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European Security

Nuclear Cruise Missiles: Asset or Liability?

Description: 

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

Body: 
March 5, 2015 

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

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

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

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Posted: December 31, 1969

Hill Withholds Funds for Work in Russia

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

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Cruise Missile Funded

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

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

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

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

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

Missile Defense Scrutinized

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

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

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

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

Posted: December 31, 1969

Scottish Vote Preserves UK Nuclear Force

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

By Jefferson Morley

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

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

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

The SNP sought to outlaw such weapons on Scottish territory.

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

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

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

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Posted: December 31, 1969

Russia, U.S. Face Off Over INF Treaty

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

By Diane Barnes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: December 31, 1969

NATO Moves Trigger Russian Response

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

By Jefferson Morley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

France Suspends Deal 

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

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

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

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

Saber Rattling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: December 31, 1969

U.S.-UK Nuclear Pact Revised

Jefferson Morley

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

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

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

Posted: December 31, 1969

Preparing for Deep Nuclear Cuts: Options for Enhancing Euro-Atlantic and International Security

A new report by a 21-member experts commission recommends practical, modest steps that the United States, NATO and Russia could take to further reduce nuclear arms, both strategic and non-strategic, and to resolve long-standing differences over missile defense and the regulation of conventional military forces in Europe.

Incooperation with the Deep Cuts Commission

Posted: December 31, 1969

Trident Tribulations: Understanding the UK’s Trident Alternatives Review

The United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons policy is in flux. A UK decision to end continuous at-sea deterrence would be in keeping with the country’s self-identification as the most forward leaning of the nuclear-weapon states on nuclear disarmament and would have implications beyond the UK’s borders.

Nick Ritchie

The United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons policy is in flux as the country debates whether to replace its current Trident strategic nuclear weapons system and remain in the nuclear weapons business for another generation.

Choices about nuclear weapons are certain to feature in the next general election in May 2015. The debate is deeply political and parochial, but also involves a much broader set of issues related to nuclear deterrence and steps toward nuclear disarmament. Some of this debate came to a head with the publication of the government’s “Trident Alternatives Review” in July.[1] This article examines the political issues surrounding the report and sets them in the broader context of deterrence and disarmament.

Current UK policy is to have a single Vanguard-class submarine on patrol somewhere in the Atlantic ready to fire as many as 40 highly accurate thermonuclear warheads on U.S.-designed and -built Trident II (D-5) ballistic missiles within days, or even hours, of a prime ministerial decision. (“Trident” technically refers to the missile, but the term is used in the UK to mean the entire system.) Four such submarines are based at the Faslane naval base in Scotland that enable the UK to have one permanently at sea in a posture called continuous at-sea deterrence.

The submarines were commissioned into service between 1994 and 2001 and will begin to reach the end of their service lives in the early 2020s. Trident is now the UK’s only nuclear weapons system after the country divested itself of gravity bombs, theater nuclear weapons, and forward-deployed U.S. nuclear weapons during the 1990s and 2000s. If the submarines are not replaced in some form, the UK will effectively cease to be a nuclear-weapon state.[2]

In 2006 the Labour government under Tony Blair gave the green light to a long, expensive, and controversial process of replacing the Trident system with a “like-for-like” capability starting with the procurement of a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines, then a new warhead, and a new U.S. missile much later still. A decision was needed at that time because a new submarine would take approximately 17 years to design and deploy.[3] In May 2010, the Labour government was voted out of office and replaced by a coalition government comprising Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the latter as the junior party.

The Liberal Democrats had never accepted the case for a like-for-like replacement.[4] They have long argued that the UK no longer requires such a “fantastically expensive insurance policy”[5] procured in the depths of the Cold War to flatten Moscow and other major Russian cities or, to use more diplomatic language, “hold at risk key centres of Soviet state power.”[6] The world had moved on, and at a time of severe pressure on government spending, including the defense budget, it was surely right to question the logic of committing 25 billion pounds to a new fleet of submarines in this “age of austerity.”[7] Nevertheless, “unilateral nuclear disarmament” has become a pejorative term in Westminster politics ever since Labour’s sojourn in the political wilderness in the 1980s partly as a result of its electorally unpopular platform of relinquishing nuclear weapons. In 2005 the Liberal Democrat leadership began instead to make the case for a middle way: a smaller, cheaper nuclear weapons system more in keeping with the geopolitical realities of today’s complex conflicts.

Once in government, the Liberal Democrats successfully pushed back the main spending decision on the new submarines (the “main gate” decision, in Ministry of Defence jargon) from 2014 to 2016, which is after the next general election. The party also negotiated an agreement with the Conservatives to undertake a review to determine if the program was providing sufficient “value for money.” That assessment was part of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The accord between the two parties also called for an in-depth, formal government study of alternatives to a like-for-like replacement of the Trident system.[8]

The Trident Alternatives Review

The alternatives review was initiated in May 2011, and after some delay, the report was published in July of this year. The document presents a hierarchy of nuclear postures at decreasing levels of operational readiness. The first two postures are the current “continuous deterrence” and “focussed deterrence,” the latter based on continuous deterrence for a specific period against a specific adversary. Absent a specific threat, the system would be maintained at “reduced readiness.” Three reduced readiness postures are outlined: “sustained deterrence,” “responsive deterrence,” and “preserved deterrence,” at progressively lower levels of readiness and ability to return to the higher levels.

