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"ACA's journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent."

– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
Kingston Reif

U.S. Explores INF Responses

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

In this video image, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, testifies at a December 10 hearing in the House of Representatives on Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (House Arms Services Committee)The United States is reviewing a broad range of military options to respond to a future Russian deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) that violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a senior Defense Department official told Congress in December.

The State Department announced in July that Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligation “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a GLCM with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, September 2014.)

In testimony at a Dec. 10 hearing in the House of Representatives, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said a military assessment concluded “that development and deployment” of an INF-range GLCM by Russia “would pose a threat to the United States and its allies and partners.” At the hearing, held jointly by the House armed services and foreign affairs committees, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told lawmakers that the United States has seen Russia developing a prohibited GLCM, but did not say that the missile was deployed.

If Russia does not come back into compliance with the INF Treaty, McKeon said, the United States will seek “to ensure that Russia gains no significant military advantage from its violation.” Russia denies that it is breaching the INF Treaty. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a July 28 statement that the allegations are “baseless” and “no proof has been provided.”

McKeon said the range of military response options under consideration includes “active defenses to counter” INF-range GLCMs, “counterforce capabilities” to prevent attacks from these missiles, “and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” The Defense Department is reviewing the effect these options “could have on convincing Russian leadership to return to compliance with the INF Treaty, as well as countering the capability of a Russian INF Treaty-prohibited system,” McKeon added.

McKeon did not provide details on the options, but did say that some “would be compliant with the INF Treaty” and some “would not be.” He later added that deploying U.S. GLCMs “would obviously be one option to explore.”

McKeon said that, in responding to Russia’s alleged treaty violation, the United States wants to avoid “an escalatory cycle of action and reaction.” But he warned that “Russia’s lack of meaningful engagement on this issue, if it persists, will ultimately require the United States to take actions to protect its interests and security, along with those of its allies and partners.”

One European analyst said the deployment of U.S. GLCMs in Europe is unlikely. In a Dec. 16 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Jacek Durkalec, nonproliferation and arms control project manager at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said other options, including sea- and air-launched cruise missiles “have been seen as more realistic and less costly.” He added, however, that “if Russia would really deploy a militar[il]y significant number of GLCMs, perceptions in Europe could change.”

The INF Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, marked the first time the two superpowers agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. The treaty eliminated almost 2,700 intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles, most of them Russian.

At the Dec. 10 hearing, Gottemoeller said the administration has “a kind of three-pronged approach” for dealing with Russia’s INF Treaty violation: diplomatic efforts to bring Russia back into compliance, exploration of potential “economic countermeasures,” and “military measures” in the event Russia’s noncompliance persists.

McKeon and Gottemoeller refused to say how much time the United States would give Russia to come back into compliance before pursuing economic and military measures. Gottemoeller noted that, in the case of Russia’s noncompliance with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in the 1980s, “the Reagan administration and the [George H.W.] Bush administration worked with the Soviets diplomatically for five years” before Russia returned to compliance with the treaty.

Gottemoeller led a U.S. delegation to Moscow in September for talks with Russian officials to discuss the violation. A State Department press release summarizing the meeting said that “the U.S. concerns were not assuaged at the meeting.” At the hearing, Gottemoeller and McKeon said that Russia refuses to acknowledge the existence of an illegal missile.

In a Dec. 12 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the McKeon and Gottemoeller testimonies “caught our attention.” The statement lamented the U.S. “intention to exercise economic and military pressure on Russia because of its alleged non-compliance with the INF Treaty.” Referring to the downturn in U.S.-Russian relations over Ukraine, the statement said U.S. military measures “would increase tensions in a situation that is already complicated.”

The statement said that the U.S. government continues to be unable “to give an explicit wording to its claims and accusations” on Russia’s alleged INF Treaty violation and accused the United States of being in noncompliance with the treaty. The statement referred to the use of “target missiles that resemble short- and intermediate-range missiles” in U.S. missile defense tests, “armed US drones that necessarily fall under the INF Treaty definition of ground-launched cruise missiles,” and the U.S. “intention to deploy in Poland and Romania a land-based version of the MK 41 shipboard launcher for intermediate-range cruise missiles” as examples of U.S. INF Treaty violations.

The issue of how to respond to the alleged Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty was a controversial issue on Capitol Hill last year. The House-passed fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill included a provision requiring the Defense Department to develop a plan for the research and development of intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the defense authorization bill contained no such provision. The final version of the bill, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 19, softened the House demands by requiring the Defense Department to submit a report on Russia’s alleged violation and a report describing any steps being taken or planned by the department in response.

