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“It will take all of us working together – government officials, and diplomats, academic experts, and scientists, activists, and organizers – to come up with new and innovative approaches to strengthen transparency and predictability, reduce risk, and forge the next generation of arms control agreements.”
– Wendy Sherman
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
June 2, 2022
France

ACA Warns Against Calls for Buildup of the Already Massive U.S. Nuclear Arsenal in Race with Russia, China 

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Preliminary Assessment of the Report of the
Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States

For Immediate Release: October 12, 2023

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

Following more than a decade of deteriorating relations and uncertainty on disarmament diplomacy, the three states with the larget nuclear arsenals—Russia, the United States, and China—are on the precipice of a unconstrained era of dangerous nuclear competition.

The last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), will expire in February 2026; the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty no longer exists; the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty is history; and Russia is moving to "de-ratify" the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. At the same time, China is expanding and diversifying its relatively smaller nuclear arsenal so it can maintain a retaliatory capacity that its leaders believe is sufficient to withstand potential U.S. nuclear or conventional strikes and U.S. missile defenses.

The experience of the Cold War teaches us that an unconstrained arms race has no winners, only losers. Leaders in Moscow, Beijing, and Washington need to seize the opportunity to engage in nuclear risk reduction talks, negotiate sensible and verifiable reductions of their arsenals, and refrain from building new destabilizing types of weapons, rather than proceed down a "lose-lose" path of nuclear competition.

Regrettably, the final report of the bipartisan Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, issued today, suggests that in response to Russia’s nuclear and military behavior and the anticipated growth of China's strategic nuclear arsenal, the United States must be prepared to add more capability and flexibility to the U.S. strategic deterrent to counter two "near-peer" nuclear adversaries. Moreover, as the risk of military conflict with Russia and China grows, the report also advises that the United States must be prepared to fight and “win” two simultaneous wars, by enhancing its missile defense capabilities, and if necessary, bolstering its nuclear weapons capabilities, including new theater-range capabilities.

If there is a military conflict between nuclear-armed states, deterrence will have failed and, in the ensuing conflict, there will be no “winners.” 

Once nuclear weapons are used in a war between the United States and Russia or between the United States and China, there is no guarantee a nuclear war could be “limited.” According to independent estimates, a large-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia would kill and injure more than 90 million people in the first few hours, and many more in the days and weeks afterward.

Some commissioners, in their individual capacities, have argued in separate papers (see Project Atom, pages 38-48) that “deterring China and Russia simultaneously [requires] an increased level of U.S. strategic warheads” and enhancing U.S. sub-strategic nuclear capabilities. We disagree.

As Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin noted in remarks Dec. 9, 2022, at StratCom Headquarters: “Nuclear deterrence isn't just a numbers game. In fact, that sort of thinking can spur a dangerous arms race.”

In the current context, any decision to increase the number of deployed U.S. strategic nuclear weapons above New START levels could trigger a dangerous action-reaction cycle. It would not enhance deterrence in the face of China’s growing nuclear capabilities or Russia's existing capabilities. It would more likely encourage China to deploy more nuclear weapons on an even wider array of delivery systems over the coming decade and prompt Russia to match any increases in the U.S. strategic force.

Under New START, the United States (and Russia) can now deploy as many as 1550 strategic nuclear warheads on 700 missiles and bombers. Each has additional non-strategic nuclear weapons. China’s total nuclear force is estimated to include just over 400 nuclear warheads of all types.

Increasing the number of deployed U.S. strategic nuclear weapons or adding new types of nuclear war-fighting weapons to the the arsenal would not only be counterproductive, but prohibitively expensive. A July 2023 Congressional Budget Office report estimates that, if carried out, the current plans for nuclear forces delineated in the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) fiscal year 2023 budget requests would amount to a staggering $756 billion over the 2023–2032 period, or an average of over $75 billion a year.

Despite reckless behavior on the part of Russia and China in pursuing a more diverse array of nuclear weapons, the scale and diversity of the current U.S. nuclear arsenal still exceeds what is necessary to hold a sufficient number of adversary targets at risk so as to deter enemy nuclear attack.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, in his address on June 2, 2023, reiterated that "the United States does not need to increase our nuclear forces to outnumber the combined total of our competitors to effectively deter them."

