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Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
June 2, 2022
December 2018

Arms Control Today December 2018

Edition Date: 
Saturday, December 1, 2018
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December 2018 Books of Note


Hacking the Bomb: Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons
Andrew Futter, Georgetown University Press,
2018, 212 pages

Andrew Futter, an associate professor at the University of Leicester’s School of History, Politics, and International Relations, provides a new perspective on the challenges raised by the cyber-nuclear nexus and aims to address the implications that result from emerging cyberthreats as they relate to nuclear weapons. Futter makes two main points. First, the emerging cyber age and advancing capabilities requires a shift in thinking about, managing, and controlling nuclear weapons. Second, he maintains that if parties begin to establish a norm of hacking nuclear weapons, the consequences would be fraught with danger. Futter spends much of the book supplementing these two arguments with further context, and he works methodically to showcase the unique nature of the cyber-nuclear challenge, what those challenges and attacks could be, and how this affects current strategy. His conclusion briefly touches on recommendations that include possibly working with other nations to increase cybersecurity. Most importantly, Futter closes by focusing on three main principles to prepare for the cyber-nuclear future: systems must be simple, secure, and separate.—SHERVIN TAHERAN



Red Cross Interventions in Weapons Control
Ritu Mathur, Lexington Books, October 2017, 190 pages

Ritu Mathur, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, details the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the control and elimination of weapons. The ICRC has contributed substantially to this field, in part due to its privileged access to diplomatic negotiations, Mathur contends. Recent ICRC interventions into debates about weapons disarmament, including its outspoken support for weapons prohibition treaties, has been criticized by some who contend that the organization should remain nonpolitical. Yet, Mathur’s account shows the ICRC has acted consistently and wielded its influence in three primary modes: “testimonialization,” medicalization, and legalization. Testimonialization refers to the ICRC practice of representing itself as bearing witness to victim testimony with the express purpose of motivating states to ban and eliminate a particular weapon. In examining medicalization, Mathur details the ICRC’s shift to using evidence of the medical impact of certain weapons to advocate for disarmament. Finally, Mathur outlines legalization, using relevant law to pursue disarmament. The ICRC, Mathur contends, has played a fundamental role in the shaping of the legal architecture of arms control and disarmament, most recently in the negotiations leading to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE


Hacking the Bomb: Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons
Andrew Futter, Georgetown University Press, 2018, 212 pages

Red Cross Interventions in Weapons Control
Ritu Mathur, Lexington Books, October 2017, 190 pages

‘Nothing Endangers the Planet More Than Nuclear Weapons’

December 2018

With the shift in control of the U.S. House of Representatives next month following the November midterm elections, Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is in line to become chairman of the Armed Services Committee. In that powerful post, he will give Democrats renewed influence over key defense-related developments and bring renewed scrutiny of key programs, including nuclear weapons procurement and policies.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, questions witnesses during a defense budget hearing April 12. Smith is in line to become committee chairman in January, when control of the House of Representatives flips to the Democrats. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)In an interview with Arms Control Today, Smith said he plans to question the need and affordability of elements of the Trump administration’s approach toward nuclear weapons and press for greater diplomatic engagement to avert an accelerating arms race with Russia and China. He opposes U.S. plans for two new, low-yield nuclear capabilities, envisioned as a counter to Russia, that he said will do little to enhance nuclear deterrence and make the country safer. A better course, he says, includes undertaking renewed efforts with Russia to maintain the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) beyond its February 2021 expiration date. This transcript has been edited for length
and clarity.

What are the top two or three steps you think should be taken to enhance oversight of the administration's approach toward nuclear weapons?

It is really a matter of taking another look at the Nuclear Posture Review [NPR]. What we want to do is to drill down, firstly, on the costs. Exactly what is this going to cost us, and how does that balance out against our other national security needs, and then, what's the strategy behind this? Why do we need so many nuclear weapons? Ultimately, what I want to do is see a shift to a deterrence strategy. I think the oversight will come to having an explanation for why do you think we need this many delivery platforms? Why do we need the triad? Why do we need over 4,000 nuclear weapons? I think that is the discussion that most members of Congress have not been privy to, and having seen it myself, I don't buy the explanations, and I don't think it is the correct course.

A key element of the Trump administration's NPR report was the call to develop two new, low-yield nuclear capabilities for the sea-based leg of the triad—in the near term, a low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead option and, in the longer term, a new sea-launched cruise missile. Would these enhance deterrence, or could they lower the nuclear threshold and increase the risk of miscalculation?

I think it lowers the nuclear threshold and increases the risk of miscalculation. I think it increases the risk that people will see nuclear weapons as simply another weapon in their arsenal of conflict, and when you start talking about low-yield nuclear weapons, you contemplate uses other than for deterrence.

Now, the argument that the administration will make is, well, if Russia has low-yield nuclear weapons, we have to counterbalance it. My view is that we have to say that there is no such thing as an acceptable use of a nuclear weapon and that we will counter it with whatever nuclear weapons we have. When you go the low-yield route, you increase the number of weapons, you increase the risk for people thinking that they can use them in a tactical way. They do not enhance our ability to deter our adversaries, so I'm opposed to low-yield nuclear weapons. I think that speeds up an arms race that is very, very dangerous.

Do you know whether the U.S. intelligence community has concluded, as the NPR report claims, that Russia or China might believe the United States would be self-deterred from using current weapons in response to, say, limited Russian or Chinese nuclear use?

It's just speculation. I have not seen any in-depth study on that question. This is why the other big part, of course, is to maintain an open dialogue with our fellow nuclear powers China and Russia. It is our responsibility as global powers to make sure that nuclear weapons are never used, and we need to have consistent dialogue on how to avoid that.

Whatever other differences we might have, I want to see a consistent dialogue on nuclear weapons. It is something that President Ronald Reagan understood. He was obviously for peace through strength. He wanted to build up a strong military, but he was also instrumental in negotiating arms reduction treaties where nuclear weapons were concerned, precisely because he understood the risk that nuclear weapons pose.

The Congressional Budget Office projected last year that the Obama administration's plans to sustain and upgrade the nuclear arsenal would cost $1.2 trillion without adjusting for inflation. The Trump administration's proposals would add to the cost. Do you believe that is realistic and affordable?

I do not. I think that is the biggest challenge that we face within our national security budget. Every single branch says it doesn’t have enough, that we need more, and yet we don't have the money to do that. We need to reconfigure a national security strategy that would better reflect both our resources and our true national security needs.

Nuclear weapons are a great example of where we could save money and still maintain our national security interests. A deterrent strategy is what's going to help us the most, and we could do that for a heck of a lot less money than is currently being spent. We could meet our needs from a national security standpoint with a lot fewer nuclear weapons. The path we're going down now is certainly unsustainable from a fiscal standpoint, and it doesn't make us safer.

You noted we can get the deterrence we need with fewer nuclear weapons. What might be the options to maintain the nuclear arsenal that would be more cost effective while still providing for a strong deterrent?

Build fewer of them. We can calculate what we need the weapons for in order to deter our adversaries, and there's a compelling argument to be made that a submarine-based nuclear weapons approach alone gives us an adequate deterrent. But we can certainly simply build fewer weapons to meet our national security needs. It's not really that complicated.

I know you're familiar with the plan to develop a new fleet of nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missiles, known as the long-range standoff [LRSO] system, that the Air Force says is needed to ensure that the air leg of the nuclear triad can continue to penetrate the most advanced air defenses well into the future. Critics argue that retaining such cruise missiles is redundant, given current plans to build the stealth B-21 long-range bomber and upgraded nuclear B61 gravity bomb. Do air-launched cruise missiles bring a unique contribution to the U.S. nuclear deterrent?

I don't think they're worth the money in terms of what they get us, and I would agree with the arguments that our new air-launch plans more than cover the need and, heck, our submarines cover the need as well, in terms of being able to reach these targets. So, no, I don't see the need for the LRSO.

Earlier this year, you said that the United States does not need as many intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as the Air Force plans to build. The service is planning to replace the existing Minuteman III ICBM system of about 400 deployed missiles with missiles that are part of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent system. The program is very early in its development, and there is significant uncertainty about the cost, which is estimated at between $85 billion and $150 billion, counting inflation. What options should be considered to reduce the cost?

Build fewer of them. Again, this isn't terribly complicated. You look at the total number of nuclear warheads that we have and how many we truly need for our national security. In the studies I've seen, we are planning on winding up with 4,000 warheads by the end of this nuclear modernization when, in fact, 1,000 would be more than sufficient. You could also make an argument that we do not even need the ICBM component of the triad in order to meet our needs for deterrence with nuclear weapons. But certainly, it's a very compelling argument that we could get by building fewer of them.

So, do you think the Pentagon should more seriously consider further extending the life of a smaller number of existing Minuteman III ICBMs as a cheaper, near-term alternative to the plan for an entirely new ICBM system?

That I would have to examine to figure out the viability of extending the life of our existing nuclear weapons. If that's possible as a cheaper alternative, I think it's certainly something we should consider, but I would have to hear more arguments about that. But no matter how you get there, if you build fewer of them, you save more money.

The Trump administration's NPR expands the circumstances under which the United States would consider the first use of nuclear weapons, including in response to non-nuclear attacks on critical infrastructure or on nuclear command, control, and communications and early-warning capabilities. You introduced legislation last year that would make it U.S. policy not to use nuclear weapons first. Why adopt a no-first-use policy?

In order to reduce the risk of us stumbling into a nuclear war. There are a lot of threats, there are a lot of weapons systems out there. Nothing endangers the planet more than nuclear weapons. If you introduce them, you cannot predict what your adversaries are going to counter with, and an all-out nuclear war is the likely result, with the complete destruction of the planet.

President Donald Trump signs the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 at Fort Drum, New York, on August 13. Rep. Adam Smith says the House Armed Services Committee, under Democratic control, will undertake renewed scrutiny of key defense programs, including nuclear-weapons procurement and policies.  (Photo: Sgt. Thomas Scaggs/U.S. Army)Look, war in general causes an enormous amount of suffering, but nuclear war is the greatest danger to the future of the planet. Introducing nuclear weapons first is an unacceptable escalation of any conflict that we could possibly envision. We have conventional means of responding, and we have a variety of different means of preventing getting into that war in the first place. I don't think it makes sense to have first use of nuclear weapons on the table as an option.

What would you say to critics who believe that a no-first-use policy could undermine deterrence
and unsettle our allies?

I think our allies are more unsettled by the possibility that we might introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict, as they are a lot closer to the nuclear powers in the world than we are. I think our allies would like to see us have a no-first-use policy, and, look, there are a whole lot of other things we need to do to deter our adversaries. I just don't think that nuclear weapons should be a part of that equation.