A senior Senate staffer said in a Dec. 19 interview that the incoming Republican-led Senate would likely follow the House in advocating for a more aggressive U.S. response to Russian noncompliance.

The United States is reviewing a broad range of military options to respond to a future Russian deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile that violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a senior Defense Department official said.

Nuclear Impact Meeting Is Largest Yet

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

A December conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use attracted more participants and included a broader focus than the previous two meetings on the issue, with many delegates emphasizing “that humanitarian considerations should no longer be ignored but be at the core of all nuclear disarmament deliberations,” according to the chair’s summary of the meeting.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz speaks on December 8, 2014, in Vienna at the third international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use. (Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty Images)The Dec. 8-9 meeting at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna drew delegations representing 158 states, the United Nations, and academia.­­­

For the first time in the series of conferences on nuclear weapons use, the list of participants included countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—the United Kingdom and the United States. In addition, an unofficial representative from China attended the meeting. Two other nuclear-armed states, India and Pakistan, took part in the previous two meetings and also were present in Vienna.

Previous conferences had focused primarily on the consequences of nuclear weapons explosions, but the Vienna meeting expanded the agenda to include the risk of nuclear weapons use, the application of international law to the consequences of nuclear weapons explosions, and the shortfalls in international capacity to address a humanitarian emergency caused by the use of nuclear weapons.

The meeting included presentations from experts on the factors that could lead to the deliberate or inadvertent use of nuclear weapons and the relevance of international environmental and health law to nuclear weapons use.

“The scope, scale and interrelationship of the humanitarian consequences caused by nuclear weapon detonation are catastrophic and more complex than commonly understood,” concluded Alexander Kmentt, conference chair and director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, in his summary delivered at the end of the conference.

The Vienna conference was the third meeting in the past two years focused on the medical and societal impact of nuclear weapons use. The first meeting took place in March 2013 in Oslo and brought together representatives from 127 governments. Delegations from 146 governments attended the second conference, held in Nayarit, Mexico, in February 2014. (See ACT, November 2014.)

The Catholic Church used the occasion of the December conference to revise its long-standing position on nuclear deterrence, stating that “reliance on a strategy of nuclear deterrence has created a less secure world” (see box).

The Vienna conference and the two that preceded it reflect the growing impatience of many non-nuclear-weapon states with what they characterize as the slow pace of progress toward nuclear disarmament.

But unlike the conference summary statement delivered by host Mexico at Nayarit, the Austrian chair’s statement did not call for the initiation of a diplomatic process to ban nuclear weapons. Instead, Kmentt noted that state delegations “expressed various views regarding the ways and means of advancing the nuclear disarmament agenda.”

In a separate statement, Austria called on all NPT members “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and promised “to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.” Unlike the treaties prohibiting even the possession of chemical and biological weapons, there is no such legal ban on nuclear weapons.

The U.S. statement, delivered by Adam Scheinman, President Barack Obama’s special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, alluded to “the growing political will to pursue a practical disarmament agenda,” but advised that there must be “a practical way to do it.”

In remarks delivered at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 18, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that “[w]hile we acknowledge the views of those who call for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban treaty, the United States cannot and will not support efforts of this sort.”

Many non-nuclear-weapon states that are close allies of the United States expressed similar sentiments at the Vienna conference. “Prospects for disarmament are enhanced by engaging, not alienating, those states that will need to take the action to disarm,” Australia said in its statement.

In a Dec. 22 e-mail, Kmentt told Arms Control Today that the Vienna meeting “established the humanitarian focus” as the “mainstream” view and the context in which “the vast majority of states wish to discuss the nuclear weapons issue.” If nuclear weapons are used, “no capacity exists to deal adequately with the consequences,” he said. “These arguments and findings make the insistence on nuclear weapons as a necessary security tool for possessor States untenable.”

Kmentt added that this majority of states will expect the upcoming NPT review conference, to be held in New York later this year, “to give clear answers to address” the findings and conclusions of the Vienna conference “and point a credible way towards the implementation” of Article VI of the NPT. That article commits the nuclear-weapon states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race” and “to nuclear disarmament.”

In a Dec. 23 interview, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, director of the International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said that the conversation on the humanitarian aspect promises to be “a central theme” of the review conference. She said she expected that many countries would make a strong push to ensure that the findings and conclusions of the Vienna meeting are reflected in the review conference’s final document, if there is one.

