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"[The Arms Control Association is an] 'exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size.'" 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Shannon Bugos

Future of Open Skies Remains Bleak


May 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States could officially submit its intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty by the end of September, despite strong support for the treaty in Congress and from allies and former U.S. officials.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media in Washington on March 5. He has reportedly recommended a U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper have decided to move forward with a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, the Guardian reported on April 5. The report indicated that a statement of intent would be forthcoming soon, with an official notification to withdraw coming likely by the end of September. Per the treaty text, the U.S. decision would take effect six months after the official notice.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested on April 23 that, “based on contacts with the Americans” and other states-parties to the treaty, the United States has decided to withdraw from the treaty. Russia’s response to the move will “depend on the wording of this decision, on what it exactly means,” Lavrov added.

On April 7, four leading congressional Democrats released a statement urging the Trump administration not to withdraw. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) were joined on the statement by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“This decision would have far-reaching, negative repercussions for our European allies, who rely on this treaty to keep Russia accountable for its military actions in the region,” they wrote. “During a time when we need to push back against Russian aggression, we cannot continue to undermine our alliances—which is exactly what U.S. withdrawal from this treaty would do.”

On April 6, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) made public a March letter to President Donald Trump, Pompeo, Esper, and National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien expressing their recommendation that the United States remain party to the treaty.

Schulz, Perry, and Nunn argued that concerns about Russian compliance with the treaty “can and should be solved through professional, pragmatic diplomacy, not by abandoning treaty commitments.”

The United States asserts that Russia is violating the agreement by “imposing and enforcing a sublimit of 500 kilometers over the Kaliningrad Oblast” and by establishing a 10-kilometer corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, according to the latest State Department report on arms control compliance. 

According to an April 8 report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, a treaty flight by Estonia, Lithuania, and the United States in February over the Kaliningrad enclave flew for more than 500 kilometers for the first time since Moscow imposed the sublimit in 2014.

Pompeo and Esper are proceeding with the process to withdraw even though a meeting of top officials on the National Security Council (NSC) on the issue has not taken place, according to an April 12 report in The Hill. NSC meetings on the future of the treaty had originally been planned for February and March, but were canceled.

According to a House aide cited by The Hill, the apparent “decision to withdraw prompted strong objection from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Poland.”

A State Department official told the news outlet that the administration is “currently reviewing the costs and benefits associated with our participation and considering all options under the treaty to achieve our national security objectives.”

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan stated on April 22 that “all options” remain on the table with regard to the treaty’s future.

Signed in 1992, the Open Skies Treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. The treaty entered into force in January 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia. Since 2002, there have been nearly 200 U.S. overflights of Russia and about 70 overflights conducted by Russia over the United States, although flights were suspended at the end of March due to the coronavirus pandemic and at press time there was no indication that flights would resume in May.

 

The Trump administration appears close to announcing a U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, possibly by the end of September.

Pandemic Disrupts Security Meetings


May 2020
By Julia Masterson and Shannon Bugos

The global spread of the novel coronavirus has thrown into disarray the schedule of numerous international convenings on arms control and nonproliferation planned for this year.

Argentine diplomat Gustavo Zlauvinen, the president-designate of the 2020 review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, speaks to the UN Security Council on Feb. 26. He announced in April that he was seeking to postpone the review conference until January 2021. (Photo: Evan Schneider/UN)One of the largest conferences that has been postponed is the 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which will now take place no later than April 2021. (See ACT, April 2020.) Previously scheduled to begin April 27 at UN headquarters in New York City and last a month, the conference usually involves dozens of side events and the participation of hundreds of government officials from the 191 states-parties to the treaty, nongovernmental organizations, and meeting support personnel.

In a message dated April 17 to NPT states-parties, the president-designate of the review conference, Gustavo Zlauvinen, said, “Unfortunately, the lack of clarity surrounding when the current circumstances will end, combined with the number of General Assembly-mandated meetings that have been postponed, as well as the already heavy schedule of meetings for 2021, has led to significant constraints on the availability of rooms and conference services for the foreseeable future.”

Zlauvinen said that, “in light of those constraints, the only option that meets the requirements of States Parties between now and August 2021 is to hold the Review Conference at UN Headquarters from 4–29 January 2021.” He said he will seek a formal decision from states-parties to hold the review conference on those dates. Other options, he said, would require “significant downsizing, both in terms of the number of weeks for the Conference and the number of parallel meetings.”

The fourth conference of nuclear-weapon-free zones and Mongolia, scheduled to be held April 24, 2020, at the United Nations in New York, was also postponed. The group has met prior to NPT review conferences since 2005 to “analyze ways of cooperating that can contribute to achieving the universal goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” Participation in the conference is open to states-parties of the five extant free zones and Mongolia, which declared itself a nuclear-free territory in 2000. (See ACT, October 2012.) According to UN General Assembly Resolution 73/71, the conference planned for 2020, when held, will focus specifically on enhancing “consultations and cooperation” among the nuclear-free states. The April 24 conference has not been rescheduled.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), located in Vienna, postponed its third Science Diplomacy Symposium likely until November. The CTBTO, which operates the International Monitoring System and data center to verify compliance with the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), holds this symposium every two years in order to highlight the CTBT’s contribution to international peace and security. The 2020 symposium aims to spotlight the value of increasing access to and use of scientific advice in policymaking and collaboration and cooperation between scientists and policymakers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) postponed the 35th meeting of its Advisory Group on Nuclear Security scheduled to be held April 20–24 in Vienna. The group is comprised of experts who collaborate with the IAEA director-general to strengthen IAEA efforts to deter, detect, and react to nuclear and radiological terrorism. The group meets two times each year.