President Donald Trump announced his plan to have the United States withdraw from the INF Treaty. You have strongly criticized that and expressed concern about not being briefed or consulted. Do you think that the United States and Russia have exhausted all diplomatic options to resolve the compliance dispute?

I do not, and my biggest concern is we have not included our NATO allies in this discussion. I think we should pursue diplomatic efforts to try to preserve the INF Treaty. I think it is an important treaty, and I think we are abandoning it prematurely.

Does the United States need to field intermediate-range missiles in Europe or East Asia, and what would be the benefits and risks of doing so?

I don't think that we need to. I think we have other deterrent capabilities. The risk is an arms race. The risk is that Russia would greatly expand its arsenal of these types of weapons. I think the treaty made sense when we signed it. It still makes sense now.

If the INF Treaty collapses, the only remaining bilateral U.S.-Russian arms control agreement would be New START, which expires in 2021 but can be extended by up to five years through agreement by both parties. The administration has said that it does not yet have a position on whether to take up Russia’s offer to begin extension talks. What would be the impact of a U.S. withdrawal from or failure to extend New START?

An escalating arms race which gets us in dangerous territory. I think it would be problematic if we let that treaty expire.

The Obama administration had determined that the United States could reduce the size of its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to a third below the New START limits of 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems. Should the United States seek to engage Russia on further reductions, including on Russian concerns about U.S. missile defenses?

Yes. I think we would benefit from greater dialogue with Russia. It's actually something that I do agree with the president on. I don't agree necessarily agree with the way he's handled it, but as two of the greatest military powers, I think the whole world would benefit from us having more robust discussions and negotiations with the Russians on all of these issues.

As part of its effort to win Republican support in the Senate for New START in 2010, the Obama administration pledged to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in September that congressional support for nuclear modernization ought to be tied to maintaining an arms control process that limits and seeks to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. Do you agree?

As I said, negotiating with Russia to reduce military might in an equal way helps reduce the risk of conflict and the risk of escalation. We've got a long history of this, starting with President Richard Nixon in the 1970s. But as we looked at the build-up of our military strictly on the nuclear side, it made sense to negotiate a sensible limit on what weapons we would develop and that continues to be the case. Now that Russia is rebuilding and rearming and is much more in conflict with the United States, I think it makes sense that we have these discussions.

The administration is conducting a major review of U.S. missile defense policy. Some Trump administration officials have suggested that the review should augment the role of missile defense in countering Russia and China, not just the limited threats posed by Iran and North Korea, and they have urged the development of interceptors in space. Do you believe that such steps would be wise?

We need to have a dialogue with the Russians and Chinese about this. We don't want either side to get to the point where it thinks that it can win a war with an acceptable level of loss and therefore stumble into that war. Certainly, missile defense is part of what concerns the Russians, and their reaction has been toward wanting to build more weapons. We need to be able to defend ourselves, but I think we need to have an open dialogue with the Russians about an arms control approach that gives us a more secure world.

There have been efforts off and on to engage with Russia in a strategic stability dialogue. There was a strategic stability dialogue meeting last fall, but since then, a follow-up has not been scheduled despite the fact, as we understand it, that the Defense and State departments want to have it and the Russians want to have it. Is this something that the secretary of state and secretary of defense should be directly involved in, rather than relying on Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting occasionally on the margins of other meetings?

Yes, I think there needs to be robust engagement across all those fronts. I think the secretary of state and secretary of defense need to be involved. I think President Putin and President Trump need to be involved. I think a regular negotiation on the subject would be very, very helpful. So, yes, I think that is the right approach. We just need to follow through on it and do it.

Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the prospective chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, discusses his policy priorities, the limits of military spending, and the peril of a new nuclear arms race.

The Challenges of Emerging Technologies

December 2018
By Michael T. Klare

In every other generation, it seems, humans develop new technologies that alter the nature of warfare and pose fresh challenges for those seeking to reduce the frequency, destructiveness, and sheer misery of violent conflict.

More than 800 service members and civilians took part in Cyber Shield 18, an Army National Guard training exercise at Camp Atterbury, Indiana from May 6 to 18. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Runser/U.S. Army Cyber Command)During World War I, advances in chemical processing were utilized to develop poisonous gases for battlefield use, causing massive casualties; after the war, horrified publics pushed diplomats to sign the Geneva Protocol of 1925, prohibiting the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous, and other lethal gases. World War II witnessed the tragic application of nuclear technology to warfare, and much of postwar diplomacy entailed efforts to prevent the proliferation and use of atomic munitions.

Today, a whole new array of technologies—artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, hypersonics, and cybertechnology, among others—is being applied to military use, with potentially far-ranging consequences. Although the risks and ramifications of these weapons are not yet widely recognized, policymakers will be compelled to address the dangers posed by innovative weapons technologies and to devise international arrangements to regulate or curb their use. Although some early efforts have been undertaken in this direction, most notably, in attempting to prohibit the deployment of fully autonomous weapons systems, far more work is needed to gauge the impacts of these technologies and to forge new or revised control mechanisms as deemed appropriate.

Tackling the arms control implications of emerging technologies now is becoming a matter of ever-increasing urgency as the pace of their development is accelerating and their potential applications to warfare are multiplying. Many analysts believe that the utilization of AI and robotics will utterly revolutionize warfare, much as the introduction of tanks, airplanes, and nuclear weapons transformed the battlefields of each world war. “We are in the midst of an ever accelerating and expanding global revolution in [AI] and machine learning, with enormous implications for future economic and military competitiveness,” declared former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, a prominent advocate for Pentagon utilization of the new technologies.1

The Department of Defense is spending billions of dollars on AI, robotics, and other cutting-edge technologies, contending that the United States must maintain leadership in the development and utilization of those technologies lest its rivals use them to secure a future military advantage. China and Russia are assumed to be spending equivalent sums, indicating the initiation of a vigorous arms race in emerging technologies. “Our adversaries are presenting us today with a renewed challenge of a sophisticated, evolving threat,” Michael Griffin, U.S. undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, told Congress in April. “We are in turn preparing to meet that challenge and to restore the technical overmatch of the United States armed forces that we have traditionally held.”2

In accordance with this dynamic, the United States and its rivals are pursuing multiple weapons systems employing various combinations of AI, autonomy, and other emerging technologies. These include, for example, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned surface and subsurface naval vessels capable of being assembled in swarms, or “wolfpacks,” to locate enemy assets such as tanks, missile launchers, submarines and, if communications are lost with their human operators, decide to strike them on their own. The Defense Department also has funded the development of two advanced weapons systems employing hypersonic technology: a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile and the Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) system, encompassing a hypersonic rocket for initial momentum and an unpowered payload that glides to its destination. In the cyberspace realm, a variety of offensive and retaliatory cyberweapons are being developed by the U.S. Cyber Command for use against hostile states found to be using cyberspace to endanger U.S. national security.

The introduction of these and other such weapons on future battlefields will transform every aspect of combat and raise a host of challenges for advocates of responsible arms control. The use of fully autonomous weapons in combat, for example, automatically raises questions about the military’s ability to comply with the laws of war and international humanitarian law, which require belligerents to distinguish between enemy combatants and civilian bystanders. It is on this basis that opponents of such systems are seeking to negotiate a binding international ban on their deployment.

In his annual state of the nation address on March 1, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "new generation of missiles.” Large video screens displayed an artist rendering of the nuclear-capable Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle being developed by Russia. The Russian news agency Tass subsequently reported the system is expected to ready to enter service in 2019. (Photo: C-SPAN)


Even more worrisome, some of the weapons now in development, such as unmanned anti-submarine wolfpacks and the TBG system, could theoretically endanger the current equilibrium in nuclear relations among the major powers, which rests on the threat of assured retaliation by invulnerable second-strike forces, by opening or seeming to open various first-strike options. Warfare in cyberspace could also threaten nuclear stability by exposing critical early-warning and communications systems to paralyzing attacks and prompting anxious leaders to authorize the early launch of nuclear weapons.

These are only some of the challenges to global security and arms control that are likely to be posed by the weaponization of new technologies. Observers of these developments, including many who have studied them closely, warn that the development and weaponization of AI and other emerging technologies is occurring faster than efforts to understand their impacts or devise appropriate safeguards. “Unfortunately,” said former U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig, “the uncertainties surrounding the use and interaction of new military technologies are not subject to confident calculation or control.”3 Given the enormity of the risks involved, this lack of attention and oversight must be overcome.

Mapping out the implications of the new technologies for warfare and arms control and devising effective mechanisms for their control are a mammoth undertaking that requires the efforts of many analysts and policymakers around the world. This piece, an overview of the issues, is the first in a series for Arms Control Today (ACT) that will assess some of the most disruptive emerging technologies and their war-fighting and arms control implications. Future installments will look in greater depth at four especially problematic technologies: AI, autonomous weaponry, hypersonics, and cyberwarfare. These four have been chosen for close examination because, at this time, they appear to be the furthest along in terms of conversion into military systems and pose immediate challenges for international peace and stability.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is a generic term used to describe a variety of techniques for investing machines with an ability to monitor their surroundings in the physical world or cyberspace and to take independent action in response to various stimuli. To invest machines with these capacities, engineers have developed complex algorithms, or computer-based sets of rules, to govern their operations. An AI-equipped aerial drone, for example, could be equipped with sensors to distinguish enemy tanks from other vehicles on a crowded battlefield and, when some are spotted, choose on its own to fire at them with its onboard missiles. AI can also be employed in cyberspace, for example to watch for enemy cyberattacks and counter them with a barrage of counterstrikes. In the future, AI-invested machines may be empowered to determine if a nuclear attack is underway and, if so, initiate a retaliatory strike.4 In this sense, AI is an “omni-use” technology, with multiple implications for war-fighting and arms control.5

U.S. Army Brigadier General Joseph P. McGee, Army Cyber Command deputy commanding general for operations, talks with audience members about global cyber operations at the 2017 Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington.  (Photo: U.S. Army Cyber Command)Many analysts believe that AI will revolutionize warfare by allowing military commanders to bolster or, in some cases, replace their personnel with a wide variety of “smart” machines. Intelligent systems are prized for the speed with which they can detect a potential threat and their ability to calculate the best course of action to neutralize that peril. As warfare among the major powers grows increasingly rapid and multidimensional, including in the cyberspace and outer space domains, commanders may choose to place ever-greater reliance on intelligent machines for monitoring enemy actions and initiating appropriate countermeasures. This could provide an advantage on the battlefield, where rapid and informed action could prove the key to success, but also raises numerous concerns, especially regarding nuclear “crisis stability.”

