“What's really strikes me about ACA is the potential to shape the next generation of leaders on arms control and nuclear policy. This is something I witnessed firsthand as someone who was introduced to the field through ACA.”
– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
June 2, 2022
January/February 2023
Edition Date: 
Tuesday, January 10, 2023
Cover Image: 

The Nuclear Taboo Remains Strong for Now

January/February 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

Even before his disastrous decision to invade Ukraine last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin had demonstrated a malign indifference toward basic norms of international behavior, an uneven record of compliance with cornerstone arms control agreements, and a penchant for bullying and using deadly force against opponents.

(Photo by Christoph Soeder/picture alliance via Getty Images)Nevertheless, it was still shocking that, at the outset of the war, Putin issued veiled but unmistakable threats that he might use nuclear weapons against anyone, particularly the United States or NATO, trying to interfere in his unprovoked assault on independent, non-nuclear-armed Ukraine. When Putin hinted on Sept. 21 that he might use short-range nuclear weapons in the conflict, many feared that the unthinkable might happen.

Yet, Putin eventually was compelled to back off his nuclear threats. “We see no need for that,” he said in October. “There is no point in that, neither political nor military.”

This rhetorical retreat was no accident. Undoubtedly, Putin was reminded by his advisers and by U.S. and NATO leaders that there is no military value in using nuclear weapons against Ukrainian targets. Instead of ending the war, such an atrocity would draw NATO into the conflict, bringing about Russia’s defeat and Putin’s own downfall. Another major, perhaps decisive, factor was the crescendo of global condemnation against nuclear threats of any kind from non-nuclear-armed states and later from nuclear-armed states, as well as Russia’s few remaining enablers.

To his credit, U.S. President Joe Biden did not issue reciprocal threats against Russia. He reaffirmed that U.S. and NATO forces would not become engaged directly in the war. He also made clear that he would not be intimidated by Putin’s nuclear “warnings” and would provide the assistance needed to help Ukrainians defend their country. This took the punch out of Putin’s threats and helped ensure that the Russian nuclear bully did not get his way.

But early in the war, Biden referred to Russia’s “occasional nuclear rhetoric” as “dangerous and extremely irresponsible,” implying that some nuclear threats are responsible. In July, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States expanded on this theme in a joint paper saying they reject “irresponsible rhetoric concerning potential nuclear use intended for military coercion, intimidation, or blackmail.” They asserted that their nuclear weapons only “serve defensive purposes, deter aggression and prevent war.” Not surprisingly, Russian officials claimed Putin’s nuclear warnings were “defensive” and designed to deter Western interference.

In contrast, many leaders from non-nuclear-weapon states recognized that following Putin’s brazen threats, the world needed to speak with greater clarity to avert nuclear catastrophe, and they did. In June, the 65 states-parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons issued a political statement noting that “any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations” and condemning “unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.” At the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference in August, 147 non-nuclear-weapon states declared the use of nuclear weapons unacceptable “under any circumstances.”

Then, following Putin’s alarming threat of possibly using short-range nuclear weapons to decimate Ukraine’s army or its cities, global concern about nuclear war rose to levels not seen in decades. Key leaders began to speak out in more direct terms.

Borrowing from the terminology of the non-nuclear-weapon states, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated on Sept. 27 that “any use of nuclear weapons is absolutely unacceptable.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared on Oct. 8, “We need to give a clear answer to nuclear threats. They’re dangerous for the world, and the use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable.”

More importantly, leaders who had been silent about Putin’s nuclear threats finally weighed in. On Nov. 4, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the international community should “jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons.” The powerful Group of 20 agreed on Nov. 16 at their summit in Indonesia that threats and use of nuclear weapons are “inadmissible.”

The Putin-provoked nuclear crisis forced millions of people, including many world leaders, to confront the grim realities of nuclear weapons for the first time: that even their limited use likely would trigger nuclear escalation with global consequences; that their use is immoral and illegal; and that nuclear deterrence, a strategy that depends on the credible threat of nuclear use, is dangerous, unsustainable, and ultimately unacceptable.

Awareness by itself does not solve the problem, however. Russia might still use a nuclear weapon before the fighting in Ukraine ends, and there are other nuclear flashpoints around the globe. To preserve and strengthen the consensus against nuclear weapons use and threats of use, civil society and the international community must sustain pressure against those who might break the nuclear taboo. Our collective survival depends on it.

Even before his disastrous decision to invade Ukraine last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin had demonstrated a malign indifference toward basic norms of international behavior, an uneven record of compliance with cornerstone arms control agreements, and a penchant for bullying and using deadly force against opponents.

Learning on the Fly: Drones in the Russian-Ukrainian War

January/February 2023
By Kerry Chávez

The international community has watched with bated breath as Ukrainians resisted, even routed Russian forces on many fronts since the latter’s invasion in February 2022. Based on its size, reputation, and bravado, many, including the Kremlin, expected the Russian military to trounce its target in short order.

A Ukrainian soldier loads a bomb on a drone in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, in September amid the Russian war on Ukraine.  (Photo by JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images)Instead, its stunted progress has induced plenty of double-takes and debates, suggesting flaws in Russian intelligence, motivation, morale, and logistics. There is likely some truth in each of those explanations, but one factor stands out for its differential use and power to explain the Ukrainian upset: drones.1 The Ukrainians have held the line because they harnessed a crucial human and technological resource at their disposal, commercial drones, which have been decisive in the unexpected outcome so far. The Russians faltered because they overlooked them, but they are resurging because they learned from it. These lessons have implications for current and future wars, for preponderant militaries such as the United States all the way to underresourced rebels.

The Ukrainian and Russian sides both have admirable drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), arsenals comprising combat and reconnaissance military-grade models and commercial versions. Military-grade platforms have greater range, altitude, payload, endurance, precision, and data link security. These optimized, more rugged features come at high financial, technical, and infrastructural costs. Consequently, as with all exquisite airpower, they are relatively scarce and difficult to replace. For instance, Russia reportedly possessed only 20 Orion combat drones at the start of 2021. Loath to lose them, users usually field these platforms cautiously and precisely, leaving their limits unreached and their flexible potential untapped. Conversely, commercial drones are far more affordable, available, and user friendly. These models are considered expendable, and users often field them daringly in all sorts of ways. Overall, each type of drone has its trade-offs.

Russia has a larger indigenous drone capacity, producing advanced platforms in all categories, and Ukraine has larger external support (table 1). This is meaningful considering how international sanctions applied to Russia have reduced the ability to replenish a waning fleet either with complete substitutes or component parts. Russia’s recent deal to procure Iranian loitering munitions is a stark case in point. Iran is a disreputable drone supplier to many terrorist groups, and the regime is under enough domestic pressure over human rights abuses that its ability to deliver on this deal might become tenuous. Thus, not only must Russia look abroad to supplement its depleted drone arsenal, but the choice to rely on Iran suggests that it has few other options. That aside, Russia and Ukraine have a comparable assortment of military UAVs across application types.

Russia’s drone fleet was almost entirely indigenous and exquisite at the start of the war, and it was not until midsummer that the military pivoted toward commercial drones and approached Iran to supplement its diminishing military stock. Meanwhile, a mere day into the war, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense issued a social media call for citizens to donate hobbyist drones in droves.2 By the time Russia was beginning to incorporate simpler drones in July, the Ukrainian effort had coalesced into a global fundraising initiative to build an “army of drones,” including thousands of commercial models.3

More fundamentally, an inventory of each side’s drone models does not account for how these actors are wielding them, sometimes as standalone assets and other times in combined arms configurations. Too often, analyses of emerging technologies overfocus on the technologies. Impassive tools, they cannot be dissociated from the human dimension and the strategic context from which they emerge. It is doctrine that drives military action and doctrine that has made the vital difference in the war.

Doctrinal Differences

Military doctrine refers to the framework guiding how an armed force integrates, operates, and adapts to achieve objectives. It is both durable, reflecting a force’s experience-borne perspective about what works, and dynamic, outlining the intellectual tools to solve problems with new ideas, technology, and organization. Rather than what to think, doctrine informs how to think in battlespaces amid the fog and friction of war.4

Tactics, techniques, and procedures are central expressions of doctrine that determine how militaries structure and employ troops and equipment in their missions. Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, Russia expanded its arsenal of reconnaissance drones, touting it as game-changing technology and telegraphing a concept of operations based on advance airborne intelligence. This relied to some degree on doctrine and skills learned in Syria, conclusions about Azerbaijani successes in Nagorno-Karabakh, and clashes in the Donbas since 2014.5 It seemed surprising then how slowly Russian forces progressed, how often they walked into ambushes, and how minimal their drone use appeared to be once the invasion began.

By the logic of traditional aerial doctrine, it should not have been so surprising. Military airpower is advanced and expensive. Building, fielding, maintaining, and replacing assets are major undertakings. Losing a platform is a significant setback. Beginning from a baseline of this scarcity logic, Russia seemed to cautiously field its military-grade UAVs for high-stakes maneuvers and high-value targets. This contributed to subpar intelligence, disjointed logistics, and fractured efforts to advance on the battlefield. As Ukraine’s aerial defenses eliminated several Russian reconnaissance drones early in the war, this logic intensified amid questions about the depth of Russia’s drone fleet and the longevity of its vital aerial campaign.

Meanwhile, Ukraine densely integrated the full spectrum of UAVs into its force structures for reconnaissance and strikes from the start. Amassing what they called a “mosquito air force” of commercial drones, especially the four-rotor helicopter models (quadcopters) with vertical takeoff and landing and hovering abilities, Ukrainian fighters were able to maintain a bird’s-eye view of the war.6 Given that they are relatively cheap and accessible, fighters were untroubled to send them out on demand.

Commercial drones are expendable, equivalent in cost to a small supply of ammunition. As with fired ammunition, loss is built into a small drone’s mission such that military forces do not feel compelled to withhold them on the front lines. Despite initial skepticism about the ragtag Ukrainian drone fleet from Mavics to military-grade models, analysts quickly determined that “it’s wreaking havoc on the Russian army.”7

Ukraine’s prolific use of drones has dramatically affected battlefield behavior. Fighters can observe troop positions and movements, improve targeting for conventional weapons, harass and pressure enemy forces, and video successes that can later be publicized to rally support and demoralize the Russian side. Ukraine’s ability to blend commercial drones into its broader aerial arsenal and team it with traditional weapons and ground troops is a bedrock of its success at resisting the more powerful Russian military.

One Russian defense analyst admitted that “Ukrainians learned how to use their old Soviet guns together with commercial quadcopters. As a result, they have better situational awareness, and better target designation.… To put it bluntly, we do not have air supremacy.”8 Six months into the war, Russian General Yury Baluyevsky affirmed that commercial UAVs have revolutionized reconnaissance and artillery weapons fire, including target acquisition and adjustment, and become a true symbol of modern warfare.

Why did Ukraine innovate so well with UAVs? Why did Moscow fail at this, especially because Russian officials previously had seen this strategy in Syria and the Donbas and acknowledged it to be important? An anonymous U.S. volunteer fighter embedded with a Ukrainian unit pinpointed the reason in November.9 He explained that drones are democratized throughout the Ukrainian rank and file, with command and control decentralized into “islands of forces” that have the freedom to alter tactics on the fly. This enables units to be effective and mobile in a battlefield that is fragmented and fast-moving. The fighter concludes that, “The reality is we are droning them to death.… This is a doctrinal issue.… [T]hey seemingly decided rather early on that this type of [island] structure would work very efficiently against the somewhat lumbering doctrine of the Russians.”

This Ukrainian doctrine arose from necessity. Weaker combatants innovate or die. Those who survive cleverly leverage what resources they have. They pull from available experience, including nonmilitary experience, and experiment more readily. They accept trade-offs that traditional militaries might not, such as rifts in the command chain and information flow or risks accompanying unsecured datalinks.

