there’s never been a question that I’m aware of as to whether our long-range nuclear weapons were capable of deterrence. This was an issue we had, as you may remember, back during the Cold War. Even though we had overwhelming capability in our strategic nuclear forces, the Germans felt it necessary to have nuclear forces based in their country to guarantee our deterrence to them, extended deterrence. That was, I think, a misguided judgment on the part of the Germans. But they certainly felt strongly, and as a consequence, we did keep medium-range nuclear weapons based in Germany to give them the confidence of our deterrence. I don’t see that lack of confidence today, though.

ACT: As you write in your book, progress on nuclear disarmament has slowed since the early days of President [Barack] Obama’s first term. How can multilateral disarmament move forward when the forums for multilateral diplomacy, such as the Conference on Disarmament [CD] and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT] review conference, appear to be in a stalemate?

Perry: I think they are in a stalemate. I would not say that arms negotiations has slowed; I would say it has stopped. I don’t see any significant action between the U.S. and Russia today that has any chance of moving towards another treaty. I know that many people in the U.S. government that would like to do that and are trying to move in that direction. But they haven’t gotten any two-sided discussions that seem to have any significance going forward yet. I’d say this is not the fault of the U.S. officials; it’s just that Russia isn’t showing any interest in moving forward in nuclear arms agreements. So that’s one of the main issues ahead of us, and if we can get a stronger positive relation with Russia on other issues, we should also be working with them to try to get forward motion again on a follow-on to New START [the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty].

ACT: I was also asking about multilateral diplomacy, not just the bilateral U.S.-Russian interaction. Is there any way to stimulate movement in the CD, to deal with the issues that have divided the NPT members at their last review conference, issues like that? Who needs to take action to do that? Is there anyone besides the U.S. and Russia who can move that process or help move that process?

Perry: Probably yes, but I don’t have a good answer to your question.

ACT: In your book, you write that the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program over the past 15 years “is perhaps the most unsuccessful exercise of diplomacy in our country’s history.” What could the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have done differently to avoid this outcome?

Perry: Well, we had a negotiation going with the North Koreans in 2000, which was very close to an agreement. When the administration changed, the Bush administration simply cut off any discussions with the North Koreans. That was demonstrated to be not an effective way of dealing with the North Koreans, but it didn’t seem to me to be a wise way even before we saw the outcome. We should have kept the dialogue going, and that was a big mistake, I think.

ACT: With regard to the Obama administration’s approach to North Korea, how would you assess its strategy toward reducing the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program?

Perry: It evidently has not been effective. But I would say, somewhat in their defense, that by the time they got into office, North Korea already had nuclear weapons. In 2001, North Korea did not yet have nuclear weapons. There was an opportunity for a much easier negotiation; it was much more feasible to negotiate with them not to develop nuclear weapons and not to produce nuclear weapons. Once they had nuclear weapons, the negotiation got very much harder. Now the administration had to argue with them to give up what they already have, and so I think the opportunity that was lost was between 2001 and 2008. That was when we had the chance to stop the North Korean nuclear program.

ACT: Given where we are now, what realistically in your view can be achieved at this point to stop and perhaps roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program?

Perry: I don’t have any better advice on that than Sig Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, has given. He said that, given that they already have the nuclear weapons, making our position in the negotiations that they must give them up is a very hard negotiation. So he argues instead to put that aside for the time being and take a more limited goal in diplomacy. It’s what he calls the three noes, which is no new nuclear weapons, no more nuclear weapons, and no selling of nuclear weapons or technology.1 Those are the three noes that he states, and he offers some positive incentives we might give for that to happen. He said that should be the basis of the negotiation. If we ever succeed in that, then we can take the next step in trying to get them to roll back their arsenal. But as far as I can determine, we have not proceeded along the lines of those three noes. That was a tactical approach that Sig had that I supported at the time and still do. I think it was a reasonable approach to dealing with the North. 

ACT: I want to go back to the issue of nuclear terrorism, which we touched on briefly a few minutes ago. You wrote in your book that the threat of nuclear terrorism is the “gravest threat of our time.” Why do you think that’s the case?

Perry: The threat of nuclear weapons is the greatest threat of our time, and nuclear terrorism is the most likely form of it. If you consider the deterrent we have to somebody attacking us with nuclear weapons, it’s very powerful. But we have no deterrent to nuclear terrorism, and it’s relatively easy to imagine how such an attack could happen. So it’s not that it’s as catastrophic as a nuclear war; it’s just it has a much higher probability.

ACT: You mentioned the nuclear security summit process. How successful do you think that’s been in addressing this problem of nuclear terrorism?

Perry: I think it’s the most effective thing we can do because the most likely way for a terrorist to get a nuclear weapon is to get the fissile material and then build a crude, improvised bomb himself. So the biggest obstacle to a terrorist getting a nuclear weapon is getting the fissile material, and the nuclear summit process is specifically addressed to putting fissile material all over the world under much better control or eliminating it.

ACT: So as a result of the nuclear summit process, do you feel less troubled or less concerned than you did, say, seven years ago before the process started? 

Perry: Yes, I do. I mean, there are just fewer opportunities now for a terrorist group to get ahold of the fissile material. But I don’t feel by any means relaxed about this because there’s still a lot of it out there not under really good control. That’s why I think this final nuclear summit next year is so important. It gives us an opportunity to take even stronger actions than we’ve taken in the previous summits, including the opportunity for setting an international standard for the control and protection of fissile material.

ACT: What should be done to continue to focus high-level attention on the problem after the summit is completed? 