Analysts worry that machines will accelerate the pace of fighting beyond human comprehension and possibly take actions that result in the unintended escalation of hostilities, even leading to use of nuclear weapons. Not only are AI-equipped machines vulnerable to error and sabotage, they lack an ability to assess the context of events and may initiate inappropriate or unjustified escalatory steps that occur too rapidly for humans to correct. “Even if everything functioned properly, policymakers could nevertheless effectively lose the ability to control escalation as the speed of action on the battlefield begins to eclipse their speed of decision-making,” writes Paul Scharre, who is director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security.6

As AI-equipped machines assume an ever-growing number and range of military functions, policymakers will have to determine what safeguards are needed to prevent unintended, possibly catastrophic consequences of the sort suggested by Scharre and many others. Conceivably, AI could bolster nuclear stability by providing enhanced intelligence about enemy intentions and reducing the risk of misperception and miscalculation; such options also deserve attention. In the near term, however, control efforts will largely be focused on one particular application of AI: fully autonomous weapons systems.

Autonomous Weapons Systems

Autonomous weapons systems, sometimes called lethal autonomous weapons systems, or “killer robots,” combine AI and drone technology in machines equipped to identify, track, and attack enemy assets on their own. As defined by the U.S. Defense Department, such a device is “a weapons system that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator.”7

The Chinese-made Wing Loong II unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is displayed during the November 2017 Dubai Airshow. (Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images)Some such systems have already been put to military use. The Navy’s Aegis air defense system, for example, is empowered to track enemy planes and missiles within a certain radius of a ship at sea and, if it identifies an imminent threat, to fire missiles against it. Similarly, Israel’s Harpy UAV can search for enemy radar systems over a designated area and, when it locates one, strike it on its own. Many other such munitions are now in development, including undersea drones intended for anti-submarine warfare and entire fleets of UAVs designed for use in “swarms,” or flocks of armed drones that twist and turn above the battlefield in coordinated maneuvers that are difficult to follow.8

The deployment of fully autonomous weapons systems poses numerous challenges to international security and arms control, beginning with a potentially insuperable threat to the laws of war and international humanitarian law. Under these norms, armed belligerents are obligated to distinguish between enemy combatants and civilians on the battlefield and to avoid unnecessary harm to the latter. In addition, any civilian casualties that do occur in battle should not be disproportionate to the military necessity of attacking that position. Opponents of lethal autonomous weapons systems argue that only humans possess the necessary judgment to make such fine distinctions in the heat of battle and that machines will never be made intelligent enough to do so and thus should be banned from deployment.9

At this point, some 25 countries have endorsed steps to enact such a ban in the form of a protocol to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Several other nations, including the United States and Russia, oppose a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems, saying they can be made compliant with international humanitarian law.10

Looking further into the future, autonomous weapons systems could pose a potential threat to nuclear stability by investing their owners with a capacity to detect, track, and destroy enemy submarines and mobile missile launchers. Today’s stability, which can be seen as an uneasy nuclear balance of terror, rests on the belief that each major power possesses at least some devastating second-strike, or retaliatory, capability, whether mobile launchers for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), or both, that are immune to real-time detection and safe from a first strike. Yet, a nuclear-armed belligerent might someday undermine the deterrence equation by employing undersea drones to pursue and destroy enemy ballistic missile submarines along with swarms of UAVs to hunt and attack enemy mobile ICBM launchers.

Even the mere existence of such weapons could jeopardize stability by encouraging an opponent in a crisis to launch a nuclear first strike rather than risk losing its deterrent capability to an enemy attack. Such an environment would erode the underlying logic of today’s strategic nuclear arms control measures, that is, the preservation of deterrence and stability with ever-diminishing numbers of warheads and launchers, and would require new or revised approaches to war prevention and disarmament.11

Hypersonic Weapons

Proposed hypersonic weapons, which can travel at a speed of more than five time the speed of sound, or more than 5,000 kilometers per hour, generally fall into two categories: hypersonic glide vehicles and hypersonic cruise missiles, either of which could be armed with nuclear or conventional warheads. With hypersonic glide vehicle systems, a rocket carries the unpowered glide vehicle into space, where it detaches and flies to its target by gliding along the upper atmosphere. Hypersonic cruise missiles are self-powered missiles, utilizing advanced rocket technology to achieve extraordinary speed and maneuverability.

No such munitions currently exist, but China, Russia, and the United States are developing hypersonic weapons of various types. The U.S. Defense Department, for example, is testing the components of a hypersonic glide vehicle system under its Tactical Boost Glide project and recently awarded a $928 million contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. for the full-scale development of a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile, tentatively called the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon.12 Russia, for its part, is developing a hypersonic glide vehicle it calls the Avangard, which it claims will be ready for deployment by the end of 2019, and China in August announced a successful test of the Starry Sky-2 hypersonic glide vehicle described as capable of carrying a nuclear weapon.13

Whether armed with conventional or nuclear warheads, hypersonic weapons pose a variety of challenges to international stability and arms control. At the heart of such concerns is these weapons’ exceptional speed and agility. Anti-missile systems that may work against existing threats might not be able to track and engage hypersonic vehicles, potentially allowing an aggressor to contemplate first-strike disarming attacks on nuclear or conventional forces while impelling vulnerable defenders to adopt a launch-on-warning policy.14 Some analysts warn that the mere acquisition of such weapons could “increase the expectation of a disarming attack.” Such expectations “encourage the threatened nations to take such actions as devolution of command-and-control of strategic forces, wider dispersion of such forces, a launch-on-warning posture, or a policy of preemption during a crisis.” In short, “hypersonic threats encourage hair-trigger tactics that would increase crisis instability.”15

The development of hypersonic weaponry poses a significant threat to the core principle of assured retaliation, on which today’s nuclear strategies and arms control measures largely rest. Overcoming that danger will require commitments on the part of the major powers jointly to consider the risks posed by such weapons and what steps might be necessary to curb their destabilizing effects.

The development of hypersonic munitions also introduces added problems of proliferation. Although the bulk of research on such weapons is now being conducted by China, Russia, and the United States, other nations are exploring the technologies involved and eventually could produce such munitions on their own eventually. In a world of widely disseminated hypersonic weapons, vulnerable states would fear being attacked with little or no warning time, possibly impelling them to conduct pre-emptive strikes on enemy capabilities or to commence hostilities at the earliest indication of an incoming missile. Accordingly, the adoption of fresh nonproliferation measures also belongs on the agenda of major world leaders.16


Secure operations in cyberspace, the global web of information streams tied to the internet, has become essential for the continued functioning of the international economy and much else besides. An extraordinary tool for many purposes, the internet is also vulnerable to attack by hostile intruders, whether to spread misinformation, disrupt vital infrastructure, or steal valuable data. Most of those malicious activities are conducted by individuals or groups of individuals seeking to enrich themselves or sway public opinion. It is increasingly evident, however, that governmental bodies, often working in conjunction with some of those individuals, are employing cyberweapons to weaken their enemies by sowing distrust or sabotaging key institutions or to bolster their own defenses by stealing militarily relevant technological know-how.

Moreover, in the event of a crisis or approaching hostilities, cyberattacks could be launched on an adversary’s early-warning, communications, and command and control systems, significantly impairing its response capabilities.17 For all these reasons, cybersecurity, or the protection of cyberspace from malicious attack, has become a major national security priority.18

Cybersecurity, as perceived by U.S. leaders, can take two forms: defensive action aimed at protecting one’s own information infrastructure against attack; and offensive action intended to punish, or retaliate against, an attacker by severely disrupting its systems, or to deter such attack by holding out the prospect of such punishment. The U.S. Cyber Command, elevated by President Donald Trump in August 2017 to a full-fledged Unified Combatant Command, is empowered to conduct both types of operations.

In many respects then, the cyber domain is coming to resemble the strategic nuclear realm, with notions of defense, deterrence, and assured retaliation initially devised for nuclear scenarios now being applied to conflict in cyberspace. Although battles in this domain are said to fall below the threshold of armed combat (so long, of course, as no one is killed as a result), it is not difficult to conceive of skirmishes in cyberspace that erupt into violent conflict, for example if cyberattacks result in the collapse of critical infrastructure, such as the electric grid or the banking system.

Considered solely as a domain of its own, cyberspace is a fertile area for the introduction of regulatory measures that might be said to resemble arms control, although referring to cyberweapons rather than nuclear or conventional munitions. This is not a new challenge but one that has grown more pressing as the technology advances.19 At what point, for example, might it be worthwhile to impose formal impediments to the cyber equivalent of a disarming first strike, a digital attack that would paralyze a rival’s key information systems? A group of governmental experts was convened by the UN General Assembly to investigate the adoption of norms and rules for international behavior in cyberspace, but failed to reach agreement on measures that would satisfy all major powers.20

More importantly, it is essential to consider how combat in cyberspace might spill over into the physical world, triggering armed combat and possibly hastening the pace of escalation. This danger was brought into bold relief in February 2018, when the Defense Department released its latest Nuclear Posture Review report, spelling out the Trump administration’s approach to nuclear weapons and their use. Stating that an enemy cyberattack on U.S. strategic command and control systems could pose a critical threat to U.S. national security, the new policy holds out the prospect of a nuclear response to such attacks. The United States, it affirmed, would only consider using nuclear weapons in “extreme circumstances,” which could include attacks “on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”21

The policy of other states in this regard is not so clearly stated, but similar protocols undoubtedly exist. Accordingly, management of this spillover effect from cyber- to conventional or even nuclear conflict will become a major concern of international policymakers in the years to come.

The Evolving Arms Control Agenda

To be sure, policymakers and arms control advocates will have their hands full in the coming months and years just preserving existing accords and patching them up where needed. At present, several key agreements, including the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the 2015 Iran nuclear accord are at significant risk, and there are serious doubts as to whether the United States and Russia will extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty before it expires in February 2021. Addressing these and other critical concerns will occupy much of the energy of key figures in the field for some time to come.

As time goes on, however, policymakers will be compelled to devote ever-increasing attention to the military and arms control implications of the technologies identified above and others that may emerge in the years ahead. Diplomatically, these issues logically could be addressed bilaterally, such as through the currently stalled U.S.-Russian nuclear stability talks, and when appropriate in various multilateral forums.

Developing all the needed responses to the new technologies will take time and considerable effort, involving the contributions of many individuals and organizations. Some of this is already underway, in part due to a special grant program on new threats to nuclear security initiated by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.22 Far more attention to these challenges will be needed in the years ahead. More detailed discussions of possible approaches for regulating the military use of these four technologies will be explored subsequently in ACT, but here are some preliminary thoughts on what will be needed.

