ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Nuclear Nonproliferation

Iran Dismantling Centrifuges, IAEA Reports

According to the Nov. 18 International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) quarterly report , Iran has dismantled 4,530 centrifuges since the July 14 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was adopted last month. Action by Iran to fulfill its commitments under the agreement is a positive sign. Completing the dismantlement of 1/3 of the ~13,500 centrifuges that must be removed under the terms of the deal is tangible evidence that the agreement is working to stringently restrict Iran’s nuclear program. The IAEA also reported that it began preparatory activities to implement the increased monitoring and...

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, November 18

And the Dismantlement Begins Iran has begun dismantling centrifuges at its Natanz facility to meet the terms set by the July 14 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, according to comments from Ali Akbar Salehi , head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, on Nov. 15. The centrifuges being removed are inactive and not being used to enrich uranium, Salehi said. Iran has about 15,750 first generation centrifuges at its Natanz plant, of which about 9,500 are enriching uranium. Under the July 14 deal between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States),...

Looking Back: Gen. Marshall and the Atomic Bombing of Japanese Cities

In a May 1945 meeting, General George Marshall sought to avoid using atomic bombs on Japanese cities or to warn Japan so that noncombatants could safely flee the cities. 

November 2015

By Barton J. Bernstein

The U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima with a uranium weapon and Nagasaki with a plutonium weapon in August 1945 caused the deaths of more than 100,000 Japanese, mostly noncombatants, by the end of that year and injured about the same number. Those bombings also killed thousands of Korean noncombatants and some Allied prisoners of war.

Much has been written over the years about the bombings. That literature includes considerable discussion of the process that led to President Harry Truman’s decision to use the two bombs and to target enemy cities, the resulting killing of massive numbers of noncombatants, and the debate over the necessity and ethics of conducting two bombings rather than one or even none.

The still-controversial history of the bombings involves disputes in areas such as sources, the uses of evidence, the standards for assessing and interpreting decision-making, and the basis for defining and evaluating morality and ethics in the context of war.

A key source in this contested history has been the evidence of individuals who were involved in the U.S. government’s development of and decision-making on nuclear weapons. Yet, many of these individuals, be they supporters or critics, somewhat rewrote their history in the aftermath of the August 1945 bombings.

Untangling postwar contentions from actual pre-Hiroshima actions is generally not a simple matter. It requires close attention to pre-Hiroshima archival sources, which account for well more than 100,000 pages in multiple libraries. In using these sources, the analyst should give much greater weight to the pre-Hiroshima sources than to the later, postwar claims in cases of significant discrepancies.

After the war, in memoirs and in related statements, three former wartime members of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff—Admiral William Leahy, the de facto chairman of the Joint Chiefs; General Henry Arnold, head of the Army Air Forces, and Admiral Ernest King, head of the Navy—publicly raised sharp questions about the military-political necessity of those atomic bombings and indicated there were other ways of ending the war. In his own widely reviewed memoir I Was There,1 Leahy passionately condemned the bombings as unethical and even barbarous. Yet, the available records, including his own diary, give no indication that he expressed this opinion to Truman or to any other government associate before the bombings.

Marshall as the Exception

Admiral Ernest King (left), Admiral William Leahy (center), and General George Marshall arrive at the White House for a wartime conference with President Franklin Roosevelt on July 29, 1942. [Photo credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]Of the four retired wartime military chiefs, only General George Marshall, the wartime Army chief of staff, never in public or in any documented private statements in the postwar period joined in such criticisms or even in hints of having ever entertained such doubts about the 1945 use of nuclear weapons. In various interviews and related statements, Marshall strongly defended the atomic bombings of Japanese cities as militarily and politically necessary and as ethically justifiable.

Nevertheless, Marshall was the only one of those four top-level men who, before the atomic bombings, actively sought to avoid the use of the new weapons on Japanese cities or to provide an adequate warning to Japan so that noncombatants could safely flee the cities. Fiercely loyal to Truman, unwilling to write a memoir, and wary of political controversy, Marshall in the aftermath of the war never revealed or even hinted that he had been a partial dissenter before the bombings, nor did other high-level memoirists ever disclose such information about Marshall’s pre-Hiroshima thinking.

On May 29, 1945, however, about seven weeks before the Trinity test on July 16 in New Mexico and about 10 weeks before the August 6 bombing of Hiroshima, the 64-year-old Marshall argued generally for not using the weapon on Japanese cities but on a “straight military [target] such as a naval installation,” in the words of the meeting minutes.2 If a city was chosen, it should be a “large manufacturing” area, he urged, and the United States should at least provide a substantial warning about the weapon in order to spare noncombatant lives.

For him, the definition of noncombatants included workers, as well as their families. That conception apparently did not change for Marshall in his thinking about the manufacturing that might contribute directly to Japan’s war effort.

Marshall presented his ethically influenced analysis in a secret meeting with Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, both Republicans in a Democratic administration.

