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

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

What Mattis and Perry Said About Nuclear Policy

During his campaign for the presidency, President Donald Trump made a number of statements about nuclear weapons that were characterized by both Republicans and Democrats as deeply concerning and ill-informed about the unique dangers the weapons pose. Trump’s statements since the election have done little to clear up this concern or bring greater clarity to what his administration’s nuclear nonproliferation and risk reduction strategy will be. However, the recent confirmation hearings for three of the president’s top cabinet choices–Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State, James Mattis for...

Markey-Lieu Legislation Underscores Undemocratic, Irresponsible Nature of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Use Protocol



TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to Restrict Trump's Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons

For Immediate Release: January 24, 2017

Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 105; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107


The Arms Control Association applauds Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) for reintroducing legislation to highlight the unconstrained and undemocratic ability of the president to initiate the first-use of U.S. nuclear weapons. The Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 would prohibit the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress.

Operation Ivy, the eighth series of American nuclear tests, carried out to  upgrade the U.S. arsenal in response to the Soviet nuclear weapons program. (Photo: Wikipedia)Put simply, the fate of tens of millions depends in large part on the good judgment and stability of a single person. At any moment, there are roughly 800 U.S. nuclear warheads–all of which are far more powerful than the weapons that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945–that can be launched within minutes of an order by the president. The president, and the president alone, has the supreme authority to order the use of nuclear weapons. Congress currently has no say in the matter. Continuing to vest such destructive power in the hands of one person is undemocratic, irresponsible, and increasingly untenable.
In an August 2016 HuffPost/YouGov survey, two-thirds of respondents said the United States should use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack or not at all, while just 18 percent think that first-use is sometimes justified. Indeed, it is all but impossible to imagine a scenario where the benefits of the first-use of U.S. nuclear weapons would outweigh the severe costs.
The inauguration of President Donald Trump has heightened fears about the sole authority of the commander in chief to use nuclear weapons. Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed deep concern about his erratic behavior and loose talk on nuclear weapons. Now is the time to put responsible checks on the use of nuclear weapons in place. Such a decision is far too important to be left in the hands of one person.
Numerous options can be pursued to bring greater democracy and transparency to U.S. nuclear decision-making and reduce the risk of nuclear use. In addition to the proposal in the Markey and Lieu legislation, additional options include:

  • Requiring that a decision to use nuclear weapons be made by more than one person. This could include the president, vice president, secretaries of state and defense, and perhaps one or more designated members of Congress, such as the speaker of the House.
  • Eliminating the requirement to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) under attack, which in some scenarios would give the president only minutes to decide whether to launch the missiles before some or all of them are destroyed on the ground. Given that a president would almost certainly not make the most consequential decision a president has ever made in a matter of minutes, retaining a launch under attack posture is unnecessarily risky and eliminating it would increase the time available to consider the possible use of nuclear weapons in retaliation to a nuclear attack against the United States or its allies.
  • Provide Congress with more information on U.S. nuclear war plans, including targeting data, attack options, damage expectancy requirements, estimated civilian casualties, and more, which is currently not shared with Members of Congress.

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

Statement by Kingston Reif and Daryl Kimball

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Press Release: U.S., Russia Can And Should Reduce Nuclear Excess, But On Proper Terms



For Immediate Release: January 18, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 105

(Washington, D.C.) — In his final news conference as president, Barack Obama noted that if incoming President Donald Trump can restart the stalled U.S.-Russian dialogue on further nuclear risk reduction measures in a serious way, “… there remains a lot of room for both countries to reduce our nuclear stockpiles.” 

President Obama at his final news conference, January 18, 2017 (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)“President Obama is right. The United States and Russia have an opportunity and a responsibility to further reduce their excess nuclear weapons stockpiles,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the independent Arms Control Association.

Before the end of his term in office, Trump will need to decide whether to invite Russia to extend New START for another five years and/or negotiate a new arms reduction treaty.