To begin, it will be essential to consider how the new technologies affect existing arms control and nonproliferation measures and ask what modifications, if any, are needed to ensure their continued validity in the face of unforeseen challenges. The introduction of hypersonic delivery systems, for example, could alter the mutual force calculations underlying existing strategic nuclear arms limitation agreements and require additional protocols to any future iteration of those accords. At the same time, research should be conducted on the possible contribution of AI technologies to the strengthening of existing measures, such as the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which rely on the constant monitoring of participating states’ military and military-related activities.

As the weaponization of the pivotal technologies proceeds, it will also be useful to consider how existing agreements might be used as the basis for added measures intended to control entirely novel types of munitions. As indicated earlier, the CCW can be used as a framework on which to adopt additional measures in the form of protocols controlling or banning the use of armaments, such as autonomous weapons systems, not imagined at the time of the treaty’s initial signing in 1980. Some analysts have suggested that the Missile Technology Control Regime could be used as a model for a mechanism intended to prevent the proliferation of hypersonic weapons technology.23

Finally, as the above discussion suggests, it will be necessary to devise entirely new approaches to arms control that are designed to overcome dangers of an unprecedented sort. Addressing the weaponization of AI, for example, will prove exceedingly difficult because regulating something as inherently insubstantial as algorithms will defy the precise labeling and stockpile oversight features of most existing control measures. Many of the other systems described above, including autonomous and hypersonic weapons, span the divide between conventional and nuclear munitions and raise a whole other set of regulatory problems.

Addressing these challenges will not be easy, but just as previous generations of policymakers found ways of controlling new and dangerous technologies, so too will current and future generations contrive novel solutions to new perils.



1. Robert O. Work, “Preface,” in Artificial Intelligence: What Every Policymaker Needs to Know, ed. Paul Scharre and Michael C. Horowitz (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, June 2018), p. 2.

2. Paul McLeary, “USAF Announces Major New Hypersonic Weapon Contract,” Breaking Defense, April 18, 2018, https://breakingdefense.com/2018/04/usaf-announces-major-new-hypersonic-weapon-contract/.

3. Richard Danzig, Technology Roulette: Managing Loss of Control as Militaries Pursue Technological Superiority (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, 2018), p. 5.

4. For discussion of such scenarios, see Edward Geist and Andrew J. Lohn, How Might Artificial Intelligence Affect the Risk of Nuclear War? (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2018), https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE296.html.

5. For a thorough briefing on artificial intelligence and its military applications, see Daniel S. Hoadley and Nathan J. Lucas, “Artificial Intelligence and National Security,” CRS Report for Congress, R45178, April 26, 2018, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R45178.pdf.

6. Paul Scharre, Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War (New York: W.W. Norton, 2018), p. 305.

7. U.S. Department of Defense, “Autonomy in Weapon Systems,” no. 3000.09, November 21, 2012, http://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodd/300009p.pdf (directive).

8. For background on these systems, see Scharre, Army of None.

9. For a thorough explication of this position, see Human Rights Watch and International Human Rights Clinic, “Making the Case: The Dangers of Killer Robots and the Need for a Preemptive Ban,” 2016, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/arms1216_web.pdf

10. See “U.S., Russia Impede Steps to Ban ‘Killer Robots,’” Arms Control Today, October 2018,
pp. 31–33.

11. For discussion of this risk, see Geist and Lohn, How Might Artificial Intelligence Affect the Risk of Nuclear War?

12. Paul McLeary, “USAF Announces Major New Hypersonic Weapon Contract,” Breaking Defense, April 18, 2018, https://breakingdefense.com/2018/04/usaf-announces-major-new-hypersonic-weapon-contract/.

13. For more information on the Avangard system, see Dave Majumdar, “We Now Know How Russia's New Avangard Hypersonic Boost-Glide Weapon Will Launch,” The National Interest, March 20, 2018, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/we-now-know-how-russias-new-avangard-hypersonic-boost-glide-25003.

14. Kingston Rief, “Hypersonic Advances Spark Concern,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2018, pp. 29–30.

15. Richard H. Speier et al., Hypersonic Missile Nonproliferation: Hindering the Spread of a New Class of Weapons (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2017), p. xiii.

16. For a discussion of possible measures of this sort, see ibid., pp. 35–46.

17. Andrew Futter, “The Dangers of Using Cyberattacks to Counter Nuclear Threats,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2016.

18. For a thorough briefing on cyberwarfare and cybersecurity, see Chris Jaikaran, “Cybersecurity: Selected Issues for the 115th Congress,” CRS Report for Congress, R45127, March 9, 2018, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45127.pdf.

19. David Elliott, “Weighing the Case for a Convention to Limit Cyberwarfare, Arms Control Today, November 2009.

20. See Elaine Korzak, “UN GGE on Cybersecurity: The End of an Era?” The Diplomat, July 31, 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/07/un-gge-on-cybersecurity-have-china-and-russia-just-made-cyberspace-less-safe/.

21. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review,” February 2018, p. 21, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF.

22. Celeste Ford, “Eight Grants to Address Emerging Threats in Nuclear Security,” September 25, 2017, https://www.carnegie.org/news/articles/eight-grants-address-emerging-threats-nuclear-security/.

23. Speier et al., Hypersonic Missile Nonproliferation, pp. 42–44.


Michael T. Klare is a professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association. This is the first in a series he is writing for Arms Control Today on the most disruptive emerging technologies and their implications for war-fighting and arms control.



Tackling the arms control implications of emerging technologies is becoming a matter of ever-increasing urgency as the pace of their development accelerates and their potential applications to warfare multiply.

The INF Treaty: European Perspectives on the Impending U.S. Withdrawal

December 2018
By Katarzyna Kubiak

U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement on October 20 that he intends to have the United States “terminate” the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty took many European policymakers and security experts by surprise.

Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in the East Room of the White House on December 8, 1987. (Photo: Corbis via Getty Images)Although European NATO allies now agree with the United States on the alleged Russian material breach of the treaty, the unilateral U.S. withdrawal threat is divisive within NATO. A technical solution is possible, but it does not appear to be politically feasible. Although the ultimate decision belongs to Washington, which has yet to deliver the official withdrawal notification to Russia, its execution will incur serious implications for European security, NATO cohesion, and the future of arms control.

The landmark 1987 accord between the Soviet Union (now Russia) and the United States removed a major threat to European security by eliminating an entire class of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles, those with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, together with their launchers.

The treaty contributes to strategic stability and reduces the risk of miscalculation that could lead to conflict, yet its future has become increasingly uncertain due to a festering U.S. dispute with Russia. In 2014, Washington publicly alleged that Moscow had violated the pact by testing and, since 2017, deploying a prohibited cruise missile system, known as the SSC-8 or 9M729 in U.S. and Russian designations, respectively.1

Russian officials have responded with counteraccusations, including that the Mk-41 launchers for the U.S. ground-based ballistic missile defense interceptors deployed now in Romania and soon in Poland could be used to launch offensive INF Treaty-range cruise missiles.2 Further, Russia takes the position that U.S. target missiles for ballistic missile defense interceptor tests and U.S. armed drones should be counted under the INF
Treaty restrictions.

Both parties have discussed their mutual allegations at two meetings of the Special Verification Commission (SVC), a treaty-mandated forum to address compliance disputes, and through other diplomatic channels.3 Yet, they have consistently failed to agree on the facts, let alone find a solution. Each side claims to be in compliance. The U.S. Department of State has “repeatedly refuted baseless Russian allegations in detail.”4 Moscow denies the “absolutely groundless [U.S.] accusations.”5 Meanwhile, however, Russia acknowledged that the 9M729 cruise missile exists, but claims that it has neither been developed nor tested for a range banned by the INF Treaty and its deployment is taking place in strict compliance with the treaty.6

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Russia considers that the INF Treaty, “though not ideal in modern conditions,” still has value, and that “scrapping one of the key arms control mechanisms would be fundamentally counterproductive.” Speaking at a Moscow news briefing November 26, he said, “We are ready to work to maintain its viability. Russia is open to any mutually beneficial proposals that takes into account the interests of both parties.”

European Reactions

Although the INF Treaty is a cornerstone of European security, most European governments have remained on the sidelines in this dispute because, for one thing, no European NATO allies are party to the agreement. Hence, they do not see themselves as empowered to pressure Moscow or Washington publicly on solutions. Further, the INF Treaty is more of a political symbol to Europeans than a military restraint because they already are within range of Russia’s conventional and nuclear missiles. In addition, some European governments initially viewed the U.S. evidence of presumed Russian violation as not compelling enough.7 As a consequence, it took Washington more than three years to persuade its NATO allies. Finally and probably most importantly, European allies differ among themselves in their preferred approach toward Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg meets with NATO forces in Trondheim, Norway, on October 30 during their Trident Juncture 2018 military exercise. Commenting on the possible demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Stoltenberg said in November that NATO “has no intention to deploy new nuclear missiles in Europe.” (Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)European responses to Trump’s termination announcement reflect this variation. On one end of the spectrum, allies that support strengthening NATO in a manner that deters but does not threaten Russia prefer to remain in dialogue with Moscow. For example, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was the first to express regret about Trump’s announcement.8 Despite sympathy for U.S. frustration in dealing with Russia, he called the decision a “mistake” and pledged diplomatic engagement with Moscow and Washington to save the accord.9 Maas also made it clear that Germany has no appetite for an arms race in Europe.10 Similarly, immediately after the withdrawal announcement, French President Emmanuel Macron picked up the phone and reminded his counterpart in the White House of the importance France ascribes to the treaty, in particular for European security and strategic stability.11

On the other end of the spectrum, some European allies believe that strength is the only currency that the Kremlin understands and put very little trust in a dialogue with Moscow. Standing “absolutely resolute” with the U.S. president, UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson accused Russia of “making a mockery” of the INF Treaty.12 Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz declared “a similar” stance on and “understanding” for the U.S. decision.13

The announcement of an impending U.S. withdrawal has yet another dimension exposing the deterioration of NATO cohesion. By threatening withdrawal, Washington is acting against NATO’s official stance. At the July 2018 summit in Brussels, 29 heads of state and government of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s most senior decision-making body, declared their commitment to the “preservation of this landmark arms control treaty” and pledged to “engage Russia on this issue in bilateral and multilateral formats.”14

Three weeks before the announcement, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis assured NATO allies that any U.S. decision on the INF Treaty would be made “in concert with our allies, as always.”15 Yet, the White House acted unilaterally. As a result, the announcement only adds another setback to relations between the Trump administration and European allies, for whom display of NATO unity and solidarity is of utmost importance when facing Russia.

