"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
December 2018

Arms Control Today December 2018

Edition Date: 
Saturday, December 1, 2018
Cover Image: 

Pressure Builds on Saudi Nuclear Accord

December 2018
By Shervin Taheran

In the wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post who was critical of the Saudi government, Democratic and Republican members of Congress called on President Donald Trump to suspend negotiations on a U.S.-Saudi civil nuclear cooperation agreement, especially because the kingdom is seemingly unwilling to accept a ban on uranium-enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during an October 16 visit to Riyadh amid international outrage over the Saudi murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The crown prince's alleged role in ordering the killing and his threat to have Saudi Arabia produce nuclear weapons if Iran does so pose new hurdles to concluding a long-delayed U.S.-Saudi civil nuclear cooperation agreement. (Photo: Leah Millis/AFP/Getty Images)Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Todd Young (Ind.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Dean Heller (Nev.) wrote to Trump on Oct. 31 urging that he suspend negotiations on a cooperation accord, known as a 123 agreement, “for the foreseeable future.” They noted that their prior reservations, given Saudi unwillingness to accept the “gold standard” of no uranium enrichment or reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, have been “solidified” in light of the Khashoggi murder, as well as “certain Saudi actions related to Yemen and Lebanon.”

Further, the senators threatened to advance a joint resolution of disapproval as provided for by the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, from which section 123 agreements gets the name, to block any such agreement.

On the same day, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released his own letter calling on Trump not only to suspend the 123 agreement negotiations but also to revoke existing Saudi “Part 810” authorizations, which allow for the transfer of nuclear services, technology, and assistance, and to indefinitely suspend any further considerations of Part 810 authorizations for the kingdom.

Complicating matters, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the U.S. intelligence community reportedly concluded was responsible for the Khashoggi killing, said earlier this year that Saudi Arabia would produce nuclear weapons if regional archrival Iran does so. (See ACT, April 2018.) For that, the Saudis likely would need uranium-enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

A U.S. State Department official told Arms Control Today that the two governments “have been in negotiations on a 123 agreement since 2012,” but declined to comment on the substance of negotiations. The Energy Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is seeking to ensure Congress is able to keep any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia at the highest nonproliferation standards. He has been working on legislation that would require positive action by Congress to approval a U.S.-Saudi 123 agreement, and a similar measure is being developed in the Senate.

Under the current process, the president submits a 123 agreement to Congress for automatic approval after 90 days unless Congress objects with a veto-proof majority. Sherman’s bill would require instead that Congress vote in favor of an agreement for it to be implemented. The legislation also would require any accord to include the gold standard provisions and increased inspections authorization for the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as for the White House to produce reports on Saudi Arabia’s state of human rights and its investigations into the Khashoggi murder.

Trump has repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining financial and diplomatic ties to the Saudis, but has not, at least recently, specifically addressed the potential civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which supporters say could be a boost to U.S. companies in the civilian nuclear energy field, such as bankrupt Westinghouse Electric Co. Complicating matters is the fact that Westinghouse was recently acquired by a Canadian asset management company, and Saudi Arabia has a recent edict prohibiting business with Canada as a result of Canadian criticism of Saudi human rights abuses.

Even if the United States does sign a 123 agreement, there is no guarantee the Saudis would go with U.S. companies. For example, the United Arab Emirates, after reaching an accord with the United States, still chose to go with a South Korean company for nuclear-reactor construction. But the agreement is useful to the UAE because it allows for easier transfer of sensitive technology and information.

In its accord, the UAE, the only other Arab nation in the Persian Gulf to have a 123 agreement with the United States, agreed to abide by the gold standard provisions. If the United States relaxes its standards for the Saudis, the UAE could seek to renegotiate a comparable easing of its 123 agreement.

China, France, Russia, South Korea, and the United States are currently vying to build two nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, the first of what the Saudis have said could be as many as16 reactors in a multibillion-dollar program over 20 years.

Companies were supposed to be selected by this month, but South Korea said in July that the winner would likely be selected by the Saudis during 2019. That date could slip further in light of Khashoggi’s murder and U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s comments in September that the 123 agreement negotiations were going more slowly than desired. (See ACT, November 2018.)

Saudi Arabia’s state-run press agency announced on Nov. 6 that the crown prince had “laid the foundation stone” for several strategic projects, including Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear research reactor. Although not providing details about the construction timing, purpose, or cost of the “low-energy” research reactor, the statement marked an important milestone as the oil-dependent kingdom aims to diversify its energy mix.

