Login/Logout

*
*  

"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Kingston Reif

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.

Controversial Nuclear Ban Talks to Begin

December 2016

By Kingston Reif

A supermajority of UN member states is set to begin negotiations early next year on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons amid uncertainty about how long the talks will last; the content of the new instrument, as well as other legal and technical issues; and how many states that rely on nuclear deterrence for their security will participate. 

On Oct. 27, by a vote of 123-38 with 16 abstentions, the UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with nuclear disarmament issues, adopted a landmark resolution “to convene in 2017 a UN conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” (See ACT, November 2016.)

The UN General Assembly’s First Committee on October 27 adopts a landmark resolution to convene a conference in 2017 to negotiate a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. (Photo credit: ICAN)Jorge Lomónaco, the permanent representative of Mexico to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva, told the attendees at the 2016 EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference on Nov. 3 that he “was pleasantly surprised at the level of support to the resolution.” Mexico co-sponsored the resolution with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Nigeria, and South Africa.

The push to begin negotiations on a ban treaty reflects growing concern among non-nuclear-weapon states about the devastating humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, the rising risks of conflict between states with nuclear weapons, and frustration at the slow pace of nuclear disarmament by the nine nuclear-armed countries.

The resolution calls for a one-day organizational meeting to be held in New York “as soon as possible,” followed by two negotiating sessions, March 27-31 and June 15-July 7. 

A four-week period is not long, as supporters acknowledge. In a Nov. 22 email to Arms Control Today, Thomas Hajnoczi, Austria’s permanent representative to the UN Office at Geneva, said that “negotiating a legally binding norm to prohibit nuclear weapons is a major endeavor in the course of which many important political and legal issues will have to [be] decided.”

“Creating this lasting legal norm might take more time than the four weeks foreseen in 2017,” he added. 

A major initial hurdle is the lack of consensus on what the treaty should prohibit. The final report of an open-ended working group that met in Geneva this year and served as the basis for the First Committee resolution suggested 21 notional elements that could be contained in a new instrument. (See ACT, September 2016.) These include prohibitions in the categories of acquisition and possession, use or the threat of use, development and production, deployment, visitation and transit, fissile material production, and military cooperation with another nuclear-armed state. 

Participating states may also seek to address other technical and legal issues not mentioned in the working group report, such as procedures for accession to the treaty and enforcement measures.

If the negotiations cannot be concluded in four weeks, it remains to be seen whether the participants will seek a mandate to continue the talks at next year’s UN General Assembly.

Nuclear-Armed States Divided

The First Committee approved the resolution despite aggressive lobbying by nuclear-armed powers France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which opposed the measure and have said they will not participate in such treaty negotiations. As a group, however, the nuclear-armed nations were divided on the resolution.

Thomas Countryman (far left), the U.S. acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, participates in a panel on disarmament and deterrence at the 2016 EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference on November 3. (Photo credit: The International Institute for Strategic Studies)Thomas Countryman, the acting U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said at the Nov. 3 EU conference that the United States opposes the commencement of talks to ban nuclear weapons because the process would not help move disarmament efforts forward.

He said that the United States would instead “continue to invest [its] energy” in more practical and realistic approaches, such as addressing the growing North Korean nuclear threat, pushing for negotiations on a treaty to halt the production of fissile material, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and pursuing further nuclear weapons reductions and improving strategic stability. 

Countryman expressed concern that negotiations on a ban treaty would distract attention from the pursuit of these steps and make “all the other work in the world” on weapons of mass destruction and nuclear-related issue “more difficult.”

Lomónaco responded to Countryman’s comments by noting that supporters of the ban treaty “consider a prohibition treaty a step—a major one, but nevertheless a step” and “not an end in itself.”

In an unexpected move, China abstained on the resolution, making it the lone permanent member of the UN Security Council not to oppose the measure. 

Other nuclear-armed states took varied positions. India and Pakistan abstained, North Korea voted yes, and Israel, which does not officially acknowledge having nuclear weapons, voted no. 

In an Oct. 28 statement explaining India’s vote, D.B. Venkatesh Varma, permanent representative of India to the CD, said India is “not convinced” that the proposed negotiations in 2017 “can address the longstanding expectation of the international community for a comprehensive instrument on nuclear disarmament.” India has yet to say whether it will participate in the negotiations on a ban treaty. 

Interesting Abstentions

The resolution was opposed by nearly every U.S. treaty ally in Europe and Asia, often labeled “umbrella states” because they rely on the U.S. nuclear arsenal to help protect them.

The sole exception was the Netherlands, which abstained. Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said after the vote that the Netherlands “sincerely supports a ban on nuclear weapons” but that there were problems with the resolution, according to Dutch broadcaster NOS. The lower house of the Dutch parliament had pressed the government to support the resolution. The Netherlands is planning to participate in the negotiations next year, according to a Nov. 17 message on Twitter from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. 

Meanwhile, although Japan voted against the resolution, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said at an Oct. 28 press conference that he believes Japan should take part in the talks. 

Hellmut Lagos, alternate representative of Chile to the CD, told the EU conference that the “voting patterns” on the resolution “are extremely interesting.” He said that he expected that “many countries that abstained or even voted against” the resolution “will consider” participating.

UN Nuclear Disarmament Resolutions

In its 2016 session, the UN General Assembly First Committee adopted resolutions on nuclear disarmament beyond the measure mandating the beginning of negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. Below are some of those resolutions.

Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons
Reaffirms that use of nuclear weapons would be a “crime against humanity” and requests that the Conference on Disarmament (CD) commence negotiations on a treaty prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. Adopted by a vote of 128-50 with eight abstentions. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States opposed the resolution. China and India voted in favor, and Russia abstained.

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Stresses the “vital importance” of signing and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to ensure its early entry into force. “Strongly condemns” the January and September 2016 nuclear tests by North Korea. Adopted by a vote of 183-1 with four abstentions. North Korea opposed the resolution. Equatorial Guinea, India, Mauritius, and Syria abstained.