Perry: I’m sorry to say that the thing that would really give high-level attention to the problem is a nuclear terrorist incident. Then what had once seemed to be a theoretical possibility will become real. All I’m hoping and working for is that we can find the actions to stop nuclear terrorism without having that triggering event.

ACT: On the question of the likelihood, periodically people say within so-and-so many years there’s such-and-such a percentage chance of a nuclear terrorist incident taking place. People have been saying that for the last 30 years or so, and there hasn’t been one. So what do you think is the likelihood and over what time period?

Perry: I’ve never been able to put a number on it. But I would say it is quite feasible for it to happen in the next year, and I don’t see the actions we have now to keep that from happening as strong enough to give me any comfort that it’s not going to happen. It could happen next year; it could happen the following year. It’s a matter of the terrorist group putting the priority on doing that and putting the resources and the effort to making it happen. But I just don’t know how to put a number on it, a probability on it. Certainly, the likelihood of that happening is much higher than any of the other nuclear catastrophes.

ACT: As President Obama enters his final year in office, what more can he realistically seek to achieve with regard to the ambitious agenda he articulated in his Prague speech in April 2009?2

Perry: Number one, he could put a major effort into making this last nuclear summit a big success. That would be my number-one priority, I think, particularly since it addresses the threat I’m most concerned about, which is nuclear terrorism. Secondly, if he can get a renewed serious dialogue with the Russians, I would try to get a follow-on to New START under way. Third, a major push on the CTBT, however he could go about doing that, to try to get that ratified before he leaves office. That is a very steep uphill climb, and I don’t want to be optimistic. But as I recommend things to the administration, I do recommend that they make a major effort still to try to push that through, not to give up on the ratification of the CTBT. Many people will say that’s an impossible dream, but I would like a major push to achieve ratification.

ACT: Thank you very much for your time; we really appreciate it.

ENDNOTES

1.  See, for example, Siegfried S. Hecker, “North Korea Reactor Restart Sets Back Denuclearization,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, October 17, 2013, http://thebulletin.org/north-korea-reactor-restart-sets-back-denuclearization.

2.  Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Barack Obama, Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic,” April 5, 2009.

The former Pentagon chief says intercontinental ballistic missiles are not essential to the U.S. deterrent, worries about the risk of nuclear terrorism, and advocates a “major push” on the [CTBT].

Poland Backs Away From Nuclear Sharing

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

One day after a senior Polish defense official told a Polish TV station on Dec. 6 that the country was “actively working on” joining NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements, the country’s defense ministry denied that Poland was “engaged in any work aimed at joining” the arrangements.

In its Dec. 7 statement, the ministry said that the comment by Deputy Defense Minister Tomasz Szatkowski “should be seen in the context of recent remarks made by serious Western think tanks, which point to deficits in NATO’s nuclear deterrent capability on its eastern flank.” The statement observed that some of these think tanks have recommended expanding the number of countries that base U.S. nuclear weapons on their soil.

NATO’s nuclear sharing program is currently believed to consist of the deployment of 200 tactical B61 gravity bombs on the territory of five NATO members: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Most of these countries also maintain aircraft to deliver the weapons.

Like all other NATO members except France, Poland already participates in the alliance’s nuclear decision-making as a member of the Nuclear Planning Group, which acts as NATO’s senior body on nuclear matters. In addition, Poland contributes non-nuclear capabilities such as aircraft in support of the alliance’s nuclear mission.

NATO officials have repeatedly stated that the alliance is not considering the basing of tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states.

But the alliance has raised concerns about the nuclear behavior and other aggressive actions of Russia over the last year and continues to evaluate whether to formally adjust its nuclear posture in response to these actions in the lead-up to the next NATO summit meeting, scheduled to take place July 8-9 in Warsaw. (See ACT, November 2015.)

In a Dec. 7 blog post, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said that as NATO diplomats weigh specific nuclear-related measures, the alliance already “is starting to adjust its nuclear posture in Europe in ways that seem similar (but far from identical) to the Cold War play book,” such as “increased reliance on U.S. nuclear forces” and “more exercises and rotational deployments of nuclear-capable forces.”

Szatkowski’s statement “is but the latest sign of that development,” he added.

One day after a senior Polish defense official told a Polish TV station on Dec. 6 that the country was “actively working on” joining NATO’s...

Cost Estimates Rise for UK Submarine

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

A new defense review by the UK government estimates the cost of building four new ballistic missile submarines to be 31 billion pounds (about $45.5 billion), an increase of 17-20 billion pounds over the last formal government estimate of 11-14 billion pounds nearly a decade ago.

The defense review also announced a new investment plan and deployment date for the new submarines.

The United Kingdom currently possesses four Vanguard-class submarines armed with Trident missiles carrying a total of 120 nuclear warheads. (The submarines sometimes are also called Tridents.) The government is planning to replace these submarines with a fleet of four new ones.

The 2015 cost estimate to build the submarines includes the effects of inflation over the 20 years it will take to acquire the boats. The review said the total cost to design the new submarine fleet would be an additional 3.9 billion pounds, a portion of which has already been spent.

The review is also setting aside a “contingency” fund of 10 billion pounds, apparently to help address potential increases in the manufacturing cost of the submarines.

The review did not include an estimate of the cost to operate the new boats over their expected lifetimes. Reuters reported last October that the cost to build and operate the fleet and its supporting infrastructure will reach 167 billion pounds, citing figures provided to Crispin Blunt, a Conservative member of Parliament, by the Ministry of Defence.

