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

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

European Security

Avoiding War in Europe: The Risks From NATO-Russian Close Military Encounters

With NATO-Russian relations in their current state, a single event or combination of events could result in a war, even if neither side intends it...

November 2015

By Ian Kearns

A Russian warship moves through the waters near the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol on March 7, 2014, as part of a blockade of Ukrainian ships. [Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images]On March 3, 2014, a Russian warplane with its transponders switched off came within seconds of colliding with a Danish civilian airliner carrying 132 passengers from Copenhagen to Rome. SAS flight 737 averted a collision that day only because of evasive action taken by its pilot.1

An almost identical incident occurred nine months later, on December 12, again involving a Russian warplane and a civilian airliner that had just left Copenhagen.

Barely a year after the first incident, in March of this year, Russian Su-30 multirole fighter jets used two NATO warships in the Black Sea as targets in high-intensity training exercises.2 The purpose of the exercise appears to have been to provoke the NATO ships into taking defensive action so that the pilots of the Russian aircraft could observe that action and practice countermaneuvers.

Over the last 18 months, the European Leadership Network has logged more than 60 such dangerous incidents in the Euro-Atlantic area.3 The wider catalogue of events includes mock Russian cruise missile attack runs on targets in North America and Denmark, instances of Russian and Western fighter aircraft coming within meters of each other while on maneuvers, a series of submarine hunts off the coasts of Scotland and Sweden, and the abduction by Russian agents in September 2014 of an Estonian security service operative on Estonian, and therefore NATO, territory. In recent weeks, as Russian air operations have commenced in Syria and instances of Russian violations of Turkish airspace have come to light, the theater of these close and dangerous military encounters and incidents appears to have broadened from the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, and Atlantic Ocean to the Middle East.

There is a wider military and political context to these events that makes them all the more worrying. In addition to the close NATO-Russian military encounters now occurring, a general deterioration in the relationship between Russia and the West has become visible in an action-reaction cycle of military exercises being conducted in Europe. Russia is conducting more exercises than NATO, and the two sets of exercises are dissimilar in scale. A Russian “snap” exercise conducted in March, for example, brought together 80,000 military personnel in operations focused on the Arctic and the Baltic Sea regions whereas NATO’s largest exercise in many years, Trident Juncture, which started last month, drew about 36,000 military personnel. Moreover, while NATO exercises are aimed at reassuring allies in the eastern part of the alliance in the context of Russian support for separatists in Ukraine, Russia is using its exercises at least partly to intimidate and unsettle its neighbors.

Despite these important differences, however, there are similarities in the exercises of the two sides. These similarities say something important about what is occurring.

Both sides are using their exercises to practice a rapid mobilization and redeployment of forces over long distances to strengthen what they perceive to be their most strategically exposed areas. NATO is conducting exercises with a view to being able to protect the Baltic states and Poland. Russia is focusing on its border areas with Latvia and Estonia; Kaliningrad, the Russian territory between Lithuania and Poland; the Arctic; and occupied Crimea. The exercises of both involve ground, air, and naval forces in joint operations and include high-intensity combined arms training, the conducting and repelling of amphibious assaults, and engagements with low-level irregular forces.

Most importantly, despite protestations by both sides that the exercises are aimed at no particular adversary, it is clear that each side is exercising with the most likely war plans of the other in mind. The Russian military is preparing for a confrontation with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a confrontation with Russia. This does not mean either side has the political intent to start a war, but it does mean that both believe a war is no longer unthinkable. Many in NATO believe that the demonstration of resolve that the NATO exercises and additional force deployments in eastern Europe represent is essential to deterring Russian aggression and therefore to keeping the peace in Europe. In NATO’s view, the exercises are not a problem, but a virtue. Whether this view is justified—given Russia’s recent behavior, it may well be—the total effect of the developments described here is to generate a growing sense of insecurity on both sides. Russian exercises are seen as a provocation and a threat in the West, and NATO exercises and new deployments are seen as threatening in Moscow.

The developing situation also has a nuclear dimension. In a documentary made for a domestic Russian audience in March 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that he had considered putting Russian nuclear forces on alert during the operation to annex Crimea. Just a few weeks later, the Russian ambassador to Denmark appeared to tell that country that if it took part in NATO’s emerging missile defense shield, it could expect to go on the target list for Russian nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict. These instances of what are seen as nuclear intimidation and nuclear saber rattling are creating pressure for a NATO response.

