Login/Logout

*
*  

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

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
U.S. Nuclear Policy & Budget

New Nuclear Option Faces Budget Uncertainty


April 2018
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report calls for the near-term deployment of a small number of low-yield nuclear warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), but the administration has yet to find the money needed to do that.

The Defense Department’s budget request for fiscal year 2019, released on Feb. 12, includes $22.6 million for developing the missile variant. The department plans to spend a total of $48.5 million on the effort over the next five years, according to budget documents obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry swears in Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration on February 22. She told a Senate committee March 14 that the administration is looking at options for funding planned low-yield nuclear warheads. (Photo: NNSA)But the proposed budget for the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which maintains nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure, did not include the funds needed to modify SLBM warheads. The administration plans to modify a small number of 100-kiloton W76-1 SLBM warheads to detonate at a less powerful yield by removing the weapon’s uranium secondary core. The W76 is currently undergoing a $4 billion life extension program that is slated for completion next year.

NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 14 that the agency is “working closely” with the Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon to identify the necessary funding options. The Pentagon and NNSA say the modification can be completed quickly, perhaps as soon as the end of 2019.

U.S. law requires that the energy secretary specifically request congressional authorization and appropriations to develop a new or modified nuclear warhead. Although the NNSA did not seek funds for the modification in its original budget request, the agency could make a supplemental request later this year or ask Congress for permission to reprogram funds from other activities.

The NPR report also calls for the development of a nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) that could be available for fielding within the next decade. The fiscal year 2019 budget request includes $1 million to begin an analysis of the performance requirements and costs to pursue that capability.

The United States deployed SLCMs during the Cold War, but President George H.W. Bush removed them from attack submarines and surface ships in the early 1990s. President Barack Obama ordered the retirement of the aging warhead for the missile in the report for the 2010 NPR. (See ACT, May 2010.)

The Trump administration NPR report calls for the development of the two additional low-yield nuclear capabilities primarily to counter Russia’s alleged willingness to use or threaten to use tactical nuclear weapons on a limited basis to stave off defeat in a conventional conflict or crisis, a strategy known as “escalate to de-escalate.” (See ACT, March 2018.) Russia possesses a larger and more diverse arsenal of such weapons than the United States.

According to the report, the development of the two options “is not intended to enable, nor does it enable, ‘nuclear war-fighting.’” Rather, expanding U.S. tailored response options will “raise the nuclear threshold and help ensure that potential adversaries perceive no possible advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear weapons employment less likely,” according to the report. Critics maintain that the report misconstrues Russian nuclear doctrine and that additional low-yield options are unnecessary.

The Trump administration is also pursuing research and development on and concepts and options for conventional ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) The fiscal year 2019 budget documents do not specify how much money the Pentagon proposes to spend on this work.

In total, the Defense Department is requesting $24 billion for nuclear forces, an increase of $5 billion from the fiscal year 2018 request. This includes $11 billion for nuclear force sustainment and operations; $7 billion for upgrade programs such as the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine replacement, B-21 “Raider” heavy bomber, and the long-range standoff weapon; and $6 billion for nuclear command, control, and communications. The NPR report acknowledges that the cost to sustain and upgrade the arsenal is “substantial,” but claims the projected bill is affordable and will consume no more than 6.4 percent of the Pentagon budget.

This proposed spending does not include the additional costs that must be borne by the NNSA to upgrade nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure. The administration requested $11 billion for the NNSA nuclear weapons account in fiscal year 2019.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated last fall that the plans President Donald Trump inherited from Obama to maintain and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years would cost $1.2 trillion. (See ACT, December 2017.) The figure does not include the effects of inflation.

Trump, Congress Bulk Up Ballistic Missile Defense

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request includes large funding increases for theater and strategic ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems relative to the administration’s first budget submission in May 2017. Missile defense programs accounted for $12 billion of the 2019 request, including $9.9 billion for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

Although the proposed request for the agency is up from the fiscal year 2018 request of $7.9 billion, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill last month that provides $11.5 billion, a increase of $3.6 billion above the original budget submission. President Donald Trump signed the bill on March 23.

To thwart intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the fiscal year 2019 request proposes $2.1 billion for expanding and modernizing the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. This includes construction of an additional missile field in Fort Greely, Alaska, bringing the total number of ground-based interceptors to 64. The budget request would cover 14 of the expected 20 new ground-based interceptors, as well as design and testing of the so-called Redesigned Kill Vehicle and Multi-Object Kill Vehicle intended to increase the number of kill vehicles atop each long-range intercepter.

For midcourse defense against less than ICBM-range missiles, the request allocates more funding to the Aegis Afloat ship-based ballistic missile defense system. The largest line item is $6 billion for three new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, a 50 percent increase from fiscal year 2018. Procurement for software packages and missiles decreased slightly from $2.1 billion in fiscal year 2018 to $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2019. These funds will be used to procure 43 Aegis software packages and 125 interceptor missiles, most of which are the Standard Missile-3 Block IB variant. Forty-three of the missiles are to be completed by 2020.

The envisioned spending on terminal-phase defense remained about the same, including $1.1 billion each for 82 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors and 240 Patriot Advanced Capability Missile Segment Enhancement interceptors. The fiscal year 2019 request provides for the acquisition of enough interceptors to operate seven THAAD batteries and 15 Patriot battalions worldwide.

On Feb. 16, the MDA provided Congress with a $1.6 billion wish list of 16 unfunded projects not included in the budget request. The top priority on the list is a $73 million space-based Missile Defense Tracking System to track ICBMs in their midcourse phase of flight.—RYAN FEDASIUK

The Trump administration envisions a small number of low-yield nuclear warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

The Wrong Choice for National Security Advisor

Sections:

Body: 

For Immediate Release: March 23, 2018

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

(Washington, D.C.)—The United States already faces an array of complex and dangerous foreign policy challenges that require pragmatic decision and sober diplomatic engagement with American allies and foes alike.

With the choice of John Bolton as his National Security Advisor, President Donald Trump has chosen someone with a record of a hostile attitude toward multilateral security and arms control agreements and effective international institutions designed to advance U.S. national security and international peace and security.

Bolton's extreme views could tilt the malleable Mr. Trump in the wrong direction on critical decisions affecting the future of the Iran nuclear deal, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and the strained U.S. relationship with Russia, among other issues.

Bolton is a nonproliferation hawk, but he has a disturbing and bellicose record of choosing confrontation rather than dialogue, politicizing intelligence to fit his worldview, and aggressively undermining treaties and negotiations designed to reduce weapons-related security threats. 

  • Bolton has long advocated for bombing Iran instead of pursuing negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear program and he has called on the United States to abrogate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is working to verifiably block Iran’s pathways to the bomb. 
  • In the early 2000s, Bolton was among those in the George W. Bush administration who opposed further dialogue with North Korea which allowed North Korea to advance its nuclear program and test nuclear weapons. More recently, has argued that the United States should launch a “preventive attack” on North Korea, which would result in a catastrophic war. His approach runs counter to Mr. Trump’s own stated policy of using sanctions pressure and diplomatic engagement, including a summit with Kim Jong-un, to halt and reverse North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
  • Bolton has repeatedly criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, which is one of the few bright spots in the troubled U.S.-Russia relationship and continues to enjoy strong support from the U.S. military. Last year Bolton called the treaty “an execrable deal.”
  • While undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during the George W. Bush administration, Bolton cherry-picked the findings of intelligence community assessments of that country’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities, and was a key player in making the Bush administration’s flawed case for the war in Iraq—a war that Donald Trump has correctly ridiculed as a catastrophic American foreign policy blunder.

If Bolton succeeds in imposing his worldview on Donald Trump’s improvisational and impulsive foreign policy approach, we could be entering in a period of crisis and confrontation.

In particular, if Bolton convinces Trump to unilaterally violate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May when the U.S. is due to renew sanctions waivers, it would not only open the door to the re-emergence of Iran as a nuclear weapons proliferation risk, but it would undermine President Trump’s very tentative diplomatic opening with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In the next year or so, Trump will need to decide whether or not to engage in talks with Russia about extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is due to expire in 2021. Without the treaty, there would be no verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

We can ill-afford two nuclear proliferation crises, as well as abandoning a key brake on the growing risks of renewed U.S. and Russian nuclear competition and arms racing. 

Congress will need to play a stronger role to guard against further chaos and confusion in U.S. foreign policy, prevent the White House from blundering into unwise and catastrophic military conflicts, and to halt further degradation of the credibility of the United States as a responsible global leader.

Description: 

Press release on the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor

Subject Resources:

The Future of the ICBM Force: Should the Least Valuable Leg of the Triad Be Replaced?

Body: 


March 2018
By Ryan Snyder
Former Visiting Research Fellow at the Arms Control Association

Download PDF

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan to overhaul the nation’s nuclear arsenal is the replacement program for the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, the land-based leg of the nuclear triad that also includes submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and heavy bombers. The current deployed fleet of 400 silo-based Minuteman III ICBMs are distributed across three bases touching five states and are expected to be removed from service by the U.S. Air Force in the mid-2030s.1 A follow-on ICBM system–known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD)–is scheduled to replace the Minuteman IIIs (and their supporting infrastructure) on a one-for-one basis between 2028 and 2035.2 Many have questioned the need for this program, including former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who has argued for eliminating all ICBMs.3

The latest independent Pentagon acquisition cost estimate to design and build the ICBM replacement ranges from $85 to over $140 billion (in then-year dollars),4 while the cost to operate and sustain the weapons system over its expected 50-year service life is projected at roughly $150 billion.5 This ICBM recapitalization cost is but one piece of a larger plan to sustain and upgrade the nuclear arsenal over the next thirty years, with the total price tag projected to exceed $1.2 trillion (in 2017 dollars).6 Separate modernization programs planned for U.S. conventional forces will require additional outlays. These upgrades will necessitate either a significant and prolonged increase in defense spending, which is unlikely to be forthcoming, or a reallocation of resources within the defense budget.7 Hard choices will likely be required among competing programs.

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review published in February endorses replacing and upgrading the current Minuteman III force with the GBSD program. It will be up to Congress to assess the program’s cost-effectiveness and evaluate alternatives. This paper will examine this issue in several stages: first, by considering whether ICBMs are needed to hedge against threats to the strategic submarines; second, by discussing their possible benefits and risks as a warhead “sponge”; third, by examining whether ICBMs possess necessary capabilities absent from other legs of the triad; and last, by considering the stability implications of developing a new ICBM with enhanced capabilities. Finally, the paper evaluates alternative options to the costly GBSD program of record.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The deterrent value of the ICBM force is small and diminishing.
  • Without ICBMs, the current absence of any foreseeable threat to the U.S. strategic submarines assures that no adversary can preempt massive retaliation by the United States.
  • ICBMs should not be considered an acceptable hedge against possible future threats to the
  • strategic submarines.
  • ICBMs provide no unique nuclear strike capabilities not already provided by other legs of the strategic triad.
  • The enhanced capabilities planned for the GBSD are either unnecessary or may adversely affect strategic stability.
  • Consequently, the United States should consider eliminating its land-based missiles or abandoning or scaling back the planned GBSD program.

Are ICBMs needed to hedge against foreseeable SSBN vulnerabilities?

A central, if not the central, rationale for maintaining the ICBMs rests upon fears of vulnerability in the strategic nuclear submarine (SSBN) force.8 If the SSBNs are unable to withstand threats to their survivability and deliver nuclear weapons to the homeland of an adversary, it is argued, then the ICBMs provide a backup to carry out that mission. Absent any such threats, maintaining the ICBMs for the purpose of deterring nuclear attacks is more difficult to justify.

Concerns that technology may one day render SSBNs vulnerable have existed since nuclear weapons were first placed on submarines during the Cold War. And while U.S. SSBN vulnerability was last studied in the public domain several years ago, no prior scholarship has revealed any doubt about the survivability of the sea-based leg of the triad. Among these previous studies includes one 1983 paper by Richard Garwin that suggested the extraordinary demands of holding an SSBN in trail by passive acoustics9 would not threaten the force, and in any case, that countermeasures would very likely deter the attempt.10 Garwin further concluded that short-range sensors would be required by the “hundreds of thousands” to make the SSBN force vulnerable to attack.11 A different study claimed that countermeasures are even easier to deploy against attempts to acquire an active acoustic trail and that such threats are easily neutralized.12

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 2:10 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time Wednesday, August 2, 2017, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Photo: Ian Dudley/U.S. Air Force)Another study from 1994 by Eugene Miasnikov relied on the fundamental physics of sound propagation in the ocean to calculate the maximum range at which Russian strategic submarines could be detected. Miasnikov found that the ranges were so short that not only were covert trailing threats using passive acoustics implausible, but that the increasing silence of submarines in both the United States and Russia risked causing accidental collisions.13 This suggests that unintended mishaps have been the greater threat to SSBN survivability than from any capability intended to hold them at risk.

In addition, no nonacoustic means of detection has been found to present a survivability threat. All indications suggest that every possible nonacoustic signal–with the possible exception of subsurface water motions detected on the ocean surface by synthetic-aperture radar–can be attenuated if SSBNs patrol at greater ocean depths or if certain operational procedures or other countermeasures are implemented.14

Of course the possible detection of a U.S. SSBN is an insufficient basis upon which to judge their vulnerability. Once detected, an SSBN would need to be localized to within the range and accuracy of the weapon used to destroy it, and then successfully trailed while other U.S. SSBNs at sea were detected, localized, and trailed with acceptable confidence. Only after concluding that this circumstance may arise within a considered period could the survivability of the sea-based leg be brought into question.

Recent advancements in technology, however, have raised questions about possible future vulnerabilities. In particular, improved acoustic sensors, lasers, signal processing advancements, and unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV) have been mentioned as possible threats to the ability of submarines to remain concealed.15 Despite this concern and the need for an up-to-date review of fundamental survivability prospects in the public domain, no analysis has yet challenged the conclusions of the studies cited above.