Treaty Banning the Production of Fissile Material for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices
Urges the CD to commence negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Requests the secretary-general establish a fissile material cutoff treaty expert preparatory group to report to the UN General Assembly at its 73rd session in 2018. Adopted by a vote of 177-1 with 10 abstentions. Pakistan opposed the resolution. China and Russia abstained. France, the UK, and the United States voted in favor of the resolution.

Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons
Stresses the “catastrophic effects of a nuclear weapons detonation” that include “deep implications for human survival, for the environment, for socioeconomic development, for our economies and for the health of future generations.” Calls on all states to prevent the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons. Adopted by a vote of 143-16 with 24 abstentions. China abstained. France, Russia, the UK, and the United States opposed the resolution.

Humanitarian Pledge for the Prohibition and Elimination of All Nuclear Weapons
Urges all states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to renew their commitment to their obligations under Article VI and to pursue an additional legal instrument to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. Approved by a vote of 135-33 with 14 abstentions. China abstained. France, Russia, the UK, and the United States voted against the resolution.

Ethical Imperatives for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World
Declares that nuclear weapons are “inherently immoral” and that their use violates international law and the “dictates of public conscience.” Stresses that all states have an “ethical responsibility” to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. Adopted by a vote of 131-36 with 17 abstentions. China abstained. France, Russia, the UK, and the United States voted against the resolution.

United Action With Renewed Determination Towards the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
Encourages nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states to “further engage in meaningful dialogue that facilitates practical and concrete measures on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation” and encourages Russia and the United States to begin negotiations on further nuclear reductions. Calls on all states to prevent nuclear proliferation. Adopted by a vote of 167-4 with 17 abstentions. China, North Korea, Russia, and Syria voted against the resolution. France and the UK abstained. The United States voted in favor.

Establishment of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in the Region of the Middle East
Urges all parties to take practical steps toward the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and calls on all countries to place their nuclear activities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Adopted without a vote.

A supermajority of UN member states is set to begin negotiations early next year on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons amid uncertainty.

U.S. to Press Russia on INF Dispute

November 2016

By Kingston Reif

The United States and Russia plan to convene the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty’s implementation mechanism this month for the first time in more than a decade as each country continues to claim that the other is violating the 1987 pact. 

A U.S. State Department official told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 21 email that Washington requested a meeting of the Special Verification Commission. That body was established by the treaty to “resolve questions relating to compliance” and to “agree upon such measures as may be necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness” of the treaty. Either party can call for a meeting of the commission, which last met in 2003. 

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in the East Room of the White House on December 8, 1987. (Photo credit: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)The work of the commission “is conducted in a confidential manner, so we will decline to provide additional details,” the official said.

The United States had been reluctant to convene the body as it preferred to address its compliance concerns through direct, high-level talks with Russia. But these bilateral contacts have not been successful. 

Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the department for nonproliferation and arms control at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told RIA Novosti on Oct. 21 that the commission meeting is scheduled for mid-November and that Russia plans to attend. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, the former Soviet republics that are also party to the treaty, are expected to attend as well.

The State Department continues to stand by the assessment, first made in July 2014, that Russia is in violation of its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile having a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

Russia denies that it is breaching the agreement and has raised its own concerns about Washington’s compliance. Moscow is charging that the United States is placing a missile defense launch system in Europe that can also be used to fire cruise missiles, using targets for missile defense tests with similar characteristics to INF Treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles, and making armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles. 

Ulyanov said that Russia planned to discuss these three issues at the November meeting.

U.S. Defense and State Department officials have publicly stated that they believe that the Russian cruise missiles at issue have not been deployed. But an Oct. 19 report in The New York Times cited anonymous U.S. officials expressing concern that Russia is producing more missiles than needed solely for flight testing, raising fears that Moscow may be on the verge of deploying the missile.

The United States and Russia plan to convene the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty’s implementation mechanism this month for the first time in more than a decade...

B61 Bomb Cost Updated to $8.3 Billion

November 2016

By Kingston Reif

A new Energy Department assessment of the program to rebuild the B61 nuclear gravity bomb projects the cost at about $8.3 billion, but an independent department estimate identified risk factors that could lead to cost increases and schedule delays. 

The official estimate by the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which is contained in a document known as a baseline cost report, includes $7.6 billion in direct funding for the B61 life extension program and $648 million in funding supported through other agency programs, according to NNSA Press Secretary Francie Israeli. 

At Sandia National Laboratories, Ron Maes (right) and Jeff Meador prepare a B61-12 test assembly that will be used to study the behavior and performance of weapon components and systems under a variety of conditions. (Photo credit: Randy Montoya/Sandia National Laboratories)In an Oct. 18 statement to Arms Control Today, Israeli said the estimate “is within the range” of the last formal estimate prepared by the NNSA in 2013, which put the total cost of the program at $8.1 billion.

The minimal cost growth over the past three years is consistent with repeated public assurances from the NNSA that good progress is being made on the program, which in June entered the production-engineering phase of the life extension process and is on track to produce the first refurbished B61 bomb in fiscal year 2020. The production-engineering phase authorizes NNSA design laboratories and production plants to finalize the design and prepare for production.

But the NNSA’s newly created Office of Cost Estimating and Program Evaluation has raised concerns about meeting that cost and timetable. The independent office’s assessment “highlighted potential cost and schedule risks,” which the B61 program office is “monitoring and mitigating,” according to Israeli.

Israeli did not respond to a request for a comment on whether the office published its own estimate and, if so, how much higher it is than the official baseline. 

In 2012, before the creation of the NNSA’s independent cost estimating office, the Defense Department’s independent Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation analyzed the B61 life extension program and estimated the cost at more than $10 billion. The estimate warned that the program could take three years longer to complete and that labor costs could be higher than expected by the NNSA.