It is unclear whether there will be a fourth conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and, if so, what the final result of the process will be. In his Dec. 22 e-mail, Kmentt said that no country had offered to host another meeting.

The focus for NPT states is “to achieve progress within the NPT framework” and “see what happens at the Review Conference,” he said. That is certainly Austria’s objective for the conference, he said.

Vatican Revises Stance on Deterrence

The Catholic Church revised its long-standing position on nuclear deterrence in December, declaring that the possession and use of nuclear weapons are not acceptable.

At a Dec. 8-9 conference in Vienna on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the Vatican’s UN ambassador in Geneva, delivered the Vatican’s statement. He said the “reliance on a strategy of nuclear deterrence has created a less secure world,” and called for all countries to review deterrence as a “stable basis for peace.”

The Catholic Church has consistently advocated for the abolition of nuclear weapons, but its original position on deterrence, laid out in the 1963 papal encyclical Pacem in Terris, stated that a minimal nuclear capability to deter a nuclear attack is acceptable as an interim ethic until disarmament is achieved.

Although that position might have been acceptable during the Cold War, the current pace of disarmament is too slow and the status quo is “unsustainable and undesirable,” Tomasi said. The argument that nuclear weapons prevent war is “misleading,” he said.

Nuclear deterrence “works less as a stabilizing force” in a multipolar world and serves as an incentive for countries to break out of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and develop nuclear weapons, he said. In addition, the threat of accidental use or theft of the weapons has become too high, Tomasi said.

In a Dec. 8 document, “Nuclear Disarmament: Time for Abolition,” prepared for the Vienna conference, the Vatican laid out in greater detail its reasoning for moving away from limited deterrence. In addition to calling on all states possessing nuclear weapons to increase the pace of disarmament, the document called for an examination of the rationale for nuclear deterrence.

In a Dec. 7 letter to the conference president, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, Pope Francis said that “nuclear detterence and the threat of mutually assured destruction” cannot be the basis of “fraternity” and “peaceful coexistence amongst peoples and states.”

The Vatican document cited several factors that influenced the Vatican’s revised position on deterrence, including the “illusion of security” from nuclear weapons, the high costs of arsenal maintenance, and the lack of transparency and oversight of the disarmament process. The Vatican proposed that states examine these factors in further detail to question the “moral legitimacy of the architecture of the ‘peace of a sort’ supposedly provided by deterrence.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

    At a December conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, many delegates emphasized that “humanitarian considerations should…be at the core of all nuclear disarmament deliberations.”

    States Clash on Disarmament at UN

    December 2014

    By Kingston Reif

    As states without nuclear weapons are growing increasingly impatient with what they say is the slow pace of nuclear disarmament efforts in the lead-up to the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review

    Conference, the United States and most other nuclear-weapom states have continued to vote against resolutions aimed at accelerating progress toward the elimination of nuclear weapons at the UN disarmament committee in New York.

    The UN General Assembly First Committee meets to adopt an agenda and work program on October 2. (UN Photo)Four of the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the NPT (France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) voted against a resolution calling for the “urgent commencement” of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva to pursue the “early conclusion” of a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons to prohibit their “possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer and use or threat of use, and to provide for their destruction.” (See ACT, December 2013.) In the UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with nuclear disarmament, 135 countries supported the resolution.

    The resolution was one of several offered this year that the committee has considered in previous years.
    China was the only recognized nuclear-weapon state to support the resolution. India and Pakistan also voted in favor of the resolution; Israel and North Korea opposed it.

    India, Israel, and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, but are not members of the NPT. North Korea joined the NPT, but announced its withdrawal from the treaty in 2003, an action that NPT members have not officially recognized.
    In a joint statement, France, the UK, and the United States said that the call for a convention to abolish nuclear weapons “is not mentioned as such in the 2010 [NPT] Action Plan” and that “a practical step-by-step process is the only way to make real progress in our disarmament efforts.” At the May 2010 NPT Review Conference, the states-parties adopted a 64-point action plan across the three “pillars” of the NPT: nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

    The other states that voted against the resolution or abstained are members of NATO or are “nuclear umbrella” states that have nuclear security agreements with Washington, such as Japan.

    According to a September 2014 analysis published on the website of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by Hans Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, there are approximately 16,300 nuclear weapons located at some 98 sites in 14 countries. Russia and the United States together possess 93 percent of the total global inventory.