The traditional, lumbering doctrine of the Russian military has struggled against and struggled to incorporate these scrappy methods. A Russian media report highlighted that this mass use of commercial drones by Ukrainian fighters is “a kind of revolution from below, a very rare case for conservative military circles. Drones entered the army from civilian life.… This is how this practice has spread since 2014.”10 Indeed, Ukrainian militias turned to commercial UAVs after Russia seized Crimea in 2014 and separatist clashes ratcheted up in the Donbas, calling it drone warfare for the poor.

Russia’s and Ukraine’s differential doctrines reflect their military cultures (traditional vs. entrepreneurial), risk profiles (averse vs. acceptant), civil societies (siloed from state affairs vs. highly porous) and fighting animus (hubris vs. gumption). The director of a Russian nongovernmental organization that is now providing small UAVs to the country’s platoons on the battlefield discussed this in November.11 He observed that commercial drones have featured in past conflicts, including the Donbas, but not to this scale and effect. Thus, “proudly open[ing] the 1980s ground force combat manual and [determining that] everything is fine with us,” Russia maintained focus on traditional airpower. The director noted that the United States has done the same, that “none of the modern armies of the world was ready for the Mavic phenomenon.” Seeing the impact of small drones on targeting, information processing, and control, he advocated a shift in military science and worldview from ground troops to generals to government. Russia is beginning to internalize that shift.


Four months into the war in Ukraine, the Russian military launched a second major offensive. This one was different. A more competent force emerged. Most glaringly, ground units began to incorporate commercial drones into their tactics, techniques, and procedures. After watching them used against them to profound effect, Russia emulated Ukraine’s mix of military and commercial UAV use. Although Russian officials had endorsed drones as a key force enabler and even discussed the integration of quadcopters before the war, it apparently took the war itself for Russian doctrine to accord with rhetoric.12

Part of a critical power infrastructure installation burns after a Russian drone attack near a residential building in Kyiv in December. (Photo by Aleksandr Gusev/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)Fascinatingly, this shift was driven by Russian field commanders rather than generals. Following a late June meeting with soldiers from the front line, a government official warned that “we are there like blind kittens—we need quadcopters.”13 In a candid series on Telegram entitled “Cry for Copters,” a Russian artilleryman stressed that all ground units from platoons upward need and have needed from day one to be saturated with commercial drones for reconnaissance and strike. He condemned the “amazing attitude” of military leadership who ignored the widespread plea from foot soldiers who use their own funds to buy quadcopters, spare parts, tools, and firmware.14

As with Ukrainian fighters who have been adept with commercial drones in the Donbas since 2014, Russian fighters there have been on the forefront of support for this shift. In May 2022, Russian-based separatists who control Donetsk established a training facility for commercial drone pilots in combat. One of its founders noted that civilian UAVs turn conventional weapons into sniper rifles, especially for moving targets.15 This tactic, penetrating aerial defenses with small drones and hovering undetected over targets to calibrate targeting and time follow up strikes, has become a staple in the war.

As Russia’s adaptation with commercial drones deepened, official and state media accounts increasingly have amplified its importance. In October, the Russian newspaper Izvestia announced “immediate plans” to outfit platoons with multiple quadcopters to be used in tandem for surveillance, searches, and strikes.16 A month later, it underlined that, “at this point, nothing gets done without quadcopters.… There are no reconnaissance devices comparable to them in capabilities.”17

Two other developments indicate how vital small UAVs have been in this conflict. First, coinciding with its own adaptation with hobbyist drones, the Russian military made targeting Ukrainian UAV operators a top priority. Given that commercial datalinks are unsecured, it is easier to detect pilots’ positions, leading operators on both sides to develop steel nerves and tactics to move continuously on foot during flight and to deploy drones in short forays to avoid detection. As drone use has become increasingly dense, diverse, and dangerous, both sides continuously watch, probe, and adapt to circumvent one another’s aerial strategy and defense. They are truly learning on the fly.

Second, in October the Russian company Almaz-Antey began large-scale production of an indigenous quadcopter, the type of commercial drone making the most difference, to sidestep the politics and expense of importing. At the government’s request, it could be easily convertible to combat use.18 This marks a major evolution: from an era of solely military UAVs to the emergence of a vast commercial drone market to militaries mass-producing commercial models for state arsenals. These trends, spanning military affairs from doctrine to combat tactics and stretching back and forward into civil society, suggest that small drones will be organic to modern conflict.


The exploitation of small UAVs in conflict or in support of a violent agenda is not new. Aum Shinrikyo experimented with quadcopters to disperse sarin in Tokyo as far back as 1995. Since the commercial drone industry began mass production around 2012, several groups have incorporated them into their inventories for reconnaissance, propaganda generation, and weaponization. The Islamic State group at its peak stands out as an ace innovator, but drones have featured in the Syrian civil war and Myanmar insurgencies, are a fixture in the cartel and smuggling underworlds, and were a fundamental asset in the Donbas well before the full war was unleashed.19

A Ukrainian soldier flies a drone on the outskirts of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine in late December. (Photo by SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images)The role of UAVs in the war, however, is distinct. First, the scale of their use in this conflict is dominant. Second, past applications of drones certainly have helped weak actors contend against stronger adversaries in unconventional conflicts, but now there is a precedent for their utility in a total war against a major power. Third, although small UAVs have been in many a rebel’s backpack and a terrorist’s tool kit, the effort to tuck them into as many Russian and Ukrainian rucks as possible is a significant pivot in state military behavior. Finally, the salience of this war has attracted more attention than other theaters where hobbyist drones have been employed. Overall, the UAV phenomenon in this war has implications across time, space, and domains.

Regarding time, the phenomenon will shape the current conflict and echo in future wars. In this war, there is active learning and aerial adaptation on both sides. Despite the significance of the Russian military’s summer resurgence, which prominently leveraged DJI UAVs, it might not be enough to offset the country’s early missteps, casualties, and conventional weapons attrition, especially amid ongoing international sanctions. There are signals that Russia is running out of key equipment and components, its recent contracts to receive Iranian Shahed-136 loitering munitions being a notable one. Whether Russia can overcome its early inertia amid these constraints remains unclear. Of particular concern is how these factors might affect the potential for nuclear escalation. The probability of a nuclear strike likely tracks with the degree of Russian desperation more generally. Insofar as incorporating commercial UAVs, which cannot carry a nuclear payload, improves the fighting capacity of military units, drone use should diminish the nuclear threat.

Ahead of future wars, militaries should analyze how small drones shape force structures, combined arms formations, and combat operations. Russia certainly will. This recommendation applies to militaries from the small to strong. Minor forces unable to field large, advanced air forces will find a flexible, reliable surrogate in increasingly advanced commercial drone models. Preponderant militaries, prone to rely on their exquisite platforms, should take note as well. The prevalence and persistence of multiple aerial assets that commercial technology enables affect the massing and maneuver of modern warfare assets. Fighters would do well to invest in, train on, and assimilate commercial aerial and counterdrone technologies that prepare them to maintain an edge in offense and defense.

The commercial drone phenomenon also has substantial implications for violent nonstate actors, such as insurgents, rebels, and terrorists. On average weaker and thus needing to be more innovative to surmount such shortcomings, these groups have long been the pioneers of the quadcopter phenomenon. Ukraine is a highly publicized proving ground for small drones. As ambitious onlookers in these organizations watch, they vicariously will learn, emulate, and innovate in other theaters. Consequently, there likely will be a burst of diffusion and creativity with drones for violent and illicit purposes. This is concerning because armed nonstate actors are not constrained by politics, norms, and laws like state militaries. They will not be shy to use small UAVs to their fullest multiuse potential to advance their agendas.

What is apparent is that the wartime benefits that commercial drones offer—intelligence, target designation, strike capacity, and propaganda and psychological effects—also can become assets for violent nonstate actors outside of warzones. This means that the threat extends into the national, local, and site-specific security domains, including such high-value targets as structures with symbolic importance, sensitive infrastructure, and population-centric venues. Stakeholders probably will look to apply new regulations where possible, whether on commercial platforms, component parts, or airspaces. This development probably will also lead to more counterdrone solutions and installations where stakeholders identify acute vulnerabilities.

A final corollary might come in the form of psychological reverberations. A Russian commercial drone pilot instructor has described the moral and psychological exhaustion of small UAVs in combat. Their appearance on the battlefield is a harbinger of harm, even if they are merely watching in the moment. Furthermore, soldiers develop phobias, always wondering if a drone is hovering nearby undetected.20 As aerial clips depicting the war’s grimness and fear continuously circulate, they could have residual effects in the public consciousness. If criminal or terroristic uses of drones proliferate beyond this war, which is likely, even a toy joyride might trigger public fear in some local communities.

The implications of drone use in Ukraine are likely to be long-standing, far-reaching, and multidimensional. Regulation and security challenges related to commercial UAVs were imminent before the war began, but the pointed and intensely watched application of this technology in Ukraine will amplify them. Keen observers will not repeat Russia’s mistake. They will take notes and adapt now, whether in doctrine, tactics, or defense.



1. This is a common lay term for unmanned aerial vehicles that this article uses interchangeably. Technically, drones also describe unmanned ground vehicles and unmanned aquatic platforms, submarine or surface, all of which are being used in the Russian-Ukrainian war but to a significantly lesser degree.

2. Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, “Do You Have a Drone? Put It to Use for the Experienced Pilots!” Facebook, February 25, 2022, https://www.facebook.com/MinistryofDefence.UA/posts/263895272589599.

3. Aila Slisco, “Ukraine Building 'Army of Drones' Though Donations to Monitor Front Line,” Newsweek, July 7, 2022.

4. John Spencer, “What Is Army Doctrine?” Modern War Institute, March 21, 2016, https://mwi.usma.edu/what-is-army-doctrine/.

5. Samuel Bendett, “Where Are Russia’s Drones?” Defense One, March 1, 2022, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2022/03/where-are-russias-drones/362612/.

6. Yana Dlugy, “Ukraine’s ‘Mosquito’ Air Force,” The New York Times, August 10, 2022.

7. David Axe, “Ukraine’s Drones Are Wreaking Havoc on the Russian Army,” Forbes, March 21, 2022.

8. Pyotr Skorobogaty, “Украина: гладиаторские бои” [Ukraine: Gladiatorial Fights], Центр прикладных исследований и программ [PRISP Center], August 4, 2022, http://www.prisp.ru/analitics/11005-skorobogatiy-ukraina-gladiatorskie-boi-0408.

9. Anonymous, “And by God It Worked,” Ukraine Volunteer Transcripts, November 5, 2022, https://ukrainevolunteer297689472.wordpress.com/2022/11/05/and-by-god-it-worked/.

10. Dmitry Astrakhan, “Drones in the Clear Sky: How Drones Change the Course of the SVO,” Izvestia, October 24, 2022, https://iz.ru/1414691/dmitrii-astrakhan/dron-sredi-iasnogo-neba-kak-bespilotniki-meniaiut-khod-svo (in Russian).

11. Nikita Yurchenko, “Vladimir Orlov, Veche: The Second Wave of Mobilization Is Inevitable—You Need Not 300 Thousand, but 2 Million," Interregional Public Organization “Veche,” November 21, 2022, http://veche-info.ru/news/9453.

12. Samuel Bendett, “To Robot or Not to Robot: Past Analysis of Russian Military Robotics and Today’s War in Ukraine,” War on the Rocks, June 20, 2022, https://warontherocks.com/2022/06/to-robot-or-not-to-robot-past-analysis-of-russian-military-robotics-and-todays-war-in-ukraine/.