A number of major NNSA projects have suffered from significant cost increases and schedule delays. For example, a 2011 preliminary estimate of the B61 life extension program estimated the cost at $4 billion and said the first bomb would be produced in 2017.

Under the B61 life extension program, the agency plans to consolidate four of the five existing versions of the bomb into a single weapon known as the B61-12. The upgraded weapon will be equipped with a new tail-kit guidance assembly that will make the bomb more accurate and allow it to have a lower yield than some of the existing variants. The new tail kit is being developed by the Air Force and is estimated to cost $1.3 billion. 

The NNSA is expected to produce 400 to 500 B61-12s, which officials have said will lead to the retirement of the stock of B83 gravity bombs, the most powerful nuclear weapon remaining in the U.S. arsenal. 

The existing variants of the B61 can be delivered by the B-2 strategic bomber and a variety of shorter-range fighter aircraft in support of the U.S. security commitment to NATO. Approximately 200 tactical B61 gravity bombs are believed to be housed on the territory of five NATO members: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. 

The B61 life extension program has been a controversial issue in Congress. In 2013, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), then the chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees NNSA nuclear weapons funding, led efforts in the Senate to scale back the program. But the program was fully funded in the final appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014 and has been fully funded every year since. (See ACT, March 2014.)

As the B61 program moves into the production-engineering phase, an independent assessment flags risk factors that could delay the schedule and raise the cost.

Russia Suspends Plutonium Agreement

November 2016

By Kingston Reif

Russia announced last month that it is suspending cooperation under a 16-year-old agreement with the United States to dispose of 68 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium as relations between the two countries continue to deteriorate. 

In an Oct. 3 presidential decree, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, citing “unfriendly actions” by the United States and the “inability” of Washington to fulfill its obligations under the agreement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech at the opening session of the newly elected State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, in Moscow on October 5. The Duma on October 19 acted on his call to set conditions that would have to be met for Russia to resume cooperation under a plutonium disposal accord. (Photo credit: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)Putin also submitted a draft law to the Russian parliament outlining conditions that would have to be met for Russia to resume cooperation. These include lifting all U.S. sanctions against Russia enacted in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, compensating Russia for the damage caused by the sanctions, and reducing the U.S. military presence on the territory of NATO member states that joined the alliance after 2000, which covers eight neighboring countries that were part of the Soviet Union or its Warsaw Pact military alliance. The parliament approved the law on Oct. 19.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Oct. 3 that Russia’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement was “disappointing.” The United States “has been steadfast since 2011 in implementing our side of the bargain, and we would like to see the Russians continue to do the same,” he said.

A Troubled Disposition History

Signed in 2000 and amended in 2010, the plutonium agreement commits the United States and Russia each to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium, or enough material in total for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons. 

Under the earlier version of the deal, Russia would have turned the plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel—so called because it is a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides—for use in Russian light-water reactors to produce electricity. That effort stalled over programmatic, financial, and legal differences. 

Russia’s suspension of the plutonium disposal accord with the United States is a new blow to the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility under construction near Aiken, South Carolina. Completion of the project, shown in a June 20 photo, was already in doubt due to cost increases and schedule delays. (Photo credit: High Flyer/SRS Watch)In 2010 the United States and Russia signed a protocol to the agreement that allowed Russia to dispose of the plutonium using fast-neutron reactors as part of its plan to expand the use of the material in its civilian nuclear power industry. Meanwhile, the United States pledged to continue with the MOX fuel approach at a facility under construction at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina.

Under the amended agreement, both countries would begin disposition in 2018. The protocol also called for international monitoring and verification of the disposition process by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

There are no indications that, in suspending the deal, Russia intends to abandon its plan to dispose of its share of the plutonium. Putin’s decree stated that the plutonium covered by the deal “is not being used for the purpose of making nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices…or for any other military purposes.”

It remains to be seen whether Moscow will allow international monitoring of the disposition process as called for under the agreement. 

The U.S. effort to dispose of its plutonium via the MOX fuel path has suffered from large cost increases and schedule delays that put the project in jeopardy, and the Obama administration announced earlier this year that it intends to terminate the project and pursue an alternative approach. (See ACT, March 2016.

The alternative “dilute and dispose” process would down-blend the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal in a repository. That approach can be implemented decades sooner at a much lower cost and with fewer risks, according to the Energy Department. (See ACT, June 2015.)

Despite the Energy Department’s efforts to terminate the MOX fuel project, Congress, led by the delegation from South Carolina, has refused to abandon it. 

Russia argues that the new U.S. plan does not meet the terms of the deal because it does not change the composition of the plutonium from weapons grade to reactor grade and the diluted plutonium could still be retrieved and used again for weapons. The Energy Department disputes this claim, arguing that the technical effort and financial cost required to retrieve the diluted and buried plutonium would be prohibitive. 

The original agreement allows for changes in the method of disposition, subject to agreement by both parties. The United States and Russia had not begun formal talks on the alternative U.S. approach because Moscow was waiting to see whether Congress would require that the MOX fuel project be continued. 

In an Oct. 21 email to Arms Control Today, a spokesperson for the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said Russia’s decision to suspend cooperation on plutonium disposition “only reinforces the administration’s intent to pursue the already proven dilute and dispose approach, which will save tens of billions of dollars while upholding our commitment to dispose of surplus plutonium.” 

Russia Terminates Other Pacts

Russia last month also suspended a 2013 research agreement on nuclear energy and a 2010 deal on the conversion of six Russian research reactors.

The 2013 agreement provided the legal framework necessary to expand cooperation between U.S. and Russian nuclear research laboratories, institutes, and facilities in a broad range of areas, including nuclear technology, nonproliferation, fundamental and applied science, energy, and the environment. 

The 2010 deal covered feasibility studies for the conversion of six Russian research reactors that use highly enriched uranium, which could be diverted to weapons use, to low-enriched uranium. 

In an Oct. 5 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Russia was suspending both agreements in retaliation for U.S. sanctions imposed regarding the situation in Ukraine. “We can no longer trust Washington in such sensitive areas as the modernization and security of Russian nuclear facilities,” the statement added.

