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– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
European Security

Nuclear Cruise Missiles: Asset or Liability?

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March 5, 2015
By Greg Thielmann

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The future of U.S. and Russian nuclear cruise missiles is at an inflection point. Russia's alleged testing of a ground-launched cruise missile has jeopardized not only the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, but other bilateral nuclear agreements as well, adding further strain to the U.S.-Russian relationship.

The U.S. allegation and Moscow's three counter charges should be resolved with the help of the treaty's Special Verification Commission, which was explicitly designed to deal with compliance issues. But the two countries need to take a broader look at nuclear cruise missiles.

New strategic cruise missiles are part of an unaffordable drive by Washington and Moscow to simultaneously modernize all three legs of their strategic arsenals. Given the increasingly marginal role that nuclear cruise missiles play in ensuring a U.S.-Russian balance and their destabilizing impact when deployed by emerging nuclear powers such as Pakistan, it is time to consider doing away with them entirely.

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The future of U.S. and Russian nuclear cruise missiles is at an inflection point.

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Hill Withholds Funds for Work in Russia

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) talks with reporters as he walks to the Senate floor for the start of a series of votes on December 12, 2014, the day that the Senate voted to approve the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2015. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)Congress voted in December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia amid uncertainty about the future of collaborative efforts between Washington and Moscow in that area.

Lawmakers also voted to significantly curtail Defense Department Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs in Russia.

Despite the decision not to fund the budget request for the Energy Department programs, unspent money within the department’s nonproliferation account will allow activities in Russia to continue if Moscow agrees to such cooperation, a Senate Appropriations Committee staffer said in a Dec. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

These provisions were part of the fiscal year 2015 omnibus appropriations and defense authorization bills, both of which Congress passed in December at the end of the 113th Congress. Fiscal year 2015 started on Oct. 1, 2014, and runs until Sept. 30.

Of the money Congress withheld for Energy Department work in Russia, $25.4 million was taken from the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), and $66.9 million was subtracted from the International Material Protection and Cooperation (IMPC) program.

In his e-mail, the Senate staffer said that there is enough unspent money left over from previous years’ appropriations and the spending bill that funded the government from Oct. 1 through mid-December to “complete activities” in fiscal year 2015 “and start new activities” if Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz approves them. According to budget figures shown to Arms Control Today, roughly $100 million remains available to continue work in Russia by the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in fiscal year 2015.

Congress also put constraints on the Defense Department’s nuclear security work in Russia. The defense bill prohibits funding for CTR programs in Russia beyond fiscal year 2015 without specific authorization from Congress. “[T]he traditional manner in which the program’s activities have been carried out in the Russian Federation is no longer necessary and no longer sustainable,” said the explanatory report accompanying the bill. “[S]ecuring and destroying nuclear weapons and nuclear material is now a Russian responsibility and one that the United States should no longer fund without Russian cooperation,” the report added.

The decline in congressional support for nuclear security work in Russia comes as Moscow has taken steps to wind down cooperation with the United States, putting the future of such cooperation in doubt. (See ACT, December 2014.)

The omnibus bill provided funding above the budget request for other nuclear security efforts, including an extra $32 million to complete installation of fixed detection equipment to prevent nuclear smuggling at vulnerable border crossings, airports, and small seaports in key countries around Russia and in high-threat areas in the Middle East. The bill also added funds to accelerate efforts to develop a new generation of warhead monitoring technologies and improve capabilities to detect low-yield nuclear tests.

Despite these increases, the final spending level for Energy Department nonproliferation work fell far short of what the Senate appropriations energy and water subcommittee, which funds the department’s nuclear security programs, approved in July. The full appropriations committee and the full Senate never voted on that bill. Although the subcommittee provided about $825 million, well above the budget request of $638 million for the GTRI and IMPC programs, the omnibus bill reduced their funding to $597 million.

Instead, the final funding levels for the GTRI and IMPC programs mirror those approved by the House, which withheld funding for work in Russia and funded other activities at roughly the same level as the budget request.

In the Dec. 19 e-mail, the Senate staffer said that increasing the funding for nonproliferation activities in the omnibus bill “was an uphill battle” for a number of reasons, including the Obama administration’s “inadequate” fiscal year 2015 budget request for nonproliferation “and uncertainty about the future of some of these nonproliferation programs.” In August, 26 senators sent a letter to the White House criticizing the administration’s proposed cuts to nonproliferation programs over the last several years. (See ACT, September 2014.)

Signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 16, the omnibus appropriations bill is a $1.1 trillion conglomeration of 12 appropriations bills that had to be passed to keep the government operating. The bill provides funding for agencies covered by 11 of the appropriations bills for the remainder of the fiscal year and continues spending at last year’s funding levels for the Department of Homeland Security until Feb. 27.

The $577 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which Obama signed Dec. 19, establishes spending ceilings and sets policy for Defense Department and NNSA activities.

Overall, the omnibus bill includes approximately $8.2 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the NNSA, an increase of roughly $406 million from last year’s funding level.

New Cruise Missile Funded

The omnibus bill includes a compromise between the Senate and House to provide $9.4 million, the amount the NNSA had requested, to study a refurbishment of the warhead for the nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). The funding figure essentially split the difference between the House, which initially approved $17 million for the study, and the Senate, which provided no funding for the concept study. (See ACT, November 2014.)

According to the Senate staffer, the bill makes no commitment to ultimately fund a life extension program for the ALCM warhead. The bill mandates that before the NNSA moves beyond the concept study phase, the NNSA must provide Congress with a report on the military requirements and preliminary cost and schedule estimates for a refurbishment effort.

The omnibus bill also requires the defense secretary to submit a report to Congress “describing the requirements, anticipated missions, programmed funding by fiscal year, and current program schedule” for the new missile that will carry the refurbished warhead. The Air Force’s fiscal year 2015 budget request delayed the new missile program by three years. According to an aide for Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the outgoing chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, the “general intent” of the report “is to have [the Defense Department] better explain” the acquisition strategy for the new missile program.

Meanwhile, the defense authorization bill dilutes provisions in the original House bill regarding the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), Russia’s alleged noncompliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, and the maintenance of U.S. Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos. The House bill barred the spending of any money to carry out the reductions required by New START until Russia met a number of conditions, including “respecting the sovereignty of all Ukrainian territory.” The final bill merely requires a report from the Defense Department stating the reasons that continued implementation of New START is in the national security interests of the United States.

Similarly, the House bill required the Defense Department to prepare a plan for developing new U.S. intermediate-range missiles in response to Russia’s alleged INF Treaty violation, but the final bill asks for a report on steps being taken or planned by the department to respond to the violation (see story below). Moreover, while the House bill demanded the maintenance of 450 operational Minuteman III ICBM silos without an end date for that requirement, the final bill requires the maintenance of the silos only until 2021.

Missile Defense Scrutinized

Personnel at the Missile Defense Integration and Operation Center on Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado work at the test control facility during the flight test of a ground-based interceptor on June 22, 2014. (Missile Defense Agency)The defense bill includes provisions to strengthen congressional oversight of U.S. missile defense programs. One section requires that prior to production or deployment of “a new or substantially upgraded interceptor or weapon system of the ballistic missile defense system,” the defense secretary must ensure “sufficient and operationally realistic testing” of the system and that the testing results demonstrate “a high probability” that the system “will work in an operationally effective manner.” The provision also requires the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation to provide an assessment of the “sufficiency, adequacy, and results of the testing.”

Another section requires the defense secretary to commission an independent study on the testing program of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. The study must include “an assessment of whether the currently planned testing program” for the missile system “is sufficient to establish reasonable confidence that the…system has a high probability of performing reliably and effectively.”

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

Overall, the omnibus bill provided $1.1 billion for the GMD system, including $43 million more than the administration requested to upgrade the Capability Enhancement II kill vehicle. The bill also funded the administration’s $99.5 million request to begin work on a redesigned kill vehicle for the system. (See ACT, July/August 2014.)

Congress voted in December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia...

Scottish Vote Preserves UK Nuclear Force

By Jefferson Morley

Voters in Scotland rejected independence in a Sept. 18 referendum that threatened to break up the United Kingdom and force relocation of UK nuclear forces. By a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent, the electorate voted against abandoning Scotland’s 307-year-old union with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. 