The review then applies these postures to four delivery systems: the combination of a Trident ballistic missile with a missile-carrying submarine, a new cruise missile and warhead deployed aboard the UK’s new Astute-class attack submarines, a nuclear bomb or a stealthy or supersonic cruise missile for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter the UK is procuring from the United States, and a stealthy cruise missile for a new large aircraft. The report concludes that “there are alternatives to Trident that would enable the UK to be capable of inflicting significant damage such that most potential adversaries around the world would be deterred.”[9]

The Liberal Democrats had initially championed the idea of arming Astute-class attack submarines, which currently are equipped to fire U.S. conventionally armed Tomahawk cruise missiles, with a new nuclear-tipped cruise missile. The report states, however, that this would be more expensive than replacing the Trident system on an equivalent basis because of the cost and time of developing a new cruise missile warhead—24 years, according to the report. This would exceed the service life of the current submarines and require building two new ballistic missile submarines to cover the gap until a new cruise missile could be deployed.

With that option no longer economically and politically viable, the Liberal Democrats now appear set to support a reduced version of the current system by ending the outdated requirement for continuous patrols, building two or three instead of four new submarines, further reducing the stockpile of missiles and warheads, and perhaps exploring the possibility of using the submarines in roles beyond a dedicated nuclear mission. Ending continuous patrols would also ease pressure on overstretched submarine crews and alleviate ongoing problems in recruitment and retention. In fact, a variant of the current Trident system represents the path of least technical, financial, and political resistance in any discussion of alternatives.[10] The Liberal Democrats debated their defense and nuclear policies for their 2015 general election manifesto at their party conference in September in Glasgow—an interesting choice given the anti-Trident sentiment of the Scottish electorate—and passed the leadership’s motion to support this policy.[11]

Conservative Party leaders remain committed to nuclear business as usual. They insist it is essential to continuously deploy a very sophisticated nuclear capability of global reach aboard a fleet of dedicated submarines.[12] Anything less than such “essential protection” risks fatally undermining the nation’s security, they argue.[13] The Conservatives will use the report to delegitimize a middle way as dangerous, naive, or incompetent in favor of their preferred default position.[14]

The big political question is how Labour will respond. When Ed Miliband was elected leader of the party, he said the UK now needs “to look very carefully at whether renewing Trident is the necessary or the right thing to do.”[15] There is now an active debate. Some former defense secretaries in the party, such as George Robertson and John Hutton, are firmly in favor of a like-for-like replacement. Others, such as Des Browne, are in favor of dropping continuous at-sea deterrence but still retaining nuclear weapons. Former Chief Whip Nick Brown and many backbenchers support relinquishing nuclear weapons altogether.[16]

Miliband confirmed at the party conference in October 2012 that Labour’s policy on Trident replacement would be revisited after the publication of the alternatives report and another report by the British American Security Information Council’s Trident Commission. The commission is an independent cross-party body established in 2011 to review UK nuclear weapons policy and led by Browne (now a Labour peer in the House of Lords) and two current members of Parliament, Malcolm Rifkind (Conservative) and Menzies Campbell (Liberal Democrat).[17] With the former report now published and the latter due in early 2014, Miliband will face a difficult choice: stick with the Blair and Tory plan of like-for-like replacement or pursue an alternative nuclear posture.

Minimum Deterrence

There is more at stake in the Trident debate than domestic electoral positioning. Anything other than a direct like-for-like replacement of the current system will mean rethinking the commitment to continuous at-sea deterrence. This, in turn, means rethinking conceptions of what constitutes a credible and effective minimum deterrent threat and could have wider ramifications.

A Spectrum of Nuclear Deterrence

There are a number of conceptions of nuclear deterrence, differing in elements such as force size, posture, and adversarial context. These conceptions can be seen as existing on a spectrum whose contours can be sketched from the nuclear histories of nuclear-armed states.

At one end lies the maximum deterrence practiced by the United States during the Cold War. This version based effective, credible deterrence on nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union, using a range of nuclear forces from nuclear shells for frontline troops to helicopter-borne nuclear depth bombs. The next step along the spectrum moves toward current conceptions of Chinese, French, and UK minimum deterrence. These involve warheads numbers in the low hundreds, a general rejection of nuclear weapons as war-fighting tools, and a limited number of roles for nuclear weapons.[1] Further down the spectrum, one encounters the so-called recessed form of nuclear deterrence practiced by India through the 1980s and 1990s based on nonweaponization of its nascent nuclear weapons capability. This approach was judged to exert a sufficient deterrent effect on Pakistan based on the mere possibility that major aggression could result in a nuclear encounter.[2]

Moving further along the spectrum, one goes from nondeployment to nonproduction of nuclear weapons. A “virtual” deterrent effect is exerted at this point through a proven but disassembled nuclear arsenal capable of reconstitution and redeployment within a specific time frame.[3] Further yet, the spectrum reaches the notion of weaponless deterrence, which envisages zero nuclear weapons or components but a residual military nuclear industrial base that could, over time, generate or regenerate a basic deliverable nuclear capability.[4]

ENDNOTES

1. See Li Bin, “China’s Potential to Contribute to Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament,” Arms Control Today, March 2011.