Russia announced in late 2014 that it planned to suspend most cooperation with the United States on the security of nuclear materials inside Russia. (See ACT, March 2015.) In addition, Russia skipped the fourth and final nuclear security summit in Washington earlier this year. (See ACT, May 2016.)

U.S.-Russian Tensions Rise

The demise of the three nuclear cooperation agreements comes amid rising tensions between the two countries over Syria, U.S. allegations of Russian cyber espionage, and Western concerns about more aggressive Russian nuclear rhetoric and behavior.

Putin announced the suspension of the plutonium accord hours before the United States said it was suspending talks with Russia on ending the Syrian civil war. 

In addition, U.S. intelligence agencies assessed last month that Russian government authorities have authorized cyberhacking of U.S. entities such as the Democratic National Committee and linked the WikiLeaks release of documents to Russian efforts to undermine the credibility of the U.S. electoral process.

The future of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty also remains in doubt as the United States and Russia allege that the other is in violation of the agreement. (See ACT, November 2016.)

At their July summit meeting in Warsaw, NATO leaders characterized as “destabilizing” Russia’s “irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric, military concept and underlying posture.” Alliance officials have expressed concern over the past two years about Russian actions such as nuclear bomber flights close to the borders of alliance members, aggressive nuclear exercises, and nuclear threats directed at NATO members. (See ACT, September 2016.)

An increasingly troubled relationship takes a toll on U.S.-Russian nuclear cooperation.

UN Approves Start of Nuclear Ban Talks

November 2016

By Kingston Reif

Defying pressure from the major nuclear-armed powers, UN member states set the stage for negotiations next year on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.

The UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with nuclear disarmament issues, on Oct. 27 adopted overwhelmingly a landmark resolution “to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

Supporters of treaty to ban nuclear weapons, including survivors of the U.S. nuclear bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, displayed banners for their cause near the United Nations on October 21. (Photo credit: ICAN)The vote was 123-38, with 16 abstentions, on the resolution put forward by Mexico, Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Nigeria, and South Africa. The full General Assembly is expected to approve the measure by year-end.

The resolution passed despite aggressive lobbying by nuclear-armed powers France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which have said they will not participate in such treaty negotiations. As a group, however, the world’s nine nuclear-armed nations were divided on the resolution.

The resolution calls for a one-day organizational meeting to be held in New York “as soon as possible” followed by two negotiating sessions in 2017 on March 27-31 and from June 15 to July 7.

The push to begin negotiations on a ban treaty reflects growing concern among non-nuclear-weapon states about the devastating humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, the rising risks of conflict between states with nuclear weapons, and frustration at the slow pace of nuclear disarmament by the nine nuclear-armed countries.

Advocates said the ban treaty would be an interim step, leaving the issue of eliminating nuclear weapons for subsequent negotiations. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Brazil’s permanent representative to the UN, said in an Oct. 17 statement that the treaty would be “part of a gradual process, which begins by setting out core prohibitions to be followed by elimination and verification arrangements.”

A majority of the nuclear-armed states voted against the resolution and cited risks of commencing negotiations on a ban treaty. 

In an Oct. 27 statement on behalf of France, the UK, and the United States, Alice Guitton, the French permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, said that although the commitment of the three countries to a world without nuclear weapons remained “unshakeable,” a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would not move toward that goal and instead would “distract attention” from more practical and verifiable disarmament steps. 

Russian Foreign Ministry official Vladimir Yermakov went much further, arguing that the hasty adoption of a legally binding prohibition would be “destructive,” “catastrophic,” “treacherous,” and “thrust the world into chaos and instability.” 

In an unexpected move, China broke ranks with the rest of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and abstained. 

The other nuclear-armed states took varied positions. India and Pakistan abstained, North Korea voted yes, and Israel, which does not officially acknowledge having nuclear weapons, voted no. 

The resolution was opposed by nearly every U.S. treaty ally in Europe and Asia, often labeled “umbrella states” because they rely on the U.S. nuclear arsenal to help protect them.

The sole exception was the Nether-lands, which abstained. Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said that the Netherlands “sincerely supports a ban on nuclear weapons” but that there were problems with the resolution, according to Dutch broadcaster NOS. The lower house of the Dutch parliament had pressed the government to support the resolution. 

Sweden, which is not a member of NATO but has increased cooperation with the alliance in recent years due to concerns about Russian behavior, voted for the resolution. 

In an Oct. 17 nonpaper obtained by Arms Control Today, the U.S. mission to NATO urged alliance members and partners “to vote against negotiations on a nuclear weapons…ban, not to merely abstain.” The nonpaper warned that “efforts to negotiate an immediate ban on nuclear weapons or to delegitimize nuclear deterrence are fundamentally at odds with NATO’s basic policies on deterrence and our shared security interest.” 

The First Committee vote followed on the heels of an open-ended working group that met in Geneva this year, in which a majority of participating states expressed support for starting negotiations on a “legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.” None of the nuclear-armed countries attended the sessions. (See ACT, September 2016.

The working group’s final report said a new instrument “would establish general prohibitions and obligations,” which could include a number of elements, such as “prohibitions on the acquisition, possession, stockpiling, development, testing and production of nuclear weapons.”

A Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons?

The UN General Assembly’s First Committee last month passed a resolution to start negotiations to draft a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The following are excerpts from statements during the debate:

“The argument is often heard that nuclear deterrence is indispensable for national security. Austria does not believe this. If this were to be the case, then more states could feel the need to follow the same logic and want to acquire these weapons. We would embark on a dangerous path. The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any nuclear weapons use—be it intentional or accidental—could not be contained and would inevitably fall back on the users themselves…. Some voices claim that negotiating a prohibition convention would be an unrealistic option. We do not believe that a negotiating process with the participation of the majority of states lacks credibility nor realism. No similar legally-binding instrument has started with universality, so we cannot expect this here, either. We are also realistic that the elimination of nuclear weapons is not something which can be achieved overnight and by way of a prohibition convention alone. Rather, it would lay the basis on which the necessary system to ensure its complete and verified implementation could subsequently be established.”

—Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi, Austria, October 14, 2016


“Though some are dissatisfied with the pace of disarmament, we remain convinced that the pragmatic and consensus-based approach that has successfully brought us to this point remains the right one going forward. Today, some states believe the time has come to abandon this pragmatic and consensus-based approach and instead pursue a radically different path that would simply declare a ban on nuclear weapons. We must evaluate this new approach using the same criteria that we apply to our current one. Will it improve global security and stability or undermine it? Will it build a coalition for disarmament or fracture the international community? Will it lead to real reductions in nuclear weapons or be a treaty for political, not practical effect? How can such an approach be verified? The United States has carefully applied these questions to the ban treaty concept and it fails to successfully meet the necessary criteria for success….

“The current challenge to nuclear disarmament is not a lack of legal instruments. The challenges to disarmament are a result of the political and security realities we presently face. The United States is ready to take additional steps including bilateral reductions with Russia and a treaty ending production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, some states are currently unwilling to engage in further nuclear reductions, and others are increasing their arsenals. At the same time, violations of international norms and existing agreements are creating a more uncertain security environment and making the conditions for further reductions more difficult to achieve. A ban treaty will do nothing to address these underlying challenges.” 

—Amb. Robert Wood, United States, October 14, 2016


“Australia’s position on the proposal before the committee to begin negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons has been consistent and clear: we do not support such an approach. “A ban treaty would not rid us of one nuclear weapon. It would not change the realities we all face in a nuclear-armed DPRK [North Korea], or tensions among major powers. And without the involvement of states possessing nuclear weapons, the practical value of negotiating a ban treaty is a questionable exercise.”

—Amb. John Quinn, Australia, October 17, 2016


“Such a treaty is not an end in itself nor a panacea to cure an otherwise ailing regime. It will be thoroughly compatible with the [nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty and the wider nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. By doubling up on their commitment never to acquire nuclear weapons, non-nuclear weapon states which decide to take part in it will only reinforce their own credentials and the international nonproliferation regime. Further efforts needed to attain the complete elimination of nuclear arsenals can be pursued either within a framework laid out by the prohibition treaty—an approach supported by Brazil—or in parallel to it.”

—Amb. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Brazil, October 17, 2016

The landmark resolution to begin negotiations in 2017 now goes to the General Assembly for final approval. 

Next Steps on U.S.-Russian INF Treaty Dispute

Sections:

Body: 

Volume 8, Issue 6, October 25, 2016

Relations between Russia and the West have sunk to an historic low. Since President Vladimir Putin’s decision to annex Crimea and foment a low-level conflict in eastern Ukraine nearly three years ago, tensions between the United States and Russia have worsened across a range of issues, some new and some old.

Several key nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements that helped bring an end to the Cold War nuclear arms race continue to serve to constrain nuclear competition and maintain strategic stability.

These include the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan signing the INF Treaty in Washington, DC, December 8, 1987 (Photo:Wikimedia)The INF Treaty was a major breakthrough that helped to halt and reverse the Cold War-era nuclear arms race and remove a significant threat to Europe. It marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to actually eliminate nuclear weapons and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. The treaty, which is of unlimited duration, required both sides to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The two sides eliminated 2,692 short, medium, and intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles by 1991.

There are growing signs, however, that the INF Treaty is under serious and increasing stress. Failure to resolve the festering compliance dispute could threaten the treaty and impede further efforts to reduce bloated U.S. and Russia nuclear arsenals in the years ahead.

In July 2014, the U.S. State Department officially alleged 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.”

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

Moscow has instead raised its own concerns about Washington’s compliance with the agreement, charging that America is placing a missile defense launch system in Europe that can also be used to fire cruise missiles, using targets for missile defense tests with similar characteristics to treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles, and making armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles.

To this point, bilateral political discussions at senior levels have not led to a resolution of the compliance dispute. Neither side had sought to use the dispute resolution mechanism allowed for by Article VIII of the treaty – the Special Verification Commission (SVC).

Until at least January of this year, senior Defense and State department officials said that Russia had not deployed the prohibited missile.

But according to an Oct. 19 The New York Times report, “American officials are now expressing concerns that Russia is producing more missiles than are needed to sustain a flight-test program, spurring fears that the Kremlin is moving to build a force that could ultimately be deployed.”

The report also revealed that the United States has called for a meeting of the SVC to discuss and seek to resolve the U.S. compliance concerns. The U.S. State Department has since confirmed that a meeting has been requested and Russia has indicated that it plans to attend.

Both sides could be facing a new and even more difficult situation if they do not effectively use the SVC to bolster the INF Treaty.

Support in-depth analysis and alerts on U.S.-Russian nuclear cooperation. Become a member of the Arms Control Association today.

Immediate Next Steps

Convening the SVC to resolve mutual compliance concerns has been a longstanding recommendation of the Arms Control Association, as well as expert colleagues involved with the 21-member U.S.-Russian-German Deep Cuts Commission, and others.

Russia’s alleged noncompliance with the treaty is a serious matter that deserves a strong and measured response. To date, the United States has imposed diplomatic costs on Russia and has taken some military measures as part of a larger response to concerns about Russian behavior, including the INF Treaty violation.

Washington has properly treated the violation more as a political problem rather than a military one. But that would likely change if Russia moved from testing to actual deployment of INF Treaty noncompliant missiles. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama at the 2015 Group of Twenty summit (Photo: Wikipedia)If it hasn't done so already, the Obama administration should craft a plan for how the compliance concerns of both sides could be addressed in the event Russia engaged and signaled its willingness to return to compliance. This could include consideration of additional confidence-building measure and information exchanges that take into account technological and political developments that have occurred since the treaty’s entry into force.

