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– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
U.S. Nuclear Policy & Budget

The INF Treaty and New START Crisis and the Future of the NPT

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The INF Treaty and New START Crisis and the Future of the NPT

Statement of NGO Representatives and Experts
to the 2019 NPT Prep Com for the 2020 Review Conference,
United Nations, New York

May 1, 2019

Since the NPT was signed 50 years ago, the United States and Russia have engaged in nuclear arms control negotiations and concluded strategic arms control and reduction treaties that have lowered tensions, reduced excess nuclear stockpiles, increased predictability and transparency, and helped to reduce the nuclear danger.

While the size of the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles has been significantly reduced from their Cold War peaks, the dangers posed by the still excessive U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and launch-under-attack postures are still exceedingly high.

Today, each side can launch as many as 800 thermonuclear weapons in a first strike within about 20 minutes of the “go” order from either president. Each side would have hundreds more nuclear weapons available in reserve for further counterstrikes. The result would be a global catastrophe.

As then-presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev noted in their 1985 summit statement: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Further progress on nuclear disarmament – or in the very least active negotiations to that end – by the United States and Russia is at the core of their NPT Article VI obligation to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

Disarmament leadership from the United States and Russia, which possess the vast majority of the world’s nuclear firepower, is also critical to the essential task of engaging the world’s other nuclear-armed states in the global enterprise to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.

As we approach the NPT’s 2020 Review Conference, it is the considered view of a wide range of nongovernmental experts and organizations that the world’s two largest nuclear-armed states need to:

  • engage in serious talks to facilitate the extension of New START by five years, as allowed for in Article XIV of the Treaty;
  • reach an agreement that prevents deployments of destabilizing ground-based, intermediate-range missiles; and
  • resume regular, high-level talks on strategic stability to reduce the risk of miscalculation.

Failure by the U.S. and Russian leadership to take these steps would represent a violation of their NPT Article VI obligations and would threaten the very underpinnings of the NPT regime.

Unfortunately, relations between Washington and Moscow are at their lowest point since the mid-1980s, and their dialogue on nuclear arms control has been stalled since Russia rejected a 2013 offer from President Obama to negotiate further nuclear cuts beyond the modest reductions mandated by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Worse still, the two sides have not resumed their strategic stability talks since the last session was held in Helsinki in late-2017, and the future of two of the most important nuclear arms control agreements – the INF Treaty and New START – are in grave doubt.

The INF Treaty

In February, Washington and Moscow suspended their obligations under the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty after failing to resolve their compliance dispute. Barring a diplomatic miracle, the United States is on course to withdraw from the treaty on August 2. The collapse of the INF Treaty opens the door to new and even more dangerous forms of missile competition.

Russia may deploy more of its 9M729 ground-launched cruise missiles, which the United States and NATO have determined are treaty noncompliant, and Russia has threatened to convert a sea-based cruise missile system for ground launch. For its part, the Trump administration has begun developing new, “more usable” low-yield nuclear warheads for use on D-5 submarine-launched strategic missiles, and the administration has announced that it will begin testing – before the end of this year – new ground-launched intermediate-range cruise missiles, which have been prohibited by the INF Treaty. Ukraine, a party to the INF Treaty, has suggested it might pursue INF missile development.

Whether nuclear-armed or conventionally-armed, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems are destabilizing because of their very short time-to-target capabilities afford little or no warning of attack.

Instead of a dangerous pursuit of such INF missile deployments, this conference must strongly encourage the INF states parties to refrain from deploying intermediate-range, ground-launched missiles and urge Moscow and Washington to engage in talks designed to produce a new INF-missile control arrangement.

For example, NATO could declare, as a bloc, that no alliance members will field any currently INF Treaty-prohibited missiles in Europe so long as Russia does not deploy treaty-prohibited systems where they could hit NATO territory. This would require Russia to move at least some currently deployed 9M729 missiles.

The U.S. and Russian presidents could agree to this “no-first INF missile deployment plan” through an executive agreement that would be verified through national technical means of intelligence. Russia could be offered additional confidence-building measures to ensure that the United States would not place offensive missiles in the Mk. 41 missile-interceptor launchers now deployed Europe as part of the Aegis Ashore system.

New START

Meanwhile, the START agreement, which verifiably caps each side’s strategic deployed arsenals to no more than 1,550 warheads and 700 strategic delivery systems, will expire in February 2021 unless extended or replaced.

Without a positive decision to extend New START, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear superpowers for the first time since 1972. The risk of unconstrained U.S.-Russian nuclear competition, and even more fraught relations, would grow.

In a March 2018 interview with NBC, President Putin voiced interest in an extension of New START or even possibly further cuts in warhead numbers. In April 2018, the Trump administration announced it is pursuing a “whole-of-government review” about whether to extend New START. In 2017, shortly before he became the U.S. National Security Advisor, John Bolton publicly called on President Trump to terminate New START.

New START clearly serves U.S. and Russian security interests. The treaty imposes important bounds on the strategic nuclear competition between the two nuclear superpowers.

Failure to extend New START, on the other hand, would compromise each side’s understanding of the other’s nuclear forces, open the door to unconstrained nuclear competition, and undermine international security.

Fortunately, the treaty can be extended by up to five years (to 2026) by a simple agreement by the two presidents—without complex negotiations and without further approval from the U.S. Senate or Russian Duma.

An agreement to extend New START requires the immediate start of consultations on key issues of concern to both sides.

Russia has raised concerns about the verification of the conversion of some U.S. nuclear weapons delivery systems to conventional roles. The United States, for its part, has understandably suggested that new Russian strategic nuclear weapons systems, including the Status-6 nuclear-armed, long-range, torpedo and the proposed nuclear-propelled, long-range cruise missile, should be accounted for under New START.

If both sides are willing to engage in a professional dialogue relatively soon, these issues can be addressed in a mutually agreed manner either before or soon after a decision to extend New START is taken.

New START extension would also provide additional time for Trump, or his successor, to pursue negotiations on more far-reaching nuclear cuts involving strategic and tactical nuclear systems, an understanding about the limits of U.S. strategic missile defenses, and limitations on non-nuclear strategic strike weapons that both sides are beginning to develop.

A Core Issue for NPT 2020

These issues must be central issues for this preparatory conference and all NPT States Parties before the 2020 Review Conference.

Some delegations claim that before progress on nuclear disarmament can be achieved, the right environment must be established. Such arguments overlook how progress on disarmament has been achieved in the past and can be achieved today.