2. See George Perkovich, “Trip Report: Pakistan and India,” September 10-12, 1992, pp. 5-6.

3. Michael Mazarr, ‘The Notion of Virtual Arsenals,” in Nuclear Weapons in a Transformed World: The Challenge of Virtual Nuclear Arsenals, ed. Michael Mazarr (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997).

4. Jonathan Schell, The Abolition­ (London: Picador, 1984).

    UK nuclear weapons policy has long been characterized as one of minimum deterrence. The country has a comparatively small nuclear arsenal that is restricted to a single delivery system for strategic, as opposed to war-fighting, purposes. In addition, the UK has established a series of declaratory constraints on the circumstances in which it would consider using or threatening to use its nuclear weapons.

    The prevailing wisdom in London is that a credible and effective threat requires an assured capability to retaliate against a strategic attack in any and all conceivable circumstances. Because no one has a crystal ball, this argument runs, there is no guarantee that the UK never will face a direct threat that could be countered only through an assurance of nuclear retaliation. Therefore, the UK should retain its current capability, just in case. Any sign of vulnerability, any chink in the nuclear armor, could have catastrophic consequences in a crisis.[18]

    This translates into a requirement for highly accurate ballistic missiles of global reach capable of delivering dozens of thermonuclear warheads from a nuclear delivery platform on continuous alert that is invulnerable to a “bolt from the blue” first strike.[19] If the UK government still considers it essential to permanently deploy strategic nuclear weapons on alert at sea, then keeping the current arrangement is the obvious choice, particularly given the cost efficiencies and risk reduction that come with being embedded in a much bigger U.S. Trident program.

    This orthodoxy, however, has been challenged in the current debate. Skepticism abounds as to the strategic necessity of maintaining the current nuclear posture. When Trident was originally procured in the early 1980s, Defence Secretary John Nott said its purpose was to provide “an ultimate defence of this country against a nuclear strike, a pre-emptive strike by a nuclear power.”[20] The only country that can deliver such an attack against the UK now and for the foreseeable future is Russia.

    Yet, it is widely and officially acknowledged that the Cold War is truly over and that the possibility of a surprise Russian nuclear first-strike is so low as to be near zero.[21] Indeed the UK government acknowledges that the country faces no major, direct nuclear threat and has not since the early 1990s when it stopped targeting its nuclear weapons at Russia on a day-to-day basis.[22] That is about one-third of the time that the UK, which first tested a nuclear weapon in 1952, has been a nuclear-weapon state.

    Adherents of the nuclear orthodoxy see an ongoing requirement to maintain strategic nuclear weapons on permanent high alert as an ultimate “insurance” against existential military threats to the state. Inescapable uncertainty creates an enduring need for strategic nuclear weapons, advocates of this view argue. Yet for many in the UK, the strategic security case does not add up.

    This has led many to question the necessity of the Trident system and the continuous at-sea deterrence posture and to explore a range of alternative nuclear postures and systems that open up when these requirements are dropped. In fact, the alternatives review was established to push the envelope of what constitutes a credible capability at varying degrees of readiness below continuous at-sea deterrence.[23] This requires a different conception of credibility that says an effective nuclear deterrent threat does not require 100 percent certainty of retaliation. Instead, the very presence of nuclear weapons in a country under attack or threatened with attack, together with the uncertainty of total success in any pre-emptive attack, will induce sufficient caution into adversarial relations if one believes in the logic of nuclear deterrence at all.[24] This view of nuclear deterrence argues that as long as a country has a proven ability to deploy nuclear weapons, the size of the stockpile and the ability to deliver them against an adversary are of secondary concern.

    The fundamental core of nuclear deterrence lies in the possession of the weapons. Shai Feldman, a scholar of nuclear weapons and the Middle East, has concluded that Saddam Hussein “probably” was deterred from attacking Israel with ballistic missiles armed with chemical warheads in 1991 “not by the certainty that Israel would retaliate with nuclear weapons, but rather by his inability to rule out this possibility.”[25] This supports the observation in 2006 by Michael Quinlan, former UK permanent undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Defence, that “[e]ven a modest chance of a huge penalty can have great deterrent force,”[26] assuming, of course, an aggressor is deterrable.

    One therefore can think of nuclear deterrence not as an either/or dichotomy (either do deterrence this way or have zero deterrent effect) but as a spectrum. The debate over the Trident review has opened up the possibility of shifting UK ideas of minimum deterrence further along that spectrum (see box).