From a U.S. and European security perspective, the key goal is to prevent Russia from deploying (or conducting further tests of) INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or withdrawing from the agreement entirely.

Meanwhile, the United States should seek new ways to provide further details about the nature of the Russian violation. The inability to share more information has made it easier for Russia to deny a violation exists and harder for U.S. allies and other countries to put additional pressure on Russia.

Both sides should understand and explain why the INF Treaty and the existing bilateral and multilateral arms control architecture continues to serve U.S., Russian, and European security interests and head-off even more dangerous military competition.

Without continued U.S. support for arms control agreements and other types of cooperative nonproliferation engagement, Russian forces would be unconstrained. Not only would the United States have little leverage or basis to constrain Russian forces other than military and economic measures, it would not have verification measures in place to assess what Russia is doing. Overall, the implementation record of these treaties has been highly successful, which is why presidents from both parties have pursued them.

If Russia continues to remain in noncompliance with the INF Treaty and especially if Russia decides to deploy noncompliant missiles or threatens to pull out of the treaty, the United States should pursue firm but measured steps to reaffirm its commitment to the defense of those allies that would be the potential targets of these new missiles.

But it would not be militarily useful for the United States to deploy new offense missiles in Europe or seek to accelerate or expand U.S. ballistic missile defense capabilities in Europe, which would not increase the security of our allies and would only give the Russians a cynical excuse to withdraw from the treaty.

Receive breaking updates and issues briefs on this issue. Subscribe to the Arms Control Association's U.S.-Russian Relations email list.

Intermediate Steps on INF Treaty and Cruise Missiles

The current INF Treaty crisis comes at a time when the United States and Russia are building new nuclear and conventional cruise missile systems and a number of states are developing cruise missiles. In addition, the two sides are not currently engaged in talks on further strategic nuclear reductions beyond New START. Russian officials say that U.S. and Russian reductions must take into account the arsenals of the world’s other nuclear-armed states.

Today, only three countries possess nuclear-armed cruise missiles. The Pentagon is pursuing the production of roughly 1,000 new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles to replace an aging legacy system. Russia is deploying the 2,000-kilometer range Kalibr land-attack cruise missile (LACM) on ships and submarines and the Kh-101 air-launched conventional and Kh-102 air-launched nuclear-armed cruise missile for delivery by bombers. France recently upgraded its nuclear air launched cruise missiles, the Air-Sol Moyenne Portée-Amélioré, and according to President François Hollande currently has 54 ASMP-A cruise missiles. 

In years past, the United States and Russia have both expressed support for “multilateralizing” the INF Treaty, but have devoted scant attention to such a project. In October 2007, President Vladimir Putin said that the INF Treaty should be made “global in scope.” Russia has argued for years that the INF Treaty disadvantages Russia vis-à-vis its neighbors, such as China, that lack the same constraints.

That same year, at the United Nations General Assembly, Russia and the United States issued a joint statement reaffirming their support for the INF Treaty and calling upon other governments to renounce and eliminate their ground-launched missiles with ranges banned by the accord. The statement declared U.S. and Russian intentions to “work with all interested countries” and “discuss the possibility of imparting a global character to this important regime.”

The time has arrived for more serious consideration of limits on nuclear-armed cruise missiles worldwide. Given that they are nuclear-capable and increasingly accurate and stealthy, these weapons pose a significant problem for global stability and security.

In the coming year, the Kremlin and the new U.S. presidential administration might explore several possible options, including:

  • As the governments of Sweden and Switzerland proposed in a May 2016 working paper, the United States and Russia could jointly engage with other states on a process to reduce risks associated with nuclear armed cruise missiles. This might include options to limit, prevent deployment of, and ultimately ban all nuclear-armed cruise missiles, regardless if they are launched from the sea, air or ground.
  • The United States and Russia could also address the challenges of horizontal cruise missile proliferation by reinforcing the relevant Missile Technology Control Regime’s restrictions and by endorsing the inclusion of land-attack cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles / unmanned combat aerial vehicles in the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.
  • Moscow and Washington should exercise restraint in Russian and U.S. nuclear force modernization programs, remaining within the New START limits and acting consistent with the intent of the treaty. The United States should forego development of a new, air-launched cruise missile, and Russia should reciprocate by phasing-out of its own new nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missiles.
  • The U.S. and Russian presidents should reaffirm that a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought. The two sides should also agree to launch early discussions on a possible follow-on strategic arms reduction treaty, given that New START expires in 2021.

Given that each country deploys far more nuclear weapons than is necessary to deter attack, they should be able to envision reductions to a level of 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles (including cruise missiles) and no more than 1,000 deployed strategic warheads. To take into account cruise missiles and sub-strategic nuclear bombs in the active arsenals of both sides, they should consider applying any new warhead ceiling to all types of nuclear weapons.

A new U.S.-Russian dialogue on strategic stability and risk reduction should also explore options for new transparency measures and reciprocal restraint measures in other related areas, including missile defenses, precision conventional strike, and sub-strategic nuclear weapons.

Reducing Risks In the “New Cold War”

As was the case during the Cold War, competition, confrontation, and selective cooperation is the new normal.

The U.S. and Russian governments continue to cooperate in some important areas of common concern, including implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and New START, and they continue to meet with the other permanent nuclear-armed members of the UN Security Council to share views on strategic stability and nuclear policy.

"Back from the Brink: Toward Restraint and Dialogue between Russia and the West," the June 2016 report of the Deep Cuts CommissionThe NATO-Russia Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which involves 57 participating states in the area from Vancouver to Vladivostok, serves as another mechanism to address specific security concerns.

However, since the conflict in Ukraine the number of Russian and NATO military-to-military incidents in the Baltic region and elsewhere has increased; military-to-military contacts have been sharply curtailed; and there are no active bilateral talks on nuclear arms reductions, missile defense, or conventional arms control and transparency in Europe. Earlier this month, Putin suspended implementation of an already troubled U.S.-Russian agreement on the disposition of excess weapons-grade plutonium.