The vote spared the UK government the expensive prospect of having to move its only nuclear submarine base, at Faslane, Scotland, and nuclear arms depot, in nearby Coulport. The Scottish National Party (SNP), sponsor of the referendum, had touted independence as a way to make the country free of nuclear weapons by 2020. Relocating the two facilities to England would have cost 2.5 billion to 4 billion pounds, according to a study by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

The Faslane base is home port for the UK’s four Trident nuclear-armed submarines, each of which is equipped with as many as 40 thermonuclear warheads on U.S.-designed and -built ballistic missiles. “Trident” technically refers to the missile, but the term is used in the UK to mean the entire system.

The SNP sought to outlaw such weapons on Scottish territory.

“Trident is an affront to basic decency with its indiscriminate and inhumane destructive power,” the Scottish government declared in a November 2013 brief for independence. 

 The UK Ministry of Defence, which plans to replace the Trident fleet in the next decade, contended in an October 2013 analysis of Scottish independence that “the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent plays an essential part in the UK’s and NATO’s overall strategy and provides the ultimate assurance against current and future threats.” 

During the referendum campaign, the UK government promised to “devolve” more powers to the Scottish government. But defense will remain a “reserved” matter controlled by the government in London, and the Trident submarines will remain at Faslane, Malcolm Chalmers, a RUSI analyst, said in Sept. 19 e-mail.

Voters in Scotland rejected independence in a Sept. 18 referendum that threatened to break up the United Kingdom and force relocation of UK nuclear forces.

Russia, U.S. Face Off Over INF Treaty

By Diane Barnes

Russia and the United States failed in a high-level September meeting to end a standoff over Washington’s claim that Moscow breached a landmark nuclear arms control treaty by testing a new medium-range, ground-launched cruise missile as early as 2008, officials from the two governments said. The U.S. State Department formally issued the long-discussed claim in a July 2014 compliance report amid rising international tensions tied to Moscow’s backing of separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

The United States asserted that the Russian tests constituted a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Russia and the United States continue to possess nuclear arsenals far larger than any other country’s, and the alleged violation has been seen as further dampening prospects for any new bilateral initiative to further draw down the stockpiles. 

“The U.S. concerns were not assuaged in this meeting,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a press briefing on Sept. 11, after the INF Treaty compliance meeting in Moscow. “We had a useful exchange of ideas. We agreed to continue the dialogue.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement affirming a shared interest in keeping the treaty in force, but added that “no satisfactory answers were given to Russia’s questions” in the September talks. Russia did not elaborate on its concerns, but Moscow recently suggested that Washington might itself be guilty of violating the treaty.

“It is not a secret that the main problems with [the treaty’s] implementation occurred many times because of the United States,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a July 31 statement. The ministry contended that Washington has breached the pact by deploying armed unmanned aerial vehicles and by launching target missiles to test its defensive interceptors. Moscow tied additional possible violations to the MK-41 Vertical Launching System used on some U.S. warships.

The United States dismissed the suggestion that it may be guilty of stretching the pact’s terms. “We…reject any notion of any noncompliance issues on our side here,” Harf said at the briefing. The U.S. delegation to the meeting was led by Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. The team included representatives from the National Security Council and the Defense and Energy departments.

Washington and Moscow agreed to convene additional discussions, but neither side offered any hint of the timing for follow-up talks. In Sept. 16 remarks to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov appeared noncommittal about pursuing the exchange.

“It is possible that the dialogue on the issue will continue,” Ryabkov said. “However, at the moment we have no common understanding of when and where this dialogue may continue.”

The 1987 treaty, which remains in effect, was the first between the United States and Soviet Union to incorporate a tight regime of on-site inspections to verify reductions to their respective nuclear stockpiles. The pact eliminated a combined total of nearly 2,700 intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

The lingering compliance controversy has remained a key concern on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where lawmakers were set to weigh a draft proposal aimed at barring nuclear arms reductions beyond those mandated under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

The initiative, contained in a continuing appropriations resolution for the 2015 fiscal year, would bar the administration from unilaterally pursuing nuclear weapons reductions beyond those required under New START. That pact requires Russia and the United States to cap their nuclear deployments by 2018 at 700 missiles and bombers on each side, with backup fleets of no more than 100 additional delivery vehicles. The treaty also would bar each country from deploying more than 1,550 nuclear warheads.

Spokespeople for Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), declined to specifically address how the lack of progress in September’s bilateral talks might affect their consideration of the proposed New START limitations.