In the conventional arms space, Carlos Foradori of Argentina cancelled the April working group and preparatory meetings for the 6th Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, which entered into force in 2014 and currently has 104 states-parties. The conference is still scheduled for August 17–21. As president of the conference, Foradori made the decision based upon UN guidelines and said he will develop “a plan that will allow our work to continue remotely in the intersessional period to ensure necessary decisions can be taken by [the conference] guiding the work of the next … cycle.”

Meetings regarding emerging technologies have also been modified due to pandemic-related public health restrictions, including the Berlin Forum on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, originally scheduled for April 1–2, 2020. Instead, the German Foreign Ministry opted to convene the meeting virtually, drawing participation by 300 governmental and nongovernmental representatives of 70 countries worldwide. A statement published April 2 by the ministry reminds that, “in times of crisis, it is crucial that we continue to address urgent issues through international cooperation.”

The forum met to exchange ideas on guiding principles for a future framework governing the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems. Participants discussed definitions of the human role in the use of lethal force and norms surrounding these systems. According to a readout of the virtual meeting published by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the ministry intends to detail key points from the forum and to hold a follow-up conference in November 2020.

The majority of international events and conferences scheduled for late May or later have not yet officially addressed whether they will still take place. The second part of this year’s session of the Conference on Disarmament, for instance, remains scheduled to begin May 25. A meeting of the group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems
is still planned for June. But the United States has shifted the 46th Group of Seven summit on June 10–12 to a video conference due to coronavirus concerns. The heads of state summit was originally intended to take place at Camp David, Maryland.

The coronavirus has forced the delay or cancellation of a wide range of arms control and nonproliferation meetings in the months ahead.

Trump Appoints Special Arms Control Envoy


May 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

President Donald Trump has officially appointed a special envoy to negotiate an unprecedented trilateral arms control deal with Russia and China as the fate of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control agreement, hangs in the balance.

Marshall Billingslea, then assistant secretary of treasury, speaks in Washington in March 2019. He was named as the State Department's special presidential envoy for arms control on April 10. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Marshall Billingslea, previously assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department, will lead arms control negotiations on behalf of the United States as special presidential envoy for arms control, according to an April 10 statement by the State Department.

“President Trump has charged this Administration with beginning a new chapter by seeking a new era of arms control that moves beyond the bilateral treaties of the past,” the department said. “The appointment of Marshall Billingslea reaffirms the commitment to that mission.”

On May 1, Trump also announced his intent to nominate Billingslea to fill the vacant post of under secretary of state for arms control and international security. Billingslea was an advisor to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an ardent opponent of arms control who opposed U.S. ratification of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and supported U.S. withdrawal in 2002 from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, strongly denounced Billingslea’s appointment, stating, “This is not who should be put in charge of our nuclear diplomacy.”

Trump first proposed a trilateral approach to arms control more than a year ago, but the administration has yet to unveil a specific proposal and provided no timeline for when it might do so. (See ACT, May 2019.)

Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, outlined the Trump administration’s priorities for “next-generation arms control” with Russia and China in an April 6 paper.

Ford, who is currently serving the functions of undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that the next stage of arms control must continue to control Russia’s deployed strategic weapons currently limited by New START and address new Russian strategic delivery systems and Russia’s large and growing arsenal of nonstrategic weapons. Ford also said that a future agreement must “rein in” China’s “destabilizing nuclear buildup.”

Ford did not explain how the administration plans to convince Russia to limit additional types of nuclear weapons, convince China to participate in arms control for the first time, or describe what the United States would be prepared to include in a new agreement.

China is strongly opposed to multilateral arms control talks and has yet to respond to a December 2019 U.S. offer for a bilateral dialogue on strategic security.

Ford also did not address the future of New START, which will expire in February 2021 unless Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to extend it by up to five years.

New START limits U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads on 700 missiles and heavy bombers. Under the treaty, the United States and Russia exchange data every six months on the exact number of limited warheads and delivery systems.

The latest data exchange, current as of March 1 and publicly released April 1, demonstrates that the treaty is working, as Moscow and Washington fall at or under the imposed limits. As of March 1, the United States deployed 1,372 warheads on 655 missiles and heavy bombers. Russia deployed 1,326 warheads on 485 delivery systems.

The treaty also allows the United States and Russia to conduct on-site inspections. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, both countries agreed in late March to suspend inspections until May 1. The suspension has been extended until June 1, a congressional source told Arms Control Today. The next meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, the implementing body of the treaty, has been postponed until this fall. (See ACT, April 2020.)

April marked 10 years since the signing of New START by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Prague. The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on April 8 on the anniversary, urging the United States to issue “a speedy response in the affirmative” to Moscow’s offer to unconditionally extend the treaty.

