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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."

– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
United States

Missile Defense Systems at a Glance

An overview of the basics of missile defense systems, as well as a brief history of U.S. missile defense systems. 

Contact: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, 202-463-8270 x104


Introduction

For nearly as long as there have been offensive weapons systems, there have also been anti-weapons systems. For years, one of the most dangerous threats to a state was ballistic missiles given the blinding speed with which they could deliver some of the world’s most dangerous weapons: nuclear-armed warheads. As such, some states have made a concentrated effort to build defenses against such weapons, known as ballistic missile defenses. However, during the Cold War, as the United States and Soviet Union experimented with and fielded missile defenses, both sides worried such defenses could prompt an uncontrollable arms race.

These concerns led to the conclusion of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which limited each side to 100 strategic missile defense interceptors at one site. The agreement helped to stabilize relations between the two nuclear superpowers and provided a foundation for further agreements limiting strategic offensive forces. However, the abrogation of the ABM treaty in 2002 by the George W. Bush administration—and the development of more advanced cruise and hypersonic missiles—have led to an uptick in funding to attempt to defend against missiles beyond just ballistic missiles and from countries beyond just Russia.


What are missile defense systems specifically trying to defend against?

The main missile threats that missile defense systems have aimed to defend against have been ballistic missiles, but more recently, greater emphasis has been placed on defending against other types of missiles as well.

Ballistic Missile Basics
(Adapted from “Worldwide Ballistic Missile Inventories”)

Ballistic missiles are powered by rockets initially but then follow an unpowered, parabolic, free-falling trajectory toward their targets. They are classified by the maximum distance that they can travel, which is a function of how powerful the missile’s engines (rockets) are and the weight of the missile’s payload, or warhead. To add more distance to a missile’s range, rockets are stacked on top of each other in a configuration referred to as staging.

There are four general classifications of ballistic missiles:

  • Short-range ballistic missiles, traveling less than 1,000 kilometers (approximately 620 miles);
  • Medium-range ballistic missiles, traveling between 1,000–3,000 kilometers (approximately 620-1,860 miles);
  • Intermediate-range ballistic missiles, traveling between 3,000–5,500 kilometers (approximately 1,860-3,410 miles); and
  • Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), traveling more than 5,500 kilometers.

Short- and medium-range ballistic missiles are referred to as “theatre” ballistic missiles, whereas ICBMs or long-range ballistic missiles are described as “strategic” ballistic missiles.

Missiles are often classified by fuel-type: liquid or solid propellants. Missiles with solid fuel require less maintenance and preparation time than missiles with liquid fuel because solid-propellants have the fuel and oxidizer together, whereas liquid-fueled missiles must keep the two separated until right before deployment.

Thirty-one countries possess ballistic missiles. Of those, only 9 (China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) are known to possess or suspected of possessing nuclear weapons. These 9 states plus Iran have produced or flight-tested missiles with ranges exceeding 1,000 kilometers. China and Russia are the only two states that are not U.S. allies that have a proven capability to launch ballistic missiles from their territories that can strike the continental United States.

Three stages of flight for a ballistic missile:

  1. Boost phase:
    • The boost phase begins at launch and lasts until the rocket engines stop firing and pushing the missile away from Earth.
    • Depending on the missile, it lasts between three and five minutes.
    • Generally, the missile is traveling relatively slowly, although towards the end of this stage, an ICBM can reach speeds of more than 24,000 kilometers per hour. Most of this phase takes place in the atmosphere (endoatmospheric).
  2. Midcourse phase:
    • The midcourse phase begins after the rockets finish firing and when the missile is on a ballistic course toward its target.
    • This is the longest stage of a missile’s flight, lasting up to 20 minutes for ICBMs.
    • During the early part of the midcourse stage, the missile is still ascending toward its apogee, while during the latter part, it is descending toward Earth.
    • During this stage, the missile’s warhead(s), as well as any decoys, separate from the delivery platform, or “bus.” This phase takes place in space (exoatmospheric). The warhead is now called/is on a reentry vehicle (RV).
  3. Terminal phase:
    • The terminal phase begins when the missile’s warhead, or RV, reenters the Earth’s atmosphere (endoatmospheric), and it continues until impact or detonation.
    • This stage takes less than a minute for a strategic warhead, which can be traveling at speeds greater than 3,200 kilometers per hour.

Other Types of Missiles

Generally, U.S. missile defense systems have been designed to defend against ballistic missiles. However, the Trump administration’s 2019 Missile Defense Review most clearly noted that the United States will be looking for ways to defend against non-ballistic missiles.

Cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles are two additional categories of missiles. Unlike ballistic missiles, cruise missiles remain within the atmosphere for the duration of their flight. Cruise missiles are propelled by jet engines and can be launched from land-, air-, or sea-based platforms. Due to their constant propellants, they are more maneuverable than ballistic missiles, though they are also slower than their ballistic counterparts.

Two types of hypersonic missiles are currently under development. A hypersonic boost-glide vehicle (HGV) is fired by rockets into space and then released to fly to its target along the upper atmosphere. Unlike ballistic missiles, a boost-glide vehicle flies at a lower altitude and can change its intended target and trajectory repeatedly during its flight. The second type, a hypersonic cruise missile, is powered through its entire flight by advanced rockets or high-speed jet engines. It is a faster version of existing cruise missiles.


What makes up a missile defense system?

Satellite Sensors and Ground- or Sea-based Radars

Together, space-based satellites and ground- or sea-based radars create a monitoring system that contribute to offensive missile detection (detecting a missile after it has been launched), discrimination (what is a threat versus a decoy or other countermeasures), and tracking (keeping the missile “in sight” so that an interceptor can find it and eliminate the threat).

Interceptors

Interceptors are the missiles used once a threat has been detected. Missiles carry “kill vehicles,” which detach from the missile (also called the boosters or rockets) and then go to try to eliminate the threat. Today’s kill vehicles are “hit-to-kill,” meaning that they aim to eliminate the threat by actually running into it, or “kinetically” (also called a “kinetic kill”). Due to the speed at which the incoming rival missile and interceptors and kill vehicles are traveling, this has metaphorically been compared to “a bullet hitting another bullet.”

Some interceptors are single pieces (which means that they do not separate from their kill vehicles), such as the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3).

In addition, interceptors need launchers. Some interceptors are launched from in-ground silos, road-mobile trucks, or ships. There currently exist no interceptors in space, though the idea has been proposed. These launchers and interceptors can be carried in a “battery,” which can carry up to a cluster of launchers, interceptors with their kill vehicles, radars, and fire control.

Command and Control

All the data that is being processed by the sensors and radars and then sent to the interceptors and kill vehicles are linked through another network of command and control centers. The centers are located around the entire world and involve several different U.S. military branches and commands working together. Command and control centers also tend to utilize “fire control.”

Working Together

The information from the sensors and interceptors routed through command and control work together similar to the image below, laid out by the Union of Concerned Scientists in order to demonstrate the workings of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system.


Other FAQs

Are all missile defense systems currently only for ballistic missile defense?

Not exclusively. While most missile defense systems are developed to focus on the blindingly fast speed and specific trajectory of ballistic missiles, some systems could conceivably counter cruise missiles or other shorter-range targets.

Can a missile defense system intercept a threat on any part of the trajectory?

Not yet. Currently, missile defense systems are only developed and designed to carry out an interception at the mid-course (middle) or terminal (final) stage of a missile’s trajectory, even though a missile is slowest during its boost (beginning) phase. The 2019 Missile Defense Review and Congress have both called for further study of “boost-phase intercept” capabilities, proposing the controversial development of interceptors in space or other emerging capabilities, such as drones or lasers. “Left of launch” capabilities have also been proposed, which would aim to counter a missile threat before it is even launched.

What is the difference between a missile defense system (anti-missile system) and other forms of air defense systems?

Generally, missile defense systems are specifically designed to target very fast and very specific threats. However, some forward-based missile defense systems may be able to carry out missions against air-launched cruise missiles and rival aircraft. However, because other forms of air defense systems, mainly anti-aircraft systems, have such smaller areas of defense, they would be unlikely to counter a threat with the speed of a hypersonic or ballistic missile.

What are some criticisms of missile defense systems?

The U.S. pursuit of effective missile defenses has been accompanied by intense debate about the technical capabilities of the system and realism of testing, the scope of the ballistic missile threat, the deterrence and assurance benefits of the defenses, the cost-effectiveness of shooting down relatively inexpensive offensive missiles with expensive defensive ones, and the repercussions for U.S. strategic stability with Russia and China.

According to the Defense Department’s independent testing office, existing U.S. missile defenses have “demonstrated capability” to defend the U.S. homeland against a small number of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threats that employ “simple countermeasures.” The testing office assesses that defenses to protect allies and U.S. troops abroad possess only a “limited capability” to defend against small numbers of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs). The capability of defenses against short-range ballistic missiles is labeled as “fair.” Apart from the point-defense Patriot system, no systems in the U.S. BMD arsenal have been used in combat.

Leaders of the U.S. missile defense enterprise have increasingly voiced concerns that the current U.S. approach to national and regional missile defense is unsustainable and that existing defenses must be augmented with emerging capabilities to reduce the cost of missile defense and keep pace with advancing adversary missile threats.


Current and Under Development U.S. Missile Defense Components and Equipment

Homeland “Strategic” Defense Systems

  • Ground-based Midcourse Defense System

Regional “Theater/Tactical” Defense Systems

  • Aegis BMD system
    • Aegis BMD System (Part of the Aegis Combat System, aka Aegis Afloat; Sea-Based BMD)
    • Aegis Ashore (Land-based variant of Afloat)
  • Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)
    • (Emerging) THAAD Extended Range
  • PAC-3

For more detail on current day programs and next generation efforts, visit: “Current U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance.”