Europe Bears the Consequences

If the threat of withdrawal succeeds in bringing Russia back to compliance, it will certainly be an achievement that could reinvigorate arms control more broadly. Nevertheless, the attempt is risky. If it fails, its consequences could generate predominantly unfavorable side effects for Europe without visible advantages on the horizon.

First, the threat of withdrawal will not automatically bring Russia back to compliance; an actual withdrawal even less so. At the same time, dumping the treaty means that the United States and subsequently NATO give up the legal basis on which they are entitled to insist on Russia’s return to compliance. No INF Treaty means no possibility to pressure Moscow on the elements of its alleged missile and limits avenues to verify whether it violated the treaty.

Second, without the INF Treaty, Russia could freely field an unlimited number of the allegedly developed intermediate-range cruise missiles in the vicinity of Europe, while NATO has neither offensive nor defensive capablities with which to credibly respond in the short term.

Third, no European government has offered to host U.S. INF Treaty-range missiles. According to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, “NATO has no intention to deploy new nuclear missiles in Europe.”16 Yet, the potential appetite of some European governments to capitalize on hosting conventional intermediate-range cruise missiles, should the United States decide to field them, could deepen NATO’s divide and play into Moscow’s hands.

Fourth, what happens with the INF Treaty will likely determine the future of arms control. The death of the INF Treaty without solving the compliance issue could impede prospects for extending existing agreements, such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), and negotiating new ones.

At their July 2018 Brussels Summit, 29 heads of state and government of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s most senior decision-making body, declared their commitment to the preservation of the “landmark” Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.  (Photo: NATO)Finally, the way NATO deals with the INF Treaty reflects on its credibility and leadership within the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime. Just last year, European NATO allies stood side by side with United States in opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, aligning themselves with the position that a step-by-step approach on nuclear disarmament is a better course. With the U.S. termination of the Iran nuclear deal, an INF Treaty deathwatch underway, and an extension of New START in question, the standing of NATO’s nuclear and non-nuclear countries as trustworthy partners, although differently, will be heavily at stake.

Can the INF Treaty Be Saved?

So far, Washington and NATO have been unsuccessful in their attempts to induce Russia to address compliance concerns.17 In line with the Trump Administration INF Treaty Integrated Strategy,18 the administration pursued diplomatic measures, including convening that month the second SVC meeting. At a June 2018 round of expert-level talks in Geneva, U.S. officials called on Russia to halt testing, production, and deployment of the 9M729 missile, but there have been no follow-on discussions, apparently due to Moscow’s refusal.19

The Helsinki summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2018 and the August 2018 talks in Geneva between U.S. national security adviser John Bolton and Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev also made no progress. Neither did imposing sanctions on Russian companies involved in research and development of the disputed missile, nor pursuing research on its own INF Treaty-noncompliant missile system. Earlier this year, for its part, NATO tried to create political pressure on Moscow by stating that, absent a credible response, it will assume Russia is in violation.20

Because diplomatic, economic, and military measures have not prompted Russia to address compliance concerns in a sufficient manner, announcing the intent to withdraw appears a logical consequence. Yet, not only is its timing questionable, but both sides have failed to exhaust all potential avenues to address mutual concerns.

Although development of a noncompliant missile carries a different qualitative weight than deployment of an alleged launcher, both are legitimate concerns. In expecting Russia to prove its compliance with the INF Treaty, the United States did not offer to demonstrate its own adherence. European allies have unconditionally sided with Washington, not pressing the United States on compliance questions, judged to be spurious at best.21

Provided enough political will in Moscow, Washington, and NATO capitals, mutual inspections could shed more light on the compliance questions. In exchange for Russia addressing concerns about the alleged missile system, NATO allies could assure Russia that NATO’s ballistic missile defense launchers will not and cannot be used for offensive purposes. Such an approach has strong backing by former high-level officials and experts from Vancouver to Vladivostok.22

Yet, such a solution might be far more complicated. The United States now publicly alleges that Moscow initially flight tested the 9M729 to distances well over 500 kilometers from a fixed launcher and then tested the same missile at ranges below 500 kilometers from a mobile launcher. By putting the two types of tests together, Russia was able to develop a missile that flies more than 500 km and launches from a ground-mobile platform, which would put it in violation of the INF Treaty.23 If Moscow were to offer credible exhibitions of the alleged missile that show it to indeed be noncompliant with the INF Treaty, the logical outcome would require Russia to eliminate the missiles plus halt any further testing, production, and deployment.

If Russia does not agree to mutual verification, the United States and its NATO allies could reclaim the moral high ground by demonstrating that Moscow, not Washington, is scrapping arms control treaties. This seems like a pragmatic offer because the United States is convinced of its own compliance and because, in other spheres, military transparency is such a point of pride for the United States and NATO.

Initiating goodwill on NATO side, however, will be no a small feat. Allies predominantly blame Russia for the current state of the INF Treaty. After countless unsuccessful attempts to reach out to Moscow, they consider the ball to be in Russia’s court.24 Also, winning NATO unanimity on such a proposal will be politically challenging. Furthermore, allies endeavor not to create any impression of getting back to what they call “business as usual” with Moscow, and any offer going beyond the current agenda could be seen as crossing this line. Yet, apart from the INF Treaty, NATO has nothing to lose.

Questions for the Future

With the accord in severe jeopardy, the alliance faces the “need to assess the implications of the new Russian missile,” according to Stoltenberg.25 Such an assessment has military and arms control dimensions.

The motivation for the alleged Russian breach remains largely unclear. Successive U.S. administrations have not attributed a motive either. Only the recent U.S. Nuclear Posture Review report states that “Moscow believes these systems may provide useful options for escalation advantage.”26 A new, land-based, INF Treaty-range missile could compliment already existing Russian sea- and air-launched cruise missiles with additional mobility and agility, more difficult detection capabilities, and reduced warning time,27 enabling a faster or surprise attack (e.g., against U.S. Aegis Ashore installations in Europe).

European allies and Washington reportedly have been weighing a set of some three dozen military and diplomatic responses to the Russian breach.28 The former could include extending NATO ballistic missile defense with capabilities to defend against cruise missiles, increasing the readiness level of NATO dual-capable aircraft proscribed for its nuclear mission, strengthening the credibility of U.S. extended nuclear deterrence in Europe, deploying a conventional INF Treaty-range ground-launched cruise missile in Europe,29 and introducing new nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles to the U.S. arsenal.30 Except for cruise missile defense,31 however, these measures would neither directly defend Europe from noncompliant Russian cruise missiles nor plausibly be explained as a response to the INF Treaty violation.

To some degree, military responses could worsen NATO-Russian relations. Additional military measures bear the risk of fueling Moscow’s sense of being under siege and thus leading to a Russian military counterreaction. Pledges to refrain from deploying INF Treaty-class missiles in Europe, provided the other side does not deploy them, would be one option to mitigate an unnecessary and costly arms spiral in Europe.

The demise of the INF Treaty and internal NATO deliberations over an appropriate response could require reopening a broader discussion on the NATO deterrence and defense posture. Allies went through this difficult process a decade ago and were barely able to find agreement. Although the security situation differs today from when NATO perceived Russia its “partner,” reopening such discussions holds the potential risk of strengthening the role of nuclear weapons, an issue tremendously sensitive for individual NATO allies.

At the same time, the current INF Treaty crisis marks yet another blow to the European security architecture and raises a more general question: What shall future arms control look like? Should the INF Treaty eventually collapse, Europe and the United States could offer Moscow the chance to work on a modern successor. Utilizing the INF Treaty as a blueprint, they could think of limiting the number of intermediate-range missiles instead of banning them completely, limiting cruise missile deployments geographically, prohibiting nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, or multilateralizing and extending the treaty’s scope.

Such a preservation effort should not be seen as a reward for Russia’s bad behavior. Rather, it should be recognized as an investment in preventing an arms race, as a step to realize the European commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, and as a way for Europe to remain central in shaping the global nuclear weapons landscape. As with the Iran nuclear accord, Europe has a major role to play and a major stake in the outcome.


1. U.S. Department of State, “2014 Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” July 2014, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/230108.pdf. See Gen. Paul Selva, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, March 8, 2017, https://armedservices.house.gov/legislation/hearings/military-assessment-nuclear-deterrence-requirements. See also Gen. John E. Hyten, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, March 20, 2018, https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Hyten_03-20-18.pdf.

2. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, “Comment by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Regarding the Report of the U.S. Department of State on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” August 1, 2014, http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/675835.

3. U.S. Department of State, “INF Diplomacy Highlights Timeline,” November 16, 2018, https://www.state.gov/t/avc/inf/287411.htm.

4. U.S. Department of State, “Refuting Russian Allegations of U.S. Noncompliance With the INF Treaty,” November 16, 2018, https://www.state.gov/t/avc/inf/287413.htm.

5. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, “Russia’s Assessment of the U.S. Department of State’s Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” April 14, 2018, http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3192916. See “Russian Ambassador Calls U.S. Accusations of INF Treaty Violation ‘Ungrounded,’” Tass, March 2, 2018.

6. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, “Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova,” December 21, 2018, http://www.mid.ru/en/diverse/-/asset_publisher/zwI2FuDbhJx9/content/brifing-oficial-nogo-predstavitela-mid-rossii-m-v-zaharovoj-moskva-21-dekabra-2017-goda?_101_INSTANCE_zwI2FuDbhJx9_redirect=http://www.mid.ru/en/diverse%3Fp_p_id%3D101_INSTANCE_

7. U.S. Mission to NATO, “October 2, 2018: Press Briefing by Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison,” October 2, 2018, https://nato.usmission.gov/october-2-2018-press-briefing-by-ambassador-kay-bailey-hutchison/.

8. German Federal Foreign Office, “Foreign Minister Maas on the U.S. Announcement That It Is Withdrawing From the INF Treaty,” October 21, 2018, https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/en/newsroom/news/maas-inf-treaty/2151874, German Federal Government, “Zur Ankündigung der USA, sich aus dem INF-Abkommen zurückzuziehen,” October 21, 2018, https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-de/suche/zur-ankuendigung-der-usa-sich-aus-dem-inf-abkommen-zurueckzuziehen-1540744.

9. German Federal Foreign Office, October 24, 2018, https://twitter.com/AuswaertigesAmt/status/1055114684083462144; German Federal Foreign Office, “Preventing a New Arms Race,” October 23, 2018, https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/en/newsroom/news/maas-funke-mediengruppe-inf-treaty/2152660.