Stimson was serving in his fourth presidential cabinet; his previous posts included secretary of war under President William Taft and then secretary of state under President Herbert Hoover. As part of what was designed as a bipartisan national security system, Stimson had rejoined the government as President Franklin Roosevelt’s war secretary about 18 months before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

By late May 1945, the 77-year-old Stimson and the 50-year-old McCloy had been working comfortably with Marshall for about five years. It was a close relationship of mutual trust and sincere respect. Their policy differences, when they occurred, were hammered out in private. During the war years, the three men easily maintained such discretion and energetically practiced secrecy. Such behavior flowed from their temperament and the context.

Marshall (left), UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill (center), and U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson meet at Fort Jackson in Louisiana on June 7, 1942. [Photo credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]Marshall, McCloy, and Stimson sought to avoid or minimize open controversy about how to conduct the war, including the uses of weaponry. These men did not want fractious publicity about policy decisions, and they sought to limit considerations of the politics of war to high-level, often secret decision-making. That was part of the intended political strategy of creating and maintaining national consensus on many war-related matters.

The three men were generally aided in such arrangements by the Senate’s special investigating committee. Initiated early in the war under then-Senator Truman (D-Mo.), the panel had helped insulate the government’s policymaking on defense issues from public scrutiny. When Truman, elected vice president in 1944, became president in April 1945, that Senate committee, maintaining its ways from the Roosevelt period, continued to help protect the chief executive and his bipartisan national security system from intrusive scrutiny on the conduct of the war.

On the subject of the atomic bomb, only a few congressional leaders drawn from each political party even knew of the top-secret project. The funding, about $1.8 billion by mid-1945, was tucked into appropriations bills without the bulk of senators or representatives knowing about it or about the Manhattan Project itself and the weapons it was designed to build.

The May 29 Meeting

At the May 29 meeting, much of the discussion among Marshall, McCloy, and Stimson focused on military policies to help end the Asian war and the use of significant weapons—atomic bombs and toxic gas—against Japan in future months. Breaking ranks with the other two officials, Marshall hoped to use gas, thereby violating Roosevelt’s public pledge of no first use of a “poisonous or noxious” gas,3 but McCloy and Stimson showed no interest in endorsing such a radical departure from established policy. By their response, they seemed uneasy about such a proposal.

With a nuclear bomb likely to be ready and to be used in about early August 1945, the three men talked about that weapon. Still untested at the time of the meeting, it was expected to be hundreds of times more powerful than even the largest conventional bombs. The uranium bomb was predicted, as of late April 1945, to produce the equivalent of about 8,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT power, and the plutonium weapon about 4,000 to 6,000 tons.4 Regardless of which kind of atomic weapon was used, it clearly would cause massive destruction on any target area by blast and heat, as all three men easily recognized.

At the time of the meeting, none of the three men apparently knew anything of significance, and quite likely they understood nothing at all about nuclear radiation and its great perils for humans: death or agonizing injury and even impairments in the gene pool for future generations. None of the three men actually knew anything in depth about the science and technology of the new uranium and plutonium bombs.

The issue that troubled Marshall, as he made clear to Stimson and McCloy at their meeting, was that these new, massively powerful bombs, if used on a city, would kill many noncombatants. To Marshall, that type of killing apparently constituted a dangerous and dramatic crossing of an important moral and ethical threshold by slaying innocent men, women, and children.

In public statements in the 1930s, Roosevelt had emphasized the moral and ethical line that would be crossed by bombing noncombatants. For Marshall, who had entered the Army more than a decade before World War I, and for Stimson and McCloy, such a line had at one time seemed deeply embedded in the informal U.S. code of conducting warfare.

By late May 1945, however, Marshall and his two colleagues at the meeting knew that U.S. conduct of so-called conventional warfare, especially with B-17 bombers and then the new B-29 bombers, had crossed that threshold with bombs, including incendiaries, against German and Japanese cities. U.S. and UK aircraft massively fire-bombed the German city of Dresden in February 1945, killing about 35,000 to 45,000. The U.S. fire-bombing of Tokyo in March killed about 80,000. The Tokyo count, with about 16 square miles burned out, was the highest by any bombing raid through late May 1945. In both enemy cities, the dead and injured, as all three U.S. officials knew, had been mostly noncombatants.

Whether and how such bombings would speed the ending of the wars in Europe and Asia was often rather vague. Among many U.S. government officials, there was a general sense that such bombings would help erode morale in the two enemy states and in multiple ways, often loosely defined, contribute to pushing the two enemy governments toward surrender.

Those attacks had greatly upset Stimson. He had worried on ethical grounds about the killing of noncombatants in such attacks, and he wished that such killing could be avoided or minimized by “precision” bombing.5 Before, during, and after the May 29 meeting, Marshall apparently never expressed, even in secret, governmental inner circles, such worries or doubts about massive conventional bombing of enemy cities.

As the head of the Army, Marshall had the moral authority, had he wished to use it, to complain inside the government and to urge different bombing policies. He never had done so or even come close to doing so.