Lawmakers call for suspending talks on nuclear cooperation agreement following the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Indian Submarine Completes First Patrol

December 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in November that the country’s first ballistic missile submarine completed its inaugural “deterrence patrol.”

An undated photo shows India testing a submarine-launched ballistic missile system. The missile was launched from a location in the Bay of Bengal, from a depth of 50 meters. The nuclear-capable system was developed to be deployed on INS Arihant.  (Photo: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)Modi described the deployment of the INS Arihant on Nov. 5 as an “open warning for the country’s enemies” and a response to “those who indulge in nuclear blackmail.” Modi did not specifically mention Pakistan, but his message was likely directed at Islamabad.

Modi’s description of the sub’s activities could mean that the submarine was armed with nuclear-tipped submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). It is unclear how long the patrol lasted.

The Arihant is India’s first domestically built, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. It was commissioned in 2016 and began sea trials at that time. (See ACT, April 2016.) The lapse between sea trials and the submarine’s first patrol is believed to have been caused by extensive damage after a hatch was left open in 2017, flooding the submarine.

The Arihant can carry 12 K-15 SLBMs, which have an estimated range of 750 kilometers. The K-15 has been tested multiple times, including in August 2018. In the future, the submarine could carry four K-4 SLBMs. The K-4 is still under development and has an estimated range of about 3,500 kilometers. The longer-range missile is likely designed with China in mind, while the shorter-range K-15 puts Pakistan in range.

The Arihant deployment completes India’s nuclear triad, that is, the ability to deliver nuclear weapons from land-, air-, and sea-based systems. It also enhances India’s second-strike capability, although India, with only one deployed submarine, will not be able to conduct continuous deterrent patrols at this time.

A second ballistic missile submarine was reportedly finished in December 2017, and an additional two submarines are under construction. India plans to build four to six nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines. These subsequent submarines are larger than the Arihant and could hold up to eight K-4 ballistic missiles.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Nov. 8 that the Arihant’s patrol “marks the first actual deployment of ready-to-fire nuclear warheads in South Asia” and is a “matter of concern” for states in the region and the international community.

Indian and Pakistani nuclear warheads are largely believed to be de-mated, or stored separately from delivery systems. On a submarine, however, de-mating is not feasible, and the warheads are stored paired with the ballistic missiles.

Mohammad Faisal, a spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, said that “no one should doubt Pakistan’s resolve and capability to meet the challenge” posed by India’s recent developments.

Pakistan is currently developing a sea-launched cruise missile, the Babur-3, likely for use with its diesel submarines. Pakistan tested the Babur-3, which has an estimated range of about 450 kilometers, from a submerged barge in 2017 and 2018. Pakistani officials said the move was prompted by India’s decision to develop SLBMs.

The INS Arihant gives India a nuclear triad.

UN Body Seeks Mideast WMD-Free-Zone Talks

December 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre


The UN General Assembly’s disarmament committee called on Secretary-General António Guterres to convene a conference next year for further talks on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East.

The discussions in the General Assembly First Committee also revealed deepening tensions between the United States and Russia on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, chemical weapons, and outer space security, as well as strains between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states over how to make progress toward nuclear disarmament.

On the WMD-free-zone conference proposal, 103 countries supported the resolution introduced by the Arab League and 71 abstained. Only the United States, Israel, and Micronesia voted against.

If adopted by the General Assembly in December as anticipated, a first conference will last one week during 2019, and subsequent conferences will be held each year until an accord on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East is adopted. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit would prepare background documents for the conferences.

Canada, the United Kingdom (which abstained), and the United States criticized the resolution, stating in separate explanations that they believe it is not inclusive. The United States opposed it because of its “focus on isolating Israel,” Robert Wood, U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), tweeted on Oct. 18. Israel, which is widely thought to possess nuclear weapons, does not support the conference proposal. Wood stated that the United States would only support actions with consensus support among all states in the Middle East.

The United States and Israel also rejected a different resolution, introduced by Egypt, calling for progress on creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. This resolution has been introduced at the United Nations every year since the 1980s and is usually adopted by consensus without being taken to a vote. In explaining its decision to vote against Egypt’s resolution this year, Israel blamed the Arab League for breaking consensus on the subject by proposing the new resolution calling for a conference in 2019.