Such arguments should not be allowed to distract from a disappointing lack of political will to engage in a common-sense nuclear risk reduction dialogue.

In reality, the current environment demands the resumption of a productive, professional dialogue between representatives of the White House and the Kremlin on nuclear arms control and disarmament.

The urgency of these problems also demands that all NPT states parties, as part of their own solemn legal responsibilities to uphold the NPT and advance their Article VI goals. NPT states parties should:

  • press Presidents Trump and Putin to relaunch the dialogue on strategic stability;
  • pledge to reach early agreement to extend the New START agreement; and
  • refrain from pursuing deployments of INF-prohibited missile systems in the European theater (or elsewhere) that produce a dangerous action-reaction cycle.

We strongly urge each delegation to emphasize these priority steps to ensure key states remain in compliance with the NPT and sustain progress toward the attainment of all of the treaty’s core goals and objectives.

Endorsed by:

Alexey Arbatov, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (academician), head of the Center for International Security, Е.М. Primakov Institute for World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences, Member of Parliament (State Duma) in 1993-2003 and former deputy chair of the Defense Committee, member of the Soviet START I delegation

Dr. Christoph Bertram, Director, International Institute of Strategic Studies 1974-1982, Director, German Institute for International and Security Studies (SWP) 1998-2005

Dr. Bruce Blair, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton; Co-founder, Global Zero, Former Member, Secretary of State International Security Advisory Board

Des Browne, former UK Secretary of State for Defence

Matthew Bunn, Professor of Practice, Harvard Kennedy School**

Joseph Cirincione, President, Ploughshares Fund

Lisa Clark and Reiner Braun, Co-Presidents, International Peace Bureau

Thomas Countryman, former acting U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Chair of the Board of the Arms Control Association

Tarja Cronberg, Chair of the Peace Union of Finland and as a former member of the European Parliament

Jayantha Dhanapala, Ambassador, former UN Under-Secretary-General for

Disarmament Affairs, President 1995 NPT Review & Extension Conference, former

President Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs

Sergio Duarte, President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and Global Affairs, former UN high representative for disarmament, President of the 2005 NPT Review Conference, and a member of Brazil’s delegation to the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee talks on the NPT

Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Dr. Joseph Gerson, President and CEO, Campaign for Peace Disarmament and Common Security

Jonathan Granoff, President, Global Security Institute, and UN Representative of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates

John Hallam, People for Nuclear Disarmament Human Survival Project, and Co-Convener, Abolition 2000 Nuclear Risk Reduction Working Group

Dr. Ira Helfand, Co-President, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, former Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs, U.S. Department of State, and Founder of Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy

Angela Kane, Senior Fellow, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-proliferation, former United Nations Under-Secretary General and High Representative for Disarmament

Dr. Catherine M. Kelleher, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and the Secretary of Defense’s representative to NATO

Ambassador (ret.) Laura Kennedy, former U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association*

Michael Krepon, Co-founder, The Stimson Center

Richard G. Lugar, United States Senator (Ret.), President, The Lugar Center

Dr. Victor Mizin, Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Science, former Soviet/Russian diplomat

Prof. Götz Neuneck, Chair German Pugwash and Council Member Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs

Ali Nouri, President, Federation of American Scientists

Olga Oliker, Director, Europe Program, International Crisis Group**

Jungeun Park, Secretary General, People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (RoK)

Thomas Pickering, former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and the Russian Federation

Amb. (ret.) Steven Pifer, William J Perry Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University**

Dr. William C. Potter, Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Guy C. Quinlan, President, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy

Susi Snyder, Nuclear Disarmament Programme Manager, PAX (Netherlands)

John Tierney, Executive Director, Council for a Livable World, and Executive Director, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Greg Thielmann, former Director of the Office of Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Sir Adam Thomson, Chief Executive, European Leadership Network

Aaron Tovish, Executive Director, Zona Libre

Hiromichi Umebayashi, Founder & Special Advisor, Peace Depot Inc. Japan

Rick Wayman, Deputy Director, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Anthony Wier, Legislative Secretary for Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending, Friends Committee on National Legislation

*Statement coordinator

** Institution listed for identification purposes only

Description: 

Remarks by Daryl Kimball on behalf of NGO Representatives and Experts to the 2019 NPT PrepCom for the 2020 Review Conference at the United Nations in New York.

Country Resources:

Trump Arms Control Gambit: Serious or a Poison Pill?


May 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball

Smart U.S. leadership is an essential part of the nuclear risk reduction equation. Unfortunately, after more than two years into President Donald Trump’s term in office, his administration has failed to present a credible strategy to reduce the risks posed by the still enormous U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, which comprise more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.

National Security Advisor John Bolton (R), listens to President Donald Trump during a briefing from senior military leaders, in the Cabinet Room on April 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)Instead, Trump has threatened to accelerate and “win” an arms race with nuclear-armed Russia and China as tensions with both states have grown. Trump has shunned a proposal supported by his own Defense and State departments to engage in strategic stability talks with Moscow. Trump also has ordered the termination of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty without a viable plan B, and his national security team has dithered for more than a year on beginning talks with Russia to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) before it expires in February 2021.

Now, the president is dropping hints that he wants some sort of grand, new arms control deal with Russia and China. “Between Russia and China and us, we’re all making hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, including nuclear, which is ridiculous,” Trump said on April 4 as he hosted Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office.

According to an April 25 report in The Washington Post, Trump formally ordered his team to reach out to Russia and China on options for new arms control agreements. The instructions on Russia apparently call for the pursuit of limits on so-called nonstrategic nuclear weapons, a category of short-range, lower-yield weapons that has never been subject to a formal arms control arrangement.

At first glance, that may sound promising. Bringing other nuclear actors and all types of nuclear weapons into the disarmament process is an important and praiseworthy objective. But this administration has no plan, strategy, or capacity to negotiate such a far-reaching deal. Even if it did, negotiations would likely take years. 

China, which is estimated to possess a total of 300 nuclear warheads, has never been party to any agreement that limits the number or types of its nuclear weaponry. Beijing is highly unlikely to engage in any such talks until the United States and Russia significantly cut their far larger arsenals, estimated at 6,500 warheads each.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may be open to broader arms control talks with Trump, but he has a long list of grievances about U.S. policies and weapons systems, particularly the ever-expanding U.S. missile defense architecture. The Trump administration’s 2019 Missile Defense Review report says there can be no limits of any kind on U.S. missile defenses—a nonstarter for Russia. 