In addition, U.S. and Russian diplomats have in recent weeks clashed over Syria policy at the UN Security Council. The United States and Western European powers say that Russia’s brutal aerial bombardment of civilian areas in the besieged city of Aleppo in support of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad constitutes a war crime. Making matters even worse, U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that Russian government authorities have authorized cyber hacking of U.S. entities to undermine the credibility of the U.S. electoral process.

The United States and Russia need to re-engage and move back from the brink of even more serious conflict. The 2016 report of the Deep Cuts Commission “Toward Restraint and Dialogue Between Russia and the West,” outlines several additional practical steps to help address other issues:  

  • In order to reduce current security concerns in the Baltic area, NATO and Russia should initiate a dialogue on possible mutual restraint measures. A NATO-Russia dialogue should aim at increasing the security of all states in the Baltic area by encompassing reciprocal and verifiable commitments. A sub-regional arms control regime could consist of interlocking elements such as restraint commitments, limitations, confidence and security-building measures, and a sub-regional Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism.
  • In light of the increasing dangers of military incidents between Russia, the United States and other NATO member states, the United States and Russia should revive a dialogue on nuclear risk reduction measures, capable of addressing risks posed by different sorts of emergencies in near real-time. The United States and Russia could consider creating a Joint Military Incident Prevention and Communications Cell with a direct telephone link between the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Russian General Staff, and NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). Such a cell could be linked to or established in parallel with a new European Risk Reduction Center that would link the Russian General Staff and SHAPE.
  • The 34 signatories to the Open Skies Treaty should pay more attention to the continued operation and unimpeded implementation of Open Skies, which can help provide confidence that each side is taking actions in a manner consistent with their commitments and can help guard against surprise. The treaty allows for short-notice, unarmed, observation flights over the territories of other states-parties with the aim of promoting openness and transparency, building confidence, and facilitating verification of arms control and disarmament agreements. Each states-party has quotas covering the number of observation flights a state can actively conduct over the territory of another state and the number it must allow over its own territory. Members of the U.S. Congress should recognize the value of the Open Skies Treaty and upgrades to observation capabilities rather than put roadblocks in the way of its effective implementation.
  • OSCE participating states should consider measures to give effect to the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs. For this purpose, the OSCE could set up a commission that would carefully look into the issue from a legal point of view and explore possibilities for a new OSCE states-based mechanism. OSCE participating States could also pursue a long-term effort leading to a Helsinki-like conference with the aim of reinvigorating and strengthening Europe’s guiding security principles.

As former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry wrote in the introduction to the 2016 Deep Cuts Commission report:

“Today, dialogue and restraint are needed more than ever since the end of the Cold War. In order to prevent misperceptions, miscalculations, and the potential return of a costly arms race, both Washington and Moscow have to rediscover the instruments of diplomatic dialogue, military-to-military exchanges, and verifiable arms control.”

Such an effort can begin with a serious, problem-solving approach to the INF Treaty. –BY DARYL G. KIMBALL, with KINGSTON A. REIF and ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Description: 

Relations between Russia and the West have sunk to an historic low and tensions have worsened across a range of issues, some new and some old.

Country Resources:

The Case for No-First-Use

This op-ed originally appeared in The Cipher Brief. The conditions under which a U.S. president might use nuclear weapons has in recent weeks become a topic of national conversation. Toward the end of the first presidential debate on September 27, moderator Lester Holt asked Republican nominee Donald Trump if he supported the adoption of declared policy that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict, a policy proposal reportedly under consideration by President Barack Obama. Trump’s response , as has been the case with most policy issues, was self-...

UN Weighs Nuclear Weapons Ban Talks

October 2016

By Kingston Reif

A resolution mandating the beginning of negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, slated to be debated in the UN General Assembly First Committee in October, is likely to be approved by a majority of UN member states, according to diplomats, despite pre-emptive efforts by the United States and other nuclear-armed countries to thwart action on such a measure.

The push to begin negotiations on a ban treaty has grown out of the frustration of many UN member states at the slow pace of nuclear disarmament by the world’s nine nuclear-armed countries. The non-nuclear-weapon states argue that the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use highlight the need to act with greater urgency to eliminate such weapons and to create new and alternative approaches and venues to spur progress toward that goal.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, in his September 21 UN General Assembly address, announced plans for a resolution to convene negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. (Photo credit: Cia Pak/UN)In a Sept. 21 speech at the United Nations, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz announced that his country, together with a group of other states, would press for such talks since “experience shows that the first step to eliminate weapons of mass destruction is to prohibit them through legally binding norms.”

The draft resolution—sponsored by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria, and South Africa—says the goal is “to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards [sic] their total elimination.” The draft circulated among UN diplomats calls for a one-day organizational meeting “as soon as possible” followed by two negotiating sessions totaling 20 working days in 2017.

The resolution does not set a deadline for the completion of talks or offer specifics on what the new instrument should contain. “We do not want to prejudice other countries’ views with regard to which aspects precisely should be dealt with in the negotiations,” Thomas Hajnoczi, Austria’s permanent representative to the UN Office at Geneva, said in a Sept. 22 email to Arms Control Today. “The exact scope will be part of the negotiation process.”

The resolution notes the groundwork laid by an open-ended working group that took place in Geneva this year, a forum that discussed ways to structure a nuclear-weapons ban and other steps to take for multilateral disarmament negotiations. On Aug. 19, by a vote of 68-22 with 13 abstentions, countries approved the final report of the open-ended working group, a forum in which all UN members can participate. (See ACT, September 2016.) The report noted that “a majority of states expressed support for the commencement of negotiations in the General Assembly…on a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.”

The report said a new instrument “would establish general prohibitions and obligations,” which could include a number of elements, such as “prohibitions on the acquisition, possession, stockpiling, development, testing and production of nuclear weapons.” The report added that a ban treaty “would be an interim or partial step toward nuclear disarmament” because it would leave measures for actually eliminating nuclear weapons “for future negotiations.” 