In 2011 the government approved a five-year preparatory research and design phase for the new submarines. The key set of investment decisions on the program, known as Main Gate, had been scheduled for 2016, to be followed by a vote in Parliament. But the review said the government is “moving away from a traditional single ‘Main Gate’ approach, which is not appropriate for a program of this scale and complexity, to a staged investment programme.”

The review did not detail what this new approach will look like.

It also is unclear whether and, if so, when the Conservative Party, which strongly supports the replacement of the current submarines and currently holds a majority in Parliament, will seek a vote in Parliament in favor of the replacement program.

According to the review, the first new submarine is slated to enter service in the early 2030s. Previous government statements had said the first new submarine would be in the water in 2028. 

A new defense review by the UK government estimates the cost of building four new ballistic missile submarines to be 31 billion pounds (about $45.5 billion)...

U.S. Broadens Response on INF Treaty

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

In this video image, the State Department’s Rose Gottemoeller, left, and the Defense Department’s Brian McKeon testify on December 1, 2015, at a hearing in the House of Representatives on Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Photo credit: C-SPAN)After reviewing a range of military options to respond to Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Obama administration appears to have decided to pursue a broader approach that goes beyond its specific concerns about Moscow’s noncompliance with the treaty.

In testimony at a Dec. 1 hearing held jointly by House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs subcommittees, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said that “Russia is not violating the INF Treaty in isolation from its overall aggressive behavior; therefore we concluded that our responses cannot focus solely on the INF Treaty.”

“Accordingly,” he added, “we are developing a comprehensive response to Russian military actions and are committing to investments that we will make irrespective of Russia’s decision to return to compliance with the INF Treaty due to the broader strategic environment we face.”

Reiterating the public assessment that it first made in July 2014, the State Department said last June that Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, July/August 2015.)

Russia denies that it is breaching the INF Treaty. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a Dec. 1 statement that the allegations are “groundless” and the United States has “not provided any proof” that Russia is “allegedly producing and deploying” banned missiles.

Defense and State department officials have said they do not believe Russia has deployed the prohibited missile.

At a December 2014 hearing held by the same House subcommittees as the recent hearing, McKeon said the Pentagon had conducted a military assessment of the threat “if Russia were to deploy” an INF Treaty-range GLCM “in Europe or the Asia-Pacific region.” That assessment prompted a review of three kinds of response capabilities to ensure that Russia did not gain a significant military advantage from its alleged violation: “active defenses” to enhance the defense of locations the noncompliant GLCMs could reach, “counterforce capabilities” to actually attack these missiles, and “countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.”

McKeon did not provide details on the options, but did say that they were being discussed with allies and that some “would be compliant with the INF Treaty” but others “would not be.”

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 29, 2015, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said the Obama administration was still in the midst of “negotiating” how to respond to the treaty breach but that if Russia fielded a noncompliant system, he would “expect” the United States to pursue one of the three categories of INF Treaty-focused options McKeon outlined.

At the Dec. 1 hearing, however, McKeon did not mention these options. Instead, he listed a number of broader steps that the United States already is undertaking and plans to undertake to bolster the defense of Europe in the face of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, along with heightened nuclear saber rattling that has included more nuclear exercises.

McKeon’s list included expanding bilateral and multilateral military exercises with European allies, positioning military equipment in central and eastern Europe, improving air defense systems in Europe, modernizing U.S. nuclear forces, and focusing on new threats to Europe, such as Russian cyberattacks.

He said that as the administration evaluates “the changed strategic environment in Europe, we are factoring Russia’s increased cruise missile capabilities, including its INF [Treaty] violation, into our planning.”

Puzzling Move

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, testified alongside McKeon at the Dec. 1 hearing and said the administration is “puzzled as to why” Russia thinks it needs a noncompliant GLCM since the targets in range of the new missile could be covered by Moscow’s strategic nuclear forces. Gottemoeller also noted that the Russians have been developing new air- and sea-launched cruise missiles, which are not prohibited by the INF Treaty.

McKeon said the prohibited missile program would create new military threats to the United States and its allies, but did not elaborate, citing classification restrictions.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House strategic forces subcommittee, expressed displeasure with the apparent change in the administration’s approach. He said the specific response options prepared “a year ago for consideration are now going to…just blend in” to the broader response to other challenges posed by Russia. As a result, there will be “no action on the violation of the INF Treaty,” he said.

McKeon said Russian officials would take notice of the broader military capabilities in which the United States is investing and “start to understand” that their treaty noncompliance “is not making them any more secure.” If Russia continues in its noncompliance, he said, “we can always assess whether to take other measures.” McKeon did not specify what those other measures might be or if they would come from the three response categories the administration had originally been considering.

Gottemoeller said that the U.S. “announcement of Russia’s violation…has imposed significant costs on Russia” and prevented Moscow from developing the system “unconstrained.”

She added that the administration continues to “consider economic measures with regard to the INF [Treaty].”

Policy Shift?

One European analyst said McKeon’s testimony marked a clear shift away from the administration’s previous focus on a response that was specific to the treaty and represents “a significant political decision.” In a Dec. 28 email to Arms Control Today, Jacek Durkalec, nonproliferation and arms control project manager at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said the change is “understandable” because many of the options for U.S. responses “would be relevant for deterrence and defense” of NATO even if Russia returned to compliance, especially defense against different kinds of Russian cruise missile threats. He added that the new framing of the response would also avoid the risk of contentious debate within NATO about how to respond to the violation.