“We are convinced that this would meet the interests of both Russia and the United States, as well as those of the entire international community, guarantee predictability in the nuclear weapons sphere, and help maintain strategic stability,” the ministry wrote.

But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated in an April 17 call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “that any future arms control talks must be based on President Trump’s vision for a trilateral arms control agreement that includes both Russia and China.”

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan commented on April 22 that the administration was still reviewing a possible extension of New START. “There will be movement and discussion soon that will illuminate this issue more for all of us,” he added.

Citing the Trump administration’s continued indecision on the future of the treaty, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov said on April 16 that “all the signs” indicate the United States “is on the threshold of making a decision not to extend this document.”

Trump and Putin held a call on April 12, during which they discussed “current issues of ensuring strategic security,” according to a statement from the Kremlin. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later clarified that New START was a point of discussion.

Although the United States and Russia remain at odds over the future of New START, the countries could soon resume their dialogue on strategic security, with a specific focus on space security. The last round of the U.S.-Russian strategic security dialogue took place Jan. 16 in Vienna. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Ryabkov said on April 11 that the two sides had agreed to establish a working group to discuss space issues. Additional details, such as a time and date for the discussion, have not been publicly shared.

“The Russian side has handed in its proposals on the essence of this work to the U.S. side and now expects the response,” he said.

The selection of Marshall Billingslea as special presidential envoy for arms control has drawn criticism from arms control proponents.

The Future of New START and U.S. National Security

Sections:

Body: 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020
10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Eastern
via Zoom Webinar

With the expiration date for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) less than a year away, the Arms Control Association hosted a discussion with former senior officials on the national security case for the extension of New START, the costs of failing to do so, and why extension is the best next step toward more ambitious arms control talks with Russia and other nuclear-armed states.

Key quotes from the speakers and useful resources are listed below. Some answers to additional questions that participants submitted but that the speakers were unable to address due to time constraints can be found here.

 

Key Quotes

Admiral (ret.) Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007-2011

“Put me down in the column of extension, and the reason for that is the clock is running. Certainly in my experience, getting to the right specifics in a very complex treaty takes a long time. And I would opine at this point we don’t have time to renegotiate—or to negotiate—a new treaty as an option.”

“One of the things that is incredibly important about this treaty is the details of verification, an aspect of which, in addition to national technical means, is spoken to by on-the-ground inspections. I come from a place where there is nothing better than being physically in place in time.”

"Trying to get something done with China between now and February is virtually impossible.”

Rose Gottemoeller, former NATO Deputy Secretary-General, former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and the lead negotiator for New START

“Nowhere is military predictability more important than in the nuclear realm. Our presidents can give a potent sign that they take this matter seriously by an early extension of New START. It would be an act of global leadership, reassuring our publics as they grapple with sickness and uncertainty.”

“Rapid fire negotiation of a follow on agreement was always a difficult proposition, especially the effort to engage the Chinese. Without the potential for hands-on diplomacy, I really think it’s become mission impossible. Extending New START would not only give time for all of the issues to be brought to the table and new actors to be engaged, but also would allow us to get through this pandemic.”

“The last point I would like to emphasize is the firm support for New START extension among U.S. allies, and not only our allies in Europe and North America, but also the ones in Asia. The allies are keen to see the last legally binding nuclear arms reduction treaty remain in force in order to ensure the continuation of a predictable nuclear environment in their regions and to give sufficient time for new negotiations to take place.”

Lt. Gen. (ret.) Frank Klotz, former U.S. Undersecretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration from 2014-2018, and commander of Air Force Global Strike Command from 2009-2011

“Although limiting the number and types of Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons would certainly benefit the security interests of the United States, as well as those of its European and Asian allies, it does not logically follow that the existing limits on longer-range systems imposed by New START should be allowed to lapse because an agreement on shorter-range nuclear weapons has not yet been reached. If that were to happen, there would be more rather than fewer categories and numbers of Russian nuclear weapons that would be unconstrained, including systems that could directly threaten the U.S. homeland. From a military perspective, that hardly makes any sense.”

“Rather than being relevant to the immediate debate on the treaty’s extension, the issue of Russia’s novel nuclear delivery systems is more a matter of those Russian capabilities that might need to be addressed in any follow-on nuclear arms control arrangements.”

“Allowing New START to lapse without replacement would be a grave mistake in terms of our national security.”

Resources

Description: 

Special briefing with Admiral (ret.) Michael Mullen, Rose Gottemoeller, and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Frank Klotz

Country Resources:

Potential U.S. Open Skies Withdrawal Announcement Coming Soon | U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch

Potential U.S. Open Skies Withdrawal Announcement Coming Soon The United States could officially submit its intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty by the end of September, despite strong support for the treaty in Congress and from allies and former U.S. officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper have decided to move forward with a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, the Guardian reported April 5. The report indicated that a statement of intent would be forthcoming soon, with official notification to withdraw coming likely by the end of September. Per the...

Trump Still Wants Multilateral Arms Control


April 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States is open to meeting with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council to discuss nuclear arms control and will soon put forward a trilateral arms control proposal with Russia and China, President Donald Trump said in February. China, however, has continued to express its opposition to trilateral talks with Russia and the United States, and it has not yet responded to U.S. overtures to begin a bilateral strategic security dialogue.