The UN meeting also was marred by stark divisions between the United States and Russia on several critical issues. Russia tried to introduce an emergency resolution urging states to “preserve and strengthen” the INF Treaty after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 1987 accord. The committee rejected Russia’s resolution because it was introduced after the deadline, although there was a heated exchange between the United States and Russia on it.

The United States was also at odds with Russia on weapons in outer space, voting against every resolution introduced on the subject, including one on preventing a space arms race and a ban on putting weapons in space first. The United States and Israel were the only countries to vote against the resolution on preventing a space arms race, and the United States was one of three to reject the resolution on “further practical measures” to prevent a space arms race.

A dozen countries opposed Russia’s resolution, which recommended negotiating a multilateral instrument banning putting weapons in space first, while 40 abstained. In a U.S.-UK-French explanation of the vote on Nov. 5, Cynthia Plath, U.S. deputy permanent representative to the CD, called the resolution hypocritical and not verifiable and said it did not address threats from anti-satellite weapons.

Instead, the three countries support non-legally binding transparency and confidence-building measures, according to the statement. Yet, this year, the United States opposed a resolution on transparency and confidence-building measures in space, which it had co-sponsored with China and Russia every year since 2012.

This year’s resolution differed from last year’s by inviting states to report on steps taken to implement the resolution and to convene a panel discussion on challenges to space security and sustainability. Plath said on Nov. 6 that the resolution makes an “unacceptable linkage” between proposals for “voluntary, pragmatic” transparency and confidence-building measures and the “commencement of futile negotiations” on “fundamentally flawed arms control proposals,” despite no mention of negotiations commencement in the resolution text.

On another matter, Russia voted against the annual resolution on the Chemical Weapons Convention, which condemns the use of chemical weapons and stresses the importance of implementing the convention, as it has since 2016. Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, condemned Russia for blocking accountability for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in an Oct. 10 statement.

Member states were split on two controversial resolutions on nuclear disarmament. Japan’s annually introduced resolution on disarmament, which last year was supported by the United States but criticized by a number of other states as undermining disarmament commitments, faced criticism from both camps this year. (See ACT, December 2017.)

Austria explained to the conference on Nov. 1 that it abstained on the resolution because it restates agreed disarmament language, misrepresents the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and undermines the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

For its part, the United States rejected language reinserted into the resolution about the importance of nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Article VI, which commits states-parties to pursue disarmament, and agreements reached at NPT review conferences in 1995, 2000, and 2010, a source told Kyodo News on Nov. 10. The United States was successful in eliminating an initial clause in the resolution that would have called on North Korea to sign and ratify the CTBT, according to the same source.

The first UN resolution to welcome the adoption of the prohibiton treaty and encourage all states to sign and ratify it passed the First Committee with 122 states voting in favor, 41 voting against, and 16 abstaining. All nuclear-armed states except for North Korea, which abstained, voted against the resolution.


UN Disarmament Resolutions

During its 2018 session, the UN General Assembly First Committee adopted several resolutions on nuclear disarmament. Below are some of those resolutions.

Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons
Reaffirms that the use of nuclear weapons would be a “crime against humanity” and requests that the Conference on Disarmament (CD) commence negotiations on a treaty prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. Adopted by a vote of 120-50 with 15 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.44)

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Urges states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as soon as possible and to maintain the current nuclear testing moratoriums until the entry into force of the treaty. Adopted by a vote of 181-1 with four abstentions. North Korea voted against the resolution. (A/C.1/73/L.26)

Treaty Banning the Production of Fissile Material for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices
Urges the CD to agree on and implement a program of work that includes the immediate commencement of negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Adopted by a vote of 180-1 with five abstentions. Pakistan voted against the resolution. (A/C.1/73/L.58)

Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons
Stresses the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons use and emphasizes that the only way to prevent their use is total elimination. Calls on states to prevent the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and to exert all efforts to achieve total nuclear disarmament. Adopted by a vote of 143-15 with 23 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.23)

Ethical Imperatives for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World
Declares that “all states share an ethical responsibility” to “take the effective measures, including legally binding measures, necessary to eliminate and prohibit all nuclear weapons, given their catastrophic humanitarian consequences and associated risks.” Declares that “greater attention must be given to the impact of a nuclear weapon detonation on women and the importance of their participation in discussions, decisions and actions on nuclear weapons.” Adopted by a vote of 130-34 with 18 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.62)

Reducing Nuclear Dangers
Calls for a “review of nuclear doctrines and, in this context, immediate and urgent steps to reduce the risks of unintentional and accidental use of nuclear weapons, including through de-alerting and de-targeting nuclear weapons.” Adopted by a vote of 127-49 with 10 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.43)

The United States votes against and spars with Russia on other matters at UN session.

