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July/August 2017
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Wednesday, July 12, 2017
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New, ‘More Usable’ Nukes? No, Thanks

July/August 2017
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Six months into his term of office, President Donald Trump has provided few details about his approach to his most important responsibility as president: reducing the risks posed by nuclear weapons and preventing a nuclear attack against the United States and our allies.

In the absence of a coherent vision or strategy, the inexperienced new commander-in-chief has instructed the Pentagon to conduct another review of U.S. nuclear strategy, the fourth since the end of the Cold War and the first since President Barack Obama completed his own Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in 2010.

An Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia on February 6, 2013. (Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber/U.S. Navy)It is, however, becoming clearer that Trump’s cryptic comments about nuclear weapons, including his tweet that the United States must further “strengthen and expand” its already unparalleled nuclear capacity, are being interpreted by nuclear weapons advocates, including those who will be involved in the review, quite literally.

The administration is already gearing up to accelerate the Obama-era plan to replace and upgrade each leg of the nuclear triad. The plan would maintain a force that is at least one-third larger than required and cost in excess of $1.2 trillion over the next three decades.

Making matters worse, there now is a push to overturn existing U.S. policy barring the development of new nuclear warheads or nuclear weapons for new military missions in order to build new types of “more usable” nuclear weapons.

In December 2016, the advisory Defense Science Board recommended the development of a “tailored nuclear option for limited use” even though board members acknowledged there is no military requirement for such a weapon. John Harvey, a former official in the Energy and Defense departments who is assisting with the Trump administration’s NPR, said at a public forum on June 29 that the United States should modify an existing strategic missile warhead to provide a low-yield option and consider reviving a Cold War-era, sea-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile to hold Russian targets at risk.

Also in June, the Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee approved a proposal to authorize $65 million for research and development on a new, dual-capable ground-launched cruise missile in response to Russia’s alleged deployment of such missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF)Treaty.

Proponents argue that new nuclear capabilities are necessary to provide the president with “more credible” nuclear options in the event of a military conflict with Russia. They fear Moscow may be tempted to threaten to use or actually use a small number of nuclear weapons to try to coerce the more powerful NATO to back down.

That is dangerous, Cold War thinking. Once nuclear weapons are used in a conflict against another nuclear-armed adversary, even in small numbers or in a regional conflict, there is no guarantee that there will not be a nuclear response and a cycle of escalation leading to all-out global nuclear war.

Despite the deterioration of relations, there is no reason why the United States should try to match Russia weapon for weapon, dumb move for each dumb move.

The United States already has a significant number of lower-yield nuclear weapons in its arsenal, as well as highly formidable conventional capabilities. There is no evidence that Russia might think the United States would not have the tools to respond decisively in any future conflict.

Russia’s apparent violation of the INF Treaty does not significantly alter the military balance, but it does require the United States to confront Russian officials with evidence of the violation at another meeting of the treaty’s Special Verification Commission and to work to resolve all outstanding compliance issues. Washington should also continue to support ongoing NATO efforts to bolster the conventional defenses of those allies that would be potential targets of Russian aggression or intimidation.

The pursuit of new nuclear weapons, however, would represent a radical reversal of existing U.S. nuclear policy and practice, which stipulates that the “fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack.” European governments and their publics, including those near Russia, likely will not favor U.S. efforts to deploy new nuclear weapons on or near their territory, nor would the prospect of a U.S. strategy based on the threat of a “limited” nuclear conflict in their region go down well.

By pursuing new types of nuclear warheads or delivery systems or modifying existing systems to create new capabilities, the United States would invite a further escalation of tensions and the acceleration of an increasingly unstable, global technological arms race.

As our nation tries to turn back the tide of nuclear proliferation worldwide, we can ill afford to take actions that needlessly suggest that nuclear weapons are just another weapon in a military arsenal. The diplomatic and security costs of developing and possibly testing new types of nuclear warheads far outweigh any marginal benefits of such arms.

The monthly “Focus” editorials from Arms Control Today are available for reprint on a non-exclusive basis
with permission from the Arms Control Association and link to the original publication online.


Six months into his term of office, President Donald Trump has provided few details about his approach to his most important responsibility as president: reducing the risks posed by nuclear weapons and preventing a nuclear attack against the United States and our allies.

After the Prohibition Treaty: A Practical Agenda to Reduce Nuclear Dangers

July/August 2017
By Lewis A. Dunn

Frustrated by the bilateral and multilateral arms control stalemate and energized by concerns about the risk of nuclear weapons use, more than 120 non-nuclear-weapon states have just adopted a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty that will be opened for signature in September.

As news cameras and journalists look on, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov makes opening remarks at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his delegation in Moscow on April 12. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of State)Absent adherence by the world’s nuclear-weapon states, which is a given, this treaty will not break the global nuclear arms control stalemate nor reduce the risk of the first use of a nuclear weapon since 1945. This troubling reality calls for fresh consideration of what may yet be achievable by both nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states, lest nuclear dangers grow.

Today’s differences are so great that dramatic advances cannot be expected. Rather, more limited opportunities should be pursued to overcome the bilateral U.S-Russian and U.S-Chinese arms control stalemates, go beyond the deadlock at the UN Conference on Disarmament, and reduce the polarization between non-nuclear and nuclear-weapon states that threatens the future of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Action is needed now because the turning points ahead, unless avoided, will increase global nuclear dangers significantly. The United States and the other NPT nuclear-weapon states have a special responsibility, given their own interests, NPT obligations, and possession of nuclear weapons, to prevent those turning points.

