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I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
U.S. Nuclear Policy & Budget

U.S., Russia Meet New START Limits


The United States and Russia met their obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by the February 2018 deadline. The treaty required each country, using agreed counting rules, to reduce its strategic nuclear stockpiles to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and bombs, along with 700 deployed and 800 total delivery vehicles by Feb. 5, 2018.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Feb. 5 that the country had 1,444 warheads, with 527 deployed and 779 total delivery vehicles. In a State Department press release Feb. 22, the United States said it had 1,350 warheads, with 652 deployed and 800 total delivery vehicles. Since the treaty entered into force in 2011, the countries have exchanged more than 14,700 notifications related to the location, movement, and disposition of nuclear weapons and conducted 252 on-site weapons inspections.

In its press release, however, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed dissatisfaction with the U.S. commitment to New START, stating that the United States had reconfigured several Trident II submarine ballistic missile launchers and B-52H bombers in such a way that it “could not confirm that these strategic arms have been rendered incapable of employing nuclear armaments” in accordance with treaty procedures. Russia also accused the United States of “arbitrarily” converting some underground missile launch facilities into indistinguishable “training launch facilities.”

New START expires Feb. 5, 2021, but may be extended until 2026 under the treaty terms. Its future is murky, given President Donald Trump’s denunciation of the agreement as “one sided.” (See ACT, March 2017.) Russia’s interest in an extension may be waning, with an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing skepticism about negotiating in light of tense relations.—RYAN FEDASIUK

U.S., Russia Meet New START Limits

The New U.S. Nuclear Strategy is Flawed and Dangerous. Here’s Why.

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Volume 10, Issue 3, February 15, 2018

In December 2016, President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” and later told MSNBC that he would “outmatch” and “outlast” other potential competitors in a nuclear arms race. The comments mostly prompted condemnation in the United States and around the world and raised concerns about the direction the president would take U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

U.S. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Paul Selva (L), arrives at a closed briefing before the Senate Armed Service Committee January 23, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a closed briefing on the Nuclear Posture Review. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)Those concerns, it turns out, were well justified.

The Defense Department released Feb. 2 a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the fourth since the end of the Cold War. The NPR is a strategy document that outlines the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy, the plans for maintaining and upgrading nuclear forces, and the overall U.S. approach to nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.

Though there are, not surprisingly, elements of continuity with previous reviews, the proposed changes in the new NPR are significant and align with Trump’s more aggressive and impulsive nuclear notions. The document incorporates wish list items long-advocated by parts of the nuclear weapons establishment and breaks with past U.S. efforts to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons worldwide in several key areas.

It is true that the international security environment is less favorable than it was in 2010 when the Obama administration conducted its NPR. Some of the other nuclear-armed states have not been responsible nuclear citizens. Technology is advancing in new and unpredictable ways. And the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal— originally built during the Cold War-era and refurbished since—is aging.

But these developments do not justify the approach advanced in this NPR.

The review proposes to expand the circumstances under which Trump might consider the use of nuclear weapons, including in response to so-called “non-nuclear strategic threats” and calls for the development of new, more usable nuclear weapons capabilities.

The review also walks back from the longstanding U.S. leadership role on arms control and nonproliferation at a time when the global nuclear weapons risk reduction enterprise is facing significant challenges.

Taken together, these and other changes in the Trump Nuclear Posture Review rest on faulty assumptions, are unnecessary and unlikely to achieve their stated goal, set the stage for an even more unsustainable rate of spending on U.S. nuclear weapons, would accelerate global nuclear competition, and could increase the risk of nuclear conflict in the years ahead.

Wider Range of Nuclear Use Options

Instead of deemphasizing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy as previous NPRs have done, the Trump NPR envisions a greater role for the weapons against a wider range of threats. Trump administration officials claim that their NPR is consistent with the 2010 Obama NPR on declaratory policy. Both in tone and substance, it is not.

The 2018 NPR says that the first use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies (p. 21). The 2010 NPR used identical language. Unlike the previous administration, however, the Trump administration defines extreme circumstances more broadly 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 attacks, large-scale conventional aggression, and cyberattacks. The review references the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks over 30 times.

The 2010 NPR, on the other hand, described “a narrow range of contingencies” in which nuclear weapons may play a role in deterring "a conventional or CBW attack.” There was no reference to cyberattacks or attacks on nuclear command, control, and communications capabilities anywhere in the 2010 document.

“This opens questions,” writes former Pentagon official Rebecca Hersman, “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.”

In addition, the 2010 NPR stated that the United States “will continue to strengthen conventional capabilities and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks, with the objective of making deterrence of nuclear attack on the United States or our allies and partners the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons.”

Indeed, by the end of his second term of office President Obama believed that goal had effectively been achieved. As then Vice President Joe Biden put it in remarks delivered 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. President Obama and I are confident we can deter and defend ourselves and our allies against non-nuclear threats through other means.”

In contrast, the new NPR explicitly rejects the idea of “sole purpose” (p. 20). The review extols ambiguity and proposes two new low-yield nuclear capabilities to “expand the range of credible U.S. options for responding to nuclear or non-nuclear strategic attack” (p. 55).

The Trump NPR diverges from the Obama NPR on declaratory policy in still other ways.

The 2010 review updated and strengthened the U.S. pledge of nonuse against non-nuclear-weapon states that are in good standing with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations, even in the unlikely event that one of those states attacks the United States or its allies with chemical or biological weapons. This revised negative security assurance expanded the security benefits for non-nuclear-weapon states of good faith membership in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.

The 2018 NPR reiterates this pledge but undermines the value of this 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” (p. 21).

It is notable that President Trump argued in his 2018 State of the Union address that “we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else.”

This approach represents a clear shift away from past U.S. strategy and practice that aims to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. military and foreign policy. The 2010 NPR stated that the “fundamental role” of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack against the United States or its allies, not “any act of aggression.”

The proposed changes in the 2018 NPR on the role of nuclear weapons are real. And they are dangerous.

Threatening nuclear retaliation to counter new kinds of “asymmetric” attacks would lower the threshold for nuclear use, increase the risks of miscalculation, and make it easier for other countries to justify excessive roles for nuclear weapons in their policies. Such threats are also unlikely to be proportional and therefore would be difficult to make credible. For example, though a kinetic or nonkinetic attack on U.S. nuclear command and control capabilities, which support both nuclear and non-nuclear missions, could have major repercussions, such an attack is unlikely to result in any human casualties.

Given the overall conventional superiority of the U.S.-led alliance system, it is in the U.S. interest to raise, not lower, the bar for nuclear use. A more prudent approach to countering potential non-nuclear attacks on U.S. infrastructure and command and control capabilities would include strengthening the resilience of these systems against cyberattack and ensuring the availability of credible symmetric and asymmetric conventional response options.

New, “More Usable” Nuclear Weapons

The Trump NPR calls for the development of new low-yield nuclear capabilities, primarily to counter Russia’s alleged willingness to use nuclear weapons first on a limited basis early in a conventional conflict or crisis (also known as “escalate to deescalate”). The review warns that Russia maintains a much larger arsenal of "non-strategic" nuclear weapons than the United States and is upgrading those weapons.

To attempt to correct Russia's purported "mistaken impression" that its non-strategic forces could "provide a coercive advantage in crises or at lower levels of conflict," the review proposes to supplement the U.S. arsenal with the following capabilities:

  • the near-term deployment of a new low-yield, W76-1 nuclear warhead variant for the D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and
  • the longer-term development of a new nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM).

To counter Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the review also seeks a new (for the time being conventional) ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) that would, if tested and deployed, put the U.S. in violation of the treaty.

The shortcomings in the rationale for additional low-yield options are too numerous to count.

For starters, the claim that Russia has lowered the threshold for the first use of nuclear weapons is hotly disputed. While Russia appears to rely more heavily on nuclear weapons for its security than the United States due to its overall conventional inferiority and concerns about U.S. missile defenses, is violating the INF Treaty, and developing new types of nuclear weapons, Russia’s official nuclear doctrine does not support the claim that it has an “escalate to deescalate” doctrine. As Jeffrey Edmonds, a former director for Russia on the National Security Council, has written, “If the Russian leadership decides to use nuclear weapons in a limited way to gain escalation control, then it is likely doing so as a last measure, reacting from a perception that the Russian state is about to fall.”

In fact, what is far more likely to prompt Russian President Vladimir Putin to perceive that he could get away with limited nuclear use is past and future statements by President Trump questioning the value of NATO and U.S. alliances. Deploying additional low-yield nuclear options won’t solve this political problem.

In any event, the review fails to produce compelling evidence that Russia might believe the United States would be self-deterred from using the weapons in its current arsenal (conventional or nuclear) in response to a limited Russian nuclear attack. Speaking of the weapons in its current arsenal, Washington already possesses hundreds of low-yield warheads as part of the air-leg of the triad and plans to invest over $150 billion in the coming decades to ensure these warheads can penetrate the most advanced air defenses. New low-yield options are a solution in search of a problem.

The NPR argues that additional low-yield options are “not intended to enable” nuclear war-fighting “[n]or will it lower the nuclear threshold” (p. 54). But this assertion ignores the fact that the stated purpose is to make their use “more credible” in the eyes of U.S. adversaries, which means that they are meant to be seen as “more usable.”

The belief that a nuclear conflict could be controlled is dangerous thinking. The fog of war is thick, the fog of nuclear war would be even thicker. Such thinking could also have the perverse effect of convincing Russia that it could get away with limited nuclear use without putting its survival at risk.

Many military targets are in or near urban areas. It has been estimated that the use of even a fraction of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces could lead to the death of tens of millions of people in each country. An all-out exchange would kill hundreds of millions and produce catastrophic global consequences with adverse agricultural, economic, health, and environmental consequences for billions of people.

No country should be preparing to wage a “limited nuclear war” that neither side can guarantee would remain “limited.” Rather, as Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev declared in 1985, today’s Russian and U.S. leaders should recognize that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.”

Even if one buys the rationale that more low-yield options are needed, the two new nuclear capabilities proposed by the review are deeply flawed.

Given that U.S. strategic submarines currently carry SLBMs armed with higher-yield warheads, how would Russia know that an incoming missile armed with a low-yield warhead wasn’t actually armed with high-yield warheads? The answer is it wouldn’t, thereby increasing the risks of unintended escalation.

Deploying nuclear SLCMs on U.S. surface ships and/or attack submarines also raises several concerns. The potential for miscalculation would increase since an adversary would be unable to determine if an incoming missile is armed with a nuclear or conventional warhead. And the Navy is unlikely to be pleased with the additional operational and financial burdens that would come with nuclearizing the surface and/or attack submarine fleet.

The NPR claims that development of a new nuclear SLCM, which would take nearly decade, could serve as a bargaining chip in future arms control negotiations with Russia. The document states that if Moscow “returns to compliance with its arms control obligations, reduces its non-strategic nuclear arsenal, and corrects its other destabilizing behaviors, the United States may reconsider the pursuit of a SLCM” (p. 55). This requirement is so sweeping that it lacks any realistic negotiating value. It’s also not clear how additional nuclear options would be useful bargaining chips given Russia’s concerns about overall NATO conventional superiority.

Ultimately, attempting to mimic Russia by developing more low-yield options would play into Moscow's hands, since it can match NATO in the nuclear sphere. The main deterrence challenge Russia poses to the alliance is not nuclear. That means the United States should continue to invest in maintaining its overall conventional edge, buttress defenses as needed on NATO’s eastern flank where Russia has local superiority, and more effectively defend against and respond to Russia's use of disinformatin, propoganda, and cyber tools to undermine western democratic institutions. At the same time, it should seek opportunities to engage with Moscow to reduce tensions and the risk of renewed military competition.

Undermining the Taboo Against Nuclear Testing

The NPR asserts that “the United States does not support the ratification of the [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] CTBT” (p. 63) even though the United States and 182 other nations have signed the treaty, and even though there is no technical need to resume nuclear testing. No reason or justification for rejecting the goal of CTBT ratification is provided.

The review says that “the United States will continue to support the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Preparatory Committee” and “the related International Monitoring System and the International Data Center.” It also calls upon other states not to conduct nuclear testing and states that “[t]he United States will not resume nuclear explosive testing unless necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the U.S. arsenal.”

But the NPR proclaims that the United States will remain ready to “resume nuclear testing if necessary to meet severe technological or geopolitical challenges.”

The NPR also seeks “to reduce the time required to design, develop, and initially produce a warhead, from a decision to enter full-scale development.” An annual National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) report released in November 2017 shortens the previous readiness timeline to conduct a “simple [nuclear] test” explosion from 24 to 36 months down to six to 10 months, undermining the global nuclear testing taboo. This shortened timeline means that should the United States decide to conduct a “simple test” explosion, it should be prepared to do so within six to 10 months.

While the NNSA report and the NPR both reaffirm that “there is no current requirement to conduct an underground nuclear test,” the administration’s hasty rejection of CTBT ratification, combined with the NNSA’s revised testing readiness timeline suggests the Trump administration only wants to reap the benefits of the treaty, including the data from the monitoring system, while leaving the door open to resuming nuclear testing.

A Nuclear Force That is Excessive and Unsustainable

The Trump NPR’s proposals to develop new nuclear capabilities come on top of the existing nuclear triad recapitalization program of record that the Trump administration inherited from its predecessor. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the Obama-era plans would cost over $1.2 trillion (excluding the impact of inflation) over the next 30 years.

Massive spending on nuclear weapons on the scale and schedule envisioned by the 2018 NPR will pose a major threat to other high priority national security programs, to say nothing about Trump’s pledge to expand the non-nuclear military. What makes the growing cost to sustain the nuclear mission so worrisome for military planners is that costs are scheduled to reach a peak during the mid-2020s and overlap with large increases in projected spending on conventional weapon system modernization programs. Though the recent budget deal agreed to in Congress has improved the near-term outlook for defense spending, the Pentagon is likely to face continuing budget pressure in the future.

The NPR acknowledges that the upgrade costs are “substantial” but attempts to downplay them by claiming that nuclear weapons will “only” consume more than 6.4 percent of the defense budget (p. 52). This projection does not include the major costs that must be borne by NNSA to upgrade nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure.

The review offers no plan to pay for the rising price tag to upgrade the triad and the coming bow wave of non-nuclear modernization costs. It also fails to examine more pragmatic, cost-effective alternatives.

The force outlined in the NPR calls for maintaining and upgrading U.S. nuclear forces at levels that exceed the deterrence requirements outlined by the Pentagon in 2013, which determined that the deployed strategic arsenal could be reduced by up to one-third below the limits set by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) of 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems. Even if the United States maintains its arsenal at the New START levels, it can do so at a significantly lower cost, according to the CBO.

Planning for an Arms Race

President Trump said Feb. 12 that the United States is “creating a brand new nuclear force...[W]e’re gonna be so far ahead of everybody else in nuclear like you’ve never seen before.” The NPR comports with the president’s stated objective by laying the groundwork to provide “capabilities needed to quickly produce new or additional weapons” beyond the 4,000 warheads currently in the active U.S. nuclear stockpile (pgs. 59-64).

One measure of the scale of the plan for building “new or additional weapons” is given in the commitment to “[p]rovide the enduring capability and capacity to produce plutonium pits [nuclear warhead cores] at a rate of no fewer than 80 pits per year by 2030” (p. 62). No basis is offered for this minimum capacity target.

The NPR also calls for options to expand the arsenal by using old warheads, including “modifying warheads,” assessing “the potential for retired warheads and components to augment the future hedge stockpile,” and reducing “the time required to design, develop, and initially produce a warhead, from a decision to enter full-scale development” (p. 63).

In addition, the review proposes to accelerate the life extension programs for the W78 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and W80-1 air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) warheads. It leaves open the option of whether to pursue Obama-era plans to develop common, interoperable warheads for ICBMs and SLBMs. The new NPR also appears to want to keep indefinitely the B83-1 warhead (the only remaining U.S. megaton-class warhead). The previous plan had been to retire it once confidence in the B61-12 had been achieved, if not sooner. In 2013 NNSA estimated that the cost to life extend the B83 would be $4 to $5 billion.

The NPR says that the Pentagon will undertake research and development “for advanced nuclear delivery system technology and prototyping capabilities,” including “on the rapid development of nuclear delivery systems, alternative basing modes, and capabilities for defeating advanced air and missile defenses” (p. 40). This sweeping language suggests the possible pursuit of research and development on mobile ICBMs and hypersonic missiles for nuclear weapons delivery.

These buildup plans go far beyond those proposed by the Obama administration, which married its proposal to develop a more responsive nuclear infrastructure with pledges to reduce the size of the stockpile of nondeployed hedge warheads and accelerate the rate of dismantlement of retired warheads. The Trump NPR does not reiterate these commitments.