    This challenges the idea of an objective set of criteria for nuclear deterrence and instead more accurately characterizes it as a subjective political assessment. It is worth noting two things in this regard. First, ending continuous at-sea deterrence is not a new or outrageous idea. In the current debate, Browne, former Chief of the Defence Staff Charles Guthrie, former Foreign Secretary David Owen, and Quinlan all have questioned the strategic necessity of continuous at-sea deterrence.[27] Second, many of the criteria for minimum deterrence are defined by the capabilities of the current Trident II missile system, which was procured from the United States in the early 1980s, rather than deduced from an abstract theory of nuclear deterrence.[28]

    A UK decision to end continuous at-sea deterrence and move the country’s collective notion of minimum deterrence a notch or two down the spectrum would have implications beyond the country’s borders. Pressure for serious progress toward nuclear disarmament is increasing as non-nuclear-weapon states become ever more frustrated with slow progress by the nuclear-weapon states toward nuclear disarmament as one review after another for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) rolls by.[29] The non-nuclear-weapon states are looking for significant steps that will radically devalue nuclear weapons in the security policies of the weapon states.[30]

    This means qualitative changes in prevailing nuclear doctrine as an essential component of a nuclear disarmament process and indicator of the nuclear-weapon states’ commitment to that goal alongside quantitative changes in nuclear numbers. The non-nuclear-weapon states elicited such a commitment at the 2010 NPT Review Conference when, in the meeting’s final document, the treaty parties formally agreed “[t]o further diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons in all military and security concepts, doctrines and policies” as part of a 64-point action plan.[31]

    Reducing the readiness of nuclear forces, or de-alerting, is part of a package of measures long advocated by non-nuclear-weapon states to diminish the role of nuclear weapons. Ending continuous at-sea deterrence in the UK and adopting a “reduced readiness” posture would constitute an important qualitative change in nuclear posture and a crucial next step in reducing the value of nuclear weapons.

    Such a move would be in keeping with the UK’s self-identification as the most forward leaning of the nuclear-weapon states on nuclear disarmament. London has taken a number of important steps to reduce the size of its nuclear arsenal and increase transparency of its production of fissile materials and warhead numbers. It has modified its declaratory policy by further restricting the circumstances under which it might consider using nuclear weapons. It has ended nuclear testing, ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ended production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons, and declared its full commitment to a nuclear-weapon-free world and supported a number of initiatives toward that end.

    An opportunity now exists for the UK to continue on this trajectory and demonstrate international leadership in new ways. In particular, it could take concrete steps to further diminish the salience of UK nuclear weapons in national security policy by reducing the size and operational readiness of its nuclear arsenal. This is eminently plausible in an era of negligible military threats to the survival of the UK. Furthermore, none of the main political parties in Westminster are advocating UK nuclear disarmament. The current debate over the alternatives review is about the more limited aim of rethinking nuclear deterrence with a view to reducing the salience of these weapons while retaining the capability to deploy them within a specific period of time should a major military threat to the survival of the state ever re-emerge.

    Additional constraints on UK nuclear weapons policy could set important precedents for progress toward complete nuclear disarmament by establishing new norms of deterrence doctrine and practice for one of the five original nuclear-weapon states and one of the three depositary states of the NPT. Such a move would clearly indicate that the UK no longer sees a compelling reason to deploy nuclear weapons for immediate use but is temporarily retaining them, pending their global elimination.

    A posture that abandons continuous at-sea deterrence would all but eliminate any intention to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis. Such a posture would reinforce political and legal commitments to non-nuclear-weapon states and provide a degree of strategic reassurance to other possessors of nuclear weapons that the UK is confident that it is not going to face a nuclear attack and therefore can scale back its reliance on nuclear weapons. It would signify an important “de-coupling”[32] of nuclear weapons from the broad, day-to-day calculus of national security by demonstrating that the UK is prepared to learn to live without nuclear weapons operationally deployed at sea on a permanent basis as a precursor to learning to live without nuclear weapons at all.

     


     

    Nick Ritchie is a lecturer in international security at the University of York in the United Kingdom. This article draws on themes developed in his book A Nuclear Weapons-Free World? Britain, Trident, and the Challenges Ahead (2012).

     


     

    ENDNOTES

    1. UK Cabinet Office, “Trident Alternatives Review,” July 16, 2013, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/212745/20130716_Trident_Alternatives_Study.pdf.

    2. For an overview, see Nick Ritchie, A Nuclear Weapons-Free World? Britain, Trident and the Challenges Ahead (London: Palgrave, 2012), ch. 1.

    3. For the government’s case in detail, see UK Ministry of Defence and UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent,” December 2006.

    4. “Policy Options for the Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Weapons,” 2010, http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/docs/News/MCTrident%20Review.pdf.

    5. Nick Hopkins, “Trident Replacement Plans Are Based on Outdated Ideas, Says Former Minister,” The Guardian, April 22, 2013 (citing Nick Harvey, member of Parliament for the Liberal Democrat party, then minister for armed forces in the Ministry of Defence).

    6. David Owen, Nuclear Papers (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009), p. 48 (quoting Michael Quinlan, “The Future United Kingdom Strategic Nuclear Deterrent Force,” Defence Open Government Document 80/23, July 1980).