Drawing on a comprehensive reflection on the future global nuclear disarmament agenda, this article sets out five important opportunities.1

Return to first principles in U.S.-Russian strategic relations

The United States and Russia continue to implement the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). But its fate is uncertain after 2021, when it can be extended for up to five years, replaced, or allowed to expire. The Trump administration has announced a major review of nuclear policy, evaluating questions such as the future requirements for U.S. nuclear forces and whether to reaffirm support in principle for the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons. 2 Further, Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty could augur its readiness to cast aside the decadeslong process of negotiated agreements to regulate its strategic relationship with the United States.

There is deep skepticism about arms control in Moscow and among the more conservative U.S. defense experts who are likely to serve as senior Trump administration officials. There are many reasons for this. In Moscow, one important reason is that arms control no longer is seen as an effective means to restrain U.S. freedom of action, particularly regarding missile defenses and conventional-strike capabilities perceived as threatening Russia’s nuclear deterrent. 3 Ironically, U.S. conservatives believe that arms control imposes too many constraints on U.S. freedom of action, a view deeply rooted in former Cold War constraints on missile defenses.

Still, neither country will benefit if the 50-plus-year legacy of negotiated regulation of their strategic relationship gives way to unfettered and nontransparent unilateralism on strategic decisions and deployments. The outcome would be fewer windows into each other’s strategic thinking, a renewed arms race, further worsening of political relations, and heightened risk of miscalculation in a crisis or confrontation.

Participants gathered in May in Vienna for the opening sessions of preparatory committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (Photo credit: Agata Wozniak /UNIS Vienna)A breakdown also would undermine the NPT by confirming the belief of many non-nuclear-weapon states that the treaty cannot deliver even modest but sustained progress toward its Article VI nuclear disarmament goal. Article VI commits the five NPT nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

The challenge for Washington and Moscow is to step back and rethink completely the potential contributions of arms control in serving their strategic interests. A return to a dialogue of first principles is needed. That does not necessarily preclude a negotiated extension of New START for up to five years, for which that treaty provides. If the United States and Russia can quickly agree on an extension, it would buy time. An extension in itself, however, will not resolve their underlying skepticism about bilateral arms control.

Specifically, Washington and Moscow should begin by taking stock of each country’s strategic interests, concerns, and concepts, including their divergent views of what is required for strategic stability between them. Both also should focus explicitly on the implications of alternative futures for their strategic relationship after the 2021 New START deadline, from more to less cooperation, from more to less strategic dialogue and engagement among military and defense officials, and from continuation of efforts to regulate cooperatively their strategic decisions and deployments to a breakdown of the arms control process in a new unilateralism. Both countries’ enduring interest in a legitimate and effective NPT regime must be factored into their thinking. Put starkly, if the decadeslong process of cooperative regulation of their strategic postures ends with New START, do they care, why, and how much?

Assuming Washington and Moscow agree that the opportunity costs of increasingly more unilateral and more competitive strategic futures are too high, measured most in terms of growing strategic instability and nuclear risk but also great damage to their shared interest in a robust NPT regime, this return to first principles should next explore how to address each side’s strategic concerns. All issues should be discussed: offenses and defenses; space and cyberspace; conventional and nonconventional; deployed and nondeployed nuclear capabilities; other dimensions of nuclear risk reduction; compliance, including the INF Treaty; and perspectives on the usability of nuclear weapons.

All approaches for cooperatively regulating their strategic relationship after New START should be considered: formal treaties, parallel formal political commitments, joint programs, and reassurance and restraint measures. In seeking to strengthen strategic stability and nuclear risk reduction, both countries should be prepared as well to contemplate major departures from current positions, including by U.S. acceptance of limits on ballistic missile defenses and new conventional prompt global-strike capabilities, and Russian reaffirmation of the injunction that a “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

At best, this discussion of first principles would take place officially, led by senior officials in the White House and the Kremlin. Alternatively, Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin could create a special joint commission of retired senior political and military officials from their defense and foreign policy communities with governmental observers. In either case, the mandate would be to report on what is at stake should the bilateral arms control process collapse and, more importantly, possible cooperative ways forward after New START.

The semiofficial option would be more exploratory and thus likely more attractive to the Trump administration and Putin’s Moscow. The prospects for such an exchange will depend partly on whether the two presidents conclude, for reasons set out already, that their countries’ interests would not be served by allowing bilateral arms control to fade into history. Those prospects would depend as well on whether announcing agreement to such exchanges would be regarded by Trump and Putin as signaling their commitment to seek an improved political relationship consistent with their statements following Trump’s election.

Avoid a “lose-lose” turning point in U.S.-Chinese strategic interaction

Given deep uncertainties and suspicions about each other’s intentions, plans, and programs, the United States and China are nearing a lose-lose turning point of sustained strategic competition. 4 The prospect is growing that Washington and Beijing increasingly will take unilateral actions to lessen their uncertainties and suspicions. The result will be a costly arms race, greater risk of miscalculation if a crisis or confrontation cannot be avoided, and worsening political relations. If not prevented, a North Korean nuclear and missile threat to the United States will further increase the likelihood of strategic competition by triggering many U.S. defensive activities, whose spillovers would impact the U.S.-Chinese strategic relationship. The recent U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in South Korea, which China fears could undermine its nuclear deterrent, exemplifies that prospect.