Any review of SSBN survivability should consider whether these technological advancements neutralize the survivability gains made by the modernization and deployment of increasingly quiet submarines over the past few decades. What’s more, the U.S. Navy is planning to replace the existing fleet of 14 Ohio-class submarines with 12 new Columbia-class submarines that will use new technologies related to stealth to ensure the new boats will remain serviceable through the 2080s.

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738) dives before test firing an unarmed Trident II D5 missile off the coast of Florida, August 31, 2016. (Photo: John Kowalski/U.S. Navy)Factors that should be evaluated include: What is the maximum range at which any technology can detect an SSBN? If further localization to bring the target SSBN within range of a weapon to destroy it is necessary, what would be required? How do UUVs and advanced computer processing capabilities affect the challenge of trailing SSBNs? If any evolving technology adversely affects SSBN survivability, are there any countermeasures that could prevent an adversary from identifying real SSBNs? Even if the U.S. government has not developed countermeasures for certain detection technologies, how would an adversary reach this conclusion if possible countermeasures could be imagined? Could the U.S. government develop the necessary countermeasures? What confidence would an adversary then need before convincing itself that detecting and destroying U.S. SSBNs is possible before a second strike response from the United States?

It is important to note that one Ohio-class SSBN is armed with roughly 100 warheads–each with a yield of 100 kilotons (kt)–and carries 500 times more explosive energy than did the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki at the end of World War II.16 This is almost certainly an underestimate given that some deployed warheads on SSBNs have yields of 455 kt.17 If a single survivable SSBN only had a single 100 kt nuclear warhead uploaded onto each of its 20 Trident II D5 SLBMs, the total explosive energy would be equivalent to 100 Nagasaki bombs. Without ICBMs, each of these SSBNs at sea, both SSBN bases at Kings Bay, Georgia, and Bangor, Washington, and all nuclear-capable heavy bombers would need to be destroyed by an adversary before either a bomber or SSBN could retaliate with nuclear weapons in a second strike.18

Moreover, the long-acknowledged vulnerability of the ICBMs19 make them an unsuitable hedge against any threat to the SSBNs. To provide a useful backup, the ICBMs must be launched under attack, and possibly even on warning of an attack.20 This is unattractive because to prevent their destruction by Russia (and perhaps China in the future) a decision to launch would need to be made in only a few minutes, if not less, after detection and before knowing whether the attack is a false alarm. The deterrent value of this launch posture then rests upon the United States demonstrating commitment to it and hoping that an adversary believes it. While an argument could be made that the prospect of launching ICBMs under attack enhances deterrence, convincing U.S. adversaries that Washington would risk starting an accidental nuclear war to defend the life of the United States–when no adversary is capable of preempting massive U.S. retaliation–should be considered unacceptable.

If concerns exist about SSBN vulnerability, consideration should be given to developing a mobile or another more survivable ICBM basing mode with plans to deploy it quickly if any threat to the SSBNs arises. Mobile missiles would probably force an attacker to barrage a deployment area with nuclear weapons and deceptive basing modes would proliferate an attacker’s aim points, but both would provide a more survivable SSBN backup. Due to drastically higher costs and land constraints, however, alternatives to the fixed silo-based ICBMs appear politically infeasible; indeed, the current GBSD program plans to retain silo-basing. In any case, given expected SSBN invulnerability, threats to a more survivable ICBM are more likely to materialize first.

No rationale based upon fears of SSBN vulnerability therefore exists for spending a large sum of money to replace the ICBM force, and vulnerable silo-based ICBMs with a launch under attack option should not be considered an acceptable hedge against possible future SSBN threats.

Limitations of the ICBM “sponge” rationale

During his January 2017 confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee to become Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis stated that the deterrent value of the ICBMs is derived from the notion “that they are so buried out in the central U.S. that any enemy that wants to take us on is going to have to commit two, three, four weapons to make certain they take each one out. In other words, the ICBM force provides a cost-imposing strategy on an adversary.”21

This is a common justification for retaining a large and distributed ICBM force given the unlikely prospect of an adversary successfully destroying 400 targets. If an adversary also accepts Mattis’s premise, the large number of ICBMs could provide meaningful deterrence. Even if an adversary imagined it was possible to destroy all 400, their need to use a significant fraction of their arsenal to do so would then limit the number of warheads remaining to target U.S. cities. This is known as the warhead “sink” or “sponge” rationale for retaining the ICBM force.

Yet this reasoning has significant limitations, beginning with how improving missile accuracy will make the ICBM force less of a warhead “sponge” in the future. Today the probability of destroying a Minuteman III missile silo with a single Russian warhead could exceed 98 percent given advancements in inertial guidance that could be aided with a Global Positioning System (GPS) and maneuverable reentry vehicles (MaRVs) to improve accuracy.22 While this may be an overstatement now, it should not be expected to remain one.

From the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) level of 1,550 warheads, a successful 1:1 attack on each of the 400 U.S. ICBMs would leave Russia with 1150 strategic nuclear warheads free to target U.S. command and control and civilian population centers. Even if two Russian warheads were needed to destroy each Minuteman III silo with the desired probability, 750 warheads would still remain–more than enough to destroy American society.

Furthermore, a 1986 study calculated that the nuclear blast and radioactive fallout from an attack with two 500 kt warheads exploding over each of the then 1,000 operational U.S. ICBM silos, 100 launch control centers (LCCs), and 16 missile test silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base would cause between 2.4–15.0 million deaths and an additional 4.0–31.8 million casualties.23 While this calculation should be updated, a nuclear attack on 400 ICBMs today could still cause millions of fatalities given the larger populations living downwind of the bases.24

Maintaining the ICBMs for use as a warhead “sponge” requires that Russia direct its warheads at the American homeland in order to target missiles that can destroy their country in the event of a nuclear war. Conversely, Russia would not need to threaten millions of American lives­ in this manner if the ICBMs did not exist. The number of homeland targets used for launching nuclear weapons should therefore be kept as small as possible to limit the number of nuclear warheads an adversary would be required to detonate inside the United States. As nuclear strategist Thomas Schelling wrote in 1987:25

“If we unilaterally dismantled our land-based missiles, we would instantly deprive a large part of the Soviet land-based missile force for its raison d’être. It might look to them as if they had much less to preempt. They actually would not, because the U.S. missiles they might have preempted were redundant in the first place. Looking over a seascape inhabited by U.S. submarines and at bombers likely to be launched on warning, they would see, without the smoke and the ruins, what would have been left over after they preempted. So if we cannot dismantle their land-based missiles by negotiation, we may gain a lot by dismantling their targets instead.”

Schelling went on to add that, “It may be hard to know which it is that the land-based missile forces on both sides would lament most–the loss of their missiles or the loss of their favorite targets.”26

If one still accepts the “sponge” rationale, however, a new GBSD missile is unnecessary because an adversary would still be required to attack life-extended Minuteman III missiles to limit damage. In any case, there is no way to eliminate the capability to target American cities other than by reducing the number of nuclear weapons through arms control.

Yet this analysis of the ICBMs as a warhead “sponge” is incomplete, having thus far only suggested that more American lives would be saved without an adversary needing to target U.S. ICBMs in a nuclear war. But what about the effect of ICBMs on the likelihood of nuclear war itself? Does the ICBM force increase or decrease the chances of a nuclear exchange?

Despite whatever complications may exist for executing a successful first strike on 400 ICBMs, reliance on them to deter attacks is problematic given their vulnerability, and the consequent deterrence value they provide should be considered small. That being said, how would the motivation arise during peacetime to attempt such an attack if the SSBNs–and possibly other survivable means of retaliation by the American military–could not also be destroyed? It is doubtful that ICBM vulnerability in this case invites preemptive attack.

In a severe crisis that involves missile exchanges, major battles, or the loss of some strategic nuclear targets by conventional means, however, an adversary could conclude that escalation to the nuclear level is imminent. And if they decide that it is preferable to be attacked with fewer weapons rather than more,27 attention could turn to the ICBMs and other vulnerable U.S. military targets. This concern is supported by both Russian and U.S. nuclear counterforce doctrines designed to limit damage if nuclear war appears inevitable, with the risk heightened from ever-improving counterforce capabilities against silo-based ICBMs due to missile accuracy improvements worldwide. In this case, nuclear warheads directed against 400 ICBM targets would kill millions of more Americans than if only vulnerable U.S. command and control targets, bomber bases, and SSBN bases were preemptively destroyed.

This appears to be the most likely circumstance in which the ICBM force could be targeted–an escalating conflict that convinces an adversary to do as well as possible. The benefits imagined from destroying more versus fewer targets could then increase the likelihood of an attack. In such a crisis, it may therefore be better to demonstrate more clearly what forces cannot be preempted rather than what can. As Thomas Schelling wrote about the prospect of the United States dismantling its ICBMs: “It looks like a posture quite stable against all the motivations that could lead to an outbreak of unwanted nuclear war.”28

Do ICBMs provide other benefits?

Beyond complicating the execution of a successful first strike, the ICBMs are assumed to offer other benefits. One of these is that of the three triad legs, the ICBMs can be launched most quickly. As a December 2016 report by eight U.S. Senators in the ICBM Coalition claimed, the “ICBMs give the President a timely response option.”29

Yet a 1993 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that Communications, Command, and Control (C3) to SSBNs “is about as prompt and reliable as to ICBM silos, under a range of conditions.”30 The same report also found “no operationally meaningful difference in time to target” between the ICBMs and SLBMs indicating that the ICBMs were not needed for any time-sensitive targets.31

There also exists a presumption that ICBMs either are or should be used for targeting an adversary’s nuclear forces and command and control–known as “counterforce” targeting–to limit damage to the United States. While this is possible, their vulnerability would require a “launch under attack” option to destroy targets of any value. Avoiding this unattractive option leaves doubt about whether any ICBMs would survive an attack, and then the consequent demand that targeting requirements be satisfied without them would be as if the ICBMs did not exist at all.32

In addition, ICBM flight trajectories to plausible targets in China, North Korea, and Iran must pass over Russian territory.33 If Russia interprets a U.S. ICBM launch intended for another state as an attack on them, they may retaliate with a nuclear strike of their own. This possibility should rule out applying any credible deterrence rationale for the ICBM force to these other US adversaries because all could reasonably conclude that retaliation with ICBMs is unlikely if it risks triggering an unwanted nuclear war with Russia. In other words, without other weapons systems to deter nuclear attacks by other adversaries, ICBMs should not be expected to deter.

Without ICBMs, the United States could still deploy an arsenal of 1,150 New START accountable warheads against the following counterforce targets:34

Russia: WMD targets (456 warheads in 2-on-1 attacks against 228 missile silos); leadership command posts (110 warheads); war-supporting industry (136 warheads). At least 80 of these warheads would likely be assigned to destroy targets in the greater Moscow area alone

China: WMD targets (150 warheads in 2-on-1 attacks against 75 missile silos); leadership command posts (33 warheads); war-supporting industry (136 warheads).

North Korea, Iran, Syria: Each country would be covered with (43) warheads.

This plan lays out how U.S. warheads could be directed against the fixed targets of plausible adversaries. The total number could exceed 1,150 because each bomber is only counted as one under New START counting rules. Also neglected here are the very substantial counterforce capabilities of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons and conventional forces. This destructive power is more than sufficient to deter any rational adversary and provides the same counterforce coverage to limit damage to the United States regardless of whether the ICBMs are maintained.35

In sum, any imagined benefits regarding the promptness of ICBMs to deliver nuclear warheads to their assigned targets and counterforce targeting capability are practically nonexistent. The “launch under attack” requirement for using ICBMs in counterforce would also reduce the time the president has to evaluate response options, thereby increasing the risks posed by false warnings or miscommunication in a crisis.

A technological arms race may adversely affect strategic stability

Proponents of the ICBM leg also argue that replacing the Minuteman III with the GBSD should be valued for the capability enhancements to be included on the new missiles. In particular, some claim that new capabilities are necessary for penetrating the future ballistic missile defenses of U.S. adversaries and improving counterforce capabilities.

When asked at a congressional hearing why the new ICBM needed more capability and accuracy, General Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, replied:36

“Potential adversaries are continuing their modernization efforts of their defensive systems to attempt to minimize what our ICBM force can effectively hold at risk. In order to maintain a credible deterrent, the ICBM force must have the performance to overcome these defensive measures.

Improved ICBM capability and accuracy has the benefit of providing ICBM strike planners the weaponeering options of either achieving a higher probability of effect on a given target; using fewer warheads per target while still achieving the desired level of effect and thus allowing more targets covered; or provide opportunities to potentially reduce yield size while still achieving the desired level of effect. These weaponeering options will be critical if changes to the current strategic weapon stockpile would otherwise adversely impact what targets could effectively be held at risk.”

This claim is not convincing. The land-based leg of the triad can utilize a whole repertoire of countermeasures to overpower growing ballistic missile defenses: adding additional warheads on each missile; deploying decoys or radar-reflecting wires (chaff) to complicate warhead detection; jamming adversary radars or leading an attack with a nuclear explosion to blind infrared detectors; or adding thrusters to warheads to enable maneuvers.37 And this is only a small sample of potential options. The claim that new capabilities on the GBSD are necessary to defeat future missile defense deployments therefore requires much greater scrutiny before it can be seriously considered.

An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM shoots out of its silo during an operational test launch February 25, 2012 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.  (U.S. Air Force photo)A more serious implication is what the stated need for this missile may suggest to the world about U.S. motivations. As discussed, ICBMs must be launched under attack to be used in counterforce, but a strong presumption against this risk requires that targeting requirements be satisfied without them. What General Rand’s comments suggest instead is that the United States may wish to improve the first-strike counterforce capabilities on its ICBMs.

