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– Maura Davenport
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December 12, 2017
China

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: China

July 2017

Updated: July 2017

China, one of the five nuclear weapons states under the NPT, is estimated to possess 280 nuclear warheads, an arsenal that has steadily increased in recent years. It has simultaneously sought to modernize and expand its nuclear delivery systems, which include some 143 nuclear-capable land-based missiles and a limited number of submarines, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. China’s self stated nuclear policy has been to keep its capabilities at the minimum level required to maintain its national security and to deter a potential first strike, and it was the first nation to declare a “No First Use” policy.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Six-Party Talks
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

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1992

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

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Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

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1989*

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

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2009

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

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1984

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

2010

*China stated that it will not be bound by the dispute settlement procedures in Paragraph 2, Article 17

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Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Not a member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Not a member.  China, in 2004, applied for membership, but Beijing did not receive the necessary consensus approval of the group because the United States and some other countries continue to find fault with Chinese missile and technology exports. China says it abides by the MTCR guidelines.

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Not a member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signatory, entered into force in 2002

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Participant

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Not a participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Not a participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

China has filed reports on activities to fulfill the resolutions

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
China does not publicly release information about the size of its nuclear arsenal. As of January 2018, China is estimated to possess 280 warheads. China’s nuclear arsenal has been steadily increasing with respective figures placed at 240 in 2011 and 250 in 2013 and 260 in 2016.  China’s warheads are thought to be kept in storage under central control during times of peace. It is uncertain whether or not China possesses a non-strategic nuclear arsenal.

China's nuclear policy has been defined by possessing the minimum capabilities needed to deter a first strike from a potential aggressor.

Delivery Systems
Nuclear Modernization

  • China’s nuclear delivery systems are undergoing modernization programs, keeping with the modernization efforts of its People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Such efforts are viewed by Chinese leaders as essential for achieving great power status and advancing national interests and sovereign claims.
  • Hans M. Kristensen & Robert S. Norris report that, “The modernized force is more mobile, responsive, and accurate, and can overwhelm a limited US ballistic missile defense system." 
  • According to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), China continues to field new and more advanced nuclear delivery systems with improved range and destructive capability.
  • China’s decision to switch some of its missiles from liquid to solid fuel has improved their capabilities, in both range and promptness of launch. 

 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • China appears to maintain a minimal force of nuclear-armed ICBMs to ensure Beijing’s ability to execute a second strike.
  • Estimates place China as having around 143 nuclear-capable land-based missiles capable of delivering approximately 163 warheads. A 2016 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists report estimates that around 50-75 of these land-based missiles are ICBMs, whereas the DOD’s annual military power report on China in 2017 figures China's ICBM arsenal at around 75-100 ICBMs. Only 40-50 of China’s ICBMs are capable of targeting the continental United States. 
  • China’s ICBM arsenal contains:
    • DF-4 (CSS-3): 5,500+ km range. 
    • DF-5A (CSS-4, Mod 2): 13,000+ km range.
    • DF-5B (CSS-4, Mod 3): ~12,000 km range. The DF-5B is a variant of the DF-5A upgraded to carry MIRVs.
    • DF-5C: on Jan. 31 2017, it was reported that China had flight tested the DF-5C, fixed with 10 warheads—a breakthrough in China’s nuclear weapons development. However, some experts are skeptical of this claim. The DF-5C is reported to be a two-stage, liquid-fueled missile with a range of around 8,000 miles (approximately 13,000 km).
    • DF-31 (CSS-10, Mod 1): 7,000+ km range.
    • DF-31A (CSS-10 Mod 2): 11,000+ km range.
    • DF-41: in development; flight-tested in 2016 with two MIRVs. It is a three-stage, solid propellant missile with an estimated range of 12,000-15,000 km and is believed to be able to carry up to ten warheads. The DF-41 is intended to replace the older liquid-fueled DF-5As.
  • China is in the process of replacing the older liquid-fueled missiles such as the DF-4 and DF-5A with the solid-fueled ICBMs.
  • In January 2017, the DF-41, never publically displayed before, was alleged to have been deployed at the Russian border, although many experts believe it has not completed development. 
  • China’s land-based missiles, both conventional and nuclear, are under the control of the PLA Rocket Force, a command of 100,000 personnel.

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

  • As of March 2017, China has a fleet of 4 Jin-class (Type 094) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The Jin-class SSBNs are designed to carry the new JL-2 SLBMs.
  • An additional 4 Jin-class SSBNs have been commissioned and at least one is under construction.
  • China possesses two SLBM types:
    • JL-1 (CSS-NX-3): estimated range of 1,000+ km. JL-1 missiles are being replaced by JL-2s.
    • JL-2 (CSS-NX-14): a modified version of the DF-31 ICBM; estimated range of 7,000+ km but some estimates place the number at 8,000-9,000 km.
  • Five Jin-class submarines may enter service before China begins developing and fielding its next-generation SSBN, the Type 096, over the coming decade. The type 096 submarine is expected to carry both the JL-2 and a new missile, the JL-3, which is to be the JL-2’s anticipated successor.
  • Despite various claims to the contrary, it is unclear whether or not Chinese submarines have undergone any deterrent patrols. Beginning in early 2015, it was reported that a Chinese SSBN has undergone a 95-day patrol. 

Strategic Bombers

  • China has begun to update its outdated nuclear-capable bomber fleet.
  • According to a DOD report, China continued, in 2015, to develop long-range bombers, including some that Chinese military analysts have described as “capable of performing strategic deterrence.”
  • The PLA air force was assigned a “strategic deterrence” mission in 2012.
  • As of December 2016, China’s fleet of nuclear-capable bombers consisted of about 20 Hong-6 (H-6) bombers based on Soviet designs, with a range of only 3,100+ km.  
  • The H-6 bombers are only capable of delivering an unspecified number of gravity-based bombs but are not believed to be assigned an active nuclear mission.
  • Media reports suggest that China may develop a new nuclear bomber capability in the future.
  • The PLA Air Force operates a fully redesigned H-6 variant known as the H-6k that has an extended range and is capable of carrying six land attack cruise missiles.
  • In March 2017 it was announced that the 5th generation Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter jet had entered into service, putting China one step closer to rivaling U.S. air superiority in East Asia.  

Fissile Material

  • Although China has not publicly declared a halt to the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium, general speculation is that Beijing has stopped its production. China is reported to have last produced HEU in 1989 and last produced separated plutonium in 1991.
  • The International Panel on Fissile Material's 2015 report estimates that China maintains a stockpile of 18 ± 4 metric tons of military HEU and 1.8 ± 0.5 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium. At the present, the limited size of China’s military stockpile restricts its ability to produce more warheads.
  • China has not declared a civilian HEU stockpile and, as of 2016, maintains an estimated civilian plutonium stockpile of only 25.6 kg.