States supporting a ban treaty argued it would be “the most viable option for immediate action as it would not need universal support for the commencement of negotiations or for its entry into force,” according to the report. Hajnoczi noted that given the strong support at the open-ended working group for convening negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons, “it is generally assumed” that there will be similarly robust support for the UN resolution. 

Another European diplomat agreed, telling Arms Control Today that it would be “surprising if there is not a clear majority voting in favor of the resolution.”

The nuclear-armed countries have expressed strong opposition to commencing negotiations on a ban treaty, and none attended the open-ended working group in Geneva. Many U.S. allies such as Australia, South Korea, and many of the members of the NATO alliance, often labeled “umbrella states” because they rely on the U.S. nuclear arsenal to help protect them, have also expressed opposition to holding such negotiations.

In remarks at a conference in Kazakhstan on Aug. 29, Anita Friedt, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, called “on all states to reject unrealistic efforts to ban nuclear weapons.” Such a treaty would be “polarizing and unverifiable” and “could actually end up harming the proven, practical, and inclusive efforts that have achieved tangible results on disarmament and will continue to do so,” she said.

The United States and its allies instead back a “building blocks” approach to advancing nuclear disarmament. This approach calls for such measures as achieving entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and commencing negotiations on further U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons reductions below the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty levels.

Ban supporters also favor these steps, but argue they have been on the international agenda for years and are no closer to being realized.

The push to begin negotiations reflects the frustration of many countries at the slow pace of nuclear disarmament.

Price Tag Rising for Planned ICBMs

October 2016

By Kingston Reif

The projected $85 billion cost to design and build a replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system, the figure set by the Defense Department’s top acquisition official in advancing the program, is at the low end of an independent Pentagon estimate that found the price tag could exceed $100 billion, an informed source told Arms Control Today.

The Air Force last year published an initial cost estimate of $62.3 billion for the replacement program. (See ACT, July/August 2015.)

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during a test at Vandenberg Air Force Base California on May 21, 2013. (Photo credit: Senior Airman Lael Huss/U.S. Air Force)The growing price of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program, as it is known, comes as the Obama administration continues to grapple with how to pay for current plans to modernize U.S. nuclear forces and has raised questions about whether there are cheaper alternatives to sustain the ICBM leg of the nuclear triad. 

The estimate of $85 billion to more than $100 billion was prepared by the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) in support of the program’s milestone A decision, a key early benchmark in the acquisition process for the weapons system. Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, approved the milestone A decision on Aug. 23, the Air Force announced in a Sept. 1 press release.

CAPE provides the Defense Department with detailed analysis of the costs of major acquisition programs. The estimate, in then-year dollars, includes inflationary increases expected over the life of the program.

The approved $85 billion program cost baseline is contained in a document written by Kendall known as an acquisition decision memorandum and includes the cost to purchase 666 new missiles and rebuild the existing missile infrastructure, the source said. The higher $100 billion-plus CAPE figure is not included in the memo, the source added.

The projected cost to operate and sustain the weapons system over its expected 50-year service life is roughly $150 billion, putting the total cost of the GBSD program at $238 billion, according to the source. 

Bloomberg News was the first to report on the $85 billion estimate set by Kendall. 

Cost Estimates Uncertain

Kendall’s approval of the milestone A decision was reportedly delayed due to the large gap between the cost estimate prepared by the Air Force and the more recent independent estimate prepared by CAPE. (See ACT, September 2016.)

According to the Bloomberg report, Kendall wrote in the acquisition memo that “there is significant uncertainty about program costs” because “the historical data is limited and there has been a long gap since the last” time the U.S. government built an ICBM. 

In remarks at an event on Capitol Hill on Sept. 22, Jamie Morin, the director of CAPE, said that there were “nontrivial” differences in how the CAPE and Air Force cost estimates were built, including contrasting inputs on the missile portion of the replacement program and assessments of the program’s overall “complexity.” 

According to Morin, CAPE based its cost calculations on historical data that could be culled from previous ICBM procurement efforts, such as the Minuteman and Peacekeeper programs, as well as data from the Missile Defense Agency and the Navy’s Trident missile program. 

Like Kendall, Morin emphasized the uncertainty of the cost estimate at this early stage of the acquisition process and noted that it is rare for CAPE to publish low- and high-end estimates for a major program. 

Questions Raised 

The projected cost of the GBSD program could add to worries about the affordability challenges posed by U.S. nuclear weapons spending plans. (See ACT, May 2016.)

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, said President Barack Obama would continue to evaluate plans that envision ramping up spending in the coming years to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons and would decide whether to “leave the next administration” with recommendations on how to “move forward.” (See ACT, June 2016.)

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

Rhodes did not specify a timeline for when the president would make a decision on whether to adjust the modernization plans and, if so, when he would announce it.

Meanwhile, some analysts are questioning whether the GBSD program is the most cost-effective way to maintain the ICBM leg of the triad.

Prior to the cost analysis conducted by CAPE, the Air Force had been arguing that the price to build a new missile system would be roughly the same as the cost to sustain the Minuteman III over the next 50 years and would not provide desired capability upgrades. (See ACT, April 2016.

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

The report said continuing to maintain the Minuteman III through life-extension programs and “gradual upgrades is a relatively inexpensive way to retain current ICBM capabilities.”

In a Sept. 22 interview with Arms Control Today, Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he did not see a technical reason why the life of the Minuteman III could not be extended for a period of time beyond 2030 if the missile’s solid fuel propellant was replaced and the Pentagon forwent capability upgrades.

Another life extension of the Minuteman III would allow the Air Force to defer a decision on whether to build a replacement system, thereby easing some of the pressure current nuclear and conventional weapons spending plans will put on the defense budget over the next 15 years, Harrison added.

The growing cost for the Minuteman III replacements comes as the Obama administration grapples with how to pay modernizing for U.S. nuclear forces. 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Kingston Reif