Advancing this prospect by equipping U.S. ICBMs with improved accuracy is unnecessary, and together with new low-yield options for its warheads, could be destabilizing. If hypersonic delivery becomes possible with a follow-on ICBM that shortens the warning time of an incoming attack, strategic stability may be further adversely affected. These acquisitions risk driving a technological arms race around the world where a country’s growing awareness that an increasing fraction of its nuclear deterrent may be successfully destroyed–possibly without warning—coupled with that same country’s growing confidence in its own counterforce capabilities against an adversary’s targets may increase the chances that nuclear weapons will be used. These evolving capabilities would only add to crisis stability concerns previously discussed.

Therefore, a new ICBM is unnecessary to defeat ballistic missile defenses and does not require enhanced counterforce capabilities given existing capabilities on other legs of its triad. Regardless of whether other states pursue new technological enhancements for their weapons, similar acquisitions by the United States­ will only drive these destabilizing efforts further.

Options for ICBM force deployment

Given the excessive redundancy, risks, and costs associated with the existing ICBM force, “launch under attack” posture, and replacement plans, the United States should consider several alternative deployment options. The alternatives presented here range from comparatively small ICBM reductions and cost savings to more substantial changes. Each of the following alternatives would still allow for a deployed strategic nuclear force with more than sufficient retaliatory capacity to deter nuclear attacks on the United States or its allies.

  1. Eliminate one squadron (50 missiles and their silos) at each of the three Air Force ICBM bases, reducing the number of deployed ICBMs to 300.38 If the number of SSBNs were also reduced to 10–but 1,550 warheads remained deployed–the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that $40 billion would be saved over the next three decades.39 This force structure would still allow the United States to deploy the 1,550 warheads allowed under New START. With only 150 ICBMs, 8 SSBNs, and 1,000 deployed warheads, $85 billion would be saved over the next three decades.40 (See chart above.)
  2. Reduce the total number of ICBMs and rotate the remaining missiles among the 400 remaining silos. This would preserve the “sink” rationale by requiring an adversary to attack every remaining silo–unless it could confirm which are empty–to ensure destruction of every ICBM. More money could be saved if some of the silos were also eliminated.
  3. Extend the life of the Minuteman III force. A 2014 study from the RAND Corporation found no evidence that long-term sustainment of the Minuteman III missiles, with incremental modernization, could not continue in perpetuity.41 And a recent CSIS report suggested that the life of Minuteman IIIs could be extended beyond 2030 for a period of time while deferring a decision on GBSD.42 If GBSD was deferred for 20 years, CBO estimates that $37 billion could be saved over this period and $17.5 billion over the next thirty years by simply life extending the Minuteman III.43 This would leave open the option for gradually reducing the size of the deployed ICBM force over time, either through unilateral reductions or in conjunction with a nuclear arms reduction agreement.
  4. Eliminate the ICBM force. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that $149 billion could be saved between 2017–2046 if the ICBM force was eliminated immediately, and that $120 billion could be saved over this period if the ICBMs were eliminated at the end of the Minutemen IIIs service life.44 In the unlikely event that future SSBN vulnerabilities arise and it is determined by national decision-makers that a backup to the SSBN force is required, a more survivable ICBM basing option could be developed and deployed. However, it is important to note that this would likely involve a mobile ICBM, which would likely cost more to acquire than the GBSD.

Conclusions

Without a technically valid explanation for how an adversary could imagine it is possible to destroy the U.S. SSBN force, the land-based ICBMs are redundant for deterring nuclear attacks on the United States. Their location and vulnerability also hold at risk millions of American lives that no adversary would be required to threaten if the ICBMs did not exist. And because they require a “launch under attack” alert posture to be survivable, should be considered an unacceptable backup to SSBN vulnerability. ICBMs are also unnecessary for time-sensitive targets and counterforce targeting requirements must be satisfied without them in the event of a nuclear war.

Perhaps most importantly, ICBM vulnerability may attract a preemptive nuclear attack in an escalating conflict that U.S. opponents believe will inevitably escalate to the nuclear level or that threatens their lives, regimes, or other vital interests. These motivations are consistent with both U.S. and Russian nuclear counterforce doctrines which posit that it is better to be attacked with fewer weapons rather than more. Growing confidence in counterforce capabilities against fixed silo-based ICBMs only heighten this risk.

Lastly, a new ICBM with enhanced capabilities officially supported for the purpose of penetrating the modernizing missile defense systems of U.S. opponents and improving counterforce kill probabilities is unnecessary and potentially destabilizing. The range of countermeasures that can overwhelm missile defense systems are extensive and already accessible for inclusion on current weapons, and steps that indicate the United States may be motivated to develop disarming first-strike capabilities could accelerate a technological arms race that increases the chances of nuclear use.

The public debate over the new Nuclear Posture Review and start of the GBSD program provide an opportunity to reevaluate the least valuable leg of the U.S. nuclear triad. Given the confluence of growing budget pressures, unnecessary risks, and diminishing benefits of maintaining the ICBMs outlined here, U.S. interests would best be served by deciding to significantly reduce or eliminate them.

ENDNOTES

1 Lauren Caston, et. al., “The Future of the U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Force,” RAND Corporation, 2014. http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG1210.html

2 Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2017,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Volume 73, 2017, pp. 48–57. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00963402.2016.1264213

3 William J. Perry, “Why It’s Safe to Scrap the ICBMs,” New York Times, September 30, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/30/opinion/why-its-safe-to-scrap-americas-icbms.html

4 Kingston Reif, “New ICBM Replacement Costs Revealed,” Arms Control Today, March 2017. https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2017-03/news/new-icbm-replacement-cost-revealed

5 Kingston Reif, “Price Tag Rising for Planned ICBMs,” Arms Control Today, October 2016. https://www.armscontrol.org/ACT/2016_10/News/Price-Tag-Rising-for-Planned-ICBMs

6 “Approaches to Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017–2046,” U.S. Congressional Budget Office, October 2017, p. 2. https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/reports/53211-nuclearforces.pdf

7 Unless it is revised or replaced, the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which includes caps on military spending through the end of the decade, will force a significant scaling back of the Trump administration’s defense budget proposal over the next five years. An aging population, increased interest payments on the national debt, and projected increases in healthcare costs will only add to pressures for assigning priorities in defense spending after the BCA expires.

8 The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) stated that while the strategic nuclear submarines (SSBNs) were the most survivable leg of the triad, all three legs must be maintained as a hedge against potential future technical problems or vulnerabilities.

9 Passive acoustics relies upon detecting the sound emitted by submarines, whereas active acoustics involves the generation of sound and detecting its reflection from them.

10 Richard Garwin, “Will Strategic Submarines Be Vulnerable?” International Security, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Fall 1983), pp. 52–67.

11 Ibid., p. 66.

12 Donald C. Daniel, Anti-Submarine Warfare and Superpower Strategic Stability, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press), 1986, p. 23.

13 Eugene Miasnikov, “Can Russian Strategic Submarine Survive at Sea? The Fundamental Limits of Passive Acoustics,” Science & Global Security, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1994), pp. 213–251.

14 Tom Stefanick, Strategic Antisubmarine Warfare and Naval Strategy, Institute for Defense & Disarmament Studies, (Lexington and Toronto: Lexington Books), 1987.

15 See Bryan Clark, The Emerging Era in Undersea Warfare (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Affairs, 2015); James Holmes, “Sea Changes: The Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 72, No. 4 (July 2016), pp. 228–233; and Bryan Clark, “Undersea Cables and the Future of Submarine Competition,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 72, No. 4 (July 2016), pp. 234–237; Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The New Era of Counterforce,” International Security, Volume 41, Issue 4, (Spring 2017), pp. 9–49.

16 Kristensen and Norris, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2017.”

17 Ibid.

18 The 14 Ohio-class SSBNs operate out of two bases in Bangor, Washington, and Kings Bay, Georgia, with around eight to 10 at sea at any given time and typically five on “hard alert” in patrol areas. The bombers are organized into three bases: Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Assuming only eight SSBNs are at sea, the U.S. nuclear deterrent is then distributed over only 13 targets. See Kristensen and Norris, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2017.”

19 Thomas C. Schelling, “Abolition of Ballistic Missiles,” International Security, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Summer 1987), pp. 179–183.

20 “Launch on warning” is a launch in response to a sensor indication of an attack on the continental United States, while “launch under attack” is a launch after a high-confidence determination of a massive attack. Because “launch under attack” requires more time to reach that higher level of confidence, a decision about whether to launch with this option must be made in a shorter time for ICBMs to survive the incoming attack. The definitions for these launch postures are approximately those provided by the Air Force, as mentioned in Richard L. Garwin, “Launch Under Attack to Redress Minuteman Vulnerability,” International Security, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Winter, 1979-1980), pp. 117–139.

21 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Armed Services, To Conduct a Confirmation Hearing on the Expected Nomination of Mr. James N. Mattis to be Secretary of Defense, 115th Cong., 1st sess., January 12, 2017.

22 If the circular error probable (CEP) of an 800 kt warhead from a Russian ICBM is 200 m, the single-shot kill probability (SSKP) against a U.S. Minuteman III silo is 0.88. If the CEP = 150 m (still a conservative estimate and less accurate than the U.S. Minuteman III), the SSKP is 0.98.

23 William Daugherty, Barbara Levi, and Frank von Hippel, “The Consequences of “Limited Nuclear Attacks on the United States,” International Security, Volume 10, Number 4, Spring 1986, pp. 3–43.

24 This is also likely true because a Russian nuclear attack today on U.S. ICBMs would require the use of warheads with a yield of 800 kt–the most common yield among Russian ICBMs—not the 500 kt modeled in Daugherty, Levi, and von Hippel, “The Consequences of “Limited” Nuclear Attacks on the United States.”

25 Schelling, “Abolition of Ballistic Missiles.”

26 Ibid., pp. 180–181.

27 This danger exists on the U.S. side as well.

28 Ibid., p. 180.

29 Senate ICBM Coalition, “The Enduring Values of America’s ICBMs,” December 2016. https://www.hoeven.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/ICBM Coalition White Paper December 2016 - final.pdf

30 U.S. Governmental Affairs Committee, Evaluation of the U.S. Strategic Triad, S. Hrg. 103-457, (1994). U.S. General Accounting Office, The U.S. Nuclear Triad: GAO’s Evaluation of the Strategic Modernization Program (plus 8 classified volumes), GAO/TPEMD-93-5, (1993). http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/T-PEMD-93-5

31 Ibid.

32 It deserves mention that the ICBMs receive some support for their potential use as first-strike counterforce weapons. Because one never knows how a nuclear exchange may begin, however, ICBMs cannot be used in counterforce targeting unless the United States is willing to commit to a “launch under attack” posture or the decision arises in a conflict to use them first before any warning of an incoming attack. The psychological effect that the presence of ICBMs may have on an adversary in contributing to nuclear deterrence due to their potential use as first-strike weapons is not necessary given the absence of any technically valid rationale for how an adversary could preempt massive retaliation by the SSBNs. Their presence is more likely to contribute towards convincing an adversary that the United States is about to launch a disarming first-strike–thereby increasing the chances of nuclear use–and as mentioned, their vulnerability only adds to the chance that they will be attacked first in an escalating conflict.

33 “Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission Report: Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure, and Posture,” Global Zero, May 2012 http://www.globalzero.org/files/gz_us_nuclear_policy_commission_report.pdf

34 These numbers were taken from the report “Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission Report: Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture,” Global Zero, 2012, and numbers for Russian and Chinese nuclear missile silos were obtained from Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Russian nuclear forces, 2017,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 73:2, 115–126, and Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Chinese nuclear forces, 2016,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 72:4, 205–211. Three warheads were added to each total in the Global Zero report for warheads covering North Korea, Iran, and Syria to make the total number of warheads add up to 1,150. China may not currently have as many as 75 ICBM silos, but it could have more than this in the future.

35 It deserves mention that there is no meaningful difference in kill probabilities between ICBMs or SLBMs against the strategic targets of U.S. adversaries and that SLBMs are able to reach any target within range of the ICBMs.

36 U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Armed Services, Hearing on National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 and Oversight of Previously Authorized Programs, 114th Cong.,
2nd sess., March 2, 2016.

37 George N. Lewis, Theodore A. Postol, and John Pike, “Why National Missile Defense Won’t Work,” Scientific American, August 1999.

38 Eliminating 50 silos at each of the three ICBM bases reduces the total number of ICBMs to 300 and not 250 because there are currently 50 empty silos that contain no ICBMs. This recommendation assumes that these empty silos were eliminated along with 100 others that contain ICBMs.

39 “Approaches to Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017–2046,” p. 37.

40 Ibid., p. 48.

41 Caston, et. al.,“The Future of the U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Force.”

42 Todd Harrison, “Options for the Ground-Based Leg of the Nuclear Triad,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 2017. https://www.csis.org/analysis/options-ground-based-leg-nuclear-triad

43 “Approaches to Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017–2046,” p. 30.

44 Ibid., p. 37.


Ryan Snyder is a nuclear physicist and was previously a Visiting Research Fellow at the Arms Control Association. He is now a researcher with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research based in Geneva. The views expressed here are those of the author.

 

Description: 

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan to overhaul the nation’s nuclear arsenal is the replacement program for the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, the land-based leg of the nuclear triad that also includes submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and heavy bombers.

Author:

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances

March 2018

Contact: Kelsey DavenportDirector for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 462-8270; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 462-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

The world’s nuclear-armed states each have declared, to varying degrees of specificity, when and under what circumstances they reserve the option to use their nuclear weapons. Most nuclear-armed states have also declared under what circumstances they rule out the use of nuclear weapons. These “positive” and “negative” nuclear declaratory policies are designed to deter adversaries from military actions and to assure non-nuclear weapon states and allies they will not be subject to a direct nuclear attack on their territory and should be dissuaded from pursuing nuclear weapons themselves.