Last month, in response to Russia’s recent behavior, Adam Thomson, the UK ambassador to NATO, said that since the end of the Cold War, NATO has conducted exercises with conventional weapons and nuclear weapons but not “the transition from one to the other.” Now, however, “[t]hat is a recommendation that is being looked at. It is safe to say the UK does see merit in making sure we know how, as an Alliance, to transition up the escalatory ladder in order to strengthen our deterrence.”4

Meanwhile, Crimea and Ukraine have become flash points of a much more fundamental political disagreement. Not only are there significant policy differences between Russia and the West, but on the Russian side, a growing number of military and national security officials appear to believe Western policy is aimed at overthrowing Putin and weakening the Russian state to the point where it can be effectively destroyed and dismembered. Claims that the removal of the Yanukovych government in Ukraine was a Western-backed unconstitutional coup and a trial run for a “color revolution” in Russia itself are dismissed as rhetoric in the West, but are more deep-rooted in Moscow than some Western policymakers appear willing to acknowledge.5 It therefore seems safe to assume that current Russian behavior is driven as much by a concern for regime survival as it is by a concern for geopolitical advantage or by disagreement with specific policies of the West.

Many in the West at the same time believe that Russia is seeking to change the post-Cold War settlement, or perhaps even the post-World War II settlement, in Europe in a number of ways, including by use of force if necessary. The charge sheet here concerns changes to the borders of the Georgian state since 2008 and events in Crimea and eastern Ukraine over the past two years. It also includes the provision of funding and support to nationalist political parties hostile to the European integration project in central and western Europe and the use of energy as an instrument to influence the domestic and foreign policy choices of a number of states in NATO and the European Union. For many, it is becoming apparent that Russia is a revisionist power in western as well as eastern Europe.

Whether or not the current situation amounts to a new Cold War, the upshot is a confrontation in which both sides now perceive their fundamental interests to be at stake.

At the Mercy of Events

Too few appear to recognize that the current cocktail of incidents, mistrust, changed military posture, and nuclear signaling is creating the conditions in which a single event or combination of events could result in a NATO-Russian war, even if neither side intends it. To understand why this is not an exaggerated concern, one might consider the sequence of events that easily could have transpired if the aforementioned SAS civilian airliner en route from Copenhagen to Rome had collided with the Russian warplane.

The outrage and uproar in Western capitals at what would certainly have been a very serious loss of life would have been understandably huge. Media and public pressure to act quickly against Russia would have been irresistible. A demand for an immediate cessation of Russian military flights with transponders switched off, especially in civilian air corridors, would have been issued. If that demand did not elicit an immediate positive response from Moscow, a move that might imply acceptance of guilt, previously routine civil aviation flights in European airspace would have been declared at risk. In that situation, those flights would have to have been suspended, which would have been politically unacceptable and economically very damaging, or NATO would have needed to begin military interdiction of Russian aircraft. Any European government not willing to support such interdiction would have been taking its future in its hands, exposing itself to claims that it was weak in the face of unacceptable Russian behavior or risking a further incident while doing little or nothing to prevent it.

Amid this kind of uproar in the West, Putin would be highly likely to exhibit sadness at the loss of life and to offer full Russian assistance in any inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened. At the same time, he almost certainly would point out that Western military aircraft themselves fly with transponders switched off and that the Russian military aircraft involved in this particular incident was operating in full compliance with international law and was in international airspace. Although not ruling out talks to manage the situation, his domestic political persona would constrain his options. He has invested a lot of time and effort in portraying himself to his own people as a strong leader, capable of standing up to the West while making Russia respected again on the international stage. Capitulating to Western pressure outright would be politically damaging.

Diplomacy might save the day, but that could not be assumed. The scene would be set for the planes, naval vessels, and land forces of a nuclear-armed state and a nuclear-armed alliance to continue coming up against each other. This time, however, the close encounters would not be part of planned exercises or a game of brinkmanship, which is dangerous enough, but would come amid a real standoff over who had the right to fly where and under what circumstances, with everyone’s fundamental interests and full political prestige at stake.

Little or nothing is being done to avert this kind of crisis, which could be triggered by any one of the other dangerous incidents and encounters that have taken place over the last 18 months. This absence of action is shocking. If such a crisis resulted in military hostilities, there would be no telling where those hostilities might lead and, given the nuclear arsenals on both sides, what the end result could be.

Agreements on Avoiding Incidents

The Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents on and Over the High Seas, usually known as the Incidents at Sea Agreement, was signed by U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev at their summit in Moscow in May 1972. It is a technical military-to-military agreement rather than a statement of political principle. It requires each side to avoid dangerous maneuvers, refrain from mock attacks that might simulate weapons use against aircraft or ships, and avoid dropping objects close to ships to hinder their navigation. It also requires the surveillance ships and aircraft of one side to communicate with the other.

The agreement was a response to a dangerous pattern of military activities, including instances of each side’s warships maneuvering very close to those of the other, and a pattern of dangerous maritime air surveillance involving close overflights of warships. The latter was often perceived as harassment by the ships’ commanders. The agreement proved its worth when, during the Arab-Israeli war in October 1973, it helped ensure there were no serious incidents while 150 U.S. and Soviet warships shared the crowded waters of the eastern Mediterranean.

The Agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities was signed on June 12, 1989, and entered into force on January 1, 1990. Like the Incidents at Sea Agreement, it governs the activities and personnel of each side when operating in close proximity to the other in peacetime. It focuses on four categories of military activity: military operations by one side near the territory of the other; the use of lasers, particularly those directed at aircraft cockpits, which could be harmful to personnel; operations in areas of high tension, which either party could designate as a “special caution area”; and interference with command-and-control networks. In each of these areas, the agreement requires caution, communication to avoid dangerous incidents and misunderstandings, and action to terminate injurious activity if a problem is identified by the other side. Unlike the Incidents at Sea Agreement, it incorporates certain operations on land as well as those at sea and in the air. It also sets out agreed communications signals and frequencies to be used by the aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles of each side. A joint military commission was set up to issue an annual assessment of compliance and consider how the agreement could be enhanced.—IAN KEARNs

    Negotiating a New Instrument

    The risk of a serious crisis and the absence of action to prevent one led to a recent paper from the Task Force on Cooperation in Greater Europe, made up of senior figures from Russia and the rest of Europe. This group called for the NATO-Russia Council to be convened urgently to discuss a possible new memorandum of understanding (MOU) between NATO and Russia on rules of behavior in air and maritime encounters between the two sides. This proposal has been signed or endorsed by a total of 78 senior military, political, and diplomatic leaders drawn from across the European continent.

    The task force proposal draws explicitly on an agreement signed by China and the United States in late 2014. This U.S.-Chinese MOU sets out the principles and procedures for communication during encounters between military vessels and aircraft and requires each side to give timely hazard warnings if military exercises and live weapons firing are to take place in an area where the military vessels and aircraft of the other may be operational.6 It also sets out a series of rules for establishing mutual trust. These include a commitment, when conducting operations, to communicate in a timely fashion about the planned maneuvers of military vessels and military aircraft. They also include a list of actions that should be avoided, such as simulation of attacks by aiming guns, missiles, fire control radar, torpedo tubes, or other weapons in the direction of military vessels and military aircraft encountered.

    The agreement specifies the radio frequencies to be used for communication and the signals vocabulary to be used if pilots, commanding officers, or masters of vessels experience language difficulties as they communicate with one another. It also contains a provision for each party to conduct an annual meeting, led by senior military officers, to assess application of the agreement in the previous year and to deal with any problems or issues that have arisen during that time.

    With regard to the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship, the 1972 Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents on and Over the High Seas, usually known as the Incidents at Sea Agreement, and the 1989 Agreement on Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities (see box) operate in a similar way. These two agreements could serve as the basis for a more multilateralized arrangement involving all NATO members and Russia and even NATO partners such as Sweden and Finland. Russian and NATO officials should pursue this objective with urgency.

    Some apparently still think such a deal is not necessary. In off-the-record conversations, some military commanders stress that close military encounters of the kind now under way in Europe were a fact of life during the Cold War and that well-trained, professional military personnel are more than up to the task of handling them without incident.7

    Furthermore, some diplomats and politicians, particularly in eastern Europe, see the proposal as dangerously corrosive to Western unity with regard to Russia. This latter group sees any attempt to negotiate a mechanism for reducing the risks of close military encounters with Russia as a reward for aggressive Russian behavior and as an unwelcome opportunity for some Western countries, suspected of wishing to return their relations with Russia to “business as usual,” to advance their case. According to this view, a move to negotiate a new instrument would encourage further aggressive Russian behavior and dissipate the message of resolve, deterrence, and a commitment to collective defense that NATO has been trying to construct and maintain since the annexation of Crimea.8

    On the Russian side, there also are some voices arguing against this proposal, seeing in it a Western tactic aimed at distracting attention from matters of greater significance, such as the eastward enlargement of NATO, the failure of the West to engage in dialogue on future arrangements for European security as a whole, and a lack of willingness to address wider Russian security concerns from missile defense to developments in conventional prompt global-strike systems.

    The arguments on all sides are understandable in the context of what is now a total breakdown of trust between NATO and Russia and a lack of confidence among some allies within NATO. Ultimately, however, they are not persuasive.

    The very existence of the recent U.S.-Chinese MOU validates a concern over the risks that are run when the military forces of states that are not allies come into close proximity with one another. That agreement makes clear the importance of having protocols and military procedures in place to manage events in real time rather than relying on agreements to refrain from certain kinds of activity in the first place. Although some military commanders seem less worried about such incidents, many more believe leaving the outcome of close military encounters to chance or the split-second decisions of individual pilots and other military personnel is unnecessarily dangerous.

    The more recent dialogue between Russia and the United States on the subject of “deconflicting” the roles of the U.S.-led coalition and Russian military forces deployed in and around Syria is another timely recognition of the need for and logic of a new multilateral instrument to manage the risks.