Each system has a combination of the previously mentioned sensors, radars, interceptors, kill vehicles, and largely use the networked command and control. The above systems rely on the below equipment and components:

Radars:

Air- and Space-Based Sensors Used:

  • Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) and Space Tracking and Surveillance System-Demonstrators (STSS-D) constellation operated by the Missile Defense Agency
  • Space-based Kill Assessment (SKA) hosted on commercial satellites
  • Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) technology project, operated by the Missile Defense Agency
  • Defense Support Program (DSP), constellation of satellites operated by the U.S. Air Force Space Command
  • (Under Development) Space-based Infrared System (SBIRS), constellation of integrated satellites operated by the U.S. Air Force Space Command
    • SBIRS-LEO (Low Earth Orbit), incorporated into the STSS program in 2001 with the Missile Defense Agency
    • (Under Development) SBIRS-GEO (Geosynchronous orbit), intended to replace Defense Support Program (DSP)
    • (Under Development) SBIRS-HEO (High Elliptical orbit), intended to replace DSP

Interceptors:

  • Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI), for the GMD System
  • SM-2
  • SM-3 (RIM-161 Standard Missile-3)
    • 3 variations: Block IA, Block IB, Block IIA
  • SM-6 (RIM 174 Standard Missile-6)
  • (Under Development) Boost Phase Laser Defenses
  • Evolved Seasparrow Missile (ESSM), NATO Interceptor
  • Space-Based Intercept (SBI) Layer

Kill Vehicles:

  • Exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV)
  • (Terminated August 2019) Redesigned kill vehicle (RKV)
  • (Under Development) Multi-Object Kill Vehicle (MOKV)

Command and Control Centers:

For more detail on how the above components fit together in each separate missile defense program and next generation efforts, visit: “Current U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance.”


History of U.S. Missile Defense Systems

Brief History of U.S. Missile Defense Systems

After the end of World War II, U.S. military planners began to weigh the need to be able counter ballistic missile threats before they reached their targets. During the war, German V-2s were particularly concerning, and in 1946, the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) embarked on the Projects Wizard and Thumper study programs to develop an anti-ballistic missile (ABM).

Recognizing the complexities of what would be a multi-year study, the Air Force focused on Project Wizard as a long-term study. In 1949, the Army began to develop its own Project Plato, the services’ first effort to develop a theatre ABM system. As the Cold War began to ramp up during the 1950s and the Soviet Union continued their ICBM development, the Army and Air Force began to compete for a role in strategic missile defense, which led to the 1957 initiation of the Army’s nuclear-capable Nike Zeus ABM interceptor. The program's high costs and shortcomings spurred criticism of the ABM system concept. Meanwhile, to settle the Air Force and Army dispute over who should pursue the strategic missile defense initiative, then Defense Secretary Neil H. McElroy assigned the mission to the Army and established the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).

After the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, using the justification that the crisis caused the Soviets to aggressively ramp up their ICBM program, the U.S. military also reoriented its ABM efforts to create an improved system called Nike-X. News also reached the U.S. military that the Soviets were developing their own ABM capabilities. U.S. leaders felt that in order to overcome the Soviet ABM system, they would either need an overwhelming offensive force or arms control agreements—so they resisted calls to deploy the Nike-X ABM system until China conducted its first nuclear test. The Chinese test meant that proponents of the Nike-X ABM system could now argue that a limited ABM deployment which could counter China would be better than a heavy ABM deployment to counter the Soviets. The United States deployed the Nike-X ABM in 1967 and renamed the ABM system the Sentinel. The Navy and Air Force also began to develop their own ABM system concepts.

In 1968, the Johnson administration began to shift the limited mission of the Sentinel system from against China towards a heavier defense mission against a large-scale Soviet attack. Though this may have been done in part to use the system as a “bargaining chip” as the Soviets had just agreed to begin long-sought arms control negotiations, the shift caused debate, confusion, and criticism over the purpose of the controversial Sentinel system.

In 1969, the Nixon administration re-oriented the U.S. ABM system again so that instead of protecting urban areas, it would now be used to protect the nation’s strategic deterrent: the silo-based Minuteman ICBMs. President Nixon renamed the system “Safeguard.” The system was still used as a bargaining chip as the United States and Russia continued with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, which eventually led to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The ABM Treaty initially limited each side’s ABM deployments to only two locations with no more than 100 interceptors total. After a 1974 protocol was negotiated, each side was allowed only one site. The Safeguard site was closed in 1976 because it could be easily overwhelmed by a Soviet attack and because detonation of its nuclear-armed warheads would blind its own radars.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to revisit the issue of the feasibility of missile defense. The day after his announcement, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) called the president’s speech “reckless Star Wars Schemes”—a phrase that had previously been used to also reference exotic Pentagon space weaponry projects, but now was the new nickname of SDI. Around this time, the Army had begun working on developing a nonnuclear hit-to-kill interceptor and, in 1984, was able to intercept a dummy warhead outside of the atmosphere in space.

Meanwhile, ARPA’s successor, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), began developing laser and particle beam technologies for application that included ballistic missile defense and space defense. The Reagan administration highlighted that SDI would not jeopardize U.S. compliance with the ABM Treaty because of SDI’s focus at the time was as a research- and development-based project, not deployment. The Department of Defense then chartered the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) in 1984.

Toward the end of the 1980s, SDI—which had developed a broad and costly space- and ground-based defense concept—reoriented its focus to the “Brilliant Pebbles” (BP) program, which used autonomous, small-scale, space-launched interceptors. In 1990, BP was introduced as an affordable hit-to-kill system that skirted concerns about the exposure of large-scale space systems. However, in light of the fall of the Soviet Union, under the directive of the George H. W. Bush administration, SDI was overhauled to address limited nuclear strikes in 1991. Bush announced a new system, the Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS).

When President Bill Clinton entered office, he shifted focus on theatre missile defense instead of national missile defense. To reflect this, he canceled the BP program and changed the name of SDIO to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO). He also broke up the Bush GPALS program into several Army, Navy, and Air Force programs, introducing what is now the PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) program, the Theatre High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, the ship-borne Aegis air defense system and Standard Missile (SM) interceptor, and the Air Force’s Airborne Laser Project. However, during his administration, President Clinton was pressured by Congress to pursue national missile defense that would have consequences for U.S. obligations towards the ABM Treaty. President Clinton signed the 1999 National Missile Defense Act, which made it “the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense (NMD) system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack.” However, in 2000, President Clinton announced that he would leave the final decision of pursing a national missile defense system to his successor.

In 2001, the new George W. Bush administration announced that it was giving its six-month notice of its withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which took effect in 2002. Also in 2002, President Bush changed the name of BMDO to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The military began to reorient the missile defense program to be an integrated, layered, and nationwide defense system.

The Obama Administration

Upon taking office in 2009, the Obama administration took steps to curtail the Bush administration’s rush to expand the U.S. homeland missile defense footprint and instead place greater emphasis on regional defense, particularly in Europe. The Obama administration decided to alter its predecessor’s plans for missile defense in Europe, announcing Sept. 17, 2009, that the United States would adopt a European “Phased Adaptive Approach” (EPAA) to missile defense. This approach primarily uses the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system to address the threat posed by short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles from Iran. The Aegis system uses the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors, which are deployed on Arleigh-Burke class destroyers in the Baltic Sea (Aegis Afloat), as well as on land in Romania and Poland (Aegis Ashore).

President Obama's first Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, also canceled a number of next generation programs, including two designed to intercept missiles during their boost phase, due to “escalating costs, operational problems, and technical challenges.”

However, while continuing to invest in regional defense, the Obama administration also made substantial investments in homeland defense largely in response to North Korea. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system comprises missile fields in Ft. Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and is designed to protect the United States against limited, long-range missile strikes from North Korea and Iran. Despite concerns about the system’s technical viability, from 2013 to 2017, the Obama administration expanded the number of ground-based interceptors (GBIs) in these fields from 30 to 44.

The Obama administration also oversaw the deployment of additional regional missile interceptor and sensor capabilities to allies in Northeast Asia in response to North Korea, including the deployment of the THAAD system to Guam and South Korea and two advanced radars to Japan.

To view the history in a timeline form, visit the Union of Concerned Scientists.

For current day programs since the beginning of the Trump administration, visit: “Current U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance.”

Recently Canceled Programs

A number of high-profile missile defense efforts that began during the George W. Bush administration were canceled by President Bush’s last Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, under President Barack Obama. Below is a summary of some of these programs, the reason they were canceled, and the amount of money that was spent to develop them.

PRECISION TRACKING SPACE SYSTEM (PTSS)
[Previously known as Space-based Infrared System-low (SBIRS-low)]

Program Elements

The program was a planned network of 9-12 satellites which were expected to support U.S. missile defense systems by providing tracking data from space on missiles during their entire flight.

Dates of Program

October 2009 – April 2013

Money Spent

More than $230 million

Major Issues

As reported by the LA Times, outside experts found that the satellites would not have been able to detect warheads flying over the arctic. In order to provide continuous tracking of the missiles, MDA would have actually needed at least 24 satellites. An independent cost assessment projected the total cost of the system to be $24 billion over 20 years instead of the $10 billion MDA projected.