There is no universal agreement among nuclear weapon states on the first-use of intercontinental ballistic missiles.Today, most nuclear-armed states, including the United States, reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Only two nuclear-armed states (China and India) have declared no-first-use policies, by which they commit themselves to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.

All five of the nuclear-weapon states recognized in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have issued a set of “negative” nuclear security assurances, which were recognized by the UN Security Council in Resolution 984 (1995). These pledges, however, are nonbinding and some nuclear-weapon states reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states under certain circumstances. The following is a more detailed summary of each country’s policies.

United States

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report declared that there are four missions for the U.S. nuclear arsenal: deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks, assurance of allies and partners, achievement of U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, and capacity to hedge against an uncertain future.

The document reiterated that the United States does not maintain a nuclear “no first-use policy” on the grounds that U.S. response options must remain flexible to deter nuclear and non-nuclear attacks. “Non-nuclear capabilities,” according to the report, “can complement but not replace U.S. nuclear capabilities” for the purpose of deterrence. In the event that deterrence were to fail, the report also declared that Washington could use nuclear weapons to end a conflict on the “best achievable terms for the United States.”

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The United States issued assurances not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon-state NPT members in 1978, 1995 and 2010 except in the case of “an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear- weapon State.” In 1997 the United States issued a classified presidential decision directive (PDD) reaffirming these pledges.

The 2018 NPR repeated existing U.S. negative security assurances by stating that Washington “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” However, the report qualified that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by “the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies.” At the February 2 press briefing following the report’s release, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood clarified that this may include cyber capabilities.

For a more details, see U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

China
China issued negative security assurances at the United Nations in 1978 and 1995 and is the only NPT nuclear-weapon state that has declared a no-first-use policy, which it reiterated in February 2018.

At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, Fu Ying, chairperson of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, said that “China is also committed to the principle of non-first-use of nuclear weapons, and no-use of nuclear weapons against any nuclear state [sic] at any circumstances and no-use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-free zones.”

In its April 1995 letter to UN members outlining its negative security assurances, China declared that it “undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.” China consistently reiterates this policy in its defense white papers. The most recent, edited in 2016, stated that “China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, China also called for the negotiation of an international legally binding instrument to prohibit first-use of nuclear weapons and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states and nuclear-weapon free zones.

France
France maintains a policy of calculated ambiguity regarding first-use of nuclear weapons. A 2013 French government defense white paper states that “the use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of legitimate self-defence” and that “[b]eing strictly defensive, nuclear deterrence protects France from any state-led aggression against its vital interests, of whatever origin and in whatever form.”

France issued negative security assurances at the UN in 1987 and 1995. In its 1995 statement to the UN, France pledged not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT “except in the case of invasion or any other attack on France, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, or against its allies or a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a State in alliance or association with a nuclear-weapon State.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, France called for nuclear possessor states to “work resolutely to advance disarmament in all its aspects; in which the doctrines of nuclear powers will restrict the role of nuclear weapons solely to extreme circumstances of self-defence where their vital interests are under threat.”

Russia
According to the December 2014 Russian Military Doctrine Paper published by the Ministry of Defense, Russia reserves the option to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving any weapon of mass destruction, and in response to conventional attacks “when the very existence of the state is under threat.” This phrase suggests a willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in the event of an impending conventional military defeat.

In 1993, Russia moved away from Leonid Brezhnev’s 1982 no-first-use pledge when the Russian Defense Ministry under Boris Yeltsin adopted a new doctrine on nuclear weapons. The new policy ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT but said nothing about use against states possessing nuclear weapons. Since the 1993 shift, many Western analysts have come to believe that Russia pursues an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy—the notion that, in the event of a large-scale conventional conflict, the Kremlin would use or threaten to use low-yield nuclear weapons to coerce an adversary to cease attacks or withdraw. However, other analysts maintain that this is not the case. 

Russia issued unilateral negative security assurances not to attack non-nuclear-weapon states in 1978 and 1995, but stated in 1995 that those pledges would not apply “in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the Russian Federation, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, its allies or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

United Kingdom
In the 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review document, the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with the treaty’s obligations. The United Kingdom appears to leave open the option to use nuclear weapons in response to WMD threats, such as chemical or biological attacks, if such threats emerge. Currently London acknowledged that there is “no direct threat” posed by WMDs to the United Kingdom in the 2015 document, but the government reserves the right to “review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.”

The United Kingdom issued a unilateral negative nuclear security assurance in 1978 and again in 1995. In the 1995 pledge the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. This assurance does not apply, however, to any state acting “in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state” that attacks the United Kingdom, its territories or allies, or any state in breach of its commitments under the NPT.

India
India has a no-first-use doctrine. As the government stated in a draft nuclear doctrine in August 1999, “India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” Although India has adopted a no-first-use policy, some Indian strategists have called the pledge’s validity into question. The credibility of this pledge was weakened in 2009 when Indian Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor suggested that the government should review the pledge in light of the growing threat of Pakistan. In 2010, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon stated that India's nuclear doctrine was “no first use against non-nuclear weapons states.” MIT professor Vipin Narang has also observed that “the force requirements India needs in order to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may allow it to pursue more aggressive strategies—such as escalation dominance or a ‘splendid first strike’—against Pakistan.”

During debate at the Conference on Disarmament in 2014, India’s representative reiterated the government’s no-first-use policy and the policy on nonuse against non-nuclear-weapon states and said that India was “prepared to convert these undertakings into multilateral legal arrangements.”

Israel
Given that Israel has not acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons, it has not made any statements regarding its willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Israel generally abstains from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution that would establish international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would not be used against them, including recently in resolution 72/25 in 2017.

Pakistan
Pakistan has only issued negative nuclear security guarantees to those states that are not armed with nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s position regarding when and whether it would use nuclear weapons in a conflict with another nuclear-armed state, namely India, is far more ambiguous. Pakistani officials have indicated that the circumstances surrounding its no-first-use policy must remain deliberately imprecise, as demarcating clear redlines could allow provocations by the Indian military just below any established threshold for use.

In a 2015 statement, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is one-dimensional, that is it for "stopping Indian aggression before it happens" “not for starting a war.” He also said in 2015 that Pakistan is capable of answering aggression from India due to Islamabad’s development of short-range tactical nuclear weapons. In July 2016, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif suggested Islamabad would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in armed conflict with India.

North Korea
Following its fourth nuclear test in January 2016, Pyongyang declared a policy of no-first-use under the condition that hostile forces do not encroach on its sovereignty. The Jan. 6, 2016 government statement said that North Korea, as a “responsible nuclear weapons state, will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons…as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.”  North Korea has re-affirmed this stance at the May 2016 Worker's Party Congress in Pyongyang and in the 2018 New Year's Address. North Korea, however, routinely threatens to use nuclear weapons against perceived threats, including against the United States and South Korea, a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Fact Sheet Categories:

U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance

March 2018

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director; (202) 463-8270 x107; Kelsey Davenport, Director of Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102; Kingston ReifDirector of Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review repeats exisiting U.S. negative security assurances by stating that Washington "will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations." Previously, in the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the United States declared that it would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are members in good standing of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Before 2010 successive administrations had maintained a policy of "strategic ambiguity" by refusing to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in response to biological or chemical weapons attacks, even from NPT member states.

Background

The 2018 NPR upholds but adds qualifications to earlier versions of U.S. "negative security assurances" first enunciated in 1978 and reaffirmed in 1995. Most notably, the report stipulates that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by "the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies," including cyber capabilites.

The 1995 formulation left open the option to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that were “in association or alliance with” a nuclear-weapon state—generally understood to be a reference to the Warsaw Pact allies of the Soviet Union. The United States also specified at that time that non-nuclear-weapon states had to be in compliance with the NPT to be eligible for this assurance.

In 1995, UN Security Council Resolution 984 recognized the U.S. assurances and similar ones from Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom. These coordinated assurances were a key part of the multilateral decision to indefinitely extend the NPT that year.

Outside of the NPT context, however, senior U.S. officials maintained "strategic ambiguity" about Washington’s military options in key situations.  For example, just before the U.S. war with Iraq in 1991, former Secretary of State James Baker told Tariq Aziz, Iraq's foreign minister, that if "you use chemical or biological weapons against U.S. forces, the American people will demand vengeance and we have the means to exact it." Baker said that "it is entirely possible and even likely, in my opinion, that Iraq did not use its chemical weapons against our forces because of that warning. Of course, that warning was broad enough to include the use of all types of weapons that American possessed."

Similarly, in April 1996, in reference to a suspected Libyan chemical weapons facility at Tarhunah, then-Secretary of Defense William Perry said that "if some nation were to attack the United States with chemical weapons, then they would have to fear the consequences of a response from any weapon in our inventory."  Perry noted that "in every situation that I have seen so far, nuclear weapons would not be required for response."

The 2001 NPR report maintained the possibility that U.S. nuclear forces could be used against non-nuclear nations. In addition to nuclear-armed China, the 2001 NPR cited five states that at the time did not have nuclear weapons (Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria) as driving "requirements for nuclear strike capabilities."  All five states were at the time suspected of nuclear weapons ambitions and were believed to have biological and/or chemical weapons or programs.  In February 2002, then-State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said it was U.S. policy that "[i]f a weapon of mass destruction is used against the United States or its allies, we will not rule out any specific type of military response."

In September 2002, the classified National Security Presidential Directive 17 was signed, which stated that "the United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force—including potentially nuclear weapons — to the use of WMD against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies." 

Following the release of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review report, President Barack Obama announced on April 6, that the United States was updating its negative security assurance policy to emphasize “the importance of nations meeting their NPT and nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained in an interview broadcast April 11, 2010 on CBS’s Face the Nation, negative security assurances are “not a new thing. The new part of this is saying that we would not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state that attacked us with chemical and biological weapons.”

As for chemical weapons, Gates said April 11 that “[T]ry as we might, we could not find a credible scenario where a chemical weapon could have the kind of consequences that would warrant a nuclear response.”  On biological weapons, the 2010 NPR hedges: “Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat.”

For both scenarios, Gates said April 6 that “[i]f any state eligible for this assurance were to use chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies or partners, it would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response.” And for states that have nuclear weapons or are not in compliance with the NPT all options are on the table—including the use of nuclear weapons first or in response to a non-nuclear attack.

Under the NPT, the five recognized nuclear-weapon states are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Three other states, India, Pakistan, and Israel, possess nuclear weapons but never joined the NPT. 

2018 NPR

Although the 2018 NPR report makes clear that the primary role of U.S. nuclear weapons is to “deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners,” the weapons serve other missions, too, including deterring non-nuclear attacks, assuring U.S. allies and partners, achieving U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, and hedging against future uncertainty. This falls short of a declaration that the “sole purpose” of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack and represents a significant break with past U.S. efforts to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in the world.

The 2018 NPR report does state that the first use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances,” but it defines these circumstances more broadly than previous reports, including in the definition “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” Although the policy does not explicitly define “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood clarified at the February 2 press conference following the report’s release that this could include chemical and biological attacks, large-scale conventional aggression, and cyberattacks. The scenarios provided for in the 2018 NPR report are much broader than the “narrow range of contingencies” laid out in the 2010 report.

The document also breaks from the 2010 report on the role of non-nuclear forces. Whereas the 2010 report called for enhanced non-nuclear capability to maintain deterrence, the 2018 document states that “non-nuclear capabilities can complement but not replace U.S. nuclear capabilities” for the purpose of deterrence. Moreover, if deterrence fails, the 2018 report also declares that Washington may use nuclear weapons to end a conflict on the “best achievable terms for the United States.”

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

Fact Sheet Categories:

New START at a Glance

March 2018

Contact: Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) was signed April 8, 2010 in Prague by Russia and the United States and entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011. New START replaced the 1991 START I treaty, which expired December 2009, and superseded the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which terminated when New START entered into force. 

New START continues the bipartisan process of verifiably reducing U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals begun by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.  New START is the first verifiable U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty to take effect since START I in 1994.

Both Russia and the United States announced that they met New START limitations by Feb. 5, 2018. See Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Under New START and U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces Under New START for more information about current nuclear forces under the treaty.

New START’s Key Provisions

New START includes a main treaty text with a preamble and sixteen articles; a protocol with definitions, verification procedures, and agreed statements; and technical annexes to the protocol. 

Main Treaty Limits (Article II)

Nuclear warhead limit:  Seven years after entry into force (Feb. 5, 2018), New START limits went into effect that capped accountable deployed strategic nuclear warheads and bombs at 1,550, down approximately 30 percent from the 2,200 limit set by SORT and down 74 percent from the START-accountable limit of 6,000.  Each heavy bomber is counted as one warhead (see below).

Missile, bomber and launcher limits:  Deployed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers assigned to nuclear missions are limited to 700. Deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and bombers are limited to 800. This number includes test launchers and bombers and Trident submarines in overhaul, and is approximately a 50 percent reduction from the 1,600 launcher-limit set under START (SORT did not cover launchers).  The 800 ceiling is intended to limit the ability for “break out” of the treaty by preventing either side from retaining large numbers of non-deployed launchers and bombers.

New START does not limit the number of non-deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, but it does monitor them and provide for continuous information on their locations and on-site inspections to confirm that they are not added to the deployed force.  Non-deployed missiles must be located at specified facilities away from deployment sites and labeled with “unique identifiers” to reduce concerns about hidden missile stocks.  Moreover, the strategic significance of non-deployed missiles is reduced given that non-deployed launchers are limited.  Both sides agreed under the treaty to prohibit systems designed for “rapid reload” of non-deployed missiles (Fifth Agreed Statement).

Force structure:  Each side has the flexibility to structure its nuclear forces as it wishes, within the overall limits of the treaty.