President Donald Trump takes questions from the media in the White House briefing room on Feb. 29. He said the five permanent members of the UN Security Council will likely discuss nuclear arms control this year. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)At the same time, the Trump administration continued to deflect questions about its stance on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in 2021.

Trump told reporters on Feb. 29 that Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France “all want to now discuss arms control” and that the leaders of those countries will likely discuss the subject at the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

Russian President Vladimir Putin first proposed the idea of a summit of those nations earlier this year to discuss a broad range of security topics, including arms control. “We have discussed this with several of our colleagues and, as far as I know, have received a generally positive response to holding a meeting of the heads of state of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council,” Putin stated during a late January trip to Israel.

In a March 5 statement commemorating the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Trump said he “will be proposing a bold new trilateral arms control initiative with Russia and China to help avoid an expensive arms race and instead work together to build a better, safer, and more prosperous future for all.”

Trump, who first proposed a trilateral approach to arms control nearly a year ago, said such an approach is needed because, “[o]ver the next decade, China seeks to at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile while Russia is developing expensive and destabilizing new types of delivery systems.” (See ACT, May 2019.)

Neither the president nor other officials have provided a timeline for when the administration might release a proposal.

Nevertheless, “we’re optimistic that it will be possible to engage both with Russia and with China, and to bring those bilateral engagements forward into a trilateral engagement that will ultimately result in the kind of agreement that President Trump has tasked us with trying to come to,” a senior State Department official told reporters on March 9. “So we are cautiously optimistic and hope very much to be engaged with both, not just one, of those two parties in the very near future,” the official added.

Beijing, however, has continued to express no interest in a trilateral approach. “China has repeatedly reiterated that it has no intention of participating in the so-called trilateral arms control negotiations,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on March 6.

In addition to pursuing trilateral talks with Russia and China, Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, invited China last December to begin a bilateral strategic security dialogue.

China has yet to respond to the offer. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on March 6 that “China is always open to bilateral exchange with the U.S. in the field of strategic security.”

The Trump administration’s continued pursuit of arms control discussions with Russia and China comes as the clock continues to tick toward the February 2021 expiration of New START. The United States and Russia can exercise the option to extend the agreement by up to five years by mutual agreement.

The administration has yet to make its decision regarding the future of the accord. The senior State Department official said the administration is evaluating a decision on extension in the context of whether prolonging New START aids or sets back the pursuit of limits on additional types of Russian nuclear weapons not covered by the treaty and bringing China into the arms control process.

“We are not forecasting what that answer is,” the official said.

The official would not comment on the administration’s specific goals for trilateral arms control or whether the administration would consider extending New START to buy additional time to engage China.

The official added that there remains plenty of time to extend the treaty before it expires and that an extension could be quickly accomplished with “nothing more than an exchange of diplomatic notes.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Feb. 19 that if the United States chooses to extend New START, then a new agreement should “capture the new Russian strategic weapons. I also believe that the Russians should bring underneath that treaty the nonstrategic nuclear weapons. And then, of course, the Chinese.”

Moscow has expressed its readiness to extend New START immediately and without any preconditions, but warned that time is running out and any proposal to include Russian weapons not covered by the treaty would require an amendment to the agreement. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

Vladimir Leontyev, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, said in February that the United States rejected a proposal from Russia to hold “a lawyers’ meeting to…work out an understanding of the technical aspect of the extension process.”

“No follow-up agreement is in sight, and it is clear that there is no chance of producing anything meaningful over the time left” before the treaty expires, Leontyev noted.

Russia has also maintained that it “will not try to convince China” to join trilateral talks, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “If the Americans are quite sure that it makes no sense to take any further steps on the New START…without China, let them get down to business on this all on their own,” he said on Feb. 10.

A reported hindrance to the U.S. effort to negotiate a more comprehensive replacement for New START has been the Trump administration’s inability to find a lead negotiator for the undertaking. Politico reported on Feb. 12 that the administration has offered the role to several potential candidates but struggled to find someone to take it. The Guardian reported on March 4 that the White House had chosen Marshall Billingslea, the current assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department, for the role.

New START caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers, and 800 deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers each. It also put into place a rigorous inspections and verification regime, on which the U.S. military relies for knowledge about the Russian arsenal.

 

The extension of New START remains up in the air as the Trump administration pushes talks with China.

U.S. Questioning Open Skies Treaty


April 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The U.S. Defense Department is halting funding to replace the Pentagon’s aging aircraft used for flights under the Open Skies Treaty until the Trump administration decides the future of U.S. participation in the pact, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Congress in March.

Navy Lt. Bethany Baker monitors the path of an OC-135B aircraft during a January 2016 flight over Haiti unrelated to the Open Skies Treaty. The Pentagon has elected not to upgrade the aircraft as the Trump administration assesses the U.S. role in the Treaty. (Photo: Perry Aston/U.S. Air Force)“Until we make a final decision on the path forward, I am not prepared to recapitalize aircraft,” Esper told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a March 4 hearing. “We still have the means to conduct the overflights,” he added, “[b]ut at this time, we’re holding until we get better direction.”