While the Commission’s final report does recognize the value and importance of continued U.S. efforts to engage Russia and China in the nuclear arms control enterprise, it underplays the importance of stronger U.S. leadership on arms control in preventing an unconstrained nuclear arms race. 

For more than 50 years, U.S. presidents of both parties have recognized the value of nuclear arms control to constrain adversary capabilities that can threaten the United States, its allies, and the world.

This is why the Biden administration's 2022 Nuclear Posture Review states that “Mutual, verifiable nuclear arms control offers the most effective, durable and responsible path to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy and prevent their use.” The President's National Security Advisor said June 2, 2023, that the United States is ready to engage in nuclear arms control diplomacy with Russia and with other nuclear-armed members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “without preconditions.”

Rather than take actions that might accelerate dangerous nuclear competition, the United States must exercise prudent nuclear restraint and energetically pursue effective arms control and disarmament diplomacy with Russia, China, and other nuclear-armed states inside and outside of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

As Sullivan emphasized June 2, with respect to Russia: "It is in neither of our countries’ interests to embark on an open-ended competition in strategic nuclear forces—and we’re prepared to stick to the central limits as long as Russia does. And rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences—the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework."

Sullivan noted that the type of limits the United States can agree to after the New START Treaty expires "will of course be impacted by the size and scale of China’s nuclear buildup" which is "why we’re also ready to engage China without preconditions—helping ensure that competition is managed, and that competition does not veer into conflict."

Considering that new bilateral nuclear arms control limits with Russia may be difficult to achieve so long as Russia's war on Ukraine rages on, the United States could seek an executive agreement or simply a reciprocal unilateral arrangement verified with national technical means of intelligence that commits Russia and the United States to respect New START’s central limits until a more permanent and comprehensive nuclear arms control arrangement is concluded.

At the same time, U.S. and other world leaders should urge China, France, and the United Kingdom to cap the size of their nuclear arsenals as long as Russia and the United States meet their fundamental nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations, which involve participating in genuine negotiations to halt and reverse a potential nuclear arms race.

Description: 

The Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States suggests that in response to Russia’s nuclear and military behavior and the anticipated growth of China’s strategic nuclear arsenal, the United States must be prepared to add more capability and flexibility to the U.S. strategic deterrent and enhance its missile defense capabilities.

A Plan to Reduce Nuclear Dangers in a Time of Peril


July/August 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

Deteriorating relations between the major nuclear powers have stymied progress on nuclear arms control and disarmament for more than a decade. Russia’s war against Ukraine and its brazen threats of nuclear weapons use have further heightened the risk of nuclear conflict and unconstrained nuclear competition in ways unseen since the darkest days of the Cold War.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan addresses the Arms Control Association’s Annual Meeting, June 2, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Allen Harris, ACA).The last remaining treaty limiting the massive U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals is in jeopardy and will expire in less than 950 days. There are no talks underway on what might replace it. Meanwhile, China is quickly expanding its relatively smaller nuclear arsenal, refusing U.S. overtures for a bilateral nuclear dialogue, and resisting calls to halt fissile material production for nuclear weapons.

As bleak as the situation is, reports of the death of nuclear arms control are greatly exaggerated. Last month, the Biden administration outlined a viable path for moving back from the nuclear brink that deserves serious attention and support.

Addressing the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting on June 2, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan declared that the United States is ready to engage in nuclear arms control diplomacy with Russia and with other nuclear-armed members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “without preconditions.”

Sullivan criticized Russia’s suspension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) but noted that “Russia has publicly committed to adhere to the treaty’s central limits.”

“It is in neither [U.S. or Russian] interests to embark on an open-ended competition in strategic nuclear forces,” and the United States is “prepared to stick to the central limits as long as Russia does,” he said.

With New START due to expire in 2026, Sullivan suggested that “rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework.”

On June 5, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia remains open to dialogue with the United States on arms control. He described Sullivan’s comments as “important and positive,” but said Russia wants to learn more about the proposal through formal diplomatic channels.

The negotiation of a complex, bilateral nuclear arms control framework to replace New START would be difficult in good times and extraordinarily difficult so long as Russia's war on Ukraine continues.