Yet, even in prospect, the atomic bomb in May 1945 seemed markedly different to him, raising unsettling ethical and moral issues. Apparently troubled by the thought of targeting a city with that weapon, Marshall feared that moral opprobrium might be heaped on the United States in the aftermath. Thus, he offered a proposal for alternatives—bombing a military installation or bombing a large manufacturing area with a prior warning—by which he hoped to protect the United States and its new president from moral and ethical accusations of acting improperly.

A Likely Missed Opportunity

Marshall’s pleas on May 29 did not seem to gain support from Stimson or McCloy. Two days later, Stimson helped shape the nuclear targeting policy by outlining with a secret blue-ribbon panel, the Interim Committee, that the weapon should be used without any warning to Japan and on a military-industrial target surrounded by workers’ houses.6

As Stimson and the other meeting participants, including Marshall, well understood, enemy workers were usually defined as noncombatants. Furthermore, even if there might be some ambiguity about categorizing workers, there was none regarding their children, nonworking wives, and elderly relatives. Thus, many thousands of enemy innocents could be expected to be slain or injured by the atomic bomb.

Having been quietly defeated in the small meeting on May 29, Marshall raised no objections about that targeting and no-warning policy on May 31 in the larger meeting, which included James Conant, president of Harvard University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Karl Compton. Marshall also did not do so in the next 10 weeks in various discussions with Stimson, McCloy, or Truman as the United States moved to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Marshall quite likely missed an opportunity to establish an alliance with the president on redefining the targeting. Marshall did not know that Truman, around the time in late July 1945 that he endorsed the military order to use nuclear weapons on Japanese cities, had chosen to believe that the bombs’ targets would be truly of a military nature. In what was most likely self-deception, Truman wrote in his diary on July 25 that he had instructed Stimson that the new bomb should be used “so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children.” The target, Truman falsely contended, would be “purely military.”

Truman wrote of the Japanese being “savages,” calling them “merciless and fanatic.” The United States, he claimed, was markedly different in its conduct of the war and its concern for noncombatants.

Marshall apparently never said to anyone that he had regretted not seeking before the Hiroshima bombing to make common cause with Truman on the targeting policy. Had Marshall risked going outside the chain of command and bypassing Stimson, the general might well have been successful in July 1945 and thereby have helped to redefine the targeting policy for the atomic bomb to avoid killing and injuring noncombatants. Whether Marshall ever regretted not approaching Truman on this matter is uncertain.

Marshall’s Reshaped History

After the war, Marshall apparently never disclosed, even to his official biographer, historian Forrest Pogue, that, at the May 29 meeting with Stimson and McCloy, he had sought to alter the course of nuclear history as it was then unfolding.

McCloy’s minutes of the May 29 meeting, the only available record of Marshall’s secret counsel there, were not declassified until about two decades after the general’s October 1959 death. Dismayingly, that documentary record has generally been of little or no interest to most historians studying nuclear weapons or Marshall.

While concealing his May 1945 effort, Marshall himself, in an interview with Pogue in February 1957, somewhat rewrote the pre-Hiroshima history on the atomic bomb. Marshall contended incorrectly that the Truman administration, before the first atomic bombing of Japan, had provided the Japanese with a vague warning of the planned use by the United States of that new weapon on Japan.

Although the United States had issued broad warnings about large-scale destruction, it never gave Japan an explicit warning about the atomic bomb in the run-up to the Hiroshima bombing. One wonders—admittedly, in the absence of evidence—whether Marshall’s flawed recollection, as captured by Pogue, was an expression of the general’s unacknowledged personal regret. It might also have been an effort to protect his president, government, and country.

At the May 29 meeting, Marshall had unsuccessfully sought to reshape the future, and in 1957, he sought to reshape the past. He largely failed in those two efforts. By remaining silent about his advice of May 29, he helped obscure the possibility of a different history of nuclear weapons.

Stimson never mentioned Marshall’s May 29 advice in his memoir and in an article that drew on it. McCloy did not either in his many postwar commentaries, even though they often were critical of the atomic bombings. Truman, in his ghost-written memoir and elsewhere, never mentioned and probably never knew of Marshall’s urgings on the targeting of nuclear weapons.

Different Targeting?

The effect on Hiroshima of the atomic bombing on August 6, 1945, is shown in a photo from that day. The building on the right was preserved as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. [Photo credit: Keystone/Getty Images]If the United States had issued a substantial, explicit warning to Japan before using the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; if the U.S. attacks truly had targeted manufacturing areas; or, more significantly, if the targets in Japan had been actually a military installation, the postwar dialogue about the bombings might have been different.

To consider the plausible alternative history in which the United States chose a military target and therefore avoided the deaths of massive numbers of noncombatants is not to seek to justify the atomic bombings. It is intended to force a rethinking of important aspects of the August 1945 bombings and of the moral and ethical underpinnings of those bombings.

Whatever their use, the bombs dropped in August 1945 would have crossed a profoundly important and greatly troubling threshold. They represented exceptional power delivered by a new technology. If they had been used against an enemy military installation with comparatively few deaths and injuries to enemy noncombatants, the important moral and ethical threshold of killing massive numbers of noncombatants, despite the earlier attacks on Dresden and Tokyo and the similar conventional bombings elsewhere, would not have been crossed in the atomic bombings of Japan.