13. Buryatia Representatives, “The Budget of Buryatia Will Be Spent on Sights and Quadrocopters for a ‘Special Operation,’” Taiga.info, June 30, 2022, https://tayga.info/178163 (in Russian).

14. @rusfleet, “Notes of Midshipman Ptichkin: Cry for Copters,” Telegram, September 7, 2022, https://t.me/rusfleet/5304 (in Russian).

15. Dmitry Grigoriev, “Враг изощрен, но шансов нет. Как беспилотники помогают России в СВО” [The enemy is sophisticated, but there is no chance. How drones help Russia in SVO], Аргументы и факты, August 12, 2022, https://aif.ru/politics/world/vrag_izoshchren_no_shansov_net_kak_bespilotniki_pomogayut_rossii_v_svo.

16. Astrakhan, “Drones in the Clear Sky.”

17. Dmitry Astrakhan, “At the Moment Nothing Without Copters,” Izvestia, November 28, 2022, https://iz.ru/1432143/dmitrii-astrakhan/v-dannyi-moment-bez-kopterov-nikuda (in Russian).

18. TopWar Staff, “Концерн ВКО «Алмаз-Антей» запустил серийное производство многофункциональных беспилотников типа квадрокоптер” [Concern EKO ‘Almaz-Antey’ launched mass production of multifunctional drones of the quadrocopter type], Военное Oбозрение, October 26, 2022, https://topwar.ru/204047-koncern-vko-almaz-antej-zapustil-serijnoe-proizvodstvo-mnogofunkcionalnyh-bespilotnikov-tipa-kvadrokopter.html.

19. Kerry Chávez and Ori Swed, “The Proliferation of Drones to Violent Nonstate Actors,” Defence Studies 21, no. 1 (2021): 1–24, https://doi.org/10.1080/14702436.2020.1848426.

20. Grigoriev, “Враг изощрен, но шансов нет.”


Kerry Chávez is an instructor in the political science department at Texas Tech University; project administrator at the university’s Peace, War and Social Conflict Laboratory; and a nonresident research fellow with the Modern War Institute at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Ukraine has held the line in the war by harnessing commercial drones but Russia is now doing that too.

Reducing Strategic Risks of Advanced Computing Technologies

January/February 2023
By Lindsay Rand

In the past few years, U.S. policymakers have struggled to craft policies that embrace the benefits of advanced computing technologies and enable competitive innovation while mitigating risks from their widespread applications. Even as a U.S.-Chinese technology competition looms, policymakers must recognize the arms-racing risks to strategic stability and pursue policies, even if unilateral, to resolve the ambiguity around computing technologies that are deployed in strategic settings.

U.S. technicians test the operational capabilities of a swarm of 40 drones at the U.S. National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. in 2019. (U.S. Army Photo by Pv2 James Newsome)Although computing technologies have been a security focus since World War II, a strategic shift toward technology competition with China and a rapidly accelerating pace of innovation are challenging prior U.S. governance strategies. A narrower version of this problem was faced in the 1970s, when U.S. policymakers and their UK counterparts agreed on restricting the flow of high-end computers to Eastern Bloc countries over national security concerns but disagreed on whether to control low-end computer trade.1

In the context of a renewed competitive environment, the United States again faces the challenge of crafting policies that will accelerate domestic research and development to compete for and maximize the economic and strategic benefits of these technologies while identifying and curtailing potential national security risks from deployment and proliferation. Yet, policies based on controlling exports of computing technologies, which were leveraged in the 1970s, will be less effective today in the context of a broader network of private sector actors and a wider set of hardware and software computing technologies. For example, the risks of advanced computing application have been highlighted with the development of drone swarm technologies.2 Swarms are fleets of drones that are networked using a variety of advanced computing technologies to perform synchronized maneuvers. Militaries are interested in swarms because they could provide the opportunity to overwhelm an adversary’s offensive or defensive systems or support expanded, persistent intelligence operations.3 Swarms also have civilian applications across many industries, including for emergency response and agriculture, and many technologies developed for private sector applications are repurposed for military operations.

Without adequate vetting and testing of how the various advanced computing elements will perform in a strategic environment, however, swarms with defects or unverified components prematurely deployed could produce significant consequences and lead to escalation scenarios through adversary interference, unintended and unsupervised activities that provoke adversaries, or faulty deployment that is misinterpreted as malicious intent.4 Wider proliferation of swarm-applicable computing technologies also increases the likelihood that swarming will be leveraged for nefarious purposes, such as for easier delivery of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons.5

If the history of Cold War competition bears any resemblance to challenges that can be expected in the digital age, Washington will face a pacing issue as it competes to assert leadership in the field but slows innovation enough to assert more effective guidelines for the legitimate use of, access to, and R&D on advanced computing technologies.

Biden administration policies clearly indicate an intent to compete for technological leadership. Given the precedent set by the Cold War, an era of accelerated innovation should be expected. In supporting rapid innovation, however, policymakers could miss an important chance to preempt risky applications and their broad proliferation unless guardrails for safer use, such as clearer definitions, metrics, and testing requirements for military applications, are soon identified and implemented.


Advanced computing technology is a broad category that encompasses systems and techniques used to improve computation hardware and software. Artificial intelligence (AI) is perhaps one of the best-known categories of advanced computing technologies and signals a remarkable improvement in computing software proficiency. Also, key hardware technologies have increased the brute force of computing power, including quantum computers and exascale supercomputers.

In terms of policymaking and governance, improvements in advanced computing hardware are more compatible with existing forms of regulations and controls. Hardware components necessarily consist of tangible elements that can be tested and evaluated in observable ways and are more easily defined and controlled in agreements. One of the key challenges with managing advanced computing technologies is the fact that many are software based, meaning no physical objects associated with the innovations can be tracked, verified, or monitored. This means policymakers must seek new governance options.

Although each hardware or software technology could uniquely improve computing speed or complexity, there is also an element of amplification in the interaction between advanced computing technologies. For example, hardware improvements could allow for more powerful software capabilities or software improvements could further maximize utility under constraints of existing hardware.6 Additionally, significant improvements in either category could catalyze R&D breakthroughs across other branches of advanced computing technologies.7 This interconnection indicates that domino effects in advanced computing R&D, as well as deployment, are feasible and likely, emphasizing the importance of early policy efforts to clearly define and regulate different types of advanced computing technologies.

Momentum in Recent Policies

Recently published strategies and policies on advanced computing technologies indicate that the Biden administration is facing competing pressures in managing the new technologies. On May 4, President Joe Biden signed two presidential directives on quantum computing and the broader category of quantum information sciences.8 Together, they send mixed signals to private sector stakeholders and governmental agencies about the national strategy for supporting and directing R&D on quantum information sciences and technology.9

The first directive calls for bolstering domestic quantum R&D capacity by enhancing the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee, which provides independent assessments and recommendations on the national quantum program, and by declaring the importance of U.S. leadership in quantum information sciences and quantum technology applications.10 The second directive, which recognizes the potential risks that quantum technologies pose to cybersecurity, calls for efforts to minimize such vulnerabilities by bolstering cryptography standards and increasing awareness of risks and new security requirements across agencies.11 The two directives present a complex narrative legitimating concern about quantum technologies while endorsing an arms-racing-style competition with near-peer technology competitors for leadership.

In October, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a white paper titled “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights” that echoes a similar underlying strategy but with a different policy scope.12 The document declares its purpose to be “to protect the American public” in an age of AI and proposes methods to ensure safe, effective systems; protections against algorithmic discrimination; and data privacy. It also calls for procedures to provide notice when an automated system is being used and an explanation of the scope and mechanisms of its operation, as well as access to human alternatives to the automated system and human consideration and fallback mechanisms if an automated mechanism errs.

Although the document assumes a greater regulatory role than any quantum policy to date, it has been criticized for not explicitly acknowledging the need for caution in the use of AI in any specific circumstances and for the absence of legal force. Without cautioning careful evaluation for use-case suitability, the document could be interpreted as condoning broader, even indiscriminate application of AI technologies as long as the minimal guidelines are met.13 This is despite the widely recognized and legitimate concerns regarding the technology, including the discrimination implicit in algorithms applied for surveillance and the exacerbation of crisis stability and escalation risks in defense applications.14 Further, because of the lack of legal authority, the document really only serves as a recommendation.

As these policies continue to be published, it has become apparent that the Biden administration will prioritize competing for international leadership on advanced computing by fostering rapid technology innovation and limiting regulatory policies. By minimizing regulatory constraints, the administration is likely hoping to reduce any friction that could impede innovation in the United States or disincentivize private sector investment and R&D.15 Although this decision may support strategic competition, it necessarily limits risk reduction to recommendations and reactive measures and makes clear that the resulting risks from deploying these technologies are necessary symptoms to be treated rather than prevented through more rigorous evaluation and testing.

If the dangers of unrestrained technology competition were recognized and acknowledged as arms racing, could risk reduction efforts be improved by governmental adoption of more proactive policies to serve as guardrails for innovation? Importantly, the U.S. decision to compete for international leadership and thus promote the relatively unfettered development of advanced computing technologies introduces risks to strategic stability when leveraged for military applications that may have been undervalued. Understanding the impact of these flawed policies that signal intent to engage in arms racing and devising more constructive ones should be an urgent U.S. priority.

Strategic Stability Risks

In the national security domain, advanced computing technologies are referenced as enabling technologies. This term is used to indicate that they are not weapons themselves but that they enable strategic operations and have broader applications than traditional military technologies.16 Even as enabling technologies, however, advanced computing technologies can create destabilizing risks in three primary ways.

First, they increase offensive cybercapability by allowing for data mining or longer, more persistent engagement, as in the case of AI, or more brute force, as in the case of quantum computing. Numerous articles have been written identifying the strategic stability implications of cybercapabilities, including in their application to critical infrastructure, nuclear command and control, and military operation domains.17 In the cyber application, a drastic, asymmetric advantage gained by one country establishing a clear lead in advanced computing technologies would have significant consequences for the offense-defense balance. In creating a perceived imbalance in military capabilities between adversaries, such an advantage could impose new crisis escalation risks or further incentivize arms-racing dynamics.18

Second, advanced computing technologies increase data processing power, which has been called the weaponization of data. In this context, an increased ability to survey “big data” could enable a country to determine strategically significant operational trends, identify vulnerabilities, or detect the asset locations of its adversaries.19 For example, advanced computing technologies may allow a country to harness big data to improve detection, tracking, and targeting of the mobile nuclear weapons delivery systems that constitute a nuclear-armed state’s second-strike capability.20

The extent to which data can fundamentally disrupt conditions for strategic stability and mutual vulnerability, however, is still not clear. There is an important caveat in discussing this risk factor, namely, the fine line between recognizing the significance of harnessing the ability to analyze large amounts of data and avoiding outsized expectations by considering feasibility and practical constraints that may impede deployment in practice. A country’s perception of an adversary having these capabilities could be destabilizing on its own, but an assessment of the extent to which better data processing power actually could render certain assets vulnerable provides increased clarity on the magnitude of this risk.