These realities, combined with the well-documented antipathy of Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, to New START strongly suggest that this new grand-deal gambit does not represent a serious attempt to halt and reverse a global arms race.

It is more likely that Trump and Bolton are scheming to walk away from New START by setting conditions they know to be too difficult to achieve.

With less than two years to go before New START expires, Washington and Moscow need to begin working immediately to reach agreement to extend the treaty by five years. Despite their strained relations, it is in their mutual interest to maintain verifiable caps on their enormous strategic nuclear stockpiles.

Without New START, which limits each side to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly five decades.

Extending New START would provide a necessary foundation and additional time for any follow-on deal with Russia that addresses other issues of mutual concern, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons, intermediate-range weapons, and understandings on the location and capabilities of missile defense systems and advanced conventional-strike weapons that each country is developing.

A treaty extension could help put pressure on China to provide more information about its nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles. China also might be more likely to agree to freeze the overall size of its nuclear arsenal or agree to limit a certain class of weapons, such as nuclear-armed cruise missiles, so long as the United States and Russia continue to make progress to reduce their far larger and more capable arsenals.

If in the coming weeks, however, Team Trump suggests China must join New START or that Russia must agree to limits on tactical nuclear weapons as a condition for its extension, that should be recognized as a disingenuous poison pill designed to create a pretext for killing New START.

Before Trump and Bolton try to raise the stakes for nuclear arms control success, they must demonstrate they are committed to working with Russia to extend the most crucial, existing agreement: New START.

Smart U.S. leadership is an essential part of the nuclear risk reduction equation.

REMARKS: Gorging at the Nuclear Buffet Table


May 2019
By Sen. Chris Van Hollen

Before I ever thought of running for elected office, I interacted a lot with folks at the Arms Control Association and in the arms control community back in the 1980s. I grew up in a Foreign Service family in many places around the world, but one of the things that I remember most and that had a great impact on me was when I read Jonathan Schell’s New Yorker series, “The Fate of the Earth,” that described what would happen to the planet after a nuclear war. That, among other things, led me to concentrate in graduate school on international security matters, and I went to work on Capitol Hill in the mid-1980s as the legislative assistant for defense policy and arms control to former Maryland Senator Mac Matthias, who was a liberal, moderate Republican of the civil rights era.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) argues against unrestrained nuclear weapon spending during his remarks at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting.  (Photo: Allen Harris/Arms Control Association)Part of my portfolio was NATO, and I worked on the ratification of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty back in the day. Then the Berlin Wall came down. The Cold War ended. It was great news for the world; it was great news for the country. It ushered in a period of relative stability, including on arms control agreements, the most recent one being the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

But now, we gather here at another urgent moment. It has been important work all along, but we are in an urgent moment now. Because with the Trump administration, all signs indicate that we’re jettisoning, we’re abandoning what has been a bipartisan tradition of recognizing that we need to modernize our nuclear forces, we need to modernize our triad, we need to make sure its survivable and resilient, but that we should do it within the framework of an arms control architecture that leads to predictability, stability, and transparency. That has been an important formula even as relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, now Russia, have gone up and down. We have still maintained that conversation, we have still maintained that structure, and that structure has helped keep the peace.

Now with this new administration, with [National Security Advisor] John Bolton in the White House, we are in a very different world. He has not found a nuclear arms agreement or, as far as I can tell, any multilateral agreement or international agreement that he likes.

But when it comes to arms control, despite his being a foe, he has never explained how an unconstrained nuclear arms race would actually make us any safer. He can never answer that argument. He just tells us what he doesn’t like, but he doesn’t tell us what is better, that would make us more stable.

That’s where we are right now. The tearing up of the INF Treaty was an early indication of where this administration is going.

I want to be really clear. The Russians violated the agreement, and there is a consensus in NATO that they violated the agreement. We can’t just stand idly by.

But there is a big gulf between standing idly by and being the first to initiate tearing up the agreement. There is a whole area of engaging in the act of diplomacy and enforcement and looking for every other alternative first. That, this administration has not done.

The notion that we should therefore just proceed with developing not just one, but multiple noncompliant INF missiles makes no sense. We already have a robust capability when it comes to responding to anything in the European theater. We already have dual-capable bombers with gravity bombs, we have air-launched cruise missiles, we have a range of weapons that already serve as a deterrent. So, just building more for the sake of building more doesn’t do us any good, and it creates more instabilities.

In addition, I don’t buy the argument that we need to have an intermediate-range missile on Guam with the purpose of holding the Chinese in check. There are lots of things we need to be doing in that region, but I don’t think a missile on Guam does the job. As you know, our other allies, Japan and South Korea, have made it very clear they won’t deploy this kind of missile.

There is really no good argument for rushing to tear up the agreement. Obviously, it has created a lot of anxiety among our European allies. I was at the Munich Conference when Prime Minister Angela Merkel spoke. She was very upset at the way this had all rolled out and with the result. Now, our NATO allies are putting a game face on. You saw the secretary-general here addressing the U.S. Congress, but NATO would have preferred to see a very different outcome.

Of course, what is happening on INF leads to an even more worrisome situation with respect to New START. Because if you get rid of INF and New START, you’re in a world where there are no enforceable, written, agreed-on limits on our nuclear forces. So, that is why a group of us wrote to President Trump urging the administration to get going on a discussion to extend the New START agreement.

Russia has complied with the New START agreement. And as we modernize our nuclear forces, which we need to do to maintain our own deterrent, it is a much better world to do that where we have predictability and stability knowing what the Russian strategic forces are and what limits they’re under. This is in addition to the important transparency and inspection regime that the treaty brings. You get rid of New START, you get rid of INF, you are potentially flying entirely blind unless both sides voluntarily agree to comply, but that is not guaranteed. That is a big, big issue.

The other issue I want to focus on has to do with the overall nuclear posture that this administration is pursuing when it comes to nuclear weapons. I think we all agree that we need to modernize our nuclear forces, but we don’t need to add on every single, conceivable new capability.

It’s like showing up at a buffet and, instead of having a balanced meal, you say, “I will just gorge on every single capability that is out there.” When you only need a balanced meal to do the job, you don’t need to eat everything at the nuclear buffet table, including offensive and defensive weapons.