Visitors tour China’s once-secret 816 Nuclear Military Plant, a vast underground facility that had been intended to contain a reactor producing weapons-usable plutonium. The project was cancelled in 1984, before completion, and the complex of caves and tunnels was opened as a tourist site in 2010. This photo taken February 21 shows the room that was to house the reactor. (Photo credit: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)U.S. proposals to head off growing strategic competition have proven unattractive in Beijing. 5 These include the Obama administration’s official proposal for a strategic stability dialogue, to understand Chinese concerns and provide reassurance about U.S. regional and strategic choices, and proposals in semi-official “Track 1½” and expert-level “Track 2” meetings by U.S. participants to explore a process of mutual reassurance and restraint to reduce each side’s uncertainties and suspicions. 6

Chinese reluctance is perhaps explained by uncertainty about what such a process of reassurance and restraint would require of China and what it would get in return. Trump administration views remain to be determined, although with its emphasis on setting the U.S. nuclear arsenal as “top of the pack,” it could prove even more skeptical than the Obama administration of China’s strategic intentions, plans, and programs.

Given both countries’ interests in avoiding a lose-lose situation that heightens strategic competition, official exploration of a more comprehensive process of mutual reassurance and restraint still would be the best approach. Yet, it could remain out of reach. Instead, Washington and Beijing should consider two more limited ways to test that broader concept.

The newly initiated reviews of the U.S. nuclear posture and ballistic missile defense likely will take many months. China’s strategic posture is unlikely to be a central focus of these reviews, but it is unlikely to be an afterthought. As those reviews advance, the Trump administration should propose that the United States and China hold an official-level experts exchange to allow for Chinese input. That discussion could cover the overall regional and global nuclear landscape; the projected evolution of each country’s nuclear and other strategic capabilities, doctrine, planning, and investments in the region; and, more broadly and not least, the strategic choices by either country that would be of most concern to the other. Of course, there would be limits on what either country would say, but the results still would prove valuable to both sides.

For Washington, an understanding of China’s evolving posture would be improved, and uncertainties would be reduced. Any later decisions that run counter to Chinese objections would be made at least with some insight into those positions. For Beijing, the payoff would be influence over Washington’s decisions, if only by making China’s concerns known in advance and signaling potential counters. For each country, this dialogue would be a valuable political signal to the other of its desire for a more cooperative, less competitive overall relationship. It also would be one way to begin to explore the concept of mutual reassurance and restraint.

Turning to the second proposal, North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile capabilities will create significant pressures for U.S. and allied military countermoves, such as augmented regional and homeland missile defenses, conventional prompt global-strike options, augmented in-theater surveillance and regional-strike capabilities, heightened anti-submarine warfare activities, and cyberwarfare options. Against that backdrop, the Trump administration should propose a dialogue with Beijing focused on possible actions that the United States could believe necessary to neutralize North Korea’s nuclear missile threat and on possible Chinese reactions and responses to the spillovers for China of those actions.

From a U.S. perspective, one purpose again would be to ensure that U.S. decisions were informed by an understanding of potential implications for the U.S.-Chinese strategic relationship. There also would be insights into Chinese strategic thinking, posture, and decision-making to the extent that Chinese arguments were buttressed by setting out the strategic logic behind specific concerns. An additional benefit for the Trump administration would be to highlight the opportunity costs for China of North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile capabilities. For China, there again would be an opportunity to influence U.S. decisions.

For both countries, such exchanges would enable their officials to identify and explore mutually acceptable options to manage the spillovers of U.S. actions for their strategic relationship in return for windows into Chinese activities and for Chinese restraint in areas of U.S. concern.

Turn FMCT into a nuclear disarmament building block

Multilaterally, a deadlocked Conference on Disarmament (CD) has been unable for over two decades to begin negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). An FMCT designed only to halt production of such material for nuclear weapons, however, is a treaty whose time has passed. Even if the CD deadlock ends, the payoffs of a production cutoff alone will be minimal. India and Pakistan will not adhere to such a prohibition, choosing instead to protect their options to produce more nuclear weapons materials; the five NPT nuclear-weapon states most probably have ceased production; and most non-nuclear-weapon states reject a production cutoff as an important Article VI step.

Henceforth, a treaty placing limits on fissile material should be crafted explicitly as a nuclear disarmament building block. Specifically, any future treaty should encompass wide-ranging transparency measures, including declarations of nuclear weapons material production, utilization, and storage facilities; flows of fissile material for permitted military purposes; flows and sites related to the disposition and storage of nuclear weapons material from dismantled nuclear warheads; flows of surplus material placed under international safeguards; and best estimates of past production and existing stocks of nuclear weapons materials. At this stage, such transparency measures still would stop short of provisions for the required elimination of previously produced nuclear weapons materials.