The Trump administration has yet to make a final decision on whether to remain a party to the treaty. The administration has reportedly warned allies that it could withdraw from the agreement if its concerns about Russian noncompliance and other shortcomings are not allayed. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

“In due course, we will be getting together to do that, to decide the best path forward for our nation,” Esper said at a Feb. 20 press briefing.

Esper has not disclosed how he is advising President Donald Trump on the agreement, but told senators that he has “a lot of concerns about the treaty as it stands now.”

The United States maintains two Boeing OC-135B aircraft based at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska for treaty overflight missions. Congress appropriated $41.5 million last year to continue replacement efforts for these aircraft. The Air Force was planning to seek $76 million in fiscal year 2021 to continue the replacement process, but the final budget request published in February did not include any request for funding.

U.S. lawmakers criticized the administration’s actions. “By not recapitalizing the Open Skies aircraft, we are adding risk to our aircrews,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) in a statement to Defense News. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Feb. 28 opposing a potential withdrawal of the United States from the Open Skies Treaty.

“If this administration moves forward with a precipitous unilateral withdrawal from the treaty the United States will be less safe and secure,” they wrote.

But Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) sent a letter to Trump on March 12 calling on him to withdraw from the agreement.

“It is well past time to withdraw,” they wrote, citing concern about the costs of the OC-135B replacement efforts and suggesting that the United States receives few benefits from the accord.

The senators also referenced Russia’s noncompliance with the treaty as grounds for withdrawal. The United States asserts that Russia is violating the agreement by restricting observation missions over Kaliningrad to flying no more than 500 kilometers and by establishing a 10-kilometer corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The Defense Department has responded by restricting flights over the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii and the missile defense interceptor fields in Fort Greely, Alaska.

Meanwhile, Vayl Oxford, director of the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, commented on Feb. 11 before the House Armed Services Committee that the United States has had “a lot of consultation with our treaty partners” who view Open Skies as “very valuable.”

Oxford also said that “[i]f we fly all the missions currently planned this year, it’d be the busiest Open Skies season ever.”

James Gilmore, U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, on March 2 described Russian support for a recent mission that took place over Kaliningrad as “very cooperative.”

Gilmore also noted that Russia will no longer raise an “objection” for the United States and its allies to “fly over one of their major exercises,” as was reported.

“However, we don’t believe that that’s good enough,” he noted. “We think that we have to be holding the Russians strictly to account on the Open Skies Treaty.”

The widening impact of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is creating further complications. Citing the “serious public health risk posed by the spread of COVID-19,” on March 16, the chair of the Open Skies Consultative Commission, Belarus, requested a suspension of all Open Skies flights until April 26, according to a statement. The other parties agreed and have notified their suspension of flights, according to diplomatic sources.

Signed in 1992, the treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed, observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. The treaty entered into force in January 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia. Since 2002, there have been nearly 200 U.S. overflights of Russia and about 70 overflights conducted by Russia over the United States.

The Pentagon is no longer seeking to update its aircraft used to photograph Russian military sites.

Pentagon Tests Hypersonic Glide Body


April 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States successfully tested a common hypersonic glide body (C-HGB) in a flight experiment on March 19 in Hawaii, demonstrating the Trump administration’s intention to match Chinese and Russian weapons advancement. The data collected from the experiment will support the development of several new hypersonic weapons systems, according to the Defense Department.

The Army and Navy jointly conducted the test from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

A missile carrying a common hypersonic glide body launches from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii on March 19. (Photo: Oscar Sosa/U.S.Navy)“This event is a major milestone towards the department’s goal of fielding hypersonic warfighting capabilities in the early to mid-2020s,” said the Pentagon on March 20.

Hypersonic weapons travel at least five times the speed of sound. Hypersonic glide vehicles are distinguished from traditional ballistic missiles by their ability to maneuver and operate at lower altitudes.

The Pentagon, with the support of Congress, is proposing to accelerate the development of conventionally armed hypersonic glide vehicles and cruise missiles to keep pace with Russia and China as they develop such weapons and to augment U.S. conventional war-fighting capabilities. Some experts, however, have questioned the military rationale for the weapons and warned that they could increase the risk of rapid escalation in a conflict or crisis. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

The Trump administration is requesting $3.2 billion for fiscal year 2021 to accelerate the development of hypersonic weapons, an increase of $600 million above the previous fiscal year.

The United States has hypersonic weapons programs underway for all of the armed services. The Army is requesting $801 million for the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon system and aims to begin fielding it in fiscal year 2023. The Navy is requesting $1 billion for the Conventional Prompt Strike program and has set a target deployment date of fiscal year 2028.

“The Navy and Army are working closely with industry to develop the C-HGB with Navy as the lead designer, and Army as the lead for production,” said the Pentagon after the flight experiment. “Each service will use the C-HGB, while developing individual weapon systems and launchers tailored for launch from sea or land.”

In addition to the Army and Navy programs, the Air Force is pursuing the Advanced Rapid Response Weapon system, for which it requested $382 million in fiscal year 2021.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) monitored the March 19 test in order to “inform its ongoing development of systems designed to defend against adversary hypersonic weapons.” The MDA asked for $207 million for fiscal year 2021 for developing hypersonic defense technology. (See ACT, March 2020.)

The Defense Department has expressed varying rationales for the development of hypersonic weapons.