Unlike a dinner buffet where it’s “all you can eat at a fixed price,” the nuclear buffet table requires you to pay for everything. With the current spending plan, that is right now estimated to be $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years by the Congressional Budget Office. If you add on all the other capabilities this administration apparently wants to add on, you’re talking about an even bigger price tag.

So, in addition to having a big price tag, you’re also talking about building additional capabilities that are not only unnecessary, but can be very destabilizing. That is especially true when it comes to the administration considering two new capabilities with submarine-launched ballistic missiles, putting a low-yield warhead on some, as well as resuscitating the nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile.

I think that if you look at the direction we’re going, it is very worrisome from a price tag perspective when we have so many other national requirements and priorities. But also, we are going to be spending taxpayer money on something that actually makes us less, not more, safe by lowering the threshold of use of nuclear weapons. Therefore, we’re increasing the risks of an all-out
nuclear war.

The reason we have arms control agreements to begin with is the idea that when you start building all these new capabilities, it inevitably touches off an action-reaction cycle. Whether you are doing offensive weapons only or defensive ones too, you are bound to create a new arms race. That is expensive and destabilizing, and it risks nuclear confrontation and war, which obviously means the end of life on Earth as we know it.

In our office, we are very focused on this. We are going to be teaming up with Senator Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.) and others on the Appropriations Committee to try to zero out the funding for these low-yield warheads. They are unnecessary. Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is pursuing a similar approach.

Now that we have a majority in the House that share that view, we will see how all this works out. We need to make sure that we don’t get into this conversation, which we seem to be with the Trump administration, about how you can actually think about winning a nuclear war or prevailing in a nuclear war. We all know that there is no winning a nuclear war, and we need to make sure we never go in that direction.

So, I will just close with the statement that was jointly made by Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Geneva, 30 years ago: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Let us dedicate ourselves to making sure that remains the case, that nobody thinks they can win a nuclear war. Because that will be, as Jonathan Schell described, the end of the earth.


Excerpted from remarks delivered by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) to the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting on April 15 in Washington. Elected to the Senate in 2016, Van Hollen previously represented Maryland’s Eighth District in the House of Representatives.

 

Senator Van Hollen argues against unrestrained nuclear weapon spending.

Trump Increases Budget for Banned Missiles


May 2019
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration has requested nearly $100 million in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would exceed the range limits of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a pact the United States is preparing to exit in August.

A Soviet inspector examines a BGM-109G ground-launched cruise missile before it was destroyed in 1988 under the INF Treaty. The United States plans to test a new, ground-launched variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile soon after the treaty expires in August. (Photo: Jose Lopez/U.S. Air Force)The funding proposal seeks more than twice what Congress provided last year and is likely to prove controversial in Congress. Democrats have criticized the administration’s treaty withdrawal plans and questioned the need for new missiles.

The budget submission includes $76 million in the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Prompt Global Strike Capability Development account to develop a mobile, conventionally armed, land-based cruise missile and a ballistic missile system, a congressional aide told Arms Control Today. The request is $28 million more than the fiscal year 2019 appropriation to research and develop concepts and options for INF Treaty-range missile systems. (See ACT, November 2018.)

The budget documents do not specify the purpose of the proposed funding other than to note that it is for “a classified munitions program” and to address “strategic policy and treaty issues.” In the past, the prompt global-strike program has focused on the development of hypersonic missile technologies, but the two treaty-busting missiles funded in this account are currently slated to fly on traditional cruise and ballistic trajectories.

Defense Department officials told reporters in March that the Pentagon is planning to test a ground-launched variant of the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile that has a range of about 1,000 kilometers in August and a ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers in November. (See ACT, April 2019.) The INF Treaty required the United States and Russia to eliminate permanently all their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Prior to the INF Treaty’s conclusion in 1987, the United States deployed several hundred nuclear-armed, intermediate-range Pershing II ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe, the latter of which were an adaptation of the Tomahawk. The Pentagon spent over $6 billion, in fiscal year 1987 dollars, to develop and procure the missiles.

The officials estimated that the new cruise missile could be deployed in 18 months while the new ballistic missile would not be ready for at least five years.

The announcement of the planned tests came just more than a month after the Trump administration announced on Feb. 2 that it would withdraw from the INF Treaty on Aug. 2 unless Russia corrects alleged compliance violations with the agreement. U.S. officials also announced in early February the immediate suspension of U.S. implementation of the pact.

The officials said the Pentagon would cancel the tests if Russia returns to compliance with the treaty, but the likelihood of that happening is low. (See ACT, March 2019.) They also noted that there have been no discussions with allies in Europe and Asia about hosting the missiles. One official said the new ballistic missile could be deployed in Guam, a U.S. territory, which would allow the missile to strike targets in mainland China.

U.S. officials have said Russia has deployed several battalions of the allegedly treaty-noncompliant 9M729 cruise missile, including some at locations within range of European targets. Russia, which denies any treaty violation, formally suspended its implementation of the agreement in March and has pledged to begin development of new INF Treaty-range missiles.

A New, Third Weapon

The budget request also contains $20 million for the Army to begin development of a mobile, land-based, medium-range missile “that can attack specific threat vulnerabilities in order to penetrate, dis-integrate, and exploit in the strategic and deep maneuver areas.” The Army is planning to request to total of $900 million for the missile through fiscal year 2024.

A U.S. Army Tactical Missile System is tested in South Korea in 2017.  The United States is considering replacing the system with a missile that could fly further than currently allowed by the INF Treaty. (Photo: South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)The budget documents do not specify the type or range of the missile, but the congressional aide confirmed that the weapon would fall within the range prohibited by the INF Treaty. The Defense Department classifies a medium-range missile as having a range between 1,000 and 3,000 kilometers.

In addition, the Army is pursuing several other ground-launched missile systems with ranges that could exceed 500 kilometers.

The service is requesting $164 million to continue development of a Precision Strike Missile to replace the aging Army Tactical Missile System. The current range requirement for the new ballistic missile is up to 499 kilometers, as dictated by the INF Treaty, but Army officials have stated the missile could eventually fly as far as 700 kilometers. The service aims to begin fielding the missile as soon as 2023.

The budget request seeks $228 million to begin developing a land-based hypersonic missile “to provide the Army with a prototype strategic attack weapon system” and $92 million for a Strategic Long-Range Cannon program “to further enhance range, lethality, and precision enablers for extended range cannon and munition systems.”