Proliferation Record

  • China has a record of assisting states with nuclear and missile programs in the past, but in 2000, China made a public commitment not to assist “in any way, any country in the development of ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons.”
  • China has aided Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs among other states. Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia have also been identified as recipients of sensitive technologies and materials from China.
  • The China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC)—with government authorization—has exported Miniature Neutron Source Reactors (MNSR) to Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Ghana, and Nigeria. These reactors run on highly enriched uranium fuel, albeit a fraction of what is necessary for a nuclear warhead, which has been supplied by China to recipient states.
  • There have been efforts made by China to work with those states to convert these reactors to use low enriched uranium fuel, including a 2010 agreement between the U.S. Argonne National Laboratory and the China Institute of Atomic Energy for a new facility in China to produce LEU replacement cores in MNSR's.
  • Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) members, including the United States, saw enough improvement in China’s nuclear export behavior that they extended membership to China in 2004.
    • Nonetheless, China has sold reactors to Pakistan, as was revealed in a 2010 agreement between the two nations. This trade, however, contravenes NSG guidelines.
  • China’s bid to join the Missile Technology Control Regime failed in 2004, due to continuing concerns about Chinese missile and missile technology transactions. China, however, maintains that it voluntarily abides by the regime’s guidelines.
  • A 2017 State Department Compliance report cited that “in 2016, Chinese entities continued to supply missile programs of proliferation concern.”
  • Chinese entities have been regularly sanctioned for nonproliferation violations  by the U.S. government. For example, several Chinese entities were sanctioned under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) sanctions in 2016.
  • The United States has also, at various times, imposed sanctions on Chinese entities for missile and chemical weapons related transfers to Pakistan and Iran such as the provision of dual-use chemical weapons precursors and production equipment to Iran beginning in 1997.

Nuclear Doctrine
China was the first nuclear-weapon state to declare publicly that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Beijing has emphasized that this vow stands “at any time or under any circumstances.” However, the omission of China’s “No First Use” policy from its 2013 defense white paper caused considerable concern amongst U.S. analysts. Nevertheless, in its 2015 military strategy white paper it reaffirmed its no first use policy and further pledged not to engage in a nuclear arms race. The report also states,

"China has always kept its nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required for maintaining its national security. China will optimize its nuclear force structure, improve strategic early warning, command and control, missile penetration, rapid reaction, and survivability and protection, and deter other countries from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against China."

Regardless, some theorize that the modernization of China’s nuclear arsenal, its intent on increasing its nuclear warfare capabilities, and its posturing demonstrate a doctrine of counternuclear coercion or limited deterrence.

China has conducted 45 nuclear tests. The first test occurred Oct. 16, 1964, and the last test took place July 29, 1996.

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Biological Weapons

  • China contends it is in compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) despite U.S. allegations asserting the contrary. U.S. State Department compliance assessment reports have said that China possessed an offensive biological weapons capability prior to joining the BWC in 1984.
  • The 2015 report indicates that China "engaged during the reporting period in biological activities with potential dual-use applications. However, the information did not establish that China is engaged in activities prohibited by the BWC." The 2017 compliance report does not cite any Chinese violations.

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Chemical Weapons

  • China has declared that it has destroyed all chemical weapon agent production facilities and solely conducts defensive chemical warfare research.
  • Beijing’s official position emphasizes the complete prohibition and destruction of chemical weapons. In the past, the U.S. government has alleged that China may be violating its Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) commitments by secretly pursuing chemical weapons programs.
  • The State Department’s 2010 compliance report concluded that “available information does not allow the United States to confirm whether China has fully declared or explained its historical CW [chemical weapon] activities, including CW production, disposition of produced CW agents, and transfer of CW agents to another country.” The State Department's 2017 CWC report did not list any Chinese compliance issues.
  • China inherited approximately 700,000 abandoned chemical weapon (ACW) munitions from the Imperial Japanese Army at the end of World War II. Many of these ACWs are not easily located or properly stored; many of them are buried.
  • Japan, as of 2017, continues to jointly work with China to destroy these ACWs. Destruction began in March 2010. In November 2014, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged Japan to speed up the destruction process. As of December 2014, 50,800 ACWs had been recovered in China, of which 37,373 were verifiably destroyed. 

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
At the 65-member CD, China expressed support for negotiation of an “effectively verifiable” fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) while declaring its top priority to be the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). Chinese insistence that the conference take some action on the outer space issue in parallel with any negotiations on a cutoff treaty and the U.S. opposition to that approach has, as of 2017, contributed to the stalemate of the conference over the past several years. In 2003, China said it would accept discussions on outer space rather than formal negotiations but that formulation remained unacceptable to the United States. China, however, did not agree to a 2007 compromise formula, including talks on outer space, which the United States said it would not oppose. China refused to participate in Australian and Japanese-led side meetings at the CD in 2011, insisting that the CD was the only proper conduit for FMCT negotiations. The U.S. has stated that the lack of support by China and other key countries resulted in the failure of the side meetings to make progress. China believes that a FMCT should not restrict the use of existing fissile material for weapons purposes.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
China has ratified additional protocols to the Latin American and Caribbean, South Pacific, African, and Central Asian nuclear weapons free zone treaties pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the treaty’s member states. However, China maintains a reservation to additional Protocol II of the South Pacific nuclear weapons free zone. It has not ratified the Southeast Asia nuclear weapons free zone treaty.   

Nuclear Security Summits
China participated in all four Nuclear Security Summits. China played an active role in these summits and in the 2014 NSS, President Xi Jinping put forward a Chinese approach to nuclear security for the first time.

Six-Party Talks
China played a key role in hosting and helping mediate the so-called six-party talks to achieve North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. Although those talks broke down in 2008 and have yet to resume, China maintains that they remain an effective mechanism for achieving disarmament in North Korea.  However, amidst mounting pressure and criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration for China to take charge of the North Korean threat, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stated, in February 2017, that “we have said many times already that the crux of the North Korean nuclear issue is the problem between the United States and North Korea,” and that “the Trump White House needs to make the first move and talk to Pyongyang.”

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
China took part in the negotiation of the July 2015 JCPOA, which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program. Despite being a “quiet negotiator” in these talks, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed, at the conclusion of negotiation, that “at some important points when the negotiation met with the difficulties and reached the deadlocks, China had actively explored ideas and approaches to resolve the problems and put forward its own solutions from a perspective taking into consideration of the common interests of all parties.”

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Country Profiles

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ZTE Fined for Sanctions Evasion

Chinese telecom giant ZTE agreed to pay U.S. penalties of $1.2 billion for shipping equipment to Iran and North Korea.

Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp. agreed to pay U.S. civil and criminal penalties totaling $1.2 billion for illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea, the largest fine and forfeiture penalty ever imposed in a U.S. export control case. ZTE pleaded guilty to violating U.S. export and sanctions regulations and obstructing justice with “false and misleading” statements during the investigation of its activities, the U.S. Commerce Department said in a March 7 statement. The regulations control the sale of sensitive U.S.-origin technologies.

ZTE “conspired to evade” the U.S. embargo on Iran between 2010 and 2016 in order to “supply, build, operate and/or service large scale telecommunications networks in Iran” using U.S.-origin equipment and software, the Commerce Department said. “As a result of the conspiracy, ZTE was able to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with and sales from such Iranian entities.” ZTE also made 283 shipments of items to North Korea, including items controlled for national security purposes, such as routers, microprocessors, and servers, according to the statement. ZTE engaged in evasive conduct designed to prevent the U.S. government from detecting its violations, the Commerce Department said. 

ZTE Chairman and CEO Zhao Xianming said in a March 7 statement that the company acknowledged “the mistakes it made” and is instituting new “compliance-focused” procedures. Under the settlement, ZTE will be subject to audits and additional compliance requirements. The terms specify that $300 million of the penalty will be suspended if ZTE abides by all regulations during a seven-year probationary period. 

China’s Alleged ICBM Moves Questioned

At issue is whether China has deployed a new intercontinental ballistic missile ICBM near the Russian border.

March 2017

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

China reportedly has deployed a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the DF-41, in northern China near the Russian border. The missile was successfully flight-tested for the seventh time in April 2016, but it is unclear if it has completed development, and experts reacted skeptically to news reports circulating in late January that it had been deployed. 

Military vehicles carrying DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missiles are displayed in a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on September 3, 2015, to mark the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan and the end of World War II. (Photo credit: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)Observers’ photos on Chinese websites of missile launchers in Daqing City in northern China are evidence of the missile’s deployment, according to a Jan. 24 report by The Global Times, a state-run Chinese newspaper, which cited information from “some Hong Kong and Taiwan media.” The Global Times noted that “some media…think this is Beijing’s response” to U.S. President Donald Trump’s combative remarks about China. 

China has disputed the reports. “This is just the speculation of Internet users, the guesses that do not correspond to reality,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told the Russian news agency TASS on Jan. 25.

Reports of the DF-41 deployment are unsubstantiated, asserted Gregory Kulacki, China project manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a Feb. 13 blog post. There is also no official report that the missile has completed development, although China is notoriously secretive about its nuclear arsenal.

The modernized missile appears to be slightly larger than its predecessor, the DF-31A; but like the DF-31A, it is able to reach targets in the United States, Kulacki told Arms Control Today in a Feb. 13 email. The missile’s range is 12,000 to 15,000 kilometers, and it can carry up to 10 multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) warheads, according to the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

As a solid-fueled, road-mobile ICBM, the “mobility of the system is the most notable upgrade,” Catherine Dill, senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told Arms Control Today in an email on Feb. 17. She also stated that the missile is still under development and therefore not all features are known.

China has diverse missile systems, including short-range, medium-range, and intercontinental missiles, as well as cruise missiles. The development of the DF-41 would have “modest but important” implications for the Chinese nuclear deterrent, said Kulacki. 

“China’s nuclear forces have one, and only one, purpose, which is to prevent a nuclear attack against China,” he said. “The new missile is another incremental improvement in the retaliatory capability that Chinese leaders believe is necessary to fulfill that purpose, especially in the face of new precision-guided conventional capabilities which could target China’s nuclear forces.”

The Complex and Increasingly Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Geometry of Asia

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Asian states Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea comprise four of the world's nine nuclear-armed states. The interconnections of these countries must be considered to fully understand how nuclear nonproliferation can be influenced.

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By Greg Thielmann
July 2016

Download PDF

While much of the world’s attention is focused on efforts to halt the nuclear and missile tests of North Korea, the nuclear arsenals and ambitions of India, Pakistan, and China also pose significant dangers and deserve more attention.

The complicated nuclear weapons geometry of Asia extends from the subcontinent to the other side of the world. While Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is designed to counter India’s conventional and nuclear forces, New Delhi measures its own nuclear weapons program against that of China. Beijing, in turn, judges the adequacy of its nuclear arsenal against the threat it perceives from the United States’ strategic offensive and defensive capabilities. And in its efforts to mitigate the ballistic missile threat from North Korea, the United States and its allies in the region are expanding their strategic and theater missile defense capabilities.

In order to fully understand how the pace and direction of nuclear proliferation can be influenced, the interconnections of these countries must be considered, along with the kinds of nuclear weapons they have at their disposal.

Progress on Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation Inadequate to Meet Threats, New Study Finds

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A new study suggests that President Obama, failed to make progress in key nuclear disarmament areas during his second term.

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For Immediate Release: July 15, 2016

Media Contacts: Tony Fleming, communications director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 110; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—President Barack Obama failed to make progress in key nuclear disarmament areas over the course of his second term, but did achieve important steps to improve nuclear materials security and strengthen nonproliferation norms, namely the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to a new study released by the Arms Control Association, which evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states.

The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2013-2016," is the third in a series that measures the performance of 11 key states in 10 universally-recognized nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security categories over the past three years. The study evaluated the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possess nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern.

“The United States is investing enormous resources to maintain and upgrade nuclear weapons delivery systems and warheads and is keeping its deployed nuclear weapons on ‘launch-under-attack’ readiness posture. The lack of U.S. leadership in these areas contributes to the moribund pace of disarmament,” said Elizabeth Philipp, the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Arms Control Association, and a co-author of the report.

“Obama should use his remaining months in office to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategies and mitigate the risks of inadvertent use. Obama could consider declaring that Washington will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report.

“U.S. leadership could spur China and Russia to take positive actions and improve the prospects for further disarmament. Russia’s decision to develop a new missile in violation of its treaty commitments and Moscow’s rebuff of attempts by the United States to negotiate further nuclear reductions is very troublesome, as is the expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal and Beijing’s steps toward increasing the alert levels of its forces,” Philipp added.

“Several states did take significant steps over the past three years to strengthen nuclear security, including action by the United States and Pakistan to ratify key nuclear security treaties,” said Davenport.

“The July 2015 nuclear deal struck between six global powers and Iran was also a significant nonproliferation breakthrough that has significantly reduced Tehran’s nuclear capacity and subjected its activities to more intrusive international monitoring and verification. While the international community must remain vigilant in ensuring that the deal is fully implemented, blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons negates a serious nonproliferation concern and demonstrates the consequences of flouting the international norms and obligations,” Davenport said.

“For the third time, the United Kingdom received the highest grade of all the states assessed, while North Korea remained at the bottom of the list with the lowest overall grades. North Korea’s recent nuclear test and its ballistic missile development require the next U.S. administration to pursue more robust engagement with Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities,” Philipp said.