Michael Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, told the House Armed Services Committee on March 11 that the United States needs to develop hypersonic weapons “to allow us to match what our adversaries are doing.”

Last October, China included the Dongfeng-17, a medium-range ballistic missile armed with a hypersonic glide vehicle, in a military parade. Last December, Russia announced that it had begun deploying the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle on an existing long-range ballistic missile. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The Defense Department has also emphasized a specific military need for hypersonic weapons.

The department said on March 20 that the weapons would provide “the warfighter with an ability to strike targets hundreds and even thousands of miles away, in a matter of minutes, to defeat a wide range of high-value targets.”

“These capabilities,” said Michael White, assistant director for hypersonic weapons in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, “help ensure that our warfighters will maintain the battlefield dominance necessary to deter, and if necessary, defeat any future adversary.”

A March 19 test shows the U.S. aim to keep up or surpass Chinese and Russian technology developments.

Surging U.S. Nuclear Weapons Budget a Growing Danger

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Volume 12, Issue 3, March 19, 2020

The projected cost to sustain and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal continues to grow. And grow. And grow some more. The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget request released in February reinforces what has long been forewarned: The administration’s excessive strategy to replace nearly the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal at roughly the same time is a ticking budget time bomb, even at historically high levels of national defense spending.

“I am concerned that … we have underestimated the risks associated with such a complex and time-constrained modernization and recapitalization effort,” Adm. Charles Richard, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 13.

Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, the director of the Navy strategic systems programs, put it even more bluntly to the House Armed Services Committee on March 3. There is a “pervasive and overwhelming risk carried within the nuclear enterprise as refurbishment programs face capacity, funding, and schedule challenges,” he said.

Adm. Richard and Vice Adm. Wolfe support the administration’s modernization approach and believe that delays to the effort could undermine the U.S. nuclear deterrent. But their warnings should prompt renewed questions about whether the spending plans are necessary and sustainable. The need for a fundamental reassessment is magnified by the rising human and financial toll that the novel coronavirus is inflicting on the national economy. The threat to worker safety and health posed by the disease could exacerbate the execution challenges identified by Adm. Richard and Adm. Wolfe.

Last year, Congress supported the administration’s nuclear budget priorities despite strong opposition from the Democratic-led House. But the costs and opportunity costs of the plans are real and growing – and the biggest modernization bills are just beginning to hit. Scaling back the proposals for new delivery systems, warheads, and their infrastructure would make the nuclear weapons modernization effort easier to execute and save scores of billions of taxpayer dollars that should be spent on addressing higher priority national and health security challenges. Such adjustments would still leave ample funding to sustain a devasting U.S. nuclear deterrent.

The Fiscal Year 2021 Nuclear Budget Request

The administration is requesting $44.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 for the Defense and Energy Departments to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems and warheads and their supporting infrastructure, a larger-than-anticipated increase of about $7.3 billion, or 19 percent, from the fiscal year 2020 level. This includes $28.9 billion for the Pentagon and $15.6 billion for the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The proposed spending on nuclear weapons constitutes about 6 percent of the total national defense request, up from about 5 percent last year. By 2024, projected spending on the nuclear arsenal is slated to consume 6.8% of total national defense spending. The percentage will continue to rise through the late-2020s and early-2030s when modernization spending is slated to peak.

The largest increase sought is for the NNSA nuclear weapons activities account. The budget request calls for $15.6 billion, an astonishing increase of $3.1 billion, or 25 percent, above the fiscal year 2020 appropriation and $2.8 billion above the projection for 2021 in the fiscal year 2020 budget request. Over the next five years, the NNSA is planning to request over $81 billion for weapons activities, a nearly 24 percent increase over what it planned to seek over the same period as of last year.

To put the NNSA weapons activities request in perspective, $15.6 billion is almost twice as much as the $8.3 billion emergency spending bill signed into law March 6 to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus through prevention efforts and research to quickly produce a vaccine for the deadly disease.

The budget request would support continued implementation of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which called for expanding U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. In addition to continuing full speed ahead with the previous administration’s plans to upgrade the arsenal on a largely like-for-like basis, the Trump administration proposed to develop two new sea-based low-yield nuclear options (one of which it has already begun deploying) and lay the groundwork to grow the size of the warhead stockpile.

The projected long-term cost of the proposed nuclear spending spree is even more staggering. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected last year that the United States is poised to spend nearly $500 billion, after including the effects of inflation, to maintain and replace its nuclear arsenal between fiscal years 2019 and 2028. This is an increase of nearly $100 billion, or about 23 percent, above the already enormous projected cost as of the end of the Obama administration. Over the next 30 years, the price tag is likely to top $1.5 trillion and could even approach $2 trillion.

These big nuclear bills are coming due as the Defense Department is seeking to replace large portions of its conventional forces and must contend with internal fiscal pressures, such as rising maintenance and operations costs. In addition, external fiscal pressures, such as the growing national debt and the significant economic contraction caused by the coronavirus pandemic, are all likely to limit the growth of – and perhaps reduce – military spending. Indeed, the Trump administration is recommending a lower national defense budget top line in fiscal year 2021 than Congress provided last year.

“The Pentagon must come to terms with the reality that future defense budgets are likely to be flat, which will force leaders to make some tough choices,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Feb. 6.