Gen. John Murray, the chief of Army Futures Command, told Congress last September that the service is “looking very hard and starting down the path of hypersonics and then also looking at what we call the Strategic Long-Range Cannon, which conceivably could have a range of up to 1,000 nautical miles.”

It is unclear whether these weapons would meet the INF Treaty’s definition of a ground-launched ballistic missile and thus be limited by the agreement, but this question now appears moot given the impending collapse of the treaty.

Supporters of developing new INF Treaty-range missiles argue that such weapons would provide additional military options against Russia and especially China, which is not a party to the agreement and has deployed large numbers of missiles with ranges that the United States and Russia are prohibited from deploying.

Critics argue that the U.S. military can counter Russia and China by continuing to field air- and sea-launched cruise missiles that do not violate the accord. They also note that such intermediate-range weapons would need to be deployed on the territory of allies neighboring Russia or China to be of meaningful military value. So far, no country has said that it would be willing to host such missiles. Several countries, including Poland, have made it clear that any deployment of the new systems in Europe would have to be approved by all NATO members.

In an Oct. 24, 2018, letter to the secretaries of defense and state, Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), now the chairmen of the House armed services and foreign affairs committees, respectively, said they had seen “no validated military requirement for withdrawing from the INF Treaty and deploying INF-range missiles.”

Other congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to restrict funding for ground-launched, INF Treaty-range missiles unless several specific conditions have been met, the key one being a requirement that any deployment of such a missile in Europe come from a NATO-wide decision, not a bilateral agreement.

The Trump administration has requested nearly $100 million in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would exceed the range limits of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a pact the United States is preparing to exit in August.

U.S. Seeks Broader Nuclear Arms Pact


May 2019
By Kingston Reif and Shervin Taheran

President Donald Trump has ordered his staff to seek a new agreement on nuclear weapons that would encompass all Russian and Chinese nuclear arms, senior administration officials told reporters in April. Currently, the United States and Russia abide by the bilateral 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that limits only deployed strategic weapons and does not involve China. The treaty is due to expire in February 2021, but the pact allows the two sides to extend it for up to five years.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (center), speaking here at January conference in Beijing, suggested in April that any future U.S.-Russian arms control talks would need to address a variety of previously unnegotiated issues. (Photo: Thomas Peter/Getty Images)“The president has made clear that he thinks that arms control should include Russia and China and should include all the weapons, all the warheads, all the missiles,” said a senior White House official on April 25. “We have an ambition to give the president options as quickly as possible to give him as much space on the calendar as possible.”

Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, suggested Moscow’s response would depend on the nature of any U.S. proposals. “Further steps towards nuclear disarmament will require creating a number of prerequisites and taking into account many factors that have a direct impact on strategic stability” including missile defense systems, cyber weapons, weapons development in space, and advanced conventional arms, he said in an April 26 news briefing.

The Trump administration has shown no indication that it would be willing to limit these weapons in an agreement with Russia and China. Even if it were willing to do so, it is highly unlikely an agreement could be reached before New START expires in less than two years.

The president’s new order followed his April 4 comments at the White House, while sitting next to Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, on the need for the United States, Russia, and China to reduce the numbers of and spending on nuclear weapons.

“Between Russia and China and us, we’re all making hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, including nuclear [weapons], which is ridiculous…. We have to be the leader. I think it’s much better if we all got together and we didn’t make these weapons…. And those three countries, I think, can [come] together and stop the spending and spend on things that maybe are more productive toward long-term peace,” Trump said.

Senior administration officials echoed the president’s desire to include China in arms control. The Trump administration is “at the very beginning of conversations about renewing” New START, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in April 10 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If we can get the deal right, if we can make sure that it fits 2021 and beyond, President [Donald] Trump has made very clear that if we can get a good, solid arms control agreement, we ought to get one.”

Remaining unclear is whether Pompeo was referring to conversations within the Trump administration, conversations with Russia, or both. Administration officials have been saying for months that they are in the early stages of formulating the U.S. position on an extension, arguing that plenty of time remains before the treaty lapses. Several factors would guide a decision, according to the officials, including how Russia pursues its concerns about U.S. compliance with the pact, whether Russia would agree to limit new strategic weapons it is developing, and Russian compliance with other arms control agreements.

Pompeo appeared to add additional factors at the hearing, suggesting that future arms control agreements should incorporate more nations. “We need to make sure that we've got all of the parties that are relevant,” he said. “It’s very different today in the world than it was” when New START was completed, he added. Asked to clarify which nations should be included, Pompeo said, “[I]t’s certainly China that has large numbers.”

Russian officials have also offered ambiguous projections for New START’s future. Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, said Russia is ready to discuss extending the treaty, but repeated previously stated concerns about U.S. compliance with some of the pact’s conversion procedures.

“The extension of the New START is not a simple technicality that could be resolved in a couple of weeks,” he said at the Arms Control Association’s April 15 annual meeting. “Serious issues must be settled.”

Antonov also said that the full array of Russia’s planned new nuclear weapons would not be covered by New START, so any limits on them would need “another round of negotiations,” which would require Senate and Duma approval.

Meanwhile, the treaty’s dispute resolution forum, the Bilateral Consultative Commission, met in April, according to an April 12 release from the U.S. State Department. It was 17th meeting of the commission, which meets twice yearly.

Several current and former U.S. military officials have recently lamented the reduced level of communication and dialogue between the United States and Russia.

“During the Cold War, we understood each other’s signals. We talked,” said U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the top military commander in Europe, in an April interview. “I’m concerned that we don’t know them as well today.”

 

Administration opens door to negotiations on new weapons, new partners.

U.S.-Russian Experts, Fmr. Officials Urge New START Extension, Renewed U.S.-Russian Strategic Dialogue

In the latest in a series of expert conferences and dialogues in Moscow and Washington, a group of distinguished U.S. and Russian experts released a public statement calling on U.S. and Russian officials to get back to the arms control negotiating table, with the first order of business being agreement on a five-year extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), as allowed for in Article XIV of the treaty, and talks designed to head-off new arms competition in the wake of the likely termination of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The April 10...

The NPT and the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament


April 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Fifty years ago, shortly after the conclusion of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States and the Soviet Union launched the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). Negotiated in the midst of severe tensions, the SALT agreement and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty were the first restrictions on the superpowers’ massive strategic offensive weapons, as well as on their emerging strategic defensive systems. The SALT agreement and the ABM Treaty slowed the arms race and opened a period of U.S.-Soviet detente that lessened the threat of nuclear war.