    7. Many figures have been cited in relation to the Trident replacement program. The government stated in 2011 that the projected capital cost of the “successor” submarines (not the warheads, missiles, or new infrastructure) is 25 billion pounds (at the time of spending). See UK Ministry of Defence, “The United Kingdom’s Future Nuclear Deterrent: The Submarine Initial Gate Parliamentary Report,” 2011, p. 10.

    8. For the rescheduling of the submarine program and results of the value-for-money review, see UK Government, “Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review,” Cm 7948 (2010), http://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_191639.pdf.

    9. UK Cabinet Office, “Trident Alternatives Review,” p. 10.

    10. Nick Ritchie, “Stepping Down the Nuclear Ladder: Options for Trident on a Path to Zero,” Bradford Disarmament Research Centre Briefing Paper, No. 5 (May 2009), http://www.york.ac.uk/media/politics/documents/research/Trident_Options.pdf.

    11. Nigel Morris, “Lib Dem Conference: Members Back Nuclear Deterrent Alternative to Trident,” The Independent, September 17, 2013; Danny Alexander, “On Trident, We’re Still Fighting the Cold War,” The Independent on Sunday, July 21, 2013.

    12. Philip Hammond, “The Alternatives to Trident Carry an Enormous Risk,” The Telegraph, February 2, 2013.

    13. Ibid.

    14. David Cameron, “We Need a Nuclear Deterrent More Than Ever,” The Daily Telegraph, April 3, 2013.

    15. Andrew Grice, “Lib Dems Push for ‘Stand-by’ Trident Replacement Deal,” The Independent, July 19, 2012.

    16. George Robertson and John Hutton, “There Is No Magic Alternative to Trident—Britain Has Got to Keep It,” The Telegraph, February 28, 2013; Des Browne and Ian Kearns, “Trident Is No Longer Key to Britain’s Security,” The Daily Telegraph, February 5, 2013; Nick Brown, “Dropping Trident Will Lead to a Richer, Safer Britain,” New Statesman, June 21, 2012.

    17. “Miliband Trident Review Stance Welcomed,” DefenceManagement.com, October 4, 2012, http://www.defencemanagement.com/news_story.asp?id=21058. For details of the BASIC Trident Commission, see http://www.basicint.org/tridentcommission/.

    18. See UK Ministry of Defence and UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent,” pp. 22, 27 (box 5-2).

    19. Frank Miller, “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent,” RUSI Journal, Vol. 155, No. 2 (2010): 34-39.

    20. UK House of Commons Defence Committee, “Strategic Nuclear Weapons Policy,” HC 266 (1982), p. 21.

    21. “Joint Declaration by the President of the Russian Federation and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” Moscow, February 15, 1994.

    22. See UK Ministry of Defence, “Strategic Defence Review,” Cm 3999 (1998), para. 23; UK Cabinet Office, “National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom,” Cm 7590 (2009), p. 65.

    23. For the review’s terms of reference, see http://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2011-0825/DEP2011-0825.zip (file containing Trident Alternatives Review terms of reference).

    24. For further information, see Nick Ritchie and Paul Ingram, “A Progressive Nuclear Policy: Rethinking Continuous-at-Sea Deterrence,” RUSI Journal, Vol. 155, No. 2 (2010), pp. 40-45.

    25. Shai Feldman, “Middle East Nuclear Stability: The State of the Region and the State of the Debate,” Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 49, No. 1 (1995), p. 217.

    26. Michael Quinlan, “Deterrence and Deterrability,” in Deterrence and the New Global Security Environment, ed. Ian R. Kenyon and John Simpson (London: Routledge, 2006), p. 5.

    27. UK House of Lords, Official Report, March 26, 2009, col. 806 (Guthrie); Owen, Nuclear Papers, p. 13; Browne and Kearns, “Trident Is No Longer Key to Britain’s Security”; Michael Quinlan, “The Future of United Kingdom Nuclear Weapons,” International Affairs, Vol. 82, No. 4 (2006), p. 636.

    28. Michael Quinlan, permanent undersecretary at the Ministry of Defence at the time of Trident procurement, wrote in 2004,

    Purely in weight of strike potential, the United Kingdom could have been content with less than Trident could offer, even in C4 version originally chosen (let alone D5 version to which the United Kingdom switched in early 1982, when it had become clear that the United States was committed to proceed with its acquisition and deployment). The original choice and the switch were driven in large measure by the long-term financial and logistic benefits of commonality with the United States. After the end of the Cold War, the United Kingdom announced a series of discretionary reductions in warhead load to well below what Trident was capable of carrying.

    Michael Quinlan, “The British Experience,” in Getting MAD: Nuclear Mutual Assured Destruction, Its Origins and Practice, ed. Henry D. Sokolski (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, November 2004), p. 271.

    29. Nick Ritchie, “Waiting for Kant: Deterrence, Devaluing, and Delegitimising Nuclear Weapons” (paper presented at the ISA Annual Conference, San Francisco, April 2013).