The NPR gives short shrift to the additional financial and operational demands preparing for an arms race will put on an already overburdened NNSA. Though NNSA would receive a significant budget increase in the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request, such a buildup is unlikely to be executable.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office report issued last year, the “NNSA’s plans to modernize its nuclear weapons do not align with its budget, raising affordability concerns.” And former NNSA administrator Frank Klotz said in a Jan. 23 interview just two days after leaving office that the agency is “working pretty much at full capacity... And you can draw your conclusion [on the Trump NPR proposals] from that.”

Nevertheless, the NPR makes an open-ended commitment to unleashing a nuclear weapon buildup whenever the U.S. sees fit. It is a clear incitement to other weapon states to do the same, and a clear violation of the NPT obligation to end the arms race and pursue effective disarmament measures.

Undermines U.S. Arms Control and Nonproliferation Leadership

In his January 2018 State of the Union address, Trump dismissed the idea of the elimination of nuclear weapons — a goal embraced by American President’s since the beginning of the nuclear age— as some “magical moment in the distant future.”

President Trump added Feb. 12: “Frankly I’d like to get rid of a lot of ‘em [nuclear weapons]. And if they [other nuclear-armed states] want to do that we’ll go along with them. We won’t lead the way, we’ll go along with them.”

Not surprisingly, the new Trump NPR does not proactively seek negotiations to limit nuclear arms.

Arms control only gets a brief mention at the end of the NPR and it’s a generally dismissive mention at that. The document passively states that “the United States will remain receptive to future arms control negotiations if conditions permit” and negotiations that “advance U.S. and allied security, are verifiable, and enforceable.” No previous nuclear arms control agreement has included enforcement measures.

In contrast, a major and important theme throughout the 2010 NPR was that “by reducing the role and numbers of U.S. nuclear weapons…we can put ourselves in a much better position to persuade our NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] partners to join with us in adopting the measures needed to reinvigorate the nonproliferation regime and secure nuclear materials worldwide.”

The 2018 NPR does state that the “United States will continue efforts to create a more cooperative and benign security environment” (p. 24) and that “the United States will continue to pursue the political and security conditions that could enable further nuclear reductions” (p. 95).

But the review offers next to nothing in the way of proposals to advance particularly U.S.-Russian arms control efforts and address the growing challenges to strategic stability more broadly. As Michele Flournoy, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, put in a Jan. 18 interview:

“One of the things that’s missing in this NPR is a focus on nuclear diplomacy. How are we going to get to our goals of reducing the dangers, reducing arsenals, reducing the role of nuclear weapons, what’s the strategy there? There’s virtually no discussion of the arms control component of U.S. nuclear policy in this document.”

“The NPR essentially abandons the United States' leadership role in nonproliferation and arms control that have marked every president since Dwight Eisenhower,” noted Tom Countryman, former Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation, in a Jan. 23 Arms Control Association briefing on the NPR.

On the one bilateral strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty that is currently in force—New START—the NPR does not commit its possible extension, despite the obvious benefits.

New START has improved strategic stability, predictability, and transparency, and verifiably trimmed the still oversized U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. At a time when U.S.-Russian relations remain strained, New START, which is set to expire in 2021, serves an even more important role in reducing nuclear risks.

The next step should be for Presidents Trump and Putin to agree to extend the treaty for another five years–to 2026. If New START is allowed to lapse in 2021 with nothing to replace it, there would be no limits on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces for the first time since 1972. The United States would have fewer tools with which to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile.

Flawed Assumptions

Several of the arguments offered in the NPR for expanding the diversity and role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy are highly misleading.

  • The Trump plan is centered on the mistaken belief that the United States is falling behind other countries in the fielding of a reliable and credible nuclear arsenal and it claims that there are gaps in our ability to “credibly” threaten to wage nuclear war. In reality, there is no “nuclear missile gap.” The United States is not falling “behind.” The U.S. arsenal is the most potent in the world and is more than intimidating enough to deter nuclear attack by others—and if ever used—kill hundreds of millions of people.
  • The Trump nuclear plan falsely suggests that U.S. leadership on nuclear disarmament has not contributed to nonproliferation efforts or enhanced U.S. global standing. In reality, the commitment of the nuclear-armed states to halt the arms race and achieve nuclear disarmament established in the NPT has been crucial to preventing proliferation and was essential to the non-nuclear weapon states decision extend the NPT indefinitely in 1995.
  • The Trump nuclear plan argues that the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been “polarizing” and “could damage the nuclear nonproliferation regime.” In reality, it is nuclear weapons, and U.S. threats of “fire and fury,” that are dangerous and divisive. This more aggressive U.S. nuclear posture gives other nuclear actors a cynical excuse to justify their ongoing nuclear upgrade efforts and build up their own nuclear capabilities. The “Nuclear Ban Treaty,” on the other hand, is a good faith effort by more than 130 states to meet their responsibility as signatories of NPT to help end the arms race. Steps, like the Ban Treaty, aimed at reducing the risk of catastrophic nuclear weapons use are necessary and should be welcomed.

Bottom Line

Despite elements of continuity with previous administrations, the Trump NPR is not a status quo document.

Rather than develop new nuclear roles and capabilities and put additional strain on an already wobbly global nuclear order, the United States needs to show more responsible nuclear leadership.

It will be up to Congress, U.S. allies, the international community, and ultimately the U.S. public to ensure that Trump’s radical nuclear plans do not become the tipping point toward a new and more dangerous nuclear era.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, and KINGSTON A. REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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In December 2016, President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” prompting condemnation in the United States and around the world. Those concerns, it turns out, were well justified.

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Arms Control Association Hails New START Milestone, Calls for Extending Treaty

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For Immediate Release: February 5, 2018

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

(Washington, D.C.)—Today, the United States and Russia each announced that they have met their obligations under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces by today’s implementation deadline.

President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia sign the New START Treaty during a ceremony at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, April 8, 2010. (Photo: White House / Chuck Kennedy / Wikimedia Commons)“New START implementation is a significant accomplishment. Through this treaty, the two sides have improved strategic stability, predictability, and transparency, and verifiably trimmed their still oversized nuclear arsenals,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which advocated for the treaty’s negotiation a decade ago and for its ratification in 2010.

“The next step is for Presidents Trump and Putin to agree to extend the treaty for another five years–to 2026–to avert the possibility of unconstrained strategic nuclear competition between the world’s two largest nuclear actors,” Kimball said.

“At a time when U.S.-Russian relations remain strained, New START serves an even more important role in reducing nuclear risks,” said Tom Countryman, chairman of the board of directors and former acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

“Continued implementation and compliance with New START, followed by an extension of New START and, if possible, the negotiation of a follow-on agreement, would advance U.S., Russian and international security,” he said.

Signed in 2010, New START requires each country to reduce its strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed delivery systems, and 800 deployed and nondeployed delivery systems by today’s implementation deadline. New START also includes a comprehensive suite of data exchanges and on-site monitoring and verification provisions to help ensure compliance with these limits.

The United States reached the required limits in August 2017. As of the last data exchange in September 2017, the United States had 1393 deployed strategic warheads, 660 deployed strategic delivery systems, and 800 deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers.”

In a statement published Monday, the State Department said that Washington and Moscow “will exchange data on their respective strategic nuclear arsenals within the next month, as they have done twice per year over the last seven years in accordance with the Treaty.”

In a separate statement issued by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia announced that as of Monday it deploys 1,444 deployed strategic warheads, 527 deployed strategic delivery systems, and 779 deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers.

The treaty is one of the few remaining bright spots in the U.S.-Russian relationship, as both sides have abided by its terms. The U.S. military agrees and continues to strongly support the agreement. Gen. John Hyten, who leads U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress in March that he is a “big supporter” of New START. Hyten added that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”

New START is set to expire Feb. 5, 2021, and can be extended by up to five years without further approval by the U.S. Senate or Russian Duma if both presidents agree. Russian officials have stated that they are open to discussing a five-year extension. The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review released last week does not take a position on the extension of the treaty.

“Unfortunately, President Trump has been dismissive of New START,” noted Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy.

In a January 2017 phone call, Trump responded negatively to a suggestion from Russian President Vladimir Putin that the two countries work to extend the treaty, according to a Reuters report.

“Failing to extend New START would be an unforced and self-defeating error,” Reif warned.

“If the New START is allowed to lapse with nothing to replace it, there would be no limits on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces for the first time since 1972. The United States would have fewer tools with which to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile,” he said.

The deterioration of the U.S.-Russian relationship has only increased the value of New START. Other key pillars of the U.S.-Russia arms control architecture, like the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, are in jeopardy. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of testing a type of ground-launch cruise missile prohibited by that accord–a charge that Moscow denies. Bilateral discussions on the matter have not yet resolved the dispute.

Despite the benefits of New START to U.S. security, some Congressional critics of the treaty have tried to block its extension. The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act would have prohibited the use of funds to extend New START unless Russia returns to compliance with the INF Treaty.

“This is senseless and counterproductive. By ‘punishing’ Russia’s INF violation in this way, the United States would simply free Russia to expand the number of strategic nuclear weapons pointed at the United States after New START expires in 2021,” Reif says. “Fortunately, the final version of the authorization bill signed by Trump in December did not include the House language,” he added.

“Extending New START would be an easy win for President Trump,” Kimball said. “It would buy five additional years of much-needed stability, predictability, and transparency. It would help head off unconstrained U.S.-Russia nuclear competition. It would help reassure allies unsettled by both Trump and Putin loose rhetoric on nuclear weapons. And it could serve as a springboard for both sides to pursue further parallel, reciprocal reductions in their still bloated strategic nuclear arsenals, which stand at about 1,550 warheads each.”

The five most recent U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, all successfully negotiated agreements with Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles.

“As the possessors of over 90 percent of the roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, the United States and Russia have a special responsibility to avoid direct conflict and reduce nuclear risks,” Countryman said. “The downward spiral in relations makes these objectives even more urgent. Extending New START—without either side asking for preconditions—would be an important down payment on a safer and more secure world.”

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New START implementation has improved strategic stability, predictability, and transparency, and verifiably trimmed still oversized nuclear arsenals. The next step is to extend the treaty for five years to avert the possibility of unconstrained strategic nuclear competition between the world’s two largest nuclear actors.

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Press Briefing: The Trump Administration's New Nuclear Posture Review

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018
1:00 to 2:30 p.m.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC

The transcript of the event is posted below.


Press Briefing with Thomas Countryman, Joan Rohlfing, Jon Wolfsthal, and Kingston Reif. (Photo: Arms Control Association/ ALLEN HARRIS)The Trump administration will soon formally release its revised strategy document on the role and composition of U.S. nuclear forces, known as the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

According to a leaked draft of the 64-page document, the administration calls for expanding the number of scenarios under which the United States might consider the use nuclear weapons—including in response to a major cyberattack—and it proposes the development of new nuclear weapons and capabilities for “tailored” war scenarios.

The document also reaffirms support for replacing and upgrading all three legs of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which is estimated to cost in excess of $1.25 trillion over the next 30 years and walks back U.S. commitments to pursue measures to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons.

The independent, nonpartisan Arms Control Association hosted a briefing with top experts to analyze the implications of the Trump administration's nuclear strategy. The transcript and audio recording is below.

Speakers included:

  • Jon Wolfsthal, former Senior Director, National Security Council
  • Thomas Countryman, Chairman of the Board; and
  • Joan Rohlfing, President, Nuclear Threat Initiative
  • Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament Policy, Arms Control Association (moderator)

PHOTOS:  Available here. Usage requires attribution to the Arms Control Association. 

AUDIO RECORDING: Listen here.

TRANSCRIPT:

KINGSTON REIF: Well, good afternoon everyone and welcome to today's event on the Trump Administration's Nuclear Posture Review. My name is Kingston Reif and I am the Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy at the Arms Control Association.

As most of you know, the Arms Control Association is an independent nonpartisan membership organization. We were established in 1971 and we're dedicated to reducing and eliminating the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons, namely nuclear, chemical, biological weapons as well as certain conventional weapons that pose particular harm and risk to civilians.

Outside the room, you'll find copies of two of our recent issues of our flagship publication, "Arms Control Today," which include commentaries on the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review.

So, when we first conceived of this event, we anticipated previewing possible key outcomes of the NPR and the implications based on fragments of reporting and intelligence, and little did we know that a full pre-decisional draft of the document would leak, which now provides us the opportunity to discuss and analyze the review itself and the Pentagon, as we understand it, is formally slated to release the NPR in early February and the date that we are hearing is February 2nd.

At the Arms Control Association, our take is that the NPR constitutes unnecessary, unexecutable (ph) and unsafe overreach. Yes, the international security environment is less favorable than it was in 2010 when the Obama Administration conducted its Nuclear Posture Review. Yes, some of the other nuclear arm states have not been responsible nuclear citizens. Yes, technology is advancing in new and unpredictable ways and yes, the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal is aging.

But none of these justifies the direction that Trump Nuclear Posture Review proposes to take U.S. nuclear strategy. Though there are elements of continuity with the policies of previous administrations, the document aligns with President Trump's more aggressive and impulsive nuclear notions and breaks with past efforts to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons worldwide in several key areas.

First, instead of deemphasizing the role of nuclear weapons and U.S. policy, as previous Nuclear Posture Reviews have done, the Trump NPR actually seeks a greater role for them. Notably, the review proposes to enlarge the circumstances under which the United States would consider the use of nuclear weapons and explicit—to explicitly include "non-nuclear strategic attacks including major cyber attacks.”

Second, the NPR calls for new more usable nuclear weapons. These include the near-term deployment of low yield nuclear warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles and the longer-term development of a new nuclear armed sea-launched cruise missile. These proposals would come on top of the existing nuclear recapitalization program of record that the Trump Administration inherited from its predecessor, which according to the Congressional Budget Office will cost $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years excluding the impact of inflation.

And third, the review walks back from key U.S. non-proliferation and disarmament commitments. Arms control only gets a brief mention at the end of the document and it's generally—and it is a generally a dismissive mention at that.

So, to help us further explore these and other issues, we have assembled a topnotch panel of experts. Our first speaker, on the far right will be Thomas Countryman. Tom, I am thrilled to say, is the new Chairman of the Board of the Arms Control Association and former Acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

After Tom, we will have Joan Rohlfing who is seated between the three speakers there, the President of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, excuse me and batting third will be Jon Wolfsthal, former Senior Director on the National Security Council responsible for nuclear weapons and arms control issues.

Each of our speakers will provide about 7 to 10 minutes of opening remarks which should leave plenty of time for questions from all of you. And before we get started, I just wanted to mention that we have coffee, tea, water and a selection of sodas in the back if you haven't seen them, and also if you're looking to access the wireless, the guest network is C-E-I-P guest and you open your browser and that should take you through the prompts that you need to get on the wireless and with that, the floor is yours, Tom.

THOMAS COUNTRYMAN: Thank you, Kingston. And thank all of you for coming out today. Nuclear weapons of course are technically complex and the policy that dictates their use, their strategy is perhaps esoteric, but the issue is not so complex that it cannot be comprehended by the public, by the media and crucially, in the months ahead, by the United States Congress.

The new NPR has real implications for our budget, for our leadership role and the world and above all, for our national security and it is crucial that the media and the public participate in an informed debate within the Congress on these issues.

As Kingston noted, U.S. nuclear policy has great elements of consistency. It is in many ways slow to change and you will note similarities in this draft report from what was decided by the Bush Nuclear Posture Review in 2002 and the Obama Nuclear Posture Review in 2010, but the changes are significant and have real-world implications. They are significant in their substance, in their tone, in what is added and in the striking omissions from previous posture reviews.

What concerns me most directly is the talk of an expanded role for nuclear weapons. For years, the United States under successive Presidents of both parties has consistently narrowed the circumstances under which an American President would contemplate use of nuclear weapons. For the first time in a long time, instead there is an expansion, an explicit expansion of the circumstances under which the President would consider such use.

As Kingston noted, this includes responding to non-nuclear threats including that of a massive cyber attack.

A year ago, Vice President Joe Biden, just before he left office, stood right here and spoke about the progress that the Obama Administration had made not only in narrowing those circumstances, but in reducing the role and the number of weapons in our nuclear arsenal and I’d just like to quote from Vice President Biden at that time. He said here, "Given our non-nuclear capabilities and the nature of today's threats, it is hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary."

That remains the case today and the draft Nuclear Posture Review fails to give a convincing rationale why it has changed. It does not explain why the U.S. nuclear arsenal, still the most powerful and diverse possessed by any nuclear weapon state is insufficient to match threats on both the nuclear and the non-nuclear level.

It fails to explain why the overwhelming United States advantages in both conventional military capabilities, and yes, in cyber capabilities is inadequate to respond to threats or attacks.