View of the Soviet delegation (left) and United States negotiating team (right) sitting together during Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) in Vienna, Austria circa 1970. Negotiations would last from 1969 until May 1972 at a series of meetings in both Helsinki and Vienna and result in the signing of the SALT I agreement between the United States and Soviet Union in May 1972. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)The size of U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles has decreased significantly from their Cold War peaks, but the dangers posed by the still excessive arsenals and launch-under-attack postures are even now exceedingly high.

Further progress on nuclear disarmament by the United States and Russia has been and remains at the core of their NPT Article VI obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

But as the 2020 NPT Review Conference approaches, the key agreements made by the world’s two largest nuclear powers are in severe jeopardy. Dialogue on nuclear arms control has been stalled since Russia rejected a 2013 U.S. offer to negotiate nuclear cuts beyond the modest reductions mandated by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

More recently, the two sides have failed to engage in serious talks to resolve the dispute over Russian compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which will likely be terminated in August. Making matters worse, talks on extending New START, which is due to expire in 2021, have not begun.

Last year, Russia said it was interested in extending New START, but Team Trump will only say it remains engaged in an interagency review of the treaty. That review is led by National Security Advisor John Bolton, who publicly called for New START’s termination shortly before he joined the administration.

New START clearly serves U.S. and Russian security interests. The treaty imposes important bounds on the strategic nuclear competition between the two nuclear superpowers. Failure to extend New START, on the other hand, would compromise each side’s understanding of the others’ nuclear forces, open the door to unconstrained nuclear competition, and undermine international security. Agreement to extend New START requires the immediate start of consultations to address implementation concerns on both sides.

Instead of agreeing to begin talks on a New START extension, U.S. State Department officials claim that “the United States remains committed to arms control efforts and remains receptive to future arms control negotiations” but only “if conditions permit.”

Such arguments ignore the history of how progress on disarmament has been and can be achieved. For example, the 1969–1972 SALT negotiations went forward despite an extremely difficult geostrategic environment. As U.S. and Russian negotiators met in Helsinki, President Richard Nixon launched a secret nuclear alert to try to coerce Moscow’s allies in Hanoi to accept U.S. terms on ending the Vietnam War, and he expanded U.S. bombing into Cambodia and Laos. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union sent 20,000 troops to Egypt to back up Cairo’s military campaign to retake the Sinai Peninsula from Israel. In late 1971, Nixon risked war with the Soviet Union and India to help put an end to India's 1971 invasion of East Pakistan.

Back then, the White House and the Kremlin did not wait until better conditions for arms control talks emerged. Instead, they pursued direct talks to achieve modest arms control measures that, in turn, created a more stable and predictable geostrategic environment.

Today, U.S. officials, such as Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, argue that the NPT does not require continual progress on disarmament and that NPT parties should launch a working group to discuss how to create an environment conducive for progress on nuclear disarmament.

Dialogue between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-weapon states on disarmament can be useful, but the U.S. initiative titled “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” must not be allowed to distract from the Trump administration’s lack of political will to engage in a common-sense nuclear arms control and risk reduction dialogue with key nuclear actors.

The current environment demands a productive, professional dialogue between Washington and Moscow to extend New START by five years, as allowed by Article XIV of the treaty; to reach a new agreement that prevents new deployment of destabilizing ground-based, intermediate-range missiles; and maintain strategic stability and reduce the risk of miscalculation.

Ahead of the pivotal 2020 NPT Review Conference, all states-parties need to press U.S. and Russian leaders to extend New START and pursue further effective measures to prevent an unconstrained nuclear arms race. Failure to do so would represent a violation of their NPT Article VI obligations and would threaten the very underpinnings of the NPT regime.

 

 

Fifty years ago, shortly after the conclusion of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States and the Soviet Union launched the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). Negotiated in the midst of severe tensions, the SALT agreement and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty were the first restrictions on the superpowers’ massive strategic offensive weapons, as well as on their emerging strategic defensive systems. The SALT agreement and the ABM Treaty slowed the arms race and opened a period of U.S.-Soviet detente that lessened the threat of nuclear war.

An Interview with Rep. Brad Sherman: Strengthen Oversight of U.S. Nuclear Trade


April 2019

In a March 7 interview with Arms Control Today, U.S. Representative Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, describes his efforts to bolster congressional oversight of U.S. civil nuclear cooperation with other nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, to ensure that sensitive nuclear technologies and nuclear materials are not diverted for weapons programs.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) speaks to constituents at a 2016 town hall meeting. He has introduced legislation to increase congressional oversight of U.S. nuclear technology transfers. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)First elected to the House in 1996, Sherman became chairman of the subcommittee in January 2019. It oversees the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements that must be negotiated before a foreign country can receive U.S. nuclear technology. These agreements are called “123 agreements” after the section of the Atomic Energy Act that mandates adherence to several nonproliferation criteria to enable fast-track congressional review. Some technology recipients, such as Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates, have exceeded these criteria by agreeing to the so-called gold standard of 123 agreements, in which they have pledged to abstain from enriching uranium or separating plutonium and to adopt an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

By law, 123 agreements take effect 90 days after they are submitted to Congress unless it objects. In light of growing concerns about Saudi Arabia’s interest in dual-use nuclear technology and statements by senior Saudi officials that they may consider developing nuclear weapons if Iran does, Sherman has introduced legislation that would require Congress to approve any Saudi 123 agreement.

Arms Control Today: What is the appropriate role for Congress in overseeing U.S. nuclear commerce?

Sherman: You mention the word “commerce.” It appears in Article I of the Constitution, which establishes the Congress and empowers it to regulate commerce with foreign nations. We
have seen a process over the last 60
years of power being vested in the executive branch that would have appalled the founders.

The proper role is twofold: First, for Congress to make it plain that when a country has a nuclear energy program and does not have a 123 agreement with the United States, the United States will treat it like North Korea and Iran, which are both hostile powers that pursued nuclear programs without 123 agreements with the United States. The second thing is that a 123 agreement needs to be approved by Congress, and where we are concerned about proliferation, Congress should always insist that a nation receiving U.S. nuclear technology adopt the gold standard with an additional protocol [to its IAEA safeguards agreement].

ACT: Are you concerned about Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its possible interest in making its own nuclear fuel? How should this affect the U.S. approach to negotiating a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Riyadh?