“Our review of the record indicates that further action must be taken by all 11 states if they are to live up to their international disarmament and nonproliferation responsibilities. By tracking the progress, or lack thereof, of these states over time, we hope this report will serve as a tool to encourage policymakers to increase efforts to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons,” Davenport said.

A country-by-country summary can be viewed here.
The full report card can be downloaded here

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

2016 Report Card on Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation Efforts

Download the full report here.

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China Expands Missile Arsenal

China is expanding its arsenal of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, according to a report from the U.S. Defense Department. 

June 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

China is expanding its arsenal of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles to ensure the viability of its nuclear deterrent, according to an annual report to the U.S. Congress from the Defense Department. 

The report, titled “The Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016” and released last month, noted an expansion in the number of China’s nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and the development of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, the DF-26. 

ICBMs have a range of more than 5,500 kilometers, whereas intermediate-range ballistic missiles have a range of 3,000-5,500 kilometers. 

The 2016 report said that these missiles have capabilities, including multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), that are “intended to ensure the viability of China’s strategic deterrent in the face of continued advances” in areas such as ballistic missile defense and precision-strike capabilities by the United States and, to a lesser extent, Russia.

Precision-strike capabilities utilize advanced guidance systems to hit targets more accurately, which threatens China’s ability to execute a second strike in the event of an attack. 

The DF-26 is China’s first ballistic missile in the intermediate range and was unveiled for the first time in September 2015. When China deploys the nuclear variant of the DF-26, it would give Beijing its “first nuclear precision strike capability against theater targets,” according to the 2016 report. 

U.S. military bases in Guam would be within range of the DF-26.

Abraham Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said in a May 13 press briefing that China’s development of the DF-26 is an example of Beijing’s investment in military programs and weaponry that are designed in part to “improve power projection.”

The 2016 report estimated that China has between 75 and 100 road-mobile and silo-based ICBMs, up from the 50 to 60 ICBMs noted in the 2015 edition of the report. The increase in ICBMs came as a surprise to a number of experts. 

In a May 18 article for Strategic Security, the blog of the Federation of American Scientists, Hans Kristensen wrote that the increase in ICBMs is “inconsistent” with previous reports, which have listed the same number of missiles as missile launchers or slightly higher as the DF-4 ICBM launchers can be reloaded. Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the federation, wrote that the rationale is unclear for reporting a sudden increase in missiles to 25 more than the number of launchers. 

The 2016 report did not indicate that China deployed any new ICBM variants since the last report, but noted that a road-mobile ICBM still under development, the DF-41, is capable of carrying MIRVs. The 2015 report only said the DF-41 was “possibly capable” of carrying multiple warheads. 

According to the report, China deploys an ICBM, the DF-5B, that is equipped with MIRVs. Li Bin, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said at a May 5 event hosted by the group that it is unclear if China has deployed MIRVs on any DF-5B ICBMs. He argued that it would be more logical for China to use decoys on the missile instead of additional warheads. 

Bin said China’s nuclear activities are not designed to seek parity with any other country but to demonstrate that Beijing is not “lagging” behind technological developments. Perception of a lag could invite aggressive actions from other countries, Bin reasoned. 

The 2016 report also revised the estimate for China’s Jin-class ballistic missile submarines to begin conducting deterrent patrols. The 2015 report assessed that China would begin deterrent patrols in late 2015, whereas the 2016 report says “sometime in 2016.” China currently has four operational Jin-class submarines and a fifth under construction. The submarines are armed with the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The JL-2 has an estimated range of 7,200 kilometers. 

Despite the assertion in the 2016 report that the Jin-class submarines have not yet conducted a deterrent patrol, the report notes that the submarines are “China’s first credible, sea-based nuclear deterrent.” 

On a deterrent patrol, a submarine would carry nuclear-armed SLBMs.

China’s first-generation Xia-class submarine is believed to have been a technology test bed that never conducted a deterrent patrol.

Statement by Daryl G. Kimball on Challenges on Disarmament and Opportunities for Progress

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Under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), each of the parties, including the nuclear-weapon-state parties...

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Political and Security Challenges on Disarmament
and Opportunities to Achieve Progress 

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Framework Forum Roundtable organized by the
Canadian Mission, the Middle Powers Initiative, and Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung 

Mission of the Government of Canada in Geneva, April 18, 2016

Under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), each of the parties, including the nuclear-weapon-state parties, “undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

In its 1996 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that the threat and use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal, but it could not decide whether this illegality applied “in an extreme circumstance of self-defense in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.” Three judges dissented from that ruling, arguing that nuclear weapons were illegal in all circumstances. In its 1996 opinion, the ICJ also concluded unanimously that the disarmament obligation is not limited to NPT parties.

But today, and contrary to these legal obligations, progress on nuclear disarmament is at a standstill, and the risk of unbridled nuclear competition is growing.1

U.S. MX missile re-entry vehicles being tested at Kwajalein Atoll. Each line represents the potential explosive power of about 300 kilotons of TNT. All nine of the world's nuclear weapon states are replacing or upgrading their nuclear weapons strike capabilities. (Photo courtesy of Department of Defense.)As the delegations here at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Disarmament realize, there are still no legally-binding restrictions on the nuclear buildups of world’s four non-NPT nuclear-armed states, and are currently no active bilateral or multilateral negotiations to further regulate, cap, or reduce the stockpiles of any of the world’s five original nuclear-armed states.

Worse still, key treaties like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) have not yet entered into force due to political divisions in Washington and inaction by seven other Annex 2 states, leaving the door to renewed nuclear weapons testing ajar twenty years after the Conference on Disarmament completed its negotiation and the treaty was opened for signature.

In addition to the tensions between key nuclear-armed states, the biggest challenge to the disarmament enterprise is the fact that all of the world’s nine nuclear-weapon states are, to varying degrees or another, devoting vast sums of money to modernize, upgrade, and in some cases expand the size and lethality of their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems.

As Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in in 20142, the numerical nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia may be over; but elsewhere, “a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade.”

Although there is abundant evidence that even a “limited” exchange of nuclear weapons would result in a catastrophic humanitarian catastrophe—and in the view of many would violate the principles contained in the Law of War and be contrary to widespread interpretations of International Humanitarian Law—each of the nuclear-armed states continue to reaffirm the importance of such weapons for their security and maintain plans for the use of these weapons in a conflict.

U.S.-Russian Tensions

Undoubtedly, renewed tensions between Moscow and Washington are blocking progress on nuclear disarmament. The United States and Russia have a special responsibility to provide leadership to further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons, but they are not doing so.

Although the number of nuclear weapons is down from its Cold War peak, the United States and Russia deploy far more nuclear weapons—some 1,800 each—than necessary for nuclear deterrence purposes. As President Barack Obama correctly noted in a speech in 2012, “we have more nuclear weapons than we need.”