It does not explain why the Russian Federation's modernization, which parallels the United States’ own modernization efforts, is so severely different from ours that it means we have fallen behind in stability. It does not even talk about strategic stability between the United States and Russia as a goal to strive for and it does not explain how the additional threat of new nuclear weapons, including new low-yield weapons on top of those low-yield weapons that we already have, will change the Russian Federation thinking or make the first use of nuclear weapons by either side less likely.

Of concern to me also is the effect on our global leadership. It essentially abandons the United States' leadership role in nonproliferation and arms control that have marked every President since Dwight Eisenhower. In speaking of the most successful security treaty the world has ever seen, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it treats this only as a nonproliferation treaty and ignores… it does not restate the binding legal obligation that the United States undertook almost 50 years ago in that treaty. That is, we are committed to pursue effective measures to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons leading to their verifiable elimination.

By failing to restate this as a goal, it has an effect upon the readiness of other nations to honor their nonproliferation obligations. And this is the final point I would like to make: this posture review does not and will not be issued in a vacuum. It is not an issue simply between the U.S. and Russia, or the U.S. and China.

Other nations look to the United States' signal to determine their own policy and the signal that is being sent is unfortunately that the United States is putting aside a legal obligation, is not going to exert the same kind of leadership on nonproliferation and arms control issues, and it also signals the utility of nuclear weapons, something that will make them more attractive to those countries that have smaller arsenals or those that have no arsenals at all.

All of this is true even if you set aside the character and the impetuosity of the current United States' President. It still has these negative effects upon our national security. For these reasons, I hope not only that the final draft that we see perhaps next week will moderate some of these difficult points, but I also hope that the United States Congress will take up the obligation that it took up with great seriousness after the last two Nuclear Posture Reviews and put a limit to the kind of dangerous development that detracts from, rather than contributes, to stability in our world.

Thank you.

REIF: Thanks very much, Tom. Joan?

JOAN ROHLFING: (Inaudible) Kingston, thank you, Tom. I have been asked to focus in particular on the new capabilities being contemplated by the posture review, but I would like to put that in a little bit of a frame before offering some observations on that.

I do want to emphasize, I think you have certainly heard us mention that this is a draft and it still has to go through a White House review. I think this is important just to emphasize that anything nuclear is inherently presidential, so I am going to speak in terms of this being a draft with hopes that it could still improve. Much like, Tom and perhaps even a little bit more pointedly, I want to say this draft posture review represents a significant departure from the direction we have been headed in for the last four administrations.

It increases our reliance on nuclear weapons. It expands their role in our security and it makes them more likely—it makes the use of them more likely.

It also compounds rather than solves some of the top level nuclear issues left over from the previous administration. What do I mean by that? It maintains the same outdated hair trigger launch posture of our ballistic missiles that puts pressure on our leaders to make a use decision without enough time for deliberation.

It proposes enhancements to our arsenal that make nuclear weapons more usable and more destabilizing. It compounds the resource challenge by increasing the cost of the modernization program by at least another 20 percent. It doesn't offer any proactive solutions for overcoming the impasse in our relationship with Russia.

It undervalues arms control as a tool to achieve our military objectives and advance our national security. We don't do arms control for the sake of doing arms control. We do it because it advances our national security. If this review stands as it is currently written, I believe it significantly increases the risk of use.

Our primary focus as a nation should be on preventing the use of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world and this posture review would move us in the opposite direction, so let me give you now a few specific examples of why that is the case starting with some of the capability enhancements proposed.

As Kingston mentioned, the review is proposing two new types of low-yield nuclear weapons. First, a near-term capability to put low-yield capacity on our SLBMs, our submarine launched ballistic missiles and then potentially, it contemplates over a longer time period a low-yield nuclear SLCM.

What's interesting about the SLCM is that we used to have nuclear SLCMs, they were taken off of deployment, off of our surface ships, off of our submarines in the 1991-timeframe by then President George Herbert Walker Bush. They were finally retired by the Obama Nuclear Posture Review in 2010, so this represents us coming you know, back full cycle to where we were at the height of the Cold War as opposed to continuing to move in the other direction.

Why do we need these low-yield nuclear weapons in the arsenal? I would argue emphatically, we do not. We already have a robust flexible nuclear deterrent today that includes low-yield options. But this draft review posits that we need more low-yield options, more low-yield capacity to restore a so-called deterrence gap at a regional level.

The premise in the review seems to be that the existing arsenal is not a credible deterrent to others unless we have this low-yield nuclear weapon. I find that argument simply incredible. The U.S. today has this robust deterrent. It is capable of being employed anywhere in the world in defense of our interest and our allies within a matter of minutes.

And as Tom said, they haven't offered a satisfactory explanation for what is the military purpose, what is the rationale for why we need this new capability? So, rather than raising the bar for nuclear use as they assert in the review, I believe it lowers the bar and makes their use more likely.

This is destabilizing, not stabilizing.

I think it's also a mistake to believe that we could use a little nuke to control escalation rather than strengthening deterrence, it therefore undermines it and it increases the risks of miscalculation. One final point on this, if we talk about deploying low-yield nuclear weapons on an SLBM, how is our adversary if they detect the launch from the ocean somewhere, a ballistic missile coming from them, how are they going to know that it's a little nuke, not a full-yield nuclear weapon, if the same platform deploys both a full yield nuclear weapon and a low-yield nuclear weapon. This is also destabilizing, I think it's fanciful to expect that there wouldn't be a full-scale attack in return for that.

So, a second point on how this posture review falls short just to emphasize some of comment that Tom made earlier about the short shrift given to arms control and nonproliferation, it mentions the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the good news is, it proposes that the administration will continue to observe the testing moratorium and will urge others to do the same, but it then undercuts that objective by explicitly noting that it will not seek ratification of the treaty. Why does this matter?

Without ratification the U.S. undermines its own ability to secure this nuclear test ban regime that's really vital to preventing new nuclear states from emerging and frankly, it preserves the U.S. nuclear advantage. Why wouldn't we want to do everything we can to ensure that the treaty is ratified so that we can sustain those benefits?

On the issue of further arms control with Russia, it offers no proactive agenda and is silent on the value of extending the New START Treaty, which is frankly critical to regulating our nuclear relationship with Russia. It ignores the value of the JCPOA and, very importantly, as mentioned by Tom, there is only a fleeting—the barest fleeting reference to a commitment to a world without nuclear weapons, but it's not stated as a goal.

This is not only a U.S. legal commitment under the NPT, but also necessary for sustaining the political support, political will for the entire nonproliferation regime and it finally quite frankly, it takes too narrow a view of the role that arms control can play. We should have a whole-of-government approach looking at arms control diplomacy as a plank in our national security strategy; not one that's an afterthought. This review focuses primarily on the military dimensions of nuclear weapons.

Let me just close by saying, coming back to where I started, which is that the policy, the proposed posture, the enhancements being sought by this posture review are destabilizing and fundamentally increase the risk of use, increase the risk of miscalculation. Deterrence may be necessary, but it's certainly not sufficient to prevent nuclear use and potential miscalculation.

Thank you.

REIF: Thanks, very much, Joan. Jon.

JON WOLFSTHAL: Thanks, I am going to be lazy and just stay here unless anybody objects. Thank you to the ACA and Kingston and also to Joan and to Tom for letting me be part of this group. I want to support everything, everything that Tom and Joan have just said about the NPR and the concerns, I share many of them.

I will—you know, we're sort of always pushed to say, it's OK to find something positive to say about the NPR. There's something good in it and you know, I was struck, and I'd actually be surprised if Tom and Joan didn't feel the same way.

The stated objectives in the NPR to enhance deterrence, to reduce the risk of nuclear ambiguity, to ensure that countries that have nuclear weapons and threatened to use them like Russia, like North Korea know that they cannot use these weapons without escaping a consequence greater than any objective they might hope to achieve are I think valuable statements.

The deterrent language in the document is actually, I would argue, something you could find probably in any other Republican NPR and there actually would have been a similar type of discussion in a Democratic NPR.

The problem is of course the document then goes completely off the rails by pursuing systems that aren't supported by either intelligence information that suggests it will be helpful in enhancing deterrence by expanding the roles of nuclear weapons. It actually, as Joan said, increases the risks of use and then the document itself is rather schizophrenic when it talks about wanting to increase the ambiguity of the circumstances under which the United States might consider nuclear use.

So, maybe that's not the nicest thing to say about the NPR, but I appreciate what they were trying to do because I think all of us appreciate the challenges that the U.S. government faces in reducing the risk of use are serious and whether there are cyber or nuclear or other challenges we face, I think we recognize that as an appropriate thing for both the Defense Department and the whole of government to be wrestling with.

The problem with the NPR is everything looks like a nuclear nail and so everything is going to be solved with a nuclear hammer and there aren't solutions to many of the problems that are identified in the NPR, the nuclear space that do come with tremendous baggage.

So, what I was asked to do is to talk about one part of that baggage, which is the budget and I guess I was in part picked on to talk about this because I worked at Monterey Institute with the kind support of the Nuclear Threat Initiative with Jeffrey Lewis and Mark Quint to produce I think, the first comprehensive report of what the U.S. Nuclear Modernization Program was going to cost, which we dubbed, "The trillion-dollar nuclear triad." I have a running joke that I get a nickel every time anybody uses that statement, so I have to pay myself.

Since then, of course, we have gotten new information, the latest CBO report suggests that cost is actually closer to $1.25 trillion and if you look at out your dollars, you're looking about $1.7 trillion. The answer is, we don't know how much the nuclear budget is going to cost and we don't know it for a couple of reasons, but the main reason is because the Pentagon refuses to put together a standalone nuclear budget.

They have been asked not once, but twice by the GAO to actually produce a nuclear budget that takes into account all of the disparate pieces from development, deployment, operations, disposal, personnel, healthcare—everything across the board and the answer from DOD, I kid you not is, "We don't want to do that because that's too hard." That's a response to the GAO.

But interestingly, we were talking about this before. In the budget document, the Pentagon takes on this argument and I think that's an opening that many people should be looking to exploit. You hear from advocates for the nuclear mission that this is affordable. This is only a small percentage of the overall nuclear budget and if you look at the document, it talks about how at the height of the Cold War in 1984, we were spending 13.4 percent of the budget or 13.4 percent of the Defense budget on nuclear, we are only looking to spend 6.4 percent of the Defense budget on nuclear.

So, it's interesting. They don't talk about exactly, you know, what the absolute number was, not including dismantlement and disposal, which Joan as refugees from the Department of Energy understand is a problem without a solution yet; but if you look at just the raw numbers are out there and some quick math, we spent roughly $50 billion in 1984, if you take the Pentagon's numbers on the nuclear mission.

They're proposing that we would spend roughly $42 billion a year on the nuclear budget in 2029, so you say, "Well, well that's actually pretty small. It's reasonable, right?" In 1994, sorry, 1984 was the height of the Cold War. We were planning to fight and win a nuclear war. Is that the environment that the Pentagon sees us being in in 2029? If it does, I'm sorry, but 6.4 percent of the budget is not going to cut it, right? I mean, Ronald Reagan was right, you can't win a nuclear war, so don't fight one. But the idea that somehow these numbers can be compared and since we are below where we were back at 84 or in 62, we're OK, ignores the budget reality that we exist in

It's not a question of whether it's affordable, it's a question of whether it is sustainable, and it is a question of whether it's advisable and if you look at the national priorities that we have on the plate, you are going to be seeing a lot of Pentagon brass and officials ask you want two new nuclear systems. Are these priorities for you? You want a new nuclear arms SLCM? Do you want that, or do you want the F-35? Do you want to modify the D5 submarine launch ballistic missile and put a small (U-warden) on it? Well, do you want to finish the B-61 Mod 12, the AirDrop tactical nuclear weapon that we have slated for deployment in Europe? Do you want this one instead?

What you see in the NPR is not a prioritization or strategy, it's a laundry list. We want every capability that's possible. We have a President who is prepared to allow us to go for all of the things that we might conceivably want to use at some point? But none of these things are going to come in on budget or on time and if you have any doubts about that then ask the question, why did Secretary Mattis, when he took the job asked to be relieved from the budget caps for the nuclear mission?

That was one of the first things he approached OMB for when he took over the job in the Pentagon. The same as his predecessors did, because they know that they can't fit that nuclear square in the round hole or sorry, the nuclear square peg into the round budget hole that they have to work with.

So, as you work through these budget priorities, you then also have to ask the question, "Where else can we be spending this money?" And I'm not going to do the traditional guns and butter, let's take it out of the NPR itself. What do they point to as the preeminent threats that they don't think we can handle with our existing nuclear arsenal and therefore, we need to develop new capabilities and we to expand the role of nuclear weapons?

Well, one of the ones that is on many people's minds is cyber. It's not explicitly mentioned in the NPR, but it's referenced in the National Security Strategy and is clearly a concern that is rightfully to be wrestled with by the U.S. government.

In the last National Cyber Strategy that the Obama ministration released, we haven't gotten one out of the Trump Administration yet, the document stated that they requested $19.5 billion in cyber capabilities in 1990s—sorry, in 2016. That's how much we were planning to spend, right? How much are we going to spend any one of the individual legs on the nuclear triad. The LRSO, the lowest budgeted item in the nuclear capability is $25 billion to $ 30 billion, total. More than we spend annually on cyber, but if we are going to threaten the use of nuclear weapons in response to a cyberattack, why aren't we investing more money in our own cyber capabilities.

If the damage that can be done to us through cyber is so consequential, yet we are the cyber superpower, right? President Obama said clearly that our capabilities are second to none. I guarantee you that Russia is more vulnerable than we are to cyber, not to say, less formidable countries.

So, it seems me instead of investing money where Russia is trying to go to become stronger, we should be playing to your own strengths, which is in conventional capability, cyber capabilities, automation, integration—the things that were talked about in the third offset of the Pentagon, as opposed to trying to re-create some Cold War nuclear capability that doesn't match up with the threats that we face today.

Two last things I'll mention. I really want to talk to as many people in the Navy as possible about this Nuclear Posture Review. There are two things that really worry me. If you've talked to any nuclear operator in the last 20 years, they will tell you without an exception that they were thrilled to be relieved of the nuclear mission on the surface fleet and in the attack submarine fleet, right?

These things were complicated, and they made the Commanding Officer's life really complicated. You had to have security on board. You had to have different operations when you had nuclear missions. This is not like going into any port, you have to actually go to special nuclear weapons ports if you're going to be handling and shipping these things. You had additional training time, additional costs were associated with that. They lost all of that. They were supposed to be investing that in conventional operations.

Now, clearly, we have some challenges in the nuclear Navy as we stand or sorry, in the conventional Navy is as we are finding out, but the idea that we're going reintroduce this thing under the surface fleet and the attack fleet is something that's going to cost money, it's going to influence operations and it's going to be a real challenge for the surface fleet and for the attacks of force, and I'm not sure they are going to be very enthusiastic about.

The second issue is and I'm getting smarter on this. Joan talked about the discrimination problem when you launch an SLBM—is it one or all of them? Remember what our subs were designed for and built for. These are $5 billion shadows. They are meant to be secret and quiet and we spent a lot of money to keep them that way. We built them so they would be our ultimate retaliatory force if, God forbid, deterrence failed and some country launched out at us, we had the ability to destroy them.

One submarine alone was enough to basically destroy most countries on earth; maybe two would be necessary if you had a major adversary. So, now we are going to take these quiet secret ships that spent their whole lives trying to disappear and we're going to launch a small tactical nuclear weapon from it, which immediately makes the whole boat vulnerable. Any time I try to talk with the nuclear Navy about well, maybe we could change operations of this and maybe we could reduce cost with that. They said, "Look, our biggest fear is Russian anti-submarine warfare capabilities. We cannot allow them to catch up and to make the oceans invisible." So, now we're basically going to have a giant dinner bell for every Russian attack sub to say, "Here it is."

And people tell me, "Look, we practiced into the Cold War. We launch. We go deep. We run fast. You have a big part of the ocean." Well, that might have been true in 1984, but Russians have been investing a lot of money in their ASW capability, and so as we ask questions in Congress of the Navy and of the military, how do they feel about these? Are these priorities? I think we also have to start asking some operational questions because they really do pose challenges that I think are going to get us into the nuts and bolts. I have gone a little long, but that should be plenty to talk about. Thank you.

REIF: Thanks very much, Tom, Joan and Jon. Great representations. Stayed within the allotted time limit which was beautiful and lots and lots to chew on—I mean, I could jump in on any of the numerous points that they made, but I'd like to open the floor to those of you in the audience for your questions and comments. The floor is yours, questions.

(UNKNOWN): We probably have mics coming too.