    Except for China and Pakistan, which abstained, every state with nuclear weapons also voted against a resolution titled “Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: Accelerating the Implementation of Nuclear Disarmament Commitments.” The supporters of the resolution, led by Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and South Africa, said they were “[d]eeply disappointed” with “the continued absence of progress towards multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament” and “urge[d] the Conference on Disarmament to commence, without delay, substantive work that advances the agenda of nuclear disarmament.”

    The First Committee approved the resolution by a vote of 166-7 with five abstentions.

    In addition, the United States joined France, Russia, and the UK as the only opponents of a resolution on “taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.” The resolution laments “the absence of concrete outcomes of multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations within the United Nations framework for more than a decade.”

    France, the UK, and the United States opposed the resolution on the grounds that it reflects “a substantial and unwarranted focus” on nuclear disarmament processes beyond those of the NPT and CD and places disproportionate focus on nuclear disarmament at the expense of the other two pillars of the NPT—nonproliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

    In an Oct. 7 statement to the First Committee, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, emphasized the importance of “patience and persistence” on the path toward nuclear disarmament. Gottemoeller suggested thinking about disarmament “in terms of how creeks and streams connect to form rivers. Over time, those mighty rivers are irreversible; they cut through massive and seemingly impenetrable stone on the way to their final destination.”

    In an Oct. 9 interview with Arms Control Today, Gottemoeller disputed the concerns of the non-nuclear-weapon states about the slow pace of disarmament. She said that the nuclear-weapon states have done “a spectacular job in reducing and eliminating our nuclear arsenals” since the height of the Cold War and that there have “been inadequate communications between the nuclear-weapon states and the non-nuclear-weapon states” on the difficulty of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons.

    In an Oct. 8 statement to the First Committee, Mikhail Ulyanov, a Russian arms control official, said that the UN Disarmament Commission and the CD “have suffered stagnation for many years.” But he warned that shifting disarmament negotiations to “new fora” would “threaten to bring serious damage to the existing institutions.”

    The sponsors of the First Committee resolutions calling for accelerating the pace of disarmament continue to stress that their efforts are consistent with the NPT. They note that Article VI of the treaty requires “effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament” and that the 2010 NPT Review Conference agreed to “the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons.”

    At the UN disarmament committee, nuclear-weapon states generally voted against resolutions aimed at speeding up progress toward the elimination of nuclear arms.

    U.S. to Attend Nuclear Meeting

    December 2014

    By Kingston Reif

    The United States will attend a December conference in Vienna on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use, the State Department announced Nov. 7.

    In a press statement, the department said the decision to attend the conference came after “a careful review of the agenda as well as discussions with the conference host Austria.” The United States “fully understands the serious consequences of nuclear weapons use and gives the highest priority to avoiding their use,” the statement said.

    The Vienna gathering will be the third conference in the past two years focused on the medical and societal impact of nuclear weapons use. The first meeting took place in March 2013 in Oslo and brought together representatives from 127 governments. Delegations from 146 governments attended the second conference, held in Nayarit, Mexico, this February.

    In the past, the United States has expressed concern that some conference organizers believe the meetings are intended to lead toward talks on a convention on the elimination of nuclear weapons. (See ACT, November 2014.) In the Nov. 7 statement, the State Department said, “[T]his conference is not the appropriate venue for disarmament negotiations or pre-negotiation discussions and the United States will not engage in efforts of that kind in Vienna.”

    Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan attended the Oslo and Nayarit conferences, but the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty did not.

    The United Kingdom announced on Dec. 2 that it would attend the Vienna meeting. It is unclear whether China, France, or Russia will do so.

    The Vienna conference and the two that preceded it reflect the growing impatience of many non-nuclear-weapon states with what they characterize as the slow pace of progress toward nuclear disarmament.

    The State Department said it views the Vienna meeting as “a useful opportunity to highlight the significant progress the United States has made and the resources it devotes to create conditions under which nuclear weapons are never again used.”

    The United States will attend a December conference in Vienna on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use, the State Department announced Nov. 7.

    Pentagon Releases Nuclear Reviews

    December 2014

    By Kingston Reif

    In the wake of professional and ethical lapses and poor morale in the U.S. nuclear force, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Nov. 14 the results of two reviews of the Defense Department’s management of nuclear weapons and the steps the department is taking to address the numerous setbacks.