10. German Federal Foreign Office, “Preventing a New Arms Race.”

11. Embassy of France in London, “France Reminds U.S. of Nuclear Treaty’s Importance,” October 21, 2018, https://uk.ambafrance.org/France-reminds-US-of-nuclear-treaty-s-importance.

12. Peter Stubbly, “UK Stands 'Absolutely Resolute' With the U.S. After Trump Pulls Out of Russia Nuclear Weapons Treaty,” Independent, October 21, 2018.

13. “Jacek Czaputowicz: Polska ze zrozumieniem dla decyzji USA w sprawie INF,” PolskieRadio24.pl, October 22, 2018, https://polskieradio24.pl/5/3/Artykul/2205658,Jacek-Czaputowicz-Polska-ze-zrozumieniem-dla-decyzji-USA-w-sprawie-INF.

14. NATO, “Brussels Summit Declaration,” July 11, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_156624.htm.

15. “U.S. Withdrawal From Nuke Treaty Worries Europeans,” Der Spiegel, October 30, 2018.

16. NATO, “Keynote Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the ‘NATO Talk Around the Brandenburg Tor’ Conference,” November 12, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_160241.htm.

17. U.S. Department of State, “Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty,” n.d., https://www.state.gov/t/avc/inf/index.htm (accessed November 22, 2018).

18. U.S. Department of State, “Trump Administration INF Treaty Integrated Strategy,” December 8, 2017, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/12/276363.htm.

19. U.S. Department of State, “INF Diplomacy Highlights Timeline,” November 16, 2018, https://www.state.gov/t/avc/inf/287411.htm.

20. German Federal Government, “Regierungspressekonferenz vom 22. Oktober 2018,” October 22, 2018, https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-de/suche/regierungspressekonferenz-vom-22-oktober-2018-1541072. See NATO, “Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Ahead of Exercise Trident Juncture 2018,” October 24, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_159666.htm?selectedLocale=en.

21. U.S. Department of State, “Refuting Russian Allegations of U.S. Noncompliance With the INF Treaty,” November 16, 2018, https://www.state.gov/t/avc/inf/287413.htm.

22. European Leadership Network, “ELN Group Statement: A European Response to U.S. Withdrawal From the INF Treaty,” November 7, 2018, https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/group-statement/eln-group-statement-a-european-response-to-us-withdrawal-from-the-inf-treaty/; “Letter to POTUS on US-RF Arms Control 11-7,” November 7, 2018, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kdGky0NumiWz4MWwyFNirxP9NTB9a37h/view; “Statement of the Deep Cuts Commission on the INF-Treaty Crisis and the Way Forward,” November 16, 2018, http://deepcuts.org/files/pdf/Statement_of_the_Deep_Cuts_Commission_on_the_INF_Treaty_final.pdf; “No Nuclear Arms Race in Europe!” n.d., https://kein-wettruesten.de/en/ (accessed November 22, 2018).

23. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, "Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats on Russia’s INF Treaty Violation," November 30, 2018, https://www.dni.gov/index.php/newsroom/speeches-interviews/item/1923-director-of-national-intelligence-daniel-coats-on-russia-s-inf-treaty-violation

24. NATO, “NATO-Russia Council Beets in Brussels,” October 31, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_160005.htm?selectedLocale=en.

25. NATO, “Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Ahead of Exercise Trident Juncture 2018.”

26. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review,” February 2018, p. 9, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF (hereinafter NPR Report).

27. NATO, “Keynote Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the ‘NATO Talk Around the Brandenburg Tor’ Conference.”

28. Lena Kampf and Georg Mascolo, “Nato: Russlands Atomprogramm verstößt gegen Abkommen,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, August 31, 2017.  

29. NPR Report.

30. Ibid.

31. Because cruise missile defense is not an off-the-shelf-product, its development would require years. Only the U.S. Congress has shown an interest in funding the development of active defenses to counter ground-launched missile systems within the INF Treaty ranges. See National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-91, 131 Stat. 1283 (2017).


Katarzyna Kubiak is a policy fellow on nuclear and arms control policy at the European Leadership Network in London.


With Russia and the United States at an impasse, what can be done to save a landmark arms control treaty?

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States

December 2018
Reviewed by Andrew Facini

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States
By Jeffrey Lewis
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 2018, 208 pages

Each fall, the students of Harvard Extension School’s course on nuclear weapons and international security are subjected to a tone-setting viewing of the 1984 film “Threads,” a BBC production that offers an even grimmer presentation of a full-scale nuclear exchange than its U.S. predecessor “The Day After,” which terrified millions the previous year. Such films, along with other contemporary media, reflected a deep-seated cultural dread that a sudden, civilization-ending nuclear war was an increasingly likely possibility. To a class of students increasingly born well after these years, “Threads” vividly presents the worst fears of a seemingly bygone era.

Unfortunately, as the class learns, the potential for such a catastrophe is anything but bygone—society has just shifted its focus. As the Cold War nightmare faded in the early 1990s, expressions of nuclear war in films, books, and music became scarce. Meanwhile, decades-old thinking on nuclear conflict and deterrence has continued with little adaptation to the new era. As the general sense of relief expressed in the ’90s gave way to a post-9/11 focus on international terrorism, popular culture largely ignored the lingering possibility of catastrophic nuclear war, producing a generational blind spot on the subject.

This has become especially evident recently as a new generation of Americans encounters and begins to mentally process a resurgence of nuclear fears in the wake of North Korea’s 2017 testing blitz. Hawaii’s false alarm emergency alert this past January, in particular, caused a spike in anxiety and revealed a lack of public knowledge about what to do were a nuclear attack indeed underway. Since then, President Donald Trump’s so-far unsuccessful efforts to force unilateral denuclearization by North Korea have kept the issue alive.

It is timely, then, that Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, has thoroughly imagined the contemporary possibilities of nuclear war with his “speculative” novel, The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States. Framed as a future U.S. governmental attempt to understand and summarize the devastation wrought in a calamitous resumption of the Korean War, Lewis populates the novel with today’s political leaders in an environment shaped by recent events. In this, The 2020 Commission Report is a realistic and compelling drama written to bring this grim subject back into the popular conversation.

The confrontation in the book begins as many international crises do: with a mistake. In March 2020, North Korean air defense forces, frayed by a months-long U.S. air campaign meant to test North Korea’s borders, mistakenly shoot down a South Korean civilian airliner that had strayed into its airspace. Pressured by internal politics and dismayed by Washington’s abandonment of diplomacy in 2019, South Korean President Moon Jae-in decides to respond swiftly. Without conferring with Washington, he orders a conventional missile strike on North Korean anti-aircraft sites, as well as on one of Kim Jong Un’s palaces. Kim, on tour at a manufacturing plant, finds himself suddenly isolated and inexplicably incommunicado, and fears that U.S.-led forces are preparing for a full-scale invasion.

Kim’s fears seem to be confirmed when a new tweet from Trump makes it through to his cadre in their makeshift bunker: “Little Rocket Man won’t be bothering us much longer!” Believing it to be the only action that may prevent his violent ouster, Kim gives the order to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on military bases and command centers in South Korea and Japan with short-range missiles. Millions are killed in the first wave of North Korean attacks, but it was not until U.S. forces begin a conventional air campaign to seek out and destroy Kim’s missiles that the follow-on order is given for Kim’s remaining long-range nuclear forces to launch their missiles at cities in the United States.

North Korea simultaneously launches four ballistic missiles during a military drill March 6, 2017 at an undisclosed location.  (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)U.S.-led forces quickly “win” the war in North Korea, but the consequences of the nuclear attacks are dire and global. Kim’s missile attacks instantly kill 1.4 million Americans, and millions more die of radiation poisoning and injuries in the following weeks. Recovery efforts are hampered by the uniquely terrible effects of nuclear weapons, as well as secondary emergencies such as disease and logistical breakdowns. The ramifications are felt far from the conflict zones. As cities burn in Japan, South Korea, and the United States, vast amounts of black smoke alter the climate, causing famines in Africa and South Asia.

An uncomfortably modern tale of rapid, unintended escalation, the events presented in The 2020 Commission Report are quite unlike the wars as feared and imagined in the 1980s. Rather than a precipitous crisis between well-informed, equally matched superpowers, the spiraling dynamic that Lewis presents is much more personal: events are guided closely by the various leaders’ divergent personal beliefs, habits, and pointedly limited access to information. The pace of the unfolding catastrophe too feels downright familiar because the story is often carried not on a dispassionate intelligence report in a hardened bunker, but on cable news reports, mobile phone alerts, and social media. The scope of the destruction described in Asia and the United States breaks sharply with the bleak finality of a full U.S.-Soviet exchange as feared in the 1980s. In the events of March 2020, just four U.S. metro areas were successfully attacked, and it is tangentially clear that the rest of the country is actively focused on rebuilding.

In such scenery, however, lies the book’s most divisive and perhaps deliberate flaw. Although the personal elements keep the story highly relatable, the supposed actions of Trump in particular have a tendency to venture into parody. For example, Trump’s hostile tweets directed at Kim, while inspired by reality, take a cheaply personal turn in the run-up to the conflict. His interactions with aides and advisers are pointedly childlike. It is sometimes difficult to see past these characterizations as more than a partisan critique of the president, even if much of it is based on his previous actions.

For a story that hinges partially on Trump’s unique personality, Lewis took a flier on presenting sharp authenticity, rather than writing a more dispassionate Trump. It is understandable if this caricature turns off potential readers who support the president or who are weary of the intense political polarization in general. Still, even if such characterization would be rightly seen as absurd speculation before Trump, it is undeniable that much has changed in what Americans expect from the White House since 2017. Perhaps in this, a volatile and reactive president is becoming just another element to consider when imagining modern nuclear conflict.

Despite the contemporary trimmings, the book’s presentation of nuclear war is no less alarming than that of “Threads.” Lewis knows his topic well, and the book’s deeply researched footnotes reflect his expertise on the nuclear enterprises of North Korea and the United States. He presents the grim details of the nuclear attacks in a way that moves swiftly past the cold metrics of missile specifications, blast strengths, and death tolls and instead humanizes the horrible losses via a set of personal perspectives by survivors.

Synthesizing from accounts of the hibakusha, the Japanese survivors of the U.S. nuclear attacks in 1945, and of 9/11 survivors, Lewis provides a deeply moving element to what may have otherwise been an overly technical war story. As the storylines driven by Kim, Moon, and Trump yield to personal vignettes, a darker sense of loss takes hold. In the context of lost family members, doomed victims, and desperate survivors, the many steps of disturbingly sound logic required to touch off the war are cast into an achingly regretful light. In the end, the most truly frightening element of The 2020 Commission Report is that it all fits together in a way that feels exceedingly and increasingly possible.