“Trump should choose to build down, not build up,” Kimball said. "With up to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons allowed under the 2010 New START agreement and no limits on the tactical nuclear weapons possessed by each side, Russia and the United States have far more weapons than is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by another nuclear-armed country,” Kimball noted.

"About 900 U.S. nuclear weapons can be fired within minutes of a presidential decision to do so, and no Congressional approval is required,” he said.

In 2013, President Barack Obama, with input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other elements of the national security establishment, determined that the United States can reduce its nuclear force by another one-third below New START levels and still meet deterrence requirements.

Last weekend, Mr. Trump told the Times of London that "nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially,” but he suggested that such a deal might be linked to the easing of sanctions against Russia for its annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russia is a party to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, a political understanding that the parties would respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan if they renounced nuclear weapons and joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapon states.

"Such a linkage would be unwise and impractical,” Kimball said. “The sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and our European allies should only be eased if Russia changes its behavior vis-a-vis Ukraine,” he said.

“We have recommended for some time that the U.S. and Russian sides should seek further, parallel reductions of one-third or more below the New START limits. This approach would not necessarily require that Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin negotiate a new treaty,” he said.

“However, any further U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons reductions will most likely need to consider other issues of concern for both Moscow and Washington,” Kimball said. "These include: compliance with the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a new understanding about the scope of U.S. and Russian missile defense systems, and concerns about advanced conventional weapons."

“A renewal of the U.S.-Russian strategic dialogue is in the interests of both countries. Further progress in reducing the risk and number of nuclear weapons is possible and necessary and would very much follow in the tradition of past U.S. presidential administrations,” Kimball said.


“The sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and our European allies should only be eased if Russia changes its behavior vis-a-vis Ukraine,” Kimball said.

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What Tillerson Said, And Didn’t Say, About Nuclear Policy

If Rex Tillerson is confirmed as Secretary of State, he will face a difficult and complex array of nuclear policy challenges. Tillerson provided some clarity on where he stands on several critical nuclear issues during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 11. While some of his answers reinforced longstanding, bipartisan nuclear risk reduction goals, significant questions remain about how the Trump administration’s plans to address critical issues—ranging from curtailing North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear program, to reducing the risk of conflict with...

Trump Nuclear Tweet Sparks Controversy

January/February 2017

By Kingston Reif

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted in December that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” and later told a television host that he would “outmatch” and “outlast” other potential competitors in a nuclear arms race. 

The comments mostly prompted condemnation and concern in the United States and around the world. Trump tweeted on the morning of Dec. 22 that an expansion would be required “until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Increasing the arsenal would constitute a fundamental departure from U.S. policy and could prompt similar efforts by other nuclear-armed countries.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has reduced the size of its arsenal, including through arms control agreements with Russia, from roughly 19,000 operational warheads in 1991 to 4,571 as of September 2015, according to U.S. government figures. The United States has begun a program to sustain and upgrade the arsenal at a cost that could reach and possibly exceed $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

It is unclear what Trump has in mind, as aides offered interpretations seemingly at odds with his words. Jason Miller, at the time a top spokesman for the Trump transition, said in a statement later that day that the president-elect was referring to “the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it, particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes.” During the campaign, Trump had “emphasized the need to improve and modernize [the U.S.] deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength,” he added.

Despite Miller’s attempt at clarification, Trump seemed to reiterate a willingness to expand the U.S. arsenal in a Dec. 23 telephone conversation with cable news channel MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski. When asked to explain what Trump meant by his tweet, Brzezinski said the president-elect told her, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” 

Transition aides again scrambled to interpret Trump’s comments. Incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told NBC that “[i]f another country wants to expand their nuclear capability,” Trump would “not…sit back and allow them to undermine our safety, our sovereignty.” 