    At a press briefing at the Pentagon, Hagel said that an internal and an external review “found evidence of systematic problems that if not addressed could undermine the safety, security, and effectiveness of the elements of the force in the future.” He attributed the problems to “a lack of sustained focus, attention, and resources, resulting in a pervasive sense that a career in the nuclear enterprise offers too few opportunities for growth and advancement.”

    The Air Force, particularly the service’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, has been embarrassed by revelations over the past two years of failed nuclear security inspections at ICBM bases, misconduct by senior nuclear commanders, and cheating by missileers on performance tests. In response, Hagel in January ordered internal and external reviews of all U.S. nuclear forces. (See ACT, March 2014.)

    Hagel announced numerous steps intended to fix the problems plaguing the force. These include changing the conduct of inspections to reduce the burden on airmen and sailors, eliminating micromanagement of nuclear personnel seen as overtaxed by excessive bureaucratic and administrative requirements, and elevating the head of Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the Air Force’s nuclear forces, from a three- to a four-star rank. Hagel also said the Defense Department will request a 10 percent annual increase in funding for nuclear weapons over the next five years. This will come on top of the $15-16 billion the department currently spends annually on the weapons.

    Hagel, who announced his resignation on Nov. 24, emphasized the “critical role” nuclear weapons play in U.S. national security. “No other capability we have is more important,” he said.

    The newly completed analyses are the sixth and seventh reviews of the nuclear enterprise the Defense Department has undertaken since 2007, when a B-52 bomber was mistakenly flown across the United States with six nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missiles on board.

    Hagel said that earlier reviews “were implemented without the necessary follow-through to assess that they were implemented effectively.” He pledged that senior department leaders would ensure that the new recommendations are being effectively implemented.

    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Nov. 14 the results of two reviews of the Defense Department’s management of nuclear weapons and the steps the department is taking to address the numerous setbacks.

    Missile Defense Test Scrapped

    December 2014

    By Kingston Reif

    The Defense Department said it no longer plans to conduct a flight-intercept test of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system scheduled for next summer.

    Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the department’s Missile Defense Agency, told InsideDefense.com in October that the test has been replaced with “a developmental non-intercept test” designed to assess interceptor “thruster performance” and “improved discrimination performance.” In a Dec. 2 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Lehner said this test would “provid[e] data that will improve and enhance system reliability.”

    The GMD system is designed to protect the United States from limited missile attacks by Iran and North Korea. A total of 30 interceptors are currently deployed in Alaska and California. The Pentagon is planning to deploy an additional 14 interceptors in Alaska by the end of 2017.

    Plagued by cost overruns and test failures, the system successfully intercepted a target in a June 22 test. This was the first successful intercept test since 2008 and the first using the Capability Enhancement II (CE-II) kill vehicle. (See ACT, July/August 2014.) The kill vehicle sits atop the booster rocket and is intended to collide with a target in outer space.

    The test that was canceled was scheduled to be another intercept test of the CE-II. Laura Grego, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in a Nov. 3 blog post that the decision to scrap that exercise could mean that the June 22 test “was not as successful as assumed.” Grego noted that the next intercept test of the GMD system now is not scheduled until the summer of 2016, leaving a two-year gap between intercept attempts.

    In a Nov. 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Philip Coyle, former director of weapons testing for the Defense Department, said that, with the test cancellation, “the GMD program will be in limbo for years longer, lacking regular, contemporary flight intercept test results to guide development.”

    The Defense Department said it no longer plans to conduct a flight-intercept test of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system scheduled for next summer.

    Russia Skips Summit Planning Meeting

    December 2014

    By Kingston Reif and Daniel Horner

    Russia did not attend a planning session held in Washington in late October for the 2016 nuclear security summit, casting doubt on its participation in the summit.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends the opening plenary session of the nuclear security summit in The Hague on March 24. Russia said last month that it does not intend to participate in the preparations for the next summit, which is to be held in the United States in 2016. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)In a Nov. 5 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow “does not see any possibility to take part in the preparations” for the upcoming summit, which would be the fourth installment of the biennial meetings.

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

    The 2016 summit in the United States is scheduled be the last. In its statement, Russia questioned the need for that meeting.

    “[M]ost of the political commitments undertaken by the participants of the preceding summits have been implemented,” said the statement. “These summits have thus nearly exhausted their agenda.”

    The statement expressed “grave concern” with the proposed framework for planning the summit. According to Russia, the planning process privileges the hosts of the previous summits in the drafting of the preparatory summit documents.