Nevertheless, there is scope for the White House and the Kremlin to reach a unilateral, reciprocal arrangement that neither will exceed the deployed strategic warhead limit set by New START until a more permanent arms control arrangement comes into effect. In the absence of such an arrangement, each side could upload warheads on their strategic delivery systems quickly, and China might accelerate its ongoing strategic nuclear buildup.

Importantly, Sullivan also said that U.S. President Joe Biden supports “new multilateral arms control efforts,” involving all five nuclear-armed members of the NPT. “We’re under no illusions that reaching risk reduction and arms control measures in that setting will be easy. But we do believe it is possible,” he said. If pursued smartly and at a senior political level, this might open space for dialogue with China on nuclear restraint.

Sullivan proposed that all five states agree on greater transparency on nuclear doctrines, more effective crisis communications channels, common rules for missile launch notification, and policies to keep “humans in the loop” for command, control, and use of nuclear weapons.

A starting point for more responsible nuclear behavior should be to reaffirm and update the 1973 U.S.-Soviet Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, which pledges that those two states will “refrain from the threat or use of force against the other party, against the allies of the other party and against other countries, in circumstances which may endanger international peace and security.” It requires that “if at any time there is the risk of a nuclear conflict [each side] shall immediately enter into urgent consultations…to avert this risk.”

Although constructive, such “behavioral arms control” alone cannot erase the tensions that can lead to nuclear war, obviate the inherent dangers of nuclear deterrence, or prevent pernicious arms racing. Only a disarmament process leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons will eliminate the threat.

Now is the time for leaders of non-nuclear-weapon states and civil society groups to demand that all five NPT nuclear-armed states engage in good faith efforts to halt and reverse the arms race.

Building on the Biden administration proposals, they should demand that these five observe a global nuclear freeze, by which China, France, and the United Kingdom would cap the overall size of their nuclear arsenals and halt fissile material production so long as Russia and the United States cap their stockpiles while negotiating a new framework to cut their arsenals.

More nuclear weapons make us less secure. Embarking on a safer path through disarmament diplomacy is imperative.

Deteriorating relations between the major nuclear powers have stymied progress on nuclear arms control and disarmament for more than a decade. As bleak as the situation is, however, reports of the death of nuclear arms control are greatly exaggerated, and last month, the Biden administration outlined a viable path for moving back from the nuclear brink that deserves serious attention and support.

Russia Stops Sharing New START Data

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Biden, G-7 Must Deliver on Disarmament at Hiroshima


March 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

In this photo taken on August 6, 2021, the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, as it was known before 1945, and now called the Atomic Bomb Dome, is seen through the cenotaph at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima as the city marks the 76th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack. (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)The May 19–21 gathering creates a crucial opportunity for Biden and his counterparts to recognize the horrors of nuclear war and reaffirm the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons while pledging concrete steps to halt the arms race, guard against nuclear weapons use, and advance nuclear disarmament. Anything less would be a failure of leadership at a time of nuclear peril.

To his credit, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida chose Hiroshima, his home city, as the summit venue “to deepen discussions so that we can release a strong message toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.” In addition to the usual G-7 communique, Japan is proposing a separate joint statement on nuclear matters. Kishida told French President Emmanuel Macron in January that the leaders must “demonstrate a firm commitment to absolutely reject the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

To do so, the G-7 statement should not only reaffirm that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” but also reiterate the powerful Nov. 16 statement by the Group of 20 countries that nuclear weapons use and threats of nuclear use are “inadmissible.” Agreement on such a statement may not be easy because all G-7 states, including host Japan, cling to nuclear deterrence strategies that depend on the threat of nuclear weapons use.

To be credible, the G-7 leaders also should pledge to follow through on their countries’ own, largely unrealized nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Article VI-related disarmament commitments, including to reduce the role, salience, and number of nuclear weapons. NPT obligations and commitments cannot be voided or delayed indefinitely.

In fact, pursuing disarmament is vital to preventing the international security environment from deteriorating further. With the last remaining Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control agreement expiring in 2026, the G-7 must urge the prompt resumption of talks to restore inspections under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and a new nuclear arms control framework.