REIF: And we do—we will have mics coming around as well, thank you very much, (Sean). Right here, Jon.

QUESTION: Great, thank you. Jon Harper with National Defense Magazine. In terms of the cost estimates for developing a new sea-launch cruise missile and also a new low-yield warhead, you know, roughly what do think the price tag would be for that and also just, you know from a technical perspective and kind of layman's terms, can you sort of explain what would be required to actually create these new weapons?

WOLFSTHAL: Yes, and I will defer to Joan who of course has deep knowledge on how NNSA operates. What I will say is that what the draft NPR lays out is two things. One, they want to go immediately for this modified low-yield warhead for the submarine launch capability. They talk about that being a relatively low-cost option with a short timeline. The idea that's been pushed is we have thermonuclear weapons, two-stage nuclear weapons. We have a small fission primary, which has a smaller yield, a couple of kilotons, maybe less, maybe more, which then drives a second larger explosion, the thermonuclear part. That then brings up many hundreds of kilotons.

The idea would be that they would simply remove the secondary, so they would just keep the primary and put in ballast or something that wouldn't affect the trajectory or the center of gravity in the warhead. That's something that the laboratories probably could effectuate in a relatively short period of time. Relatively short—a couple of years. It depends on how they want to affect the throughput of all the other life extension programs that were currently underway.

We have a limited number of facilities. We have a limited number of staff and so, it's not clear how that would affect the life extension program for the W-88, the life extension program for the W-76, the life extension program for the B-61 Mod 12, so it would throw off some of the schedules.

The second part is that they don't say they want to absolutely go for a SLCM, they want to have a study. The study then might lead to an assessment of alternatives, which is their contracting parlance and then they would get to a record of decision, choose an option. This is many years away. It's clearly going to extend beyond the Trump term in office, assuming one term in office, it might be something that they could sort of get to a prototype later in the second term if that happens. But in terms of the actual decision-making, I'd defer to Joan if she has some thoughts on...

ROHLFING: I don't have more on the decision-making and I agree with everything you just said to the question of cost. I think I can't offer a clear answer and it really would depend, Jon, is right. You can make a relatively modest, though not trivial modification to an existing weapon to convert your SLBM weapon to be one that's low-yield in the near term. The much bigger project is the development of a low-yield weapon for a SLCM and if you assume that you're repurposing an existing nuclear package rather than trying to design a new weapon from scratch, you might find that it's in the same neighborhood of cost as the new air launched cruise missile called the LRSO that they're working on that Jon cited, about $25 billion price tag for.

If you were trying to manufacture something from—to design it from scratch, that would most likely necessitate nuclear testing. That's a whole different ball of wax, much longer program, more expensive and not to mention, the significant cost from a diplomacy and National Security standpoint if we had to resume testing to prove a new weapon design.

COUNTYMAN: And just add, Jon, quickly to what Joan has said, I mean, I think, it's absolutely right to say it would depend. I mean, if you look at the missile—potential missile for a new SLCM, the DOD, the Navy is going to do an analysis of alternatives, presumably to look at different options. It would seem to me that the lowest cost option would be some way to spin off a current or a future block of the Tomahawk missile and use that.

Whereas the most expensive option would be some kind of totally new missile that they would have to design and then on the warhead sign, warhead side excuse me, there has been talk in an article actually that Jim Miller, a former Obama Administration Pentagon official and Sandy Winnefeld, the Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff advocating for a new sea launched cruise missile. They said at least for the warhead, you could build a modified—so a modified version of the W80-4, which as Joan mentioned is the planned warhead for that the new air-launched cruise missile, the LRSO and build a few more of them and put it on a on a sea-launched cruise missile is a relatively lower cost option.

So, I think potentially, range of cost, but the point is additional costs to a program of record that as Jon already pointed out is under tremendous stress and faces a major affordability and executability challenge.

ROHLFING: And can I just follow that with one point that I would really want to emphasize. I think the largest cost is not a financial one, it's the National Security implications as we discussed of deploying a new low-yield warhead that is destabilizing and increases the chance that a nuclear weapon will be used. That I think, is the most important point that I would make about a sea-launch cruise missile.

RIEF: Additional question. Yes?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sandra Erwin with Space News. Jon, to your point about capabilities that we do need like cyber, can you be more specific. I mean, do you mean satellites? What are some of the areas where we need to be more resilient and what specific capabilities would you recommend? Thanks.

WOLFSTHAL: So, I am not a cyber expert, but obviously, working in the administration and understanding both our capabilities and vulnerabilities, I think the question is what is it that the U.S. government is worried about in terms of our adversary's ability to use cyber capabilities against us? That makes us so vulnerable and that the impact could be so significant that it could approximate nuclear.

And the Pentagon, the NPR draft talks about this. It talks about both infrastructure, I think that would mean critical infrastructure, communications, energy grid, communications, banking, nuclear early warning command-and-control is another area that is specifically cited that could somehow disrupt our ability to have a reliable deterrent and so, I would put those at the top of my list that I want to make sure that we are doing defense to the extent necessary to protect the power grid, the communications grid, banking and financial system—those are things that I wouldn't argue that losing the communications grid would be akin to say a nuclear detonation in New York.

You know, we could learn to live without our cell phones for a couple days if we had to, but obviously, the implications are dramatic if we're so vulnerable that a country could bring it down, we should be spending more to protect it and defend it and helping states helping, and helping local municipalities, and helping utilities do that. We use some of that now, but clearly more is necessary.

And then in terms of space again, I am not a space expert, but clearly as we are developing the new satellite constellation both for early warning for communications and for military operations, this is something the Pentagon has been worried about for many, many years. This is another one of the things that you constantly hear program officers and Cabinet officers demanding and asking for more resources for and yet, there's a large pot of money here that in my view isn't matched up against the threat we face.

So, just for example, and we didn't get into a lot of nuclear doctrine here because you don't want to get bored and go right to sleep, but the idea here is that the Russians are threatening to use nuclear weapons against us or our allies because somehow, they doubt our nuclear capability, our 4,000 operational nuclear weapons aren't quite enough, the 1,000-low yield nuclear weapons aren't quite enough, so we need to have some exquisite new capability that will show the Russians we're serious.

When in fact what the Russians are doing is saying, "We are conventionally inferior to you. We can't fight you in a fair fight and, so we don't want to fight fair, we want the option to escalate to the nuclear level." And the NPR draft says, "They shouldn't be convinced that they can get away with that," because we have all of these other nuclear capabilities. That's a reasonable deterrent statement.

To then spend more money for some new capability that doesn't solve that problem strikes me as being—throwing bad money after good.

QUESTION: (OFF MIKE) (Inaudible)

WOLFSTHAL: I think that like most parts of the U.S. government, this is a stovepipe product of the nuclear establishment from the Joint Chiefs, from the OSD policy, from STRATCOM that's driving this. They said that we've already got a program of record, the incremental cost will be small and therefore, let's push this.

Now, if they were put in a room with the cyber people or the ISR people or the infrastructure people or the—you know, name your list, my guess is they would lose, but because there is this demand for Nuclear Posture Review, this sort of stands up and above and that's where Congress is really going to have to come in and prioritize, but of course, they are stove-piped in Congress as well. The people that handle cyber don't handle nuclear. People who nuclear don't handle conventional, and so we will continue to see the slicing of the salami pretty thin.

REIF: Yes, right here.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for the presentation. My name is Yuki Toda from Kerala News (ph). Most of you put it out that the destabilizing effect of its NPR on not only on the National Security, but also the arms control regime. So, please, could you tell me your prospect, your kind of vision about what's the impact of this NPR on INF Treaty and also the extension of the New START and another question is now, the United States tried to create new nuclear warheads and a nuclear weapon, so the other leading country over the NPT—NPT is losing credibility or not?

COUNTYMAN: On the new START Treaty, I am glad that the draft NPR leaves open the possibility of extension of the New START Treaty for an additional five years when the initial term expires in 2021. In my view, this is the single most logical step that Moscow and Washington could take, and they could take it today, that would provide additional strategic stability and also send a valuable signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. and Russian Federation, no matter what else they say, are still interested in limiting their nuclear arsenals.

On the INF Treaty, the NPR—the draft NPR talks quite a bit about the Russian violation, which is a serious concern. It correctly describes that arms control is made more difficult if existing agreements are not honored, but I think it does not provide an easy answer any more than the Obama Administration could provide an easy answer for how to bring the Russians back into compliance with their obligations under the INF Treaty.

It links the development of a submarine-launched cruise missile with the Russian violation and suggests that the U.S. might revisit development of a submarine-launched cruise missile if Russia returns to compliance. I don't believe that that's adequate by itself to get Russia to return, but it is appropriate for this NPR to take very seriously Russia's violation of the INF treaty.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has many challenges, the challenge posed by North Korea is by far the greatest. The challenge posed by Iran was addressed in the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action and the most significant step backwards that could be taken for the Nonproliferation Treaty is if any of the parties to the JCPOA walk away from that agreement. That would be the single biggest threat to the credibility of the NPT.

But at the same time, for this Administration to pretend that the U.S. has no legal obligation to continue to address reductions in its nuclear arsenal is damaging to our credibility not only as a leader in nonproliferation, but as a so-called leader on any of the issues that the U.S. has to deal with. It's why walking away from the JCPOA is a big challenge for the U.S. because it would signal to other countries that an agreement with the United States is not meaningful and can be easily reversed on the whim of a different President.

So, the challenges to the NPT are there and I fear that the statements contained in this draft NPR will erode the U.S. capability to lead the world on nonproliferation efforts.

REIF: Last one to—very good. Questions? Yes, right here.

QUESTION: Doug Sharp from the George Washington University. Thank you all for a great panel. I am given to reflect on Scott Sagan and Jane Vaynman's effort after the Obama Nuclear Posture Review to understand what its effects were on the nuclear posture is the attitudes about nuclear weapons of other states and I'm wondering if you could reflect on that topic, on how nuclear weapon state potential adversaries, allies and other states will react to this nuclear posture?

WOLFSTHAL: I'm thrilled you asked that question not only because Jane used to work for me here at the Carnegie Endowment, but because without a doubt, one of the best things I read when I was in government and this is including all the fine work that our intelligence community could produce was the work that they did try to understand how different countries saw the Obama NPR and to bring that into a feedback loop, so we can understand ourselves.

Did our outgoing message—was it received the way we wanted to? How did that affect our ongoing planning? And there was a significant deviation between what we planned and it then factored into a lot of our thinking, so my favorite example—this is every time we said we wanted to reduce the role of nuclear weapons, what the work that Scott and Jane put together, what Russia heard was, we want to be able to do whatever we want with conventional weapons anytime, anywhere.

Like, of course, you want to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. You are the conventional superpower. They didn't view that as a good thing. They viewed that as a very destabilizing thing that did not reassure them, so I think it would be very interesting to hear and see what foreign countries, adversaries and allies alike think about this NPR, but it gets to a fundamental problem which is, is this Trump's NPR or not?

My interpretation and I wouldn't speak for anybody else is that Donald Trump is probably unlikely to read any of this document, that this is Secretary Mattis' NPR and it's a product of him, General Selva who is the Vice Chairman, General Hyten, the Commander of STRATCOM and Rob Soofer who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Missile Defense who is very knowledgeable and I think did an excellent job sort of pulling these threads together, but it doesn't reflect Trump thinking.

And so, I don't know what our allies think, and I don't know what adversaries think because it—does Mattis runs nuclear policy or Trump? And if you have any doubts about that, just look at the NPR language itself. It says on the one hand, our commitment to our allies are ironclad and our assurances mean something, that's not Donald Trump language. And it says that any decision to use nuclear weapon would follow a deliberative process.

Does anybody believe that that is the way that President Trump will think about using nuclear weapons? It's clearly the way that our military and our civilians in the Pentagon think about it, but that's not what we would see out of this White House.

ROHLFING: I just like to add a simple kind of one sentence. I think the overall take away from this NPR is that we need more weapons and more roles for our nuclear weapons in our National Security and if the U.S. as the most powerful nation, the biggest most powerful military on earth needs more nuclear weapons for its National Security that sends a big signal that others needs them too and it really undermines our nonproliferation objectives and makes us less safe over time.

REIF: Back there in the red.

QUESTION: My name is Alicia Dressman. I am an independent consultant. When I read these section on the NPR on tailored deterrence towards Russia, which featured a very outdated view of Russia's nuclear posture, the escalated to de-escalate strategy, I don't think has been relevant in a recent National Security Strategy coming out of Russia in quite some time. I completely wrote off that there was an actual foreign-policy component that was competent and that this is more a technocratic objective introducing his new-yield low warhead.

My question to you would be, how much of the NPR introducing the—may be resuming the W80 Mod 4 redesign for a SLCM, how much of that is the NNSA perhaps looking at the DOD NNSA three plus two programs in saying, "Okay, we have efficiencies. We can open up a new assembly and maybe use nonnuclear parts from the LRSO warhead for the SLCM, because they have a similar warhead design et cetera" and how much of this comes from this grand strategy perspective of our considering, you know, nuclear threats around the globe and proposing new warheads to meet those threats? Thank you.

ROHLFING: I'll take a crack at that. I think it's both, and, but I do think it's primarily an attempt to address, perhaps a misinformed view of Russian doctrine and strategy. It's just taken as a given in this town that the Russians are seriously pursuing this strategy of escalate to de-escalate and I know among the experts, that's actually controversial and some of the experts I trust think it's not real, but I do think it is the primary driving factor behind seeking these new capabilities and then I think secondarily, as Tom mentioned, there's a component to creating some trade debate to try and get the Russians back to the table on INF.

I would put both of those things in front at the NNSA trying to expand its mission space. They already have enough on their plate and not enough resources to tackle what they have been asked to do for their program of record.

WOLFSTHAL: So, Joan is right. There is a discussion and debate about whether Russia really has an escalate to de-escalate. There is no such debate inside the U.S. government. When we looked in the Obama Administration where we continued to see what Russia is doing with their nuclear capabilities, with their capabilities of developing in violation of the INF and in addition to their statements and planning, there is a willingness to use nuclear weapons to escalate their way of a failed conventional crisis. That may not even be a dominant, it may not even be a likely capability, but is one that worries our planners and I think is appropriately worrying our planners.

I can't speak for what it's like in this administration. I could tell you that as much as we valued and looked to the input of NNSA, they were not a strategy driver in the Obama NPR, I think it's very unlikely that they were a driving strategy. I don't think you have to look too far to see who really is the brainchild of these or who is the author of these brainchild. There was a lot of input for the NPR from Keith Payne at the National Institute for Public Policy who has written about tailor deterrence. You could actually take the sections, I mean, it's almost font matching in terms of what they are putting forward.

So, these arguments have been out for a while. Frank Miller, the same who was a key official in the Bush administration for nuclear policy and defense and Brad Roberts also who worked on the Obama NPR is now at Livermore have been talking about these ideas for many, many years and I think they just found very fertile soil in the Trump Administration.

COUNTYMAN: If I could comment on that. I don't know whether or not the Russians have an escalate to de-escalate doctrine or not. It does concern me that although the authors would deny it, we run the risk of slipping back into Cold War knee-jerk responses that if the Russians have such a policy, we must match that capability and that concerns me.

I'm sure that the authors would see that comment as unfair, but there's a risk that we're moving in that direction, but the larger question about Russian statements and thinking, I think ties back to Doug's question about how other countries react and the fact is that even in the very hard world of military policy and nuclear weapons, words matter. Rhetoric matters.

What I saw a few years ago as the most negative development for strategic stability and nonproliferation in the world was the fact that Vladimir Putin started talking about Russia's nuclear weapons as a key element of national power as what made Russia great. The kind of language that the North Korean leadership uses and that you heard sometimes in the past from Pakistan or India, but most countries had abandoned that language for a long period of time.

And to have Putin again talking about nuclear weapons as what makes a country great was I think negative if the goal is to discourage still more countries from building nuclear weapons. And to have the United States President embrace that kind of language, even if less grammatically, I think further undermines our ability to discourage other nations from pursuing nuclear weapons. So, that's the part of Russian rhetoric that is separate from doctrine, but should be deeply concerning.

REIF: We're getting closer to our time and I see that we have more questions out there. I am going to take a few at a time to ensure we get more questions, so first, Daryl and if you just wait to respond to Daryl's and I'll take another one.

KIMBALL: Thanks, everybody. I'm Daryl Kimball, your host today. I wanted to draw Tom's attention and ask for comment about one part of the NPR that has gotten a lot of attention, but I think you're well equipped to address. One passage says, the United States is committed to arms-control efforts that advanced U.S. allied partner security are verifiable and enforceable.