Counting Rules (Article III)

Warheads:  For deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, the number of warheads counted is the actual number of re-entry vehicles (RVs) on each missile (an RV protects the warhead as it re-enters the atmosphere from space; it can carry only one warhead).  START I did not directly count RVs, but instead counted missiles and bombers that were “associated with” a certain number of warheads.  New START counts each heavy bomber as one warhead (although the maximum loading is 16-20), the same counting rule that START I used for bombers carrying short-range weapons.  Neither side typically deploys nuclear bombs or cruise missiles on bombers, but keeps them in storage.  Thus inspections of bombers would find no weapons to inspect.  The parties agreed to arbitrarily count each bomber as one warhead.  Under SORT, Russia did not count stored bomber weapons at all.  New START, like START I, does not track or limit warheads or bombs once they have been removed from deployed launchers.

Delivery vehicles and launchers:  Each deployed ICBM, SLBM and nuclear-capable bomber is counted as one delivery vehicle against the 700 limit. Each deployed and non-deployed missile launcher or bomber is counted as one launcher against the 800 limit.  Non-deployed missiles are monitored but not limited in number.

Monitoring and Verification (Article VI, IX, X, XI, Protocol and Annexes)

New START’s verification regime includes relevant parts of START I as well as new provisions to cover items not previously monitored.  For example, the new treaty contains detailed definitions of items limited by the treaty; provisions on the use of National Technical Means (NTM); an extensive database on the numbers, types and locations of treaty-limited items and notifications about those items; and inspections to confirm this information.  Even so, the verification system has been simplified to make it cheaper and easier to operate than START and to reflect new strategic realities.  New START monitoring has also been designed to reflect updated treaty limitations.

For example, the old treaty did not directly limit warheads but instead assigned a certain number of warheads to each launcher; a count of the launchers gave an upper limit on the number of warheads that could be deployed, but not necessarily an actual count.  New START includes direct limits on deployed warheads and allows for on-site inspections to give both sides confidence that the limits are being upheld.  Under the new treaty, both sides will exchange lists of the number of warheads deployed on individual missiles.  During “Type One” inspections, each side can choose one ICBM or SLBM to inspect on short notice and count the warheads.  The re-entry vehicles (RVs) can be covered by the host nation to protect sensitive information, but the actual number of RVs must be evident to the inspectors.  These inspections are designed to help deter both sides from deploying a missile with more than its declared number of warheads.

For missile-generated flight test data, known as telemetry, START I called for telemetry to be openly shared, with limited exceptions, to monitor missile development.  New START does not limit new types of ballistic missiles, and thus the old START formula for extensive telemetry sharing was no longer necessary.  New START requires the broadcast of telemetry and exchange of recordings and other information on up to five missile tests per side per year to promote openness and transparency.

Under the new treaty, the United States and Russia will continue to depend on NTM to monitor the other’s strategic forces.  To monitor Russian mobile ICBMs, all new missiles are subject to the treaty as soon as they leave a production facility, and each missile and bomber will carry a unique identifier.  Russia must notify the United States 48 hours before a new solid-fueled ICBM or SLBM leaves the Votkinsk production facility and when it arrives at its destination, which will facilitate monitoring by national means, such as satellites.  The treaty does not prohibit the modernization of strategic forces within the overall treaty limits (Article V).

Verification of treaty limits and conversion or elimination of delivery systems is carried out by NTM and 18 annual short-notice, on-site inspections.  The treaty allows ten on-site inspections of deployed warheads and deployed and non-deployed delivery systems at ICBM bases, submarine bases and air bases (“Type One” inspections).  It also allows eight on-site inspections at facilities that may hold only non-deployed delivery systems (“Type Two” inspections).

Ballistic Missile Defense (Preamble, Article V, Unilateral Statements)

Current and planned U.S. missile defense programs are not constrained by New START.  The preamble acknowledges the “interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms” and that “current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.”

Article V prohibits both sides from converting launchers for ICBMs and SLBMs into launchers for missile defense interceptors and vice versa.  This provision does not apply to five U.S. ICBM silo launchers at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California, that were previously converted to missile defense interceptor launchers.  The United States has no plans for any such conversions in the future.

The missile defense launcher provision is designed to address Russian concerns that the U.S. could “break out” of New START by placing ICBMs in silos that once held missile defense interceptors. In practice, the provision will protect U.S. missile defense interceptors from falling under the treaty inspection regime. “If the parties were permitted to convert missile defense silos to ICBM silos, they would also have been able to visit and inspect those silos to confirm that they did not hold missiles limited by the treaty,”stated a report by the Congressional Research Service. The ban on silo conversions means that silo inspections are unnecessary and not permitted.

Finally, both sides have made unilateral statements about the relationship between missile defense deployments and the treaty. These statements are not legally binding, and similar statements were issued with previous treaties, including START I.  Under START, the Soviet Union said that U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty would constitute reason for withdrawal.  However, when the United States actually did withdraw from the ABM Treaty in 2002, Russia did not withdraw from START and, in fact, went on to negotiate SORT.

Conventional Warheads (Preamble, Protocol and Annexes)

New START does not prohibit either side from deploying conventional warheads on long-range ballistic missiles.  Such deployments would be counted under the warhead and missile limitations of the treaty.  The preamble states that both sides are “mindful of the impact of conventionally armed ICBMs and SLBMs on strategic stability.”  The State Department stated in a report that “there is no military utility in carrying nuclear-armed and conventionally-armed reentry vehicles on the same ICBM or SLBM.”

Trident submarines converted to carry conventional cruise missiles would not be counted under the treaty, nor would formerly nuclear-capable bombers that have been fully converted to conventional missions, such as the B-1B.

Duration and Withdrawal (Article XIV)

The treaty’s duration is ten years from entry into force (Feb. 2021) unless it is superseded by a subsequent agreement and can be extended for an additional five years.  As in START I, each party can withdraw if it decides for itself that “extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests.”  The treaty would terminate three months from a notice of withdrawal. 

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Country Resources:

Remarks to the Maryland House of Delegates Rules Committee on Nuclear Weapons Launch Procedures

Sections:

Body: 


By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director
Arms Control Association
March 5, 2018
Annapolis, Maryland

Good afternoon. I want to commend Delegates Queen, Gibson, and Gutierrez for introducing House Joint Resolution 12, which:

… “calls upon Maryland’s Congressional delegation to take all necessary steps to establish a system of checks and balances with regard to the first use of nuclear weapons and to ensure that the President of the United States shall no longer have the sole and unchecked authority to launch nuclear weapons, except in circumstances of retaliation.”

At this very moment, the United States and Russia each deploy massive strategic nuclear arsenals, approximately 1,550 bombs on each side. Each side possesses thousands more nonstrategic warheads and warheads in reserve. These arsenals are far in excess of what it would take to decimate the other and far more that is required to deter a nuclear attack.

Executive Director Daryl Kimball testifies before the Maryland House of Delegates Rules Committee on legislation urging its congressional delegation to support limits on presidential nuclear launch authority. (Photo: Maryland General Assembly)Worse still, each side maintains a significant portion of its land and sea-based missile forces on a prompt launch posture to guard against a “disarming” first strike.

As a result, there are roughly 800 U.S. nuclear warheads – all of which are far more powerful than the weapons that destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 – that can be launched within about 15 minutes of an order by the president and the president alone.

In most scenarios, the president would have just minutes to listen to the list of retaliatory options and decide whether or not to order one of the nuclear strike plans. No cabinet secretary, adviser, or military official has the authority to override the president’s decision. Congress currently has no say in the matter.

Current U.S. nuclear policy also allows for the possible use of nuclear weapons first, or in response to a non-nuclear attack on the U.S. or our allies, such as in a conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Continuing to vest such destructive power in the hands of one person and to maintain a prompt-launch posture is undemocratic, irresponsible, unnecessary and untenable.

Cavalier and reckless statements from President Donald Trump about nuclear weapons use and threatening and boastful comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin about his country’s nuclear retaliatory capabilities underscore the risks of a system that puts the authority to launch nuclear weapons in the hands of these individuals.

Defenders of the status quo argue that altering the current system would deprive the president of the ability to respond quickly in a crisis—including by using nuclear weapons first in response to a non-nuclear attack—and undermine the credibility of deterrence.

Such arguments ignore the fact that throughout the history of the nuclear age, there have been several incidents in which false signals of an attack have prompted U.S. and Russia officials to consider, in the dead of the night and under the pressure of time, launching nuclear weapons in retaliation.

The reality is that this “launch-under-attack” policy is unnecessary because U.S. nuclear forces and command-and-control systems could withstand even a massive attack. Given the size, accuracy, and diversity of U.S. forces, the remaining nuclear force would be more than sufficient to deliver a devastating blow to any nuclear aggressor.

In addition, retaining the option to use nuclear weapons first is unnecessary and risky. Given the overwhelming conventional military edge of the United States and its allies, there is no plausible circumstance that could justify—legally, morally, or militarily—the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat.

As then-Vice President Joe Biden said in public remarks in January 2017: “Given our non-nuclear capabilities and the nature of today’s threats—it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary. Or make sense.”

Congress and the executive branch can and should take a number of steps to reduce these dangers:

  • Requiring that a decision to use nuclear weapons be made by more than one person. This could include the president, vice president, secretaries of state and defense, and perhaps one or more designated members of Congress, such as the speaker of the House or Senate majority leader.
  • Prohibiting the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) have introduced bipartisan legislation the "Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017" that would put this policy into place.
  • Eliminating the requirement to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles under attack, which would increase the time available to consider the possible use of nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack against the United States or its allies.
  • Declaring that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons and that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack. Congressman Adam Smith and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee has introduced H.R. 4415 to establish a “No First Policy” for nuclear weapons.
  • Clarify that only Congress can authorize U.S.-initiated military action against North Korea, which would likely result in a nuclear exchange, and urge the administration to “avoid actions that could contribute to a breakdown in talks, and continue to search for confidence-building measures that are conducive to dialogue,” as state in bipartisan legislation introduced in the House and Senate (H.R. 4837/S. 2016).

Your support for Maryland House Joint Resolution 12 can help push Congress to re-examine and revise nuclear decision making so that fate of millions in not decided by one person in the span of a few minutes.

Since 2001, Daryl G. Kimball has served as the executive director the independent, non-partisan Arms Control Association and publisher of the monthly journal, Arms Control Today. The Association is a national membership organization established in 1971 to provide information and analysis on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and to promote practical policy solutions to address the risks they pose.

Description: 
Daryl Kimball offered the following testimony before the Maryland House of Delegates Rules Committee on Monday, March 5, 2018, regarding legislation introduced by Maryland delegates Queen (Montgomery Co.), Gibson (Baltimore City), and Gutierrez (Montgomery Co.).

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

The Trump Administration’s ‘Wrong Track’ Nuclear Policies


March 2018
By Lynn Rusten

Public opinion pollsters often ask, “Is America moving in the right direction, or is it on the wrong track?” When it comes to nuclear policy, the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) decidedly puts the country on the wrong track in that it fails to lower the risk that nuclear weapons will be used, to increase strategic stability, to reduce the chances of miscalculation, and to ensure our national security at reasonable cost.

Further, it puts the country on the wrong track to maintain U.S. global leadership on nonproliferation and arms control. It also puts the United States on the wrong track by discounting the role of diplomatic and nonmilitary tools in countering nuclear threats and potential adversaries.

Increasing Reliance on Nuclear Weapons

Four successive Republican and Democratic administrations since the end of the Cold War had sought to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy. This NPR makes a dangerous and unjustified U-turn by expanding the role of nuclear weapons and the purposes for which they could be used, making a case for their enduring contribution to national security, failing to uphold reduced reliance as a desired goal, and elevating the contribution of U.S. forward-based nuclear weapons in Europe to the security of NATO.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan (center), State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon Jr. (left), and Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette brief reporters on the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review at the Pentagon on February 2. (Photo: Kathryn E. Holm/DoD)Expanding the role of nuclear weapons. Like the 2010 Obama administration NPR report1, this one states that the United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons “in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners.”2 It redefines “extreme circumstances,” however, to include not only nuclear attacks but also significant non-nuclear strategic attacks, including but not limited to “attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

This is a wrong-headed departure from the 2010 NPR. It dangerously lowers the threshold for nuclear use against a range of potential non-nuclear threats, including cyberattacks, and thereby raises the risk of miscalculation and the possibility that nuclear weapons will be used, particularly if other countries adopt the same policy. Under this policy, a cyberattack could lead to options for a nuclear response being presented to a president who would have to decide in a compressed time frame with potentially incomplete information who did it and for what purpose. Conversely, if Russia or China were to adopt a similar policy, the United States could be at risk of nuclear attack as a result of inaccurate attribution or miscalculation due to differing perceptions of what constitutes a strategically significant cyberattack meriting a nuclear response. There is also the question of whether the use of a nuclear weapon would ever be judged a proportionate response to a cyberattack under international law.

Further, the new NPR underscores that nuclear weapons will continue to play a critical role in deterring nuclear attack and in preventing large-scale conventional warfare between nuclear armed states for the foreseeable future because non-nuclear forces alone “do not provide comparable deterrence effects” and “do not adequately assure many allies and partners.”

In contrast, the 2010 NPR deemed that “the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners,” adding that the United States had already reduced and would continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks. Although noting “there remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring” a conventional, chemical or biological weapons attack, the previous NPR committed to working to establish conditions under which sole purpose—a policy to threaten nuclear use only in response to a nuclear attack—could be safely adopted. It affirmed the United States could provide deterrence and reassurance for allies at lower nuclear-force levels and with reduced reliance on nuclear weapons, taking into account not only the security environment but also unrivaled U.S. conventional military capabilities and improvements in missile defenses. It committed to strengthening conventional capabilities and reducing the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.