    Russia criticized the creation of “working groups formed arbitrarily and with limited membership” to “devise guidelines for such international bodies and initiatives” as the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, and Interpol. The five working groups are intended to examine how to embed the work of the summits into existing international institutions that have a nuclear security mandate. (See ACT, December 2012.)

    Officials from several countries confirmed that some states have raised some objections to the process. But a main purpose of the planning meetings is to air and resolve such objections, Laura Holgate, senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction at the U.S. National Security Council, said in a Nov. 17 interview.

    In a Nov. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a European official said that “[n]ew proposals concerning the organization of the workshops have been made.” The official wrote that “[i]t is logical that each host is willing to influence the way the summit goes,” but emphasized that “nothing is set in stone at this stage,” as the proposals are under negotiation.

    “What matters is to preserve the consensus rule,” the official said.

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

    Russia, which possesses the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear material, has been an important participant in the summit process. In particular, Russia has assisted in the accelerated return of Russian-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Russia and the United States worked together in late September to assist with the removal of HEU from Poland and Kazakhstan. (See ACT, November 2014.)

    Russia’s decision to boycott the preparations for the 2016 summit comes on the heels of a downturn in relations with the United States over Russian military intervention in Ukraine.

    But Kenneth Luongo, a former senior adviser to the secretary of energy for nonproliferation policy who is now president of the Partnership for Global Security, said Russia’s absence from the October planning session goes beyond the current crisis in relations over Ukraine. It is another step in a decision that Russia has made to “wind down cooperation” with the United States on nuclear security, Luongo said in a Nov. 21 interview.

    Luongo, who is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, said the backsliding began with Russia’s insistence in 2013 on a pared-down replacement for the old Cooperative Threat Reduction program. (See ACT, July/August 2013.) That was followed by limited action from Russia at this year’s nuclear security summit, Luongo said. Russia notably failed to endorse a key initiative from the summit, formulated by the Netherlands, South Korea, and the United States and joined by 32 other countries.

    On another nuclear security issue, Luongo noted that Russia had announced recently that it would not sign any new contracts for work with the United States on bolstering the security of nuclear materials and facilities inside Russia. Those contracts expire at the end of this year. (See ACT, November 2014.)

    Luongo characterized Russia’s behavior as “irresponsible” and warned that U.S. options for convincing Russia to change course are limited. “You can’t throw a life preserver to someone floating away from you,” he said.
    Russia said that it informed the United States of its decision not to participate in the 2016 summit preparations in mid-October. Of the 53 countries that attended the 2014 summit, Russia was the only one that did not participate in the planning session.

    Closing the Door?
    In spite of its negative tone and its expression of “doubts regarding the added value the 2016 forum,” the Russian Foreign Ministry statement did not explicitly rule out Moscow’s attendance at the 2016 summit. But one high-ranking Russian official went beyond the statement. “We are not planning to attend the summit,” said Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, during a Nov. 5 discussion with reporters at his home in Washington.

    White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a Nov. 4 press briefing that “the United States regrets Russia’s decision not to participate” in the October meeting. Earnest added, however, that “the door remains open to Russia joining future meetings like this.”

    Russia did not attend a planning session held in Washington in late October for the 2016 nuclear security summit, casting doubt on its participation in the summit.

    Nuclear Weapons Budget Still Ripe for Savings

    Current and former U.S. government officials and military leaders have repeatedly stated that present plans to rebuild the U.S. nuclear arsenal – which could add up to $1 trillion over the next 30 years – are unaffordable given existing budget constraints. This massive price tag comes at a time when other national security bills are coming due, Congress has mandated reductions in planned military spending, and the United States has more nuclear weapons than it needs for its security. Given this state of affairs, reshaping the current nuclear spending blueprint to comport with the fiscal and...

    Air Force Nuclear Reviews Miss the Forest for the Trees

    At a Nov. 14 press conference , Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the release of two reviews, one internal and the other external, on the Pentagon nuclear weapons enterprise. Ordered in response to the revelations about troubling lapses and poor morale in the nation’s nuclear forces, particularly the ICBM force, the reviews found what Hagel described as “systematic problems.” Hagel attributed the root cause of these shortcomings to “a lack of sustained focus, attention, and resources, resulting in a pervasive sense that a career in the nuclear enterprise offers too few opportunities...