Yet progress on further nuclear cuts is on hold. As President Obama recently acknowledged and the Russian [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] MFA confirmed, new negotiations on further nuclear disarmament beyond [the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] New START are unlikely any time soon.

Russian leaders cite concerns about limited but unconstrained U.S. ballistic missile interceptors, NATO conventional military capabilities, and third-country nuclear arsenals, as reason for rejecting the June 2013 U.S. proposal for a further one-third reduction in each side’s strategic nuclear forces. But Russia has failed to put forward a counterproposal and has rejected U.S. offers to discuss the full range of strategic issues.

Complicating matters, Russia also has tested ground-based cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. U.S. and Russian officials say they are interested in discussing the issue, but the matter remains unresolved. So long as it does, the prospects for negotiation of a follow-on agreement to New START are low.

Making matters even worse, Russian officials have begun to highlight their nuclear forces as a deterrent against what they see as increasingly threatening U.S. and NATO conventional military capabilities. Late last year, Russia “leaked” plans for a new nuclear-armed underwater torpedo, implying it is eyeing new types of nuclear weapons.

Now, in a troubling shift of rhetoric, the Defense Department has unwisely begun to frame its unaffordable, all-of-the-above plan for replacing and upgrading U.S. strategic bombers, nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and land- and sea-based strategic nuclear forces as part of its strategy to “counter Russia’s aggressive policies in Eastern Europe,” according its fiscal year 2017 budget request.

In reality, U.S. nuclear weapons, including the remaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons are irrelevant to the protection of nervous NATO allies in the Baltics and elsewhere.

Obama and his successor, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, have a responsibility to pull back from a nuclear action-reaction cycle that would put both countries at greater risk and block further nuclear reductions for many more years to come.

Other Nuclear-Armed States

Meanwhile, as the U.S. and Russian tensions and arsenals attract most international attention, China, India, and Pakistan are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems3 themselves and increasing the size of their warhead stockpiles or their capacity to produce material to make more weapons.

Although smaller in number, these arsenals are just as dangerous. Pakistan has lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use in a potential conflict with India by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats.

Pakistan’s stated concern about India’s larger fissile stocks has led it to block negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, even though the United States has recently opened the possibility of changing the mandate to address fissile stocks4.

For its part, India says it would support fissile cut-off talks, but it appears to be expanding its fissile material production capacity as the CD remains deadlocked.

Leaders in Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad profess support for nondiscriminatory approaches to disarmament and minimal deterrence, but their programs are moving in the opposite direction and there is little or no dialogue among them, and with others, on nuclear risk reduction options.

Chinese officials suggest they will not consider limits on their nuclear arsenal unless there are additional, deeper U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons cuts.

Although North Korea may be under tighter and tighter international sanctions, its nuclear weapons and ballistic programs remain unconstrained. With further nuclear and ballistic missile tests, it will likely have missile-deliverable nuclear warheads.

Israel’s nuclear opacity and the inability of the Arab League to find a way to agree on an agenda acceptable to Israel for a meeting Middle East Nuclear WMD Free Zone Treaty has frozen discussion of practical measures to reduce nuclear and missile dangers in that region.

Another challenge is the relatively low-level of public and policy-maker awareness about the dangers of renewed nuclear competition and the consequences of nuclear weapons use is relatively low in the United States—and perhaps elsewhere.

While there is support among Democrats in Congress for efforts to further cut U.S. and Russian arsenals, there is strong skepticism among Republicans in Congress about any further nuclear reductions, and even though the U.S. Defense Department acknowledges that it cannot afford its costly, all-of-the-above plan to replace each component of the U.S. nuclear arsenal5, for the time being there is bipartisan support for most U.S. nuclear weapons modernization programs.

Moving Forward

Obviously, these are very challenging conditions. These difficulties are reflected in the inability to achieve consensus here in Geneva at the CD and in the failure of the nuclear weapon states to meet key 2010 NPT Review Conference commitments and the inability of the states parties at the 2015 NPT Review Conference to agree on an updated action plan on disarmament.

Frustrated by the slow pace of the so-called “step-by-step approach” to disarmament, many non-nuclear-weapon states have tried to catalyze progress through the humanitarian consequences initiative. The effort has helped raise awareness once again about the unique destructive power of nuclear weapons and the dubious legal and moral basis for their possession and use.

But that initiative and the open-ended working group to discuss possible measures “to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons" has not yet produced a unified, realistic diplomatic proposal for halting nuclear competition or starting multilateral disarmament talks.

There is no substitute for serious dialogue, the political will and support to achieve results, and international and domestic pressure to achieve meaningful results.

Simply repeating calls for action are not sufficient. Creative, practical ideas are needed to overcome persistent obstacles and new challenges.

It does not appear to me that there is any one initiative that can overcome these broader systemic challenges that impede progress on disarmament.

Rather, it will likely take the pursuit of multiple, practical, and sometimes bold, initiatives on the part of responsible leaders and groups of states.

So, what options might states participating in the OEWG and the CD pursue to jumpstart progress? Allow me to briefly comment on a few that are in circulation here in Vienna and to offer a few others for your consideration.

  • A Ban Treaty
    At the February OEWG discussions some states and civil society campaigners suggested it is time to launch talks on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons possession and use. Such a ban is, in my view, eventually a necessary step toward a world without nuclear weapons.

    But if such a negotiation is launched and concluded, it would not help the nuclear weapon states meet their nuclear disarmament obligations and would not likely do much to change opinion, policies, dangerous nuclear use doctrines, or accelerate progress on the elimination of the nuclear arsenals in the nuclear-armed states.

    This is due in large part to the fact that the nuclear weapons states will simply ignore the process and the results. The key is to draw them in such a way that they are compelled or persuaded to shift their approach and accelerate action toward zero nuclear weapons.
  • Challenge Nuclear Weapons Use and Use Doctrines 
    Another, approach—which would help address the longstanding goal of assuring non-nuclear-weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons—would be to pursue the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument banning the use of nuclear weapons.

    Such an instrument would not, as some have suggested, legitimize the possession of nuclear weapons. Even if the nuclear-weapon states do not initially join in the negotiation or sign the instrument, the process itself and the final product could further delegitimize nuclear weapons, strengthen the legal norm against their use, and put pressure on nuclear-armed states to revise their nuclear doctrines.

    Another approach would be to press each of the nuclear-armed states to report, in detail, on the physical, environmental, and human impacts of their nuclear war plans, if these plans were to be carried out, and how they believe the use of hundreds of such weapons would be consistent with humanitarian law and the laws of war as some nuclear-armed states claim6.

    Such a process could force an examination of dangerous nuclear doctrines and focus public attention on the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons use.
  • UN Study on Effects of Possible Nuclear Exchanges Between Weapons States
    Part of the OEWG mandate is to make recommendations on “measures to increase awareness and understanding of the complexity of and interrelationship between the wide range of humanitarian consequences that would result from any nuclear detonation.”