“He is going to match other countries and take action,” Spicer said. He added that there would not be a new arms race because Trump will ensure that countries such as Russia understand the president-elect’s resolve and “they will come to their senses.” 

Trump’s statements prompted varied reactions from Russia and China. 

In a press conference on Dec. 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “there is nothing unusual” about what Trump tweeted because, during the campaign, “he talked about the need to strengthen the U.S. nuclear capability and armed forces.”

Putin added that the United States had already “paved the way to a new arms race by withdrawing from the [1972] Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty” and expanding its missile defense capabilities, which prompted Russia to respond by building “efficient means of overcoming this missile defense system and improving its own” offensive nuclear forces. 

But Putin said that Russia “will never be dragged into an arms race to spend more than we can afford,” noting that Russian spending on defense would drop from 4.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2016 to 2.8 percent by 2019. 

During the election campaign, Trump expressed a desire to improve the U.S. relationship with Russia, but did not say whether he would seek to engage in further bilateral arms control beyond the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. 

China is “paying close attention” to Trump’s nuclear pronouncements and declared that the “countries that have the largest nuclear arsenals should bear special responsibility for nuclear disarmament,” said a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. That was a reference to the United States and Russia, which together possess more than 90 percent of the estimated 15,500 nuclear warheads worldwide. 

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers strongly criticized Trump’s tweet and subsequent arms race comments. 

U.S. policy on nuclear weapons “is not something that should be altered with a dangerously vague tweet,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote in a Dec. 24 post on his Facebook page. “The fact is we do not need another nuclear arms race. We have too many nuclear weapons as it is—nearly 5,000—more than enough to meet our national security needs and deter any major adversary.” 

Some Republicans were also dismayed by Trump’s tweet. Outgoing Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) told Politico on Dec. 23 that “the general consensus among my colleagues in Congress is that the world is safer with fewer nuclear weapons than more.”

Do his 23 words foreshadow a fundamental shift from reducing nuclear arsenals?

Time Expires on Obama Nuclear Agenda

January/February 2017

By Kingston Reif

President Barack Obama headed into the final days of his presidency with an unfinished nuclear weapons risk-reduction agenda. But as he prepared to hand off control of the nuclear arsenal to President-elect Donald Trump, his administration announced a further reduction to the U.S. nuclear-weapons stockpile.

In a Jan. 11 speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Joe Biden revealed that the administration had removed 553 reserve warheads from the military stockpile during the past year, reducing the arsenal to 4,018 warheads. Overall, the administration reduced the stockpile by more than 1,000 warheads since taking office in 2009. In periodically making public the warhead numbers over the past eight years, the Obama administration has been more open about the size of the nuclear stockpile than any previous administration. 

The decision to retire additional reserve warheads came after Obama and his national security team for months had discussed measures to advance the nuclear risk-reduction goals the president first outlined in his April 2009 address in Prague. 

President Barack Obama leaves the stage after his news conference at the conclusion of the Nuclear Security Summit April 1, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)Obama delivered his first major foreign policy address as president on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation in Prague on April 5, 2009. The speech outlined his vision for strengthening global efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and moving forward on practical, immediate steps “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

The administration has highlighted progress in the areas of nonproliferation, the security of nuclear weapons-usable materials, and disarmament over the past eight years. These include securing vulnerable nuclear materials around the world through the nuclear security summit process, measures to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy, the negotiation and U.S. Senate approval of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), and the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. 

But other key administration priorities, such as stopping the advance of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, achieving further reductions beyond New START, and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), have not been fulfilled. 

In remarks June 6 at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting in Washington, Benjamin Rhodes, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, disclosed that the president was reviewing a variety of proposals on nuclear weapons for possible action before the end of his presidency. (See ACT, July/August 2016.) “[O]ur work is not done on this issue,” he said.

The different categories of options under consideration included further reductions in the U.S. stockpile of nondeployed, or reserve, nuclear warheads; “additional steps” to lessen the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy and reduce the risk of inadvertent nuclear use; reaffirming the “international norm against” nuclear explosive testing; and putting “more nuclear material under appropriate monitoring,” he said.