So, I think the Arms Control Association would agree that you know, that advanced U.S. allied partner security, yes, are verifiable, yes, but enforceable. What do you think the NPR authors mean? What might that entail? To my knowledge, there isn't a single arms-control treaty that contains an enforcement provision per se. So, your thoughts about that and quickly, Joan—back to the nuclear testing issue with your experience at NNSA and your work with a guy named Ernie Moniz at MTI (sic) who used to be at the Energy Department, as you know, the NNSA's Stockpile Stewardship Management Plan also has a line and it came out a few months ago that says the United States test readiness timeline should be reduced to 6 to 10 months for a simple test. What is your interpretation of what that is about? What its implications could be?

REIF: Real quickly before responding to Daryl. Sir, right here, yes?

QUESTION: Stephanie Cooke with Nuclear Intelligence Weekly. I wanted to ask a little bit more about the clauses to do with disarmament and the ambiguity at best in these clauses. I've asked, we've talked about it with Tom Countryman and I'd like to ask if you think that that will be softened or hardened? I mean in the sense that it will become stronger in the final document.

We heard Chris Ford saying that he questioned that as a goal in April when he was at Carnegie, so you didn't mention his involvement in this review, but I wondered if someone—if you would comment on that and if you see a chance that that might be argued down so that we get stronger language on disarmament?

REIF: Well, let's take those two and then we will...

COUNTYMAN: Well, very quickly on the last point. I'm glad that Dr. Chris Ford is now in the office I previously held, Assistant Secretary for International Security in Nonproliferation. He is highly intelligent, highly experienced in this field and a substantial cut above the average appointee of this administration in any agency.

I don't know how strong his role has been. I know that he was at the White House coordinating the drafting process, but the drafting was done primarily at DOD. I don't know if it will change and maybe I'm not far enough removed from government service, but it still bothers me when things of this magnitude get leaked. As journalists, as NGOs, it's great to comment on a leaked document, but the fact is that it's now harder for there to be any changes made to this document particularly with this White House.

So, that if there is any argument still going on about particular clauses, it's probably hard for them to walk back now and that's unfortunate in my view. Very quickly on Daryl's points. The reference to future arms-control agreements is bothersome in two ways. First, because it says they have to be enforceable. There does not exist an enforceable arms-control agreement in part because no U.S. president would ever be willing to say that the United States will subject itself to enforcement action by an international body. In other words, this administration wants agreements to be enforceable on everybody else, but optional for the United States, and that's very much the White House point of view on the JCPOA.

So, it sets an artificially high standard, an impossible standard. More importantly to me is the very phrasing denotes passivity. We remain open to arms-control agreements. Maybe somebody else has a terrific idea, but no claim of U.S. leadership, no claim that the U.S. is going to press forward on arms-control agreements. I understand in part why it lists in great detail the obstacle placed by the Russians through their INF violation, but to write off the U.S. leadership role and condemn Washington to passivity on an existential question for the planet is distressing.

ROHFLING: So, let me tackle the test readiness question. I found it curious as well, Daryl, I think it sends a signal that they're adopting a much more muscular approach, that they are risk-averse, I guess, I perhaps there is some question about their confidence of enduring weapons in the stockpile. I personally don't see why you would need such a compressed timescale to have changed from—we were looking at a timeframe of years to resume testing to now, possibly six months. I'm not—it's a pretty stressful scenario to even put a test package together within that timeframe.

There are extraordinary costs associated with ramping up the capability to resume testing within six months, so it certainly wouldn't be on my list of priorities for what we should be investing in when we have so much competition for resources, so that's something I'd like to learn more about. It simply makes no sense to me.

WOLFSTHAL: And just briefly since Tom mentioned it, I'll put in a plug for an article that is out front that Rick Burton and I wrote in the National Interest on abandoning the arms-control role that the U.S. has played and how in fact, we can shape the international environment that so worries the Pentagon that they have to threaten early use of nuclear weapons and arm-control has been successful in actually reducing those threats in the past. We need to get back to thinking about shaping the environment and not having environment shape us.

In terms of the language on disarmament, so I heard Chris Ford same as you at the Carnegie conference. I actually view that as one of the ways the document has already improved. They recognized there was no need to take on a fight that had no payoff by insulting the entire international nonproliferation system and parties to it and so, I think the language could get—it could be better and I actually and Tom have a slightly different view.

I mean, I'm with you. I hate leaked documents and I wish that they hadn't come to me and I know that I got burned by documents being leaked when I was in the White House not to our advantage, but that being said, I actually did the Pentagon didn't like the reaction that there was a bit of a feedback loop going on that somehow this is worse than they thought.

Secretary Mattis had asked that the NPR do three things. Deter our enemies, reassure our allies and not upset what there is of support for modernization in the Congress and the fact that this document may not achieve all three of those goals, may lead them to consider some changes, but I don't think that necessarily spoke about what they are hearing on the language for disarmament because while it's not good, it probably will get them a passing grade among some of the countries that we have to work with.

And with Chris Ford's role, just a modification, Tom may have more information than I do. I think it was the Defense Director at the White House of the National Security Council that's coordinating the document, Mild Office, Armstrong nonproliferation had input into these particular sections, but was not a driver when it came to much of the policy.

ROHLFING: ... an issue with something, you just said Jon and surprisingly, I think you give the review you too much credit for what it does say about disarmament. I have a somewhat more alarmist reaction to it. I mean, if you actually look at the designated section that talks about arms-control, nowhere in there does it actually mention that we are pursuing a goal of a world without nuclear weapons...

WOLFSTHAL: But if you were Tom, and I've sent him in the lion's den at the NPT, you would say, "Oh of course, we recommit ourselves to the elimination of nuclear weapons." It's here in the preamble...

ROHLFING: Right, but this occurs within the context of a much broader global debate right now that's broader than just the NPT that has to do with the test ban and the absence of a reaffirmation of what the U.S. has publicly said for decades that it is committed to achieving the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons. I think that's really problematic.

WOLFSTHAL: I agree that it is problematic. It is a problem among many. I think it probably is a fig leaf for the diplomatic (inaudible)...

REIF: Excellent colloquium among colleagues there. I see a few hands raised, so let's see if we can get the final outstanding questions before we wrap. Yes, Alexey.

QUESTION: Thank you, I am Alexey Fomenkov, Second Secretary for the Russian Embassy. There have been a lot of talk here about Russians, so I was wondering whether I could say a couple of words without probably asking a question, would that be OK?

REIF: Yes, you may.

QUESTION: Thank you. So, first on escalate to de-escalate, I would like to point out that there is a standing Russian military doctrine. It's public. It's in English. And it specifically says under which circumstances Russia would consider using nuclear weapons and that is when the existence of the state is under jeopardy and when its territorial integrity is in question so that's very specific and it's much more specific than in U.S. documents, both current and supposedly, the future ones.

Also, on the rhetoric, I would like to point out that the NATO, in its documents, it says that nuclear weapons remain the supreme guarantee with security, so I would say that comparisons between Russia and North Korea would not be very appropriate in this context. Thank you.

REIF: Any of the panelists want to comment on that, you are free to do so, but let's see if we can get additional question. Greg?

QUESTION: Greg Thielmann, Arms Control Association Board Member. Congress in recent years has been quite skeptical of arms-control and defense spending arguments given the deficit hawks seem to go into hibernation, so I wonder if could list a comment on what the Congressional reaction will be to the NPR and is it possible that nuclear policy issues over the nuclear programs will be an issue in the fall elections to the U.S. Congress?

REIF: Like I said, one more and—yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Hi, I am Emma Fruy (ph) from Global Zero and as I understood the NPR, there was a point about ramping up plutonium production as part of the renewal process for existing nuclear weapons. I was wondering if you could comment on the potential consequences of that and how this compares to earlier NPR's?

REIF: Let's answer those final three questions and then any closing comments that you might have.

WOLFSTHAL: Maybe just a word on the Congressional reaction, we can talk Emma, anytime you want since we're both Global Zero now, welcome. So, I won't answer her question and Joan is better suited for that anyway.

I have a prediction about politics although, I mainly worked for the Vice President who told me, "Look, you may be the smartest man in the world, but you don't know anything about politics." I think it's going to fall into two camps, Greg. I think partly this is going to fall into the resistance, right, Donald Trump can't be trusted with nuclear weapons. He is pushing for new nuclear options more usable. He wants to push the button, which is bigger than Kim Jong-un, you know, it sort would fit into that. I think this will provide plenty of fodder for that.

In the discussions we've been having, I think there is a real interest on the Hill in the programmatic side of when it comes the—not just the cost, but also just the operations. How this will impact on the DoE complex, how it would impact on the on the other parts of the modernization.

I don't think it's going to have—I don't think it's going to have a big electoral impact. I quite frankly, while, I was pleased as a lifelong arms-controller and a person who doesn't like nuclear weapons thrilled that there were nuclear commercials for the presidential election but quite surprised. I mean, I think this will fit into the narrative, but I think the real battle here is going to be on the budget for the new systems with the hope that it will inspire the Congress to exercise the oversight it should be exercising over the full suite of these capabilities.

We have now door opening on the President's authority unfettered to use nuclear weapons. I think that's been very positive and helpful for shining light in this issue. I hope we will see a similar thing on the budget, but I don't expect to rise to a very high political national level.

COUNTYMAN: In answer to Greg's question, just based on the past year, I predict that the Congressional majority will bring to this issue the same intellectual honesty, concern about deficits, non-partisanship, readiness to compromise and honest public statements that they've brought to every issue for the last 12 months.

ROHLFING: Well said. I am not going to add to the Congressional budget question, but just a quick answer to the plutonium production. The review contemplates a ramp up to production facility that could produce 80 pits per year, which is actually consistent with the program of record under the Obama Administration that's been under discussion for a while, that's been on the books as part of the outgoing Stockpile Stewardship Plan, so it's obviously an increase from the onesie, two-sie capability that we have now, but not something new.

Just one comment on the gentleman from Russia about the NATO statement, he's right. There is a statement about nuclear weapons being "the supreme guarantee of NATO's security" and what this represents is a greater emphasis on the role of nuclear weapons within the European context and I think this is a whole area, if we had more time, we could spend a whole session just talking that the role of U.S. forward deployed weapons in Europe, the role of nuclear weapons in Europe in general. I think, I would really matter have seen this review taking a completely different approach which is looking at how we can consolidate those weapons back to the United States, rather than reinforcing their role and underscoring that we need to keep them there for all.

REIF: With that, let me thank our panelists for an excellent discussion. Let me thank all of you for coming. The conversation about the Nuclear Posture Review and the Trump Administration's nuclear weapons policy has just begun as has the Arms Control Association’s engagement on this question, so keep a lookout for future events, for additional resources on our website.

My coworkers have informed me that I must conclude with two final housekeeping notes before I'm allowed off the podium. The first is a note that the transcript of this event will be available by the end of the week for those of you who are interested in consulting it and then a final note that the Arms Control Association, we have a date for our annual meeting which will be April 19th here at Carnegie and this year's annual meeting will focus on the challenges facing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and nonproliferation regime on the occasion of that 50th birthday of the treaty, so please, we hope to see you join us at that event on the 19th and with that, thank you all for coming and let's thank our panelists.

END

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The Arms Control Association will host a briefing with a group of top experts to analyze the implications of the new Trump nuclear strategy.

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Strengthening Checks on Presidential Nuclear Launch Authority

January/February 2018
By Bruce Blair

U.S. nuclear launch protocol has important virtues and serious liabilities. Major changes are needed to constrain a president who would seek to initiate the first use of nuclear weapons without apparent cause and to prevent him or her from being pushed into making nuclear retaliatory decisions in haste.

From a Navy E-6 Mercury flying above the Pacific Ocean, an Air Force officer monitors the status of an unarmed Minuteman III missile being test launched April 26, 2017 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, by a control system aboard the aircraft. The E-6, a version of the commercial Boeing 707 aircraft, is intended to provide a survivable communication link from the president and other elements of the National Command Authority to the U.S. nuclear forces. (Photo: Keifer Bowes/U.S. Air Force)The virtues of the protocol—the procedures and timelines for ordering the use of nuclear weapons and for carrying out such an order—are twofold. First, it concentrates launch authority at the highest level of the executive branch, the presidency, taking it out of the hands of the military and others. This is a function of paramount importance. The principle of civilian control over weapons of mass destruction must never be compromised. Together with the imposition of organizational and technical safeguards on the weapons and their handlers, the protocol elevates the locus of launch capability, as well as of launch authority, to the highest practical level.1

Second, it is designed to allow the president and the nuclear forces under his command to respond rapidly and decisively in the face of an enemy attack by nuclear-armed missiles that can fly from the opposite side of the planet to U.S. territory in 30 minutes or from forward-deployed submarines in 15 minutes.2 This is of critical importance in view of the acute vulnerability of U.S. nuclear command, control, and communications, as well as of a large portion of the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal, particularly the silo-based missile force and the bomber fleet in its normal peacetime posture.3

Despite fast-flying inbound warheads, the protocol on paper provides enough time for detecting and assessing an attack, convening an emergency conference between the president and his top nuclear advisers, briefing the president on his options and their consequences, authenticating the president’s decision, and formatting and transmitting a launch order to the launch crews in time to ensure the survival and execution of their forces.

The flip side of these virtues are serious liabilities. The protocol concentrates authority and emphasizes speed to such a degree that it may allow a president to railroad the nuclear commanders into initiating a first strike without apparent cause and quickly executing an order that may be horrifyingly misguided, illegal, or both. A demented commander-in-chief could start a nuclear conflagration that no one could forestall, veto, or stop.

Equally deleterious, a president can become hostage to the protocol itself, like a conductor on a runaway train, if an enemy nuclear strike appears underway. He may be pushed into hastily ordering “retaliation” in response to a false alarm. Rationality would be lost in the fog of crisis under a short deadline fraught with confusion and emotion.

Protocol for Intentional First Use

If the president wishes to order the first use of nuclear weapons, he would be expected to do so in close consultation with his top national security advisers, particularly the secretaries of defense and state (statutory advisers on the National Security Council), the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the national security adviser, and the senior generals who command the military forces. Depending on the urgency of the situation, this could be a protracted process with extensive planning, heightened force readiness, and regular briefings of the president, or it could be truncated to minutes if an imminent attack is perceived.

The so-called nuclear football, kept close to a president by a military aide, is a briefcase containing nuclear war plans and options (not communications gear) to enable a president to act in an emergency. This retired satchel was put on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  (Photo: Jamie Chung/Smithsonian Institute)When a decision is imminent, the process goes critical. The commander-in-chief would be connected to his key advisers via a secure communications network designed to support nuclear emergency actions. The president could initiate this conference anytime, even abruptly in the night, through his military aide who is always nearby with the “football”—a satchel containing the nuclear war plans, including a one-pager graphically depicting the major options at his disposal.

The best location for conferencing would be the blast-resistant emergency operations center under the East Wing of the White House. Advisers could be assembled there, and others linked by secure phone. Such a conference could be convened almost anywhere, from Mar-a-Lago or other locations or aboard his ground-transport vehicles and dedicated aircraft, including Air Force One and his “doomsday” plane.4 Secure communications are far less reliable when the president is traveling or in the process of being evacuated to a safe location.

The advisers may or may not join the conference in a timely way. If a brewing crisis suddenly escalates and catches them off guard, key advisers may fail to get on the call before a president decides the time to strike has arrived. During nuclear release exercises and real-world incidents involving North Korea and other nations over the past decade, missile launch preparations or actual firings posing a potential threat triggered emergency conferences, but notification often failed to reach key advisers in time. Sometimes none of the advisers checked in, leaving the president and the head of Strategic Command (StratCom), whose role is to brief the president on nuclear options and their consequences, alone in the hot seats.5

After this briefing, the president may seek advice from any, all, or none of the advisers in the room or on the telephone before rendering a decision, which likely but not necessarily involves choosing a preprogrammed option.6 Formally, he does not need any approval or consent, although StratCom or others on the call could attempt to dissuade the president if his thinking or final decision veer into the realm of the obviously misguided or illegal.7 Even the defense secretary has no particular role other than offering advice if asked. Contrary to widespread belief, he does not confirm the order or otherwise bless it in any way. But this is their last chance to change the president’s mind before a formal launch order is prepared by the Pentagon, disseminated, and inexorably implemented.

Listening in on the exchange is the Pentagon war room, a kind of boutique service dedicated to executing the orders of the president and the defense secretary.8 Following the drift of the conversation, this entity would start preparing a launch order. When the president finally declares his choice of option, it would challenge the president to authenticate using a special code known as the “biscuit,” or Gold Code. This would take a few seconds. If the codes match properly, it would quickly format and transmit a launch order over multiple communications channels directly to the submarine, bomber, and underground launch crews.