As the real-world crisis with North Korea continues to evolve in slow motion, a deeper public understanding of the threats posed by nuclear weapons is urgently needed. In its blending of technics and humanity, Lewis’s nightmare vision is well positioned to spark a long-overdue conversation.

The reality-based, “speculative novel” provides a chilling glimpse of one possible future.

DOCUMENT: Bipartisan Experts Urge Trump to Save Nuclear Treaties With Russia


November 7, 2018

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Dear Mr. President:

As national security professionals and public servants who have spent their careers working for and with Republican and Democratic presidents to protect our nation’s national security, we urge you to ensure that we sustain meaningful, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals in order to provide more predictability, transparency, and stability in our nuclear relationship with Russia.

We have been deeply troubled by the unresolved problem of Russia’s noncompliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. In July, NATO members, including the United States, affirmed their commitment to the INF Treaty, stating that it was “crucial to Euro-Atlantic security.” We agree. The INF Treaty has prevented the unchecked deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe, significantly reducing the risk of rapid escalation towards nuclear war.

Rather than move to terminate the INF Treaty, however, we urge you to direct your team to redouble efforts to negotiate technical solutions to U.S. (and Russian) INF compliance concerns. Russia’s deployment of a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile must be addressed; Moscow is concerned that launchers at the U.S. Aegis Ashore missile defense sites in Romania (and the planned site in Poland) are capable of firing offensive missiles. A senior adviser to President Putin has said that Russia is still ready to address “mutual grievances” related to the treaty. We urge you to pursue this option.

In the absence of the INF Treaty, the only remaining agreement regulating our nuclear stockpiles will be the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which limits the two sides’ long-range missiles and bombers, and caps the warheads they carry to no more than 1,550 each. U.S. military leaders continue to see value in New START. Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress last March that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”

New START is due to expire on February 5, 2021 unless you and President Putin agree to extend it by up to five years (to 2026), as allowed for in Article XIV of the treaty. We urge you to take up Russia’s offer to engage in talks on the extension of New START. These talks should begin immediately to address any outstanding treaty compliance concerns before the treaty expires.

With your decision to extend New START, the two sides would have the time necessary to work together on a new deal that addresses obstacles that prevented your predecessors in the White House from achieving further limits and deeper reductions in the two countries’ nuclear arsenals.

Every American president since John F. Kennedy has successfully concluded at least one agreement with Russia to reduce nuclear dangers. Without New START, there would be no legally-binding, verifiable limits on the U.S. or Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

In March of this year, you said you wanted to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.” We respectfully urge you to do so.


Susan Burk, former Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, and head of the U.S. delegation to the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference

Richard R. Burt, former Ambassador to Germany and chief negotiator for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty

Thomas Countryman, former acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and Chairman of the Arms Control Association

Thomas Graham Jr., Special Representative of the President for Arms Control, Nonproliferation, Disarmament

Jill Hruby, former Director, Sandia National Laboratories

Lt. Gen. Arlen D. Jameson, (USAF, Ret.), former Deputy Commander, U.S. Strategic Command

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, (R-Kansas) 1978–1997

Laura E. Kennedy, former U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament and former Ambassador to Turkmenistan

Sen. Richard Lugar, (R-Ind.) former Chairman, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Sen. Sam Nunn, (D-Ga.) former Chairman, U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee

William J. Perry, former Secretary of Defense

Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and former Ambassador to the United Nations, to Russia, India, Israel, Nigeria, Jordan and El Salvador

Joan Rohlfing, President and COO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative

George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State

Bipartisan Experts Urge Trump to Save Nuclear Treaties With Russia

Iran Vows to Resist U.S. Sanctions

December 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran vowed to resist U.S. sanctions and continue implementing the nuclear deal after U.S. measures targeting its oil and banking sectors went back into effect.

Ahead of renewed sanctions imposed by the United States, Iranians protest November 4 outside the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, marking the anniversary of the start of the 1979 hostage crisis. At rallies in the capital and other Iranian cities, protesters carried placards that mock President Donald Trump, wiped their feet on fake dollar bills, and engaged in the ritual of burning the U.S. flag.  (Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)Although the sanctions are already curtailing Iran’s oil sales, the Trump administration did issue waivers Nov. 5 allowing seven countries (China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey) and Taiwan to continue purchasing oil from Iran. In addition, the Trump administration agreed to allow certain nonproliferation projects outlined under the Iran nuclear deal to proceed.

Preserving the nuclear cooperation projects and some oil revenue will likely provide Iran with enough benefit to continue complying with the nuclear deal, at least in the short term, even though Trump pulled the United States out of the accord. The oil waivers, however, only last six months.

Under the reimposed sanctions, states importing oil from Iran must make a “significant reduction” in purchases every 180 days to be eligible for a waiver. Unlike the Obama administration, which defined “significant reduction” at about a 20 percent cut, the Trump administration evaluated each country on case-by-case basis.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described the waivers as a victory for Iran because the United States initially said it would “reduce Iran’s oil sale to zero.” Rouhani also said on Nov. 5 that Iran will continue to sell oil and “break sanctions.”

In a Nov. 5 news conference on the sanctions, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the oil waivers as “temporary allotments to a handful of countries” in order to address “specific circumstances and to ensure a well-supplied oil market.” He noted that more than 20 states already eliminated oil imports from Iran, reducing the country’s oil exports by more than 1 million barrels per day.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif admitted that the sanctions will impact Iran’s economy, but said the sanctions “will not change policy” in Iran. He said the United States “has an addiction to sanctions” and that the country believes they are “the panacea that resolves” all problems.

The Trump administration has made clear that it intends to continue ratcheting up pressure. Pompeo said the “ultimate goal” remains to “convince the regime to abandon its current revolutionary course” and the campaign of economic pressure is “at the center of this effort.” Pompeo also said that the United States will continue to push the remaining eight nations permitted to buy oil from Iran to zero out their imports.

Administration officials say the effort is to force behavior changes by the Iranian regime, not to drive for regime change. But officials such as Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, advocated for regime change in Iran before they joined the administration. Also, the administration has been working closely with Israel and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief regional rival, both of which seek a regime change in Tehran.

Details of the sanctions waivers were not made public, but Bloomberg News reported that India will be limited to 300,000 barrels of oil per day, down from 560,000 in the first half of 2018. China’s waiver permits 360,000 barrels per day, down from an average of 658,000 in early 2018. China and India are Iran’s largest oil purchasers and resisted the reimposition of U.S. sanctions.

Revenues from the oil sales will be held in accounts in the importing countries, and Iran can use the funds to purchase goods from those countries.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talks with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in Tehran on November 19. The UK is among the countries seeking to soften the impact on Iran of renewed U.S. sanctions so that Tehran continues to comply with the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images )Although the revenue from oil sales is likely to be critical in influencing Iran’s decision whether to stay in the deal, the waivers issued for the nonproliferation projects were key for permitting the P4+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) to remain in compliance with the deal. The multilateral group committed to assist Iran in converting several nuclear facilities to reduce their proliferation threat, and failure to conclude these projects could allow Iran to argue that the P4+1 were violating the accord.

Additionally, after Trump repeatedly disparaged the value of the nuclear agreement and referred to it as the “worst deal ever,” Pompeo acknowledged on Nov. 5 that “allowing these activities to continue for the time being will improve ongoing oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program and make these facilities less susceptible to illicit and illegal nuclear uses.”

Waivers for the projects were necessary because the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) was one of the 700 entities sanctioned Nov. 5 by the United States.

As part of the nuclear deal, the AEOI was removed from the sanctions list to meet U.S. commitments under the accord. With the AEOI now subject to sanctions, foreign entities would be penalized for working with the organization on the specified projects.

The projects in question concern an unfinished heavy-water reactor at Arak, the centrifuge facility at Fordow, and the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

China and the United States, which was succeeded by the UK under the agreement, had agreed to assist Iran in redesigning the unfinished Arak reactor to produce significantly less plutonium on an annual basis than is necessary for a nuclear weapon. If the reactor were completed as originally designed, it would have produced enough plutonium for about two nuclear weapons every year.

Iran removed and destroyed the original core of the Arak reactor in 2015. Work has commenced on designing the new core and on the contract for Chinese assistance on the project, but it does not appear that modifications at the Arak site have begun.

At Fordow, Iran agreed to forgo uranium enrichment at the facility for 15 years and convert it to an isotope research and production center. Russia is assisting in the facilities conversion.

The waivers also allow Russian work to continue at the Bushehr site. Russia provides nuclear fuel for the sole operating nuclear power plant at that site and is responsible for removing the spent fuel.

Russia has broken ground on two additional nuclear power reactors at Bushehr since the nuclear deal was implemented in 2016. Annex III of the accord, which deals with nuclear cooperation, raises the option of collaborating with Iran on light-water reactors, but does not require it.

It is unclear if additional Annex III projects, such as the Nuclear Safety Center that the European Union is interested in pursuing in Iran, will be permitted to go forward.

In addition to the reimposed sanctions, the Trump administration succeeded in pressuring SWIFT, the Brussels-based international financial messaging service, to cut off Iranian banks that were on the list of the 700 entities sanctioned Nov. 5 by the United States. SWIFT was not required to disconnect the Iranian banks, but made a “regrettable” decision to do so in order to maintain stability in the international banking system, the organization said.

A group of Republican senators said they would introduce legislation to sanction SWIFT if the body did not cut off the Iranian banks. Without SWIFT, it will be more difficult to facilitate financial transactions with Iran, even for permittable humanitarian trade such as medical supplies.


The United States abandoned the Iran nuclear deal, but Tehran continues to comply for now.

North Korea Pushes for Sanctions Relief

December 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea is stepping up pressure on the United States in its push for the Trump administration to grant sanctions relief early in the denuclearization process.

A South Korean government photo taken November 15 shows President Moon Jae-in meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Singapore. The South Korean government said the two discussed recent diplomacy with North Korea and preparations for a second meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. (Photo: South Korean government)In addition to canceling the meeting scheduled for Nov. 8 in New York between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his negotiating counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, North Korea drew attention to its military capabilities by announcing that it tested a new, unspecified “ultramodern tactical weapon.”

These steps come as Pyongyang is ratcheting up its condemnation of U.S. sanctions policy and calling for relief earlier in the process. (See ACT, November 2018.)

Although Pyongyang’s voluntary testing moratorium only covers its long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads, until now North Korea has refrained from military activities and testing in 2018 that might be viewed by South Korea or the United States as provocative. This Nov. 16 test might be a signal to Washington that North Korea will test military systems if talks do not produce results soon.