In addition, Rhodes said the president would continue to evaluate current plans to ramp up spending in the coming years to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons and decide whether to “leave the next administration” with recommendations on how to “move forward.” 

“Our administration has already made plain our concerns about how the modernization budget will force difficult trade-offs in the coming decades,” Rhodes said. 

The review did result in actions in a few of those areas. In addition to reducing the warhead count, the United States introduced a resolution in the UN Security Council in September that urged the eight countries that have yet to ratify the CTBT to do so “without further delay” and called on all states to refrain from conducting nuclear tests, emphasizing that current testing moratoria contribute to “international peace and stability.” (See ACT, October 2016.)

The Security Council approved the resolution, the first of its kind to specifically support the CTBT, by a 14-0 vote, with Egypt abstaining. A total of 42 countries, including Israel, co-sponsored the resolution, which comes 20 years after the treaty was opened for signature.

In addition, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced at an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting on nuclear security in December that the United States is “embarking on an effort to dilute and dispose of approximately six metric tons of excess plutonium” and is consulting with the IAEA on agency monitoring and verification of the process (See ACT, January/February 2017).

Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, works with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on drafting a statement announcing the Iran nuclear agreement on April, 2, 2015. (Photo credit: Pete Souza/U.S. White House)Yet, no action was taken on most of the options Rhodes said were under consideration. “We did not accomplish all that we hoped,” Biden said. 

News reports last summer and fall indicated that the administration considered adjusting U.S. nuclear declaratory policy to state that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. Washington retains and has always retained the option to use nuclear weapons first in extreme circumstances, even if the United States or an ally has not suffered a nuclear attack.

Biden said that both he and Obama strongly believe that the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons should be to deter a nuclear attack against the United States or its allies. But Obama reportedly decided not to adopt a no-first-use policy due to concerns expressed by some members of his cabinet and close U.S. allies.

The president also considered reducing the number and diversity of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, according to a September 2016 article in The Guardian newspaper.

Obama, with the support of the Defense Department, determined in 2013 that the United States could reduce the size of the deployed arsenal by up to one-third below the New START limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. Yet, the president did not unilaterally cut the size of U.S. forces. Rather, he invited Russia to negotiate a further one-third reduction of each country’s strategic nuclear arms, an offer that Moscow has repeatedly rebuffed. 

Other options reportedly considered included reducing the alert status of the nation’s land-based intercontinental ballistic missile force, reducing military stockpiles of nuclear weapons-useable fissile materials, appointing a blue ribbon presidential commission to assess and identify possible alternatives to current U.S. nuclear modernization plans, and delaying the planned purchase of a new fleet of 1,000 nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles. 

Although Rhodes in June had expressed concern about the affordability of the nuclear modernization plans, a senior administration official praised the current plans for the nuclear weapons and related infrastructure, which could cost more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years, in a Jan. 4 email to Arms Control Today. “[W]e’re sustaining deterrence by taking steps to ensure that all three legs of our nuclear triad do not age into obsolescence,” the official said.

Officials considered actions such as implementing a no-first-use policy and reductions in nondeployed warheads.

CBO Details Nuclear Savings Options

January/February 2017

By Kingston Reif

The U.S. government could save more than $60 billion in required funding over a decade by reducing the number of nuclear delivery systems and adjusting current nuclear modernization plans while still retaining all three legs of the nuclear triad, according to a December report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). 

The report comes as official cost estimates to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear forces continue to rise and President Barack Obama hands over stewardship of the arsenal to President-elect Donald Trump. In a tweet, Trump declared that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” although it was unclear whether he was referring to maintaining the current modernization program or to further steps that run counter to U.S. efforts to reduce nuclear weapons in numbers and destructive power.