Part of the older moral and ethical code would have been respected in what nevertheless was a brutal, savage war. Fought broadly across three continents and numerous islands, that long war killed many millions of noncombatants among the total of about 55 million people.

By most estimates, noncombatant deaths, including those in German death camps and those from starvation, malnutrition, and disease elsewhere, significantly outnumbered the ones among soldiers from bombing and ground warfare.

The two atomic bombs probably added at least 100,000 to the tally of noncombatants but only about 12,000 to the number of military men killed.

Analysts might contend that limiting the use of the new, devastating weapon to military targets might have made it seem less terrible and thus less effective as a psychological weapon. In a similar vein, the analysts might argue that the large number of deaths and the high percentage that were noncombatants created its own firewall in making future use by any country morally more difficult.

To discuss such matters involving the dead and who was killed or might otherwise have been killed under a different targeting plan may seem ghoulish and cold blooded. In fact, these matters, which involve ethical considerations, are important in critically examining how the atomic bomb has been understood and why.

Marshall’s proposals add an important element to the debate over these matters. His proposals make clear that policies on atomic bomb targeting that were different from the ones actually used were not simply hypothetical possibilities but truly plausible alternatives in 1945. For arms control analysts and others who wish to think critically about such alternatives, the generally neglected document on Marshall’s meeting of May 29, 1945, provides firm evidence that an important member of the U.S. government recommended seeking to use the atomic bomb in a way that would not kill massive numbers of noncombatants.

Barton J. Bernstein is a professor emeritus of history at Stanford University and has long written and lectured on the decision to use the atomic bomb and other aspects of the history of nuclear weapons.


1.  William D. Leahy, I Was There: The Personal Story of the Chief of Staff of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman Based on His Notes and Diaries Made at the Time (New York: Whittlesey House, 1950), pp. 440-441.

2.  John J. McCloy, “Objectives Toward Japan and Methods of Concluding War With Minimum Casualties,” May 29, 1945, in Marshall Papers, George C. Marshall Library, Lexington, VA (memorandum of conversation with General George Marshall with handwritten note by McCloy or Marshall stating “C/S [Marshall] has noted and has no further suggestions”).

3.  Statement of President Franklin Roosevelt on June 8, 1943, in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vol. 1943, ed. Samuel Rosenman (New York: Harper, 1950), p. 242.

4.  For the formal estimates in the spring of 1945 of TNT equivalence for the two types of atomic bombs, see Gen. Leslie Groves to Secretary of War, “Atomic Fission Bombs,” April 23, 1945, pp. 5-6, in Top Secret of Special Interest to Groves Files, #25, Manhattan Engineer District (MED) Records, RG 77, U.S. National Archives.

5.  Henry Stimson diary, June 1 and 6, 1945, Sterling Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT. The subject has also been thoughtfully treated by various interpreters. See McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House, 1988); Sean Malloy, Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008).

6.  For the Interim Committee minutes of May 31, 1945, see Harrison-Bundy Files, #100, MED Records, RG 77. For President Harry Truman’s Potsdam diary of July 25, 1945, see Truman Papers, Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, MO. For Marshall’s interview with Pogue of February 11, 1957, see Larry and Joellen Bland, eds., George C. Marshall Interviews and Reminiscences for Forrest C. Pogue, rev. ed. (Lexington, VA: George C. Marshall Research Foundation, 1991), pp. 422-425.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Sea Trials Progress for Indian Sub

An Indian official said sea trials of its ballistic missile submarine are going well and may include missile tests this month.

November 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

The Nirbhay, India’s long-range cruise missile, lifts off during a test launch in the Indian state of Odisha on October 17, 2014. [Photo credit: Defence Research & Development Organisation of India]Sea trials of India’s first indigenously built ballistic missile submarine are going well and may include the first test launch of a nuclear-capable missile this month, an Indian official said last month.

In an Oct. 15 e-mail, the official confirmed reports in several Indian newspapers that the next steps for the sea trials of the INS Arihant include test launches of a cruise missile and a ballistic missile and that these tests could take place within the next month.

India, whose submarine program dates back to 1984, started work on the Arihant in 2009. The submarine’s nuclear-powered reactor went critical in August 2013, and it began sea trials in December 2014.

Indian officials have said that they plan to conduct test launches of the submarine’s missiles before the Arihant is ready to go on patrol. Currently, New Delhi says the Arihant will be handed over to the navy to begin service in 2016, ideally before the International Fleet Review, an international naval exhibition, in February. But the deployment of the Arihant has been delayed in the past.

The plan to test a cruise missile from the submarine may have suffered a setback after a land-based test of the missile was aborted last month.

In an Oct. 16 press release, India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) said that, to “ensure coastal safety,” a test of the Nirbhay long-range cruise missile was “terminated” midway through its flight after “deviations were observed from its intended course.” The release said that the Oct. 16 test still met basic mission objectives successfully.

The Nirbhay is likely a nuclear-capable cruise missile with a range of 1,000 kilometers, although India has not confirmed its nuclear mission. India has tested the missile several times, including in March 2013 and October 2014. The March 2013 test was terminated when the missile veered off course. The October 2014 test was deemed a partial success by a DRDO official.