North Korea did not provide details about the weapon, but emphasized that it was a tactical system. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was described in the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) as “expressing great satisfaction” in the test and noting that it was a “striking demonstration” of the “rapidly developing defense capability of the country.”

The Trump administration downplayed the test, and the State Department issued a statement saying that the United States remains confident the promises of the Singapore summit document will be fulfilled.

The State Department initially blamed the meeting cancellation on scheduling difficulties. After North Korea announced it had canceled the meeting, Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN, said Pyongyang was not ready and so the talks had to be postponed. No new date has been announced.

The cancellation comes as North Korea and the United States continue to trade barbs over the pace of sanctions relief and next steps in the process.

Initially it appeared that North Korea was seeking U.S. agreement on a peace declaration ending the Korean War, but it increasingly looks like Pyongyang is now prioritizing sanctions relief. North Korea may be emboldened by support for sanctions removal from Russia, China, and, to a lesser extent, South Korea, all of which are calling for the United States to ease restrictions earlier in the negotiating process.

KCNA quoted Kim on Nov. 1 as saying that “vicious sanctions” imposed by “hostile forces” stand in North Korea’s way “toward promotion of peoples well-being and development.”

The following day, KCNA ran a commentary criticizing U.S. sanctions and saying that the United States “should not forget what it promised” in Singapore and that there is “no justification for sanctions” after the “active and preemptive” steps taken by North Korea.

The steps likely referred to North Korea’s voluntary moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing issued in April and dismantlement of the nuclear test site in May. (See ACT, June 2018.)

Haley said on Nov. 8, however, that it is North Korea’s turn to act and said that the United States has “given a lot of carrots up until now” and will not “get rid of the stick because they have not done anything to warrant getting rid of the sanctions yet.”

The United States continues to press for full sanction implementation until the denuclearization process is completed, but there is already evidence that adherence is slipping.

The annual report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, released in November, concluded that “Beijing appears to have already started to loosen enforcement of sanctions on North Korea, undermining the U.S. ‘maximum pressure’ campaign.”

The report recommended that the Treasury Department provide a report assessing Chinese enforcement and a list of entities that continue to conduct trade with North Korea.

Haley called out Russia after a UN Security Council meeting for pushing to lift certain sanctions on North Korea, particularly as they apply to what Russia describes as “serious humanitarian problems.” The Russian mission to the United Nations said in a statement that the current situation is “absolutely unacceptable” because it violates decisions made by the council that sanctions should not be directed at the North Korean people.

Haley said that the U.S. goal is to ensure that humanitarian aid is not compromised and that the Trump administration is “taking our time in vetting that very carefully.”

Despite the stalled progress, planning appears to be continuing for a second summit between Trump and Kim.

Vice President Mike Pence said on Nov. 15 in an NBC interview that the summit was going to happen and the two leaders would decide on a “verifiable plan” for North Korea to make a declaration detailing its nuclear and missile capabilities.

Contrary to expectations, Pence said that the United States will not require that North Korea provide a complete list of its nuclear weapons and missile sites ahead of the second summit. The Trump administration reportedly had been pursuing such a declaration from North Korea since Pompeo went to Pyongyang in July after the Singapore summit. (See ACT, September 2018.)


There is talk of a second Trump-Kim summit as diplomatic efforts stall over next steps.

MOX Fuel Plant Layoffs Begin

December 2018
By Kingston Reif

The contractor responsible for building the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina began issuing layoff notices last month in the wake of the department’s action to terminate the project.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) fought in Congress for years against the efforts to terminate the costly and delayed mixed-oxide fuel fabrication project in his state. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)Approximately 600 workers, or roughly one-third of the project’s workforce, have been notified by the main contractor, CB&I Areva MOX Services LLC, that they will be laid off beginning in January 2019.

The layoff notices follow years of controversy over the MOX fuel program. In a Nov. 8 statement in response to the first round of layoff notices, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the decision to end construction “a colossal mistake,” adding that “there is no viable alternative.”

On Oct. 10, the Energy Department notified MOX Services in a letter that it was terminating the company’s prime contract to build the MOX fuel facility. (See ACT, November 2018.) The letter came a day after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of a district court’s June injunction preventing the termination of the project. The ruling allows the Energy Department to proceed with shutting down the facility pending the appeals court’s final decision on the department’s appeal of the lower court ruling. (See ACT, September 2018.)

The MOX fuel plant, designed to turn 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program into power-reactor fuel, has been plagued by major cost increases and schedule delays. The Energy Department has sought to end the program since 2014 in favor of a cheaper alternative, known as dilute and dispose. That process would down-blend the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal at the deep underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Congress, led by South Carolina’s delegation, blocked the department’s effort to transition to the alternate approach. But the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Donald Trump in November 2017, included a provision allowing the energy secretary to stop construction if there is an alternative to dispose of the plutonium at “less than approximately half of the estimated remaining [life-cycle] cost” of the MOX fuel program. (See ACT, May 2018.)

Energy Secretary Rick Perry submitted the required waiver to Congress on May 10. (See ACT, June 2018.)

The dilute-and-dispose process would cost at most $19.9 billion, or 40 percent of the $49.4 billion cost of continuing the MOX fuel program, according to a report prepared by the independent cost office of the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, which was certified by Perry and submitted to Congress on May 10.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request submitted in February called for $220 million to close down the MOX fuel facility and $59 million to support the dilute-and-dispose option.

The fiscal year 2019 version of the defense authorization bill signed by Trump in August mandated the continued construction of the facility and authorizes $220 million for that purpose, but like last year’s bill allows the secretary to waive this requirement.

The fiscal year 2019 energy and water appropriations bill similarly provided $220 million for construction of the facility, but, also like last year’s bill, follows the authorization bill in allowing the funds to be used to terminate the facility. (See ACT, November 2018.)

The appropriations bill provided $25 million for design activities for the dilute-and-dispose approach, a reduction of $34 million from the budget request. The final amount was a compromise between the Senate Appropriations Committee, which provided the full $59 million requested by the administration, and the House Appropriations Committee, which provided no funding for the option, due to concerns that the approach lacked key specifics.

In his Nov. 8 statement, Graham warned that the dilute-and-dispose plan in New Mexico “is not feasible and simply will not work.” He added that “it’s yet another half-baked idea from [the Energy Department] that simply has no chance of success.”

Energy Department shifts to cheap plutonium-disposal plan.

Nuclear Warhead Costs Rise

December 2018
By Kingston Reif

The estimated cost of the Energy Department’s plans to sustain U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure has risen sharply over the past year, adding to concerns about affordability.

Frank Klotz, former National Nuclear Security Administration administrator, has raised concern about the level of demands on the agency envisioned by the Trump administration. (Photo: Leon Roberts/USACE)The department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on Nov. 1 released the sixth version of its annual report on the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan. The fiscal year 2019 iteration projects more than $390 billion in spending on agency efforts related to sustaining and modernizing the nuclear weapons stockpile over the next 25 years. This is an increase of $70 billion, or 22 percent, from the 2018 version of the plan.

The new NNSA plan begins to reflect the recommendations of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report released in February, which called for developing two additional low-yield nuclear capabilities, retaining the B83-1 nuclear gravity bomb, and expanding the NNSA’s plutonium-pit production capacity. (See ACT, March 2018.) These initiatives are part of a proposed expansion of NNSA nuclear weapons work that the report says would provide “capabilities needed to quickly produce new or additional weapons” beyond the 3,800 warheads currently in the active U.S. nuclear stockpile.

The NNSA states that the projected growth in spending “is generally affordable and executable” due in part to large funding increases provided to the agency by Congress over the past two years. But according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published in April 2017, the NNSA’s plans to modernize its nuclear weapons “do not align with its budget, raising affordability concerns.”

Like the GAO, former NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz raised concern about the level of demands on the NNSA in coming years envisioned by the Trump administration. “The agency is “working pretty much at full capacity, and you can draw your conclusion from that,” he said in an interview with Defense News two days after leaving office in January and before the release of the NPR report.

The Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives as a result of the November midterm elections is likely to bring greater scrutiny of the administration’s efforts to upgrade the nuclear arsenal. (See ACT, November 2018.) Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee who is poised to become chairman in January, told Arms Control Today in a Nov. 16 interview that the current Energy and Defense Department plans are “certainly unsustainable from a fiscal standpoint.”

The largest source of projected growth in the new stockpile plan is in the area of nuclear and non-nuclear production facility modernization, including new plutonium-pit production, uranium processing, and uranium-enrichment facilities. Whereas last year the agency projected $8.6 billion to $39.3 billion in spending, including the effects of inflation, on these and other facilities, it now estimates the cost at $61.1 billion to $90.7 billion.

The NNSA plan also foresees an increase in spending relative to the 2018 version on warhead life extensions programs through the beginning of the 2020s even as it follows the NPR report in backing away from a controversial proposal to develop three interoperable warheads for deployment on land- and sea-based ballistic missiles as part of the so-called 3+2 strategy.

Since 2013, the NNSA had planned to jointly replace the W78 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) warhead and the W88 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead with a new interoperable warhead known as IW-1. Two subsequent interoperable warheads were slated to replace the W87 and W76 warheads.

Instead, the NPR report called for accelerating replacement of the W78 by one year to support deployment on the Air Force’s new ICBM by 2030 “and investigate the feasibility of fielding the nuclear explosive package in a Navy flight vehicle.” The report did not commit developing additional common warheads.

But the uncertain future of interoperable warheads does not appear to have reduced the projected cost of replacing the W78, which is projected to cost $12.5 billion, an increase of $500 million above last year’s estimate. The stockpile plan states that the warhead will consist of “all newly manufactured components” and “new technologies.”

Congress repeatedly questioned the wisdom of the prior plan to buy interoperable warheads, citing the cost and risks involved with the plan. In a March 2017 letter to the GAO director, Reps. Smith and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), the likely next chairwoman of the energy and water appropriations subcommittee, expressed “concerns about the affordability of the IW-1.”

The fiscal year 2019 energy and water appropriations bill, signed by President Donald Trump in September, called on the NNSA to produce a report estimating the cost of a possible, less expensive alternative to the current plan to replace the W78.

The stockpile plan notably does not include any projected costs associated with developing a sea-launched cruise missile warhead and potentially extending the life of the B83-1 as proposed in the NPR report. Work on the cruise missile warhead is slated to begin in fiscal year 2020 and, according to the NNSA, “will be a major new addition in the next decade.”

Are the administration’s nuclear weapons plans achievable and affordable?


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