    One important way to do so is to launch a UN study on the climate effects and related humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use.

    Tremendous advances in climate modeling and research on both the immediate effects and impacts on climate and agriculture from large-scale nuclear weapons use have been completed since the United Nations looked at the issue 25 years ago. It is time for an up-to-date UN study and report on these issues to inform current and future debate and decisions on global nuclear policy.
  • Disarmament Discussions in the CD or Through Another Forum
    Theoretically, the CD can be a forum for a dialogue on disarmament. The United Kingdom has put forward a useful, and wide-ranging proposal for a working group to discuss and identify effective measures on nuclear disarmament7. It would appear to be flexible enough to all states’ interests into account. If states do not burden this proposal with poison pill demands, it could help extend the conversations taking place at the OEWG and engage key nuclear-armed states. If launched, it would be vital for all states to bring forward detailed and considered proposals, not tired talking points.

    Another option would be to initiate a series of high-level summits approach to put the spotlight on the issue and spur new ideas. This would complement the ongoing P5 [China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States] dialogue on nuclear terms and concepts and the humanitarian impacts initiative.

    Leaders from a core group of states could invite their counterparts from a representative group of 20 to 30 nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states to join a one- or two-day summit on steps to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. The high-level meeting could be a starting point for ongoing, regular disarmament discussions at the expert and ministerial levels on the basis of a clear understanding of the devastating impacts of nuclear weapons use and an objective assessment of the security concerns of states.

    Borrowing a concept from the nuclear security summit process, all participants should be encouraged to bring “house gifts”—specific actions by states that would concretely diminish the threat of nuclear weapons use, freeze or reduce the number of nuclear weapons, reduce the role of nuclear weapons, bring into force key agreements such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or make their nuclear programs more transparent.
  • UN Security Council and UN General Assembly Action to Reinforce the Test Ban Pending Entry Into Force
    The CTBT was concluded twenty years ago, yet entry into force is still many years away. It is essential that states that support the norm against nuclear testing support initiatives that raise the political and legal barriers for testing pending entry into force of the CTBT.

    Specifically, we urge you to actively support a non-binding UN Security Council resolution and a parallel UN General Assembly measure later this year that:
  1. Calls on all states to refrain from testing and calls upon those states that have not ratified the CTBT to do so at the earliest possible time;
  2. Declares that the conduct of a nuclear test explosion would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT;
  3. Underscores the need for a continuous, real-time global nuclear test monitoring capability to detect, identify, and locate nuclear test explosions, and recognizes the vital contributions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, including the International Monitoring System and International Data Centre.

    In light of the North Korea’s ongoing nuclear testing, the central importance of the CTBT to the NPT and nonproliferation, and the ongoing efforts by several nuclear-armed states to improve their capabilities, the time is right to take this initiative. The place to begin discussing it is the upcoming June 13 high-level meeting in Vienna on the CTBT.
  • Call for Parallel U.S.-Russian Reductions Without a New Treaty
    In 2010, all of the nuclear-weapon states committed “to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament,” including “all types of nuclear weapons.”

    Further nuclear reductions need not wait for a new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty. More states need to call upon the United States and Russia to accelerate the pace of reductions under New START to reach the agreed limits before the 2018 deadline and call on both states to continue to reduce force levels below the New START ceilings, to be verified with the treaty’s monitoring regime.
  • New START Follow-On Talks No Later Than 2017
    States can also call upon the leaders in Moscow and Washington to begin formal negotiations on a follow-on to New START, and on other relevant strategic weapons issues, no later than 2017.

    The aim should aim to cut each side’s strategic arsenals to fewer than 1,100 deployed strategic warheads and 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, including any strategic-range conventional prompt-strike weapons. Such talks can and should explore a wider range of issues, including transparency and confidence-building steps on tactical nuclear weapons and joint understandings on missile defense capabilities and deployments8. Talks should begin soon and before New START expires in 2021 
  • Reinforce the INF Treaty and Pursue Nuclear-Armed Cruise Missile Limits
    To sustain progress on nuclear disarmament, it is essential to reinforce and expand the INF Treaty. States at the CD and elsewhere need to speak up and call upon the United States and Russia to immediately resolve compliance concerns.

    The United States and other like-minded states could also propose and initiate talks with other states in talks on limiting and eventually phasing out all nuclear-armed cruise missile systems. President Obama could spur progress in this area by cancelling plans for a costly new U.S. air-launched cruise missile, which would have new military capabilities and is destabilizing former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and others have proposed9.

    Such an initiative would allow the United States, Russia and other countries to forgo expensive modernization programs for such missiles, and in cooperation with other key states, head off dangerous cruise missile buildups around the globe.
  • Call On Other Nuclear-Armed States to Freeze Their Nuclear Buildups
    The world’s other nuclear-armed states must do their part too.

    In addition to urging the United States, China, and the other CTBT Annex 2 states to finally take the steps necessary to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Russia and the world’s other nuclear-armed states should be called upon by all NPT states parties to freeze the overall size of their stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals. 

    A unified push for further U.S.-Russian arms cuts combined with a global nuclear weapons freeze by the other nuclear-armed states would help create the conditions for multilateral, verifiable nuclear disarmament and an eventual ban on nuclear weapons.

In the coming months and years, creative, bold approaches will be needed to overcome old and new obstacles to the long-running effort to eliminate the potential for nuclear catastrophe.


1. "Race for Latest Class of Nuclear Arms Threatens to Revive Cold War,” By William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, The New York Times, April 16, 2016

2. “Nuclear Weapons Modernization: A Threat to the NPT?,” Hans M. Kristensen in Arms Control Today, May 2014.

3. “India’s Submarine Completes Tests,” Kelsey Davenport, Arms Control Today, April 2016

4. “U.S. Floats New Fissile Talks Formula, “ Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, March 2016.

5. “The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Spending Binge,” by Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, December 2015

6. The June 2013 Report on the Nuclear Weapons Employment Strategy of the United States claims that: [t]he new guidance makes clear that all plans must be consistent with the fundamental principles of the Law of Armed Conflict. Accordingly, plans will, for example, apply the principles of distinction and proportionality and seek to minimize collateral damage to civilian populations and civilian objects. The United States will not intentionally target civilian populations or civilian objects.”

7. Letter dated 19 February from the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Conference on Disarmament.

8. “Second Report of the Deep Cuts Commission: Strengthening Stability in Turbulent Times,” published by the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, April 2015.

9.“Overkill: The Case Against a New Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile” by Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association Issue Brief, October 19, 2015

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On Nuclear Security, U.S. Must Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

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The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists.

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Volume 8, Issue 1, April 15, 2016

The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists. But the threat is constantly changing and may have grown in recent years in light of the rise of the Islamic State group and indications it may have nuclear and/or radiological ambitions.