Diluting the negative security assurance. For non-nuclear-weapon states, the 2018 and 2010 NPR reports offer an identical negative security assurance: “The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” The new NPR, however, adds a caveat so broad it risks undermining the very purpose of the assurance, which is to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that they will not be subject to nuclear attack and thus have no incentive to acquire nuclear weapons. It “reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies and U.S. capabilities to counter that threat”; the 2010 NPR caveat was limited to adjustment warranted by “the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capabilities to counter it.”

Questionable declaratory policy on nuclear terrorism. The 2018 NPR breaks new ground with a threat to use nuclear weapons to deter or punish nuclear terrorism.

The United States will hold fully accountable any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or employ nuclear devices. Although the role of nuclear weapons in countering nuclear terrorism is limited, for effective deterrence our adversaries must understand that a terrorist nuclear attack against the United States or its allies and partners would qualify as “an extreme circumstance” under which the United States could consider the ultimate form of retaliation.3

Implementation of this policy raises difficult questions of attribution and responsibility. If an insider in one of the U.S. national labs were to provide the Islamic State group with nuclear materials for a dirty bomb, would Russia be justified in attacking the United States at all, let alone with a nuclear weapon? The logic and value of this policy is not obvious.

Elevating the role of U.S. forward-based nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe. The latest NPR reverses the decades-long movement by the United States and NATO to reduce the relevance and number of U.S. forward-based nuclear weapons in NATO’s deterrence and defense posture, in particular going significantly beyond current NATO policy to assert that these weapons contribute to the supreme guarantee of alliance security.4 The NPR report’s wording foreshadows a potentially divisive reopening of painstakingly negotiated NATO nuclear policy language in the run-up to the July 2018 summit in Brussels.

The 2010 NPR committed to retain the capability to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on tactical fighter bombers and heavy bombers, without presuming what NATO would decide about future deterrence requirements (e.g., maintaining U.S. weapons in Europe). These weapons are primarily political symbols of U.S. commitment to NATO. They have virtually no military utility, and the cost-benefit assessment of keeping them in multiple European locations is unpersuasive given threats from political instability and terrorism. Rather than instigate a fight in NATO to elevate their role, the United States should be removing nuclear weapons from harm’s way, particularly in Turkey, where political instability, deteriorating relations with the United States, terrorism, and war with the Syrian Kurds underscore the risks of keeping nuclear weapons reportedly based 70 miles from the Syrian border.

Calling for New Types of Nuclear Weapons Systems

The NPR goes in the wrong direction by seeking to add new “nonstrategic” nuclear weapons capabilities to the already formidable U.S. arsenal. Rejecting the 2010 NPR report pledge of “no new nuclear capabilities,” it identifies a “regional deterrence capabilities gap” that must be addressed by two new types of low-yield nuclear weapons—one to be deployed on a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and the other a new nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM).

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is launched during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., September 5, 2016. The NPR calls for replacement of all three legs of the nuclear triad, including fielding the Minuteman III replacement, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, beginning in 2029.  (USSTRATCOM courtesy photo)Citing a “dramatic deterioration of the strategic environment,” the NPR asserts the need for these new weapons in order to enhance the flexibility and responsiveness of U.S. nuclear forces. The report posits that these new capabilities will make deterrence more credible against regional aggression and the threat of limited first use, for instance from Russia, by giving the president an expanding range of limited and graduated options to credibly deter Russian nuclear or non-nuclear strategic attacks. It claims these capabilities will “raise not lower” the threshold for nuclear use and are not intended to enable nuclear war-fighting.

To quote The New York Times editorial board, this argument is “insane.”5 First, the United States has a robust, flexible nuclear deterrent, including low-yield options. To suggest the current U.S. nuclear arsenal does not provide a sufficient deterrent to Russia or any other nation is preposterous.

Second, new low-yield nuclear weapons would not “raise the bar” for nuclear use; they would lower it because they increase the contingencies and planning for use and fuel the illusion that a use of nuclear weapons could remain limited and not escalate into a large-scale nuclear exchange. As former Secretary of State George Shultz recently testified, “A nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon. You use a small one, then you go to a bigger one. I think nuclear weapons are nuclear weapons and we need to draw the line there.”6

Third, it is disingenuous to deem a low-yield warhead on an SLBM a nonstrategic nuclear weapon. Nuclear warheads are neither strategic nor nonstrategic; that nomenclature refers to their delivery vehicle. A low-yield nuclear warhead on an SLBM is still a strategic nuclear weapon. To underscore the point, when an SLBM is launched from a submarine, how would an adversary know to expect one “small” low-yield weapon? Why would it not assume the attack was the leading edge of a full-scale strategic nuclear attack?

Fourth, resurrecting nuclear SLCMs reverses the 25-year trajectory set by President George H.W. Bush, who removed nuclear weapons from surface ships and nuclear-powered attack subs in 1991, and President Barack Obama’s 2010 NPR, which retired nuclear SLCMs and the capacity to redeploy them on attack subs. Co-mingling nuclear and conventional capabilities at sea is costly and operationally complex and introduces risks of miscalculation and likelihood of use. If a dual-capable SLCM were launched, how would an adversary know whether it was conventional or nuclear?

Rather than compelling positive changes in Russian behavior as the 2018 NPR report intimates, pursuit of nuclear SLCMs is more likely to stimulate Russia to deploy more nuclear weapons at sea and more missiles on land that violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Russian investments in new intermediate-range strike capabilities appear driven by perceptions of vulnerability to U.S. and NATO prompt-strike and missile defense capabilities. Compounding Russia’s perceived vulnerabilities will prompt more countermeasures, not submission. By what logic should the United States fuel an incipient arms race by pursuing nuclear weapons systems it does not need?

These “supplemental” capabilities add to the already unachievable $1.2 trillion Obama plan for modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal and infrastructure over the next 30 years. As General Frank Klotz, recently retired administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, observed, the capacity of the nuclear weapons complex to refurbish and dismantle nuclear warheads and components is already overstretched.7 A more responsible NPR would have strived to rationalize and prioritize the program of record inherited from the Obama administration by considering what elements could be cancelled, postponed, or modified to put the nuclear modernization program on a more stable, affordable, and politically sustainable footing, with a focus on survivable forces intended primarily if not exclusively for deterrence of nuclear attacks.

Abdicating U.S. Global Leadership

In contrast to the 2010 NPR, the 2018 review puts almost exclusive emphasis on nuclear weapons and military means and insufficiently promotes diplomacy and nonmilitary instruments of national power to address national security threats. It overstates the degradation in the threat environment since 2010 and fails to explain why more types of and uses for nuclear weapons is an effective means to address threats that have legitimately worsened. These include increased Russian assertiveness, the growing North Korean threat, Chinese actions in South China Sea, and the spread of new technologies, including cyberabilities.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with General Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, at the 8th Army Operational Command Center at Camp Humphreys, south of Seoul, on November 7, 2017. The Nuclear Posture Review makes no mention of the role diplomacy could play in addressing the North Korean nuclear threat. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)The new NPR report fails to make a convincing case that the United States is slipping from a position of nuclear parity with Russia and facing a regional deterrence gap necessitating new nuclear capabilities, or that the United States is newly threatened by China’s still significantly smaller nuclear arsenal. It fails to explain why all other nuclear-armed countries except Russia will not be deterred by a nuclear force that is primarily sized and postured to deter Russia, whose arsenal is orders of magnitude larger than any other potential adversary, including China. It undersells what the 2010 NPR report termed the “unrivaled conventional capabilities” of the United States—capabilities that are still unrivaled and contribute immensely to deterrence and the defense of our nation, allies, and partners.

Against that backdrop, the 2018 NPR heralds a retreat from U.S. global leadership on nuclear nonproliferation and arms control. Although it reaffirms commitment to the NPT and supports the International Atomic Energy Agency and mechanisms to constrain, deny, and sanction proliferators, it falls short in advancing a positive strategy for addressing proliferation threats through diplomacy and pursuing steps related to the disarmament pillar of the NPT. This is a stark contrast with the 2010 NPR, which envisioned a comprehensive approach to reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons, including through practical steps of further nuclear reductions with Russia, pursuit of a fissile material cutoff treaty, and ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The new NPR report is silent on multilateral nuclear arms control, other than to reject CTBT ratification while upholding, with caveats, the testing moratorium.8 On bilateral arms control with Russia, it notes fairly that the current environment makes bilateral progress extremely challenging, but offers no proposals to improve the environment, failing even to endorse a five-year extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

The latter is an easy call: As long as Russia is complying with New START, it is strongly in the U.S. interest to extend the treaty’s limits and most importantly its robust and intrusive verification regime, providing essential long-term predictability and insight into each other’s strategic nuclear forces. Russia’s violation of and mutual recriminations over the INF Treaty make this especially important. Extension is not a favor to Russia; it would be a mutually beneficial and stabilizing step as the United States and Russia seek to address bilateral problems and rebuild trust.

The policies in the NPR will further erode strategic stability, notwithstanding the report’s stated desire for stable relations with Russia and China. While calling for nuclear dialogue and transparency with China, it offers no strategy for what do to about the erosion of strategic stability with Russia other than to rev up the engine for an arms race. It is devoid of any consideration of how the nuclear policies and forces it prescribes will be perceived by other countries, particularly Russia and China; how they might react and thus affect strategic stability; and how U.S. national security will be affected if they and other countries adopt similar policies and postures.

The overarching problems with the nonproliferation and arms control element of the NPR are what it portends for U.S. policy and how it will be received internationally. Substantively, it offers no strategy and few proposals for reducing nuclear dangers, encouraging nuclear reductions, peacefully advancing nonproliferation, and sustaining international adherence to and support for the NPT regime. It fails to acknowledge the positive contribution of diplomacy in the Iran nuclear agreement and makes no mention of the role diplomacy could play in addressing the North Korean nuclear threat. It fails to reaffirm, in contrast to the 2010 NPR, that it is in the interest of all nations to extend forever the now 73-year record of nuclear non-use.

The new nuclear weapons prohibition treaty, criticized in the NPR, is largely an outgrowth of the frustration and disappointment that has grown among non-nuclear-weapon states with the pace of progress by the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom on their NPT Article VI disarmament commitment.9 With the international community increasingly polarized, this NPR adds fuel to the fire and offers little to work with for allies and partners who have joined the United States in advocating a practical step-by-step approach as the most viable path toward verifiable disarmament. Rather than leading and helping to unify the international community with a positive and actionable nonproliferation agenda, the United States will find itself on the defensive trying to explain a nuclear policy likely perceived as evidence of a failure to uphold its end of the NPT bargain.

Conclusion

The goal of U.S. nuclear policy should be to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by deliberate act, miscalculation, or accident and to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials to states and terrorists. Achieving these goals requires the United States to marshal all instruments of national power and to cooperate effectively with the international community.

The Trump administration’s NPR takes the country in the wrong direction by increasing reliance on nuclear weapons and expanding the circumstances contemplated for their use; calling for new types of nuclear weapons systems that will provoke or exacerbate an arms race and will raise the risks of miscalculation and use; failing to set forth a realistic nuclear force posture and modernization plan that emphasizes stability and survivability and is affordable, executable, and politically sustainable; failing to articulate a positive strategy for U.S. leadership in nonproliferation and practical steps in furtherance of U.S. obligations under NPT Article VI; and failing to set forth a comprehensive strategy for addressing nuclear and regional threats through diplomacy and other nonmilitary tools, along with strengthening conventional defenses and ensuring a safe, secure, and reliable deterrent.

The American public and Congress have a responsibility to consider whether this new nuclear posture is taking the country in the right direction and, if not, to encourage a course correction. Lawmakers should advance an alternative vision for U.S. nuclear policy and global nonproliferation leadership, deny funding for the dangerous and unnecessary new types of nuclear weapons systems proposed, and reassess the $1.2 trillion cost, feasibility, and necessity of the full range of nuclear modernization programs proposed for the next three decades. The Department of State should be given the opportunity to put more meat on the bones of a nuclear policy and strategy largely devoid of diplomatic initiatives.

The damage to U.S. global leadership on nuclear nonproliferation as a result of the plans and policies in the NPR is real, and the stakes are far too high to allow these dangerous policies to go unchallenged. The time to start steering toward a better and safer track for U.S. nuclear policy and posture is now.

ENDNOTES

1 Office of the Secretary of Defense, "Nuclear Posture Review Report," April 2010, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf

2 Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review,” February 2018, p. 21, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF (hereinafter 2018 NPR report).

3 Ibid, p. 68.

4 The 2018 NPR report states, “The United States will make available its strategic nuclear forces, and commit nuclear weapons forward-deployed to Europe, to the defense of NATO. These forces provide an essential political and military link between Europe and North America and are the supreme guarantee of Alliance security.” 2018 NPR report, p. 36. Current NATO policy as reflected in the July 2016 Warsaw summit communiqué states, “The strategic forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States, are the supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies…. NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture also relies, in part, on United States’ nuclear weapons forward-deployed in Europe.” “Warsaw Summit Communiqué Issued by the Heads of State and Government Participating in the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Warsaw 8-9 July 2016,”
press release (2016) 100 (July 9, 2016), para. 53.

5 “False Alarm Adds to Real Alarm About Trump’s Nuclear Risk,” The New York Times, January 13, 2018.

6 Connor O’Brien, “Schultz Warns Congress Against Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons,” Politico, January 25, 2018, https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/25/nuclear-weapons-george-schultz-369450.

7 Aaron Mehta, “As Trump Seeks New Nuke Options, Weapons Agency Head Warns of Capacity Overload,” Defense News, January 23, 2018, https://www.defensenews.com/space/2018/01/23/as-trump-seeks-new-nuke-options-weapons-agency-head-warns-of-capacity-overload/.

8 The 2018 NPR report rejects Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratification; supports the International Monitoring System; commits to maintaining the testing moratorium, “unless necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the U.S. arsenal” or to meet “severe geopolitical challenges”; and encourages others to declare or maintain a moratorium.