    Although there has been some concern about the ultimate diplomatic consequence of negotiating such an instrument in Europe, the necessity of having the conversation with regard to Syria was realized almost immediately once it became clear that the Russian military presence in Syria was being increased and was changing in character and capability. To put it bluntly, it became evident to everyone that U.S. warplanes operating over Syria could be accidentally shot down by Russian air defense systems being deployed there, embedded U.S. special forces on the ground could be the victim of Russian air attacks, and Russian and U.S. military aircraft could be operating in an uncoordinated way in the same airspace. This overall situation and several instances of Russian warplanes entering Turkish airspace from Syria prompted NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to tell a press conference on October 6 that “Russia must deconflict its military activities in Syria” and that “it’s unacceptable to violate the airspace of another country, and this is exactly what we were afraid of, that incidents, accidents may create dangerous situations.”9

    It is difficult to see why dialogue and the negotiation of more-formal arrangements makes strategic sense between China and the United States in the East and South China seas and why deconflicting makes sense in Syria, but neither apparently makes sense between NATO and Russia in Europe.

    Deterrence Is Not Enough

    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on October 6.  [Photo credit: Thierry Charlier/AFP/Getty Images]The argument that an attempt to negotiate a new instrument between NATO and Russia in Europe could weaken deterrence also is not persuasive. It is a reasonable concern, echoing debates on whether to engage in détente and associated steps toward superpower conflict prevention and crisis management during the Cold War. Yet, it is important to recall that the underlying rationale of détente was a lowering of tension with the Soviet Union to avoid the possibility of an accidental conflict and the potential for catastrophic nuclear war. Détente emphatically was not nor was it intended to be the end of superpower competition or of differences between the Soviet Union and the United States.

    The impetus for dialogue in that period, as manifested in the 1972 Incidents at Sea Agreement and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, to cite two examples, was an acceptance of the need for mutual restraint and the adoption of measures to avoid accidental war. This approach was seen as the only basis for mutual survival. The nuclear shadow was ever present, and the fear of nuclear war was the driving force. In essence, what followed the near catastrophe of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 was a developing belief that the task of avoiding war between nuclear-armed states could not be left to deterrence alone. Other mechanisms were needed to keep the peace and, no matter what disagreements and confrontations existed, these mechanisms needed to be negotiated and implemented.                 

    Looking at the current absence of dialogue between NATO and Russia and at arguments against negotiating a new instrument to manage close military encounters, one is struck by what appears to be nuclear amnesia, nuclear complacency, or both. If a military confrontation between Russia and NATO were to develop today, for whatever reason, the risks and the potential consequences would be the same as they were during the Cold War.

    For these reasons, the case for a new instrument to help manage the risks in the Euro-Atlantic area, and in particular to manage the risks between NATO members and Russia, is strong. The call for negotiation of such an instrument chimes with the times and with approaches being used in other theaters. Above all, it reflects the lessons of history. To pretend the status quo is safe or acceptable is to abdicate the responsibility of leadership and to leave the security of Europe and potentially of the world at the mercy of events.

    Ian Kearns is co-founder and director of the European Leadership Network. He previously was acting director and deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research in the United Kingdom and deputy chair of the institute’s independent All-Party Commission on National Security in the 21st Century.


    1.  “SAS Flight in Russian Spy Plane Near Miss,” The Local, May 8, 2014, http://www.thelocal.se/20140508/sas-plane-in-russian-spy-plane-near-miss.

    2.  Government-owned Russian media even bragged about this incident. See Sputnik International, “Russian Jets Penetrate NATO Ships’ Air Defenses in Black Sea,” March 19, 2015, http://sputniknews.com/russia/20150304/1019036875.html.

    3.  Thomas Frear, Łukasz Kulesa, and Ian Kearns, “Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014,” European Leadership Network (ELN), November 2014, http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/medialibrary/2014/11/09/6375e3da/Dangerous%20Brinkmanship.pdf. For a further update on incidents, see Ian Kearns, Łukasz Kulesa, and Thomas Frear, “Russia-West Dangerous Brinkmanship Continues,” ELN, March 12, 2015, http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/russia--west-dangerous-brinkmanship-continues-_2529.html.

    4.  “Britain Backs Return of Cold War Nuclear Drills as NATO Hardens Against Russia,” The Telegraph, October 8, 2015.

    5.  The term “color revolution” is a reference to labels used by the world’s media to describe previous waves of revolutionary change in a number of countries. Examples include the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004.

    6.  “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Department of Defense of the United States of America and the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China Regarding the Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters,” November 9, 2014, sec. 1, http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/141112_MemorandumOfUnderstandingRegarding

    7.  Between March 2014 and October 2015, the author conducted face-to-face, telephone, and e-mail interviews on background with a number of senior military figures from NATO countries and Russia. The statement made in this paragraph reflects the view of a minority of those interviewed.

    8.  Since the publication of the position paper by the Task Force on Greater Europe calling for a new memorandum of understanding, this view has been expressed in August 2015 to the author directly by a former Baltic state defense minister and by several ambassador-level diplomats from the same region.