Finally, advanced computing technologies shorten decision-making time by accelerating the pace of conflict scenarios. Although the first two risk areas primarily highlight the possibility of deliberate deterrence failure by changing the actual or perceived balance of mutual vulnerability required for deterrence, increasing the speed of combat is most often associated with inadvertent deterrence failure scenarios. Specifically, advanced computing technologies are likely to increase crisis instability by shrinking decision-making time and forcing humans to rely on fully or partially automated decisions in crises. This risk has been discussed extensively in the context of lethal autonomous weapons systems.21

One risk of advanced computing technologies is that they shorten decision-making time by accelerating the pace of conflict scenarios. In December, a Ukrainian soldier loaded a mortar launcher before firing on Russian positions in eastern Ukraine.  (Photo by SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images)Beyond these three categories, an additional strategic stability impact arises from the signaling, hype, and investment in these advanced computing technologies. In the policy sphere, the perception of capability is almost as important as the actual capabilities at hand given the ambiguity of these technologies, especially software-based capabilities. For example, there is no way for a country to verify the quality and scope of AI or computing mechanisms that another country is using to augment its system, and thus policymakers and strategists must rely on perception. Because of this ambiguity, a country’s failure to send clear signals to its adversary could incentivize technology buildup and heighten arms-racing instability. Even among domestic stakeholders, hype, or the exaggerated perceptions of a technology’s potential, can lead policymakers to adopt different strategies than they would if they knew a technology’s true limitations.

Biden’s recent policy announcements are particularly risky for this exact reason. When these sorts of policy statements are not accompanied by greater specificity on the purpose of the reported strategies, how the United States intends to leverage its leadership, and what is even meant by leadership, then such policies could be interpreted as a readiness to engage in a technology arms race and a willingness to accept crisis and arms-racing instability.

Governance Challenges

Even in a geopolitical climate that would be favorable toward arms control policies or cooperative regulations on advanced computing technologies, dual-use applications and definitional ambiguity would pose major obstacles.

The term “dual use” refers to the fact that advanced computing technologies have military and civilian applications. In addition to military technologies, advanced computing technologies could be used in nearly any industry, a fact evidenced by the heavy flow of venture capital investment and the large volume of start-up companies geared toward specific applications. This means that technology-based regulations or agreements could impact a wider circle of private sector technology developers and users than those strictly in the defense industrial base. In a competitive environment, policymakers have to navigate private sector interests carefully because overly restrictive regulations could dampen innovation and impact economic security.

Issues also arise from definitional ambiguity given the nascent stage of development of the new technologies.22 Software-based advanced computing technologies pose particularly pernicious definitional challenges because of their ambiguous nature, but distinguishing across different types of advanced computing hardware is also challenging at early R&D stages, as exemplified by quantum technologies. Metrics for evaluating the capability of a certain technology and testing procedures to ensure that the technology operates as expected increase transparency around the capabilities and limitations of a technology, but are often elusive for new technologies.

Given these governance challenges and in the context of a national strategy promoting technology competition with adversaries that makes traditional agreements to restrict certain military applications unlikely, policymakers should prioritize risk reduction policies to minimize disruption to strategic stability. This includes unilateral efforts, as well as cooperation with international allies, to produce clear definitions for each type of advanced computing technology, metrics for evaluating performance, and procedures to test functionality in strategic environments. Although documents such as the AI bill of rights blueprint provide guidance for technology innovation, they will not effectively reduce strategic risks without definitions to scope the technology, metrics to evaluate performance, and testing procedures to identify any risks to be mitigated before acquisition or deployment.

The best immediate policy option is for the United States unilaterally to pursue metrics and rigorous testing procedures to increase transparency and reduce risks in the strategic environment. Even without formal international agreements, rigorous standards precluding acquisition and deployment in strategic environments mitigate unintended escalation risk that could be perceived as being the fault of the United States. Also, this could help reduce hype and mitigate arms-racing risks by providing greater clarity on the computing technologies that are leveraged in a given domain. Finally, a better understanding of a technology’s performance will improve U.S. policymaking. For example, understanding the limitations of missile defense early on was helpful in formulating policy rhetoric around the technology, even if it could not curb acquisition demand.

The power and reach of risk reduction governance mechanisms can be enhanced through U.S. policymaker engagement with broader networks at home and abroad. As the swarming example illustrates, many advanced computing technologies will be developed by the private sector for alternative civilian purposes. U.S. policymakers involved in military acquisition processes should ensure that private sector innovators are aware of the operational risks to which computing technologies will be exposed in strategic environments that may differ from those in civilian environments. Likewise, U.S. policymakers should engage with allies that historically have helped facilitate technology risk reduction measures, such as the UK-U.S. partnership to limit computing technology exports to Eastern Bloc countries.

The Exascale-class HPE Cray EX Supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory)In domestic outreach, policymakers must engage relevant federal agencies and the private sector. On interagency cooperation, policymakers need to weigh economic and security concerns among various governmental stakeholders to identify applications where use-case-oriented testing could reduce strategic risk without creating an obstacle to innovation. Balancing these objectives and ensuring compliance with the metrics and evaluation protocols that are developed will require working to increase trust and understanding with private sector technology developers and users. To some extent, this was undertaken in 2018 when the U.S. Department of Commerce requested comments from the public on the criteria for defining and identifying emerging technologies, but the degree to which the views of private sector stakeholders were considered is not clear.23

Although definitions and testing procedures should be crafted to fit the application needs of the United States, U.S. policymakers should work with allied countries to facilitate dialogue on standards. The United States has a mixed post-Cold War record of cooperating with allies on emerging dual-use technology R&D, but a new series of cooperative agreements on quantum information sciences with Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom suggest that U.S. policymakers view strategic research partnerships as increasingly important for advanced computing technologies.24 These types of agreements, based in R&D, can help propagate definitions and protocols abroad.

With time and network outreach, unilateral risk reduction measures eventually could have a broader reach. Globalized academic networks and private markets mean that definitions and standards adopted by the United States may permeate naturally to other countries. Especially if technical experts deem the definitions and testing procedures as opportunities to validate their own technologies, U.S. adversaries and competitors may even find strategic benefits in incorporating their own risk reduction measures. These efforts could lay the groundwork for eventual cooperation when geopolitical tensions cool or, at the very least, could provide a starting point for Track 2 dialogue. Furthermore, once better definitions, metrics, and testing procedures are in place, U.S. policymakers can use the increased transparency to develop better policies to restrict use or access eventually and to guide necessary R&D.

The Need for Action

Ultimately, many of the challenges associated with regulating advanced computing technologies in the digital age are not so dissimilar from those faced in the Cold War era. If the history of nuclear weapons is any indication, a reactive policy approach may lead to a decades-long arms reduction and risk reduction process that took years to yield real results and now has ground to a halt for political reasons. Policymakers would be wise to avoid this mistake and instead create space for more proactive governance on advanced computing technologies by establishing unilateral risk reduction measures and laying the groundwork now for eventual agreements.

As it stands, the current U.S. approach of prioritizing competition underestimates the risks of arms racing and the disruptions to strategic stability that advanced computing technologies may provoke. Although an environment of strategic competition will create an impetus for rapid innovation, policymakers would be wise to view better standards in strategic deployments as guardrails to protect against escalation and risks rather than road bumps or detours that fundamentally will impede U.S. innovation.


1. Frank Cain, “Computers and the Cold War: United States Restrictions on the Export of Computers to the Soviet Union and Communist China,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 40, No. 1 (2005): 131–147.

2. Yongkun Zhou, Bin Rao, and Wei Wang, “UAV Swarm Intelligence: Recent Advances and Future Trends,” IEEE, Vol. 8 (2020): 183856-183874.

3. Zachary Kallenborn, “InfoSwarms: Drone Swarms and Information Warfare,” Parameters, Vol. 52, No. 2 (Summer 2022): 87–102.

4. James Johnson, “Artificial Intelligence, Drone Swarming and Escalation Risks in Future Warfare,” The RUSI Journal, Vol. 165, No. 2 (2020): 26-36. See also Jurgen Altmann and Frank Sauer, “Autonomous Weapon Systems and Strategic Stability,” Survival, Vol. 59, No. 5 (2017): 117–142.

5. Zachary Kallenborn and Philipp Bleek, “Swarming Destruction: Drone Swarms and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Weapons,” The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 25, Nos. 5-6 (2018): 523–543.

6. Max Levy, “Machine Learning Gets a Quantum Speedup,” Quanta, February 4, 2022, https://www.quantamagazine.org/ai-gets-a-quantum-computing-speedup-20220204/.

7. Vedran Dunjko and Hans Briegel, “Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence in the Quantum Domain: A Review of Recent Progress,” Report on Progress in Physics, Vol. 81, No. 7 (2018): 074001.

8. Patricia Moloney Figliola, “Quantum Information Science: Applications, Global Research and Development, and Policy Considerations,” CRS Report, R45409 (November 1, 2019), https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R45409/5.

9. The White House, “Fact Sheet: President Biden Announces Two Presidential Directives Advancing Quantum Technologies,” May 4, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/05/04/fact-sheet-president-biden-announces-two-presidential-directives-advancing-quantum-technologies/.

10. Exec. Order No. 14073, 87 Fed. Reg. 27909 (May 9, 2022).

11. The White House, “National Security Memorandum on Promoting United States Leadership in Quantum Computing While Mitigating Risks to Vulnerable Cryptographic System,” National Security Memorandum 10, May 4, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/05/04/national-security-memorandum-on-promoting-united-states-leadership-in-quantum-computing-while-mitigating-risks-to-vulnerable-cryptographic-systems/.

12. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights: Making Automated Systems Work for the American People,” October 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Blueprint-for-an-AI-Bill-of-Rights.pdf.

13. Khari Johnson, “Biden’s AI Bill of Rights Is Toothless Against Big Tech,” Wired, October 4, 2022, https://www.wired.com/story/bidens-ai-bill-of-rights-is-toothless-against-big-tech/.

14. Alex Engler, “The AI Bill of Rights Makes Uneven Progress on Algorithmic Protections,” Lawfare, October 7, 2022, https://www.lawfareblog.com/ai-bill-rights-makes-uneven-progress-algorithmic-protections.

15. Larry Downes, “How Should the Biden Administration Approach Tech Regulation? With Great Care,” MIT Sloan Management Review, January 19, 2021, https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-should-the-biden-administration-approach-tech-regulation-with-great-care/.

16. Michael Horowitz, “Artificial Intelligence, International Competition, and the Balance of Power,” Texas National Security Review, Vol. 1, No. 3 (May 2019): 37–57.

17. See Jacquelyn Schneider, “The Capability/Vulnerability Paradox and Military Revolutions: Implications for Computing, Cyber, and the Onset of War,” Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 42, No. 6 (2019): 841–863.

18. Rebecca Slayton, “What Is the Cyber Offense-Defense Balance?” International Security, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Winter 2016/17): 72–109.

19. Damien Van Puyvelde, Stephen Coulthart, and M. Shahriar Hossain, “Beyond the Buzzword: Big Data and National Security Decision-Making,” International Affairs, Vol. 93, No. 6 (2017): 1397–1416.

20. Natasha Bajema, “Will AI Steal Submarines’ Stealth?” IEEE Spectrum, July 16, 2022, https://spectrum.ieee.org/nuclear-submarine. See also Paul Bracken, “The Hunt for Mobile Missiles: Nuclear Weapons, AI, and the New Arms Race,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, 2020, https://www.fpri.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/the-hunt-for-mobile-missiles.pdf.

21. Michael Horowitz, “When Speed Kills: Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, Deterrence, and Stability,” Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 42, No. 6 (2019): 764–788.

22. Matt O’Shaughnessy, “One of the Biggest Problems in Regulating AI Is Agreeing on a Definition,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 6, 2022, https://carnegieendowment.org/2022/10/06/one-of-biggest-problems-in-regulating-ai-is-agreeing-on-definition-pub-88100.

23. U.S. Department of Commerce, “Review of Controls for Certain Emerging Technologies,” 83 Fed. Reg. 58201 (November 19, 2018).

24. See “U.S. and France Sign Statement of Cooperation for Quantum Technology,” Quantum Computing Report, December 3, 2022, https://quantumcomputingreport.com/u-s-and-france-sign-statement-of-cooperation-for-quantum-technology/.