Soviet inspectors and their U.S. escorts stand among dismantled U.S. Pershing II missiles at an unidentified site on January 14, 1989, as part of the regime of destruction and inspections under the INF Treaty. (Photo credit: MSGT Jose Lopez Jr./Defense Department)But he expressed concern that the lack of clear and specific response could call into question the resolve of the United States to respond to arms control violations. Furthermore, he said, Russia might now have little incentive to return to compliance with the INF Treaty because the overall U.S. efforts to strengthen the defense of Europe will be made irrespective of Russia’s compliance status.

In a Dec. 23 interview, Steven Pifer, director of the Brookings Institution’s Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative, said the approach described by McKeon did not necessarily reflect a shift in strategy and seemed to fit in the “countervailing” category of response options that McKeon first outlined in 2014. Pifer also said the approach gives the next administration the ability to pursue additional responses that are specific to the INF Treaty “down the road” if it so chooses.

In a Dec. 15 email, a Republican Senate staffer said, “Treating the INF Treaty violation as part of Russia’s larger pattern of behavior is fine – as long [as] US actions truly address the strategic implications of the violation.” According to the staffer, this “requires the US to adjust its nuclear posture to take into account the new reality of Russia’s increasing reliance on nuclear weapons, particularly cruise missiles.”

The fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Barack Obama on Nov. 25, calls for a plan for the development of the three kinds of response capabilities the administration said it had planned to pursue to counter Russia’s new GLCM program and requires the Defense Department to make a recommendation on a response capability. (See ACT, November 2015.)

McKeon said the Defense Department will complete the report required by the bill. 

The Obama administration appears to have decided to pursue a response to Russia’s alleged violation of the [INF] Treaty that goes beyond Washington’s specific concerns about treaty noncompliance. 

New Cruise Missile Capability Debated

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

A B-52H bomber releases an unarmed AGM-86B air-launched cruise missile during a test run at the Utah Test and Training Range on September 22, 2014. (Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Roidan Carlson/U.S. Air Force)The United States is planning to purchase a new fleet of nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) that will be far more advanced than the ones they are slated to replace, according to members of Congress and other sources, raising questions about the plan’s consistency with a pledge made by the Obama administration not to provide nuclear weapons with new capabilities.

The development of the new missile also has sparked a debate about whether it could be more “usable” than the existing ALCM, thereby lowering the threshold for when the United States might consider using nuclear weapons.

In a Dec. 15 letter to President Barack Obama urging him to cancel the new cruise missile, also known as the long-range standoff weapon, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and seven other senators wrote that the “proposed…missile is a significantly altered version” of the existing ALCM.

The letter did not say what specific capabilities the new missile would provide, but claimed the proposal contradicts the policy statement from the 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] Report” that efforts to sustain U.S. nuclear weapons “will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”

“Indeed,” the senators added, “this new cruise missile appears to be designed specifically for improved nuclear war-fighting capabilities.”

The White House disputed the contention that the new ALCM contradicts administration policy. In a Dec. 23 email to Arms Control Today, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said that U.S. nuclear modernization efforts are “consistent with the President’s strategy laid out in Prague [in a 2009 speech] and in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.”

The Defense Department elaborated in a Jan. 5 email. The new missile “will use a refurbished version of the current ALCM warhead” that “will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities,” said Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers. Rather, by developing the new weapons system, the United States “will preserve existing military capability in the face of evolving threats,” Sowers said.

The NPR Report’s prohibition on the development of new military missions and capabilities specifically refers to improvements to nuclear warheads, not their delivery systems.

Nuclear-armed ALCMs are part of the U.S. nuclear triad of strategic delivery systems consisting of land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and long-range bombers, which can carry ALCMs and gravity bombs. ALCMs, which are currently carried by the B-52H long-range bomber, are standoff weapons that can attack targets at distances beyond the range of air defense systems.

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. Multiple life-extension programs have kept the missile, which was first fielded in 1982 with a planned service life of 10 years, in service for more than 30 years. The Air Force is planning to retain the missile until 2030.

Current Air Force plans call for the procurement of about 1,000 new nuclear-capable missiles, roughly double the size of the existing fleet of ALCMs. (See ACT, June 2015.) Government and think tank estimates suggest that the total cost of building the new missile and refurbishing the associated warhead would be about $25 billion over 20 years. 

New Capabilities Sought

Although the Defense Department has declined to comment publicly on the capabilities of the new ALCM, the limited information the department has released, as well as information from several other sources, points to a missile that will have new capabilities.

In a Feb. 25, 2015, request for information to contractors on the desired performance of the new missile’s engine, the Air Force said it was seeking potential improvements in the performance of the current engine technology, including a possible supersonic option, which would allow the missile to fly at a velocity of at least 768 miles per hour. The current ALCM can travel at a speed of approximately 550 miles per hour.

Pentagon officials also have said that the new fleet of cruise missiles will be compatible with not only the B-52H, but also the B-2 and planned long-range strike bombers. It is not clear if deploying the missile on the more advanced B-2 and long-range strike aircraft would allow those planes to hit targets that the B-52H could not reliably reach.

Advocates of the new missile argue that it provides a continuing ability to quickly add missiles to bombers. They note that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty does not cap the number of weapons that can be carried on each bomber.

The Air Force told Arms Control Today last May that, despite the current plan to roughly double the size of the ALCM fleet, the requirements for nuclear-armed cruise missiles “have not increased.”

A source who has been briefed on the new ALCM program disputed the need for such a large missile procurement, saying in an interview that, “in exchange for” a more reliable and capable missile, the department “should maintain a smaller hedge.”

The source said the technical characteristics of the new missile are still being defined because the program is still in the early development stage but that the goal is to increase the range and accuracy of the missile. The source said another goal is to incorporate the latest stealth features, making the missile much more difficult for adversary air defense systems to detect.