9 China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are the five states recognized under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as nuclear-weapon states. NPT Article VI requires all parties 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.”


Lynn Rusten is a senior adviser at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. From 2011 to 2014, she was senior director for arms control and nonproliferation on the National Security Council staff.

Why the new Nuclear Posture Review doesn’t make the country safer. 

A Question of Dollars and Sense: Assessing the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review


March 2018
By Madelyn Creedon

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is consistent in many respects with long-standing nuclear policies. Yet, certain elements are deeply troubling.

In terms of consistency, it reiterates that the primary mission of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack; rejects a declaratory no-first-use policy; retains the long-standing policy of ambiguity as to what constitutes U.S. vital interests, although with less ambiguity; seeks to assure allies; and reinforces the U.S commitment to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). These are pillars of U.S. deterrence policy.

Sandia National Labratories technologists Curt Tenorio, left, and Jessie Fowler install instrumentation on a B61-12 nuclear bomb unit for a vibration and shaker-shock test. Sandia has sophisticated tests and computer models to qualify non-nuclear components under its nuclear-weapons stockpile stewardship role. (Photo: Randy Montoya/Sandia Labs)The choices that are troubling include the intention to seek a new low-yield nuclear capability, the rejection of future arms control agreements, and the plan to increase U.S. nuclear weapons production capability. These matters, in particular, deserve close scrutiny by Congress and public debate.

Certainly, the international security environment has been evolving since the Cold War ended and since the previous NPR during the Obama administration. Change was the backdrop for the 2010 NPR and remains the backdrop for the 2018 review, which highlights major nuclear modernization programs by Russia and China, rapid nuclear weapons advances by North Korea, and growing cyberthreats by state and nonstate actors.1

The report on the 2010 NPR concluded that “the threat of global nuclear war has become remote, but the risk of nuclear attack has increased.” This conclusion remains valid. The underlying assumption in the 2018 NPR, however, is that the risk of nuclear attack, although not quantified, has increased, that it is the greatest risk facing the United States, and that the country’s deterrent is not sufficiently robust to counter or deter the increased risk. Alternatively, even if the risk has not increased, the latest NPR report seemingly calls into question whether the U.S. deterrent is sufficiently robust to deter the same level of risk.

Thus, the new report concludes that U.S. nuclear forces must be “supplemented” now. To that end, it calls for the nuclear complex to be positioned to develop new nuclear weapons, possibly resume explosive nuclear testing, increase the size and makeup of the nuclear stockpile, and increase the diversity of the delivery systems. The report argues that without expanding the capabilities of the nuclear enterprise, particularly the ability of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to move beyond its current focus on life-extension programs for warheads, this and future administrations will not be able to tailor deterrence to the changing nature of potential adversaries.

In contrast, the prior NPR report determined that the greatest risks were presented by terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear or radiological capabilities, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons capabilities to states such as North Korea. Based on this conclusion, significant emphasis was placed on addressing these proliferation and terrorism threats, including securing, consolidating, and eliminating highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium that could be used by terrorists in an improvised nuclear device. Although there is no indication that these threats have diminished, they are not given priority in the 2018 NPR report. One can only hope that the language urging funding trade-offs among programs does not include the programs that prevent proliferation and ensure the security of weapons-usable materials.

The 2010 NPR report by no means ignored “the more familiar challenge of ensuring strategic stability with existing nuclear powers—most notably Russia and China.” Although it identified five pillars to address threats across the spectrum, it certainly did not diminish the importance of deterrence, clearly stating that the United States would maintain safe, secure, reliable, and effective nuclear forces. It recognized that nuclear forces continue “to play an essential role in deterring potential adversaries and reassuring allies and partners around the world as long as nuclear weapons exist.”

Realistically, however, the 2010 review also recognized that nuclear deterrence alone was not the answer but rather that a wide spectrum of highly capable U.S. conventional capabilities, including missile defense, in conjunction with nuclear forces would provide the best deterrent for the United States and its allies and partners.

In a bold step, the 2010 NPR report tried to identify and set the conditions for meaningful compliance with the disarmament provision in NPT Article VI, while clearly recognizing that the conditions were not currently suited to achieve those goals and might not be for many years. Since 2010, unfortunately, the global security conditions have become even less conducive to achieving a world without nuclear weapons. The 2010 report, while aspiring to these goals, reflected a growing concern that the world was approaching a nuclear tipping point where more states and more weapons would be the norm.

Although the nuclear deal with Iran has removed that country’s nuclear weapons capability for the time being, North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability has qualitatively and quantitatively improved, China and Russia have embarked on nuclear weapons modernization programs, and the nuclear arsenals of India and Pakistan have grown.

Russia, China, and even North Korea are expanding their conventional and nuclear programs to match or offset the U.S. conventional force advantage. The United States has been very public about Russian deployment of a new nuclear-capable missile system in violation of the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.2 China has continued its assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region, growing and diversifying its conventional capabilities and modernizing its nuclear forces. While remaining small in number, their nuclear forces are becoming increasingly more capable and survivable.

These disturbing trends are unlikely to change in the near term.

Philosophies articulated in the 2010 NPR report, including the need for a strong and credible deterrent, continue in the new report. The prior report reaffirmed long-standing U.S. policy that “[t]he United States will continue to ensure that in the calculations of any potential opponent, the perceived gains of attacking the United States or its allies and partners would be far outweighed by the unacceptable costs of response” and that “any attack on the United States or our allies and partners, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons will be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming.” Similarly, the 2018 NPR report concluded that “the highest nuclear policy and strategy priority is to deter potential adversaries from nuclear attack of any scale.”

Different in Tone and Tenor

Notwithstanding such similarities, the new NPR report is remarkably different in tone and tenor from its predecessor, placing the bulk of the emphasis on the nuclear forces and much less emphasis on nuclear terrorism and nonproliferation. This NPR is consistent with the National Security Strategy’s shift to a new era of great power rivalries.3

Chinese soldiers applaud during a military parade at the Zhurihe training base in China's northern Inner Mongolia region on July 30, 2017. The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review says China’s military modernization “has resulted in an expanded nuclear force, with little to no transparency into its intentions.” (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)Although focused and driven primarily by Russian behavior, China’s growing conventional capabilities, including space and cyber capabilities, also shape the decisions in the 2018 report. In addition to the near-term decision to “supplement” the nuclear forces with a low-yield variant of the W76-1 warhead for ballistic missile submarines, the new report lays out a long-term plan to prepare the United States to develop, test, and deploy new nuclear weapons and to increase the size of the nuclear stockpile. In short, prepare for a new arms race.

This new version of a hedging strategy—being able to address geopolitical and technical uncertainty, a key tenant of the 2010 and previous reports—includes a decision to retain more weapons longer and make new weapons faster.

The United States can hedge in two complementary ways. One is by having a robust nuclear weapon production infrastructure that has the design, engineering, and manufacturing capabilities needed to quickly produce new or additional weapons needed to address changes in the threat environment. Another approach is to retain a significant non-deployed inventory of weapons that can be added to current delivery vehicles to address geopolitical threat or technical failure.

One disturbing aspect of the new approach is the apparent decision to keep the last megaton weapon in the U.S. arsenal, the B83. How long this warhead will be retained is unclear, but one section of the NPR report indicates that it will be retained until replaced.

On the other hand, the report continues previous decisions to maintain the nuclear triad and replace the delivery systems: a new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, a new intercontinental ballistic missile, a new long-range bomber, and a new air-launched cruise missile. A new addition to the ongoing programs is a sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM). Whether the SLCM goes forward is highly dependent on Russia and whether it continues to violate the INF Treaty or returns to compliance.

The new low-yield warhead, although designed to counter Russia’s growing arsenal of novel nonstrategic systems, may prove to be counterproductive. To deploy the new low-yield warhead, the United States, unlike Russia, will sacrifice some of its strategic warheads because nonstrategic nuclear warheads are not counted under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Russia has taken advantage of this fact by substantially increasing its arsenal of nonstrategic weapons, while complying with the limitations on strategic systems. Because the Trident II D5 ballistic missile on U.S. ballistic missile submarines and any warheads on it are counted under New START, the low-yield warhead will be subject to the treaty limits, just like the higher-yield W76-1. In other words, it is a one-for-one trade-off. How many low-yield weapons will be produced is unknown, but having fewer high-yield warheads, such as the W76-1, seems to advantage Russia.

A concept of operations has yet to be explained for the new low-yield weapon. The sea leg of the nuclear triad is the most survivable leg in large part due to the ability of Ohio-class submarines to be invisible in the open ocean. Launching a high-value D5 missile from a ballistic missile submarine will most likely give away its location. China and Russia are expanding their ability to detect a missile launch and will be able to locate a U.S. submarine if it launches a D5 missile. Is having a low-yield warhead worth the risk of exposing the location of a ballistic missile submarine at sea?

Moreover, if the reason to have a low-yield warhead is to respond to Russian first use of a low-yield weapon, rather than sticking to the promise of the 2010 NPR report to use overwhelming force in response to nuclear use, responding with a low-yield warhead also seems to advantage Russia and weaken deterrence. Signaling that a low-yield weapon would be used to respond to low-yield weapon use might persuade Russia to lower the nuclear threshold, thus risking nuclear war-fighting. President Ronald Reagan cautioned against this in 1984 when he said, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used.”

Budget Challenges

Whether there is the political and budgetary will to implement the 2018 NPR report remains to be seen.

The biggest challenge laid out in the 2018 report is the new assignment for the NNSA. The NNSA is well into the process of fixing its aging infrastructure, but has a long way to go. It cannot fund these very expensive, one-of-a-kind nuclear facilities within its existing budget plan. A new state-of-the-art HEU storage facility is complete, and the design of the new uranium processing facility is well along. The NNSA is deciding where to build a new plutonium facility, but needs new funding, and the 1976-era PF-4 plutonium facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory must be replaced at some point. Continuing resolutions in Congress and changing requirements add to the cost and delay schedules.

Air Force General John Hyten, U.S. Strategic Command commander, addresses the 5th Bomb Wing airmen at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., June 6, 2017. "The ICBMs that we have here are the most ready element [of the nuclear triad], the bombers that we have here are the most flexible, the submarine element is the most survivable, and when you put those three together, you come up with a deterrent capability that our adversaries fear and they need to fear those capabilities,” he told the Bismarck Tribune during the visit. “I hope to never have to employ them but they have to be ready all the time.” (Photo: J.T. Armstrong/U.S. Air Force)The NNSA does not have out-year funding to implement the next generation of stockpile stewardship, build new experimental facilities, conduct and diagnose more subcritical experiments at the Nevada National Security Site, expand computational capabilities necessary to maintain the current stockpile, identify and resolve future problems, conduct life extension programs, and support the fight against nuclear terrorism and proliferation.

New capabilities such as the stockpile responsiveness program and other new efforts to challenge the design and manufacturing skills of the nuclear complex will also need new funding. As the 2018 NPR report points out, although there is a new tritium-extraction facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the NNSA needs a new tritium loading facility. Lithium facilities must be constructed or a commercial source identified. In the long term, enrichment capabilities must be built to provide suitable low-enriched uranium fuel to produce tritium. If indeed the 2018 NPR is setting the NNSA on a course to build more weapons and new weapons, the NNSA budget must increase significantly.

Not mentioned at all in the NPR report is the cost, which could run into the low billions, to safely tear down the old buildings, such as building 9212 at the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, as the new buildings become operational. Transporting nuclear weapons, materials, and parts is also a mission not mentioned. Because funding for the new secure trailers for the Secure Transportation Asset program4 has been delayed, the new trailers will not be available until 2024, and the program is understaffed.

The fiscal year 2019 budget that President Donald Trump sent to Congress in February calls for $11 billion for NNSA weapons activities. That would be an increase of about $800 million, or 8 percent, from the fiscal year 2018 request and $1.8 billion more, a 20 percent jump, from the enacted funding for fiscal year 2017. It is not clear how much of those budget requests will be enacted by Congress, nor is it clear necessary increases will be sustained under future administrations.

Historically, neither Congress, the Department of Defense, nor the Office of Management and Budget have shown an inclination to fully fund the NNSA program of record, let alone the new initiatives such as those outlined in the 2018 NPR report. Even though the NNSA budget has increased by 60 percent since 2010, the efforts to address the decades of inattention to the infrastructure have not been fully funded. Similarly, stockpile surveillance work and the extremely successful Stockpile Stewardship Program have been cut back to support the ongoing warhead life extension programs.

The NNSA’s challenge is further complicated by an inability, imposed by Congress, to hire the skilled federal workforce needed to design and oversee implementation of the existing programs. Even though the NNSA’s work has grown significantly over the past five years, Congress continues to impose an arbitrary cap on federal staff at 1,690 employees.

The labs, plants, and the NNSA will need to recruit and train new staff and retain new and existing staff to carry out the life extension programs, maintain a robust Stockpile Stewardship Program, and take on the many new initiatives. Staffing efforts, including for the Secure Transportation Asset program, is further hindered by the year-long security clearance process, and the backlog is growing.

Although the 2018 NPR report puts considerable emphasis on the relatively low cost of nuclear deterrence in the overall defense budget, the NNSA’s entire budget already supports the spectrum of deterrence. There are no trade-offs and no untapped sources of funding.

A significant omission in the NPR report is how the NNSA will get the new funding. History has taught us that having the Defense Department move its money to the NNSA is not the answer. That approach, although well meaning, led to dissent and discord in the Defense Department-NNSA relationship. Only an increase in the overall defense budget, which includes the Defense Department and NNSA, can support the full range of efforts. Even the new low-yield weapon will be expensive, despite assertions in the NPR report that it will be easy, fast, and cheap.