    25 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Enduring Value of Nuclear Arms Control

    Sections:

    Body: 

    Volume 6, Issue 11, November 7, 2014

    Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has rightly aroused concern in Western capitals about Moscow’s commitment to international peace and security and a rules-based international order. These concerns are compounded by troublesome Russian behavior in the nuclear arena, such as the testing of a ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and not so subtle reminders from Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia is strengthening its “nuclear deterrent capability.”

    Russia’s belligerence has prompted calls from some in the United States to abandon long-standing bipartisan arms control efforts to reduce the Russian nuclear threat.

    Some members of Congress have proposed mimicking Moscow by placing a greater premium on nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy.

    But this would be a mistake. Moscow’s challenge to Europe requires a tough and unified response, but the challenge can’t be effectively resolved with nuclear weapons or the buildup of nuclear capabilities.

    In a Sept. 8 opinion piece in Foreign Policy, Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) stated that Russia's development of new nuclear capabilities should accelerate plans to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons "and perhaps even develop new nuclear systems."

    Similarly, former George W. Bush administration official Stephen Rademaker recently argued in The Washington Post that the Obama administration should punish Russia by suspending implementation of the reductions mandated by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)and cease efforts to further reduce excess U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons.

    Heeding these calls would be counterproductive and self-defeating. U.S. presidents from both parties have long recognized the value of arms control agreements in constraining and reducing Russian nuclear forces. While current tensions between the United States and Moscow may preclude new negotiated agreements in the near term, the arms reduction process has survived similar downturns in the past, and remains in the national interest today.

    Nuclear Weapons and the Ukraine Crisis

    To date, the United States and European Union have responded to Russian moves in Ukraine and Crimea primarily with economic sanctions, financial and limited military assistance to Ukraine, and conventional military support to NATO countries, particularly the alliance’s easternmost members that border Russia.

    U.S. nuclear forces have not played a significant role in the current tensions over Ukraine. The nuclear component of the U.S. response has been limited to sending nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 aircraft to Europe to participate in military exercises. The deployment of the bombers is largely seen as a symbolic gesture meant to reassure NATO allies alarmed by Russian actions. The calls from Eastern European allies for reassurance have been almost exclusively for non-nuclear measures.

    The unparalleled destructive power of nuclear weapons makes them unusable in all but the direst of circumstances. Given the catastrophic impacts of using just a handful of nuclear weapons, deterring their use can be achieved with a far smaller nuclear force than the arsenal of 4,800 weapons the United States currently possesses.

    Nuclear weapons are especially irrelevant to the strategy of “hybrid war” that Russia has pursued in Ukraine and which some NATO officials fear could be deployed against the alliance’s eastern flank.  A recent article in the Financial Times described the Russian approach as “a broad range of hostile actions, of which military force is only a small part, that are invariably executed in concert as part of a flexible strategy with long-term objectives.” These tactics fall well below the threshold that makes threatening or using nuclear weapons rational or credible.

    In fact, an overreliance on nuclear weapons could make preventing future Russian misbehavior more challenging. For example, many NATO members are skeptical of the continued deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. According to former British Secretary of State for Defense Lord Des Browne, this situation is a “godsend” for Russia, which is eager to exploit fissures in the alliance. In addition, the money spent on maintaining a bloated nuclear arsenal is money that can’t be spent to help Ukraine’s economy or provide central and eastern European allies with additional conventional military support.

    Responding to Russia’s INF Violation

    The State Department’s 2014 arms control compliance report released in July found “that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

    The United States government has not published details of the violation. Sources told the New York Times in January 2014 that the missile of concern – which may not be intended to deliver nuclear weapons – has not yet been deployed. The Obama administration has taken up the issue with the Russians, but Washington remains unsatisfied with Russia’s explanation for the tests.

    The Obama administration should publicly criticize Russia for its violation of the INF treaty, consider steps to make Russia pay a price for its actions, and engage with Moscow in an attempt to bring it back into compliance with the agreement. However, withdrawing from the INF treaty, stopping implementation of other arms control treaties, or ceasing pursuit of future agreements would not serve U.S. interests.

    In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan continued to observe the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow despite its determination that a large radar located at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia violated the treaty. It also engaged in negotiations with the Soviet Union on the INF treaty and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty during this period. It took time, but diplomacy worked and the Soviets eventually tore down the radar.

    Likewise, building new nuclear capabilities to counter Russia would be unwise. The U.S. military does not have a requirement for new INF-range missiles. Forcing the Pentagon to spend money on such hardware would suck funds from investments for which there are requirements. In addition, trying to find hosts for new intermediate range missiles would have political costs.