In addition, with the CD deadlocked, fissile material limits should be pursued elsewhere. The negotiation of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, known as the Ottawa Convention, and the current negotiations for a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty provide alternative models: in one case, an ad hoc negotiation among like-minded countries; in the other, a negotiation empowered by a UN resolution. This approach would be one way for U.S. officials to highlight the absence of necessary conditions for nuclear abolition, in this case, knowledge about past production and existing stocks of nuclear weapons materials. In turn, for U.S. NPT interests, it would signal readiness to cooperate with other countries to put in place such building blocks for sustained Article VI progress.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks April 28 during a special ministerial-level meeting of the UN Security Council on North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing. While the United States is pressing China to influence Pyongyang, Wang told the 15-member council that is not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem. (Photo credit: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)Among other NPT nuclear-weapon states, China most certainly would be uncomfortable, given its traditional uneasiness about transparency, but it also could prove reluctant to stand aside from negotiations outside of the CD. Using an FMCT to provide vital ground truth on nuclear-weapon-state activities would offer critics among non-nuclear-weapon states a treaty that clearly would advance nuclear disarmament goals.

Demonstrate risk-reduction actions by nuclear-weapon states

Four years after the first of three conferences on the humanitarian impact of use of nuclear weapons, the five NPT nuclear-weapon states still lack a credible response to the humanitarian impact movement and the legitimate concerns it raises about the risk of use of nuclear weapons. This failure has been costly to their own interests and remains so.

Along with frustration at today’s nuclear arms control stalemate, the belief of many non-nuclear-weapon states that the risk of nuclear weapons use is significant and increasing has been the most important source of support for negotiating a prohibition treaty. 7 In turn, that belief and the nuclear-weapon states’ response has heightened polarization within the NPT community. The continued intensification of this polarization is the most likely pathway to the NPT’s loss of credibility and legitimacy. That outcome is not in the interests of the NPT nuclear-weapon states or, for that matter, the non-nuclear-weapon states. In turn, although the magnitude of nuclear risk can be debated, it is increasingly possible to craft credible scenarios for a next use of nuclear weapons. For both reasons, the interests of the United States and the other NPT nuclear-weapon states would be served by acknowledging the concerns of virtually all nations about the risk of use of nuclear weapons and demonstrating their commitment to reduce that risk to an absolute minimum.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at UN headquarters March 27 to explain why the United States isn’t participating in negotiations on a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. In a show of support, she was flanked by French Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Alexis Lamek (L) and British Permanent Representative to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft (R), whose nuclear-armed countries also are not participating in the negotiations. (Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)With that goal, the NPT nuclear-weapon states should announce that nuclear risk reduction will become part of their ongoing exchanges as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Those exchanges could be carried out in the so-called P5 Process of annual meetings and interim discussions linked to the NPT or on the margins of the Security Council itself. An initial focus could be potential pathways to a next use of a nuclear weapon, whether by a nonstate actor or a state; by accident, intention, or miscalculation; limited or more extensive. Possible areas then could be explored for cooperation among the NPT nuclear-weapon states to prevent a next use. Cooperation could focus, for example, on how to defuse an escalating crisis between India and Pakistan under the nuclear shadow, perhaps the most plausible immediate pathway. Another focus could be cooperation to head off a terrorist nuclear attack. Actions by the NPT nuclear-weapon states to provide humanitarian assistance should a nuclear detonation occur is another area for cooperative response.

Going beyond these elements, the NPT nuclear-weapon states could seek agreement on a so-called code of nuclear conduct comprised of basic principles to govern their activities and derivative undertakings to implement those principles. Specific areas for discussion include best practices for nuclear decision-making, nuclear safety and security, command and control, nuclear warning and alert status, nuclear risk reduction, nuclear doctrine and the roles of nuclear weapons, and affirmation of overall obligations, including their NPT obligations and the norm of no testing of nuclear weapons. As part of such discussions, the NPT nuclear-weapon states also could reach out to the two declared non-NPT nuclear-weapon states, India and Pakistan, and engage them on nuclear risk reduction.

This proposal probably will encounter some if not considerable caution among NPT nuclear-weapon states. Nonetheless, aside from payoffs for their NPT interests, there is another compelling reason why they should embrace nuclear risk reduction. Any use of a nuclear weapon will directly and indirectly affect all of them, whether as targets, bystanders, responders, governments with citizens at risk overseas, holders of nuclear weapons, supporters of nonproliferation, and through resulting environmental effects.

Rebuild cooperation toward a shared vision

With the conclusion and opening for signature of the new Treaty on the Prohibi­tion of Nuclear Weapons, its many non-nuclear-weapon-state supporters will begin rallying adherents to ensure the treaty’s entry into force. Even so, their own nuclear disarmament objectives also would be advanced by efforts to reduce today’s greatest-ever polarization and rebuild habits of cooperation within the NPT.

The nuclear disarmament ripple effects anticipated by ban supporters from their agreement to a prohibition norm remain uncertain and are longer term. It took nearly 70 years from the Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use of chemical weapons to the Chemical Weapons Convention eliminating those weapons. More immediate progress toward nuclear disarmament and nuclear risk reduction still requires cooperation from the NPT nuclear-weapon states. In that regard, Article VI remains the best legal hook for pulling those states along and, in the case of Trump administration officials, helping to convince them not to walk away completely from the historic U.S. commitment to nuclear abolition as the ultimate Article VI goal.