AIRBORNE LASER (ABL)

Program Elements

The original program included a modified Boeing 747 plane equipped with a chemical oxygen-iodine laser (COIL) and two tracking lasers. The laser beam would be produced by a chemical reaction. The objective was to shoot down ballistic missiles during their boost phase right after launch, but the system could also be used for other missions.

Dates of Program

November 1996 – February 2012

Money Spent

$5.3 billion

Major Issues

The laser would have had a limited range, which meant the 747 would have been vulnerable to anti-aircraft missiles. To increase the range, the laser would have needed to be 20-30 times more powerful than planned.

KINETIC ENERGY INTERCEPTOR (KEI)

Program Elements

KEI was to be comprised of three powerful boosters and a separating kill vehicle. The booster was expected to travel at least six kilometers per second, which is comparable to an ICBM. The kill vehicle was not designed to carry an explosive warhead but to destroy its target through the force of a collision.

Dates of Program

March 2003 – June 2009

Money Spent

$1.7 billion

Major Issues

In order to carry the KEI, Navy ships would have needed to be retrofitted. The range was not great enough to be land-based.

MULTIPLE KILL VEHICLE (MKV)

Program Elements

The program was designed to launch multiple kill vehicles from a single booster in order to increase the odds of destroying an incoming missile. It was designed to destroy both missiles and decoys.

Dates of Program

January 2004 – April 2009

Money Spent

~$700 million

Major Issues

The program was canceled by the Obama administration in order to focus on “proven, near-term missile defense programs that can provide more immediate defenses of the United States.”

Missile Defense

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New U.S. Intermediate-Range Missiles Aren’t Needed for Precision Strike in Europe

With the Aug. 2 withdrawal of the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which ended the deployment of intermediate-range missiles by NATO and the former Soviet Union in Europe, plans to develop a new generation of treaty-noncompliant missiles have led to fears that they will return to the continent. Defense Secretary Mark Esper referred that same day to the need for “proactive measures” to develop new intermediate-range capabilities in the European theater. The Department of Defense requested nearly $100 million in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new...

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The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia is set to expire in February 2021. Although the two nations could extend the treaty by up to five years (and there is bipartisan congressional support for such a step), the future of New START remains uncertain, in part because the Trump administration wants to include China in any future arms control deal. Integrating China further into international nuclear arms control efforts is a worthy goal, but extending New START should not hinge on China’s participation. Given China’s relatively minimalist...

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Thanks for writing to your Senators and Representative urging their engagement on extending the New START agreement with Russia by cosponsoring the "Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces" bills in the House and the Senate.

These bills are a step in the right direction if we are to prevent a new destabilizing nuclear arms race with Russia.

More Senators and Representatives need to hear from us on this. 

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    Subject: Send a letter: Tell Congress to Extend the New START Agreement

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    Dear Friend.

    I have just written a letter to my members of Congress in support of the Arms Control Association’s campaign urging them to support an extension of New START, a crucial nuclear disarmament agreement between the United States and Russia.

    In early August, President Trump officially withdrew the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which since it was signed in 1987, has led to the elimination of nearly 3,000 nuclear-armed missiles from our respective arsenals and helped to end the Cold War.

    Now, New START is the only piece of arms control limiting the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles. Under this treaty, the United States and Russia are each confined to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 bombers and missiles.

    New START is set to expire in February 2021, but Presidents Trump and Putin can choose to extend it by five years.

    However, National Security Advisor John Bolton has long been critical of the treaty, and he recently said that, although a final decision has not yet been made, an extension is “unlikely.”

    A growing number of key Republican and Democratic members of Congress are voicing their support for the treaty and its extension. There are bills in each the House and the Senate—both named, “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces”—that express support for extending New START until 2026.

    Will you join me by writing to your members of Congress today and urging them to support these pieces of legislation?

    Can you join me and write a letter? Click here: 
    https://www.armscontrol.org/take-action/extend-new-start

    Thanks!


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U.S. Claims of Illegal Russian Nuclear Testing: Myths, Realities, and Next Steps

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Updated August 21, 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball
Executive Director, Arms Control Association

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In prepared remarks delivered at the Hudson Institute May 29, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr., charged that “Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard outlined in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).”

Russia has vigorously denied the allegation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the accusation “a crude provocation” and pointed to the United States’ failure to ratify the CTBT.

On June 12, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, “we are acting in full and absolute accordance with the treaty ratified by Moscow and in full accordance with our unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests.”

The DIA director’s remarks, and a subsequent June 13 statement on the subject, are quite clearly part of an effort by Trump administration hardliners to suggest that Russia is conducting nuclear tests to improve its arsenal, and that the United States must be free of any constraints on its own nuclear weapons development effort, and, indirectly, to try to undermine the CTBT itself—a treaty the Trump administration has already said it will not ratify.

The challenges posed by the new U.S. allegations are significant and they demand a proactive plan of action by “friends of the CTBT” governments for a number of reasons.

First, any violation of the CTBT by Russia, which has signed and ratified the agreement, or any other signatory, would be a serious matter. But thus far, the Trump administration has not presented any credible information to back up the allegation. As late as December 2015, it was the view of the United States government that the only state in recent years that has tested nuclear weapons in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea. This begs the question of what, if anything, has changed since then that would support a different conclusion.

The most effective way, of course, to enforce compliance is to bring the CTBT into force, which would allow for intrusive, short-notice, on-site inspections to detect and deter any possible cheating. In response to the recent U.S. allegations, CTBT states parties should encourage the U.S. government, if it believes it has credible evidence that Russia is violating its CTBT commitments, to negotiate arrangements for mutual confidence-building visits to the respective U.S. and Russian test sites, involving technical experts, to address any compliance concerns.

Second, the DIA allegations falsely suggest there are different national interpretations of what activities the CTBT prohibits. According to the U.S. State Department, the United States, Russia and China and all of the other NPT nuclear-weapon states have publicly affirmed that the Treaty’s Article I prohibition on “any nuclear weapons test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion” bans all nuclear test explosions, no matter what the yield.

Third, even if Russia or other advanced nuclear-armed states are conducting very low-yield nuclear test explosions, it is technically incorrect for the DIA to suggest that low-yield nuclear explosions are militarily significant for states that have extensive experience with nuclear weapons testing when, in reality, they are not militarily useful.

Finally, the allegations could prompt some officials in the Trump administration to advocate for the “removal” of the U.S. signature from the list of 184 states parties to the treaty—an action that Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, once advocated when he held a senior position at the State Department in 2002. Such a move could have a ripple effect that could undermine necessary financial and political support for the CTBT Organization’s International Monitoring System, and over time, weaken the taboo against nuclear weapons testing itself.

In response, governments that support the CTBT should:

  • reaffirm that CTBT states parties agree that the CTBT’s prohibition on nuclear weapon test explosion bans nuclear explosions of any yield;
  • develop and advance a multilateral plan for resolving charges of noncompliance based on the treaty’s provisions for confidence-building measures; and
  • clarify the costs of any attempt by the United States (or any other signatory state) to “un-sign” the treaty.
     

The Myths and Realities of the DIA Allegations

When pressed in the question and answer session of the May 29 event by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Gordon about whether Russian officials have simply set up the Novaya Zemlya test site “in such a way that they could conduct experiments in excess of a zero-yield ban in the CTBT” or are actually conducting nuclear test explosions, Ashley would only say that Russia had the “capability” to conduct very low-yield supercritical nuclear tests in contravention of the treaty.

Ashley also implied that China may not be complying with the CTBT. He claimed that “China’s lack of transparency on their nuclear testing activities raise questions as to whether China could achieve such progress without activities inconsistent with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty,” but he did not provide any evidence that China has violated the treaty.

Tim Morrison, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the National Security Council who spoke on a panel following Ashley at the May 29 Hudson Institute event tried to clarify Ashley’s remarks. “I think General Ashley was clear,” Morrison said, “that we believe Russia has taken actions to improve its nuclear weapons capabilities that run counter or contrary to its own statements regarding the scope of its obligations under the treaty.”

Ashley’s statement was anything but clear. On June 13, in response to numerous press inquiries about the ambiguous charges, the DIA issued another statement, which said: “The U.S. government, including the intelligence community, has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.”

This statement, though still vague, represents a significant shift from other very recent U.S. government and intelligence community assessments that suggest Russia has not violated the CTBT.

In December 2015, former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller told the House Armed Services Committee that “within this century, the only state that has tested nuclear weapons ... in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea.” No charge of a Russian violation of the “zero-yield” nuclear test moratorium was reported by the State Department in its Annual Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, until the August 2019 edition, which simply repeats the June 13 DIA statement.

Furthermore, this June 13 DIA statement does not clarify whether the assessment is a joint intelligence community assessment, what the confidence level is, whether it only represents the view of the DIA and the National Security Council staff.
 


A Familiar Charge Based on Old Information? Given the lack of specificity of the DIA allegations, it may be a case of the new administration’s political appointees interpreting older intelligence data points differently.

The DIA assessment that “Russia probably is not adhering” to the CTBT echoes charges by test ban opponents inside and outside the government that have surfaced intermittently over the years that Russia may be conducting nuclear test detonations are extremely low yields in a containment structure at its Soviet-era nuclear test site on the arctic island of Novaya Zemlya.

In 2002, The New York Times reported that George W. Bush “administration officials have briefed Congress on what they described as disturbing intelligence indicating that Russia is preparing to resume nuclear tests.”

In 2009, the Republican appointees of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, led by former defense secretary James Schlesinger cited earlier intelligence assessments to argue Russia was not complying with the CTBT. Like Lt. Gen. Ashley of the DIA, they also erroneously charged that Russia does not agree with the United States on what the CTBT prohibits.