    9.  “Pre-Ministerial Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg,” NATO, October 6, 2015, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_123471.htm. NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on October 8.

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    UK Party Leader Shuns Nuclear Arms Use

    November 2015

    By Kingston Reif

    Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament conference in London on October 17. [Photo credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images]Ahead of a possible decision next year to proceed with the replacement of the United Kingdom’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent, the new leader of the country’s Labour Party said he would not authorize the use of nuclear weapons if he were prime minister.

    “We are not in the era of the Cold War anymore; it finished a long time ago,” Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC in a Sept. 30 interview.

    “I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons,” he said. “I am opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons.”

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron strongly criticized Corbyn’s remarks, stating in an Oct. 4 interview with the BBC that “[i]f you…believe like me that Britain should keep the ultimate insurance policy of an independent nuclear deterrent, you have to accept there are circumstances in which its use would be justified.”

    The UK currently possesses four Vanguard-class submarines armed with Trident missiles carrying a total of 120 nuclear warheads. (The submarines sometimes are also called Tridents.) The government is planning to replace these submarines with a fleet of four new ones.

    The first new Trident submarine is slated to enter service in 2028.

    Corbyn said he opposes replacing the Tridents. “There are many in the military that do not want Trident renewed because they see it as an obsolete thing they don’t need,” he said.

    In 2011, the government approved a five-year preparatory research and design phase for the new submarines. A final investment decision on the program, known as Main Gate, is scheduled for 2016. But it is unclear when exactly the decision will occur or whether the Conservative Party, which strongly supports the replacement of Trident and currently holds a majority in Parliament, will submit the decision to a vote.

    In 2006, the UK Ministry of Defence estimated the cost of designing and building the new submarines to be 15-20 billion pounds (about $23-31 billion). Reuters reported on Oct. 25 that the total cost to build and operate the new submarine fleet will reach 167 billion pounds, citing figures provided to Crispin Blunt, a Conservative member of Parliament, by the Ministry of Defence.

    Jon Thompson, the top civil servant at the ministry, told UK lawmakers on Oct. 14 that the Trident replacement plan is “the single biggest future financial risk” facing the UK defense budget. “The project is a monster,” he added.

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    Russia Still Violating INF Treaty, U.S. Says

    Russia remains in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, according to a State Department report.

    July/August 2015

    By Kingston Reif

    Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work testifies at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on June 25. He said the United States would not allow Russia “to gain a significant military advantage through [its] violation of an arms control treaty.” (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen)Russia remains in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to an annual State Department report released on June 5.

    The report, which surveys compliance with arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament commitments by the United States and other countries, reiterated the finding, first announced in the 2014 version of the report, that Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, September 2014.)

    The new analysis says the Obama administration had noted concern about Russia’s compliance “in earlier, classified versions” of the report but did not publish a formal noncompliance determination until 2014.

    The INF Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, marked the first time the two superpowers agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. The treaty eliminated almost 2,700 intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles, most of them Russian.

    The U.S. government has raised its concerns about Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty on multiple occasions over the past two years. Moscow continues to deny that it has violated the agreement.

    As in the 2014 report, this year’s report did not specify the type of Russian cruise missile in question, the number of tests conducted, or the location of the tests.

    Some media reports have focused on Russia’s R-500 Iskander-K short-range cruise missile as the missile that precipitated the U.S. allegation. That system uses a road-mobile launcher, similar to the Iskander-M, which is a short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile.

    But in a June 23 interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said the R-500 is not the missile that the United States has “determined is in violation” of the treaty. She added that the U.S. government is “confident that the Russian government is aware of the missile to which we are referring.”

    The 2015 report contains two paragraphs not in last year’s report that highlight treaty provisions stating that “if a launcher has been tested for launching a GLCM” or “contained or launched a particular type of GLCM,” then “all launchers of that type shall be considered to be launchers of that type of GLCM.”

    In a June 7 posting on the blog Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, Pavel Podvig, an affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, said that these additions “seem to support” his theory “that the violation is a technicality” involving tests of a long-range sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) from a mobile GLCM launcher.

    The testing of a SLCM from a mobile launcher would constitute a violation of the treaty, Podvig argues, because the treaty requires that any missile that is not a GLCM covered by the treaty should be test-launched from a fixed land-based launcher used solely for test purposes and distinguishable from GLCM launchers.

    A Congressional Research Service report on Russia’s compliance with the INF Treaty, released on June 2, questioned the SLCM explanation, stating it “seems imperfect.” 

    “U.S. officials have repeatedly referred to the violation as a test of a ground-launched cruise missile, lending less credence to the view that the United States might have misidentified tests of a sea-launched missile,” the report says.

    In a June 11 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry described the allegation in the State Department report as “completely false.” 