The other missile suitable for the Arihant-class submarine is the K-15, a two-stage ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear warhead an estimated 700 kilometers.

The submarine is designed to carry 12 K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

India has tested the K-15 missile multiple times, including from a submerged pontoon in 2013, but not from the Arihant.

The DRDO also is developing a longer-range SLBM, the K-4, which will have an estimated range of 3,000 kilometers with a nuclear payload. That range puts Pakistan and most of China within range if India launches the K-4 from the northern Indian Ocean.

India first tested the K-4 missile in March 2014. Each Arihant-class submarine could carry up to four K-4s.

Once the Arihant is on patrol, India will have a complete nuclear triad, which also includes the ability to deliver warheads via land-based missiles and bombers. Currently, only China, Russia, and the United States deploy nuclear warheads across all three delivery systems.

India will also join China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States as the only countries with a sea-based nuclear deterrent.

India has two submarines similar to the Arihant at various stages of construction. 

What's New Text: 

Posted: December 31, 1969

Pakistan, U.S. Said to Be Talking on NSG

Pakistan and the United States reportedly have been holding discussions about Islamabad’s possible admission into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. 

November 2015

By Daniel Horner

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (left) meets with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on October 22. [Photo credit: Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images]Pakistan and the United States have been holding discussions about Islamabad’s possible admission into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Pakistani actions that would open the door to such a move, according to reports in several media outlets and accounts by a former Pakistani official and other observers contacted by Arms Control Today.

In these descriptions, Pakistan would take certain arms control measures and in return would gain the international legitimacy of membership in the NSG. The group, which currently has 48 members, sets guidelines for nuclear trade so that the exports do not contribute to proliferation. The NSG is not a formal organization, and its guidelines are not binding.

By all accounts, any NSG deal with Pakistan would be substantially different from the one reached with India in 2008. At that time, the NSG agreed to an exception to its rule that banned exports to countries such as India that did not open all their nuclear facilities to international inspections.

Admission to the NSG was not part of that package, but in November 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama endorsed India for NSG membership. (See ACT, December 2010.) The NSG, which operates by consensus, has not agreed to that step.

In conjunction with the 2008 NSG waiver, the U.S. Congress approved a cooperation agreement that allows nuclear trade with India although New Delhi operates nuclear facilities that are not under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

Since the U.S. and NSG exceptions for India were granted, Pakistan has complained of unfair treatment and argued that the suppliers should adopt a so-called criteria-based approach for countries that do not meet the group’s requirement of a fully safeguarded nuclear program. Under this approach, these countries would have to take certain steps to demonstrate they are responsible nuclear states.

Like India, Pakistan uses its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities to produce material for a nuclear weapons program.

In an Oct. 27 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a senior administration official said the United States has “not entered negotiations” on a nuclear cooperation agreement with Pakistan and is not “seeking an exception for Pakistan within the Nuclear Suppliers Group to facilitate civil nuclear exports.”

A few days earlier, after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Oct. 22 meeting with Obama in Washington, Indian media reported similar comments by an unnamed U.S. official. 

One congressional analyst said in an Oct. 27 interview that the senior administration official’s formulation might not preclude an effort to bring Pakistan into the NSG if it were by the criteria-based approach. The official declined to comment on that possibility.

In a report issued in August, Toby Dalton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center said, “We agree with Pakistan’s position that membership in the NSG should be criteria-based, but only if the criteria strengthen nonproliferation norms—well beyond those adopted by India to gain the NSG’s stamp of approval in 2008.” For example, they propose that Pakistan limit production and deployment of short-range delivery vehicles and tactical nuclear weapons, “which are unavoidably the least safe and secure weapons in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.”

If the NSG accepted Pakistan as a member and allowed trade with Islamabad, “companies other than those from China are unlikely to invest in Pakistani nuclear power stations,” Dalton and Krepon said. China currently has an active nuclear trade with Pakistan in spite of the NSG guidelines.

In an Oct. 27 interview, Feroz Khan, a retired Pakistani brigadier general and former director of arms control and disarmament affairs in the Strategic Plans Division of Pakistan’s National Command Authority, said discussions with Pakistan on “nuclear normalization,” including entry into the NSG, have been taking place “for quite some time.” Some of the actions under discussion were similar to the ones described in the Dalton-Krepon report, he said. But Pakistan and the United States have not agreed on “a clear road map,” he said.

The U.S. and Pakistani governments have not officially confirmed the discussions about Pakistani NSG membership, but an Oct. 16 Wall Street Journal story quoted a senior U.S. official as saying, “The idea is to try to change the dynamic, see if helping [the Pakistanis] on the NSG would be a carrot for them to act” to place some restraints on their nuclear weapons program.