This would take a couple of minutes. Shorter than the length of a “tweet,” the order would specify the war plan, the time to begin the strike, an unlock code needed by the firing crews to release their weapons, and a Sealed Authentication Code that must match the codes in the firing crews’ safe. If the codes match, the crews assume the order originated with the president, even though all the codes in the launch order are held exclusively by the Pentagon war room and alternate command centers such as StratCom itself.

The underground Minuteman crews could complete their launch checklist in a little more than a minute. Today, as many as 400 missiles could be launched from their underground silos in less than five minutes after the president gave the order.9

Submarines and bombers would be the primary attackers in a scenario involving North Korea. With two boats typically on launch-ready patrol in the Pacific Ocean, the sub force would be capable of quickly firing about 200 warheads roughly 15 minutes after the president gave the order.10 If the order came without a prior raising of alert readiness, however, the boats would surface to confirm its validity.

Bombers on full alert with bombs and cruise missiles loaded,11 as they would be in times of heightened tension, would need eight hours or so to fly from their U.S. bases to near the border of their target countries, where they would fire cruise missiles at inland targets or proceed to fly into enemy airspace to drop gravity bombs. They could deliver upward of 500 weapons.

Protocol for Second-Strike Scenarios

A decision to strike back in retaliation theoretically could be drawn out for days and weeks, but the protocol is designed to yield one in minutes. The basic procedures are the same for first and second use of nuclear weapons, but the timelines shrink in the latter case. Reactions from the bottom to the top of the chain of command to an apparent attack are driven by checklists and virtually preordained. The action could be described as a rote enactment of a prepared script with very high expectations in all quarters that a nuclear response would be authorized immediately.

U.S. Navy Admiral Cecil Haney (right), then-U.S. Strategic Command commander, and other officers monitor from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., a Minuteman III missile test launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., May 20, 2015. Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower through Ronald Reagan pre-delegated nuclear release authority extensively to military commanders. Recognizing that could compromise civilian control, such delegation was rolled back at the end of the Cold War. (USSTRATCOM courtesy photo)Historically, the notion of riding out an attack has been operationally anathema to the military. As General Lee Butler, a former head of the strategic forces, stated, “Our policy was premised on being able to accept the first wave of attacks…. Yet at the operational level it was never accepted…. They built a construct that powerfully biased the president’s decision process toward launch before the arrival of the first enemy warhead…a move in practice to a system structured to drive the president invariably toward a decision to launch under attack.”12

This is called “jamming” the president, or pressuring him to quickly authorize retaliation while under apparent or confirmed attack.13 Jamming is still the norm in current nuclear operations. Although President Barack Obama directed the Pentagon to reduce our reliance on launch on warning and find ways to increase warning and decision time, nuclear exercises still feature this high-pressure tactic. In some high-threat situations, the StratCom commander’s briefing of the president may be compressed to as little as 30 seconds, and then the president may be pressed to “deliberate and decide” in six minutes or less.

The persistent vulnerability of the nuclear command system and hundreds of U.S. missiles requires extremely fast reaction at all levels. In truth, everyone gets jammed. The risk of mistaken launch on false warning remains significant even today, 25 years after the end of the Cold War. It also creates pressure to pre-empt an imminent attack.

To relieve the jamming pressure today, the protocol must start earlier and under conditions of greater uncertainty about the degree of threat posed by missile launch preparations or actual firings. During the Cold War, even the really close calls did not rise to the level of presidential notification.14 Today, there are more missile launches than ever to track, and assessing whether they pose a threat has become more difficult.15

Ironically this surge, which has happened over the past decade or so, has spawned great unpredictability, complicated assessment, and led on multiple occasions to presidents being notified of an ambiguous imminent threat in progress.16

Reforms: Toward a True Retaliatory Posture

A six-minute deadline for deliberation and decision is ridiculous. The president needs much more warning and decision time to rationally cope with indications of a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies. He must no longer be jammed to authorize what could be a civilization-ending response to attack indications that may be false. The risks of miscalculation and irrational decision-making leading to incoherent operations and further escalation are unacceptably high.

This terrifying reality has been ignored for decades. Reform is long overdue.

Protesters from the Global Zero movement attend a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing November 14, 2017, on the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)This means that the current prompt-launch posture must be drastically altered. Use-or-lose forces such as the silo-based missile force should be eliminated. Launch on warning should be eliminated. Reducing the vulnerability of command, control, and communications to kinetic attack and cyberattack should be the top priority of the nuclear modernization plan, even if it means cutting spending on replacement forces in the pipeline. The submarine force has already become the premier leg of the strategic triad, the central component of U.S. deterrence policy. This force can patiently wait for months for direction from higher authority.

Equally overdue is the adoption of a policy that eschews the first use of nuclear weapons. A clear marker would be established in limiting the president’s leeway to initiate a first strike.17 If taken seriously, the operational plans would also be modified in ways that would hamstring any effort to order the use of nuclear weapons without apparent cause.

Congress has considerable legal standing to pass legislation that prohibits first use. A recent bill introduced by Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is a step in this direction,18 but a law would draw real redlines around the policy. Crossing them would make the president accountable and even impeachable.

The Trump administration appears to be heading in the opposite direction. Its nuclear review in the works is leaning toward the deployment of smaller-yield nuclear weapons (e.g., a primary-only warhead on Trident missiles) that will make them more usable in both first- and second-use scenarios. It is also leaning toward widening the conditions under which nuclear weapons may be used first in response to non-nuclear strategic aggression and toward revoking Obama-era assurances given to non-nuclear countries that the United States would never attack them with nuclear weapons.

The key challenge is moving to a true retaliatory posture19 that allows the president and his successors to provide enduring command and control over the submarine force. The nuclear protocol would thus place priority on their quick and safe evacuation to survivable and enduring command centers.

Other Promising Reforms

No single reform suffices. A combination of reforms is needed to reduce risk.

The Markey-Lieu bill. The premise of this bill is that employing nuclear weapons is tantamount to going to war and this responsibility belongs to the U.S. Congress, not the president, under Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution.20 The president therefore is to be prohibited from employing nuclear weapons first unless Congress has declared war and provided specific authorization for their use. The president would still retain the authority to order their use in the event of a confirmed nuclear attack against the United States or U.S. allies.

The bill might tie the president’s hands too much in some situations, such as an imminent and seemingly irrevocable nuclear strike by a country such as North Korea. Even if it did not, it might take too long to secure congressional approval. Additionally, if specific authorization is granted but the crisis drags on or takes a turn in unanticipated directions, the president would remain empowered and could still unilaterally make a terribly bad call later.

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Pennsylvania transits the Hood Canal August 2, 2017, as it returns home to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Wash. A submarine on patrol could launch its nuclear missiles as quickly as 15 minutes after a president gives the command. (Photo: Amanda Gray/ USSTRATCOM)The Betts/Waxman solution. Among the many proposals for adding more people to the chain of command, one of the strongest is to require the defense secretary to confirm that a presidential first-use order came from the president and the attorney general to certify that it is a legal order.21 This reform would address the growing danger of cyber intrusion generating deceptive presidential commands and authentications, and it adds a high-level legal oversight to first-use decisions. If the latter is going to be more than a rubber stamp, however, much deeper consideration of the legal issues will have to be undertaken and firm guidelines drawn in advance.

Although it is debatable whether Congress has the standing to dictate the chain of command within the executive branch, whose commander-in-chief possesses clear authority over the armed forces under Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress could press the Pentagon to devise its own solution that thickens the protocol with additional heads. Congress could exert its power over the purse to encourage compliance, for instance by withholding funds for nuclear modernization until the executive branch reformed the protocol in a satisfactory way.

Deepening consultation with Congress. In order to further check and balance the first-use authority vested in the president, Congress should pass legislation requiring the defense secretary to consult closely with the top four leaders of the Senate and House, as well as the chairs and ranking members of the committees responsible for defense spending, on matters pertaining to U.S. nuclear war plans. These leaders would be given greater access to the wartime plans that govern conventional and nuclear operations and be apprised of any changes to those plans that move the nation closer to their implementation. The defense secretary would be held accountable for timely briefings and answer sessions to ensure that these congressional leaders will be informed of pending military actions and able to assert their war powers and if necessary bring the full Congress into the debate. He would also be required to inform the president, vice president, and national security adviser if ongoing nuclear mission planning does not accord with the consensus view of congressional leaders.

Should the president’s operational direction of the nuclear forces overstep the consensus of the congressional leaders, particularly if it entails the first use of nuclear forces, the vice president could consider whether the president’s state of mind warranted invoking the 25th Amendment.

The Nuremburg solution. Both a former and the current head of StratCom recently claimed publicly that disobeying an illegal nuclear strike order offers a safeguard against a president gone berserk.22 They were attempting to allay the widespread concern about the temperament and character of the current commander-in-chief and the perception that the nuclear forces are under erratic and unreliable control. If not staunched, these worries could generate public hysteria and put the $1.3 trillion 30-year nuclear modernization program in jeopardy.

The assurances of the generals were not very convincing. First, a launch order normally would be transmitted by the Pentagon directly to the firing crews at the bottom of the chain, and StratCom and other senior military commanders receiving it at the same time could not interfere at this late stage. StratCom could scramble to issue a termination order but it would almost certainly arrive too late to stop the launch.23 Second, their comments suggested that they could not refuse a horrifyingly bad call by the president, but rather only an illegal one. Third, insubordination seems a weak reed to lean on given the deep-seated obedience to civilian control engrained in military culture, training, and its code of justice. By the same token, to the extent that it would be an effective safeguard, it may well undermine the sacred tenet of civilian control over the military. Fourth, they provided no clues as to what would constitute an “illegal” order and indeed created the impression that they would defer broadly to a president’s judgment of what constitutes an imminent threat warranting a pre-emptive or even preventive first strike. There was no opinion proffered, for instance, that President Donald Trump’s threat to prevent North Korea from acquiring the ability to deliver a nuclear warhead by missile to any target in the United States would be illegal if it means mounting a preventive conventional or nuclear strike, and no clear indication that the military would ever resist such orders on legal grounds.

The literature on the law of war, international humanitarian law, and other constraints on the use of force such as Articles 2 and 51 of the UN Charter, a treaty to which the United States is bound by law to observe, indicates that much is amiss already in U.S. nuclear war planning. It is a stretch indeed to reconcile these legal tenets with a nuclear target plan that includes upward of 1,500 nuclear aim-points, many hundreds located inside cities in Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.24

The target plans have already been vetted by military lawyers and legally certified for prosecution under certain circumstances, a fact that plants serious doubt that legal desiderata have been applied scrupulously. Dubious rationales such as “belligerent reprisal” to justify killing millions of civilians, departures from the law of war (proportionality, distinction, and necessity), and the self-defense clause of the UN Charter to justify pre-emption and even preventive strikes appear to be too readily invoked.25

The absence of crystal clarity in this arena begs for elucidation. The time is ripe for a reckoning of the legality of specific nuclear plans on the books, a serious endeavor to teach and train nuclear commanders in this area, and the international court of justice to revisit the question of the legality of using nuclear weapons.

Extralegal back channels. During the dark days of the Watergate scandal engulfing President Richard Nixon, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reportedly instructed the Pentagon to check with them before carrying out any strange orders from Nixon.26 This may have been a prudent intervention, however dubious in legal terms, but it represents only a stopgap measure that is not reliable and sets a bad precedent with insidious long-term effects on presidential governance. It is notable that these secretaries were civilians without military backgrounds. The current crop of senior advisers surrounding Trump are former senior generals who lack any proclivity to conspire against the commander-in-chief.

25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Should a president bark out an obviously illegal order, senior officials could notify the vice president in a bid to invoke the 25th Amendment. It provides a mechanism for the vice president to become the acting president. If the vice president secures in writing the concurrence of one-half or more of the Cabinet secretaries declaring the inability of the president to perform his duties for physical or mental reasons, then the vice president takes over as soon as this letter is delivered to the leaders of Congress. Unfortunately, the launch protocol is so streamlined that this constitutional intervention may prove too slow and cumbersome, but it does provide a potential recourse in some situations.

Enforce the War Powers Act of 1973. The law allows the president to send U.S. troops into combat for 60 days without congressional approval, during which time Congress must authorize the mission or else the troops must be withdrawn within 30 days after the 60-day grace period expires. Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman, the pre-eminent authority on this law, argues that the 60-day period begins when the president threatens to commit the forces,27 a somewhat controversial interpretation that suggests Trump’s tweeting and talking about destroying North Korea already started the 60-day clock, which has now run out. Congress has been too reluctant to exercise its war powers and needs to assert them vigorously.

ENDNOTES

1 These safeguards are the “two-person rule” prohibiting access or control by any single person other than the president, and the locking of weapons to prevent their use electro-mechanically unless and until unlock codes are provided to the firing crews. The unlock and launch authorization codes needed by the bomber, silo-based missile, and submarine crews are held exclusively by high-level military command centers, not the president. The locking devices were installed on these strategic forces in 1970, 1977, and 1997, respectively.

2 Bruce Blair, “Trump Could Face a Nuclear Decision Soon,” Politico, November 16, 2016, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/11/trump-north-korea-nuclear-crises-214457.

3 Although U.S. nuclear deterrence policy is conceptually predicated on the notion of maintaining a credible capability to absorb an enemy’s maximum assault and strike back with sufficient force to destroy the aggressor’s country, the practical reality is that these persistent vulnerabilities render the United States heavily reliant on extremely rapid reaction if an enemy attack is imminent or underway with incoming warheads streaking toward U.S. territory at four miles per second.

4 This plane is a militarized Boeing 747 airborne command post kept always on runway alert (home-based at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha or forward-deployed at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington) or shadowing the president during his travels abroad. It possesses all the codes needed to issue the “go-code” and the communications equipment to transmit it directly to the forces, including a five-mile-long trailing antenna to reach submarines.

5 In fact, he has become the primary initiator of the conference as a result of the surging proliferation of ballistic missiles and their prolific testing over the past decade.

6 A pre-planned option would take only minutes to execute. An innovated option could take hours to days.

7 David Welna, “What the Law of War Says About Nuclear Strikes,” NPR, November 29, 2017, https://www.npr.org/2017/11/29/567313562/what-the-law-of-war-says-about-nuclear-strikes.

8 This joint operations cell of the National Military Command Center is headed by a one-star flag officer. Normally, a colonel is the ranking officer on duty. See Ben Smith, “Kirk: ‘I Command the War Room in the Pentagon,’” Politico, May 21, 2010, https://www.politico.com/blogs/ben-smith/2010/05/kirk-i-command-the-war-room-in-the-pentagon-027162.

9 The Editors, “No One Should Have Sole Authority to Launch a Nuclear Attack,” Scientific American, August 1, 2017, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/no-one-should-have-sole-authority-to-launch-a-nuclear-attack/. Although the missiles are normally aimed at the open ocean, changing them to their wartime targets, preset in the missile’s memory for aim-points in Russia, China, North Korea, or Iran, is as easy as changing TV channels. They would not be involved in a nuclear strike confined to North Korea because they would have to fly over Russia and risk triggering mistaken retaliation by Russia against the United States.

10 Dave Merrill, Nafeesa Syeed, and Brittany Harris, “To Launch a Nuclear Strike President Trump Would Take These Steps,” Bloomberg Politics, January 20, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/graphics/2016-nuclear-weapon-launch/. The crew positions the boat at the proper launch depth (150 feet) and spins up the missiles’ gyroscopes for flight navigation to the designated targets. Missiles would emerge from their tubes one at a time every 15 seconds.

11 In peacetime, the entire nuclear bomber force is not armed with nuclear weapons. It takes 12-24 hours to load the weapons from local storage bunkers. Bruce G. Blair, “De-Alerting Strategic Forces,” in Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, ed. George P. Shultz, Sidney D. Drell, and James E. Goodby (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2008), http://media.hoover.org/sites/default/files/documents/9780817949211_ch2.pdf .

12 Jonathan Schell, The Gift of Time (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998), pp. 191-194.

13 Reason would likely be the first casualty, as U.S. presidents and their key advisers recognized. Zbigniew Brzezinski stated, “A sudden massive attack would put the American leaders under extraordinary psychological pressure, capable of inducing erratic behavior and hesitation.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, “From Arms Control to Controlled Security,” The Wall Street Journal, July 10, 1984. Brzezinski spoke from experience, having received a shocking call in the middle of the night in 1979 informing him of the launch of 220 Soviet submarine missiles at the United States. A second call indicated that 2,200 missiles were streaking toward the United States—an all-out first strike. His biggest worry at this stage was figuring out how he would convince a groggy president that this was the real thing requiring an immediate nuclear response. Zbigniew Brzezinski, in 2009 conversation with author. As he prepared to call President Jimmy Carter, he received a call ending the nightmare. A defective computer chip had caused the false alarm. See “The 3 A.M. Phone Call,” The National Security Archive, The George Washington University, March 1, 2012, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/nukevault/ebb371/.