To more effectively encourage China to exercise nuclear restraint, Biden and the rest of the G-7 should pledge not to support the development of new types of nuclear weapons, including U.S. sea-based nuclear-armed cruise missiles that Biden opposes but some U.S. and Japanese politicians claim are needed to counter China. Biden also should recognize China’s important role in strengthening the fragile nuclear order and invite President Xi Jinping to explore how the two nations can partner to address common nuclear nonproliferation challenges, including North Korea, and disarmament responsibilities.

In response to appeals from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to engage their local communities to understand the reality of nuclear war, Japanese government sources say arrangements are being made for the G-7 leaders to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which U.S. President Barack Obama toured in 2016.

Any U.S. presidential visit to Hiroshima is symbolically and politically important. Serious reflection and engagement with atomic bombing and testing survivors should be a job requirement for the leader of any nuclear-armed state. The G-7 would be smart to acknowledge the harm of the U.S. atomic bombings in 1945, as well as the environmental damage created by the nuclear weapons production and testing activities by all nuclear-weapon states, and to reaffirm their obligation to fully address these devastating impacts.

Biden, who pledged in 2020 to “restore American leadership on arms control and nonproliferation…and work to bring us closer to a world without nuclear weapons,” must provide even bolder leadership. In addition to supporting the strongest possible G-7 statement, joining other leaders at the museum, and laying a wreath in honor of those who perished from the atomic bombings, Biden should make a separate address in Hiroshima or Nagasaki outlining his own vision for a new global nuclear restraint and disarmament dialogue.

Biden could use such a speech to reiterate his invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold serious talks designed to maintain commonsense limits on or, ideally, further reduce Russian and U.S. nuclear stockpiles and to elaborate on why such an approach is essential for U.S., allied, and global security. Biden could remind other nuclear-armed states, particularly China, France, India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, that they need to be part of the solution and urge them to freeze the overall size of their nuclear weapons stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce theirs.

At a time of unprecedented nuclear danger, Japan’s decision to bring G-7 leaders to Hiroshima is an obvious yet bold choice. To be successful, Kishida and Biden must make the Hiroshima summit more than a symbolic backdrop. It must be a catalyst for bold, effective disarmament action to ensure that no country suffers the horrors of nuclear war ever again.

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

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No Ordinary NPT Review Conference

June 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, waged under the threat of nuclear weapons use, has delivered a shocking reminder of an existential danger that did not disappear with the end of the Cold War. Putin’s aggression increases the potential for a NATO-Russian conflict that could quickly escalate, lead to the use of nuclear weapons, and spiral into a global nuclear catastrophe. Although leaders in Washington and Moscow understand that a nuclear war cannot be won, their respective nuclear deterrence policies and the ongoing fighting make it more likely that a nuclear war could be fought.

United Nations Headquarters. (UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto)Putin’s decision to discard diplomacy and invade Ukraine puts the 77-year taboo against nuclear weapons use to the test. It also has derailed the strategic stability and arms control dialogue between Washington and Moscow, made a mockery of the repeated security assurances that nuclear-armed states will not attack non-nuclear states, and created a major challenge for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.

But the international community’s pushback against Russia’s nuclear bullying has been far too tepid.

The next global debate about nuclear weapons will take place in August at the 10th NPT Review Conference. In the face of the growing danger of nuclear war, this is a critical opportunity for the treaty’s 191 states-parties to reinforce the norms against nuclear weapons, to strongly condemn any threat of nuclear weapons use, and to intensify the pressure for action to fulfill the treaty’s Article VI provision “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

Responsible nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states cannot afford simply to muddle through the month-long meeting. Russia’s violent assault on Ukraine is a clarion call for responsible NPT states to rally around a meaningful nuclear risk and disarmament action plan. Even if a consensus final document is not attainable due to tensions over the war, a supermajority of states should seek to chart the path forward through a joint declaration.

Putin’s war has derailed for now U.S.-Russian talks on further cuts in their bloated strategic arsenals and new agreements to limit short- and intermediate-range nuclear weapons, but the United States and Russia, as well as other NPT states-parties, are still bound by their disarmament obligations. The last remaining U.S.-Russian arms reduction agreement, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), expires in early 2026. Without commonsense arms control guardrails, the dangers of unconstrained global nuclear arms racing will only grow.