Election Shuffles Congressional Leaders

December 2018
By Shervin Taheran

With the House of Representatives flipping to Democratic control next month, along with some significant retirements and losses, the leadership will change for some key defense and appropriations committees dealing with nuclear weapons arms control, disarmament, and budgetary issues.

In January, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) is expected to make history as the first woman to chair the House Appropriations Committee. In photo, Lowey questions a witness during an appropriations committee hearing April 26. (Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images)When a chamber of Congress shifts party control, generally the ranking member or, in some cases, the member previously in the minority with the most seniority becomes the committee’s chair. The committee chair of the losing party generally becomes the ranking member. Under this seniority-based practice, the Democratic leadership of key committees can be anticipated, but the shifts were less clear for their Republican counterparts, who tend to have a more active selection process for the top committee spots.

For instance, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, is poised to take the helm as chairman. He has been vocal about his desire to rein in the U.S. nuclear weapons budget to a more affordable level. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) will likely become chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) is in line to become chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) is expected to chair the House Appropriations Committee.

Within the appropriations committee, subcommittee ranking members Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) are set to assume leadership of the defense and the energy and water subcommittees, respectively. The latter subcommittee’s jurisdiction includes funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which runs the nation’s production of nuclear weapons and some nonproliferation programs.

The top Republican spots for House committees were determined in late November, and subcommittee ranking-member assignments will follow.

On the House Armed Services Committee, current Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), simply will become the ranking member. However, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), current chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, will be assuming the top Republican seat on the Committee on Homeland Security, meaning he likely will not retain the top Republican seat on the subcommittee. On the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) beat out a more senior colleague, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), to become the ranking member after current Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) retires.

For the first time, the powerful House Appropriations Committee will be led by women. Along with Lowey as prospective chair, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) beat several challengers to become the ranking member, succeeding retiring 12-term Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.). Granger’s new role will alter the minority leadership on key appropriations subcommittees since she was chairwoman of the defense appropriations subcommittee.

Meanwhile, the Senate remains under Republican control, but the composition of the leadership for key committees will see some changes. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is poised to continue chairing the Armed Services Committee, as he did when he took over for the ailing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) will likely continue to serve as ranking member of the committee.

The chairwoman of the Senate Strategic Forces Subcommittee will likely remain Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), but ranking member Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) lost re-election, leaving open the ranking slot on the committee, which deals with nuclear weapons. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is next in line, but he is currently ranking member on the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. He may choose to shift subcommittees because his state is home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a part of the nuclear weapons complex.

The no. 2 Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), likely will succeed retiring Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), while re-elected Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is expected to remain ranking member.

Before committee leadership posts are set, the parties must elect their own caucus-wide leadership. Committee chairs, ranking members, and committee members will likely all be confirmed as the new Congress gets underway in January.


Democrats get ready to take charge in the House of Representatives in January.

Russian Chemical Weapons Use Draws More Sanctions

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin as they gather with other leaders for a November 11 ceremony in Paris marking the 100th anniversary of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I.   (Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)The United States confirmed on Nov. 6 that it will impose a second, more severe round of sanctions on Russia for its use of chemical weapons in the United Kingdom. To avoid the additional sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act, Russia had to provide reliable assurances that it is no longer using chemical weapons, will not do so in the future, and will allow international inspectors to verify its assurances. Russia continues to deny that it used or possesses chemical weapons. Robert Palladino, a State Department spokesman, said on Nov. 7 that the U.S. administration was considering implementation plans. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), outgoing chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement pressed for action, stating that “hesitation only encourages more Russian aggression.”

U.S. options for additional sanctions include banning multilateral development bank assistance or U.S. bank loans except loans for food or agricultural commodities, imposing additional export prohibitions or import restrictions, suspending diplomatic relations, and terminating air carrier landing rights. After an Aug. 6 U.S. determination that Russia had used a nerve agent in an attack against a former spy in the UK, the first round of sanctions took effect Aug. 27 and included a ban on U.S. exports to Russia related to national security, such as gas turbine engines, electronics, integrated circuits, and testing and calibration equipment that were previously allowed on a case-by-case basis. (See ACT, September 2018).—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Russian Chemical Weapons Use Draws More Sanctions