Despite noteworthy achievements, however, significant work remains to be done to prevent terrorists from detonating a nuclear explosive device or dirty bomb. For example, even after four Nuclear Security Summits there are no comprehensive, legally-binding international standards or rules for the security of all nuclear materials. The existing global nuclear security architecture needs to continue to evolve to become more comprehensive, open, rigorous, sustainable, and involve the further reduction of material stockpiles.

It is thus puzzling that just weeks before the final summit in Washington earlier this month, the Obama administration submitted to Congress a budget that proposed significant spending reductions for key National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) programs that lessen nuclear security and nonproliferation risks, accelerating a trend in recent years of short-sighted cuts to these programs. If implemented, these decreases will slow progress on key nuclear security initiatives, jeopardize the sustainability of those initiatives, and undermine U.S. leadership in this area.

As the Senate and House of Representatives begin their work on the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization and energy and water appropriations bills—which establish spending levels and set policy for Defense Department and NNSA activities—lawmakers should reverse these ill-advised budget cuts. Additionally, Congress should encourage the NNSA to augment its nuclear and radiological security work to help ensure the end of the summit process does not weaken progress toward continuously improving global nuclear and radiological material security.

Disappointing Budget Request

If the risk of nuclear or radiological terrorism isn’t on your mind, it should be. The recent Islamic State group-perpetrated terrorist attacks in Brussels offered another bloody reminder of the danger of terrorism. To make matters worse, reports indicate that two of the suicide bombers who perpetrated the attack had also carried out surveillance of a Belgian official with access to a facility with weapons-grade uranium and radioactive material.

A new report published on March 21 by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs concludes that the risk of nuclear terrorism may be higher than it was at the time of the third Nuclear Security Summit in 2014 due to the slowing of nuclear security progress and the rise of the Islamic State group.

Against this concerning backdrop, the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department responsible for the bulk of U.S. nuclear security work, in February requested $1.47 billion for core nuclear security, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism programs in fiscal year 2017—a reduction of $62.4 million, or 3.8 percent, relative to the current fiscal year 2016 level. (Note: these figures exclude the administration’s request of $270 million to terminate the Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program for excess U.S. weapons plutonium disposition.)

The drop is even steeper when measured against what the NNSA projected it would request for these programs in its fiscal year 2016 submission, which was issued in February 2015. The agency had said it planned to ask for $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2017, or roughly $185 million more than the actual proposal.

The largest proposed reduction in the request is to the Global Material Security program, which improves the security of nuclear materials around the world, secures orphaned or disused radiological sources—which could be used to make a dirty bomb—and strengthens nuclear smuggling detection and deterrence. Within this program, the NNSA is seeking $7.6 million less than last year’s appropriation for radiological material security programs and roughly $270 million less for these activities over the next four years than it planned to request over the same period, last year.

Most experts agree that the probability of a terrorist exploding a dirty bomb is much higher than that of a nuclear device. This is due in large part to the ubiquitous presence of these materials, which are used for peaceful applications like cancer treatment, in thousands of locations and in almost every country around the world, many of which are poorly protected and vulnerable to theft. A new report published last month by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) noted that only 14% of International Atomic Energy Agency member states have agreed to secure their highest risk radiological sources by a specific date.

Along with reducing the budget for radiological security, the NNSA is planning to transition from a primarily protect-based approach for radiological materials to one that emphasizes permanent threat reduction through the removal of sources and the promotion of alternative technologies, when feasible. While it makes sense to seek to replace these sources as opposed to securing them in perpetuity, this revised approach raises numerous questions, including whether some sources will remain vulnerable for longer than under the previous strategy. At the current planned pace, it would take another 17 years to meet the NNSA’s much-reduced target of helping to secure just under 4,400 buildings around the world with dangerous radioactive material—down from a target of roughly twice that just last year.

Elsewhere in the NNSA nonproliferation budget, funding for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development activities would fall to $394 million from its $419 million fiscal year 2016 appropriation. This program matures technologies used in tracking foreign nuclear weapons programs, illicit diversion of nuclear materials, and nuclear detonations. The NNSA projected a request of $430 million in fiscal year 2017 research and development funding in its fiscal year 2016 request.

The NNSA has defended some of the reductions to the nonproliferation account on the grounds that several major projects have been completed, thereby lessening resource needs, and that the impact of spending cuts can be mitigated by using unspent money left over from prior years, largely due to the suspension in late 2014 of nearly all nuclear security cooperation with Russia. But the cuts proposed for fiscal year 2017, relative to what was projected last year, are significant, especially to the radiological security and research and development programs where the NNSA does not say they will use unspent balances.

An Energy Department task force report on NNSA nonproliferation programs released last year expressed concern about the recent trend of falling budgets for those programs (see chart). “The need to counter current and likely future challenges to nonproliferation justifies increased, rather than reduced, investment in this area,” the report said.

Similarly, Andrew Bieniawski, a former deputy assistant secretary of Energy who ran the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative during both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations and who is now a vice president at NTI, said last month that the agency’s recent budget requests “do not match the growing threat and they certainly don’t match the fact that you are having a presidential nuclear security summit.”

Many members of Congress agree with these concerns. In August 2014, 26 senators sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget seeking increased funding for NNSA nuclear nonproliferation programs for fiscal year 2016. Though the 2016 request was higher than the previous year’s enacted level, it did not meet the Senators’ desire “to further accelerate the pace at which nuclear and radiological materials are secured and permanently disposed.”

Reinvigorating Congressional Leadership

The global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism is at a key inflection point. While the United States can’t tackle the challenge on its own, U.S. leadership and resources are essential. The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request was a missed opportunity to advance many good ideas in this space that haven't received adequate attention and investment.

Congress has a critical role to play in this endeavor, and there are a number of steps it can take this year to sustain and strengthen U.S. and global nuclear and radiological security efforts.

First, Congress should increase fiscal year 2017 funding for NNSA radiological security and nonproliferation research and development efforts, the two programs hardest hit by the agency’s proposed budget cuts. Additional funding would allow an acceleration of efforts to secure dangerous radiological materials and ensure the United States is prepared to confront emerging security and nonproliferation challenges.

Congress should also call for a global strategy, stronger regulations, and increased funding to secure and eliminate the most vulnerable highest-risk radiological sources around the world during the first term of the next administration. This multidimensional effort should entail a number of elements, including: securing the most vulnerable sources (where needed); requiring the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to implement stronger regulatory requirements; supporting universal adherence to the IAEA Code of Conduct on radiological sources; mandating additional cost-sharing by industry; and, where appropriate, accelerating the development and use of alternative technologies. An accelerated international radiological security effort would be consistent with a proposal from Sen. Carper (D-Del.) requiring the administration to craft a plan for securing all high-risk low-level radiological material in the United States.