They ignored or else were not aware of statements by Russian officials during the process for approval for ratification of the CTBT by the State Duma in 2000 that made it clear that Russia agrees that the CTBT prohibits all test explosions, including “hydronuclear experiments,” whatever the level of
energy released.

In their section of the report, which was not endorsed by the Democratic appointees, the Republican members of the commission asserted that: “With no agreed definition [on the scope of the CTBT or of what a nuclear explosion is] U.S. relative understanding of these capabilities would fall further behind over time and undermine our capability to deter tactical threats against allies.”

The 12-member bipartisan commission was split on whether the United States should seek ratification but agreed that “the United States should seek clarification—and a clear understanding—on what tests are banned by this treaty, since there seems to be some ambiguity and confusion on that point.”

Such an approach may sound appealing to some. However, given that the states parties believe they have a common understanding that the CTBT is a “zero-yield” prohibition, such an option is unnecessary. Rather, a simple reiteration of previous statements is more practical and just as effective.

“Zero-Yield” Understanding: In his May 29 remarks, Ashley also said the DIA assessment was based, in part, on the view that Russia “has not affirmed the language of zero-yield.” This assertion is wrong.

As documented in a series of CTBT fact sheets published by the State Department in September 2011, Russia and China and all of the other NPT nuclear weapon states have publicly affirmed publicly that the treaty’s Article I undertakings “not to carry out any nuclear weapons test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion” prohibit all nuclear test explosions, no matter what the yield.

“At the time the treaty opened for signature, all parties understood that the treaty was a “zero-yield” treaty as advocated by the United States in the negotiations,” according to a Sept. 28, 2011 fact sheet from the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance titled “Scope of the CTBT.”

The “United States led the efforts to ensure the treaty was a ‘zero-yield’ treaty, after the parties had negotiated for years over possible low levels of testing that might be allowed under the agreement,” the document notes. “Public statements by national leaders, confirmed that all parties understood that the CTBT was and is, in fact, a ‘zero-yield’ treaty.”

As the State Department’s paper on “Key P-5 Public Statements on CTBT Scope” notes:

“Some countries prefer to use the term “no threshold,” meaning there is no line (or threshold) below which any amount of yield from a nuclear weapon test explosion would be allowed, and this usage is reflected in statements by senior P-5 government officials. The expression is translated into English in various ways: prohibition of ‘tests at whatever level,’ ‘without any threshold,’ ‘without threshold values,’ ‘regardless of the power,’ ‘any release of nuclear energy,’ or ‘regardless of the level.’ All of these formulations refer to the same concept: zero yield.”

Under this “zero-yield” interpretation, supercritical hydronuclear tests (which produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction) are banned by the treaty, but subcritical hydrodynamic experiments, which do not produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are permitted.

Ambassador Stephen Ledogar, chief U.S. negotiator of the CTBT, testified under oath to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 7, 1999 that Russia and the rest of the P-5 had committed to this zero-yield standard.

Chief U.S. negotiator for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Amb. Stephen Ledogar, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 7, 1999. He stated under oath that: “I have heard some critics of the Treaty seek to cast doubt on whether Russia …committed itself … to a truly comprehensive prohibition of any nuclear explosion, including an explosion…of even the slightest nuclear yield. In other words, did Russia agree that hydronuclear experiments, which do produce a nuclear yield, although usually very, very slight, would be banned and that hydrodynamic explosions, which have no yield because they do not reach criticality, would not be banned? The answer is a categorical ‘yes.’ The Russians as well as the rest of the P-5 did commit themselves.” (Image: C-SPAN)In a March 1996 statement from China’s lead CTBT negotiator, Ambassador Sha Zukang, “the Chinese delegation proposed at the outset of the negotiations its scope text prohibiting any nuclear-weapon test explosion which releases nuclear energy. The future CTBT, he said, will without any threshold prohibit any nuclear-weapon test explosion.”

More recently, Russia has publicly reaffirmed its commitment to this standard. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on July 29, 2009 that: “Under the global ban on nuclear tests, we can only use computer-assisted simulations to ensure the reliability of Russia’s nuclear deterrent.”

Furthermore, Russia reasserted its position in an April 2017 commentary co-authored by Ryabkov and CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo, who wrote that the treaty “prohibits ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,’ anywhere on Earth, whatever the yield.”

Lt. Gen. Ashley acknowledged at the May 29 Hudson Institute event that he was not aware of Ryabkov’s essay.

“Un-signing” the Treaty? According to The Washington Post, Republican Senators Tom Cotton (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), John Cornyn (Tex.) and James Lankford (Okla.) sent a March letter to President Donald Trump asking him whether he would consider “un-signing” the CTBT.

Similarly, back in 2002, The New York Times reported that: “Officials at the Departments of Defense, Energy and State, and at the National Security Council have discussed whether President Bush should renounce Mr. Clinton’s signature on the test-ban treaty.” The chief advocate for un-signing at the time was John Bolton, who was then the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and who is now the National Security Advisor to the President.

Formally withdrawing the U.S. signature from the CTBT would be self-defeating and profoundly counterproductive. If the United States were to formally withdraw its signature from the treaty, it would lose access to the nuclear test monitoring provided by the IMS, which even CTBT opponents acknowledge is valuable for the United States.

According to the Trump administration’s budget request to Congress in 2017: “The U.S. receives the data the IMS provides, which is an important supplement to U.S. National Technical Means to monitor for nuclear explosions (a mission carried out by the U.S. Air Force). A reduction in IMS capability could deprive the U.S. of an irreplaceable source of nuclear explosion monitoring data.”

According to the rules of the CTBT, only state signatories can have access to the IMS monitoring information, and only state signatories have voting rights in the CTBT Organization meetings.

Military Significance of Very Low-Yield Nuclear Test Explosions: The May 29 presentation by the DIA director sought to connect Russia’s ongoing effort to replace and upgrade its nuclear weapons delivery systems with his allegation that “Russia probably is not adhering to” the CTBT.

It is well-documented, however, that from a technical perspective, very low-yield nuclear test explosions, including hydronuclear experiments, are useful only for unboosted nuclear warhead designs with yields of less than 10 tons. There is no mission for such a warhead that conventional warheads could not accomplish with less collateral damage. (See: Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Report of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control, 2002.)

Comprising nearly a mile and a half of underground tunnels and alcoves, the U1a facility is a state-of-the-art laboratory dedicated to subcritical experiments and other physics experiments in support of science-based stockpile stewardship. (Photo: Nevada National Security Site)Furthermore, an earlier August 1995 report on “Nuclear Testing” conducted by the independent JASON scientific advisory group for the U.S. Department of Energy determined that:

“So-called hydronuclear tests, defined as limited to a nuclear yield of less than 4 lbs. TNT equivalent, can be performed only after making changes that drastically alter the primary implosion. A persuasive case has not been made for the utility of hydronuclear tests for detecting small changes in the performance margins for current U.S. weapons. At best, such tests could confirm the safety of a device against producing detectable nuclear yield if its high explosive is detonated accidentally at one point.”

Siegfried S. Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory told The New York Times he is skeptical of the charges that Russia was conducting low-yield tests to create new weapons.

If Russia was engaged in any low-yield testing at Novaya Zemlya, where Moscow conducted nuclear tests until it declared a testing moratorium in October 1991, he said it would most likely relate to experiments to enhance the safety and reliability of Russia’s nuclear arsenal—not the development of new types of nuclear warheads. Therefore, Hecker said, if there is very low-yield nuclear testing, “I don’t think it’s militarily significant.”

Next Steps

Pursue Options for Resolving the Compliance Dispute. Under Article VI of the treaty, which addresses the settlement of disputes before or after treaty entry into force, “the parties concerned shall consult together with a view to the expeditious settlement of the dispute by negotiation or by other peaceful means of the parties’ choice, including recourse to appropriate organs of this Treaty.” Such measures could, for instance, involve mutual confidence-building visits to the respective U.S. and Russian test sites by technical experts to address concerns about compliance.

At the November 2002 Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT, Igor Sergeev, adviser to the Russian president on the issues of strategic stability, suggested “examining the possibility of elaborating additional monitoring measures for nuclear test sites, going far beyond the framework of the provisions of the treaty; such measures might include exchanging geological data and the results of certain experiments, the installation of additional sensory devices, and other measures.”

This proposal was originally made by Russian authorities with the hope and understanding that such steps could be pursued after U.S. ratification and entry into force of the CTBT. Given the passage of time and the nature of the new U.S. allegations, such an approach would be useful to consider before CTBT entry into force.

Because the United States and Russia both engage in subcritical experimental activities in underground containment structures at their Cold War-era test sites—the Nevada National Security Site (formerly the Nevada Test Site) and at Novaya Zemlya—it is in the interest of both countries, as well as the international community, to develop and implement transparency measures to increase confidence that neither state is conducting low-yield explosions that are the result of a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

The joint statement that will emerge from the upcoming Sept. 25 CTBT Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the CTBT presents a useful opportunity for states parties to:

  • “underscore that the most effective way to enforce compliance with the zero-yield standard is to bring it into force, which would allow for intrusive, short-notice, on-site inspections to detect and deter any possible cheating, and
  • call upon any signatory or states party that might have credible evidence that one or another state signatory is taking actions that violate the CTBT to pursue confidence building visits by technical experts for the purpose of addressing concerns about compliance.”