    The statement reiterated Russian concerns about U.S. military activities that “are based on a very loose interpretation of the INF Treaty provisions,” such as “plans to deploy the vertical missile launch systems . . . at missile defense bases in Romania and Poland,” use of “target missiles with characteristics similar to those of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles” in missile defense tests, and the manufacture of armed drones that “fall under the INF Treaty definition of ground-based cruise missiles.” According to Moscow, those actions constitute violations of the treaty.

    Gottemoeller disputed these counterallegations, stating that the “United States remains in compliance with the INF Treaty.” 

    In testimony at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on June 25, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work reiterated that the United States “will not allow the Russian Federation to gain a significant military advantage through [its] violation of an arms control treaty.”

    He said the Defense Department is “developing and analyzing response options” for President Barack Obama and will consult with its allies on the options. 

    Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said in December 2014 that the range of military response options under consideration includes “active defenses to counter” INF-range GLCMs, “counterforce capabilities” to prevent attacks from these missiles, “and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” (See ACT, January/February 2015.)

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    UK Submariner Cites Safety Flaws

    The Royal Navy dismissed a seaman whose online allegations of safety breaches aboard the United Kingdom’s nuclear-armed submarines were rejected by the Ministry of Defence.

    July/August 2015

    By Jefferson Morley

    The ballistic missile submarine HMS Victorious moves through the water off the west coast of Scotland on April 4, 2013. (Photo by Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)The UK Navy has dishonorably discharged a sailor who posted an online indictment of safety issues aboard the country’s nuclear-armed submarines.

    William McNeilly was released from service June 17, a month after posting an online statement alleging up to 30 safety and security problems in and around the United Kingdom’s four nuclear-armed Trident subs. McNeilly, a 25-year-old native of Belfast, was stationed for three months earlier this year at the Faslane base where the subs are housed between tours at sea. In his 18-page letter, which was posted on the WikiLeaks website, McNeilly described himself as “a Strategic Weapons Systems engineer who has sacrificed everything to tell the public how close it is to a nuclear catastrophe.”

    McNeilly said fire and floods threaten the safety of the subs’ nuclear weapons, while lax security procedures could enable terrorists to attack. Bans on electronic gear, e-cigarettes, and shaving (to keep hair particles from circulating in the air) are not enforced, he said.

    After some members of parliament praised McNeilly in late May, Michael Fallon, the UK defense secretary, dismissed his claims as unwarranted.

    “Most of McNeilly’s concerns proved to be either factually incorrect or the result of mis- or partial understanding,” Fallon said in May 28 statement. “Some drew on historic, previously known events, none of which had compromised our deterrent capability,” he said. When appropriate to do so, “lessons had been learned to develop our procedures as part of a continuous improvement programme,” he said.

    On June 18, the day after the navy announcement, McNeilly posted a nine-page letter to supporters saying he had been dishonorably discharged.

    “I believe Home Office are still doing their investigation, but that’s nothing to worry about,” McNeilly wrote on Scribd, a document-sharing site. “Most people know that I acted in the interest of national security.” 

    Trident Safety Record

    In an analysis of McNeilly’s comments, John Ainslie, coordinator for the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, noted that there have been several incidents involving UK nuclear subs. His compilation includes a submarine stranded in Gibraltar from 2000 to 2001, a collision between French and UK submarines in 2009, and a submarine running aground in 2010. The report says that it “places McNeilly’s allegations in the context of known safety issue[s] with British nuclear submarines.”

    The Trident issue has become contentious in British politics with the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which has called for nuclear disarmament. Last September, Scottish voters rejected the SNP’s call for independence and nuclear disarmament in a referendum. (See ACT, October 2014.) The results of the May 15 national parliamentary elections further fortified parliamentary supporters of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, who have pledged to provide the funding to allow replacement of the four-submarine fleet by 2030. (See ACT, June 2015.)

    In his May 15 Web posting, McNeilly recounted what he called security lapses bred by the habits of daily routine and the indolence of some sailors. He also cited safety concerns about the maintenance of the submarines, particularly about the risk of fire or explosion near the Trident’s missiles in which nuclear warheads are located near one of the missile’s rocket motors.

    McNeilly quoted a passage from the Trident safety manual as acknowledging the risk of “a rocket motor propellant fire.” According to McNeilly, the manual states that “an accident or enemy action may cause rupture of the RB [re-entry body, the shell of the missile], burning or possible detonation of the HE [high explosive] and release of radioactive contamination.”


    McNeilly is not the first to call attention to this aspect of Trident’s design. A 1990 Washington Post article reported that nuclear safety analysts were concerned that a volatile explosive used in the warhead of the Trident missiles could explode in an accidental fire, “producing forces that could compress the nuclear core in each bomb and begin a nuclear chain reaction.” The article went on to say that the Trident missile “is considered particularly vulnerable to such an accident because its multiple warheads are arranged in a circle around the propellant fuel in the missile’s third stage.”