An unarmed Trident II (D-5) missile launches August 31, 2016 from the USS Maryland, an Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine, in a test off the coast of Florida. The Congressional Budget Office estimated savings from reducing the number of ballistic-missile submarines and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. (Photo credit: John Kowalski/U.S. Navy)Currently, nearly every element of the U.S. arsenal is slated to be modernized over the next 20 years, an effort that will require roughly doubling annual spending on nuclear weapons. Most of these efforts are in the early stages, but a few others have yet to begin. Multiple independent studies suggest that the total cost of the current plans could reach and possibly exceed $1 trillion over 30 years.

Senior officials from the Defense and Energy departments have warned for years about the affordability challenges, but argue that the expenditures are needed to sustain a credible nuclear deterrent and can be successfully carried out if appropriately prioritized. Critics in Congress and the nongovernmental arms-control community contend that the current approach exceeds the Obama administration’s stated requirements for nuclear deterrence and that the cost will force damaging cuts to higher-priority military programs given that overall defense budgets are likely to remain constrained even after the Budget Control Act, which imposes caps on military spending, expires in 2021. 

The CBO evaluated three different options to reduce spending on nuclear forces over the next decade as part of larger report titled “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2016 to 2027.” 

One option would reduce the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarines that launch ballistic missiles by retiring some of the existing systems early, purchasing fewer of the new ones, and delaying purchase of new submarines. A second option would retain only one type of nuclear weapon for bombers by forgoing either the purchase of a new fleet of air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) or the life extension program for the B61 nuclear gravity bomb. A third option would delay the development of a new bomber, known as the B-21, by 10 years (see chart).

Based on CBO calculations, reducing the number of submarines from 14 to eight; delaying purchase of new submarines; reducing the number of deployed ICBMs from 450 to 150; canceling the program to build a new ALCM; deferring the B-21, which is being built primarily for conventional missions but will also have a nuclear capability; and reducing the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,000 would save $64.6 billion over the next decade. 

In addition to assessing the savings from each option, the CBO evaluated arguments for and against each alternative. For example, the CBO noted that reducing the triad to 1,000 deployed warheads would be consistent with Obama’s determination in 2013 “that the United States could maintain a ‘strong and credible’ strategic nuclear deterrent with about one-third fewer weapons deployed than allowed under” the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Conversely, the CBO said that a problem with “this alternative is that unless a new arms control agreement was reached—which may not be possible in the current international atmosphere—the United States’ decision to reduce its stockpile to 1,000 warheads would be unilateral and could be politically untenable domestically.” 

In addition to the December options report, the CBO published reports in 2013 and 2015 that assessed the total cost to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear forces over the ensuing decade. (See ACT, March 2015.) The agency is required by law to update this study every two years, but by year-end had yet to publish an update covering the period from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2026.

In remarks at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, on Dec. 3, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon is projecting to spend $234 billion on nuclear forces between fiscal years 2017 and 2026. This is an increase of nearly $17 billion over the decade-long estimate the Defense Department released in 2015. 

The $234 billion estimate does not include the Energy Department’s cost to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure, which carries a 10-year price tag of more than $100 billion. (See ACT, May 2016.)

In remarks last summer at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting in Washington, Benjamin Rhodes, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said Obama was continuing to evaluate the nuclear modernization plans. (See ACT, July/August 2016.) As of early January, the administration had not announced any decisions on adjusting the plans or to signal it had made recommendations to the incoming Trump administration on how to proceed with them. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

The budget office assesses options to cut billions of dollars in projected spending on the nuclear arsenal.

Congress Rewrites Missile Defense Policy

January/February 2017

By Kingston Reif

In a significant departure from long-standing U.S. policy, lawmakers voted in December to expand the declared role of U.S. national ballistic missile defenses.