14 There was much predictability in the U.S.-Soviet strategic confrontation. The United States knew much about Soviet missiles and their ranges and test practices. By mutual agreement, the United States received advance notification of their launches.

15 Over the past decade, countries in Asia having nuclear weapons—China, India, North Korea, and Pakistan—and Iran have accelerated their ballistic missile programs. Every day, events occur, often involving civilian or military missile launches, that require a look by the early-warning crews at Petersen and Offutt Air Force bases. They are tasked to provide a preliminary assessment whether North America is under nuclear missile attack within three minutes after receiving the first reports from satellites and ground radar.

16 This notification process now runs through two distinct channels, NORAD and StratCom, with the latter striving to get a head start and activating the protocol before an attack is confirmed or even before a missile lifts off from North Korea, China, Iran, or elsewhere.

17 In January 2017, Vice President Joseph Biden argued that “[g]iven 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. President Obama and I are confident we can deter—and defend ourselves and our Allies against—non-nuclear threats through other means.” Joe Biden, “Remarks by the Vice President on Nuclear Security,” American Presidency Project, January 11, 2017, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=121419.

18 H.R.4415, 115th Cong. (2017).

19 Bruce G. Blair, Strategic Command and Control: Redefining the Nuclear Threat (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1985), pp. 289-295.

20 Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017, H.R. 669, 115th Cong. (2017).

21 Richard K. Betts and Matthew Waxman, “Safeguarding Nuclear Launch Procedures: A Proposal,” Lawfare, November 19, 2017, https://www.lawfareblog.com/safeguarding-nuclear-launch-procedures-proposal.

The popular misconception that the defense secretary already plays a role may stem from the fact that he and the president constitute the “national command authorities.” It may also stem from the law that reorganized the Department of Defense in the 1980s. Under the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the chain of command is stipulated to run from the president to the defense secretary and then to the combatant commanders, but this law contains a loophole. It says this is the chain of command unless the president directs otherwise. See Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, Pub. L. No. 99-433, 10 U.S.C. 111 (1986).

22 See Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, November 14, 2017, https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/111417_Kehler_Testimony.pdf; Kathryn Watson, “Top General Says He Would Resist ‘Illegal’ Nuke Order From Trump,” CBS News, November 18, 2017, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/u-s-strategic-command-gen-john-hyten-resist-illegal-nuke-order-from-trump/.

23 Under some circumstances, StratCom would assume the duties of the Pentagon war room and would be in a position to withhold the transmission of a launch order. “U.S. General Says Nuclear Launch Order Can Be Refused, Sparking Debate,” Fox News, November 20, 2017, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/11/20/generals-comments-on-illegal-nuclear-launch-by-president-sparks-debate.html.

24 The author estimates that there are 80 aim-points in North Korea; half that many in Iran; 900-plus in Russia, including 250 economic and 200 leadership aim-points largely concentrated in cities (100 in greater Moscow alone); and more than 400 in China, including 250 and 60 such economic and leadership aim-points, respectively.

25 For discussions on international law as it applies to nuclear weapons use, see Col. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., “Taming Shiva: Applying International Law to Nuclear Operations,” The Air Force Law Review, Vol. 41 (1997), pp. 163-165; Theodore T. Richard, “Nuclear Weapons Targeting: Evolution of Law and U.S. Policy,” Military Law Review, Vol. 224, No. 4 (2017): 862-978.

26 Garrett M. Graff, “The Madman and the Bomb,” Politico, August 11, 2017, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/11/donald-trump-nuclear-weapons-richard-nixon-215478.

27 Bruce Ackerman, “How to Stop Trump Blowing It Up,” The New York Review of Books, November 28, 2017, http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/11/28/how-to-stop-trump-blowing-it-up/.


Bruce Blair is a member of the Princeton University research faculty in the Program on Science and Global Security and co-founder of Global Zero, an international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

 

U.S. nuclear launch protocol has important virtues and serious liabilities. Major changes are needed to constrain a president who would seek to initiate the first use of nuclear weapons without apparent cause and to prevent him or her from being pushed into making nuclear retaliatory decisions in haste.

The Enduring Challenge of Nuclear Security Coordination

January/February 2018
By Laura S.H. Holgate

Nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists can kill millions and wreak the world. This essential truth underpins the enduring, bipartisan U.S. commitment to enhancing the security of nuclear weapons and the materials that can make them.

President Donald Trump sits beside his national security adviser H.R. McMaster as he talks with South Korea's President Moon  Jae-In during their summit meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on November 7, 2017. (Photo: JEON HEON-KYUN/AFP/Getty Images)This task has become more multifaceted over time, and the bureaucratic machinery by which the United States pursues these goals has grown in size and complexity. Aligning the legal authorities, available funding, and institutional capacity of more than a dozen departments and agencies involved in policymaking and programmatic implementation for nuclear security is an enduring challenge—one made more difficult in the absence of senior political appointees.

U.S. nuclear security policies are pursued through a variety of avenues, including public and private statements by senior officials in bilateral and multilateral settings; scientific research on threats and the technologies to thwart them; training and capacity building with partners at home and overseas; negotiation of treaties and other international instruments; design and enforcement of national laws and regulations; provision, installation, and maintenance of equipment domestically and abroad; intelligence gathering and analysis; partnerships with related industries and civil society groups; and formal and informal international counterpart relationships at all levels and across all agencies.

Coordination of these myriad actors on a global stage is critical to achieving intended outcomes and to effective use of taxpayer resources. Absent deliberate and accountable coordination at all levels, messages get muddled, money gets wasted, equipment goes unused, gaps go unnoticed, opportunities are missed, and good will is squandered. No one wins awards or makes headlines with this thankless task. Yet without it, U.S. security is at greater risk; and aspiring nuclear terrorists are more likely to acquire the materials, skills, and opportunities to kill millions and inflict economic and political havoc on a global scale.

Effective coordination starts at the White House and engages more than a dozen departments, agencies, and offices. Even the best leadership will struggle with enduring coordination challenges, such as internally aligning programs and policies, working with Congress, liaising effectively with international partners, and facilitating information flow. President Donald Trump’s delays in filling key positions dealing with these matters makes coordination more difficult and reduces U.S. influence in addressing these vital issues internationally.

The National Security Council

The National Security Council (NSC) is at the apex of interagency coordination and closest to the president but often less visible to those outside the interagency process. Within the NSC, the lead player in nuclear security coordination is the directorate designated to deal with weapons of mass destruction (WMD), typically led by a senior director, but which changes its name, structure, and size with each administration.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s interest drove the planning for a series of biennial nuclear security summits. In this photo, Obama speaks April 1, 2016, during a closing session at his fourth and final nuclear security summit in Washington. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty Images)Other NSC offices are also involved; a dedicated staff member in each of the regional directorates often handles significant nuclear issues, such as East Asia, South Asia, and Russia. Depending on the issue, other NSC offices are also relevant, particularly those dealing with counterterrorism, multilateral affairs, and intelligence. NSC offices responsible for legislative and public affairs frequently are key partners.

As with the rest of the U.S. government, there is a built-in tension between regional and functional offices. In noncrisis times, this usually manifests itself in disputes over the agenda and talking points for meetings of the president or the national security adviser with his or her counterparts. The regional offices control the preparatory efforts for such engagements and have the last chop on the paper flow, and the regional senior directors are usually the last NSC staff person to brief the president before conversations with other heads of state.

This puts a premium on building strong day-to-day relationships between the WMD office and the regional offices so that key nuclear security issues are not being hashed out at the last minute as papers are due to the Oval Office, but rather that the regional teams understand the nuclear security landscape with key countries and work routinely with the nuclear team to frame and prioritize issues. In this sense, intra-NSC coordination is as critical as interagency coordination and depends heavily on the culture and expectations set by the national security adviser.

Alongside the NSC, the Office of Science and Technology Policy provides critical technical input and shares some of the coordination and writing burden. Its involvement can also be an important signal of credibility to the scientific community that its concerns are visible during the policy process.

Sometimes, the National Economic Council (NEC) is a relevant participant, especially where nuclear energy and nuclear security intersect, such as "123 agreements” for peaceful nuclear cooperation and spent nuclear fuel storage. The international economics team is typically dual-hatted between the NSC and NEC, and it runs the interagency processes related to the Group of Seven and the Group of 20, where nuclear security topics are often addressed.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) plays a key role in coordination between policy and resources. The OMB’s visibility on the ebb and flow of policy enhances its own carefully choreographed annual budget process. Ideally, the OMB national security team is on good, transparent terms with the NSC nuclear team and will seek views from the policy side as it is considering agency budget submissions. Yet, that does not always happen, and it takes effort and intention to make it work.

The NSC’s role is fundamentally coordination of the myriad U.S. government actors involved in developing and implementing nuclear security policy. A presidential directive, usually the first one issued by a new administration, establishes this process. Most coordination happens through interagency meetings at rising levels of seniority, from sub-interagency working groups led by NSC staff to interagency working groups led by NSC senior directors to deputies committees led by a deputy national security adviser to principals (cabinet officials) committees chaired by the national security adviser to formal NSC meetings of cabinet officials chaired by the president.

Christopher Ford was confirmed in December 2017 as assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, the department’s primary office for nuclear security issues. Previously, he served as a special assistant to the president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation at the National Security Council. (Photo: Terry Atlas)These meetings are used to prepare for events such as presidential meetings or multilateral gatherings; to develop response options for crises or ongoing issues, such as North Korea or Russia; to formally approve major policy documents, such as presidential directives; to obtain buy-in from senior officials who will need to be personally involved in policy implementation; and to resolve any other major interagency disagreements. Most nuclear security issues are determined at the working group levels because office directors, deputy assistant secretaries, and assistant secretary-level officials usually are adequately empowered to make the necessary programmatic, budget, and policy decisions regarding nuclear security issues and because the deputies and principals committees’ schedules are so constrained and the calendars of the deputies and cabinet secretaries are so packed that they rarely have time for nuclear security issues. Senior directors are generally expected to solve as many problems as possible at their level or below, but also to crystallize open issues and help agencies prepare their deputies or cabinet secretaries for participation in deputies and principals committees.

The NSC also coordinates interagency activity through paper review of press guidance, briefing memos and talking points for senior officials, instructions for delegations and embassies, and congressional testimony. Jointly with the OMB, the NSC leads discussions on agency budgets, although the sanctity of the OMB’s unique authority over agencies on budgetary decisions is important to preserve.

Departments and Agencies

The primary Department of State office for nuclear security issues is the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, led by an assistant secretary. The bureau is home to a large number of career civil servants who become deep subject matter experts, working alongside Foreign Service officers assigned on a temporary basis. The bureau oversees a modest budget for a range of nuclear security activities, primarily in training, and has the interagency lead on treaties related to nuclear security. It also leads interagency coordination of routine bilateral and multilateral nonproliferation dialogues held by the assistant secretary or undersecretary.

Most nuclear security issues also involve one or more regional bureaus, and issues involving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations involve the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. Embassies worldwide are responsible for facilitating delegations and providing ongoing connectivity and diplomacy with relevant international counterparts.

The Department of Defense has multiple offices and communities, and it has an enormous internal coordination burden. The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy nominally has the lead for interagency engagement, including representation at NSC meetings, where responsibility for nuclear security falls to the assistant secretary for global affairs and homeland security. In some instances, other parts of the department, such as the acquisition team, where policy is turned into contracts, or the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which has programmatic responsibility for most Defense Department nuclear security efforts, work directly with interagency counterparts. The Joint Staff is also typically represented at interagency meetings. This gives the Defense Department two “votes” at the interagency table, although the Joint Staff position is statutorily subordinate to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Responsibility for synchronizing Defense Department's countering-WMD missions shifted from U.S. Strategic Command (StratCom) to U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in October 2016. This adjustment reflected the growing recognition of the nonstate actor WMD threat after Islamic State forces formulated and used their own mustard agent in attacks in Iraq and Syria. SOCOM’s expertise in counterterrorism offers more applicable tools and an activist posture compared to the primary deterrence role of StratCom.

SOCOM appears to be taking a much more active role in the nuclear security mission, but it lacks familiarity with the nuclear interagency process. How engaged SOCOM and its policy counterpart, the assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict, will be in the interagency process remains to be seen. Unchanged, however, is the specialized role of SOCOM assets in responding to any suspected nuclear terrorism device or event overseas.

The Department of Justice and the FBI are less well-known participants on nuclear security issues. They lead the U.S. government response to any potential terrorist-related nuclear activity on U.S. territory. This uniquely sensitive role requires working painstakingly through the procedures for delegating presidential nuclear authorities down to specially trained FBI or military teams operating directly on a suspect device and on the interagency network that is generated to support a domestic or overseas incident. The FBI’s WMD Directorate plays a key role in liaising with law enforcement officials around the world and through Interpol, and it provides critical nuclear forensics capacity for use in domestic criminal investigations.

Staff at the National Counterterrorism Center, which brings together resources from various government agencies, wait for an address by President Barack Obama on October 6, 2009 in McLean, Va. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)The Department of Energy, through the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), currently makes the largest budgetary and programmatic contributions to U.S. nuclear security activities under the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, led by an assistant secretary-level appointee. This office combines policymaking and programmatic responsibilities. Many of the programs and activities of the NNSA, as well as other agencies, are executed by Energy Department national laboratories. These labs provide research and development, technical expertise, program management, and, in many cases, personal connections to counterparts overseas that ease doors open to nuclear cooperation.

In addition to the nonproliferation office, the NNSA Counterterrorism and Emergency Response offices play critical roles in preparations for searching and handling nuclear and radiological materials and in working with other countries to increase their radiological and nuclear response capacity, as well as to provide reach-back technical advice to those countries in real-time, real-life incidents. The Energy Department is responsible for the management of the 17 national laboratories and multiple industrial facilities involved in nuclear weapons production, nuclear energy research, and environmental cleanup, and the department establishes and oversees the nuclear security regulations for those sites.

The Department of Homeland Security’s main contribution to nuclear security comes through the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), responsible for research, acquisition, and deployment of radiation detectors around the country and among federal, state, and local officials. This office also has the interagency responsibility for centralized nuclear forensics analysis. By statute, it produces the Global Nuclear Detection Architecture, which describes the placement and capabilities for nuclear detection across the U.S. government and internationally. The interagency process by which this document is created and approved helps focus international priorities, and the DNDO has its own international relationships with customs and immigration officials overseas.

The primary interagency representation of the intelligence community on nuclear security issues comes from three parts of the Directorate of National Intelligence, which sits above the various intelligence agencies: the national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction, the National Counterproliferation Center, and the National Counterterrorism Center. The CIA office known as the Weapons and Counterproliferation Mission Center is also active in bringing intelligence information and analysis into the policy and program communities. Most of the other intelligence agencies also have specific nuclear security expertise and missions, and most of the cabinet agencies mentioned above have an intelligence component that contributes through the intelligence community.

Coordination within the intelligence community on nuclear security issues has always been challenging, and a recent effort to create a dedicated, all-source, cross-community team focused exclusively on nuclear terrorism was not successful. More successful has been the decade-plus project hosted by the Energy Department intelligence office to gather all information about the security of nuclear material in storage and transport globally into a single platform known as the Nuclear Materials Information Program. This set of information helps inform presidential briefings on nuclear security threats and programmatic prioritization of countries and facilities.

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations, which is organizationally and functionally separate from the State Department, is a key player for any aspect of nuclear security that takes place in New York. Activities related to UN Security Council Resolution 1540, Security Council meetings focused on nonproliferation and nuclear security, and the like are engaged in close coordination with the U.S. mission.

The independent status of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) puts it in a special category regarding coordination. On one hand, it does not take direction from the executive branch in setting the standards for domestic civilian nuclear facilities, including nuclear security regulations. On the other hand, they participate in policy discussions regarding nuclear security regulations and practices in other countries, and they have robust cooperative relationships with regulatory counterparts around the world.

The NRC plays a key role in reviews of security practices for U.S.-origin nuclear materials exported under "123 agreements” and provides significant expertise in consultations with the IAEA on nuclear security. Its independent status has created tensions based on concerns that interagency efforts to enhance international nuclear security standards or guidelines could add burdens to U.S. licensees or imply a critique of U.S. regulations.

All of these participants had roles in creating the success of the biennial nuclear security summits held from 2010 to 2016. The design and preparation of these events was driven strongly by the NSC, reflecting their origin as a personal priority of President Barack Obama, and the NSC led the small U.S. delegations to the summit planning meetings.