The Defense Department must not neglect its efforts to maintain its nuclear enterprise and the existing delivery systems until the new platforms are fielded. This effort, started under Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, is essential to the long-term well-being of the nuclear enterprise. The well-documented loss of focus on all things nuclear starting with Operation Desert Storm forced the military services to devote resources, attention, and a renewed commitment to sustain the nuclear deterrent and the men and women who support it.

The NPR report includes language supporting this ongoing effort, which has already shown results. “The Service reforms we have accordingly implemented were long overdue, and the Department of Defense remains fully committed to properly supporting the Service members who protect the United States against nuclear threats.”

The 2018 NPR report also expresses strong support for upgrading the nuclear command, control, communications, and early-warning system known as NC3.5 Here again, efforts to revitalize the system have been underway for years, such as new secured protected communications and early-warning satellites, but funding is always a challenge, particularly for the related terminals and ground systems.

Role for Arms Control

Finally, the NPR report argues that “arms control can contribute to U.S., allied, and partner security by helping to manage strategic competition among states. By codifying mutually agreed-upon nuclear postures in a verifiable and enforceable manner, arms control can help establish a useful degree of cooperation and confidence among states. It can foster transparency, understanding, and predictability in adversary relations, thereby reducing the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation.”

New START meets these criteria. Extending New START, whose central limits were achieved on February 5 by Russia and the United States, would further support these goals. Russia has not shown any interest in a new treaty, but it did leave open the door for discussion to extend New START by five years, an option provided in the treaty. Discussions beginning this summer or fall to extend New START would go a long way toward demonstrating that arms control remains important.

Does the Trump administration NPR put an end to the decades-long reduction of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security and military strategy? Does it position the United States for a new nuclear arms race and a return to nuclear weapons testing after a 26-year moratorium? Is there the political and budgetary will to implement this new, more aggressive nuclear force posture and policy and its supporting infrastructure? Does the NPR report present an appropriate approach given an increasingly uncertain and competitive world? These questions need to be addressed as the administration’s newly released fiscal year 2019 budget request is considered by Congress.

ENDNOTES

1 Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review,” February 2018, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF; U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf.

2 Michael R. Gordon, “Russia Has Deployed Missile Barred by Treaty, U.S. General Tells Congress,” The New York Times, March 8, 2017.

3 “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” December 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf.

4 Office of Secure Transportation, National Nuclear Security Administration, “Ten-Year Site Plan FY2012 Through FY2021,” April 2011, https://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/inlinefiles/OST%20TYSP%202012-2021%20053111%20cjs.pdf.

5 U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications: Update on Air Force Oversight Effort and Selected Acquisition Programs,” GAO-17-641R, August 15, 2017.


Madelyn Creedon was the Department of Energy’s principal deputy administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration from 2014 to 2017 and was assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs from 2011 to 2014.

 

The new NPR comes with a high price tag. That is not the only issue.

Trump Seeks Expanded Nuclear Capabilities


March 2018
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report, unveiled Feb. 2, puts deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear strategic attacks at the top of the U.S. nuclear agenda and pivots away from a number of key Obama administration policy priorities and commitments that sought to lower reliance on nuclear weapons.

“[G]lobal threat conditions have worsened markedly since the most recent 2010 NPR, including increasingly explicit nuclear threats from potential adversaries,” states the review, citing Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. “The United States now faces a more diverse and advanced nuclear-threat environment than ever before.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (L), and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify on the Nuclear Posture Review before the House Armed Services Committee on February 6. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)The review, the fourth since the end of the Cold War, makes a case for what it presents as a more flexible, resilient, and adaptable U.S. nuclear posture to meet current and future challenges. But critics warn that the Trump administration is moving in ways that will be costly and potentially destabilizing.

Most controversially, the review addresses the circumstances under which the United States would consider the first use of nuclear weapons to include cyberattacks on critical infrastructure and attacks on nuclear command, control, and communications capabilities; calls for the development of two sea-based, low-yield nuclear options that do not currently exist in the arsenal; and gives relatively short shrift to arms control and nonproliferation.

Whether the NPR has the impact the administration intends is far from certain in light of questions in Congress about the need, effectiveness, and affordability of the strategy; opposition from rival powers Russia and China; and concerns about President Donald Trump’s intemperate and bellicose rhetoric on nuclear weapons.

The United States is “creating a brand-new nuclear force,” Trump said on Feb. 12. “[W]e’re gonna be so far ahead of everybody else in nuclear like you’ve never seen before.”

Since the end of the Cold War, each administration has conducted a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear policy. These strategy documents outline the president’s views on the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy, maintenance of and upgrades to nuclear forces, and the overall U.S. approach to nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.

The Obama administration’s review, completed in April 2010, concluded that the top priority of the U.S. nuclear agenda should be nonproliferation and prevention of nuclear terrorism. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report stated that “Russia and the United States are no longer adversaries” and that prospects for military confrontation have declined dramatically. (See ACT, May 2010.)

In a January 2017 executive order, Trump directed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to produce a national defense strategy, an NPR, and a ballistic missile defense review. Mattis initiated the NPR in April 2017. (See ACT, May 2017.) A draft of the document was leaked to the Huffington Post on Jan. 11, nearly a month before the planned release date. The final draft largely mirrored the leaked version.

Reactions Mixed

The NPR report contains elements of continuity with long-standing U.S. nuclear policy, such as affirming the strategic triad of land- and sea-based missiles and bombers, continuing the moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, and stating that deterrence of nuclear attack is not the sole purpose for U.S. nuclear weapons.

“This review is consistent with U.S. nuclear policies since the end of the Cold War,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan at a Feb. 2 press briefing. “It reaffirms that the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear policy is deterrence and continues our clear commitment to nonproliferation and arms control.”

But several of the proposed changes in the review have sparked controversy. Critics fear that the changes reverse decades of efforts to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy, increase the risk of nuclear conflict, and add to the crushing financial burden to sustain and upgrade the arsenal in the coming decades.

In a Jan. 29 letter to Trump based on the leaked version of the document, 16 Democratic senators wrote that “creating new nuclear capabilities and widening their possible use constitute an increase in America’s nuclear warfighting capacity that will pressure other nuclear weapons states to follow suit.” The senators criticized the document for failing to address how the administration plans to pay for new nuclear capabilities “on top of the already-unsustainable costs of modernizing our existing U.S. nuclear forces.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated last fall that the plans Trump inherited from Obama to maintain and upgrade the arsenal over the next 30 years would cost $1.2 trillion in current dollars. (See ACT, December 2017.)

The NPR report acknowledges that the upgrade costs are “substantial,” but claims that they are affordable and, at their projected peak in the late 2020s, will consume no more than 6.4 percent of the Pentagon budget. This estimate does not include the additional costs that must be borne by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to upgrade nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure.

Republican lawmakers have generally expressed support for the recommendations in the NPR report. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a Feb. 2 statement that the review “takes a number of steps in the right direction.”

“[S]ince the end of the Cold War, we have let our nuclear capabilities atrophy under the false belief that the era of great power competition was over,” McCain added.

As with Congress, the reception to the NPR report among allies has also been mixed.

“Japan highly appreciates the latest NPR which clearly articulates the U.S. resolve to ensure the effectiveness of its deterrence and its commitment to providing extended deterrence to its allies including Japan,” said Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono in a Feb. 3 statement.

But German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel blasted the NPR report. “The U.S. administration’s decision to develop new tactical nuclear weapons shows that the spiral of a new nuclear arms race has already been set in motion,” he said Feb. 4. “We need new disarmament initiatives rather than new arms systems.”

Meanwhile, Russia and China reacted harshly. The Russian Foreign Ministry stated on Feb. 3 that “the document is focused on confrontation and is anti-Russian” and the claim that Russia has increased its reliance on nuclear weapons has no “connection with reality.” The following day, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman reiterated China’s commitment that it will not use nuclear weapons first and said that Beijing hopes “the U.S. side will discard its ‘cold-war mentality’ [and] shoulder its own special and primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament.”

Updated Roles

The NPR report says that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It also includes a so-called negative security assurance that Washington “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.”

The 2010 NPR report used identical language. Yet, unlike the previous administration, the Trump administration defines “extreme circumstances” to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The document does not explicitly define “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” but at various points says it could include chemical and biological weapons attacks, large-scale conventional aggression, and cyberattacks. The report references the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks more than 30 times.

The 2010 NPR report, in contrast, described “a narrow range of contingencies” in which nuclear weapons may play a role in deterring a conventional, chemical, or biological weapons attack and called for reducing the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks. Cyberattacks or attacks on nuclear command, control, and communications capabilities were not cited as grounds for a nuclear response.

The 2018 NPR report also caveats the negative security assurance by retaining “the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies and U.S. capabilities to counter that threat.”

The Trump administration argues that the new revised language on declaratory policy does not signal an expansion of the circumstances under which the president would consider nuclear first use but rather makes explicit threats that have always been implicit.

“The Obama policy didn’t rule out anything as a potential extreme circumstance,” Greg Weaver, deputy director of strategic capabilities for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon before the release of the NPR report. “Our intent is to clarify the kinds of things that might constitute extreme circumstance so adversaries don’t miscalculate and cross that threshold unwittingly.”

But some analysts warn that the language of the NPR report could have the effect of lowering the bar for first use of nuclear weapons and that threatening such use in response to cyberattacks or attacks on U.S. command and control capabilities would lack credibility.

The review “opens questions about whether the United States would consider using [nuclear] weapons more readily than it might have in the past or in response to attacks that are less than fully catastrophic,” Rebecca Hersman, a former Pentagon official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a Feb. 6 commentary.

Using nuclear weapons in response to attacks on command and control capabilities would “violate any notion of proportionality,” argued James Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a Feb. 5 article for the War on the Rocks website. “Russian or Chinese non-nuclear strikes on U.S. satellites would almost certainly cause no human casualties.”

New Nuclear Capabilities

The NPR report calls for the development of two additional low-yield nuclear capabilities, primarily to counter Russia’s alleged willingness to use or threaten to use its much larger arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons to stave off defeat in a conventional conflict or crisis, a strategy known as “escalate to de-escalate.”

These “supplements,” as the report describes them, include the near-term deployment of low-yield nuclear warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and, in the longer term, development of a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM).

According to the report, the development of the two options “is not intended to enable, nor does it enable, ‘nuclear war-fighting.’”

“Rather,” the report argues, “expanding U.S. tailored response options will raise the nuclear threshold and help ensure that potential adversaries perceive no possible advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear weapons employment less likely.”

Critics maintain that the report misconstrues Russian nuclear doctrine and that additional low-yield options are unnecessary. “Rather than lowering the threshold of nuclear use, the Russians are actively seeking to increase it,” wrote Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, a fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, in a Feb. 13 article.

Other analysts have noted that the United States already possesses two types of low-yield warheads for delivery by strategic bombers, making redundant the NPR report’s proposed third and fourth low-yield options.

The Defense Department’s budget request for fiscal year 2019 released on Feb. 12 includes $22.6 million for developing a low-yield SLBM option. The request does not contain funding for a new SLCM. The NNSA budget request does not include additional funds to modify SLBM warheads or to begin development of a warhead for the SLCM.

The NPR also seeks to retain the B83-1 gravity bomb, the only remaining megaton-class warhead in the U.S. stockpile. The decision reverses the Obama administration’s proposal that the warhead be retired once confidence in the under-development B61-12 gravity bomb is achieved.

The plan to keep the B83-1 bomb is part of a larger proposed expansion of NNSA nuclear weapons work that the NPR report says would provide “capabilities needed to quickly produce new or additional weapons” beyond the estimated 4,000 warheads currently in the active U.S. nuclear stockpile.

The administration requested $11.2 billion for the NNSA nuclear weapons account in fiscal year 2019, an increase of $780 million over last year’s request and $1.8 billion over the fiscal year 2017 appropriation.

Arms Control Takes a Back Seat

The NPR report states that “the United States will remain receptive to future arms control negotiations if conditions permit” and if such accords “advance U.S. and allied security, are verifiable, and enforceable.” It adds that the administration “will continue to pursue the political and security conditions that could enable further nuclear reductions.”

But the report does not offer any proposals to advance U.S.-Russian arms control or address the growing challenges to strategic stability more broadly. It also does not commit to an extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is slated to expire in 2021. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

In addition, the report says, without offering a reason, that the administration will not pursue ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

“One of the things that’s missing in this NPR is a focus on nuclear diplomacy,” said Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy, in a Jan. 18 interview with WNYC New York Public Radio. “How are we going to get to our goals of reducing the dangers, reducing arsenals, reducing the role of nuclear weapons?”

 

Nuclear Posture Reviews, Then and Now

The Trump administration's Nuclear Posture Review is the fourth since the end of the Cold War. It differs from the Obama administration's 2010 review in some key areas.

IssueObama, 2010Trump, 2018
Conditions for nuclear useUnder “extreme circumstances” to defend U.S. and allies’ “vital interests”; policy to reduce nuclear role in deterring non-nuclear attacks with the goal of achieving sole-purpose nuclear deterrence“Extreme circumstances” include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” on United States or ally population, infrastructure, nuclear forces, and/or command and control capabilities; no reference to reducing nuclear weapons’ role or implementing sole-purpose policy
Negative security assurancesUnited States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states in compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT); contains caveat if biological
weapons threat advances
United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states in compliance with NPT; contains caveat if non-nuclear strategic threat advances
Arms reductionsNew START, 1,550 strategic deployed warheads; calls for future reductions to include nondeployed and tactical weaponsSupports New START implementation though 2021, silent on possible five-year extension; open to future arms control if conditions permit and it enhances U.S. and allied security, is verifiable,
and enforceable
New weapons and testingRatify Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); no nuclear testing; no new weapons development; no new missions for nuclear weaponsOpposes CTBT ratification; calls for development of additional low-yield options and ability to rapidly prototype new weapons designs
 

 

The Nuclear Posture Review marks significant change from the Obama years.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - U.S. Nuclear Policy & Budget