Equally so, the NPT nuclear-weapon states have compelling interests in reducing polarization and rebuilding habits of cooperation within the treaty. It remains the most important legal foundation of global nonproliferation success, including its obligation not to acquire nuclear weapons and of safeguards and export controls. A strong treaty signals that the world’s nations believe that ever growing proliferation is avoidable. As seen in dealing with Iran’s nuclear weapons activities, the treaty’s obligations are critical for rallying international political support to constrain or reverse problem-country programs.

Unless reversed, however, today’s polarization, frustration, and questioning of the NPT’s value could worsen, resulting sooner than anticipated in the erosion of the treaty’s credibility, legitimacy, and effectiveness. That outcome would be yet another damaging turning point. This risk and its consequences for U.S. nonproliferation interests should not be underestimated, particularly as the Trump administration proceeds with its reviews of U.S. policy on the NPT and the goal of nuclear abolition.

The 2020 NPT Review Conference cycle, just now getting underway, is an opportunity to begin rebuilding habits of cooperation. “Special time” should be set aside at the second and third preparatory committee meetings, as well as at the review conference, for detailed exchanges on the issues of most concern across the NPT. These issues include the conditions and building blocks of sustained nuclear disarmament progress, including robust nonproliferation, as well as priorities for cooperative actions to put those building blocks in place; how to define the “effective measures” of nuclear disarmament required by Article VI and the phasing of those measures over time; nuclear risk reduction priorities and cooperation; and compliance and verification strengthening, including building on the public-private effort known as the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification and the future UN Group of Governmental Experts on Verification.

The goal of these exchanges would be to restore a sense of common purpose; create a shared vision of an achievable nuclear disarmament future in 2045, the 100th anniversary of the U.S. use of nuclear weapons against Japan; and energize actions toward that vision. The parties also could set a limited number of agreed priorities across the NPT to be achieved in the period between the 2020 and the 2025 review conferences. The decision of the NPT’s parties at the 1995 review and extension conference to set a deadline of the end of 1996 for negotiating a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is a precedent. That deadline was met and established what has become a global norm against nuclear testing, although the CTBT’s entry into force regrettably remains part of unfinished NPT business.

Moving beyond today’s unstable global nuclear arms control status quo and successfully avoiding the most dangerous turning points will require actions by the five NPT nuclear-weapon states most of all. Other countries matter, whether that is the supporters of a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty in rebuilding cooperation or the non-NPT nuclear-weapon states in helping reduce nuclear risks. Yet, as the NPT nuclear-weapon states have emphasized in opposing a prohibition treaty, they possess the bulk of nuclear weapons.

The security interests of the NPT nuclear-weapon states, including the United States led by Trump, would be advanced by taking on that responsibility to move beyond the status quo. Whether they will do so, even if only by pursuing the types of limited opportunities proposed in this article, remains to be decided.

In that regard, historians have written that “modern history” or, in one case, simply “Germany” reached its turning point during the revolutions of 1848 and “failed to turn,” with catastrophic results in the 20th century. 8 The security and well-being of all countries requires that no historian should be able to write from a vantage point of 2045, 100 years after the nuclear detonations over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that the NPT nuclear-weapon states had reached their turning points at the close of the second decade of the 21st century and then failed to turn, with costly results for them and other countries during the years that followed.


1.   Lewis A. Dunn, “Redefining the U.S. Agenda for Nuclear Disarmament: Analysis and Reflections,” Livermore Papers on Global Security, No. 1 (October 2016), https://cgsr.llnl.gov/content/assets/docs/CGSR_Document_LLNL-TR-701463_103116.pdf.

2.   John Landay, “Trump Administration to Review Goal of World Without Nuclear Weapons: Aide,” Reuters, March 21, 2017.

3.   For a broader appraisal, see Alexey Arbatov, “Understanding the U.S.-Russia Nuclear Schism,” Survival, Vol. 59, No. 2 (April-May 2017): 33-66.

4.   The following discussion draws on the author’s participation in “Track 1½” U.S.-Chinese strategic nuclear dialogue meetings.

5.   See Bradley Roberts, “Strategic Stability: From 2009 to 2017” (working paper, 2017).

6.   David C. Gompert and Phillip C. Saunders, The Paradox of Power: Sino-American Strategic Restraint in an Age of Vulnerability (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2011); Dunn, “Redefining the U.S. Agenda for Nuclear Disarmament,” pp. 68-71.

7.   See Alexander Marschik, statement at the UN conference to negotiate a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty, July/August 27, 2017 (Austrian ambassador).

8.   The former is a reference to G.M. Trevelyan, the latter to A.J.P. Taylor.

Lewis A. Dunn was the U.S. ambassador to the 1985 review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

After the Prohibition Treaty: A Practical Agenda to Reduce Nuclear Dangers

Trends in Nuclear Risks

July/August 2017
By John Borrie, Tim Caughley, and Wilfred Wan

The probability and consequences of nuclear weapon detonation events are far from trivial and underline the need for concerted action to resume disarmament with a view to achieving a nuclear weapons-free world.

Here is a list of key facts and trends drawn from the contributions to our report, “Understanding Nuclear Weapon Risks,” for policymakers as they discuss next possible steps to take in nuclear risk reduction.