    Overall, the implementation record of arms control agreements with Russia has been highly successful—which is why both Republican and Democratic presidents have pursued such agreements. Without these efforts, Russian forces would be unconstrained, our ability to verify what Russia is doing would be curtailed, and the incentives to engage in a costly arms race would be magnified.

    The Case for Further Reductions

    Over the last 40 years, the United States and Russia have reduced their stockpiles of nuclear weapons to the benefit of U.S., Russian, and global security. Successive administrations, on a bipartisan basis, have reduced the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a way to draw down Russia’s arsenal, build international support for nonproliferation, and save money. These rationales still hold true today.

    Paradoxically, the current tensions with Russia reinforce the value of arms control agreements such as New START. The United States and Russia are no longer adversaries like they were during the Cold War and the risk of a deliberate nuclear exchange is exceedingly low. However, by verifiably capping U.S. and Russian deployed nuclear forces, the treaty bounds the current tensions between the two countries.

    Blocking implementation of New START would be a major propaganda victory for Moscow and could cause it to renege on its own commitments under the treaty. This would limit the U.S. ability to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile, thereby driving up the worst case assessments of military planners, leading to a potentially costly surge in weapons procurements.

    Even under New START, the United States and Russia are allowed to deploy as many as 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons with thousands more in reserve. After an extensive review of nuclear deterrence requirements, U.S. military leaders concluded last year that the United States could safely reduce the size of its deployed strategic arsenal by up to one-third below the New START levels.

    In the past, U.S. nuclear weapons reductions have provided an incentive for Russia to similarly reduce the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States, via both formal treaties and unilateral cuts. Today, Russia is already well below the New START limit on deployed delivery vehicles. While Russia is aggressively modernizing its nuclear forces, some observers expect Russia’s stockpile to continue to decline as its largest and most heavily loaded missiles reach the end of their lifetimes and are retired.

    Russia has so far resisted U.S. offers to negotiate further cuts below News START, and given current tensions between the two sides over Ukraine and INF Treaty compliance issues, further negotiated treaty cuts seem unlikely in the near term. However, the United States and Russia have continued to cooperate on other risk reduction goals, such as constraining Iran’s nuclear program, destroying Syrian chemical weapons, and securing dangerous nuclear and radiological materials. Likewise, disagreements over Ukraine should not reverse the overall trend toward smaller nuclear arsenals.

    One option is for the United States and Russia to informally agree to reciprocally reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,000 warheads and 500 delivery systems. According to a 2012 report by the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board, this lower level could be verified using the New START verification provisions and reduce Russia’s incentive to build back up to New START levels and deploy new delivery systems.

    Continued U.S. and Russian nuclear reductions are a necessary condition for including other nuclear-armed states in the arms control process, most notably China. If the United States and Russia fail to further reduce their arsenals, China, which is believed to possess less than 300 nuclear warheads, is unlikely to consider capping the size of its arsenal and could instead speed up efforts to increase the capability and size of its arsenal.

    There are also strong financial reasons for the United States to consider retiring excess weapons. The congressional mandate for significant reductions in projected military spending could force reductions to the U.S. arsenal with or without Russian reciprocity.

    A December 2013 Congressional Budget Office report estimated the cost of the Obama administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans at $355 billion over the next decade. But this is just the tip of the spending iceberg. Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion.

    Faced with increasing pressure to reduce military spending, a bipartisan, independent report commissioned by Congress and the Defense Department recently called the Obama administration’s plans to rebuild the nuclear arsenal “unaffordable” and a threat to “needed improvements in conventional forces.” Russia also faces significant financial constraints, as a drop in global oil and natural gas prices, the growing costs of the war in Ukraine, and the impact of Western sanctions have taken a significant toll on Russia’s economy.

    Now is the time to reevaluate existing spending plans before major budget decisions are made.

    Calls to place a greater emphasis on nuclear weapons in response to Russian revanchism is not the magic bullet that some critics make it out to be.  The marginal utility of the 4,799th and 4,798th warheads in the U.S. stockpile is next to nil. Pursuing common sense arms control measures and reshaping U.S. nuclear policy to comport with current security and fiscal realities makes sense as a way to reduce excess U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and free up resources to address the most 21st century security challenges. – KINGSTON REIF

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    Moscow’s challenge to Europe requires a tough and unified response, but the challenge can’t be effectively resolved with nuclear weapons or the buildup of nuclear capabilities.

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