    30. Nick Ritchie, “Valuing and Devaluing Nuclear Weapons,” Contemporary Security Policy, Vol. 34, No. 1 (2013): 146-173.

    31. 2010 Review Conference of States Parties to the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Final Document,” NPT/CONF.2010/50 (Vol. I), 2010, p. 21.

    32. Michael Mazarr, “Nuclear Doctrine and Virtual Nuclear Arsenals,” in Nuclear Weapons in a Transformed World: The Challenge of Virtual Nuclear Arsenals, ed. Michael Mazarr (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), p. 47.

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    Posted: December 31, 1969

    UK Review Doubts Trident Alternatives

    Nearly all of the leading alternatives to the United Kingdom’s current plan for replacing its nuclear-armed submarines would cost more than the existing approach, a British government study found recently.

    Robert Golan-Vilella

    Nearly all of the leading alternatives to the United Kingdom’s current plan for replacing its nuclear-armed submarines would cost more than the existing approach, a British government study found recently.

    The “Trident Alternatives Review,” which was published July 16, examined alternative plans for the replacement of the United Kingdom’s four aging nuclear-armed submarines. The current plan of “like-for-like” renewal, championed by Prime Minister David Cameron, would involve replacing each of the retiring submarines, which are scheduled to reach the end of their service lives in the late 2020s and early 2030s, with a new successor model, which is yet to be developed.

    The 64-page report, drafted by officials in the Cabinet Office, considered a variety of plans for fielding an arsenal composed of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles instead of ballistic missiles. The cruise missiles could be deployed on surface ships, submarines, or aircraft.

    The report determined that all such options would be more expensive than like-for-like replacement, mainly due to the time required to produce the new weapons systems. The review concluded that a new cruise missile warhead could not be developed and deployed until about 2040, well after the current submarines had left service. The cruise missile options therefore would require the United Kingdom to build two additional nuclear-armed submarines to “bridge the gap” until a cruise missile-based system was ready for use, adding to their costs.

    The study estimated that like-for-like replacement would cost approximately 20 billion pounds ($31 billion) over the life cycle of the new submarines. The only cheaper option would be to replace the county’s four Vanguard-class submarines with a fleet of three vessels, according to the report. However, it noted that doing so would force London to abandon its current posture of “continuous at-sea deterrence,” in which at least one of the submarines is kept on patrol at all times.

    The review considered a range of other potential nuclear postures but concluded that none of them offered “the same degree of resilience as the current posture.” Whether any of these alternatives would constitute a viable option for the country would depend on a political calculation by the government concerning the amount of risk it would be willing to take, the review said.

    Currently, the United Kingdom’s entire operational nuclear arsenal is deployed on the four submarines, each of which is armed with Trident ballistic missiles. As of 2010, London’s stockpile consisted of no more than 225 nuclear weapons, of which fewer than 160 were actively deployed, according to government figures. Those numbers are scheduled to be reduced to 180 and 120, respectively, by the mid-2020s. (See ACT, November 2010.)

    The impetus for the review came from the Liberal Democrats, who in 2010 assumed power in a coalition government along with Cameron’s Conservative Party. The two parties pledged to maintain the country’s nuclear deterrent, but also agreed that plans for the replacement of its nuclear weapons systems would be “scrutinised to ensure value for money” and that the Liberal Democrats would “continue to make the case for alternatives.” The following year, the coalition government formally commissioned the Trident review.

    With the review’s completion, the Conservative Party leadership argued that the report bolstered the case for like-for-like replacement.

    “The Government remains 100 per cent committed to maintaining and renewing the Trident system,” Defence Secretary Philip Hammond wrote in the July 15 Daily Mail. Hammond added that “the logic for this commitment is clear: there is no alternative to Trident that provides the same level of protection and ability to deter an aggressor. The alternatives are less capable, less credible and more expensive.”

    In contrast, Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the treasury and lead minister of the review, sought to paint the review as a potential catalyst for change. Speaking in London at the report’s launch, Alexander, a Liberal Democrat, argued that the review demonstrated “that there are credible and viable alternatives to the United Kingdom’s current approach to nuclear deterrence.” The posture of continuous at-sea deterrence has become “unnecessary,” Alexander asserted. By ending this posture and moving from four submarines to three, he said, the government could save 4 billion pounds over the life of the systems.

    Paul Ingram, executive director of the British American Security Information Council, told Global Security Newswire on July 16 that “the limits of the review are clear. It interprets credibility strictly, and does not consider any options that do not have the capacity of reinstituting continuous at-sea deterrence at a moment’s notice.”

    The United Kingdom approved the preliminary “initial gate” investment in the new submarines in 2011, allowing preparatory work on the replacement to proceed. (See ACT, June 2011.) The “main gate” decision to begin construction on the submarines is scheduled to be made in 2016. This would be after the next British general elections, which are slated to take place no later than May 2015.

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    Posted: December 31, 1969

    Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: France

    June 2013

    Updated: July 2013

    This profile summarizes the major arms control agreements, regimes, initiatives, and practices that France subscribes to and those that it does not. It also describes the major weapons programs, policies, and holdings of France, as well as its proliferation record. This profile is one of a series focused on the arms control record and status of key states, all of which are available on the Arms Control Association’s Website at http://www.armscontrol.org.

    Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

     

    Signed

    Ratified

    Biological Weapons Convention

    - - -

    1984

    Chemical Weapons Convention

    1993

    1995

    Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

    1996

    1998

    Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)

    -Recognized as one of five nuclear-weapon states.

    - - -

    1992

    Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons

    -Party to all five protocols.

    1981

    1988

    Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty

    1990

    1992

    Outer Space Treaty

    1967

    1970

    Ottawa Mine Ban Convention

    1997

    1998

    Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

    1980

    1991*

    CPPNM 2005 Amendment

    - - -

    2013

    International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

    2005

    - - -

    *Passed with reservations, for list see:http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Conventions/cppnm_reserv.pdf


    Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

    Australia Group: Member.

    Missile Technology Control Regime: Member.

    Nuclear Suppliers Group: Member.

    Wassenaar Arrangement: Member.

    International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol: Yes, entered into force in 2004.

    Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism: Participant.

    Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation: Participant.

    Proliferation Security Initiative: Participant.

    UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673: France has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states.


    Major Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

    Biological Weapons:

    Little is known about past French biological weapons activities, which reportedly included research on anthrax, botulinum toxin, cholera, ricin, rinderpest, and salmonella. [1] France is not suspected of having a current offensive biological weapons program, and under France’s 1972 Law on the Prohibition of Biological Weapons, it is illegal to produce or stockpile these weapons. [2] They are believed to have stopped their program after World War II. [3]

    Chemical Weapons:

    During World War I, France produced and used mustard gas and phosgene. France maintained stockpiles of these weapons at the beginning of World War II, but did not use them. After World War II, France resumed offensive chemical weapons research and testing, and in the 1960s they manufactured Sarin and VX nerve agents. However, France destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons prior to 1988. [4]

    Conventional Weapons Trade:

    France is a major conventional weapons exporter. A September 2007 report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that only the United States and Russia surpassed France in global arms sales between 1999 and 2006. France tallied $26.9 billion in arms agreements for that period, while the United States and Russia completed transactions worth $123.5 billion and $54.3 billion, respectively. [5] A 2011 CRS report found that from 2007 to 2011, France made nearly $11 billion in arms trade agreements with the developing world, making them again the third-leading supplier of arms after the U.S. and Russia. [6]

    The French government has stated their support for an Arms Trade Treaty, which is being negotiated at the United Nations from July 2-27, 2012.

    The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview:

    As of 2014, France is estimated to have about 290 nuclear warheads, most of which are designed for delivery by submarine launched ballistic missiles(SLBM). The other warheads would outfit the Air-Sol Moyenne Portée (ASMP) missiles carried by Mirage 2000N, Super Étendard, and Rafale planes.  France currently operates four Triomphant class nuclear submarines.

    Delivery Systems

    Missile

    • Ballistic Missiles: In 1996, France decided to eliminate its nuclear-armed land-based ballistic missiles, leaving it with only submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

    • Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles: At the end of 2010, France deployed the M51 SLBM on its four ballistic missile submarines. [7] The older models of the French SLBM are M4A/B and the M45. [8]

    • Cruise Missiles: France has both conventional and nuclear-armed cruise missiles. The nuclear version is the Air-Sol-Moyenne Portée (ASMP). France has transferred conventional cruise missiles to other countries, including the French-British Black Shaheen missile, a version of the Scalp cruise missile, to the United Arab Emirates. France tested the Scalp cruise missile in 2010. It has a range of 1,000 km. [9]

    Submarines

    • France’s submarine force consists of four Triomphant class submarines. Both Le Terrible and Le Vigilant carries sixteen M51 missiles while the other two submarines carry M45 missiles [10].  Both of these missiles have a range of 6000 km and deliver 100 kilotons warheads.  France is expected to upgrade its remaining submarines by 2017 and to replace the M51.1 missiles with the M51.2 by 2015.

    Strategic Bombers

    • The French Air Force currently operates Mirage 2000N and Rafale aircrafts.  These aircrafts are capable of carrying and delivering nuclear payloads.  Additionally, the French Navy operates Super Éntendard aircrafts, which are also capable of carrying and delivering nuclear payloads [11]. All planes carry ASMP cruise missiles to deliver 300 kt warheads.  The French military is expected to replace its entire Super Éntendard fleet with Dassault Rafale planes by 2015, and some of its Mirage 2000N with Rafale planes by 2018. [12]

    Nuclear Doctrine

    France reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. It has reaffirmed a 1995 pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the NPT unless it is facing an invasion or sustained attack against its territories, armed forces, or states with which it has security agreement and the attack is in alliance with a nuclear-weapon state. At the same time, French President Jacques Chirac suggested in January 2006 that nuclear weapons would be an option for responding to states that conduct “terrorist” or any type of weapon of mass destruction attack against France.

    Paris declared that it took steps in 1992 and 1996 to extend the time it take to launch nuclear weapons.  It is believed that France needs several days in order to launch nuclear weapons.