Reaffirm that All States Parties Share the “Zero-Yield” Understanding of Article I of the CTBT. Russia and the other nuclear weapon state signatories to the CTBT should reiterate their previous statements on the scope of the CTBT.

Other states parties should also publicly reaffirm their view that Article I of the CTBT prohibits all nuclear explosions at any yield, including hydro-nuclear test explosions in experimental containment chambers.

The joint statement that will emerge from the Sept. 25 conference should reiterate CTBT states parties’ common understanding that Article I of the CTBT prohibits all nuclear explosions at any yield, including any hydro-nuclear test explosions in experimental containment chambers.

Reaffirm Support for Entry Into Force and the Cost of Un-Signing the CTBT. To help deter a possible decision by the Trump administration to formally exit the CTBT, it is essential to make it clear that such a move would lead to international condemnation and carry tangible costs.

Specifically, CTBT states should reiterate that only state signatories can have access to the IMS monitoring information, and only state signatories have voting rights in the CTBT Organization meetings.

The biennial Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the CTBT, which will convene on Sept. 25, 2019 at the United Nations in New York, is a critical opportunity to do more than simply reiterate calls for prompt action by CTBT hold-out states to sign and/or ratify the CTBT in order to bring it formally into force. The joint statement should also:

  • underscore that the most effective way to enforce compliance with the zero-yield standard is to bring it into force, which would allow for intrusive, short-notice, on-site inspections to detect and deter any possible cheating; and
  • if there are credible concerns that one or another state signatory is violating the CTBT, states parties should, as suggested in Article VI of the treaty, agree to mutual confidence-building visits by technical experts to address concerns about compliance.

The 2019 debate on the resolution on the CTBT is another crucial opportunity to express support for these points, and to try to win support from North Korea for the resolution.

In November 2018, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on the CTBT (A/C.1/73/L.26) that “urges all States that have not yet signed or ratified, or that have signed but not yet ratified ... to sign and ratify it as soon as possible.” The resolution was approved 183-1-4. Only North Korea, whose recent nuclear tests were condemned in the resolution, voted no. The United States abstained from the vote.

If the drafters of the 2019 UNGA resolution “welcome North Korea’s unilateral nuclear test moratorium” and call upon all remaining Annex 2 states to sign and/or ratify, there would be a much higher chance North Korea might decide to vote “yes.”

Conclusions

The CTBT has established a powerful taboo against nuclear testing. Global support for the treaty, which now has 184 state signatories, is strong, and the treaty’s International Monitoring System is fully operational and more capable than originally envisioned. Today, for the first time since 1945, no nuclear-armed state has an active nuclear testing program.

Yet, the door to further nuclear testing remains ajar. Although the treaty has been signed by 184 states, its entry into force is being held up by eight states, most notably the United States, China, and North Korea, which have refused to ratify the pact, and North Korea’s voluntary nuclear testing halt, announced in 2018, could easily be reversed.

Given their existing nuclear test moratoria and the U.S. and Chinese signatures on the treaty, these states bear some but not all CTBT-related responsibilities. But their failure to ratify has denied them (and others) the full security benefits of the treaty, including short-notice, on-site inspections to better detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing.

For the safety and security of future generations and out of respect for the people harmed by nuclear testing, it is time to close and lock the door on nuclear testing. “Friends of the CTBT” states need to pursue new, more creative, and sustained strategies to encourage the CTBT holdout states to ratify the treaty, address any credible allegations and concerns about noncompliance prior to formal CTBT entry into force, and take other steps to reinforce the norm against nuclear weapons test explosions, no matter what the yield.

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In prepared remarks delivered at the Hudson Institute May 29, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr., charged that “Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard outlined in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).”

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U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, August 8, 2019

U.S. Withdraws from INF Treaty; Missile Tests to Begin This Month On Aug. 2, 2019, the United States formally withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, prompting harsh reactions from Russia and China and concerns about the beginning of a new, more dangerous phase of global military competition. This treaty , signed in 1987, led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The United States accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing,...

The Post-INF Treaty Crisis: Background and Next Steps

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Volume 11, Issue 8, August 7, 2019

*(Updated Aug. 19)

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, negotiated and signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was one of the most far-reaching and successful nuclear arms reduction agreements in history.

The treaty led to the verifiable elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet missiles based in Europe. It helped bring an end to the Cold War nuclear arms race and paved the way for agreements to slash bloated strategic nuclear arsenals and withdraw thousands of tactical nuclear weapons from forward-deployed areas.

The pact served as an important check on some of the most destabilizing types of nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia could deploy. INF-class missiles, whether nuclear-armed or conventionally armed, are destabilizing because they can strike targets deep inside Russia and in Western Europe with little or no warning. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis.

Despite its success, the treaty has faced problems. A dispute over Russian compliance has festered since 2014, when the United States first alleged a Russian treaty violation, and has worsened since 2017 when Russia began deploying a ground-launched cruise missile, the 9M729, capable of traveling in the treaty’s prohibited 500-5,500 kilometer range.

The INF Treaty prohibited all U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The official figures above show missiles deployed November 1, 1987, shortly before the INF Treaty was signed. The treaty also required destruction of 430 U.S. missiles and 979 Soviet missiles which were in storage or otherwise not deployed. The treaty prevented the planned deployment of an additional 208 GLCMs in the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. The Pershing IAs, under joint U.S.-German control, were not formally covered by the INF Treaty but were also to be eliminated by U.S. and West German agreement.The Trump administration developed a response strategy in 2017 designed to put pressure on Russia to address the U.S. charges, but in October 2018, President Trump abruptly shifted tactics and announced the United States would leave the agreement.

On Feb. 2, 2019, the Trump administration formally announced that the United States would immediately suspend implementation of the INF Treaty and would withdraw in six months if Russia did not return to compliance by eliminating its 9M729 missile.

On Aug. 2, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Russia was still in “material breach of the treaty” and announced the United States had formally withdrawn from the INF Treaty.

According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that the Russians possess four battalions of 9M729 missiles (including one test battalion). The missiles are “nuclear-capable,” according to the Director of National Intelligence, but they are probably conventionally armed.

Without the INF Treaty, the potential for a new intermediate-range missile arms race in Europe and beyond becomes increasingly real. Furthermore, in the treaty’s absence, the only legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals come from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in February 2021 unless Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend it by up to five years.

Reactions to the U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty

Following the U.S. withdrawal announcement Aug. 2, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated, “The denunciation of the INF Treaty confirms that the U.S. has embarked on destroying all international agreements that do not suit them for one reason or another.”

A few days later, Aug. 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that Moscow will mirror the development of any missiles that the United States makes. “Until the Russian army deploys these weapons, Russia will reliably offset the threats…by relying on the means that we already have,” he said. Putin also ordered “the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Foreign Intelligence Service to monitor in the most thorough manner future steps taken by the United States.”

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said in a statement: “A situation whereby the United States fully abides by the treaty, and Russia does not, is not sustainable.”

At the same time, some European countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany have expressed regret over the termination of the treaty and concerns about potential new U.S. missile deployments.

On Aug. 2, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the end of the INF Treaty meant that Europe was “losing part of its security.” Maas also told Germany’s Spiegel Online Jan. 11, 2019: “We cannot allow the result to be a renewed arms race. European security will not be improved by deploying more nuclear-armed, medium-range missiles. I believe that is the wrong answer.”

Also Aug. 2, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that NATO “will respond in a measured and responsible way and continue to ensure credible deterrence and defence.” Stoltenberg suggested that NATO will increase readiness exercises programs; increase intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and bolster air and missile defenses and conventional capabilities in response to the termination of the INF Treaty.

According to press reports, the NATO response strategy may involve more flights over Europe by U.S. warplanes capable of carrying nuclear warheads, more military training, and the repositioning of U.S. sea-based missiles.

What Missiles Could Each Side Now Deploy in the Absence of the INF Treaty?

With the treaty’s termination, each side is now free to develop, flight test, and possibly deploy previously banned INF-range systems in Europe and in Asia.

President Putin stated Dec. 18 that in the event of U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, Russia would be “forced to take additional measures to strengthen [its] security.” He further warned that Russia could easily conduct research to put air- and sea-launched cruise missile systems “on the ground, if need be.” This could involve additional numbers of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile on mobile launchers, as well as its Kaliber sea-based cruise missile system.

Even before the Aug. 2 termination date, the Trump administration was seeking to develop new conventionally armed cruise and ballistic missiles to “counter” Russia’s 9M729 missile. The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, for example, required “a program of record to develop a conventional road-mobile [ground-launched cruise missile] system with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometers,” including research and development activities.

Last year, Congress approved a Defense Department request for $48 million in fiscal year 2019 for research and development on concepts and options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the INF Treaty.

Earlier this year, the Defense Department requested nearly $100 million for fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would violate the range limits of the treaty.

One new missile program of interest to the Pentagon is a ground-launched variant of the Air Force’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile or the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-based cruise missile. On Aug. 19, the Department of Defense announced it conducted "a flight test of a conventionally-configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California. The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight." The missile was reportedly launched from a Mk. 41 mobile launcher.

Another option under consideration is a new intermediate-range ballistic missile designed to strike targets in China. The day after the formal U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty, newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that he was in favor of deploying conventional ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia “sooner rather than later,” but “those things tend to take longer than you expect.”

China’s reaction has been negative. “If the U.S. deploys missiles in this part of the world, China will be forced to take countermeasures,” said Fu Cong, director-general of the arms control department at China's foreign ministry, speaking to reporters Aug. 6. “I urge our neighbors to exercise prudence and not to allow the U.S. deployment of intermediate-range missiles on their territory.”