  • Risk is intrinsic to nuclear deterrence doctrine as instilling uncertainty in potential adversaries is regarded as a beneficial property. Yet in a nuclear crisis situation, mistakes in estimating the inadvertent outcomes of given behaviors and interactions can lead to further escalation or actual nuclear conflict.
  • Despite claims to the contrary by possessors, nuclear modernization is making nuclear weapons more usable by improving their operational flexibility and effectiveness in locating and reliably destroying targets.
  • Such modernization efforts (e.g., nuclear-armed cruise missile capabilities) threaten strategic stability by creating ambiguity that increases the chance of miscalculation, misperception, escalation, and arms racing.
  • Technological and doctrinal modernization efforts aimed at allowing for greater integration of conventional and nuclear warfare threaten long-standing taboos related to nuclear weapons testing and use.
  • Technological advances of various kinds add new complexities and potential failure points that will strain early-warning and command and control systems, while compressing human decision-making timelines and exposing those systems to false alarms and accidents.
  • New technologies also expand the range of actors, including nonstate actors, that might be able to exploit vulnerabilities (e.g., in cyberspace) in nuclear weapons systems, including in indirect ways such as the manipulation of policymakers’ and military strategists’ perceptions. This could have profound effects in a crisis.
  • The idea that nuclear command and control systems can be fully air-gapped from the outside is a myth, and they contain components that are vulnerable in ways not fully understood.
  • Given also considerable uncertainties (e.g., about the impacts of natural disasters and other phenomenon), the probabilistic risk acceptability criteria that guide national approaches to both power plants and weapons should not be taken as an actual measure of safety.
  • Recent attention on securing highly enriched uranium and plutonium stocks and sites is laudable, but has been inconsistent and remains concentrated only on civilian nuclear material when the majority of stocks are in military hands.
  • Independent safety oversight remains largely lacking in the domain of nuclear weapons, a special concern given its crucial importance in reducing the frequency of serious accidents across a range of hazardous technologies.
  • New and smaller nuclear powers can exacerbate risk, as they may have less secure physical and operational control of their nuclear weapons and less doctrinal transparency and are particularly susceptible to political turmoil, governmental instability, and crisis situations.

By identifying some of the most pertinent variables linked to a potential nuclear weapons detonation event, the study extends a conversation about the whole-of-the-risk equation. It points to issues on which nuclear weapons possessors and nonpossessors alike should engage with a view to reducing the risk of use of nuclear weapons.

John Borrie is chief of research at the UN Institute for Disar­mament Research (UNIDIR). Tim Caughley, a resident senior fellow at UNIDIR, manages its project on the humani­tarian impact of nuclear weapons use. Wilfred Wan is a research consultant with UNIDIR. This piece is adapted from the April UNIDIR report “Understanding Nuclear Weapon Risks.”

Trends in Nuclear Risks

The Evolving Russian Concept of Strategic Deterrence: Risks and Responses

July/August 2017
By Anya Loukianova Fink

Over the last decade, Russia has been putting into operation its vision of strategic deterrence, a doctrinal approach built on a demonstrated spectrum of capabilities and a resolve to use military force. Russia’s strategic deterrence is conceptually different from its Western namesake in that it is not limited to nuclear weapons.

This article introduces Russia’s strategic deterrence, highlights its escalatory potential, and discusses challenges in mitigating its dangers.

Russian military analysts describe strategic deterrence as primarily a defensive strategy that seeks to prevent conflict and to control escalation if a conflict breaks out.1 If tested in a military conflict with the West, however, some of its elements could well fuel escalation dynamics. Most notably, Russia’s plans to control escalation by using conventional precision-strike missile systems on an opponent’s military and economic targets raise the risk of unintended escalation, especially when employed alongside cyber- and electronic warfare capabilities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall in the Kremlin March 23 to meet with senior military officers promoted to higher positions. (Photo credit: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)If a conflict involving Russian and U.S./NATO forces erupts, policymakers on both sides will find themselves unprepared to deal with numerous escalation-management challenges, which include understanding the nature of Russia’s deliberate escalation and mitigating the dangers of unintended escalation on both sides. The most urgent step to curbing the escalation potential of such a conflict is a shared commitment to avoid the unintended use of nuclear weapons. This foundation can help facilitate the management of escalation risks that will persist in the relationship between Russia and the West for the foreseeable future.

Russia’s Approach

Russia’s strategic deterrence approach is grounded in its understanding of internal and external threats and its sense of asymmetry toward the West. 2 Russian military doctrine describes perceived dangers from the United States and NATO readiness to use military force, instability and terrorism that could challenge Russia’s sovereignty, and a local conflict on its vast borders that could escalate, including to the use of nuclear weapons. 3 Russian officials also have concerns about their inability to counter Western military technological developments and the dangers posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technologies to state and nonstate actors.

As part of strategic deterrence, Russia developed a spectrum of nonmilitary and non-nuclear and nuclear capabilities intended for continuous employment in peacetime and wartime. 4 On one end of this spectrum are nonmilitary means that Russian leaders see as tools to achieve Russia’s national interests without the direct use of military force. Russia’s political and “information war” activities have received a lot of attention in the West as a Russian innovation. Yet, Russian military officials and analysts have argued that Russia learned this approach from observing Western activities, notably in eastern Europe and the Middle East, since the end of the Cold War. 5 Furthermore, although nonmilitary means are important to Russia’s so-called theory of victory, strategic deterrence is fundamentally a strategy based on convincing an opponent of a credible threat of using military force.