The measure states that it shall be “the policy of the United States to maintain and improve an effective, robust layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States and its allies against the developing and increasingly complex ballistic missile threat.” That opens the door to expanding the system beyond the currently limited goal of defending against Iran and North Korea as some, predominately Republican, backers eye actions that could upset the nuclear balance with Russia and China.

The Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy sailors aboard USS Hopper successfully conducted two developmental flight tests of the Standard Missile-3 Block IB Threat Upgrade guided missile on May 25 and 26, 2016, off the west coast of Hawaii. (Photo credit: U.S. Missile Defense Agency)The policy provision is part of the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. The final compromise version of that bill, which the House of Representatives and the Senate passed on Dec. 2 and Dec. 8, respectively, establishes spending ceilings and legal guidelines for Pentagon programs and the activities conducted by the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law on Dec. 23, despite having previously objected to the new missile defense language. The policy statement does not require the development of missile defenses against any one country or countries and notes that implementation is subject to the annual authorization and appropriation of funds by Congress. 

The language replaces a 1999 law expressing “the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate).”

For nearly two decades, U.S. ballistic missile defense policy has been guided by protecting the homeland against limited long-range missile strikes from states such as Iran and North Korea and not major nuclear powers Russia and China. In May 2014, Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in speech that Washington “will not rely on missile defense for strategic deterrence of Russia because it would simply be too hard and too expensive and too strategically destabilizing to even try.”

Yet, some lawmakers and national security analysts had expressed concern in recent years that the 1999 law was too restrictive and did not reflect the evolving ballistic missile threat environment. 

Last spring, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) successfully attached amendments to their respective chamber’s versions of the defense authorization bill that removed the word “limited” from the 1999 law. Franks justified the change in part by arguing that “China and Russia are both developing complex missile technology specifically designed to exploit our weaknesses,” such as hypersonic strike systems and advanced cruise missiles. 

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, also cited Russia and China as a motivating factor, stating at a committee discussion on the Franks amendment that the old policy was written at a time when “Russia was a peaceful partner” and China had yet to deploy long-range submarine-launched ballistic missiles. 

In a statement last June, the White House said it “strongly objects” to removing the word “limited” from the 1999 law. “The inclusion of this word is specifically intended to convey that the U.S. homeland missile defense system is designed and deployed to counter limited attacks (in number and sophistication) from Iran and North Korea, and not to counter the strategic deterrence forces of Russia and China,” according to the statement. 

Some analysts argue that the White House and other critics of the new policy are misinterpreting the new provision. Thomas Karako, the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 29 email that the “substitution of ‘effective, robust, and layered’ for ‘limited’ does not mean ‘unlimited.’” 

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Kenneth Todorov, the former deputy director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told Arms Control Today in a Jan. 3 interview that the change was unnecessary. “I never felt like the word ‘limited’ constrained us in any way, including our development of capabilities against the most serious ballistic missile threats,” he said.

Todorov added that he would be “interested in observing how Russia and China react to the change, since they could use the new language as fodder to support their longstanding claim that U.S. missile defenses are in fact aimed at them.”  

Another provision in the authorization bill encourages but does not require the Defense Department to begin research and development on a space-based missile defense option for the United States. Vice Adm. James Syring, the MDA director, told lawmakers at a House hearing last April that he had “serious concerns about the technical feasibility” and “long-term affordability” of interceptors in space.

B-21 Provisions Diluted

The final authorization bill removed provisions contained in the initial House and Senate versions that sought to control the cost of the nuclear-capable B-21 Raider bomber program. 

The Air Force is planning to purchase 100 bombers to complement and then replace the existing B-52H and B-2A aircraft. The new bombers are scheduled to enter service in the mid-2020s, and the entire fleet could cost more than $100 billion to produce, according to some nongovernmental estimates. 

An Air Force depiction of the long-range, nuclear-capable bomber known as the B-21 Raider, which is scheduled to enter service in the mid-2020s. (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force)The House bill required the defense secretary to submit a report to Congress on the value of the contract awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp. in October 2015 to begin developing the bomber. The Senate bill contained a similar reporting requirement and a provision that would have halted development of the new bomber fleet if the program exceeded certain cost growth thresholds.  