Determining the summits’ outcomes, however, required numerous sub-interagency and interagency working groups to refine policy goals for the summit communiqués, as well as to identify, prioritize, and extract high-impact deliverables from participating countries. Deputies and principals committees were used to gain leadership approval on the summit design and engagement in pursuing high-priority deliverables with their counterparts and to prepare cabinet officials for their own participation in the summits. Special intelligence products were developed, in coordination with interagency input, to brief Obama and other senior officials. The clear connection of priorities from action officer to the president and the empowerment that came from that connection were critical components of the summits’ impact in reducing nuclear material and preventing nuclear smuggling.

Coordination Challenges

The quality and effectiveness of coordination among these agencies varies greatly over time and among issues. Five enduring coordination challenges require attention, even if they are unlikely ever to be fully resolved.

First is the clarification and adjustment of programmatic roles and missions among the agencies in a way that aligns their legal authorities, budgets and capacities. Some of this is done around an NSC table, but often it is best done at operational levels on a topical basis among related programs. Obvious as this may be, stovepipes based on personality, information access, and turf will emerge from the best-intentioned coordination process and will always need to be broken down. Further, any informal coordination methods will reflect the peculiarities of the people and issues involved.

Second, it seems that every administration has to relearn the value of having common themes for agency witnesses to incorporate into their congressional budget testimony, given the distributed nature of nuclear security budgets and authorities across departments and across congressional oversight committees. In one example, a one-page overview of the agreed nuclear security strategy was developed for each department witness to place at the beginning of their testimonies in order to reflect how agency efforts complemented each other toward a coherent whole-of-government approach.

Third, management of the connection points with international partners is always a challenge. No country matches the depth and breadth of U.S. officials. U.S. delegations and programs are at constant risk of overwhelming the bandwidth of foreign partners. U.S. embassies often fight a losing battle in seeking to rationalize, prioritize, and sequence interagency activities. This is another good reason to build relationships in Washington between functional and regional teams so that embassy officials are hearing consistent messages from their own reporting chains and interagency delegations. Functional teams can also do a better job of finding ways to combine and prioritize contacts with overseas counterparts.

Fourth is the sharing of relevant information among all who need it to do their jobs. To best serve policymakers and program managers, clandestinely acquired information needs to be supplemented with tacit knowledge that any government official or contractor absorbs by virtue of their interactions in the course of doing their jobs. The responsibility to record and appropriately distribute this information extends from program implementers to senior officials, and it can be effectively performed without crossing sensitive lines between active collection and nonintelligence functions.

In this modern environment of diverse communications threads shifting from formal, old-fashioned cables to official emails and informal texts, opportunities can be missed to have a common picture of relevant facilities, communities, and technologies that feeds intelligence analysis, threat assessments, programmatic prioritization, and diplomatic engagement. When leaders make expectations clear and administrative barriers are low, this can work well, but it requires constant attention and development of trust over time.

The fifth point is the challenge of coordinating nuclear security policy with nuclear weapons and disarmament policy. In the United States, these are often managed by separate communities, and U.S. nuclear security and disarmament policies are not seen as interdependent, much less in conflict. For many other countries, especially non-nuclear-weapon states, this is not true, and many of them perceive the lack of progress on disarmament as more of a threat to their security than nuclear terrorism. They believe that terrorists are not sophisticated enough to build a weapon and that even if they did, it would be targeted at the United States or maybe Europe.

This perception has caused many countries and collectively the Non-Aligned Movement to perceive nuclear security cooperation as a favor they do for the United States and to hold global progress on nuclear security, such as at the IAEA, hostage in the absence of progress on disarmament. Although the process created by the new nuclear weapons prohibition treaty could provide a forum for countries to express their views on disarmament, it may only inflame the divisiveness in multilateral settings. This will require more coordination between U.S. positions and priorities on nuclear security and disarmament.

Effective coordination of policies, programs, and information flow is heavily dependent on the individuals involved. Many of the capable U.S. career officials have strong habits of working together, but the true character of coordination awaits the arrival of confirmed officials in assistant secretary-level positions, few of whom have even been nominated to lead the offices and bureaus described above.

Without confirmed officials in place, career staff can be unwilling to take risks or make decisions that could conflict with future policy direction from unknown bosses-to-be. “Acting” officials tend to have less impact in presenting and defending budgets internally and before Congress, and they often are not included in meetings with their cabinet secretary that generate guidance or decisions. In deputies and principals committees, acting officials can be less effective in debates with more senior, confirmed counterparts from other agencies. In a crisis, these leadership gaps can interfere with rapid decision-making, as well as the kind of authoritative interactions with international counterparts that would be required to build a collective response.

As long as the nuclear security interagency leadership remains thin, coordination will be incomplete, and the United States will be less capable to prevent or respond to a nuclear event. This should worry us all.


Laura S.H. Holgate is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a U.S. representative to the United Nations Office at Vienna and the International Atomic Energy Agency and a special assistant to the president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and threat reduction on the National Security Council.

 

 

Nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists can kill millions and wreak the world. This essential truth underpins the enduring, bipartisan U.S. commitment to enhancing the security of nuclear weapons and the materials that can make them.

Trump Sets INF Response Strategy

January/February 2018
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration is increasing the pressure on Russia over its alleged violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, confirming earlier press reports that its strategy to confront Moscow includes development of a new missile system that if built and tested would violate the accord.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, accompanied by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, visits the Peter the Great Strategic Missile Forces Academy near Moscow on December 22, 2017. Russia denies the U.S. claim that it is violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. (Photo: MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)The State Department announced on Dec. 8, the 30th anniversary of the treaty, that the administration is “taking new diplomatic, military, and economic measures intended to induce the Russian Federation to return to compliance and to deny it any military advantage should it persist in its violation.” This action follows a policy review and Russia’s continued refusal to address U.S. compliance concerns.

The department said that beginning research on “concepts and options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems,” which is not prohibited by the treaty, “will prepare the United States to defend itself and its allies.”

The United States will cease this research if Russia “returns to full and verifiable compliance” with the treaty, the department added.

Russia, which denies it has violated the treaty, responded harshly to the announcement. “It looks like conditions are being set ... for the United States to walk out on” the treaty, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at his annual year-end news conference Dec. 14.

Lawmakers voted in November to require the Defense Department to establish a program to begin development of a new ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) having a range prohibited by the treaty as part of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. (See ACT, December 2017.)

Some members of Congress have raised concerns about a tit-for-tat response, arguing that it could lead to a dangerous and unnecessary missile race in Europe. A bipartisan group of 13 senators wrote to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Dec. 8 urging them to prohibit the expenditure of fiscal year 2018 funds on a new GLCM. “We believe the development of such a missile would call into question the United States' commitment to uphold” its long-standing obligations under the treaty, they stated in the letter.

Neither the House nor Senate appropriations committee-approved versions of the fiscal year 2018 defense appropriations bill include funding for a new GLCM. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have yet to pass a final spending bill for the current fiscal year.

If the United States decides to deploy the new missiles, development would likely take years and cost several billion dollars.

Foreign ministers of NATO countries gather for a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels Dec. 6, 2017. The council issued a statement Dec. 15 saying the report of a new Russian missile system “raises serious concerns.” (NATO photo)The Trump administration said it will also continue to seek a diplomatic resolution, including through the treaty’s dispute resolution forum known as the Special Verification Commission (SVC), and pursue punitive economic measures against “entities involved in the development and manufacture of Russia’s prohibited cruise-missile system.”

The SVC met for the 31st time in Geneva on Dec. 12-14. It is not clear whether the meeting made progress or whether the parties agreed to meet again.

A State Department press release on Dec. 14 said the parties to the treaty “expressed the view that the INF Treaty continues to play an important role in the existing system of international security, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and that they will work to preserve and strengthen it.”

Since 2014, Washington has accused Moscow of violating its commitment “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a GLCM having a range prohibited under the pact. In the past year, the Pentagon has alleged publicly that Russia is fielding a noncompliant system.

The INF Treaty requires Russia and the United States to eliminate permanently their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles having ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

The Obama administration explored a range of military options to respond to Russia’s alleged violation, but ultimately decided to pursue a broader approach that went beyond its specific concerns about Moscow’s noncompliance with the treaty. (See ACT, January/February 2016.)

In announcing its new approach, the Trump administration for the first time revealed both the U.S. name for the missile of concern, the SSC-8, and the apparent Russian designation, the 9M729.

In a Dec. 9 statement, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov called the U.S. charges “totally unfounded” and reiterated Russia’s position that the United States is violating the agreement. Washington maintains that it is in full compliance.

Although previous Russian denials have not acknowledged the existence of the missile system in question, Ryabkov said the Trump administration had provided Russia with the name of a “missile research project” but that the missile is compliant with the treaty.

Meanwhile, NATO, which since 2014 has been reluctant to strongly condemn Russia for violating the treaty, said in a Dec. 15 statement that member states had identified a Russian missile system that “raises serious concerns” and called on Russia “to address these concerns in a substantial and transparent way, and actively engage in a technical dialogue with the United States.”

NATO’s actions, “including national measures taken by some allies, seek to preserve the INF Treaty, strengthen the alliance, and incentivize Russia to engage in good faith,” the statement added.

The Trump administration is increasing the pressure on Russia over its alleged violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, confirming earlier press reports that its strategy to confront Moscow includes development of a new missile system that if built and tested would violate the accord.

New START Future Uncertain

January/February 2018
By Kingston Reif

The United States and Russia are on track to fulfill their obligations under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by the agreement’s Feb. 5 implementation deadline, but the future of the agreement is in doubt.

In a display of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate provided its advice and consent to ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by a vote of 71-26 on December 22, 2010. Then-Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who together led the push for treaty ratification, met with reporters a day earlier, after winning a procedural vote. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)The treaty is one of the few remaining bright spots in the U.S.-Russian relationship, as both sides have abided by its terms.

Signed in 2010, the treaty requires each country to reduce its strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed delivery systems, and 800 deployed and nondeployed delivery systems by the February implementation deadline. New START also includes a comprehensive suite of monitoring and verification provisions to help ensure compliance with these limits.

As of the most recent biannual exchange of treaty data compiled by the State Department last September, the United States had met the limits for all three of the central weapons categories ahead of the deadline. Russia had reached two of the limits and was a mere 11 deployed warheads above the required limit of 1,550.

New START is set to expire on Feb. 5, 2021, and can be extended by up to five years without further approval by the U.S. Senate or Russian Duma if both presidents agree. But U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the treaty and in a January 2017 phone call responded negatively to a suggestion from Russian President Vladimir Putin that their countries work to extend the treaty, according to Reuters report.

Mikhail Ulyanov, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s nonproliferation and arms control department, said in a Dec. 19 interview with Interfax that Russia is willing to consider a five-year extension but that the United States is not currently “prepared for this kind of conversation.”

The U.S. administration is conducting a Nuclear Posture Review, which could involve consideration of the New START limits. (See ACT, March 2017.) The review is scheduled to be completed in February.

If New START is allowed to lapse with nothing to replace it, there would be no limits on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces for the first time in decades.

In November, Christopher Ford, then-special assistant to the president and National Security Council senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation, told an audience in Washington that New START “remains a valuable tool for ensuring transparency and predictability between the United States and Russia.”

“We hope that after the February deadline is met” and the administration’s nuclear posture and ballistic missile defense reviews are complete, “we can begin to assess whether or not extending New START for an additional five years…is in our national security interest,” said Ford, who is now assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation.

U.S. military leaders continue to see value in New START. Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress in March that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”

But some Pentagon officials have said that it is too early to consider extending New START. There is “no need to extend New START today,” Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee in March.

Apart from New START, other key pillars of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control architecture, like the bilateral relationship more broadly, are under siege, most notably the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating that accord.

The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act would have prohibited the use of funds to extend New START unless Russia returns to compliance with the INF Treaty. (See ACT, September 2017.)

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said at an event in Washington in July that by threatening New START and the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, two accords that Russia hopes to preserve, the United States demonstrates a “firm and unyielding response” to Russian noncompliance.

The final version of the authorization bill signed by Trump in December did not include the House language on New START.

The United States and Russia are on track to fulfill their obligations under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by the agreement’s Feb. 5 implementation deadline, but the future of the agreement is in doubt.

‘Killer Robot’ Debates Planned

At the annual meeting of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), delegates from 91 states agreed to continue formal deliberations on the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems, the technology often popularly called “killer robots,” at two conferences this year.

The Defender, an experimental robotic platform able to perform reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting tasks, is shown in a 2008 photo. The system was designed to be operated remotely by military personnel, although technology advances could make possible a similar system able to operate autonomously. (U.S. Air Force photo)The first meeting of the CCW group of governmental experts on these systems, which included interested states-parties and civil society groups, met on Nov. 13-17 in Geneva to discuss the topic for the first time in a formal session. Annual informal meetings of experts had been convened to discuss the systems from 2014 to 2016. The fifth review conference of the CCW in December 2016 established a formal group to meet in 2017 with a mandate to “explore and agree on possible recommendations” regarding the emerging technologies. (See ACT, January/February 2017). The experts group decided to extend its mandate and hold two more one-week sessions this year. The full conference of the CCW, which met in Geneva on Nov. 22-24, affirmed that decision.

Many nongovernmental groups advocating for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems welcomed the extension, but expressed frustration at the lack of progress in negotiating any legal instruments despite growing concerns among civil society groups, scientists, and parliamentarians. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an international coalition, said in a Nov. 24 statement that it “remains disappointed that all countries seem able to do is roll-over the previously agreed mandate and meet for just 10 days during 2018. This decision does not reflect a sense of urgency.”

According to the group, 22 states now support a legally binding instrument to pre-emptively prohibit these systems before they are deployed by any states. China, Israel, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are among the countries developing the technology.—MACLYN SENEAR

‘Killer Robot’ Debates Planned

U.S. and Russia Should Avoid Escalation and Commit to Resolve Lingering INF Treaty Dispute

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Statement by Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which was signed 30 years ago today, eliminated an entire class of destabilizing U.S. and Soviet nuclear-armed weapons and helped end the Cold War. Although the INF Treaty is clearly in the security interests of the United States, Europe, and Russia, the treaty is in jeopardy.

Soviet inspectors and their American escorts stand among U.S. Pershing II missiles destroyed in accordance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in a photo taken January 14, 1989. (Photo credit: MSGT Jose Lopez Jr./U.S. Defense Department)

According the U.S. government, Russia has violated the INF Treaty by testing and subsequently deploying a small number of ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) with a range between 500 and 5,500 km. Russia denies that it has violated the treaty and has instead raised its own concerns about U.S. compliance with the agreement. This is a serious matter.

Both sides say they support the INF Treaty, but they have not been able to resolve the compliance dispute through the Special Verification Commission (SVC), a technical forum designed to resolve compliance concerns. The U.S. side has requested a second meeting of the SVC on December 12-14 to address the matter once again. This is an important opportunity that both sides must use to bring forward additional details about their concerns, as well as discuss concrete and practical solutions, rather than only exchange complaints and vague allegations.

The Trump administration announced today that it is committed to the INF Treaty and to bringing Russia back into compliance, which is helpful. What is not helpful is its proposal to recommit to the treaty by taking steps that would put the United States on the path to violating it. The administration announced that it is pursuing a tit-for-tat response: the development of new, INF non-compliant conventional missile.

As long as Russia remains in noncompliance with the treaty, the United States should make clear it clear that Russia will not be allowed to gain a military advantage from its violation.

But a symmetric response won’t make the United States or Europe any safer and will only make the problem worse. Earlier this year, the Republican-led Congress opened the door to this escalation of the problem by authorizing a program of record for such a weapons system.

The INF Treaty does not prohibit research or development, but going down this road sets the stage for Washington to violate the agreement at some point and it takes the focus off of Russia’s INF violation. Rather than persuading Russia to return to compliance, this action is more likely to give Moscow an excuse to continue on its current course.

New ground-launched intermediate-range missiles are not needed to defend NATO or Northeast Asian allies. U.S. forces are already stocked with formidable air- and sea-launched missiles that can cover the same targets. Furthermore, a new U.S. INF missile would take years to develop and cost billions of dollars that would drain funding from other military programs.

Most importantly, NATO does not support a new missile, and no country has offered to host it. It is thus a missile to nowhere. If the Trump administration tries to force the alliance to accept a new, potentially nuclear missile it would divide the alliance.

Instead, both sides must recommit to resolve this issue and use the existing treaty compliance resolution mechanism, the SVC, to evaluate competing technical claims and ultimately to remove from deployment any INF systems in Russia that do not comply with the treaty.

In addition to working to preserve and strengthen the existing bilateral arms control architecture, including the INF Treaty, the U.S. and Russia should begin to discuss the future of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which can and should be extended for another five years. These agreements constrain Russia's nuclear forces and provide stability, predictability and transparency. They have only increased in value as the U.S.-Russia relationship has deteriorated.

 

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Statement by Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball

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