Sherman: First, we have to question the economics of Saudi Arabia having a nuclear program to generate electricity when it’s a country that has so much natural gas. The economics would say the last place that you would put a nuclear plant to generate electricity, the last place in the world, would be in a place like Saudi Arabia, which has lots of sun for solar [power] and lots of natural gas.

Workers extract gold from Saudi Arabia's al-Amar mine. Saudi Arabia is currently assessing "uranium resources that can be used to produce nuclear fuel for future national power reactors and for uranium international market," according to the nation's nuclear agency. (Photo: Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images)Second, Saudi Arabia has broadly hinted that it wants to keep up with the Joneses, or in this case the ayatollahs, when it comes to a nuclear program. We know that the Iranian program is not merely for electricity, and Saudi Arabia wants to be just like the Iranians. So, I think they’ve told us why they want to have a nuclear program: they want to master the fuel cycle, they want to position themselves so that they can develop a nuclear weapon. And if there’s a government that you can’t trust with a bone saw, you shouldn’t trust it with nuclear weapons. We don’t need more nuclear powers in the world. We certainly don’t need any more in the Middle East.

Even if they’re going to have nuclear power generation, they don’t need to control the whole fuel cycle. You know, I eat sandwiches, but I don’t slaughter the cows, I just buy what I eat. So, we have to ask, Why do they want to have reprocessing? Why do they want to
have enrichment?

Also, we have to ask if Saudi Arabia wants to have a peaceful nuclear program, why isn’t it interested in an additional protocol? What does it have to hide?

ACT: What is your sense of the status of the negotiations between the United States and Saudi Arabia at this stage, and has the administration been keeping Congress apprised of the talks?

Sherman: Many times, the executive branch has honored in the breach its obligation to keep Congress informed. It isn’t shocking that this administration is even less faithful to such requirements than other administrations. That’s why we need a statute that says, “Negotiate what you’re going to negotiate, show it to us, and we’ll vote it up or down.”

ACT: Could rigorous U.S. nonproliferation standards drive Saudi Arabia to other suppliers?

Sherman: First, it’s not clear what the United States would get as far as jobs even if this program went forward. It looks like it would simply be a matter of licensing U.S. technology to South Korea. So, the upside to the United States is modest.

Second, if Saudi Arabia wants to go full speed ahead—without a 123 agreement, without an additional protocol, without the gold standard—if it wants to imitate Iran, then we have to duplicate for Riyadh what we’ve given to Tehran, which has not been good for the Iranian economy. If they want to act like Iran, we have to treat them like they’re acting like Iran.

Saudi Arabia has to understand that its entire relationship with the United States is at stake. It can’t say, “We’ve got oil, we’ve got money, we’re going to have a giant nuclear weapons program, and there’s nothing you can do to stop us.” No. If they want to act like Iran, fine. We can play that game stronger with Saudi Arabia than we did with Iran, and by the way, it was pretty strong with Iran.

ACT: If the Trump administration presents Congress with a Saudi Arabian 123 agreement with inadequate nonproliferation safeguards, what steps could Congress take to condition any approval of the agreement?

Sherman: Congress is in a weak legal position. We have abrogated and punted to the point where the president at least believes that he can build a wall with funds that we appropriated for other purposes.

So that’s why I have introduced legislation with Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Representative Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) to increase congressional oversight over any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia. The president could veto this bill that has bipartisan support, but he would be vetoing a bill that has Rubio and Sherman as its chief proponents, and there’s no other legislation with such a broad coalition.

If the president submits a bad 123 agreement, Congress could pass resolutions of disapproval, they could be passed by both houses, but he could veto those. We have a lot of Republican support for the idea that we do not want a Saudi nuclear weapons program, there’s a good possibility that a veto could be overridden.

ACT: What other steps can you take if your oversight bill does not succeed?

Sherman: In part, we would continue to focus on public awareness. Even if no statute is enacted, presidents tend not to do things that the bulk of the interested public thinks are just plain wrong. I don’t need a poll to tell me that Americans do not want Saudi Arabia to have nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

Also, if Saudi Arabia pursues its nuclear ambitions without a 123 agreement, we would move to limit or prevent any future arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is now treated like an ally, but it can’t act like Iran and be an ally of the United States.

ACT: What are the implications of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s interim staff report on the White House push for nuclear commerce with Saudi Arabia?

Sherman: It just illustrates that there are many reasons why the administration might make a mistake, and it would be a mistake to green-light an inadequately safeguarded nuclear program in Saudi Arabia.

You have two possible corrupting influences on the decision-making processes. One relates to the IP3 firm with [former National Security Advisor Michael] Flynn. The other influence is with [senior adviser to the president Jared] Kushner, Brookfield Asset Management, and its involvement with [the Kushner family-owned building at] 666 5th Avenue, and Brookfield’s involvement with the Westinghouse nuclear company. Again, we have to understand that Westinghouse has technology that can be licensed. That doesn’t mean there are any jobs in this for the United States. Well, perhaps a few jobs for lawyers.

ACT: In the past, you have co-sponsored legislation to require 123 agreements to meet the gold standard in order to qualify for fast-track approval. Why is such a reform necessary?

Sherman: The discussion of Saudi Arabia is not the last time that we are going to be concerned about a country developing nuclear weapons while claiming that its focus is the generation of electricity, so Congress needs to be involved and evaluate any agreement that doesn’t meet the gold standard. Today, congressional involvement is too limited and the standards in the Atomic Energy Act are too minimal. So, we need to ensure that if an administration wants a fast track, it must negotiate a 123 agreement that includes the gold standard and an additional protocol.

Representative Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) discusses congressional oversight of U.S. nuclear commerce and his concerns about providing U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

Keep Human Control Over New Weapons


April 2019

 

Michael T. Klare’s article “Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Laws of War” (ACT, March 2019) highlights important issues, but omits enormous strategic risks inhearent to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in a role of command. In a war between major powers, both sides’ AI systems would be able to outperform humans in the application of game theory, similar to state-of-the-art poker-playing AI, which can now readily defeat the top human players. Nation-states would be tempted to endow these genius-level autonomous killing systems with the authority to escalate, bringing the risk of bad luck causing misunderstandings that
lead to uncontrolled escalation.