U.S. President Joe Biden should direct his team to embrace a bold, specific NPT action plan, which, more than any rhetoric from U.S. diplomats, would show that his administration wants to be on the right side of history rather than resisting the overdue action that is needed to reduce nuclear dangers.

Other states cannot afford to wait for the United States to lead or allow the other NPT nuclear-weapon states (China, France, and the United Kingdom) to escape accountability. Robust, constructive leadership from other NPT states-parties, such as Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, South Africa, and Sweden, will be needed. Leaders of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons and the Non-Aligned Movement also have crucial roles to play. Their previous statements and working papers suggest these states share common positions that would allow them to advance a common nuclear risk and disarmament action agenda that:

  • calls on the United States and Russia to resume their strategic stability dialogue, begin negotiations on New START follow-on agreements, and issue unilateral reciprocal commitments to respect the central limits of New START after 2026;
  • calls on all NPT nuclear-armed states to freeze their nuclear stockpiles and engage in disarmament negotiations;
  • endorses a moratorium on intermediate-range nuclear weapons and the deployment of new short-range nuclear weapons;
  • calls for all states to respect the de facto global moratorium on nuclear testing and to negotiate on-site confidence-building measures pending the entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • reaffirms that any use of nuclear weapons would produce catastrophic humanitarian consequences and that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” nor should any state threaten the use of nuclear weapons;
  • urges all states to phase out “launch under attack” postures and refrain from offensive cyberattacks on nuclear command, control, and communication systems; and
  • calls for the start of negotiations on legally binding security guarantees to prevent unprovoked attacks by nuclear-weapon states against non-nuclear-weapon states.

At this time of heightened nuclear danger, responsible NPT states must act with urgency to reinforce norms against nuclear weapons, push back against Russia’s nuclear bullying, and strengthen their commitment to reverse the arms race, avoid nuclear war, and eliminate nuclear weapons.

At this time of heightened nuclear danger, responsible NPT states must act with urgency to reinforce norms against nuclear weapons, push back against Russia’s nuclear bullying, and strengthen their commitment to reverse the arms race, avoid nuclear war, and eliminate nuclear weapons.

On Nuclear Weapons, Actions Belie Reassuring Words


January/February 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

On Jan. 3, the leaders of the five nuclear-armed members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) issued a rare joint statement on preventing nuclear war in which they affirmed, for the first time, the 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev maxim that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

(Photo by Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament/Henry Kenyon)The U.S., Chinese, French, Russian, and UK effort was designed in part to create a positive atmosphere for the 10th NPT review conference, which has been delayed again by the pandemic. It also clearly aims to address global concerns about the rising danger of nuclear conflict among states and signals a potential for further cooperation to address this existential threat.

The question now is, do they have the will and the skill to translate their laudable intentions into action before it is too late?

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price hailed the statement as “extraordinary.” A more sober reading shows that it falls woefully short of committing the five to the policies and actions necessary to prevent nuclear war. In fact, the statement illustrates how their blind faith in deterrence theories, which hinge on a credible threat of using nuclear weapons, perpetuates conditions that could lead to nuclear catastrophe.

The statement asserts that “nuclear weapons—for as long as they continue to exist—should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war.” Yet, such broad language suggests they might use nuclear weapons to “defend” themselves against a wide range of threats, including non-nuclear threats. Given the indiscriminate and horrific effects of nuclear weapons use, such policies are dangerous, immoral, and legally unjustifiable.

At the very least, if the leaders of these states are serious about averting nuclear war, they should formally adopt no-first-use policies or, as U.S. President Joe Biden promised in 2020, declare that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter or possibly respond to a nuclear attack.

Even this approach perpetuates circumstances that could lead to nuclear war by accident or miscalculation. The only way to ensure nuclear weapons are never used is “to do away with them entirely,” as President Ronald Reagan argued in 1984, and sooner rather than later.

But on disarmament, the statement only expressed a “desire to work with all states to create a security environment more conducive to progress on disarmament with the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all.” This vague, caveated promise rings hollow after years of stalled disarmament progress and an accelerating global nuclear arms race.