The costs and risks of the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans are compounded by its hostility to arms control. The administration withdrew the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August 2019 and has shown little interest in extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). If New START expires in February 2021 with nothing to replace it, the incentives for the United States and Russia to grow the size of their arsenals beyond the treaty limits would grow. A new quantitative arms race would cause the already high costs of the modernization effort to soar even higher.

Triad Budget Rises as Planned

The budget request contains large but planned increases to maintain the schedule of Pentagon programs to sustain and rebuild the U.S. triad of nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers.

The request includes $4.4 billion for the Navy program to build 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The Air Force is seeking $2.8 billion to continue development of the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, $500 million for the long-range standoff weapon program to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile, and $1.5 billion for the program to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile with a missile system called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). The Pentagon is also asking for $4.2 billion to sustain and upgrade nuclear command, control, and communications systems.

Collectively, the request for these programs is an increase of $3.2 billion, or more than 30 percent, above the fiscal year 2020 level.

Over the next five years, the Pentagon is projecting to request $167 billion to sustain and modernize delivery systems and their supporting command and control infrastructure. The Columbia-class, GBSD, and B-21 programs could each cost between $100-$150 billion after including the effects of inflation and likely cost overruns, easily putting them among the top 10 most expensive Pentagon acquisition programs.

 
 

 

NNSA Budget Explodes

The NNSA budget submission includes large unplanned cost increases for several ongoing warhead life extension programs, the acceleration of the W93 program to develop a newly-designed submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, the expansion of the production of plutonium pits for nuclear warheads to at least 80 per year, and other large infrastructure recapitalization projects.

The factors driving the NNSA to request such large unplanned increases are unclear. The agency said last year that its fiscal year 2020 budget plan was “fully consistent” with the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review and “affordable and executable.” Under that proposal, the NNSA did not plan to request more than $15 billion for the weapons activities account until 2030.

Several major ongoing programs would reportedly be delayed in the absence of the increase, which would suggest that they have encountered cost overruns. 

It is unlikely that the NNSA will be able to spend such a large increase in one year. Allison Bawden, a director at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the House Armed Services Committee on March 3 that spending the requested amount “will be very challenging.” This view is supported by the fact that the weapons activities account is sitting on approximately $5.5 billion in unspent carryover balances from previous years.

Despite massive budget increases since the Trump administration took office, the executability of NNSA’s plans is highly questionable. The ambition of the agency’s modernization program is unlike anything seen since the Cold War. Bawden noted that the GAO is “concerned about the long-term affordability of the plans.” Former NNSA administrator Frank Klotz said in a January 2018 interview before the release of the Nuclear Posture Review that the agency was already “working pretty much at full capacity.”

According to Bawden, the tightly coupled nature of the NNSA’s modernization program is such that “any delay could have a significant cascading effect on the overall effort.” The agency has consistently underestimated the cost and schedule risks of major warhead life extension programs and infrastructure recapitalization projects. An independent assessment published last year found “no historical precedent” for the NNSA’s plan to produce 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030. The assessment also stated that the agency had never completed a major project costing more than $700 million in fewer than 16 years.

This chart shows the NNSA’s future-years nuclear security program (FYNSP) for each fiscal year starting with FY 2017. The FYNSP reflects what the agency estimates its budget will be for that current fiscal year and the four succeeding fiscal years.Moreover, while the NNSA’s five-year spending projection sustains the enormous fiscal year 2021 funding proposal, outyear funding is slated to grow at a set rate of 2.1 percent. In other words, the outyear projections aren't based on what NNSA believes it will actually need. Several major NNSA efforts, such as developing a warhead for a new sea-launched cruise missile and the full scope of the plutonium pit production and uranium enrichment recapitalization plans, are not yet part of the budget. In sum, if "past is precedent," the outyear projections will exceed growth with inflation.

Nuclear Force Modernization Cannibalizes Conventional Military Modernization

The damaging opportunity costs of the administration’s decision to prioritize nuclear weapons are on full display in the budget request. The Navy has long been warning that the planned recapitalization of the ballistic missile submarine force will pose a particularly significant affordability challenge. The request includes funding to purchase the first submarine in the class over the next three years.

“[W]e must begin a 40-year recapitalization of our [SSBN] force,” Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly wrote in a Feb. 18 memo directing the Navy to identify $40 billion in savings over the next five years. “This requirement will consume a significant portion of our shipbuilding budget in the coming years and squeeze out funds we need to build a larger fleet.”

The Navy is requesting $19.9 billion for shipbuilding in fiscal year 2021, a decrease of $4.1 billion below the fiscal year 2020 level.

The shipbuilding budget also paid the price for the enormous unplanned increase for the NNSA. The agency’s budget submission was reportedly a controversial issue within the Trump administration and was not resolved until days before the Feb. 10 public release of the budget. President Trump ultimately signed off on adding over $2 billion to the NNSA’s weapons activities account, forcing a late scramble to make room for the additional funding.

Though the Pentagon has not confirmed the exact amount that was taken to pay for the increase, members of Congress and media reports indicate that the increase for the NNSA prevented the Navy from adding a second Virginia-class attack submarine to the shipbuilding budget. The decision to cut an attack submarine to pay for a budget increase the NNSA said last year it didn’t need is hard to square with the Pentagon’s top overall defense priority of preparing for great power competition with China.