Such features would comport with the Defense Department’s primary rationale for the new missile, namely to ensure that the bomber leg of the triad can strike targets in the face of increasingly sophisticated adversary air defenses. The department has expressed concern that the current ALCM is losing its ability to continue to penetrate these defenses in addition to becoming increasingly unreliable.

Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), shown above in a March 2015 photo, organized a letter to President Barack Obama opposing a new cruise missile. (Photo credit: Paul Marotta/Getty Images)In response to questions submitted by lawmakers after a Feb. 26, 2015, hearing of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, Brian McKeon, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said maintenance of the existing ALCM “is becoming increasingly difficult, and its reliability in the next decade is not assured even with substantial investment.”

The source who had been briefed on the program said that, due to the reliability concerns, the ALCM is currently “not part of the planning scenarios for nuclear use.” He added that the missile could be maintained for the next five years but, “after that, it’s almost a dud.”

Some former officials and experts say it should not be surprising that the new cruise missile will be more advanced than the existing ALCM.

In a December email exchange with Arms Control Today, Al Mauroni and Mel Deaile of the Air Force Center for Unconventional Weapons Studies said they would expect the Defense Department “to improve military capabilities over past, aging weapon systems that continue to be fielded well beyond their originally-designed service life.” Mauroni and Deaile added that their comments did not necessarily reflect official U.S. positions.

Regarding the proposed life extension program for the ALCM warhead, known as the W80-4, the source who has been briefed said a goal of that program is to permit “greater flexibility in actually picking” the desired yield. The ALCM warhead is believed have a built-in option to allow detonation at lower or higher yields.

According to the source, increasing the accuracy of the missile allows for more flexibility in the warhead yield, thus enhancing the overall capability of the weapons system.

The source criticized the Obama administration for claiming the new missile program is consistent with the NPR Report. Focusing narrowly on whether the warhead’s nuclear explosive package is a new design, the source said, “allows the military to increase or change capabilities” in other areas of the weapons system “while shielding [itself] behind the narrow letter” of the report “and avoiding public debate.”

Lowering the Threshold

The source said the briefings made it clear that the Pentagon is envisioning potential uses for the new cruise missile that go beyond “the original mission space” of the ALCM.

For example, the source said that, in the event of a major conflict with China, the Pentagon has talked about using the new missile to destroy Chinese air defenses as a warning to Beijing against escalating the conflict further.

In testimony to the strategic forces subcommittee on April 15, 2015, Robert Scher, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities, said an additional rationale for the new ALCM is to preserve the president’s ability to respond “to a limited or large-scale failure of deterrence,” but did not provide details.

In a Dec. 14 statement to Arms Control Today, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), a member of the strategic forces panel, said claims that the new cruise missile will provide the president with more flexible response options “accept that a nuclear conflict could be controlled through the deliberate use of nuclear force.”

He said he disagreed with that approach because “[t]here is no such thing as a limited nuclear war.”

A Senate Republican staffer offered a different view in a Dec. 15 email. In developing the new missile, the United States should be prepared to match “Russia’s new emphasis” on the use of tactical nuclear weapons “to de-escalate a potential conflict” and “force developments by other nuclear powers,” the staffer said.

In a Dec. 17 interview, a different congressional staffer said it is not yet clear what features the new cruise missile and associated warhead will have, but expressed concern that the Defense and Energy departments will choose features that make the weapons system “more usable,” thus blurring the line between nuclear and conventional weapons.

Others dispute the notion that a more capable nuclear weapon increases the likelihood of its use. Retired Gen. C. Robert Kehler, former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in a Dec. 15 email that the new cruise missile will not lower the nuclear threshold because “the height of the nuclear threshold isn’t directly related to the so-called ‘usability’ of the weapons.”

Kehler, who is an affiliate of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, said U.S. “planners have to balance US policy regarding ‘new’ nuclear capabilities against the realities of weapon design and the evolution of technology and the threat.”

He added, “I believe we can strike the right balance while still meeting the intent of the [president’s] policy.”


Correction: The original version of this article mischaracterized the party affiliation of one the signers of the letter organized by Sen. Ed Markey. The signers were Markey, six other Democratic senators, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats.

The United States is planning to purchase a new fleet of nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles that will be far more advanced than the missiles they are slated to replace.

Hill Denies Money for Submarine Fund

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

An Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia on February 6, 2013. (Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber/U.S. Navy)Congress in December declined to provide funding for a special budget account it created in 2014 to pay for a dozen new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines amid ongoing concerns about the high cost of the boats and a debate about whether the fund would save money.

Lawmakers also voted to withhold 75 percent of the Army’s budget request for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) after part of the blimp-borne radar system crashed in northeastern Pennsylvania on Oct. 28.

Those provisions were part of the fiscal year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, which passed the House and the Senate on Dec. 18. Fiscal year 2016 started on Oct. 1, 2015, and runs until Sept. 30.

Navy officials have repeatedly warned that the service’s projected long-term budget is not large enough to accommodate the program to build the new submarines, known as the Ohio-class replacement program, and meet its needs for conventional ships. (See ACT, October 2013.) The Navy estimates that the 12 planned boats, which are slated to be purchased between 2021 and 2035 and replace the existing fleet of 14 Ohio-class subs, will cost $139 billion to develop and build.

In an attempt to address the Navy’s concerns, the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act created the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund, a separate budget account outside the Navy’s regular shipbuilding account that would provide a mechanism for the Navy to buy the new boats without reducing funding for its other shipbuilding programs. The authorization bill for the current fiscal year, which President Barack Obama signed on Nov. 25, expands the purview of the fund and provides the Navy with special acquisition authorities, such as the ability to buy components for multiple boats in a single bulk purchase, which supporters say could reduce the cost of the new submarines.