A year ago, Russia and the United States extended the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, but they have not begun negotiations on a follow-on agreement. Meanwhile, both spend billions of dollars annually to maintain and upgrade their nuclear forces, which far exceed any rational concept of what it takes to deter a nuclear attack.

China is on pace to double or triple the size of its land-based strategic missile force in the coming years. Worse still, despite past promises “to engage in the process leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” Chinese leaders are rebuffing calls to engage in arms control talks with the United States and others. The United Kingdom, meanwhile, announced last year it would increase its deployed strategic warhead ceiling.

Fresh statements by the five NPT nuclear-armed states reaffirming their “intention” to fulfill their NPT disarmament obligations are hardly credible in the absence of time-bound commitments to specific disarmament actions.

At the same time, the five, led by France, have criticized the good faith efforts by the majority of NPT non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to advance the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Contrary to claims by the nuclear-armed states, the TPNW reinforces the NPT and the norm against possessing, testing, and using nuclear weapons.

Rather than engage TPNW leaders on their substantive concerns, U.S. officials are pressuring influential states, including Sweden, Germany, and Japan, not to attend the first meeting of TPNW states-parties as observers. Such bullying will only reinforce enthusiasm for the TPNW and undermine U.S. credibility on nuclear matters.

The leaders of the nuclear five, especially Biden, can and must do better. Before the NPT review conference later this year, Russia and the United States should commit to conclude by 2025 negotiations on further verifiable cuts in strategic and nonstrategic nuclear forces and on constraints on long-range missile defenses. China, France, and the UK should agree to join nuclear arms control talks no later than 2025 and to freeze their stockpiles as Washington and Moscow negotiate deeper cuts in theirs.

Instead of belittling the TPNW, the five states need to get their own houses in order. Concrete action on disarmament is overdue. It will help create a more stable and peaceful international security environment and facilitate the transformative move from unsustainable and dangerous deterrence doctrines toward a world free of the fear of nuclear Armageddon.

On Jan. 3, the leaders of the five nuclear-armed members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) issued a rare joint statement on preventing nuclear war in which they affirmed, for the first time, the 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev maxim that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Toward a Successful NPT Review


November 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

Twenty-six years ago, as states-parties negotiated the terms for the extension of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the future of the treaty was not assured.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson opens the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York on April 27, 2015. (Photo: United Nations)Yet at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, the world came together, committed to the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons,” and endorsed specific disarmament actions that led to the indefinite extension of this bedrock agreement to reduce the nuclear danger. Additional commitments were made at the 2000 and 2010 review conferences to advance implementation and compliance with all three pillars of the treaty.

But since at least 2010, the nuclear disarmament process has stalled; and the five NPT nuclear-armed states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) cannot credibly claim they are meeting their NPT Article VI disarmament obligations.

NPT states-parties at the 10th review conference, set for Jan. 2–28, will need to come together on many key issues, including strengthening nuclear safeguards and addressing regional proliferation issues. But the success of this pivotal meeting will hinge, more than anything, on whether and how they can develop an updated, disarmament action plan.

Tensions among the world’s nuclear-armed states are rising, the risk of nuclear use is growing, and hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent to replace and upgrade nuclear arsenals. To varying degrees, the nuclear-armed states are engaged in a qualitative arms race.

In February, at the last moment, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin extended the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) through 2025. In July, they relaunched a dialogue that could evolve into nuclear disarmament talks. But if they fail to promptly conclude new agreements that limit offensive nuclear weapons and strategic missile interceptors, there will be no legally binding constraints on the world’s two largest arsenals.

Meanwhile, China, France, and the UK are not part of any serious nuclear disarmament discussion; and there is growing evidence that China is preparing to double or triple its long-range, nuclear-armed ballistic missile force.

Due to the growing nuclear disarmament deficit, the NPT regime is once again at a crossroads.

All states need to approach the next NPT review conference with a sense of urgency, a spirit of cooperation, and a determination to produce meaningful results that transcend old fault lines.

Some NPT nuclear-armed states may bemoan the fact that the environment for disarmament progress is “challenging.” We can expect they will continue to claim that many past NPT commitments on disarmament have been overtaken by events. Disarmament progress has never been simple or easy, but such deflections are irresponsible.