The discussions were first reported by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Putting the Horse Before the Cart: Resuming Talks with North Korea

International relations with North Korea have been marked by provocations, off-and-on diplomatic engagement, and the threat of military conflict for decades. The threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs came back into the spotlight this fall with talk from North Korea that it would soon conduct a fourth satellite launch, which has not been delivered upon to date, the highly anticipated military parade in honor of the Korean Workers’ Party 70 th anniversary, and reports that Pyongyang is making preparations for a fourth nuclear test explosion. It is Pyongyang itself that...

Overkill: The Case Against a New Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile


In an Oct. 15 op-ed in The Washington Post, William Perry, President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and Andrew Weber, President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for nuclear...


Volume 7, Issue 13, October 19, 2015

In an Oct. 15 op-ed in The Washington Post, William Perry, President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and Andrew Weber, President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, call on President Obama to cancel current plans to build a new fleet of approximately 1,000 nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs).

Nuclear-armed cruise missiles “are a uniquely destabilizing type of nuclear weapon,” they write, and foregoing the development of a new version “would not diminish the formidable U.S. nuclear deterrent in the least" and "could lay the foundation for a global ban on these dangerous weapons.”

The op-ed marks a significant development in the debate about whether to build a new nuclear-capable cruise missile, as Perry was one of the fathers of the current version of the ALCM when it was first conceived in the 1970s.

The ongoing development of a new ALCM is part of the Defense and Energy Department’s plans to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad and their associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure at a cost of $348 billion over the next decade, according to a January 2015 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report. An August 2015 report by the Center for Strategy and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) estimated that the sustainment and modernization of nuclear forces could consume almost $1 trillion over roughly the next 30 years.

The projected growth in the nuclear weapons budget comes at a time when other big national security bills are also coming due and Congress has mandated reductions in military spending through the end of the current decade relative to current plans. In addition, despite the fact the president and his military advisors have determined that the United States can reduce the size of its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to one-third below the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) levels, the proposed spending is based on maintaining the New START levels in perpetuity.

Given that current U.S. nuclear weapons spending plans are excessive and unsustainable, it behooves the administration and Congress to more closely evaluate options that would both be more cost-effective and promote the reduction of nuclear risks around the world. As the Arms Control Association detailed in a report last year, tens of billions can be saved over the next decade and beyond by trimming portions of the arsenal and scaling back current modernization plans.

As it prepares its budget submission for fiscal year 2017, the president should heed the advice of Perry and Weber and not request funds to advance the development of a new nuclear ALCM.


Nuclear-armed ALCMs are part of the U.S. nuclear triad of delivery systems consisting of land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and long-range bombers, which can carry ALCMs and gravity bombs. ALCMs are carried by the B-52 long-range bomber and can attack targets at long distances. The United States also deployed large numbers of nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) during the Cold War, but ceased deployment of these weapons in 1992.

The original military rationale for developing the ALCM emphasized the cruise missile’s value as a standoff weapon that could overwhelm Soviet air defenses. The B-52’s ability to penetrate Soviet airspace was under pressure in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and standoff capability allowed a B-52 to hold strategic targets at risk in relative safety despite its large radar cross section and subsonic speed.

The Air Force’s lone remaining ALCM variant is the AGM-86B, up to 20 of which can be carried by a B-52H bomber. The missile, which has a range of more than 1,500 miles, was first fielded in 1982 with a planned service life of 10 years. Multiple life extension programs have kept the missile in service for more than 30 years. The Air Force is planning to retain the missile until 2030. 

The Air Force currently retains 572 nuclear-capable ALCMs, down from the original production run of 1,715 missiles, which concluded in 1986. Roughly 200 of these missiles are believed to be deployed at Minot Air Fore Base in North Dakota with the W80-1 nuclear warhead. New START does not cap the number of bombs or cruise missiles that can be carried on treaty limited strategic bombers.

The Air Force is developing the long-range standoff cruise missile (or LRSO) to replace the existing ALCM. The new missile will be compatible with the B-2 and B-52 bombers, as well as the planned Long-Range Strike bomber. The first missile is slated to be produced in 2026.

The current Air Force procurement plan for the LRSO calls for about 1,000 new nuclear-capable missiles, roughly double the size of the existing fleet of ALCMs. According to the service, the planned purchase of 1,000 missiles includes far more missiles than it plans to arm and deploy with nuclear warheads.

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request proposed to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of the LRSO and the modified W80-4 warhead that it would carry, partially reversing the fiscal year 2015 proposal to delay development of both by three years.

The total cost to build the LRSO and refurbish the associated warhead could reach $25 billion (in then-year dollars). CSBA estimates the development cost of the LRSO at nearly $15 billion. The Energy Department projects the cost of the life extension program for the ALCM warhead to be between $7 billion and $9.5 billion. 

Dubious Rationale

The two main arguments the Pentagon has made in support of building a new ALCM do not withstand close scrutiny.

First, supporters of the LRSO cite anticipated improvements in the air defenses of potential adversaries as a reason to develop the new cruise missile. However, as Perry and Weber note, the LRSO weapon is just one element of the Air Force’s plan for the air-based leg of the triad.