Lindsay Rand is a doctoral candidate in public policy at the University of Maryland and a Stanton pre-doctoral fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Facing competition from China on advanced computing technologies, the United States must accelerate domestic research and development to maximize the benefits of these technologies while curtailing potential national security risks.

Assessing the Ninth BWC Review Conference: An Interview with Conference President Leonardo Bencini

January/February 2023

Leonardo Bencini of Italy was president of the ninth review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention. (Photo courtesy of UN Geneva)The ninth review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which took place November 28 to December 16, came at the end of a year in which worsening international relations made it more difficult than usual to achieve multilateral cooperation on even the most pressing security challenges. The Russian war on Ukraine exacerbated tensions between Moscow and NATO and shook the system of treaties and institutions on which post-Cold War stability has depended. The United States accused Russia of possibly planning to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. Russia accused the United States of funding a network of biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine. Review Conference President Leonardo Bencini of Italy was determined that the meeting should preserve the credibility of the BWC by producing a final consensus document. One focus of debate was Article X of the BWC, under which states-parties “undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the use of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins for peaceful purposes.” In February, a report by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research said progress on Article X was a prerequisite for the success of the review conference. Another focus of debate was effective ways for the BWC to be verified. Days after the conference ended, Carol Giacomo, editor of Arms Control Today, spoke with Bencini about what the meeting accomplished and the challenges ahead. The interview has been edited for length and clarity

ARMS CONTROL TODAY: What do you think the review conference achieved?

Leonardo Bencini: The Biological Weapons Convention has been in a deadlock, some people say, for 21 years since negotiations broke down on the issue of verification. For a lot of countries, the issue of verification is a very important one. At this review conference, we established a working group, which is mandated to deal with basically every aspect of strengthening the convention, including verification and other key aspects. So, I think that we’ve succeeded in breaking the deadlock and set out a very good plan of action. We hope that next year we will start the working group and that we can indeed discuss all the key issues concerning the implementation of this convention.

ACT: Why should people care?

Bencini: I’ll tell you why people should care. We have to preserve this convention because it is the only instrument that we have that brings every country together. That’s why we were so keen to get a result. You might say it’s no big deal, but it is a big deal actually because we really had to break this deadlock so that we could still say that we do have a convention on biological weapons, and it is a convention that concerns, now, 184 countries. So basically, there are only 13 countries left to join. My own country believes very much in it, and that’s why we decided to take on this responsibility, because we don’t want fragmentation of the way in which the international community deals with the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is absolutely vital that we have a forum where all countries meet and discuss and try to find shared solutions.

Another reason is that we managed to get a deal at the end of a terrible year. You know the international context. In August, we were in New York for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference. We didn’t approve a final document there. In September, we had a very disappointing end of the Conference of Disarmament in Geneva. The First Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York was very difficult too. So, it’s been very hard. [UN] Secretary-General [António] Guterres’s statement on December 16 said that the result of this BWC review conference gives us a glimmer of hope in an international context that is particularly bleak. So, I think that, yes, it gives us a glimmer of hope.

ACT: The international environment is indeed very tense and difficult, but establishing a working group still seems like a minimal accomplishment.

Bencini: That’s as far as we could go. We also had another section in the final document that we couldn’t approve, the article-by-article review. We couldn’t approve it basically because of the war in Ukraine and because Russia proposed some language that the United States could not accept. We had to drop the entire section, but we saved the decisions and recommendations, which was what mattered.

You’re right to say, basically, you just created this working group. You might say, you couldn’t agree this time on substantive issues, why should you agree next time? We don’t know, but we have to preserve the system, we have to preserve the convention, and we had to give it a new impetus. I’m sure that all the issues that we couldn’t agree on this time will be there in the future. But hopefully, the international environment will get better over the next five years, which is the timeline that we have in front of us, and we’ll be able to achieve agreements on a number of issues. If we didn’t hope so, we wouldn’t do anything. In fact, a lot of people said, “Why are you taking this on?” We said, “Because we believe we can bring something home,” and we did.

Disarmament negotiations are so complex, and the consensus rule makes agreements so difficult to reach. You have to have everyone involved. One country is enough to wreck the whole thing. Even I was quite surprised at the positive reaction that we had after the conference when everyone was congratulating us and themselves. It was really good because you could see that, in fact, people care. They knew that we got something, even something small, but something meaningful, something that gives us work to do, something that gives us a timeline, something that gives us homework. Now we’ve got something to work on for the next five years.

ACT: Do you think that a working group and what came out of this conference is enough to mitigate the threat that Russia has become to the BWC regime?

Bencini: We live in the same world, but I think it was encouraging to see that we’re much together in agreement, of which Russia is also a party. The Russian Federation joined the consensus. We negotiated also with them, and I think this is very important. Although what we agreed on basically was what we’re going to discuss for the next five years, I think it was important to have every country involved. We hope that this sends a good signal. This is what Secretary-General Guterres said also, but we don’t know yet. Let’s hope at least.

Russia’s call for a UN Security Council meeting in October to discuss its allegations of “military-biological activities” by the United States in Ukraine added to international tensions that made the Biological Weapons Convention review conference in December more difficult. Washington and Kyiv denied the charges.  (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)ACT: My understanding is that agreement on things like the proposed cooperation advisory group and the scientific advisory board looked very promising, even near the end of the conference, and yet they were not agreed to. What happened to those ideas, which arguably seem in everybody’s interest?

Bencini: There were countries that couldn’t join the consensus. I won’t mention them by name, but that’s what happened. Remember one thing: Now, we have outlined a mechanism, both for Article X and science and technology; in fact, the science and technology part is quite developed. We had a very detailed proposal, and the facilitator, who’s been working on that, won’t give up. So, we have a plan laid out there, and I’m sure that this will form the basis of future negotiations. It was important to keep any final decisions and recommendations with reference to mechanisms, both for Article X, which many states-parties care very much about, and the scientific and technology dimension, which in principle every country cares about.

ACT: What was achieved that shows the public that the BWC is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, other pandemic threats, and biological risks generally?

Bencini: That the process is not dead. It continues and needs to be developed, of course, but we’ve learned a lesson from the pandemic, and we had to respond somehow. Bear in mind, if the international context had been different, if the international context had been that of a year ago, we would have achieved much more. So, we have to always remember the general context.

As I said, [the BWC] is an instrument that is very important. People don’t quite realize how important it is because it’s easier to think of the nuclear threat. It’s more difficult to understand biological weapons because they can be any kind of weapon. But now after the pandemic, people are beginning to understand this as well. When we think of biological weapons, we should not just think of human beings being targeted. You can target a crop, and there are countries whose economies rely almost entirely on one crop. If you want to damage them, that’s enough. So, you don’t even have to infect human beings with a pathogen, you can just infect a plant. There are many ways.

I won’t go into details because I’m not an expert, but definitely biotechnology has advanced very fast in the past few years, and we need to keep up. It’s not easy, but there is a message that I want to give, that this convention is indeed important. Let’s not consider it less important than the NPT. I would say the threat could even be worse, because while it’s easier to monitor and verify a country that wants to develop a nuclear weapons program, it’s much more difficult to verify biological weapons. There are hundreds of thousands of establishments and facilities in the world that could be weaponized.

That is why we also need to address this issue from the national implementation point of view. We have to have scientists on board. We have to make sure that we have an international network of expert people to communicate with one another, but we don’t have enough resources in this BWC. If I told you that, yes, everyone wants to really strengthen this convention, that would be a lie. If this time we managed to keep this process going, that was an achievement in itself.

ACT: You said one important challenge is verifying BWC compliance. What can be done to strengthen the capability for holding BWC violators accountable?

Bencini: That needs to be further examined, studied, looked into with the help of scientists who tell us where the technology is now and what we need to do because you can’t imagine a standard verification regime for biological weapons. You need to be more creative, more innovative, and listen to the scientists. It’s a completely different approach. The approach that was followed 20 years ago will not work now, which is the reason why, when countries said, “We have to restart negotiations for a legally binding protocol from where we left off,” that wouldn’t work. This is why we need to discuss with fresh eyes, with a new approach, the issue of verification and compliance—how to verify, how to make sure that you get compliance from states-parties. Let’s remember one thing: Most of the time, the only difference between a peaceful program and a program to develop biological weapons is intent. It’s not the process. The process is the same, but it’s very difficult indeed to demonstrate this.

Tatiana Molcean, the Moldovan ambassador to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, served as chairwoman of the committee of the whole for the ninth review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention. The conference drafting committee was also headed by a woman. (Photo by Mariia Koroleva)ACT: Can you talk about the gender gap and the need to promote a more inclusive BWC decision-making process? I understand that some proposals to include equal representation of women in BWC-related activities were excluded from the final document. What is the plan for doing better?

Bencini: There is a reference in the final document about the need to include more women. There were other references, actually, and also in the part that was dropped, because the countries that believe in this made it a priority. I made it a priority of my presidency. I said from the beginning I want to give this review conference gender balance, I want to make this a priority, and I did. I’m very pleased that we achieved the chairs of the two main committees—the committee of the whole and the drafting committee—were women. I had a team of facilitators, and the majority of them were women. When the conference bureau met, the majority of the people around the table were women. So, I was very pleased with that because we had very competent women in the team that made a difference.

Of course, we need to do much more. You have to raise the issue over and over again and keep at it. There are countries that don’t support it as much as we like. Unfortunately, they are more or less the same countries that oppose the other possible developments in the convention, but it doesn’t matter. We have to keep making it a priority because the vast majority of states-parties consider it a priority. A lot of Latin American and Asian countries have taken up initiatives on this issue. I think it’s very much on the agenda.

ACT: The right to exchange equipment, materials, and information for peaceful purposes under the BWC is under attack. How can states-parties ensure that Article X continues to be upheld?

Bencini: We had an intensive discussion with respect to Article X, and we managed to get a good agreement that couldn’t enjoy consensus unfortunately. But again, the vast majority of Non-Aligned Movement countries worked very much in a very cooperative manner with, for instance, Western countries. I think if the international context had been different, we would have had a good deal on that.

Remember one thing, that this should not be a development forum. We should discuss basically how to exchange information and do matchmaking. The peaceful use of science and technology is a very important principle in every disarmament and nonproliferation convention, not just in this one, but it has to be done in a way that is agreeable to everyone. It shouldn’t be just a developing world issue; it is an issue that concerns every country.

I do understand that many countries would like more technology transfer, and we have seen this during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some countries didn’t feel that enough was done to transfer technology in that respect, and I do believe that we should do more, absolutely. But there are a lot of organizations that are involved in development. The BWC remains a disarmament and nonproliferation treaty. It is not a development treaty. So, let’s not make a development forum out of Article X. It should be a matchmaking arena, if you wish. We have to work toward that direction.

ACT: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Bencini: If it had not been for the international context, we would have had a historic agreement. It would have gone so far, and so, it is regrettable. Even in this context, the review conference produced one of the very few agreements that was reached in the international scene anywhere on any issues this year. That by itself is a very important achievement. Everyone that was involved in this should be very proud of it. This is what gives us hope and motivation to carry on. Next year, we’ll have the first meetings of this working group, and we’ll take it from there.

Although the outcome was modest, the conference produced one of the few international agreements of 2022, he says.

BWC Review Conference Dispatch: A Cliffhanger Conference Seeks to Strengthen Biological Weapons Convention

January/February 2023
By Jenifer Mackby and Sruthi Katakam

After three weeks of intense debate, detailed drafting sessions, and late-night meetings, the ninth review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) agreed to establish a working group aimed at strengthening the convention, which outlaws biological arms and entered into force in 1975. The final document approved on Dec. 16 mandated that the working group develop specific, possibly legally binding, measures to support international cooperation, scientific research, and economic and technological development for peaceful purposes.