The Air Force has refused to release the value of the contract award and the estimated total cost of the B-21 program, citing classification concerns. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a critic of the Air Force’s unwillingness to share more information about the price of the bomber, decried the elimination of the House and Senate cost control provisions. 

“It’s a testimony again to the clout of the industry in the Congress,” he told CQ Roll Call in December. “It’s absolutely unconscionable.”

On weapons dismantlement, the law sets an annual limit of $56 million for NNSA expenditures in fiscal years 2017 to 2021 to take apart and dispose of retired nuclear warheads and prohibits spending beyond that amount unless a number of stringent conditions can be met. 

The measure also bars funding to provide nuclear security assistance to Russia unless the U.S. energy secretary, with the concurrence of the secretaries of state and defense, issues a waiver stating that such assistance is necessary to address an urgent “nuclear-related threat arising in the Russian Federation.” 

Nearly all U.S. nuclear security work inside Russia has come to an end due to Russia’s unwillingness to continue that work and congressional limitations on funding. (See ACT, March 2015.)

Continuing Resolution 

In addition to passing the authorization bill, Congress in December passed a continuing resolution that extends funding for most discretionary government programs at the previous year’s levels through April 2017, although a number of nuclear weapons programs received a special funding exemption. 

Lawmakers failed to pass any fresh appropriations bills for fiscal year 2017, which began on Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30. The House and Senate passed a continuing resolution last September to fund the government at the fiscal year 2016 enacted levels through early December and a second such measure in early December to extend funding at that level through the end of April. 

Most programs will be funded at the fiscal year 2016 levels, but the current continuing resolution permits the Navy to fund advance procurement activities for the Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine program at a rate consistent with the fiscal year 2017 request of $773 billion. Navy officials had warned that failure to provide this funding would delay the program and increase total costs. 

The bill passed in December also allows the NNSA to fund its nuclear weapons activities account consistent with the fiscal year 2017 request of $9.2 billion. 

Although the Air Force did not receive a similar exemption for its nuclear modernization programs, Capt. Mark Graff, an Air Force spokesperson, told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 22 email that the service “does not anticipate any adverse impacts” to the programs to develop the B-21 and new fleets of nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles as a result of the continuing resolution. But Graff warned that an extension of the continuing resolution for the entire fiscal year would cause delays for these programs.

Sponsors look beyond Iran and North Korea to developments in Russia and China.

Europeans Seek Conventional Arms Talks

January/February 2017

By Kingston Reif

Fifteen countries in Europe are calling for a “relaunch of conventional arms control” negotiations with Russia amid concerns about the deteriorating security situation in their region due to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

In a joint statement Nov. 25, the foreign ministers of the 15 nations said that the existing pillars of the European conventional arms control architecture, namely the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, the 2011 Vienna Document, and the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, are “crumbling” and “need to be strengthened.” They cited “an urgent need to re-establish strategic stability, restraint, predictability and verifiable transparency and to reduce military risks” and urged “a structured dialogue on conventional arms control in Europe.”

Foreign ministers attending a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe December 8-9, 2016, in Hamburg, Germany, called for “creating an environment conducive to reinvigorating conventional arms control.” (Photo credit: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)The ministers said that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) should be a “central forum for such a dialogue.” The 57-member OSCE works to facilitate a comprehensive approach to European security.

The countries that joined the statement are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. All are OSCE members. 

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier first floated the proposal in a Project Syndicate op-ed on Aug. 26, citing “new and deep rifts” between Russia and Western nations that would likely endure for the near future. Further, he warned of a “new arms race” in Europe due to developing technologies such as offensive cybercapabilities and “new combat scenarios” such as smaller, more mobile fighting units that “are not covered” by existing arms control regimes.