Alternative Risk Reduction Strategies in the Absence of the INF Treaty

Any new U.S. intermediate-range missile deployments would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. They are also militarily unnecessary to defend NATO allies or U.S. allies in Asia given that existing air- and sea-based weapons systems can already hold key Russian and Chinese targets at risk.

Any U.S. moves to actually deploy these weapons are likely to prompt Russian and Chinese countermoves and vice-versa. The result could be a dangerous and costly new U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese missile competition.

Therefore, the U.S. Congress can and should step forward to block funding for U.S. weapons systems that could provoke a new missile race—and provide the time needed to put in place effective arms control solutions.

In January 2019, 11 U.S. senators reintroduced the “Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019,” which would prohibit funding for the procurement, flight-testing, or deployment of a U.S. ground-launched or ballistic missile—with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers—until the Trump administration provides a report that meets seven specific conditions. These include identifying a U.S. ally formally willing to host such a system and, in the case of a European country, demanding that all NATO countries agree to that ally hosting the system.

In July, the House of Representatives narrowly approved an amendment introduced by Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020. The amendment prohibits funding for missile systems noncompliant with the INF Treaty unless the Trump administration demonstrates that it exhausted all potential strategic and diplomatic alternatives to withdrawing from the treaty and unless the Secretary of Defense meets certain conditions.

In addition, with the end of the INF Treaty now official, it is critical that President Trump, President Putin, and NATO leaders explore more seriously some arms control arrangements to prevent a destabilizing new missile race:

  • One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that no alliance members will field any missiles in Europe that would have been banned by the INF Treaty so long as Russia does not field once-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove its 50 or so 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia.

    The United States and Russian presidents could agree to this “no-first INF missile deployment plan” through an executive agreement that would be verified through national technical means of intelligence. Russia could be expected to insist upon additional confidence-building measures to ensure that the United States would not place offensive missiles in the Mk 41 missile-interceptor launchers now deployed in Romania as part of the Aegis Ashore system and, soon, in Poland. (Russian officials have long complained to their U.S. counterparts about the missile-defense batteries’ dual capabilities.)

    This approach would also mean forgoing President Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, conventionally armed cruise missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no military need for such a system.
     
  • Another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As a recent United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research study explains, the sophisticated verification procedures and technologies already in place under New START can be applied with almost no modification to verify the absence of nuclear warheads deployed on shorter-range missiles. Such an approach would require additional declarations and inspections of any ground-launched, INF Treaty-range systems. To be of lasting value, such a framework would require that Moscow and Washington agree to extend New START by five years.
     
  • A third variation would be for Russia and NATO to commit reciprocally to each other—ideally including a means of verifying the commitment—that neither will deploy land-based, intermediate-range ballistic missiles or nuclear-armed cruise missiles (of any range) capable of striking each other’s territory.

INF Termination Is Bad. Failure to Extend New START Would Be Worse.

With the collapse of the INF Treaty, the only remaining agreement regulating the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles is New START. Signed in 2010, this treaty limits the two sides’ long-range missiles and bombers and caps the warheads they carry to no more than 1,550 each. It is due to expire Feb. 5, 2021, unless Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend it for up to five years, as allowed for in the treaty text.

Key Republican and Democratic senators, former U.S. military commanders, and U.S. NATO allies are on the record in support of the treaty’s extension, which can be accomplished without further Senate or Duma approval.

In addition, the NDAA for fiscal year 2020 includes bipartisan efforts to preserve New START. The House bill includes legislation proposed by Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), for the administration to extend New START and require reports from the secretaries of state and defense plus the director of national intelligence on the possible consequences of the treaty’s lapse. For its part, the Senate version of the NDAA does not include an provision calling for the extension of the treaty, though in May, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution calling for the administration to consider an extension of New START and begin discussions with Russia. On Aug. 1, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) also introduced legislation calling for an extension of New START until 2026.

Unfortunately, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton may be trying to sabotage this treaty. Since arriving at the White House in April, he has been slow-rolling an interagency review on whether to extend New START and refusing to take up Putin’s offer to begin extension talks. In June, Bolton also said in an interview with The Washington Free Beacon that “there’s no decision, but I think it’s unlikely” that the administration will move to extend the treaty. In late July, he further said that the treaty “was flawed from the beginning” and that, “while no decision has been made,” the administration needs “to focus on something better.”

Extension talks should begin now in order to resolve outstanding implementation concerns that could delay the treaty’s extension.

Without New START, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. Both countries would then be in violation of their Article VI nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation 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.”

Bottom Line

Without the INF Treaty and without serious talks and new proposals from Washington and Moscow, Congress as well as other nations will need to step forward with creative and pragmatic solutions that create the conditions necessary in order to ensure that the world’s two largest nuclear actors meet their legal obligations to end the arms race and advance progress on nuclear disarmament.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant

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Without the INF Treaty—or new proposals from Washington and Moscow—creative and pragmatic solutions are needed to advance progress on nuclear disarmament.

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Statement on U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty

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Statement from Daryl G. Kimball, executive director

For Immediate Release: August 2, 2019

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 104

“The loss of the landmark INF Treaty, which helped end the Cold War nuclear arms race, is a blow to international peace and security. Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty is unacceptable and merits a strong response. But President Trump’s decision to terminate the treaty will not eliminate Russia’s noncompliant 9M729 missiles — and is a mistake.

“Worst of all, blowing up the INF Treaty with no substitute arms control plan in place could open the door to a dangerous new era of unconstrained military competition with Russia.

“INF-class missiles, whether nuclear-armed or conventionally-armed, are destabilizing because they can strike targets deep inside Russia and in Western Europe with little or no warning. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis.

“It is now critical that President Trump, President Putin, and NATO leaders explore more seriously some arms control options to avoid a new Euromissile race. 

“One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that none of them will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not field treaty-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove its 50 or so 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia.

“This would also mean forgoing Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, INF Treaty-prohibited missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no need for such a system.

“The loss of the INF Treaty makes extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) all the more important.

“With less than two years to go before New START expires, Washington and Moscow need to begin working immediately to reach agreement to extend the treaty by five years. Despite their strained relations, it is in their mutual interest to maintain verifiable caps on their enormous strategic nuclear stockpiles.

“Without New START, which limits each side to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly five decades.

“Extending New START would provide a necessary foundation and additional time for any follow-on deal with Russia that addresses other issues of mutual concern, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons, intermediate-range weapons, and understandings on the location and capabilities of missile defense systems and advanced conventional-strike weapons that each country is developing.

“A treaty extension could also help put pressure on China to provide more information about its nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles. China also might be more likely to agree to freeze the overall size of its nuclear arsenal or agree to limit a certain class of weapons, such as nuclear-armed cruise missiles, so long as the United States and Russia continue to make progress to reduce their far larger and more capable arsenals.

“In the absence of the INF Treaty, we need more responsible arms control leadership on the part of all sides.”

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U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty: What You Need to Know

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Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 104; Thomas Countryman, board chair, 301-312-3445

The landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. On February 2, 2019, the Trump administration announced its decision to suspend U.S. obligations under the treaty and its intention to withdraw from agreement in six months. The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty will take effect on Friday, August 2.

The Defense Department has requested nearly $100 million in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would exceed the range limits of the treaty, but the Democratic-led House of Representatives has expressed concern about the rationale for the missiles. The House versions of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act and defense appropriations bill zeroed out the Pentagon’s funding request for the missiles.

On June 18, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov reiterated Russia’s position that it will not deploy INF Treaty-range missiles until the United States does. The United States alleges that Russia has already deployed the treaty-noncompliant 9M729 missile, also known as the SSC-8.

NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on June 26 to discuss defense and deterrence measures “to ensure the security of the alliance” if Russia fails to resolve U.S. allegations of treaty noncompliance. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is considering several military options, including additional exercises, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, air and missile defenses, and conventional capabilities.

QUICK QUOTES:

  • “Earlier this year, the administration recklessly announced its intent to withdraw the United States from the INF Treaty without a viable diplomatic, economic, or military strategy to prevent Russia from deploying additional and new types of prohibited missiles in the absence of the treaty. Rushing to build our own INF-range missiles in the absence of such a strategy and without a place to put them doesn't make sense.” —Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy
  • “Without the INF treaty, there needs to be a more serious U.S. and NATO arms control plan to avoid a new Euromissile race. NATO could declare as a bloc that no alliance members will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not deploy treaty-prohibited systems where they could hit NATO territory.” —Daryl Kimball, executive director
  • “Without the INF Treaty, as well as the soon expiring New START, there would be no legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly half a century.” —Thomas Countryman, former assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, and chair of the ACA board of directors

ANALYSIS:

FACT SHEETS:

EXPERTS AVAILABLE IN WASHINGTON:

  • Kingston Reif, ​Director for ​D​​​​isarmamen​​t and ​T​h​​reat ​R​e​​d​​uction​ ​Policy​,​[email protected], 202 463 8270 ext. 104, @KingstonAReif
  • Thomas Countryman, former​ ​Acting​ ​U​nder ​S​ecret​​ary of ​​S​tate for​ ​Arms​ ​Control and ​International ​S​ecur​​ity, and ​​Chair of the Board for the Arm​​s Control Association, [email protected], 301 312 3445, @TMCountryman
  • Daryl G. Kimball, E​x​​​​ec​​utive ​​​​D​i​​​rector, [email protected], 202 463 8270 ext. 107, @DarylGKimball

or contact Tony Fleming, director for communications, 202 463 8270 ext. 110 / 202 213 6856 (mobile) to schedule an interview.