Delegates to the ninth review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention met from Nov. 28 to Dec. 16 in Geneva. (Photo courtesy of UN Geneva)The working group is to recommend establishing two other mechanisms: one to support international coperation and assistance in implementing the BWC and the other to review and assess BWC-related scientific and technological developments and to provide states-parties with relevant advice. Overall, these decisions are intended to “bring the convention into the 21st century,” one delegate said.

Convention delegates came armed with a plethora of proposals contained in 65 working papers.1 Nevertheless, after the recent nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference failed to achieve consensus on its final document, BWC states-parties recognized that it would take extreme efforts to achieve success at their review conference.

Delegates also realized that international tensions over Russia’s war on Ukraine and the widely refuted Russian accusations that the United States was involved with biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine would make this conference a deeply challenging exercise. Facing these odds, delegates burst into resounding applause as the final document was adopted.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped the world understand that diseases could be used deliberately to cause widespread panic, emergency health crises, millions of deaths, and severe economic damage. This increased awareness of a shared international vulnerability caused most states-parties to work to give the BWC a more active role or at least put it on par with the NPT and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Even so, some states-parties insisted on deleting any reference to COVID-19 in the final document.

The new working group will address measures on international cooperation and assistance under Article X of the convention, which calls on states-parties to facilitate the exchange of equipment, materials, and scientific and technological information for peaceful purposes. It will also address scientific and technological developments, as well as confidence-building and transparency efforts to improve reporting on national biological activities. Further, the group will consider compliance and verification measures and measures to improve domestic laws and regulations to implement the convention.

The group will address assistance, response, and preparedness under Article VII, which calls for states-parties to provide support to a state that has “been exposed to danger as a result of violation of the convention.” The group also will consider organizational and financial arrangements to cover the costs of BWC meetings and the convention’s Implementation Support Unit (ISU).

The new working group has been authorized to meet for 15 days each year from 2023 to 2026 and to adopt a report with recommendations to be submitted to BWC states-parties at the 10th review conference, to be held no later than 2027.

The final document did not include many of the ambitious proposals that enjoyed cross-regional support from numerous states-parties and that were included in a previous draft just one day before the conference ended.2 For instance, the previous draft included the explicit establishment of a working group and two other mechanisms, as well as descriptions of how they would operate. This outcome would have allowed states-parties to start the substantive work in all three groups immediately instead of waiting for recommendations to establish two of them.

The draft called for an advisory group that would facilitate international cooperation under Article X, which states from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) had been requesting for many years. They contend that they have been prevented from benefitting from the BWC’s peaceful uses provisions, which stipulate that the convention should “avoid hampering the economic or technological development of states-parties to the convention or international co-operation in the field of peaceful bacteriological (biological) activities.”3 The advisory group would include a database to match offers and requests for assistance, as well as a voluntary trust fund to support projects under Article X.

The prior draft also would have established a scientific advisory board, which many delegations have long recommended. They recognize that rapid advances in the life sciences, in particular biotechnology tools that can alter organisms, such as genetic editing, can be used to greatly benefit public health, medicine, agriculture, and the environment, but can also be applied for nefarious purposes banned by the convention. The plan was to have the working group on strengthening the convention make recommendations on the board’s mandate, composition, financial implications, and other arrangements. The board would consist of a scientific advisory group open to all and a limited size scientific reporting committee.

The conference facilitator, Ljupco Gjorgjinski of North Macedonia, worked with delegates for months to develop the terms of reference and rules of procedure for this proposed scientific body. Iran has long opposed such a group, although the proposal has been supported by states from all regional groups. Each of the two new mechanisms would have acquired an additional ISU staff.

The United States, long maligned because it rejected the BWC Verification Protocol in 2001, took steps to change that image. Bonnie Jenkins, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international affairs, introduced an initiative in late 2021 calling for a process to examine compliance that could lead to discussions on verification. Since 2001, many NAM states have requested a legally binding protocol that would include verification. The United States also accepted the idea of an international cooperation entity, which it previously opposed due to concerns that some countries would focus on export controls. As one U.S. delegate put it, “We were rolling out the red carpet at this conference.”

These gestures, however, seemed to go largely unnoticed. Iran, Cuba, and other NAM members repeated their complaints about “unilateral coercive measures” that they say violate Article X by denying them access to vaccines, materials, and equipment. This tension between developing countries that want an increased exchange of technology and developed countries that are concerned mostly with nonproliferation has played out in numerous multilateral forums.

Russia’s claims about biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine, strongly refuted by Ukraine and the United States, played a role in the review conference deliberations. Russia had brought its allegations to the UN Security Council and instigated a formal meeting in August under the consultation and cooperation provisions of BWC Article V, but no conclusions were reached.

Russia wanted to include language in the review conference final document stressing the need for further investigations of its allegations regarding biological laboratories in Ukraine and what it considered an insufficient response from the United States and Ukraine. Moscow proposed establishing a group of governmental experts to determine guidelines for conducting Article VI investigations.4

Normally, the review conference final document comprises three parts. Part I, which deals with the organization and work of the conference, lists the dates, agenda, documents, and participants. In Part II, the final declaration, states-parties reaffirm their general aspirations and support for the convention’s principles, followed by a detailed review of its 15 articles. Part III contains the decisions and recommendations in which parties look to the future, outlining the intersessional process and other recommendations.

In the December 15 draft final document, Part II was 14 pages long and included mature reflections on strengthening each article. On the final day of the conference, however, the conference president, Leonardo Bencini of Italy, announced that consensus was not possible on that part of the document. He had held closed-door consultations with delegations until the early morning of December 16, but they were unable to agree on a number of contentious issues, including proposed Russian language on biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine. The section on recommendations also was considerably reduced. Due to the consensus rule in most UN multilateral forums, it is possible for one country to prevent an agreement.

The penultimate draft included several other proposals that ultimately were dropped from the final document. One encouraged states-parties to incorporate elements from the recently developed Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists.5 These guidelines, initiated by China with U.S. support, had been sought by a majority of the international community and already have been adopted by more than 140 scientific academies worldwide.

Another deleted provision recommended that states-parties promote best practices in life sciences research, including oversight in infectious disease research to improve biosafety and biosecurity globally. It called on stakeholders to apply standards to manage risks posed by working with infectious agents and toxins in laboratories and recommended that states-parties adopt model laws in their national legal codes.

The draft also had included proposals on methods to increase the participation of states-parties in submitting their annual UN forms on confidence-building measures.6 These forms, which typically draw responses from only half of the states-parties, contain an exchange of information on research centers and laboratories, national biological defense research and development programs, outbreaks of infectious diseases caused by toxins, and publications. Several proposals to include equal representation of women in various activities also were removed from the text.

Proposals that did remain in the final document requested states-parties to promote universalization of the convention and renewed the mandate of the ISU, which conducts the BWC Secretariat’s substantive and administrative functions. After years of requests, the conference agreed to increase the staff from three persons to four for 2023–2027.

Over the years, financing BWC meetings has been problematic because states-parties often do not pay on time or do not pay at all. The annual BWC budget is $1.8 million. Costs are shared by states-parties based roughly on the UN scale of assessments. In 2021, almost two- thirds of the 183 states-parties paid less than $1,000 for the BWC. Of these, 54 states paid less than $100.

In comments after the final document was adopted, the Algerian representative, Lazhar Soualem, spoke for many in the conference room, saying, “Despite our high expectations and ambitions, we consider this compromise document as an important step forward.” Most delegations said the document will provide a good basis for future progress on the proposals that were not adopted but had gained so much support at the conference.

The Cuban representative, Rodolfo Benítez Verson, said the BWC’s main weakness is the lack of a verification mechanism and expressed support for the working group to strengthen the convention. The Chinese representative, Li Song, said the document represents a major breakthrough to strengthen the convention and a victory for multilateralism, although he regretted that the Tianjin Guidelines were left out. The Mexican delegate, Fernando Israel Espinosa Olivera, expressed disappointment that the conference did not mention COVID-19 or take decisions on “more mature, daring proposals” on such issues as preparedness and strengthening biosecurity.

Although the Russian representative, Konstantin Vorontsov, welcomed the final document, he blamed an unnamed country, presumably the United States, for blocking consensus on Part II. Russia “will not agree to pathogens and transmitters by foreign military agencies near our border. This one country has blocked a legally binding protocol with a verification mechanism so that they can continue military activities around the world,” he said.

The U.S. representative, Kenneth Ward, said he was pleased that states-parties came together for the adoption of the final document but that this “soon fell apart.” He said the Russian statement shows that “the great and long suffering people of Russia are not threatened by the United States or the West; they are only threatened by [President Vladimir] Putin’s government, driven by lies, hatred, and warmongering.”

The U.S. delegation then walked out of the conference room. Several more delegates spoke after the United States left, expressing both pleasure and regrets over the outcome. Bencini concluded, “We should be proud of this document.”



1. For a list of the 65 papers, see UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), “Biological Weapons Convention - Ninth Review Conference,” n.d., https://meetings.unoda.org/bwc-revcon/biological-weapons-convention-ninth-review-conference-2022 (accessed January 3, 2023).

2. Ninth Review Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (Ninth BWC Review Conference), “Draft Final Document of the Ninth Review Conference,” BWC/CONF.IX/CRP.2/Rev.1, December 15, 2022.

3. Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, April 10, 1972, 1015 U.N.T.S. 163, art. X.

4. Ninth BWC Review Conference, “Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC): Proposal for the BWC Article VI Implementation; Submitted by the Russian Federation,” BWC/CONF.IX/WP.15, November 7, 2022.

5. Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Tianjin University, and the InterAcademy Partnership, “The Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists,” n.d., https://www.interacademies.org/sites/default/files/2021-07/Tianjin-Biosecurity-Guidelines-Codes-Conduct.pdf.

6. UNODA, “Confidence Building Measures,” n.d., https://www.un.org/disarmament/biological-weapons/confidence-building-measures/ (accessed January 3, 2023).


Jenifer Mackby is leading a project on establishing a scientific advisory body for the Biological Weapons Convention. She has worked for a number of organizations on nonproliferation, international security, and verification issues. Sruthi Katakam is a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and a recent graduate from Johns Hopkins University.

The conference established a working group to develop measures to support international cooperation, scientific
research, and economic and technological development for peaceful purposes.

North Korea Plans to Expand Nuclear Arsenal

January/February 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

After an unprecedented year of missile launches, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced plans to increase exponentially the country’s nuclear arsenal, which is estimated to have 40–50 nuclear warheads.

A TV screen shows footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Jan. 1, after he gave a speech stressing the need to “exponentially” increase the size of the country’s nuclear arsenal and develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile.  (Photo by Kim Jae-Hwan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)In a Jan. 1 speech during the Workers’ Party plenary meeting, Kim said North Korea will mass-produce tactical nuclear warheads for targeting South Korea and develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that will give his country a “quick nuclear counterstrike” capability. The expansion is necessary to counter South Korea’s “preparations for war” and “worrying military moves” by the United States and other hostile forces targeting North Korea, Kim said.

North Korea’s missile activities in 2022 suggest that work is already underway to meet the objectives Kim outlined in his speech.

In December, North Korea tested a solid-fueled rocket motor powerful enough for the first stage of an ICBM capable of targeting the United States. The North Korean Academy of Defense Science described the test as “successful” in a Dec. 16 statement and said it was the “first of its kind” for North Korea. The statement said the rocket will contribute to the development of “another new-type of strategic weapon system,” suggesting that it will be used for a nuclear-capable missile.

North Korea has developed and tested ICBMs powerful enough to target the United States, but those systems are liquid fueled. Solid-fueled ICBMs can be fired more quickly than a liquid-fueled system, reducing the likelihood of the United States or South Korea detecting launch preparations and preemptively striking the missiles.