    Nick Ritchie, a lecturer on international security at the University of York, said in a June 19 e-mail that McNeilly “at times conflate[s] the risk of the detonation of the high explosive in a warhead and/or missile ­propellant that could scatter the warheads’ fissile material (plutonium and uranium)” with the risk of an even worse event, “the inadvertent detonation of the warheads themselves resulting in a catastrophic nuclear explosion.” 

    “It is difficult to independently judge the veracity of specific claims without having experienced day-to-day operational practices at the Faslane Naval Base [on board] UK nuclear-armed submarines,” Ritchie said. “However, the account is detailed and supports a public history of problems in the UK submarine fleet and nuclear weapons enterprise.”

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    NATO Monitoring Russian Saber Rattling

    May 2015

    By Kingston Reif

    NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow, shown in this November 2014 photo, said recent Russian actions and comments dealing with the country’s nuclear arsenal were “irresponsible.” (NATO)NATO is in the process of determining whether “increased Russian attention to nuclear weapons” should prompt steps such as military exercises “to make sure that there is no doubt about the effectiveness of our deterrent,” Alexander Vershbow, the alliance’s deputy secretary-general, said last month. 

    In a video posted on the website of Defense News on March 29, Vershbow said the Russians “are flaunting their nuclear capability, they are holding more nuclear exercises, and they are talking about their nuclear capabilities” as “part of their messaging.” 

    “Maybe this is just rhetoric, but it is irresponsible nonetheless,” he added.

    Among other recent nuclear threats from Russian officials, Mikhail Vanin, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, said on March 21 that “Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles” if Denmark joins NATO’s ballistic missile defense system. 

    It is unclear what specific nuclear-related steps, if any, NATO may be considering to respond to these threats. 

    On the issue of NATO’s nuclear policy posture, Vershbow said the alliance members “think we still have an effective posture.”

    In an April 10 e-mail, a NATO official said that “NATO does not comment on military contingency planning.” 

    But the official said that NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), which acts as the alliance’s senior body on nuclear matters, convened Feb. 5 during the last meeting of NATO defense ministers. The NPG meetings take place about once a year and “provide an opportunity for Allies to address the safety and effectiveness of our nuclear forces,” he said. 

    The official added that NATO’s “nuclear readiness levels have not changed since the start of the Ukraine crisis.” Relations between NATO and Russia have deteriorated significantly since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continued action in eastern Ukraine, resulting in the imposition of Western economic sanctions against Russia. The official also said NATO is not considering the basing of tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states.

    On the other hand, he emphasized that “NATO is currently implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.” 

    Such steps include increasing NATO’s presence on the territory of the alliance’s easternmost members and doubling the size of the NATO Response Force to up to 30,000 troops. The response force is a multinational force that the alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed. 

    “All of this shows that NATO is serious about deterrence, and stands ready to defend all Allies against any threat,” the official said.

    What's New Text: 

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    New Report Calls for Using Arms Control to Halt Downward Spiral in Relationship with Russia

    U.S.-Russian-German Commission Report Calls for Using Arms Control to Halt Downward Spiral in the West's Relations with Russia

    For Immediate Release: April 21, 2015

    Media Contacts: Greg Thielmann, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270, ext. 103; Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution, (202) 741-6520; Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270, ext. 107

    (Washington, D.C.) A new report by a 21-member commission consisting of experts from Germany, Russia, and the United States, "Strengthening Stability in Turbulent Times," recommends several new arms control and confidence-building-measures to reverse the deterioration in Russia's relations with U.S. and European governments.

    The immediate objective of the fifteen recommendations is to achieve a verified termination of the violent conflict in Ukraine, arresting the slide of NATO and Russia toward a potentially more dangerous situation.

    The longer-term objective goal, according to the Deep Cuts Commission, is to set the stage for taking more productive steps toward achieving the disarmament and nonproliferation goals established by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). An every fifth-year review conference of the NPT will be held in New York on April 27-May 22.

    "It is in times of international tensions that arms control arrangements demonstrate their real worth and contribution to stability and security," says Deep Cuts Commissioner Steven Pifer, director of the Brookings Institution's Project on Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. "This report's recommendations outline practical steps that should be of interest to officials in Washington, Moscow, Berlin and other European capitals," he says.

    "In light of the forthcoming NPT review conference, the Iran framework agreement, mutual allegations surrounding the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the almost complete breakdown of the arms control regime for conventional forces and armament in Europe, political leaders are well advised to no longer neglect the urgency of arms control and disarmament," says Deep Cuts Commissioner Walter Stuetzle, former senior official of the German Defense Ministry and former Director of the Stockholm Peace Research Institute.

    The report draws attention to the acute threat posed by unintended clashes between Russian and NATO military forces, but also notes that some vital arms control treaties are holding and that the aggregate global number of nuclear weapons continues slowly to decline. 

    The report also urges immediate action to re-establish military-to-military communications and to set down rules to regulate the operation of the sides' military forces when operating in close proximity to one another.