The service is planning to spend over $100 billion to build 80-100 new stealthy penetrating strategic bombers. One of the top rationales for building a new bomber is to extend America’s air dominance in advanced air defense environments. In addition to carrying the LRSO, the new long-range strike bomber (or B-3) will be armed with refurbished B61 mod 12 nuclear gravity bombs. Upgrading the B61 is expected to cost roughly $10 billion. The B-3 is scheduled to remain in service for 50 years while the B61 mod 12 is expected to last for 20-30 years.

The United States already has redundancy built into its strategic forces posture with three independent modes of delivery. The requirement that the air-leg of the triad have two means to assure penetration against the most advanced air-defenses constitutes excessive redundancy. Other standoff weapons, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles, can penetrate air defenses with high confidence.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is significantly increasing the lethality of its conventionally armed cruise missiles.

For example, the service is purchasing an extended-range precision air-to-surface standoff cruise missile known as the JASSM-ER. This missile will have a range of over 1,100 kilometers and be integrated onto the B-1, B-52, B-2, F-15E, and F-16 aircraft – and likely on the F-35 and long-range strike bomber as well. The Air Force is planning to arm the JASSM-ER with a new computer-killing electronic attack payload. The technology is designed to have an effect similar to an electromagnetic pulse.

This raises the question of what is so unique about the penetrating mission of a nuclear ALCM that can’t be addressed by other U.S. nuclear and conventional capabilities?

Second, proponents of the nuclear ALCM mission say that the missile, by virtue of the lower yield of the nuclear warhead it carries, provides the president with flexible options in the event of a crisis and the ability to control escalation. In other words, the missiles would come in handy for nuclear war-fighting.

Yet, U.S. nuclear capabilities would remain highly credible and flexible even without a nuclear ALCM. The arsenal includes other weapons that can produce more “limited” effects, most notably the B61 gravity bomb.

More importantly, the notion that nuclear weapons can be used to carefully control escalation is dangerous thinking. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work noted at a June 25 House Armed Services Committee hearing: “Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”

This is wise counsel and speaks to the limited utility and added risks of seeking to fine-tune deterrence. It is highly unlikely that an adversary on the receiving end of a U.S. nuclear strike would (or could) distinguish between a large warhead and a small warhead. Large or small, nuclear weapons are extremely blunt instruments, both in terms of their destructive power and the taboo associated with the fact they have not been used in 70 years.

In fact, instead of controlling escalation, nuclear-armed cruise missiles could entail a significant risk of miscalculation and unintended nuclear escalation.

Former British Minister of Defense Philip Hammond drew attention to this problem in explaining the United Kingdom’s decision to reject a sea-launched cruise missile alternative to its current force of sea-launched ballistic missiles.

“At the point of firing, other states could have no way of knowing whether we had launched a conventional cruise missile or one with a nuclear warhead,” he wrote in 2013. “Such uncertainty could risk triggering a nuclear war at a time of tension.”

Instead of investing billions in a new fleet of nuclear ALCMs, the Air Force should prioritize continued investments in longer-range conventional cruise missiles. Further investment in conventional standoff weapons would provide the Air Force with a more readily useable capability without the unintended escalation risks associated with the possession of nuclear and conventional ALCMs. It would also help set the stage for an eventual global phase-out of nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

Excessive Cost

In light of the modernization needs of other defense systems and congressionally-mandated reductions in planned military expenses required by the Budget Control Act, military leaders continue to warn that the United States is facing an affordability problem in the near future when it comes to sustaining and modernizing nuclear forces.

“[W]e do have a huge affordability problem with that basket of [nuclear weapons] systems,” said Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, in April. “It is starting to poke itself into the [future years defense plan] — the five-year plan now. And we're trying to address it.”

Funding for the LRSO program over the next 10-15 years will come at the expense of other costly Air Force priorities such as the acquisition of the long-range strike bomber, KC-46A tanker, the F-35, and a replacement for the existing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system.

Though no one knows for sure what the military budget will look like after the expiration of the Budget Control Act, it seems unlikely that there will be enough money to fund all of the military’s nuclear and conventional modernization plans, especially during the decade of the 2020s when costs are expected to be at their highest. Tradeoffs will have to be made.

Given the nuclear ALCM’s redundant mission and inherently destabilizing dual-use nature, its replacement is not necessary.

A Global Ban

The United States, Russia and France are the only nations that currently acknowledge deploying nuclear-armed cruise missiles. However, countries such as China and Pakistan are believed to be working on them. U.S. security would benefit if they do not deploy such weapons.

Chinese nuclear-armed cruise missiles would add to U.S. concerns about Beijing’s capabilities and would be able to more easily circumvent U.S. missile defenses, which are mainly oriented against ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s program would add to tensions in South Asia and could motivate India to follow suit.

As part of its strategy to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty the United States should express its willingness to engage in technical discussions and agree to special inspections to resolve compliance concerns if Russia is willing to engage with U.S. concerns. Moving forward the United States should promote a global dialogue on limiting and eventually phasing out all nuclear-armed cruise missile systems.

Verifying limits and later a ban on all types of nuclear-armed cruise missiles would no doubt be a significant challenge, though not an insurmountable one. One early preparatory step toward building a transparency and monitoring regime is for the United States to pressure Russia to resume the exchange of data on nuclear-armed SLCMs that occurred under START I.