Kim’s speech came several days after South Korea announced plans to expand its military capabilities and increase defense spending. Seoul updated a five-year defense plan that includes projects specifically designed to counter the threat posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons, including capabilities to preemptively strike North Korea, and to expand intelligence gathering.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol also announced the creation of a new drone unit after North Korean unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flew into South Korean airspace on Dec. 26.

The South Korean military struggled to intercept and shoot down the drones, leading Yoon to criticize Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup for failing to train and prepare for such incursions. South Korea sent its own UAVs over the border in response, and Yoon said South Korea will “punish and retaliate in the event of any North Korean provocations.”

The new drone unit will focus on developing capabilities to disrupt UAVs, such as laser and electromagnetic weapons.

Yoon also expressed interest in increasing South Korea’s involvement in exercises that include U.S. nuclear weapons. In a Jan. 3 interview with Chosun Ilbo, Yoon said that Seoul and Washington are discussing concepts for joint planning and exercises, but U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters that same day that there are no plans or discussions regarding joint nuclear exercises with South Korea.

Yoon’s office responded to Biden’s comment by saying that “joint nuclear exercises” only take place between nuclear powers and that Yoon was referring to information sharing and planning “regarding the nuclear forces the U.S. possesses in order to respond to North Korean nuclear weapons.”

In a Jan. 1 speech, leader Kim Jong Un said North Korea will mass-produce tactical nuclear warheads and develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

Congress Boosts Defense Budget Beyond Biden’s Request

January/February 2023
By Shannon Bugos

For the second consecutive year, Congress deemed President Joe Biden’s proposed national defense budget insufficient to counter growing inflation and rising security threats, prompting lawmakers to increase the fiscal year 2023 defense authorization by $45 billion over Biden’s $813 billion request.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was among the leading forces behind the 2023 National Defense Authorization Law.  (Photo by Oliver Contreras/AFP via Getty Images)“There were compromises made to get this bill across the finish line,” acknowledged House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) on Dec. 8. But “now more than ever, at a time when global democracy is under attack and the rules-based international order is being threatened, we need a strong national security and defense strategy, and this bill helps us deliver on that front.”

The House passed the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 350–80 on Dec. 8, followed by an 83–11 vote in the Senate on Dec. 15. Biden signed the bipartisan legislation into law on Dec. 23. The NDAA totals $848 billion. An additional $10 billion of national discretionary defense spending falls outside of the armed services committees’ authority. The $858 billion defense topline is an increase of $80 billion, or 10 percent, over the 2022 national defense budget.

The New York Times, citing an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported on Dec. 18 that the new total means the Pentagon budget has grown 4.3 percent annually over the last two years, after inflation, compared to 1 percent in real dollars from 2015 to 2021. Military spending is on track to reach its highest level in inflation-adjusted terms since 2008–2011, during the peaks of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the newspaper said.

The chairpersons and ranking members of the House and Senate armed services committees settled on compromise NDAA text on Dec. 6. Although the House passed its version of the legislation in July, the full Senate did not and brought its armed services committee’s version to the negotiations. (See ACT, September 2022.)

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the armed services committee, described the Biden administration’s defense budget request, released in March, as “woefully inadequate.” (See ACT, June 2022.) The compromise bill corrects course by “prioritiz[ing] nuclear modernization amid Chinese nuclear breakout,” and stays “tough on Russia,” Inhofe stated Dec. 6.

Although the NDAA authorizes funding, appropriations bills allow for actual spending. The fiscal year 2023 defense and energy and water appropriations bills, which, on the whole, reflect the same budget levels in the defense authorization bill, passed through the Senate on Dec. 22 and the House on Dec. 23. Biden signed the omnibus appropriations legislation on Dec. 29.

For the most part, the 2023 NDAA either fully authorizes or boosts the requested budgets for U.S. nuclear weapons modernization programs, including delivery systems and warheads. In addition to mandating some reporting requirements to bolster congressional oversight on nuclear matters, the law adds funding for a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) and an associated low-yield warhead and allows only a partial retirement of the megaton B83 gravity bomb fleet. It fails to reverse language that undermines support for the international organization that monitors the world for signs of nuclear testing.

Nuclear Delivery Systems

The Biden administration requested no funding for the new nuclear-armed SLCM as it views the capability as unnecessary and potentially detrimental to other priorities.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at the unveiling ceremony of the B-21 Raider at Northrop Grumman’s Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, in December. The high-tech stealth bomber can carry nuclear and conventional weapons and is designed to fly without a crew on board.  (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images) Further developing this SLCM “would divert resources and focus from higher modernization priorities for the U.S. nuclear enterprise and infrastructure, which is already stretched to capacity after decades of deferred investments,” the White House noted in an administration policy statement in October.

Although Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro concur with this assessment, members of Congress from both parties and other defense officials do not.

“No one can tell in an uncertain world what we will need, but it’s important to keep this option available,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who led the House effort to insert funding for the capability, in July.

Gen. Mark Milley and Adm. Christopher Grady, chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, respectively, wrote in June that they see value in the nuclear-armed SLCM due to “its distinct contribution.”

The NDAA authorizes $25 million for the Pentagon to develop the missile and $20 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to develop the associated warhead, the W80-4 Alt SLCM.The law also requires reports on the concept of operations, operational implications, and costs of the capability, as well as a detailed, unclassified summary of the analysis of alternatives for the missile before the Pentagon can move into the development and demonstration phases.

Congress also authorized $6.2 billion, slightly more than the administration’s request, for construction and continued research and development on a future fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines.

The Air Force, meanwhile, received an authorization of $4.9 billion for the B-21 Raider dual-capable strategic bomber, a decrease of $110 million from the request. On Dec. 2, the service unveiled the new highly secretive bomber, which will take its first flight in 2023 and is slated to be deployed later this decade. Six bombers are under construction, and the Pentagon plans to acquire at least 100 bombers total.

Lawmakers authorized $3.6 billion, slightly over the request, for replacement of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and supporting infrastructure with the new Sentinel system. They banned any decrease in the number of deployed ICBMs, currently 400. Congress also authorized the requested $981 million for the new nuclear-capable, long-range standoff (LRSO) weapons system to replace the
air-launched cruise missile.

Nuclear Warheads

For the NNSA, Congress authorized the Biden administration’s requests of $672 million for the B61-12 gravity bomb, $680 million for the W87-1 ICBM warhead, and $1.1 billion for the W80-4 LRSO weapons system warhead upgrade.

Congress also approved the agency’s $241 million request for the controversial new high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, the W93, and authorized the Pentagon to receive $97.1 million to develop the warhead’s aeroshell.

According to the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, the Biden administration, reversing Trump administration policy, aims to follow through on retiring the megaton-class B83-1 gravity bomb, but Congress has now slowed that process. The NDAA only allows for the deactivation or retirement of up to 25 percent of the B83-1 fleet until the Pentagon submits a report to Congress. (See ACT, December 2022.)

Meanwhile, the NNSA program for producing plutonium pits for nuclear weapons received $500 million more than the administration’s $758 million request for the Savannah River Site location, while the Los Alamos site was authorized for the requested $1.6 billion.

According to an internal NNSA document, pit production is running more than a year behind schedule, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby acknowledged last spring that the agency will not reach its goal of producing 80 pits a year by 2030.

Hypersonic Weapons

Congress also broadly threw its full support behind the Pentagon’s hypersonic weapons programs.

The Air Force’s air-launched hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), received $47 million less than the request and the authorization for a total of $115 million. The system hit a major milestone Dec. 9 with the successful completion of its first all-up-round test, meaning a test of the full prototype operational missile, off the southern California coast.

“Following the ARRW’s separation from the [B-52H Stratofortress bomber], it reached hypersonic speeds greater than five times the speed of sound, completed its flight path and detonated in the terminal area,” an Air Force statement said. The service aims to conduct three more all-up-round tests before deciding whether to move into production.

Congress added $145 million to the requested $317 million for the Air Force’s Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile program.

As for the Navy, the service received a $20 million increase for the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program, bringing the total to $1.2 billion, and a $67 million increase for the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Weapon, for a total $160 million.

The Navy’s CPS program shares the common hypersonic glide-body vehicle with the Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), which could enter the field in 2023. Congress authorized $1.1 billion for the Army’s hypersonics program, an increase of $50 million above the request, to account for the National Hypersonic Initiative, which will improve coordination and address any development gaps among the hypersonic weapons programs.

In late October, the Pentagon conducted two test launches of rockets, each carrying about a dozen different experiments, meant to inform continued development of the CPS and LRHW systems.

The NDAA also requires a report on the ARRW, CPS, and LRHW programs to assess their respective costs, schedules, and potential alternatives.

Various hypersonics programs overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency received substantial increases in the authorized budget. Glide Breaker jumped from $18 million to $38 million, Tactical Boost Glide from $30 million to $65 million, and Operation Fires, which was in line to be zeroed out, received $42 million. The MoHAWC hypersonic air-launched cruise missile program was authorized for its requested $60 million.

Missile Defense

The NDAA authorized the Pentagon’s efforts for hypersonic missile defense at $518 million, a 1.3 percent increase above the request.

The Space Force landed $830 million for its effort to build a satellite system to track missiles, including hypersonic weapons, which marked a 30 percent increase from the request. This effort includes plans by the Space Development Agency, now part of the Space Force, for the development of a tracking layer.

Congress also authorized the requested $2.8 billion for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense weapons system based in Alaska and California, which includes $1.8 billion for the Next Generation Interceptors.

Lawmakers boosted the budget requests for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system by $165 million to $587 million to buy 15 additional interceptors and for the Aegis ballistic missile defense system by $245 million to $2 billion.

Risk Reduction

The NDAA contains a slight $13 million increase above the $354 million request for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program to account for inflation. In each of the previous two fiscal years, Congress significantly boosted the program’s budget by more than $100 million. This program is aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as COVID-19.

The NDAA omitted language originally in the House version that would have repealed the restriction, imposed by the 2018 NDAA, on funding the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, which oversees the systems in place to detect signs of nuclear testing across the world.


For the second year, Congress deemed the president’s proposed national defense budget insufficient to counter growing inflation and rising security threats.

Pentagon: Chinese Nuclear Arsenal Exceeds 400 Warheads

January/February 2023
By Shannon Bugos and Michael Klare

China’s nuclear arsenal likely exceeds 400 operational nuclear warheads, a level that the Pentagon estimated two years ago might not be reached until the end of the decade.

DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles are a key weapon in China’s expanding nuclear arsenal.    (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)A senior U.S. defense official described China’s effort to modernize, expand, and diversify its nuclear arsenal as “a rapid buildup that is kind of too substantial to keep under wraps.” Beijing has undertaken plans “that exceed really their previous attempts, both in terms of the scale, the numbers, and also the complexity and technological sophistication of the capabilities,” the official said at a press briefing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian criticized the Pentagon’s report on Nov. 30. “We have exercised utmost restraint in developing nuclear capabilities,” he said. “We have kept those capabilities at the minimum level required by national security.”

The nuclear warhead estimate comes from the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military power, which was published Nov. 29 and covers developments through 2021. In its National Defense Strategy released this year, the Biden administration named China as “the most comprehensive and serious challenge” for the United States. (See ACT, December 2022.)

The report projects that China aims to complete its nuclear modernization plans by 2035.

“If China continues the pace of its nuclear expansion, it will likely field a stockpile of about 1,500 warheads by its 2035 timeline,” the report states. This statement extrapolates the Pentagon’s estimate from the previous year, which said that Beijing may be able to amass 700 warheads by 2027 and 1,000 by 2030. (See ACT, December 2021.)