Instead, the five nuclear-armed NPT states should acknowledge their past disarmament commitments, work with other states-parties on a pragmatic action plan that sets new benchmarks and deadlines, and pledge to act with the urgency that the grave nuclear weapons threat demands.

To create a more constructive atmosphere, these five states must refrain from further specious attacks against the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and its many supporters. They should acknowledge that the TPNW exists and that supporters consider it to be a contribution to meeting NPT Article VI obligations.

Notwithstanding the different views on how to fulfill those obligations, nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-weapon states should cooperate on a serious disarmament action plan that could include the key elements below.

  • A call for the United States and Russia to conclude talks on New START follow-on agreements that achieve further cuts in nuclear warheads and delivery systems no later than 2025.
  • A pledge by the five NPT nuclear-armed states to freeze the size of their nuclear arsenals and by all states to halt the production of fissile material for military purposes.
  • A call for NPT states to begin disarmament talks in a bilateral or a multilateral format no later than 2025.
  • A call for the remaining holdout states to initiate their respective processes to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by 2025.
  • A call for all states to forswear the introduction of nuclear-armed cruise and hypersonic missiles.
  • A recognition that any use of nuclear weapons would produce catastrophic humanitarian consequences and that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

In the absence of coherent and constructive leadership from the nuclear-weapon states, other responsible NPT states-parties need to fill the void to achieve a good NPT conference outcome.

Germany, Kazakhstan, Sweden, and others have made strides toward a common framework on the next steps on nuclear disarmament. Leaders of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons and the Non-Aligned Movement also have a role to play.

Now is the time to bolster the NPT's disarmament pillar.

Twenty-six years ago, at the 1995 review conference on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the future of the treaty was not asssured. But the states-parties committed to the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons” and endorsed specific disarmament actions that led to the indefinite extension of this treaty. But since at least 2010, the nuclear disarmament process has stalled, and the NPT regime is once again at a crossroads.

France to Coordinate P5 Process


March 2021

France intends to use its tenure as coordinator of a consultative process on nuclear weapons issues involving senior officials from five nuclear-armed states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—to advance progress on the group’s workplan, which was last updated in 2019.

Delegations from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States at the P5 nuclear consultative process meeting in London in February 2020.  (Photo: Aidan Liddle/Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office)In a Feb. 23 interview with Arms Control Today, a French official said that Paris hopes to build on past achievements and produce deliverables for each of the group’s five action items. The official indicated that France intends to convene a formal meeting of the group in the coming months and is eager to drive the group’s continued implementation of its workplan and contribute to a successful and substantive nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, which is expected later this year.

The P5 process, as it is commonly known, was first established in 2007. Its current agenda involves discussions on a glossary of terms, to ensure common understanding; nuclear doctrines and strategic risk reduction; a prospective fissile material cutoff treaty; peaceful nuclear uses; and the signing of the annexed protocol to the 1997 Bangkok Treaty, which establishes a nuclear weapons-free zone in Southeast Asia.

The upcoming, rescheduled 10th NPT review conference offers an important opportunity for the P5 process to converge positions of the five countries, but France also intends to focus the agenda as coordinator of the group on achievements that can be sustained well beyond the NPT meeting. For instance, work within the P5 process to increase transparency about one another’s nuclear doctrines can contribute to long-term risk reduction that will significantly support the group’s future work.

The P5 process coordinator position rotates on a yearly basis, and the state occupying that seat is charged with organizing a formal conference and coordinating other agenda items during that period. Although collaborative multilateral work has ultimately decelerated as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, France plans to soon initiate a series of P5 process meetings at the Geneva-based ambassadorial level and the
expert level.

Some observers note that the group’s work has slowed in recent years due in part to tensions among key members of the group, as well as a hesitancy by the previous U.S. administration to commit fully to the agenda of the P5 process. In 2020, the United States balked on a proposal for a joint declaration that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.”

The inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden and a Feb. 22 speech by Secretary of State Antony Blinken professing support for a multilateral agenda at the Conference on Disarmament suggest that Washington will engage more fully with the group’s work in the coming months.—JULIA MASTERSON

France to Coordinate P5 Process

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