    The Commission calls on participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to explore conventional arms control measures to reverse the current dynamic and conduct discussions focused on identifying the appropriate scope and format for resuming. The report notes the unique opportunity Germany has for promoting such a discussion as chairman of the OSCE in 2016.

    The report stresses the importance of governmental and nongovernmental dialogue on how the United States and Russia can achieve further cuts beyond those called for in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and address other issues that impact nuclear arms reductions. 

    The report calls for supplementing high-level political discussions with the involvement of U.S. and Russian technical experts in conducting site visits so that INF Treaty compliance concerns can be resolved.

    Russian Deep Cuts Commissioner Andrei Zagorski has cited the report's treatment of the INF Treaty dispute as an example of how controversial issues "can be reasonably solved in a cooperative manner, rather than through mutual public accusations." Dialogue on such issues, he says "leads to identifying not only problems ahead, but sometimes also to solutions."

    NPT nuclear weapons states are urged to intensify their pursuit of nuclear disarmament by undertaking discussion on the effects missile defenses and long-range precision-guided conventional strike systems have on stability. China, Britain, and France are urged to pledge unilaterally not to increase their nuclear force levels as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce their own nuclear arsenals.

    The report concludes that all nuclear weapons states should commit to increased nuclear transparency by building on the legacy of the trilateral initiative (Russia, the United States, and the International Atomic Energy Agency) for monitoring fissile material stockpiles.

    Deep Cuts Commission member Greg Thielmann, senior fellow of the Arms Control Association, praised the respectful and highly professional approach that led to the consensus recommendations of the report.

    "We hope that the creative and comprehensive recommendations will help enliven international deliberations-at the 2015 NPT Review Conference, in Washington, Moscow, and other capitals-on how arms control solutions can help provide greater security and stability during these turbulent times," he said.



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

    The 21-member German-Russian-U.S. Deep Cuts Commission was established in 2013 to devise concepts on how to overcome current challenges to deep nuclear reductions. Through realistic analysis and practical recommendations, the commission strives to translate the existing arms control commitments into action toward further nuclear reductions and initiatives to strengthen common security. The commission received support from the German Federal Foreign Office and the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

    Country Resources:

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    Strengthening Stability in Turbulent Times

    A new report by a 21-member commission consisting of experts from Germany, Russia, and the United States, “Strengthening Stability in Turbulent Times,” recommends several new arms control and confidence-building-measures to reverse the deterioration in Russia’s relations with U.S. and European governments.

    The immediate objective of the fifteen recommendations is to achieve a verified termination of the violent conflict in Ukraine, arresting the slide of NATO and Russia toward a potentially more dangerous situation. 

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    Russia Completes CFE Treaty Suspension

    Russia is suspending its participation in meetings of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty Joint Consultative Group (JCG), according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement on March 10.

    April 2015

    By Kingston Reif

    Russia is suspending its participation in meetings of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty Joint Consultative Group (JCG), according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement on March 10.

    The announcement marks a further pullback from the treaty that Moscow had largely abandoned in 2007. (See ACT, January/February 2008.)

    In a March 11 interview with Interfax, Mikhail Ulyanov, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, said Moscow’s suspension was not due to the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations resulting from Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

    “The issue was long overdue, long before the Ukraine crisis, before the current state of affairs in our relations with the West,” Ulyanov said.

    According to Ulyanov, the United States “had forbidden its allies to discuss any substantive issues at the JCG. In those conditions there was not much sense in continuing our participation in the JCG.”

    The CFE Treaty, signed at the end of the Cold War on Nov. 19, 1990, eliminated the Soviet Union’s overwhelming quantitative advantage in conventional weapons in Europe by setting equal limits on the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles, heavy artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters that NATO and the Warsaw Pact could deploy between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains.

    The treaty was designed to prevent either alliance from amassing forces for a blitzkrieg-type offensive, which could have triggered the use of nuclear weapons in response.

    Russia suspended implementation of the CFE Treaty in 2007, claiming it was responding to NATO member states’ decision to condition their ratification of the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty on the resolution of a dispute over Russian military deployments in parts of Moldova and Georgia. But Moscow continued to participate in the consultative group, saying that it hoped that dialogue could lead to the creation of an effective, new conventional arms control regime in Europe.

    Beginning in 2010, the Obama administration sought to resolve the CFE Treaty dispute through the development of a draft “framework” for new negotiations to strengthen the treaty regime. But the talks stalled, and in November 2011, the United States announced that it “would cease carrying out certain obligations” under the CFE Treaty with regard to Russia.

    Ulyanov told Interfax that Russia would be unlikely to return to compliance with the CFE Treaty. The accord, created when the Warsaw Pact was still in existence, is “anachronistic” and “absolutely out of sync with the present realities,” he said.

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    Nuclear Cruise Missiles: Asset or Liability?


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

    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.

    Subject Resources:

    Country Resources:

    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


    Subscribe to RSS - European Security