Steinmeier said that a new arms control dialogue should address regional military force ceilings and transparency measures; take into account new military capabilities and strategies, including smaller, mobile units; include new weapons systems, such as drones; permit effective verification in times of crisis; and be applicable where territorial status is disputed. 

Steinmeier conceded that such an undertaking might not succeed “at a time when world order is eroding and relations with Russia are strained” but that “it would be irresponsible not to try.” 

Germany served as chair of the OSCE in 2016. Austria is the chair in 2017, as the position rotates annually. 

The initial U.S. reaction was lukewarm. Bruce Turner, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, said that Russia’s ongoing challenge to the core tenets of European security “make contemplation of a new arms control agreement in Europe difficult” in remarks in October at an OSCE conference in Vienna.

Instead, the United States “believes that it makes more sense to work to preserve, strengthen, and modernize our existing agreements, and begin a dialogue on our security concerns” in the OSCE, said Turner, who handles European security, technology, and implementation in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance. Turner cited as a key U.S. goal modernizing the Vienna Document, a set of politically binding confidence- and security-building measures designed to increase openness and transparency concerning military activities conducted by OSCE members.

Russia has taken a wait-and-see approach. In a speech at the United Nations in October, Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the nonproliferation and arms control department in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Steinmeier’s proposal “merits thorough analysis.”

“We will see how Germany’s NATO allies will respond to this initiative,” he added. 

In a Dec. 24 email to Arms Control Today, Ulrich Kühn, a fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the future of the 15-nation initiative is uncertain, citing the transition to a new administration in the United States, Austria’s assumption of the OSCE chairmanship, and the fact that Steinmeier soon will be leaving his foreign minister post.

At the OSCE ministerial meeting in Hamburg on Dec. 8-9, the 57 participating states issued a statement declaring that they “will work towards creating an environment conducive to reinvigorating conventional arms control” and confidence- and security-building measures in Europe.

Germany’s foreign minister cites the risk of a “new arms race” in Europe.

Missile Defense Study Delayed

January/February 2017

By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department announced in mid-December that it would miss its planned year-end date to complete a final environmental statement designating a preferred location for a new ballistic missile interceptor site. 

Leah Garton, deputy director of public affairs at the Missile Defense Agency, told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 20 email that the agency “requires additional time to complete the study” and will release it “once we complete a thorough review.”

The In-Flight Interceptor Communications System data terminal at Fort Drum, New York, shown in a July 2016 photo, is an element in the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. The facility is designed to feed target updates to an interceptor as it seeks to destroy an incoming missile warhead. (Photo credit: U.S. Missile Defense Agency)The current system to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California. Pentagon officials have repeatedly stated that there is no military requirement for a third site and that the estimated $3-4 billion price tag would be better spent to upgrade the existing GMD system.

In the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required the Defense Department to conduct a study to evaluate at least three possible new long-range interceptor sites that could augment the GMD system, including at least two on the East Coast. 

The Defense Department announced last spring that it had completed a draft environmental impact statement of three possible locations: Fort Drum in New York, Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio, and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan. (See ACT, July/August 2016.) For each site, the draft study assessed the impact of factors such as hazardous materials and hazardous waste management, health and safety, socioeconomics, water quality, and environmental justice.

The fiscal year 2016 defense authorization bill ordered the Pentagon to designate a preferred location for a third site within a month of the completion of the draft environmental impact study. (See ACT, November 2015.) The department missed that deadline and does not plan to name a preferred location until it completes the final environmental impact statement. 

The delay comes as members of the Michigan, New York, and Ohio congressional delegations continue to make the case for their respective states to host the third site. Each delegation sent a letter last summer to MDA Director Vice Adm. James Syring urging consideration of their candidate’s location. A total of 55 senators and representatives from both political parties signed the letters.

The Defense Department announced it would miss its date to choose a location for a new ballistic missile interceptor site.


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