Missile Defense Review Still Pending

Public release of a congressionally directed missile defense review, originally mandated to be done by the end of last January, has continued to be delayed, and a final timeline for release is unclear as some Defense Department officials say the report is completed and undergoing unspecified “final deliberation.” (See ACT, May 2017.) The tentative timing for release has been repeatedly pushed off for unknown reasons. In addition to a standard procedural final review process, there may be administration concerns about the potential to disrupt negotiations between the United States and North Korea by releasing a document outlining a strategy to counter North Korea’s capabilities. In April, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan explained that part of the postponement resulted from the delayed Senate confirmation of John Rood, who took office in January as undersecretary of defense for policy. The review has been rescheduled from a late 2017 release to February, then mid-May. On Sept. 4, Rood told an audience at the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance that it would be out in the “next few weeks.” In early November, Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said that the report was in the final stages of staffing and that the Pentagon wants to make sure that the review is “coordinated.”—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Missile Defense Review Still Pending

Human Rights Body Condemns WMD

The interpretative body of a major human rights treaty called the use or threat of use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including nuclear weapons, “incompatible with the respect for the right to life,” adding that it may be a “crime under international law,” in new commentary adopted Oct. 30 on the treaty’s implementation. The Human Rights Committee is composed of international experts who monitor implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which has 172 states-parties, including all nuclear-armed countries except China, which is a signatory.

The commentary, coupled with the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, reflects a “new, more human-centered trend towards nuclear disarmament,” Daniel Rietiker, an adjunct professor of international law and human rights at the University of Lausanne, wrote in a blog post Nov. 7. But several nuclear-armed states argued when the commentary was being considered that weapons of mass destruction were beyond the scope of the ICCPR. The new commentary also asserts that states-parties must stop WMD proliferation, destroy existing stockpiles, respect obligations to pursue good faith negotiations on nuclear disarmament, and provide “reparations” to victims of nuclear weapons use and testing.

The last comment from the Human Rights Committee on nuclear weapons was in 1984, which stated that nuclear weapons “are among the greatest threats to the right of life which confront mankind today” and that their use “should be considered” a crime against humanity.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Human Rights Body Condemns WMD

Congress Increases ICBM Funding

Congress has provided $168 million more than the Trump administration’s budget request over the past two years to keep the development of the Air Force’s new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system ahead of schedule. Lawmakers approved the transfer earlier this year of $100 million in unspent fiscal year 2018 Pentagon funds to the program known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). In addition, the final fiscal year 2019 defense appropriations bill provided $69 million above the initial request of $345 million for the program. (See ACT, November 2018.)

The GBSD program is slated to replace the current force of 400 deployed Minuteman III missiles and their supporting infrastructure and remain in service through the 2070s. The Air Force in August 2017 selected Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. to proceed with the development program. (See ACT, October 2017.) There is significant uncertainty about the projected acquisition cost of the new missile system, raising questions about affordability. An independent Pentagon cost estimate conducted in 2016 put the GBSD program’s price tag at between $85 billion and $150 billion, including the effects of inflation, well above the Air Force’s initial estimate of $62 billion. Pentagon officials ultimately approved the $85 billion figure as the initial official cost of the program. (See ACT, March 2017.) The Air Force had planned to produce an updated cost estimate by the end of 2018. The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment on whether the service has done so.—KINGSTON REIF

Congress Increases ICBM Funding

Cost of Wars Exceeds $5.9 Trillion

A U.S. Army carry team moves the transfer case holding the remains of Major Brent Taylor, a member of the Utah Army National Guard, upon its arrival at Dover Air Force Base on November 6 in Dover, Delaware. Taylor, the 39-year-old mayor of North Ogden, Utah, was killed November 3 in Afghanistan. (Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)U.S. war operations around the world have cost more than $5.9 trillion since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a study issued Nov. 14 by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. The report notes that the estimate “differs substantially” from lower figures released by the Pentagon because the new study includes not only war appropriations made to the Defense Department but also spending across the federal government that is a consequence of these wars, including past and obligated spending for war veterans’ care, interest on the debt incurred to pay for the wars, and the prevention of and response to terrorism by the Department of Homeland Security. A related report on Nov. 8 estimates that deaths in the various wars totaled at least 480,000, including almost 7,000 U.S. servicemembers, almost 8,000 U.S. contractors, more than 100,0000 military and police members from other countries, more than 244,000 civilians, and more than 100,000 opposition fighters. The author of the two reports is Neta Crawford, a political science professor at Boston University who is a project director for the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project, a team of 35 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners, and physicians.—TERRY ATLAS

Cost of Wars Exceeds $5.9 Trillion

Getting Off the Treadmill to Catastrophe

December 2018
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Earlier this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “[t]he Cold War is back...but with a difference. The mechanisms and the safeguards to manage the risks of escalation that existed in the past no longer seem to be present.”