But critics, including Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, maintain that the fund is a gimmick because extra monies will have to be found somewhere in the Pentagon’s budget with or without the fund. The critics also argue that Congress can authorize more-efficient acquisition practices in the absence of a separate account.

The actual transfer of money to the fund has to be approved by lawmakers through the appropriations process. The House defense appropriations subcommittee, which has been critical of the fund, attempted to prohibit the transfer of fiscal year 2016 monies to the account. But the full House overruled the subcommittee ban, which the full Appropriations Committee had accepted, in approving two amendments to the defense appropriations bill that removed the prohibition and made $3.5 billion available for transfer. The Senate Appropriations Committee version of the bill did not authorize the transfer of money to the fund.

The final omnibus bill reflects the Senate position and does not approve money for the fund.

The omnibus bill also takes a hard line on the JLENS program, slashing $30 million from the budget request of $40.6 million due to “test schedule delays.” In the Oct. 28 incident, one of the two tethered blimps that make up the current test deployment of the system detached from its mooring station near Baltimore, dragging 6,700 feet of cable for three hours before finally coming to rest. (See ACT, December 2015.) The system is designed to detect and track objects such as cruise missiles and other airborne threats.

In a December email exchange with Arms Control Today, Maj. Beth Smith, a spokeswoman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said an Army investigation to determine the cause of the incident is “still ongoing” and could take 90 days to complete. A decision about whether to continue the planned three-year test of the system’s capability to contribute to cruise missile defense “will be made following the investigation’s conclusion,” she added.

In a Jan. 5 email to Arms Control Today, an aide to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), vice chairman of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, said that “after more than $2.7 billion invested in the program, continuing criticism of its reliability, and the near-tragedy in October when the aerostat broke free from its tether,” the omnibus bill “does not support continuation” of the test of the system in fiscal year 2016.

Signed by Obama on Dec. 18, the omnibus appropriations bill is a $1.1 trillion conglomeration of 12 appropriations bills that had to be passed to keep the government operating. The bill was made possible by an Oct. 26 agreement between the White House and key congressional leaders on new spending levels for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

Nuclear Modernization

The omnibus bill largely supported the Obama administration’s proposed funding hike 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.)

The bill includes the requested amount of $1.4 billion for the Navy’s Ohio-class replacement program, an increase of $100 million above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation, and $75.2 million for the Air Force’s effort to develop a replacement for Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), an increase of $68.3 million over last year’s appropriation.

The Pentagon’s Frank Kendall speaks at the Farnborough air show in the United Kingdom on July 14, 2014. (Photo credit: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images)The bill also provides the requested amount of $8.9 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an increase of $667 million, or 8 percent, above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation. The appropriation for weapons activities includes $195 million to begin refurbishing the existing nuclear air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) warhead, an increase of $186 million above last year’s appropriation of $9.4 million.

The omnibus bill provides $16.1 million for the Air Force’s program to develop a new nuclear ALCM to deliver the refurbished warhead, a 56 percent reduction below the request of $36.6 million, and $736 million for the program to build up to 100 new long-range strategic bombers, a 41 percent reduction below the request of $1.3 billion. These reductions reflect schedule delays that decreased the budget requirements for both programs in fiscal year 2016 below the levels that were originally anticipated.

In addition, the bill includes a policy provision prohibiting the use of fiscal year 2016 funds “to reduce or to prepare to reduce” the number of deployed and nondeployed U.S. strategic nuclear delivery systems below the levels the Pentagon has said it will retain as it adjusts its forces to meet the requirements of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the treaty’s implementation deadline of 2018. (See ACT, May 2014.)

Missile Defense Gets Increase

The omnibus bill provides $15 million in unrequested funding “to expedite the construction and deployment of urgently needed missile defense assets in various locations within the Continental United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.”

The bill does not specify whether this money can be used to begin building a third missile defense interceptor site on the U.S. East Coast to augment existing defenses in Alaska and California against a limited ICBM attack.

The House version of the fiscal year 2016 military construction appropriations bill included $30 million to begin early planning and design activities for a third site. The Senate version of the bill did not include this funding.

In a Dec. 23 email, Missile Defense Agency (MDA) spokesman Richard Lehner said the agency is currently “assessing” its options for spending the additional $15 million. He added that “no construction [is] planned for an East Coast site” as there has been “no decision to construct a site.”

The Defense Department announced in January 2014 that it would conduct environmental impact studies for four possible missile defense sites in the eastern United States, as directed by Congress. (See ACT, March 2014.) Lehner said these studies are scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2016.

Overall, the omnibus bill provides approximately $8.1 billion for the MDA, an increase of $175 million above the administration request.

MOX and the Alternative

Lawmakers provided the NNSA with a small amount of money to begin work on an alternative to the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The MOX fuel program is designed to turn surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program into fuel for power reactors.

Of the $345 million the administration requested for construction of the MOX fuel plant, the omnibus bill provides $340 million for construction and $5 million to begin early planning and design activities for the “dilute and dispose” approach, which would down-blend the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal in a repository. The bill prohibits the NNSA from actually diluting plutonium.

The language on the MOX fuel plant represents the latest round of a long-running battle over the best way to handle the surplus weapons plutonium.

The omnibus bill includes $1.7 billion for the NNSA’s fissile material security and nonproliferation efforts, the same as the budget request and an increase of $90.7 million, or 5.6 percent, above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation

Congress in December declined to fund a special account to pay for a dozen new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines amid ongoing concerns about the high cost of the boats...