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Experts and resources available on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty

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Russia and Arms Control: Extending New Start or Starting Over?

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Russia, China, Arms Control, and the Value of New START

Testimony of the Honorable Thomas Countryman,
Board Chairman, Arms Control Association, and
Former Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security

House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment

July 25, 2019

For more than fifty years, every U.S. President has proposed and pursued negotiations with Moscow as a means to regulate destabilizing nuclear arms competition and reduce the risk of the United States and its allies being destroyed in a nuclear war. They sought and concluded a series of treaties, with strong bipartisan support, that have made America and the world much safer.

The current Administration appears to be veering away from this tradition, to the detriment of our national security.

In November, the Trump administration announced, without a coherent military or diplomatic “plan B,” to terminate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in response to Russia’s testing and deployment of the non-compliant, ground-launched 9M729 missile.

The administration has not presented a viable diplomatic plan that might persuade Russia to remove its 9M729s and instead it is pursuing development and testing of U.S. ground-launched, INF-range missiles, which are not militarily necessary to counter the 9M729 and would if deployed, likely divide NATO, and lead Russia to increase the number and type of intermediate-range missiles aimed against NATO targets. Congress would be wise to withhold its support for a new Euromissile race.


Worse yet, Trump’s national security team has dithered for more than a year on beginning talks with Russia to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) before it expires in February 2021. In an interview published June 18, National Security Advisor John Bolton said of New START extension, “[T]here's no decision, but I think it's unlikely.”

Instead, Bolton has suggested the President wants to bring China into trilateral negotiations with Russia on a new agreement to limit nuclear weapons not covered by New START.

Pursuing talks with other nuclear-armed states and trying to limit all types of nuclear weapons is an admirable objective, which I support in principle. But such a negotiation would be complex and time-consuming. There is no realistic chance a new agreement along these lines could be finalized before New START expires.

It would be national security malpractice to discard New START in the hopes of negotiating a more comprehensive, ambitious nuclear arms control agreement with Russia and China to say nothing about getting it ratified and into force.

As the Chairman and the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs have suggested, the first step should be a five-year extension of New START, which would provide a foundation for a more ambitious successor agreement.

Without the INF Treaty and without New START, there would be no legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly half a century.

New START verifiably caps the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons at 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems for each side; if those ceilings expires, Russia and the United States could upload hundreds of additional nuclear warheads to their long-range delivery systems. In fact, Russia, with its heavy missiles and several open missile production lines, could rapidly upload more additional warheads than the United States could). Each side would also have far less insight into the other’s nuclear deployment and modernization plans. As a result, our already difficult and uneasy nuclear relationship with Russia would become even more complicated, the risks of renewed nuclear competition would grow, and our efforts to mitigate nuclear risks in other corners of the globe would become more difficult.

The Value of Nuclear Arms Control

Previous Presidents, since Dwight Eisenhower, have recognized the value of effective nuclear arms control. They understood that:

  • Talking to an adversary, whether a superpower like the Soviet Union or a lesser challenger such as Iran, is not a sign of weakness, but a hardheaded and realistic means to reduce threats posed to the United States.

  • Treaties provide rules of the road that enable the United States to pursue more effectively its economic and security interests. They constrain other nations’ ability to act against our interests more than they constrain U.S. freedom of action.

  • Arms control agreements are not a concession made by the United States, or a favor done to another nation, but an essential component of, and contribution to, our national security.

  • In a world in which the U.S. claims global leadership, Washington must take the lead bilaterally and multilaterally, proposing initiatives that greatly reduce the risk that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) spread or are used.

  • The pursuit of reductions of nuclear stockpiles and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons is both a moral obligation, and since approval by the U.S. Senate of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1969, it is a legal obligation as well, one that can and must be pursued regardless of the ups and downs of great-power relations.

  • There can be no winners in a nuclear war. Mutual assured destruction is not a theory, or a philosophy; it is a reality. Since the time the Soviet Union achieved reliable intercontinental ballistic missiles in the 1960s, neither the United States nor Russia can launch a nuclear attack on the other’s homeland without the near-certain destruction of its own homeland. Arms control agreements, and associated stability mechanisms, serve to reduce the risk that a cycle of assured destruction will begin.

As a consequence of American diplomatic leadership and the support of Congress, a series of bilateral agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia verifiably capped, and later, helped lead to significant cuts in the two superpowers arsenals by more than 85% from their Cold War peaks. The total destructive power of those weapons has been reduced from the equivalent of over a million Hiroshima-size bombs to the somewhat less insane equivalent of 80,000 such weapons. One of those agreements, the INF Treaty, verifiably eliminated an entire class of destabilizing missiles that threatened European security and increased the risk of superpower miscalculation.

The United States helped lead the way to the negotiation and conclusion of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits any nuclear test explosion, no matter what the yield. Although the CTBT has not formally entered into force due to the failure of eight key states to ratify, the treaty has been signed by 184 nations including all of the P-5 states, has established a global monitoring network that is operating 24/7 to help detect and deter clandestine testing, and created a global norm against nuclear testing. Today no state is actively engaged in nuclear testing.

U.S.-led efforts to reduce the role and the number of nuclear weapons, to end nuclear testing, combined with political pledges from the United States and the other nuclear-armed states to take further disarmament steps, have helped to solidify international support for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and paved the way for its indefinite extension in 1995.

Many of these positive trends have been reversed and others are at risk. This is due in part of a deficit of American leadership and the growing body of thought in the Administration and Congress today, which believes

  • The U.S. should not discuss vital national security issues, or consider compromise, with adversaries such as Russia and Iran until they have fully met U.S. demands in all fields.

  • International treaties are inherently disadvantageous to the United States, as they constrain the freedom of action of the world’s leading military and economic power.

  • That because arms control agreements involve a degree of compromise, they grant unwarranted concessions to opponents.

  • Such agreements are of no value if they do not solve EVERY problem between the parties, an all-or-nothing approach exemplified by the U.S. decision to withdraw from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

  • In the Cold War fallacy that there is a way to win a nuclear war, that a numerical or technical advantage can give the United States a dominance of power that would spare our country from destruction in a nuclear exchange. Sadly, no U.S. official today is able to repeat the obvious fact that motivated Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev to declare: “A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.”

Over the last two years, this line of thinking is evident in the Administration’s retreat from global leadership, its embrace of authoritarian leaders, its weakening partnership with democratic allies. its withdrawal from international agreements, and its inability to make any new and meaningful agreements. The Administration has weakened restraints on Iran’s ability to enrich uranium. It has refused to reconsider ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or otherwise reinforce the de facto nuclear testing moratorium, which has preserved America’s important technical advantage in the nuclear field.

Now, as the termination date for the INF Treaty approaches and the expiration date for New START looms on the near horizon, the administration has failed to put forward a serious plan for constraining Russia’s nuclear arsenal. There is a serious risk that without extension of New START and without mutual restraints on INF missile systems after the end of the treaty, the conditions for an expensive, risky and destabilizing nuclear weapons race will emerge, similar to - but riskier and more expensive than - the arms race we ran in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the absence of responsible steps to prevent a dangerous new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race, Congress can and should be ready to point the way forward.

The INF Treaty

The INF Treaty was a signature foreign policy achievement of President Reagan. It was unprecedented in requiring the destruction of nuclear warheads and delivery systems, resulting in the elimination of 2692 Soviet and U.S. missiles. It established the principle of on-site inspection, a concept still central today to effective agreements and to our understanding of Russian systems. It resolved a dangerous split within the NATO Alliance and reduced a genuine threat to our Allies and to peace in Europe. It was central to establishing the opportunity for genuine cooperation between Washington and Moscow.

The Russian military was never happy about Gorbachev’s ‘surrender’ in signing the INF Treaty, and has developed a cruise missile in violation of the range prescribed by the treaty. I think it unlikely that the Russian Defense Ministry consulted with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the legality of this action. Deployment of the 9M729 has proven to be of double benefit to Russia, apart from the marginal utility of a new means to threaten NATO territory. Moscow is pleased to continue a long-running debate about the actual range of the 9M729, because it distracts from a less comfortable topic: the several dozen European cities and sites now within range of the new system. The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty will free the Russian military to plan new generations of missiles aimed at Russia’s neighbors, (both NATO and non-NATO), all while plausibly blaming the United States for the treaty’s demise.

Barring a diplomatic miracle, U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty will become effective August 2, and it is ‘justifiable’ as a response to Russia’s violation. But ‘justifiable’ is not the same as ‘smart,’ or even well-considered.

The President’s decision was taken without the benefit of senior-level interagency discussion, and without any plan to counter effectively the slight military advantage that Russia might gain by its deployment. That meant that the U.S. diplomatic strategy on the INF Treaty essentially amounted to the expression of “hope” that Russia will “change course” and return to compliance, which is of course not serious strategy.

The decision to terminate the treaty, combined with the possibility of new U.S. ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe, is risky and unwise. It opens the door to a new phase of destabilizing INF-range missile competition with Russia.

The Administration has yet to answer repeated Congressional calls for information on its decision to withdraw from the treaty or a strategy for a post-treaty world. The Pentagon’s FY 2020 budget request for new INF-range missiles lacks key details about the types of missiles DoD plans to develop or justification of the need for such missiles.