At the other end of this spectrum, strategic nuclear forces remain at the heart of Russia’s strategic stability calculus, intended to prevent a regional or large-scale conflict by deterring the West. 6 Moscow is in the midst of a multiyear modernization of all three legs of its nuclear triad, although Russian experts suggest that some of the systems’ procurement is industry driven and excessive. 7 The doctrine and posture of Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear forces remains opaque, but it has long been linked to the perceived weakness of Russia’s general purpose forces and other conventional capabilities. 8 Some have noted that Russian nonstrategic nuclear forces may also intend to “offset the growing disparities” in regional ballistic missile defense. 9

A Russian Iskander ballistic missile launcher rolls by a soldier during a parade rehearsal near Moscow on April 20, 2010. Recently, Russia reportedly has deployed Iskander-M missiles, which can carry conventional or nuclear warheads, to its western enclave of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania. (Photo credit: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)In between, Moscow has heavily invested in development of conventional capabilities. Russia has extensively exercised its general purpose forces over the last five years, testing their command-and-control systems and improving their equipment, readiness, and mobility for a range of possible conflict scenarios. 10 Russia’s current force posture points primarily to a preoccupation with local contingencies on its borders with non-NATO neighbors. 11 Its concerns also extend to the potential vulnerability of Kaliningrad and Crimea. 12

As part of an effort to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons at early stages of conflict, Russia has developed a range of non-nuclear deterrence capabilities, including conventional precision-strike systems (long-range cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles), air and missile defenses, and various capabilities intended to disrupt an adversary’s command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, what the military calls C4ISR. 13 It has sought to demonstrate these capabilities in Ukraine and Syria.

Tailored Escalation

Russia’s direct and indirect uses of force have fueled debate about the role of deliberate escalation in its strategic deterrence approach. Such escalation could be used to gain military advantage or to get an opponent to halt its actions—an important distinction in escalation management. 14 This distinction is not something that Russian analysts address.

Strategic deterrence is built on Russia’s view of conflicts as defensive, preventive, and just. 15 Russian military writings describe it as an approach with elements of deterrence, containment, and compellence that aims to “induce fear” in opponents. 16 To achieve this and other effects, Russian military theorists focus on the importance of tailoring nonmilitary means and the direct and indirect uses of military force. 17

Such tailoring has proven difficult in practice for Russia. During the Ukraine crisis, Russian leadership highlighted Russia’s nuclear status to signal that Russia’s stakes were higher than those of the West. In addition, Russian diplomats and former officials threatened nuclear use against NATO members and partners. 18 Russian aircraft “buzzed” vessels, risking accidents, and engaged in other hazardous activities. 19 Denials by officials of Russia’s support for separatists in Ukraine, as well as the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, also raised questions about Russia’s interest or ability to credibly signal limits or engage in restraint.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis talks with soldiers during a visit to NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup in Lithuania on May 10. The United States and its European allies have increased their military presence in response to perceived Russian threats to nearby NATO members, such as the Baltic states. (Photo credit: Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images)In the early phases of a conflict, Russian military writings suggest that Russia would first work to reduce escalation through nonmilitary means. 20 Yet, diplomacy and information activities could be viewed by the West as part and parcel of Russia’s “gray zone” strategies. On the Russian side, Western actions may be dismissed as “information war.” 21 To be sure, Russia’s restraint and bilateral diplomacy proved effective after Turkey downed its fighter-bomber in June 2015. Nevertheless, the absence of effective and credible crisis management mechanisms, including in the NATO-Russia Council, amplifies the danger that both sides will view nonmilitary means as propaganda that paves the way for military force.

Beginnings of a Conflict

Russian political-military analysts have discussed the dangers of unintended escalation given the proximity of NATO and Russian military forces. 22 As conventional postures and plans are adapted to meet perceived threats, the potential for a conflict outbreak due to inadvertent or accidental escalation increases. In turn, Russia’s practical ability to manage such escalation through strategic deterrence is limited.

In a nascent crisis, Russia is likely to engage in deterrence signaling and increase the readiness of selected conventional and perhaps nuclear capabilities. Russian military writings stress the importance of tight political control over and rules of engagement for military forces, especially as they signal intent to deny domains in a conflict and engage in reconnaissance. 23 Russian analysts also focus, however, on denying the opponent escalation dominance and achieving decisive effects in the initial period of war. 24 They further discuss mobilization activities, including of the public. 25 The challenge is that deterrence signaling activities may raise the risk of inadvertent escalation during a critical time, while mobilization activities could contribute to a perception that a conflict is unavoidable.

As the West’s military-political deterrence posture shifts in response to Russia’s deterrence signaling and mobilization, Russia may engage in a crisis response and rush forces to the theater. Military writings point to the likelihood of active use of cyber- and electronic warfare to disrupt Western C4ISR systems. 26 These actions are likely to be reciprocated, resulting in a significant degree of damage and other consequences to both sides that are not yet fully understood. These may further stress policymakers’ abilities to understand escalation dynamics and control the employment of military forces in the theater.

In addition, nuclear forces may be alerted, and warheads will begin to be moved from central storage facilities to bases. Instead of successfully halting the conflict, some Russian writings suggest that these actions may heighten concerns about the vulnerability of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. 27 Managing escalation of the conflict will depend on the mutual ability to maintain control of the use of force and understand critical thresholds.