UN Creates New Disarmament Group

December 2015

By Kingston Reif

Alexander Kmentt of Austria, shown above in a May 14 photo, said a newly created UN working group on disarmament has a broad mandate and that single countries or small groups should not be able to “block the discussion from taking place on procedural grounds.” (Photo credit: Jackie Barrientes/Arms Control Association)UN member states voted last month to create a working group to advance nuclear disarmament amid opposition from the nuclear-weapon states, uncertainty about how widespread participation in the group will be, and disagreement about how the group should operate and what it should seek to accomplish.

The contentious debate in the UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with nuclear disarmament, on that vote and others also illustrated the continuing, broader divisions among key countries on disarmament and even exacerbated those divisions, according to experts and diplomats.

On Nov. 5, by a vote of 135-12 with 33 abstentions, the First Committee approved a resolution by Mexico that would create an open-ended working group, a forum in which all UN members can participate, to “substantively address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms” necessary to “attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.”

The working group also would “substantively address recommendations on other measures that could contribute to taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.” Specifically, the resolution cited transparency and threat reduction measures related to the risks associated with existing arsenals and additional measures to increase awareness about the humanitarian and societal consequences of nuclear weapons use. The latter issue has been the focus of an effort known as the humanitarian initiative.

The resolution says the group should convene in Geneva in 2016 for up to 15 days and present a report on its work to the General Assembly at its session next year.

The creation of a working group on disarmament was a recommendation contained in the draft final document from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference that took place earlier this year. (See ACT, June 2015.) The participants in the review conference did not agree to adopt the document.

But in contrast to the NPT recommendation, the Mexican proposal, which was co-sponsored by a group of countries associated with the humanitarian initiative, the working group would operate according to the General Assembly’s normal rules of conducting business, which do not require consensus. (See ACT, November 2015.)

Proponents of this approach argue that it represents a way to move forward on disarmament issues in light of the deadlock that continues to block progress on those issues in other UN forums, such as the Conference on Disarmament, which includes only 65 countries and operates on the basis of consensus. (See ACT, September 2015.)

Strong Opposition

Although the resolution garnered the support of a majority of states, the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the NPT (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) strongly opposed the resolution. Most of the 25 non-nuclear-weapon-state members of NATO—of which France, the UK, and the United States are members—and close U.S. allies Australia, Japan, and South Korea either voted against the resolution or abstained.

In a Nov. 2 statement on behalf of the five nuclear-weapon states, Alice Guitton, the French permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, called the resolution “divisive” and said it lacked “vital components that would guarantee both a meaningful collaboration and a productive outcome.”

She added that the five states “remain open” to “an appropriately mandated” open-ended working group that operates “through a consensus-based approach” and is “fully anchored in the security context.”

The First Committee appeared poised to vote on a second proposal for an open-ended working group, but Iran, the resolution’s sponsor, suddenly withdrew the resolution before a planned vote on Nov. 5. The Iranian proposal closely resembled the language contained in the draft review conference document. It called for a discussion on advancing nuclear disarmament and would have operated on the basis of consensus.

In a statement explaining the decision to withdraw the resolution, Iran said the nuclear-weapon states were unwilling “to commit themselves to a consensus-based and inclusive” working group approach.

In an e-mail exchange last month, Blake Narendra, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said that although there were “some aspects” of the resolution “with which the United States could not associate,” Washington “would not have opposed this resolution, had it come to a vote.”

A source knowledgeable about the proceedings at the First Committee said last month that Iran withdrew the resolution because it was unable to gather enough support for its draft from other countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, of which Iran is a member.

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.

Key Uncertainties

In the aftermath of the First Committee’s vote to establish an open-ended working group, co-sponsors of the Mexican resolution were encouraging all states to participate in the group. But the states that opposed the resolution or abstained from voting on it expressed different views on whether they would participate in the group and what exactly the group should discuss.

Narendra said that “[t]he U.S. decision to participate will depend upon how the Open Ended Working Group...is structured and will operate.”

He added that the United States would welcome the opportunity to participate in a working group that provides for “consensus recommendations on effective measures to advance nuclear disarmament.”

The Latvian government, which opposed the Mexican resolution, said in a Nov. 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today that it had not decided whether to participate in the new working group. In the e-mail, a Latvian Foreign Ministry representative said the working group “should be set up in a manner that would be supported by the broadest number of states, including the nuclear-weapon states.”

In a separate Nov. 20 e-mail, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said the Netherlands believes “the mandate of the working group should be as broad as possible and foster a productive dialogue to identify measures and instruments to achieve progress on nuclear disarmament.” The Netherlands, which abstained on the Mexican resolution, will participate in the working group, the e-mail said.

In a Nov. 16 e-mail, Alexander Kmentt, director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, said the working group “will clearly not negotiate a legally binding instrument” on nuclear disarmament or bind participants to a particular outcome. Austria was a co-sponsor of the Mexican resolution that created the working group.

In Austria’s view, Kmentt said, the working group has a broad mandate that focuses on two tracks. The first track allows for a thorough discussion on the “pros and cons” and “feasibility” of different proposals on “effective legal measures, legal provisions, and norms.” The second track would focus on other aspects that are important for advancing multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, such as risk reduction and transparency, he said.

Kmentt added that no single country or small group of countries should be able to “block the discussion from taking place on procedural grounds” and that the working group should “produce a substantive report that reflects truly what was presented and discussed and possible recommendations.”