In addition, Congress should require NNSA to report on its research and development activities and identify opportunities to expand them in areas such as:

  • developing alternatives to high performance research reactors that run on highly enriched uranium (HEU);
  • converting HEU-powered naval reactors to use low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel (the White House announced on March 31 that the Energy Department is forming a research and development plan for an advanced fuel system that could enable use of LEU in naval reactors); and
  • examining ways adversaries could potentially use 3D printing and other new technologies to make nuclear-weapons usable components.

Other ideas that have been put forth to augment NNSA’s (and the rest of the interagency) nuclear security and nonproliferation work worthy of Congressional backing include:

  • completing a prioritization of nuclear materials at foreign locations for return or disposition, to identify the most vulnerable material stocks to focus efforts on, and establishing a time frame for doing so;
  • developing new detection and monitoring technologies and approaches to verify future nuclear arms reductions;
  • outlining a plan for how to expand U.S. nuclear security cooperation with China, India, and Pakistan and addressing obstacles to such an expansion and how they could be overcome;
  • developing approaches to rebuild nuclear security cooperation with Russia that would put both countries in equal roles;
  • building a global nuclear materials security system of effective nuclear security norms, standards, and best practices worldwide;
  • enhancing protections against nuclear sabotage; and
  • strengthening—and sharing—intelligence on nuclear and radiological terrorism threats.

In addition, Congress should seek ways to dissuade other states from pursuing programs to reprocess fuel from nuclear power plants, which lead to the separation of plutonium.

While the Nuclear Security Summit process has seen significant progress in the minimization of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for civilian purposes, global civilian plutonium stockpiles continue to grow. East Asia in particular is on the verge of a major build up of separated plutonium, which could be used in nuclear weapons and poses significant security risks. Japan and China both have plans to reprocess on a large-scale, and doing so would almost certainly prompt South Korea to follow suit.

To its credit, the Obama administration has recently been more vocal in expressing its concerns about these plans. Congress should encourage the administration, and NNSA in particular, to engage in additional cooperative work with countries in East Asia on spent fuel storage options and the elimination of excess plutonium stockpiles without reprocessing.

Over the years, U.S. support for nuclear security programs at home and abroad has resulted in an enormously effective return on investment that greatly strengthens U.S. security, and will be even more important in the years ahead in absence of head of state level summit meetings.

Indeed, there is a long legacy of members of Congress from both parties working together to reduce nuclear risks. For example, in 1991, Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) put forward the “Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991,” which authorized $400 million to create U.S.-led programs assist the countries of the former Soviet Union secure and eliminate nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and other weapons. This effort became known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which has successfully liquidated thousands of Cold War-era Soviet weapons.

Twenty-five years later, the evolution of security and proliferation challenges requires similarly bold and innovative Congressional leadership.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

Country Resources:

China Elevates Nuclear Rocket Force

The move is not expected to affect nuclear policy or strategy. 

March 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

16_NEWS_China.jpgChina announced in December that it had elevated and renamed the force charged with overseeing the country’s nuclear mission, but said the changes would not affect Beijing’s nuclear policy or strategy.

Experts agreed that the change is unlikely to affect China’s nuclear policy, but raised concerns about China’s nuclear modernization activities and other potential changes to its nuclear program.

In a Dec. 31 speech in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the formation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force, which will continue the nuclear mission of what had been the army’s Second Artillery Corps and be the “core force of strategic deterrence.”

Yang Yujun, spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry, said on Jan. 1 that the establishment of the Rocket Force would not alter China’s no-first-use commitment for nuclear weapons. Yang also said that China’s nuclear force levels would remain at the minimum level necessary for national security.

Gregory Kulacki, senior analyst and China project manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a Feb. 2 email to Arms Control Today that there is “no indication at this time that the decision to re-name the Second Artillery will lead to substantive changes in China’s nuclear weapons policy.”

He said that most of the Second Artillery Force’s “former assets and responsibilities remain intact” under the Rocket Force.

Xi’s announcement was part of a broader reorganization of the PLA. The Rocket Force will have equal status along-side China’s army, navy, and air force.

Michael Chase, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corp. who focuses on China, said in a Feb. 4 email that elevating the strategic missile force from the Second Artillery Corps to the “level of a full service” as the Rocket Force “reflects the importance China’s top leaders attach to continuing to modernize the rocket force.”

 The Rocket Force will command all three legs of China’s nuclear triad—ballistic missiles, nuclear-capable bombers, and submarines.

China does not disclose the size of its nuclear arsenal, but is widely believed to possess approximately 260 warheads. The majority of Beijing’s arsenal is intended for delivery on land-based ballistic missiles.

Kulacki said that “the most worrisome potential changes” to China’s nuclear program were being discussed before the name change was announced. These changes, which Kulacki said are still being discussed, include the “development of an early warning system, a decision to raise the alert level of China’s nuclear forces and the implementation of a ‘launch on warning’ policy,” he said.

The early-warning system is worrisome because it enables rapid launch, Kulacki said. He said that “U.S. and Soviet experience with early warning systems, especially in the early stages of development, indicates they are prone to error.” If China constructs an early-warning system and places its forces on a higher state of alert to launch on warning of an incoming attack, “it will greatly increase the risk of an accidental or mistaken launch of a nuclear-armed Chinese missile,” Kulacki said.

China’s nuclear warheads are widely believed to be stored separately from their delivery systems. In a 2009 defense white paper, China declared that its nuclear missiles are detargeted in peacetime and “not aimed at any country.”

In the announcement establishing the new force, Xi said it would be tasked with enhancing China’s nuclear deterrence and counterstrike capabilities.

Chase said that although China has stated it will continue to adhere to its long-standing nuclear policy, Beijing is modernizing its forces. The modernization program focuses on “improving survivability” by deploying road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and ballistic missile submarines, he said.

China’s initial Xia-class submarine is widely believed to be a technology demonstrator that never conducted a patrol with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.

According to a 2015 report on China’s military program issued by the U.S. Defense Department, China currently has four operational Jin-class submarines that are the country’s first “credible long-range sea-based” nuclear capability and could begin their nuclear-armed patrols by the end of 2015, according to the report.

The submarines eventually will carry the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile, which has an estimated range of 7,400 kilometers, the report says.

Chase said China’s public display of its nuclear missiles in a military parade last year reflects “growing confidence in its strategic deterrent.” He said Beijing has some new nuclear capabilities under development, including a mobile ICBM that is able to carry multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles. Such a capability would allow China to put multiple nuclear warheads on each missile. China’s current missiles are capable of carrying only one nuclear warhead apiece.

Wei Fenghe was appointed commander of the Rocket Force, and Wang Jiasheng is the political commissar, the highest nonmilitary position. Wei had been the commander of the Second Artillery Force since 2012. 

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