    France conducted 210 nuclear tests. The first test occurred Feb. 13, 1960, and the last test took place Jan. 27, 1996. France was the fourth country to conduct a nuclear weapon test.

    Fissile Material

    Chirac announced in February 1996 that France no longer produced fissile material, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, for weapons purposes. He also vowed that France would dismantle its fissile material production facilities for arms. As of 2011, France is estimated to have approximately 26 metric tons of HEU and 6 metric tons of plutonium for weapons purposes. France also possesses HEU and plutonium for its civilian nuclear power program. In its most recent IAEA disclosure, France said it had 56 tons of plutonium and 4.6 tons of HEU for civilian use. [13] France is one of the few countries that continues to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, and the accept fuel from foreign countries for that purpose. Currently, approximately 24 tons of foreign owned plutonium, mostly belonging to Japan, is stored in France.


    Proliferation Record

    In 1957, France signed a major nuclear cooperation agreement with Israel even though it was generally understood that Israel was interested in potentially developing a nuclear arsenal. France halted the agreement in 1960.

    France built the Osirak reactor in Iraq despite warnings from other governments that the reactor might be used to support a secret Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Paris declined to rebuild the reactor after Israel bombed the plant in 1981.


    Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

    France has signed protocols stating its intent to respect and not threaten the use of nuclear weapons against states-parties to the Latin America, South Pacific, and African nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. France has not signed the protocols for the Central Asian and Southeast Asian zones.

    As of 2008, the French government supports the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty, and has affirmed that the Conference on Disarmament is the appropriate forum for negotiations.

    France is a state-party to the Open Skies Treaty, which enables unarmed reconnaissance flights over all states-parties territories, and has signed the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. France, along with other NATO members, is refusing to ratify the latter agreement until Russia fulfills commitments to withdraw its military forces from Georgia and Moldova.

    France signed and ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans “all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of Cluster Munitions.” [14] The treaty went into effect August 1, 2010.

    France has been a supporter of security nuclear material, [15] and participated in both the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, DC and the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit held in Seoul, South Korea.

    France has engaged in negotiations with Iran such as the most recent rounds of the P5+1 talks over Iran’s nuclear activities, over its nuclear activities, which France suspects are intended to develop nuclear weapons. France supported ratcheting up sanctions on Iran to persuade it to halt certain activities, particularly uranium enrichment. This included a European Union-wide ban on importing Iranian oil that went into effect July 1, 2012.

    -Researched and prepared by Alex Bollfrass. Updated by Victor Silva


    ENDNOTES

    1. Lepick, Olivier, “French Activities Related to Biological Warfare, 1919-45,” Biological and Toxin Weapons: Research, Development and Use from the Middle Ages to 1945,” Geissler, Erhard, and van Courtland Mood, John Ellis, eds., Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 1999.

    2. “France: Practice Related to Rule 73. Biological Weapons.” International Committee of the Red Cross, page visited July 2012. http://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v2_cou_fr_rule73

    3. “Chemical and Biological Weapons: Possession and Programs Past and Present.” James Martin Center For Nonproliferation Studies, updated March 2008. http://cns.miis.edu/cbw/possess.htm

    4. “France Chemical.” King’s College London, page visited July 2012.http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/warstudies/research/groups/csss/alpha/countries/France/France-Chemical.aspx

    5. Grimmett, Richard F., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1999-2006, Congressional Research Service, September 26, 2007, 92 pp.

    6. Grimmett, Richard F., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2003-2010, Congressional Research Service, September 22, 2011, 89 pp.

    7. “M51 – Missile mer-sol balistique strategique.” Direction generale de l’armement, June 14, 2011. http://www.defense.gouv.fr/dga/equipement/dissuasion/m51-missile-mer-sol-balistique-strategique/%28language%29/fre-FR#SearchText=m51#xtcr=3

    8. “Worldwide Ballistic Missile Inventories.” Arms Control Association, January 2012.http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/missiles

    9. Irish, John. “AIRSHOW-France eyes sea-launched cruise missiles.” Reuters, June 20, 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/20/airshow-mbda-missiles-idUSLDE75J1PV20110620

    10. SIPRI Yearbook 2013, (Oxford: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2012), 303.

    11. Atomic Archive, "French Nuclear Forces." Accessed June 18, 2013. http://www.atomicarchive.com/Almanac/FRForces.shtml.

    12.SIPRI Yearbook 2012, (Oxford: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2012), 325.

    13. International Panel on Fissile Materials, Global Fissile Material Report, 2011, January 2012, 49 pp. (http://fissilematerials.org/library/gfmr11.pdf)

    14. Convention on Cluster Munitions – CCM, The Convention, page visited July 2012, http://www.clusterconvention.org/

    15. “Events: Nuclear Security Summit (Seoul, March 26 to 28, 2012). France Diplomatie, page visited July 2012.http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/global-issues/disarmament-arms-control/arms-control-and-arms-trade/events-2129/article/nuclear-security-summit-seoul-26

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    Posted: December 31, 1969

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