He said it would be a bad sign if the nuclear-weapon states did not participate out of concern that they could not “control the discourse” and because they insist on the rule of consensus. That rule is partly responsible for the dysfunction of established disarmament forums, he said.

Disarmament Divide Widens

In an indication of the potential larger impact of the First Committee debate, Benno Laggner, the head of the division for security policy in the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, told the attendees at the 2015 European Union Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference on Nov. 12 that the resolutions that were debated in the First Committee made support for the humanitarian initiative “even more fragmented.”

Many of the states associated with the initiative co-sponsored three resolutions at the First Committee this year stressing the catastrophic impacts that would ensue from the use of nuclear weapons and the urgent need for states to take effective measures, including legally binding measures, to eliminate and prohibit nuclear weapons (see box).

Although each resolution garnered the support of the vast majority of states, the nuclear-weapon states opposed all three resolutions, as did most members of NATO and U.S. allies in East Asia.

The fate this year of the resolution offered annually by Japan reaffirming the “unequivocal undertaking” of the nuclear-weapon states to meet their NPT Article VI commitment and eliminate their nuclear arsenals also illustrated the growing divide.

In 2014, the resolution was approved by a vote of 163-1 with 14 abstentions. But this year’s version of the resolution, which included more references to the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, was approved by a vote of 156-3 with 17 abstentions. The United States, which in previous years has co-sponsored the resolution, abstained on the resolution this year, as did France and the UK. China and Russia, which had abstained in the past, voted against it.

In the e-mail exchange, Narendra declined to comment on the specific factors that caused the United States to change its position on the resolution, saying only that “[t]his year we did not feel we could support the resolution.”

Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies said at the EU conference on Nov. 12 that the vote on the Japan resolution highlights the disappearing “middle ground” on nuclear disarmament.

Additional UN Nuclear Disarmament Resolutions

In its 2015 session, the UN General Assembly First Committee adopted several resolutions on nuclear disarmament beyond those dealing with the creation of an open-ended working group. Below are some of those resolutions. 

Reducing Nuclear Dangers (A/C.1/70/L.20)
Declares that maintaining nuclear forces at hair-trigger alert levels carries unacceptable risks and threatens all mankind with unintentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons. Calls on nuclear-weapon states to review their nuclear doctrines and take measures toward de-alerting and detargeting nuclear weapons. Adopted by a vote of 119-48 with 11 abstentions. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States opposed the resolution. China and Russia abstained.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (A/C.1/70/L.46)
Urges states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty “without delay” and to maintain the current nuclear testing moratoriums until the entry into force of the treaty. Adopted by a vote of 174-1 with three abstentions. North Korea opposed the resolution.

Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (A/C.1/70/L.25)
Urges the immediate commencement of negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in the Conference on Disarmament. Adopted by a vote of 175-1 with five abstentions. Pakistan opposed the resolution.

Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons (A/C.1/70/L.37)
Stresses the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons use and emphasizes that the only way to prevent their use is total elimination. Calls on states to prevent the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and to exert all efforts to achieve total nuclear disarmament. Adopted by a vote of 136-18 with 21 abstentions.

Humanitarian Pledge for the Prohibition and Elimination of Nuclear Weapons (A/C.1/70/L.38)
Urges all states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to fill the “legal gap” with regard to the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons and requests all states possessing nuclear weapons to cease deployment of those weapons and diminish their role in military doctrines. Calls on all relevant stakeholders to cooperate in efforts to “stigmatize” nuclear weapons “in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and the associated risks.” Adopted by a vote of 128-29 with 18 abstentions.

Ethical Imperatives for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World (A/C.1/70/L.40)
Declares that “all states share an ethical responsibility” to “take the effective measures, including legally binding measures, necessary to eliminate and prohibit all nuclear weapons, given their catastrophic humanitarian consequences and associated risks.” Adopted by a vote of 124-35 with 15 abstentions. —ELIZABETH PHILIPP AND KINGSTON REIF

    New Russian Nuclear Design Shown

    December 2015

    By Kingston Reif

    A broadcast on Russian state television of a Nov. 10 meeting in Sochi between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military officers revealed a document showing the design of a purported new underwater nuclear-armed drone that could rain radioactive fallout on enemy coastal areas.

    In a Nov. 10 post on his blog Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, Pavel Podvig, a researcher with the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, said the Russian name of the system shown in the document translates to English as “Ocean Multipurpose System ‘Status-6.’”

    According to Podvig, a short summary included in the document described the mission of the proposed weapon as “[d]amaging the important components of the adversary’s economy in a coastal area and inflicting unacceptable damage to a country’s territory by creating areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.”

    At the meeting where the underwater drone design was revealed, Putin, reiterating a long-standing Russian complaint, criticized U.S. missile defense plans, claiming they are intended to “neutralize” Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent.

    Putin said Russia would respond by developing “strike systems capable of penetrating any missile defenses.”

    The United States says its missile defenses are not aimed at Russia but instead at smaller adversaries such as Iran and North Korea.

    Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, in a Nov. 12 statement to the Russia news agency Interfax, said that “some secret data fell into the field of view of these cameras.”

    “We hope such a thing will never be repeated,” he added.

    According to Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and current director of the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution, the airing of the document was no accident.

    “The picture was aired because the Kremlin wanted it aired and wanted the world to believe that Russia has plans for a large nuclear torpedo,” Pifer said in a Nov. 18 blog post.

    “That fits with Moscow’s pattern of nuclear saber-rattling over the past two years,” he added. 

    A broadcast on Russian state television of a Nov. 10 meeting in Sochi between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military officers revealed...

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