The United States should ensure that Russia gains no military advantage from its violation of the INF Treaty. Given that the United States and NATO forces currently can hold hundreds of key Russian military targets at risk using their existing array of sea-, land-, and air-based conventional strike weapons and missiles, new U.S. intermediate-range missiles are militarily unnecessary. If additional military measures are required, such as air- and sea-launched cruise missiles and cruise missile defenses, these can be pursued without the provocative and escalatory deployment of new ground-based missiles.

In addition, new missiles would have to be deployed on the territory of allies neighboring Russia or China to have military value. No ally has yet said it would be willing to serve this function. Any such deployment in Europe would require unanimous approval by NATO members, which cannot be assumed.

These missiles, whether nuclear- or conventionally-armed, American or Russian, would be able to strike targets deep inside Russia and in western Europe. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis. Any nuclear attack on Russia involving U.S. intermediate-range, nuclear-armed missiles based in Europe could provoke a massive Russian nuclear counterstrike on Europe and on the U.S. homeland.

This leaves open the question: what happens next and what can be done to mitigate the risks?

The Trump administration is clearly seeking to deploy new, intermediate-range missiles in Europe, to counter Russia's nuclear-capable, but very likely conventionally-armed, 9M729 ground-launched cruise missiles that have been deployed so far.

Rather than spur Russia to deploy more 9M729s that put our allies at risk, a new and more serious NATO commitment to arms control is needed to protect Europe and the United States.

One option would be for NATO to declare as a bloc that no alliance members will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not deploy treaty-prohibited systems where they could hit NATO territory.

This would require Russia to dismantle or move at least some currently deployed 9M929 missiles. As the United States and Russia dispute the range of that missile, they could simply agree to bar deployments west of the Ural Mountains, or beyond. The U.S. and Russian presidents could agree to this “no-first INF missile deployment plan” through an executive agreement that would be verified through national technical means of intelligence, monitoring mechanisms available through the Open Skies Treaty and Vienna Document, and as necessary, new on-site inspection arrangements.

Another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement, perhaps as part of a New START follow-on, that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As a recent United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research study explains, the sophisticated verification procedures and technologies already in place under New START can be applied with almost no modification to verify the absence of nuclear warheads deployed on shorter-range missiles.

Such an approach would require additional declarations and inspections of any ground-launched INF Treaty-range systems. To be of lasting value, such a framework would require that Moscow and Washington agree to extend New START.

The Future of New START

The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty brought the deployed arsenals of the United States and Russian Federation to their lowest level since the 1960s. It built upon previously agreed systems of notification, verification and inspection. To date, the two sides have exchanged over 10,000 notifications of movement of delivery systems and have conducted dozens of on-site verification inspections on each other’s territory.

As a result, the United States has a significantly clearer picture of Russian strategic capabilities than it could attain by national intelligence means alone. There have been no credible allegations of Russian violations of the agreement and, despite some questionable Russian concerns about verifying the conversion of U.S. strategic nuclear systems to conventional roles, the United States also continues to fully implement the treaty.

In one of my last meetings before leaving the State Department in 2017, I suggested to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov that Russia should seek early in the new Administration to extend the treaty, before any big thinkers in either Washington or Moscow got the brilliant idea that extension could become a bargaining chip. Although he agreed with that concern, what we both feared has occurred: a myth has taken hold in this city that Russia ‘needs’ New START more than the United States needs it, and that it can be “leveraged” to gain something more from Moscow.

Taking all these factors into account, the most important step that the two sides could take would be to take advantage of the option, as described in Article XIV, to extend the Treaty by five years to 2026.

To do so, it is important that the two sides promptly begin consultations on key issues raised by each side. Russia has raised concerns about the verification of the permitted procedures to convert some U.S. nuclear weapons delivery systems to conventional roles. The United States has understandably suggested that new Russian strategic nuclear weapons systems, including the Status-6 nuclear-armed, long-range torpedo and the proposed nuclear-propelled, long-range cruise missile, should be accounted for under New START. If both sides are willing to engage in a professional dialogue relatively soon, using the mechanism contained in the treaty, the Bilateral Consultative Commission, these issues can be addressed in a mutually agreed manner either before or soon after a decision to extend New START is taken.

New START extension is the most significant step this President could take with Russia that would improve national security, lay the basis for progress in other areas of Russian misbehavior, and draw bipartisan (though not unanimous) support.

I want to welcome the initiative of Chairman Engel and ranking member McCaul, the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (H.R. 2529), which would express the Sense of Congress that the United States should seek to extend New START so long as Russia remains in compliance. The bill would also require an intelligence assessment of how the expiration of New START would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and the additional intelligence capabilities the United States would need to compensate for the loss of the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.

We don’t need and cannot afford a new Cold War-style nuclear arms race. Nor do we need to give China a cynical excuse to expand its arsenal, as it will likely do if the United States and Russia discard New START without a replacement agreement and pursue expanded deployment of intermediate-range missiles in the wake of the INF Treaty collapse.

As an insurance policy against increased Russian and U.S. strategic warhead deployments in the absence of New START, Congress could prohibit the use of funds for the purpose of increasing U.S. strategic warhead and delivery vehicles above New START limits, so long as the U.S. intelligence community assesses that Russia remains under the New START limits.

During Senate consideration of the Treaty in 2010, the White House made a strong commitment to sustain the funding necessary to replace and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons delivery systems and for warhead life extensions. Since then, the cost estimates for those programs have grown significantly, and the Trump administration has added a number of new requests that would add new nuclear capabilities to the arsenal.

If this administration – whether through inaction or proactively – forces the end of New START, Congress should not supinely go along with the administration’s plan for spending on new nuclear weapons, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates to be $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years. Instead, Congress should seek more cost-effective program alternatives that can save hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars while still allowing for the deployment of a nuclear force more than sufficient to deter any and all nuclear adversaries.

A Broader Arms Control Agreement?

The Administration has delayed any action on extension of New START and has proposed instead expanding New START to include China as a treaty party, and to set new limits on non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons, which are not covered by New START. When described this way, such an approach may seem to make sense. Involving other nuclear-armed states and all types of nuclear weapons in the disarmament process should be a medium-term goal of any Administration

However, given the antipathy expressed toward New START (and all other treaties) by President Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, it strikes me and many others as a poison pill, a pretext for withdrawing from or allowing New START to expire, rather than to sustain meaningful limits on Russia’s most dangerous nuclear weapons – their strategic arsenal – which is an essential foundation for any new, broader and more ambitious follow-on agreement.

There are several obstacles in the way of a more ambitious trilateral nuclear arms control deal with China and Russia:

  • First, China has very little incentive to participate. With a nuclear arsenal less than one-tenth the size of America and Russia, it argues that these two sides need to reduce before including China in their discussions. Nor has the United States defined what agreement it would want China to embrace: would it be to commit to the limitations New START imposed on Moscow and Washington? This would mean giving our blessing to a five-fold increase in China’s weapon stockpile, which is hardly in our interest. Or would we agree to reduce American and Russian deployments to the level of China (300+)? That would be a real contribution to reducing the risk of nuclear war, but it is not currently achievable, for both political and security reasons.

  • Second, Russia counts the French and British nuclear deterrents like the American arsenal, as belonging to a potential adversary. It has suggested that multilateral discussions should include not only Beijing, but also Paris and London. Further, Moscow is not ready at this time to discuss its non-strategic arsenal, particularly if the US is not prepared to discuss issues of greatest concern to Moscow, such as US plans for ballistic missile defense.

  • Third, the United States would not be ready to discuss reducing its own non-strategic nuclear stockpile before completing consultations with NATO partners, which would inevitably be complex and time-consuming.

  • Finally, even under ideal conditions, a bilateral negotiation on a single topic takes years. Even if Russia and China were willing to discuss the proposed American agenda, a trilateral discussion of multiple topics would inevitably take considerably longer, even if it were pursued by an Administration committed to the topic and with successful experience in negotiations. This is not such an Administration. Between Mr. Bolton’s long-standing opposition to New START, and the nearly complete absence of experienced officials in the State Department, it is utterly unrealistic to expect such an agreement could be achieved before the scheduled expiration of New START in 19 months.

Beyond New START: Strategic Stability

If New START is not extended, we will find ourselves in 2021 - for the first time in nearly 50 years - with no legal restraints on the American and Russian arsenals. This absence would be a foreboding political signal: if the two main nuclear powers cannot even agree on the urgency of reducing the nuclear threat hanging over them both, what chances will there be for reducing other areas of tension?

As our intelligence leaders have testified, our national technical means alone - even if upgraded at great expense - could not fully substitute for the insight into the Russian arsenal we gain from New START’s notification requirements. In the absence of confidence about the other side’s capabilities, both U.S. and Russian planners will have greater incentive to engage in worst-case scenario planning, driving a spiral of increased spending on destabilizing systems.

A deep strategic stability dialogue between Washington and Moscow is necessary today to reduce the risk of unintended escalation and will be even more essential tomorrow if New START is allowed to expire. Central to this effort is the intensification of U.S.-Russian military-to-military contacts. The “no-contact” policy dating back to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 was meant to show Moscow there can be no business as usual, but it now works against American security interests, as it prevents the kind of information exchange and relationships that could help prevent an incident from becoming a conflict.

Beyond military channels, it is to be hoped that last week’s meeting between American and Russian diplomats will lead directly to a continuing, intensive strategic stability dialogue that will focus on enhanced understanding of each other’s doctrines and capabilities, less name-calling and more problem-solving.

REFERENCES

Description: 

Testimony from Thomas Countryman, board chairman for the Arms Control Association, before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment.

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