Nuclear Weapons Aren’t Cheap

The Pentagon argues that even at its peak in the late-2020s, spending on nuclear weapons is affordable because it will consume a peak of roughly 6.4 percent of total Pentagon spending in 2029. But this figure is misleading for several reasons. For starters, the figure doesn’t include spending at the NNSA. When NNSA spending is included, nuclear weapons already account for 6 percent of the total FY 2021 national defense budget request. Regardless, even 6 percent of a budget as large as the Pentagon’s is an enormous amount of money. By comparison, the March 2013 congressionally mandated sequester reduced national defense spending (minus exempt military personnel accounts) by 7 percent. Military leaders and lawmakers repeatedly described the sequester as devastating.

Meanwhile, a better measure of the opportunity costs of prioritizing nuclear modernization is to compare spending on that modernization to overall Defense Department acquisition spending. The Pentagon is requesting $17.7 billion for nuclear weapons research, development, and procurement in fiscal year 2021. This amount already accounts for 7.3 percent of the total requested Pentagon acquisition spending. While the Pentagon is projecting a decline in total acquisition spending over the next five years, nuclear acquisition spending is primed for a major increase. The CBO estimated in 2017 that by the early 2030s, spending on nuclear weapons would rise to 15 percent of the Pentagon’s total acquisition costs.

Pentagon officials also repeatedly claim that unless they get every penny that they are asking for to modernize the arsenal, the arsenal will begin to erode into obsolescence. But this is a false choice. The right question is whether the administration’s approach is necessary, sustainable, and safe, especially in the absence of any negotiated restraints on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. And the right answer is that the administration’s current path is unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe – and must be rethought.

Recommendations for Congress

The bottom line is that Trump administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans cannot be sustained without significant and sustained increases to defense spending – which are unlikely to be forthcoming – or cuts to other security priorities. The current approach is a costly and irrational recipe for nuclear modernization program delays and scope reductions.

But while the plans pose significant challenges, they need not prevent the United States from continuing to field a powerful and credible nuclear force sufficient to deter or respond to a nuclear attack against the United States and its allies. The administration inherited a larger and more diverse nuclear arsenal than is required for deterrence and its approach to modernization and arms control would increase the risks of miscalculation, unintended escalation, and accelerated global nuclear competition.

Instead, the United States could save at least $150 billion in fiscal year 2017 constant dollars through the mid-2040s by adjusting the current modernization approach while still retaining a triad and deploying the New START limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. Such an approach would reflect a nuclear strategy that reduces reliance on nuclear weapons, emphasizes stability and survivability, de-emphasizes nuclear warfighting, reduces the risk of miscalculation, and is more affordable and executable.

The options include:

  • Buying 10 instead of 12 new Columbia class ballistic missile submarines;
  • Extending the life of the existing Minuteman III ICBM instead of building a new missile and reducing the size of the ICBM force from 400 missiles to 300 missiles (for a detailed discussion of the case for this option, see here);
  • Foregoing development of new nuclear air- and sea-launched cruise missiles;
  • Scaling back plans to build newly-designed ICBM and SLBM warheads;
  • Aiming for a pit production capacity of 30-50 pits per year by 2035 instead of at least 80 pits per year by 2030;
  • Foregoing development of a new uranium enrichment facility; and
  • Retiring the megaton-class B-83 gravity bomb.

Simply reverting to the fiscal year 2020 budget plan for NNSA weapons activities would save over $15.5 billion over the next five years.

Now is the time to re-evaluate nuclear weapons spending plans before the largest investments are made. Of course, pressure on the defense budget cannot be relieved solely by reducing nuclear weapons spending. A significant portion of the overall cost of nuclear weapons is fixed. That said, changes to the nuclear replacement program could make it easier to execute and ease some of the hard choices facing the overall defense enterprise.

In addition to pursuing adjustments to the scope and scale of the modernization program, Congress should also take steps to improve its understanding of the long-term budget challenges. These include:

  • Holding in-depth hearings on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and spending;
  • Requiring the Defense and Energy Departments to prepare a report on options for reducing the scale and scope of their nuclear modernization plans and the associated cost savings;
  • Mandating unclassified annual government updates on the projected long-term costs of nuclear weapons;
  • Requiring an independent report on alternatives to building a new ICBM;
  • Tasking the GAO to annually assess the affordability of the Defense and Energy Department’s modernization plans; and
  • Requiring the NNSA to perform detailed work examining the estimated life of plutonium pits.

Also, lawmakers should more aggressively highlight the relationship between arms control and upgrading the arsenal. The administration’s current one-sided approach both compounds the dangers of the spending plans and flies in the face of longstanding Congressional support for the pursuit of modernization and arms control in tandem.

If the administration continues to insist on nuclear weapons modernization without arms control, then Congress should make it clear that it will not allow the president to increase the size of the arsenal above the New START limits and will be further emboldened to seek to restrain the administration’s excessive and unsustainable spending plans.—Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and Shannon Bugos, research assistant

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The Trump administration’s excessive strategy to replace nearly the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal at roughly the same time is a ticking budget time bomb, even at historically high levels of national defense spending.

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