Exacerbating the risk of near-instant autonomous escalation is the risk of an AI system deciding that it, unlike a human, may have nothing to lose. A human commander might be a father or mother who might choose to put the preservation of the human race above nationalistic warmongering. Recall how Soviet air defense officer Stanislav Petrov (a father of two) saved the world in 1983 by choosing to disbelieve a computerized system that claimed a U.S. nuclear first strike was in progress. His decision may have included a desire to put mercy over patriotism and not to participate in the annihilation of the human race.

Unfortunately, an AI system would have no such qualms. An AI system might or might not be trained with a self-preservation instinct. If not, it would not care if it is destroyed, and it could take needless risks, carelessly bluffing and escalating, seeking to make the adversary back down through suicidal brinksmanship.

One might think, therefore, that it is important to endow battlefield AI systems with a self-preservation instinct, but the consequences of doing so could be even worse. Once a weaponized AI system is given a self-preservation instinct, it may become impossible to shut down, as it would kill anyone who tried to shut it off, including its own country’s military or government leaders.

These killings might play out in several ways. On a small scale, the system could limit its “self-defense” killings by targeting only the officials trying to disable the AI system. Worse, the AI system could try to preserve itself by threatening mutually assured destruction: if it ever suspected, even incorrectly, that its shutdown was imminent, the AI system could retaliate with the launch of nuclear weapons.

A dying AI system, still energized for a few milliseconds by the last electrical charge remaining in its internal capacitors, could even nuke not just its own nation but the entire surface of Earth.


Jonathan Rodriguez founded Vergence Labs in 2011, which developed computerized smartglasses. Vergence was acquired by Snap Inc., where he is now manager of new device prototyping.

 

 

Michael T. Klare’s article “Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Laws of War” (ACT, March 2019) provides an excellent overview of the risks of the military uses of autonomous weapons. We need some kind of international control to ensure that autonomous military technologies obey the laws of war and do not cause inadvertent escalation. The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) offers the best chance for meaningful regulation.

Klare identifies three strategies for regulating autonomous weapons: a CCW protocol banning autonomous weapons, a politically binding declaration requiring human control, and an ethical focus arguing that such weapons violate the laws of war. I would add two other strategies: a CCW protocol short of prohibition and a prohibition negotiated outside of the CCW, the way the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty grew out of CCW negotiations.

Of these five strategies, a new CCW protocol provides the best hope for mitigating the risks. While a total prohibition would be preferable, it might be more realistic to agree on a set of regulations, such as a requirement that a human operator always be available to take over. Anything short of a new, legally binding treaty would likely be too weak to influence the states most interested in deploying autonomous weapons, while a treaty negotiated outside the CCW would likely be too restrictive.

To prevent arms race that Klare describes, any method for controlling autonomous weapons will need the buy-in of the countries with the most advanced autonomous weapons programs, and they are currently very skeptical of any control. A politically binding declaration or an appeal to the Hague Convention’s Martens Clause might have normative power, but that will not be enough to deter many states from seeking the military advantages that autonomous weapons could offer.

While reaching an agreement in the consensus-based CCW will be difficult, negotiating a treaty outside the CCW will likely be impossible. Given the success of groups like Human Rights Watch in achieving the Mine Ban Treaty and CCM, an agreement controlling autonomous weapons in some way can be completed. What remains to be seen is whether such an agreement will be enough to change the trajectory we are currently on.


Lisa A. Bergstrom is a technology and security specialist in Berkeley, Calif.

 

 

 

 

Keep Human Control Over New Weapons

New START Extension Debated


April 2019
By Shervin Taheran

Prospects for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) appeared to dim in March as U.S. and Russian officials threw cold water on the idea of a quick or easy extension process. The treaty capping deployed strategic nuclear weapons in both countries is due to expire in February 2021, but it could be extended for up to five years by mutual agreement.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, testifies to Congress in 2017. He recently described himself as a supporter of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)U.S. officials have avoided expressing a public position on extending the treaty and have expressed concern about Russia’s strategic weapons plans. Yleem Poblete, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, told the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva on March 19 that Russia “remains in compliance” with the treaty, but she questioned whether Russia’s development of new nuclear weapons were the actions of a “responsible stakeholder.” One week earlier, Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told a Washington nuclear policy conference that the remaining two-year period offers plenty of time to review the pact.

For their part, Russian officials have expressed concerns about U.S. compliance with New START and have suggested that lengthy talks may be needed to resolve them. Russia has questioned U.S. procedures to convert some weapons launchers from nuclear to conventional roles. The two nations need to “solve the problem” related to the conversion procedures, which Russia “cannot certify,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Geneva conference one day after Poblete spoke. (See ACT, March 2019.)

According to Lavrov, Russia has put forth “possible solutions,” adding that “it is a question of political will in Washington.” Any such talks would require significant time, Russian officials have said, quashing the hopes of some that the treaty could be extended quickly by a new U.S. president if President Donald Trump fails to win re-election in November 2020.

“It is clear for us that first you have to have a dialogue,” said Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, at the Washington conference. “We hope to find solutions before we put our signature on any document.”

Introducing potential further complications, Lavrov said the deterioration of arms control agreements such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty shows that nuclear arms reductions “can no longer be sustained in a bilateral U.S.-Russia format” and that a multilateral process should be launched.

Meanwhile, the international community has strengthened calls for the treaty’s extension. Notably, UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke at the Feb. 25 opening of the CD’s 2019 session to urge the United States and Russia to extend the pact. The treaty is “the only international legal instrument limiting the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals,” he said, praising the agreement’s confidence-building and inspection measures.

Contributing to the Trump administration’s consideration of New START, a senior U.S. military official expressed support for the treaty during Feb. 26 congressional testimony.

U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the treaty allows him to “understand what [Russia’s] limits are and…position my force accordingly.” New START also provides “unbelievably important” insight about Russian nuclear weapons activities, he said, adding that the United States has “very good intelligence capabilities, but there’s really nothing that can replace the eyes-on, hands-on ability to look at something.”

Hyten’s support was not unconditional, as he also expressed concerns about planned Russian strategic weapons, including a new underwater torpedo, a globe-circling nuclear-powered cruise missile, and a hypersonic glide vehicle. None of these would be constrained by the treaty, and Hyten said the State Department is “reaching out to the Russians and the Russians are not answering favorably.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded to Hyten’s remarks by saying that U.S. concerns “outside of the purview of the New START Treaty could be considered in the context of a strategic dialogue” but “Washington stubbornly avoids this dialogue and prefers to whip up hysteria in the public space.”

 

U.S. and Russian officials see no quick and easy extension to New START.

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