Rather than spend billions on a nuclear weapon that is not needed to deter potential adversaries, the United States should cancel its new cruise missile program. This would be a win-win for the military budget and U.S. security.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy


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. 

Posted: December 31, 1969

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, October 15

Countdown to Adoption Day Iran completed its formal review process of the July 14 nuclear deal yesterday, after parliament voted on a bill to approve the agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the Guardian Council ratified the parliament’s bill. Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, held two votes on the agreement. On Sunday, Oct. 11, they held a preliminary vote on the first reading of the bill, which passed 139-100. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, were present to answer questions from...

North Korea’s Nuclear ICBM?

With the 70 th anniversary of the founding of the Worker’s Party of Korea approaching on Oct. 10, the director of North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) lauded his country’s “shining achievements” in space development in an interview with the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Sept. 14 and raised the possibility of another satellite launch in the near future. The unnamed director reported that North Korea is at a “final phase” in the development of a new earth observation satellite, a “peaceful project” pursuant to improving the people of North Korea’s...

Building on the Iran Deal

October 2015

By Daryl G. Kimball

The historic nuclear nonproliferation agreement struck on July 14 between Iran and six world powers is moving forward.

Now the task is to implement the deal and reinforce it. Leading states in and outside the Middle East should build on the deal by jointly exploring additional barriers against further nuclear proliferation in the region and beyond. 

The agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, will severely curtail Iran’s nuclear capabilities for at least 15 years and put in place a multilayered verification and monitoring regime. By blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb, the agreement also helps head off nuclear competition in the unstable Middle East.

The agreement contains innovative but time-limited provisions that go beyond the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and standard International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. These and other measures could be applied indefinitely if pursued on a regional and even global basis by the United States and other leading countries. Among the options are the following:

Expand application of additional protocols. Region-wide adoption of and adherence to additional protocols, which will provide the IAEA with enhanced monitoring and inspection authority in Iran under the agreement, would help to guard against illicit military nuclear activity elsewhere. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria are among the states that have not concluded an additional protocol with the IAEA.

One approach would be to update the law governing U.S. civil nuclear cooperation to require cooperating states to adopt an additional protocol and early-notification procedures. Another would be for the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group to agree not to engage in any civilian nuclear cooperation with a state in the Middle East unless it has taken those steps.

Ban production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. In the agreement, Iran agreed not to enrich uranium beyond 3.67 percent uranium-235 for a period of at least 15 years. Iran has indicated a willingness to extend that restriction if other countries in the region follow suit. A goal of U.S. policy should be to secure a region-wide commitment to establishing a ceiling of 5 percent U-235 for uranium enrichment.

A related strategy would be to accelerate the phaseout of reactor fuel with an enrichment level greater than 5 percent for any purposes by any country and to provide technical support to convert reactors fueled with highly enriched uranium to low-enriched fuel.

Iran also committed not to separate plutonium from spent fuel in its reactors for at least 15 years. A permanent region-wide ban on reprocessing could also be adopted.

If additional countries chose to pursue enrichment in the Middle East or elsewhere, they should be encouraged to allow the same continuous IAEA monitoring at key nuclear facilities to which Iran is subject under this agreement.

Encourage lifetime fuel-supply and fuel take-back guarantees. To help obviate Iran’s justification for increasing its enrichment capacity beyond the agreement’s limit of 5,060 of its first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1, any country that supplies additional power reactors to Iran could provide fuel supply guarantees for the lifespan of the reactor and agree to take back the spent fuel to deny Iran access to the plutonium in the fuel. Russia already has such an arrangement with Iran. The United States should strongly encourage lifetime fuel-supply arrangements for any country in the region seeking nuclear reactors.

Forgo nuclear weapons-related experiments. In the deal, Iran agreed to a ban on all nuclear weapons-related experiments, even though some ostensibly have civilian applications. By encouraging other states in the region and elsewhere to voluntarily declare or reach a memorandum of understanding with the IAEA that such experiments, if conducted, would constitute a violation of their safeguards agreements, confidence in the NPT would be strengthened.

Encourage region-wide adherence to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Nuclear test explosions enable states to prove new warhead designs, particularly smaller, lighter warheads for delivery on ballistic missiles. The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all such tests. Currently, three states in the Middle East—Egypt, Iran, and Israel—must ratify the CTBT to facilitate its entry into force. Iran and Israel have signed the treaty, and their current leaders have expressed general support for the treaty.

To reinforce Iran’s commitment to a future without nuclear weapons and increase security in the region, all CTBT states-parties should actively encourage states in the Middle East that have not signed and ratified the CTBT, including Saudi Arabia, to do so and to fully support the CTBT International Monitoring System, as well the development of the on-site inspection capabilities that will be available after the treaty enters into force.

The Iran deal is a major step forward. The United States and other leading governments can strengthen it further by advancing additional nonproliferation initiatives in the years ahead.

Posted: December 31, 1969


Subscribe to RSS - Nuclear Nonproliferation