Meanwhile, others in Congress have considered the military impact of any new Russian missiles deployed in breach of the treaty. In a Sept. 8 commentary for Foreign Policy magazine, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) argued that if Moscow deployed the mobile, intermediate-range cruise missile, it would undermine NATO deterrence and assurance planning, as a ground-launched weapon would be “much harder to find” than counterparts deployed on submarines and aircraft. 

“The Russian deception of negotiating a nuclear arms reduction while building up nuclear arms poses a direct threat to the United States,” said Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Speaking to The New York Times in April, Gen. Philip Breedlove, the head of U.S. European Command, said the United States and NATO would need to respond in some fashion if they could not resolve concerns over Russia’s possible INF Treaty violation.

“It can’t go unanswered,” added Breedlove, who is also NATO’s top-ranking commander.

A U.S.-Russian meeting failed to clear up differences over what Washington claims was a Russian violation of a pivotal, Cold War-era nuclear arms control agreement.

NATO Moves Trigger Russian Response

By Jefferson Morley

In response to Russian intervention in Ukraine, NATO countries agreed last month to create a rapid reaction force, endorse new economic sanctions against Russia, and boost defense spending. Russian President Vladimir Putin countered by ordering a major military exercise and repeating previous declarations that his country would fortify its conventional and nuclear forces. 

“Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine have fundamentally challenged our vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace,” the NATO countries declared at the end of their Sept. 3-5 summit meeting in Wales. 

According to the Associated Press, Putin responded by saying, “We have warned many times that we would have to take corresponding countermeasures to ensure our security.” In Sept. 11 comments, Putin said Russia’s weapons modernization program over the next decade would focus on building a new array of offensive weapons to provide a “guaranteed nuclear deterrent,” rearming its air force, and developing high-precision conventional weapons. 

The actions marked a further worsening of relations between Russia and NATO over Ukraine and a setback for arms control efforts, according to regional experts. 

The 28 member countries of NATO agreed to create a 4,000-person “spearhead” force, capable of deploying anywhere within the territory of alliance members on 48 hours’ notice.

NATO already has a response force, but several days are required to place those troops on the ground at a target destination. The new force will include ground troops with air and maritime support, as well as special operations forces to confront the type of paramilitary forces now fighting in eastern Ukraine. 

The creation of the new force “sends a message to the Baltic states and the Poles and Romanians and others that as far as NATO as a whole [is] concerned, their territory is as important to [NATO] as any other piece of territory, and that they can count on not only America’s commitment, but NATO’s commitment to their collective defense,” Ivo Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO, said during a Sept. 3 press call. 

“[T]hat, in turn, is meant to send a signal to Vladimir Putin and to Moscow that basically says, ‘Don’t even think about doing what you’re doing in Ukraine on NATO territory because we will react swiftly, quickly, rapidly, and with maximum force to make sure that you do not succeed,’” Daalder said.

The Western allies expect to have “an initial capacity with this much more rapid response time in less than a year,” NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow said in a Sept 18 speech in Poland. “It won’t be all finished, but we recognize that the threats are here, [and] we can’t put this on the slow track.”

The new sanctions target Russian state-owned financial, defense, and energy companies. They strengthen measures that the United States and the European Union instituted in late July to target key engines of the Russian economy after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.

France Suspends Deal 

Under pressure from Western allies, France announced on the eve of the NATO summit that it was suspending the scheduled delivery to Russia of a French-made Mistral helicopter carrier ship for two months. 

“Russia’s recent actions in the east of Ukraine contravene the fundamental principles of European security,” said a statement from the office of President François Hollande. According to the statement, Hollande “has concluded that despite the prospect of [a] ceasefire [in Ukraine], which has yet to be confirmed and put in place[,] the conditions under which France could authorise the delivery of the first helicopter carrier are not in place.” 

In a press conference at the NATO summit, Hollande said he would review the suspension in late October and that he had two conditions for delivery of the ship: a cease-fire in Ukraine and a political settlement that resolves the country’s crisis. 

The NATO countries pledged during the summit to reverse a trend of declining defense budgets by committing to move toward spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. In 2012, only the United States (4.5 percent), United Kingdom (2.5 percent), Greece (2.3 percent), and Estonia (2.0 percent) spent at the levels NATO now seeks, according to the NATO secretary-general’s 2013 annual report. 