China is continuing to build three silo fields for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which will feature at least 300 new silos in total for two Dongfeng (DF) missile variants. Open-source intelligence analysts discovered these fields in 2021. (See ACT, September 2021.)

“At least some of the new silos might be operational,” according to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists on Nov. 29. He made the assessment based on the Pentagon’s estimate that China has tripled its number of ICBMs to 300 silo-based or road-mobile missiles from a previous estimate of 100.

Although the report finds that China’s nuclear arsenal continues to closely align with the concept of a limited deterrent, senior U.S. defense officials have suggested that Beijing may be shifting away from that posture.

The Defense Department disclosed in the report that the DF-41, a fixed or mobile ICBM with a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) capability, likely will carry no more than three warheads per missile.

Beijing also continues growing its inventory of about 200 DF-26 ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads to the western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea. The report says China is probably seeking a low-yield nuclear weapon and, if so, is likely using the DF-26 for that purpose.

In 2021, China launched approximately 135 ballistic missiles for testing and training, more than the rest of the world combined outside of conflict zones, according to the report.

The Pentagon confirmed China’s test in July 2021 of a hypersonic glide vehicle paired with an ICBM in a demonstration of a fractional orbital system. (See ACT, November 2021.) The vehicle flew around the world in low-orbit space for a total of 40,000 kilometers in roughly 100-plus minutes and very nearly struck its target inside China.

The development of such a system, the report acknowledges, is probably “due to long-term concerns” about U.S. missile defense capabilities and to a drive “to attain qualitative parity with future worldwide missile capabilities.”

As for sea-based nuclear forces, the Pentagon revealed for the first time that China “likely began near-continuous at-sea deterrence patrols” with its six operational Jin-class nuclear-powered submarines, each of which can carry up to 12 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Beijing operationally fielded the H-6N nuclear-capable bomber in 2020 as part of its “nascent” nuclear triad, according to the report. The Chinese military likely is developing tactics and procedures for the bomber to support its nuclear mission, the report states.

To support its nuclear force expansion, China continues to pursue the construction of fast breeder reactors and reprocessing facilities, the Pentagon said, reaffirming a previous assessment.

“Despite China’s public support for a fissile material cutoff treaty,” the report says, “we judge that Beijing intends to use this infrastructure to produce nuclear warhead materials for its military in the near term.”

The report reiterates previous assessments that China, which keeps a majority of its launchers and missiles separated from nuclear warheads, may ramp up this peacetime status by moving toward a launch-on-warning posture. At this stage, this posture largely has been associated with military exercises.

China also maintains its declaratory no-first-use nuclear policy, but the Pentagon believes it may consider using nuclear weapons if a conventional attack imperils the country’s existence.

In parallel with China’s efforts to enhance its strategic nuclear capabilities, the Pentagon sees a concerted Chinese drive to advance its emerging and disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous weapons systems, and cyberweapons. The report indicates that Chinese leaders are convinced that mastery of these technologies will be essential to success in future wars with a “strong power” such as the United States.

“The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] is pursuing next-generation combat capabilities based on its vision of future conflict, which it calls ‘intelligentized warfare,’ defined by the expanded use of AI and other advanced technologies at every level of warfare,” the report states.

According to the Pentagon, China is exploring using AI in target detection and identification systems, missile guidance, computer-assisted decision-making, and autonomous weapons platforms of various sorts, including unmanned air, sea, and ground vehicles.

China also is reported to have developed a significant capacity for offensive cyberoperations and intends to employ these capabilities at the onset of battle to disable an adversary’s command, control, and communications systems, a scenario with significant implications for strategic stability.

The report includes a special section on Chinese views of strategic stability, which are described as increasingly revolving around the concept of “ensuring mutual vulnerability” with its nuclear-armed adversaries. “Beijing views significant risks to strategic stability from potential U.S. technological breakthroughs or new commitments to produce and deploy cutting-edge weapons systems at greater scale or near China’s periphery,” the report says.

China’s main strategic stability concerns include rapid, credible advances in U.S. missile defenses, U.S. and allied hypersonic weapons capable of threatening China’s land-based arsenal, space surveillance assets, conventional prompt-strike weapons, and cyberoperations capable of undermining nuclear command and control, the report adds.

A senior U.S. defense official described China’s effort to modernize, expand, and diversify its nuclear arsenal as rapid and substantial. 

UN Diplomats Spar Over Iranian Drone Sales

January/February 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States expressed its regret over the UN secretary-general’s failure to initiate an investigation into evidence that Iran is supplying Russia with drones in violation of a UN Security Council resolution.

Activists protested at the Iranian embassy in Kyiv in October after the shelling of Ukrainian territory by kamikaze drones, which Iran supplies to Russia. (Photo by Yevhenii Zavhorodnii/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)The United States, along with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, requested in October that Secretary-General António Guterres investigate the drone transfers as part of his mandate to report on implementation of Security Council Resolution 2231. The request followed an Oct. 17 letter from Ukraine to Guterres accusing Iran of transferring the drones to Russia in violation of the resolution.

Resolution 2231 was passed unanimously in July 2015. In addition to endorsing the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it prohibits Iran from transferring nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and drones, as well as certain materials and technologies relevant for building those systems, until October 2023 without approval from the Security Council.

The secretary-general is charged with reporting twice a year on the status of the resolution and has investigated evidence of illicit missile transfers in the past. But his Dec. 12 report said only that the UN Secretariat is “examining the available information” and will report any findings to the Security Council “as appropriate.”

Robert Wood, the U.S. alternative representative to the United Nations, told the Security Council during a Dec. 19 meeting that, for the past seven years, the UN mandate to report on Resolution 2231’s implementation “has been clear and unquestioned.” The failure to open an investigation “is not acceptable,” and there must “be some degree of accountability for openly violating” council resolutions, Wood said.

Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the UN, disputed Guterres’s authority to conduct an investigation under the resolution and said Russia shared its legal analysis regarding this issue with the secretary-general. Nebenzia said on Dec. 19 that any “pseudo-investigations are legally null and void” and that Guterres must not “succumb to pressure of Western states.”

Iran has admitted to selling drones to Russia, but denied that its actions violate the resolution’s provisions. In a Nov. 5 statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Iran “sold a limited number of drones” to Moscow but the transfer took place prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Amirabdollahian said that if Ukraine proves that Russia used Iranian drones in the war in Ukraine, “we will not remain indifferent to this issue.”

In two letters to Guterres in October, Iran said that it “has never produced or supplied” materials and technologies that “could contribute to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems” and argued that Resolution 2231 only restricts the transfers of items that could contribute to such systems.

The resolution uses the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) export control lists to define the materials and technologies that Iran is prohibited from transferring without Security Council approval. The MTCR seeks to limit the spread of missiles and drones capable of delivering nuclear warheads, which the regime defines as systems that can carry a 500 kilogram payload more than 300 kilometers.

Sergiy Kysltsya, Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, said that the drones transferred to Russia fall into the categories covered by the MTCR export control list and therefore violate the resolution. He invited UN experts in October to examine drones and drone debris recovered and open an investigation.

Barbara Woodward, UK ambassador to the UN, expressed support for such a visit and encouraged Guterres to “examine and report” any evidence of transfers inconsistent with the resolution. She also strongly cautioned Iran “against any further deliveries of weapons to Russia” and said that transferring short-range ballistic missiles would “constitute a serious escalation.”

In the Dec. 12 report, Guterres called for the United States and Iran to return to compliance with the JCPOA, but the diplomatic stalemate appears likely to continue.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met Amirabdollahian in Jordan on Dec. 20 and said that both agreed to “keep communication open” and to restore the JCPOA on the “basis of Vienna negotiations.” The parties last met in Vienna in August, and those meetings informed the draft agreement to restore the JCPOA that Borrell described as “final” and circulated to the parties on Aug. 8. (See ACT, September 2022.)

Prior to the Dec. 20 meeting, Borrell told the EU Foreign Affairs Council that “we do not have a better option than the JCPOA to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons” and that although Iran’s nuclear escalation is “of great concern, we have to continue engaging as much as possible in trying to revive this deal.”

But there does not appear to be any progress on resolving the issues that prevented the parties from reaching an agreement based on Borrell’s August draft.

Iranian officials remain adamant that an agreement to restore the JCPOA cannot happen until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closes its investigation into past Iranian nuclear activities that should have been declared under Iran’s legally binding safeguards agreement.

The United States and the European parties to the deal have made clear they will not pressure the IAEA to prematurely end the investigation. (See ACT, December 2022.)

IAEA officials, including the head of the safeguards department, Massimo Aparo, traveled to Tehran on Dec. 18 to continue discussions about the investigation. The IAEA did not comment on the meetings, but Iranian officials described them as businesslike.

Kamal Kharrazi, head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, said that resolving the safeguards issue could “break the ice” on the stalled JCPOA negotiations.

Even if there is progress on the safeguards issue, the political space for reaching an agreement to restore the JCPOA is narrowing.

Iran’s transfer of drones to Russia and brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters has shifted U.S. and European focus away from the JCPOA. Iran’s nuclear advances also continue to erode the nonproliferation benefits of a restored accord.

Antje Leendertse, German ambassador to the UN, said on Dec. 19 that the “prospects for a sustainable diplomatic solution” have been “fading in recent months.” She cited Iran’s nuclear escalation and support for Russia’s “brutal and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Nebenzia said that the JCPOA remains the “best tool” for strengthening the nonproliferation regime and it must “become fully functional again as soon as possible.”

He accused the United States and Europe of using the drone transfer allegations to undermine the JCPOA. The allegations were “first made the moment the Vienna talks entered the final stage,” which clearly shows “who is simply politicizing the discussion,” he said.


The United States expressed regret over the UN secretary-general’s failure to initiate an investigation into evidence that Iran is supplying Russia with drones for its war against Ukraine. 

Putin Denies Wielding Nuclear Threats

January/February 2023
By Shannon Bugos

After raising the nuclear temperature with his comments in recent months, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied issuing any threats of possible nuclear weapons use, stating that “we have not lost our minds.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin conducts a video conference in Moscow on Dec. 7, the day he denied issuing threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. (Photo by Mikhail Metzel/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)Russian nuclear forces are “in a more advanced and up-to-date condition than the weapons in the possession of any other nuclear power,” Putin said on Dec. 7. “Yet, we are not going to wield these weapons like a razor running around the globe.”

But even as the Russian president denied having ever spoken about the possibility of using nuclear weapons, he emphasized that Russia will protect itself and its allies “with all means at our disposal, if needed.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin denounced Putin’s statements on Dec. 9, saying that “the whole world has seen Putin engage in deeply irresponsible nuclear saber rattling” during Russia’s “cruel and unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine.”

Bloomberg reported the same day that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declined to hold an annual meeting with Putin due to the threats of nuclear use. But the two leaders held a telephone call on Dec. 16, during which Modi emphasized dialogue and diplomacy as the only way forward in Ukraine, according to the prime minister’s office.

The Kremlin readout of the call reported that “the two leaders agreed to maintain personal contacts.”

After Russia’s cancellation of a Russian-U.S. meeting to discuss the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Austin reiterated in December that the United States “stand[s] ready to pursue new arms control arrangements with willing partners operating in good faith.” (See ACT, December 2022.)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Dec. 1 that “it is impossible to discuss strategic stability today while ignoring everything that is happening in Ukraine.” Washington and Moscow typically include arms control under the umbrella of strategic stability matters.

By contrast, Sergei Ryabkov, Lavrov’s deputy, said two weeks earlier that so long as the United States demonstrates an “interest and readiness,” Russia would be willing to discuss matters of strategic stability only.


After raising the nuclear temperature with his recent comments, the Russian president denied issuing any threats of possible nuclear weapons use.


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