Russian Topol-M ICBM crosses Red Square in Moscow during a Victory Day parade on May 9, 2008.  (Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images)Indeed, the United States and Russia are planning to spend trillions of dollars to replace and upgrade their nuclear arsenals at force levels that far exceed what is required to deter nuclear attack. China is also improving its nuclear weapons capabilities.

All three countries are pursuing new strategic-range weapons systems, including hypersonic missiles, and the weaponization of other emerging technologies, such as cyberweapons, that could upset the uneasy balance of nuclear terror that exists among the world’s major nuclear actors.

Meanwhile, U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreements designed to reduce nuclear risks, including the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), are in serious jeopardy. Currently, there is no bilateral dialogue on strategic stability to help avoid misperception and worst-case assumptions.

President Donald Trump, unfortunately, seems to believe that if he builds up the U.S. nuclear arsenal, other nations will back down. “Until people come to their senses, we will build it up,” Trump said to reporters Oct. 22 outside the White House. His simplistic notion of getting ahead in the nuclear game is a dangerous illusion.

In a nuclear arms race, the only finish line is catastrophe. As the veteran U.S. diplomat Paul Warnke wrote in 1975 as the United States and the Soviet Union were amassing new strategic nuclear weapons, “We can be first off the treadmill. That is the only victory the arms race has to offer.”

As Democrats prepare to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January, there is an opportunity to check and balance Trump’s nuclear impulses. Members of Congress of both parties, along with key U.S. allies and middle powers, should encourage the United States to get off the treadmill and take the first steps to reduce the role, size, and cost of its bloated nuclear arsenal.

Rather than ape Russia’s nuclear behavior, the United States should size and orient its nuclear force on the basis of its defense requirements alone. In 2013, a Pentagon review determined that the U.S. deployed strategic nuclear force is one-third larger than necessary to deter a nuclear attack. That means the United States can reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads from roughly 1,400 today to 1,000 or fewer and challenge Russia to do the same.

A thousand deployed warheads provide far more nuclear firepower than is needed to deter any current or potential nuclear adversary. Just one U.S. nuclear-armed submarine, carrying 192 thermonuclear warheads, each with an explosive yield of 100 kilotons or greater, could devastate a large country and kill tens of millions of people.

To lock in mutual reductions, Washington and Moscow should agree to extend New START for another five years, to 2026, and call for talks on a new agreement on new limits on all types of strategic offensive and defensive, nuclear and non-nuclear weapons systems that could affect strategic stability. Such a strategy could prompt Russia to rethink its own new weapons projects and possibly reduce its nuclear arsenal.

Further reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, which comprise 95 percent of global stockpiles, would increase pressure on China to halt its own slow but steady nuclear buildup and join the nuclear disarmament enterprise.

By scaling back its nuclear force to 1,000 deployed strategic warheads and making associated reductions to the hedge stockpile, the United States could trim billions of dollars from today’s excessive and unsustainable $1.2 trillion, 30-year plan to replace and upgrade its nuclear weapons delivery systems and warheads.

U.S. policymakers also need to shift away from outdated policies that increase the risk of nuclear war by accident or design. Current U.S. and Russian strategies call for the prompt launch of land-based missiles in the event of an impending nuclear attack. Each side also retains the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Worse still, the Trump administration wants new, “more-usable” low-yield nuclear weapons to counter Russia and has expanded the circumstances under which the United States would consider first use.

Instead, as Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, recommends, the United States should adopt a no-first-use nuclear policy, forgo new nuclear war-fighting weapons, and shed excessive nuclear force structure. There is no plausible circumstance that could justify legally, morally, or militarily the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat. Once nuclear weapons are employed in war, there is no guarantee the other side would not respond in kind and trigger an all-out nuclear exchange.

It is still within the power of U.S. and other world leaders to avoid a new global nuclear arms race, save billions of defense dollars on redundant and unnecessary nuclear weapons, and reduce the risk of nuclear use. The time to start is now.


Earlier this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “[t]he Cold War is back...but with a difference. The mechanisms and the safeguards to manage the risks of escalation that existed in the past no longer seem to be present.”


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