Saber Rattling

NATO acted after Putin made a pointed speech Aug. 29 declaring, “I want to remind you that Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations. This is a reality, not just words.”

Nonetheless, the NATO actions stopped short of violating a nonbinding U.S. pledge made in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, Lee Feinstein, former U.S. ambassador to Poland, said in a Sept. 17 interview. 

In the agreement, NATO promised to carry out its collective defense mission without “additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces,” a provision that Russian President Boris Yeltsin interpreted as a binding commitment by NATO that the alliance would not permanently deploy combat forces near Russia. NATO took care to emphasize that the new force would not be permanently stationed close to Russia, said Feinstein, now dean of the School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University.

“NATO wants to leave open the possibility of a diplomatic solution,” he said. “This is not a return to the Cold War, but it is very destabilizing when Russia engages in nuclear saber rattling.” 

At the NATO summit two years ago in Chicago, the allies debated and turned down a German proposal to reduce nuclear weapons in Europe, said Jorge Benitez, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, in a Sept. 18 interview.

“With recent Russian aggression, the consensus to stick with the status quo has only been strengthened,” he said. “Now it would be much harder to reduce NATO’s nuclear deterrent.”

After Western allies announced new sanctions and military measures aimed at deterring Russia in Ukraine and eastern Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to continue Russia’s conventional and nuclear buildup. 

U.S.-UK Nuclear Pact Revised

Jefferson Morley

The United States and the United Kingdom revised and extended their long-standing nuclear forces cooperation agreement in July, with President Barack Obama declaring that “continu[ing] to assist the United Kingdom in maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent” is in the U.S. national interest.

A July 24 White House statement said the changes would “ensure consistency with current United States and United Kingdom policies and practice regarding nuclear threat reduction, naval nuclear propulsion, and personnel security.” Because portions of the new agreement are secret, Obama sent classified and unclassified versions of the agreement to Congress, according to the statement.

As the UK debates the long-range future of its submarine-based Trident nuclear forces, the renewed agreement authorizes U.S. support through 2024. A 1958 mutual defense pact between the two countries allows transfer of “classified information concerning atomic weapons; nuclear technology and controlled nuclear information; material and equipment for the development of defense plans; training of personnel; evaluation of potential enemy capability; development of delivery systems; and the research, development, and design of military reactors,” according to the White House.

Arms Control Association Statement On Extension of P5+1 Nuclear Talks With Iran

(UPDATED 7:45 pm EST) By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director Tonight in Vienna, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced that the negotiations between the United States, other great powers, and Iran to resolve concerns about that country's nuclear program will continue for as many as four more months. In a joint statement, Ashton and Zarif said the two sides have agreed to extend the interim agreement (a.k.a. the Joint Plan of Action ) reached on November 24, 2013 and will resume talks on a comprehensive agreement within weeks--most likely in...

Removal of Syrian Chemical Weapons Arsenal A Breakthrough, Yet There Is More To Be Done

Statement of Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association Ten months ago , the government of Bashar al-Assad launched a horrific Sarin gas attack that killed over 1,000 civilians on the outskirts of Damascus. The August 21 attack prompted the United States and Russia to strike an agreement that put into motion an expeditious plan for accounting, inspection, control, and elimination of Syria's deadly arsenal under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Today, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü announced that the last of the remaining...

Rushing to Failure, Again

Hit or Miss, Sunday's Missile Defense Test Will Not Justify Expansion If the interceptor in Sunday's test hits, its test record would be one-for-three. Good for baseball, bad for stopping nukes. The United States has better alternatives. By Tom Z. Collina In 2004, President George W. Bush began fielding the Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) system that is in place today, composed of 30 interceptor missiles in Alaska and California, intended to counter a possible long-range missile attack from North Korea or Iran. Ten years later, it is all-too clear that the prototype system was rushed into...

European Missile Defense No Answer to Russia

USS Monterey armed with SM-3 Block IA interceptors and the Aegis missile defense system. The SM-3 cannot intercept Russian long-range missiles. The just-passed House Armed Services Committee plan to accelerate U.S. missile defense deployments in Poland to counter Russian action in Ukraine is all bark and no bite. By Tom Z. Collina The United States has a strategic interest in establishing economic and political stability in Ukraine, reassuring nervous NATO allies, and warning Russia that further interference in Ukraine or elsewhere would be a serious mistake. Congress, however, should be...

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