Conventional Precision-Strike Weapons

As Russia embarked on a modernization of its conventional forces in the early 2000s, Russian military theorists advocated the creation of non-nuclear deterrence capabilities for the strategic deterrence spectrum. 28 Some noted that such capabilities along with a doctrinal foundation could be important due to the “widely accepted consequences of nuclear weapons use and, as a result, the low credibility of nuclear weapons as a deterrence measure at early stages of conflicts among states.” 29 Russia’s 2014 military doctrine introduced a new “forceful” strategic deterrence step that envisaged the use of precision strike weapons to coerce an opponent to halt its military actions. 30

The new Russian multipurpose MiG-35 jet fighter, due to begin entering service in 2019, is displayed on a podium during its presentation at the MiG plant in Lukhovitsy, 90 miles southeast of Moscow, on January 27. (Photo credit: Marina Lystseva/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia does not have sufficient conventional precision-strike capabilities to credibly threaten the full range of Western counterforce targets. Russian military analysts thus focus on limited strikes to inflict “deterrent damage” on “vitally” important military targets. 31 Targets include “weak spots” of military infrastructure such as C4ISR and transportation nodes. 32 As escalation progresses, they also discuss striking economic targets with, in theory, an aim to limit civilian losses. Such strikes would seek to damage electricity generation and distribution systems, dams, chemical production facilities, and other targets. 33 Russian military doctrine reflects a concern about Western strikes on similar targets. 34

Uncertainties exist as to whether this step will be able to effectively control escalation. As some Russian commentators note, Russian doctrine does not spell out the thresholds or criteria for these strikes or how Russia will attempt to communicate what this step means. 35 Presumably, cyberattacks will also be used to disable operations of some of the intended targets, which could contribute to confusion about the aims of conventional-weapon precision strikes. More practically, strikes on counterforce targets to inflict “deterrent damage” could result in only temporary disruptions. Strikes on economic assets may solidify an opponent’s resolve. Their consequences become even less predictable in an information-war environment.

As some Western analysts point out, Russia’s precision strike systems are dual capable, 36 but Russian writings do not focus on the potential of an opponent’s misperception of a Russian conventional signaling strike as a nuclear one. Presumably, Russia’s inclusion of a step with conventional precision-strike weapons could have been intended as a signal of a higher nuclear threshold. As Russia’s conventional precision-strike capabilities progress, watching doctrinal and employment evolution will be essential for understanding Russia’s critical thresholds. In the meantime, this issue could benefit from bilateral military-to-military contacts and efforts to privately clarify this new doctrinal element with Western counterparts.

Ambiguous Nuclear Thresholds

Russian military writings in the wake of the 1999 NATO bombing of Kosovo suggested that Russia could have engaged in a single, maybe low-yield nuclear detonation as part of a warning or to press the adversary to back down. This was Russia’s way of coping with a perceived conventional vulnerability at the time, especially regarding Western precision-strike capabilities. The standard line of thinking in Russian writings was that such nuclear reliance would be obviated once credible conventional precision-strike capabilities emerged. 37

Beyond a statement in Russian military doctrine about nuclear use when the “existence of state” is at stake, Russia’s actual threshold for nuclear use remains ambiguous. Russian military theorists view some of this ambiguity as beneficial, even though they extensively discuss what constitutes “unacceptable damage” to would-be opponents. 38 They also outline roles for nuclear weapons at later stages of large-scale conflict in strategic operations. 39 Some note, however, that “deterrence through use (or threat) of nuclear weapons even as limited strikes does not fully guarantee that the conflict would not take the path of escalation with the unlimited (mass) use of nuclear weapons.” 40

Russian political and military officials have expressed persistent concerns about an “aerospace attack” that could inflict damage on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces with conventional precision-strike weapons. 41 This and several related threat scenarios build on Russia’s suspicions about U.S. missile defenses, especially the capabilities of Aegis Ashore launchers that are part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach and prompt global-strike systems. 42 Russian military theorists also have concerns about inadvertent nuclear escalation that arises from the synergy of precision strike, cyber, and electronic means in combat. 43 As the development of these capabilities continues to progress and U.S. nuclear modernization begins, it will be important to take advantage of the possibility that Russia will wish to avoid nuclear escalation and look for ways to reduce nuclear risks in a potential conflict.

Reducing Escalation Dangers

If a conflict involving Russia and the West breaks out tomorrow, policymakers on both sides would find themselves unprepared to deal with numerous escalation dangers. In a conflict, managing escalation will be important for the West, but it will also be critical for Russia. Western policy efforts must find ways
to encourage Russia’s exercise of restraint regarding its deliberate escalation and contribute to mitigating the dangers of unintended escalation on its part.

General Stefan Danila (left), chief of the Romanian Army General Staff, shakes hands with General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia and first deputy defense minister, at the NATO-Russia Council meeting of defense chiefs on January 22, 2014. Shortly thereafter, NATO suspended the council in response to Russia’s military actions against Ukraine. (Photo credit: NATO)Ongoing U.S. and NATO efforts to adapt conventional deterrence postures and policies, as well as to improve resilience and strategic communication, are important ways to influence Russia’s deliberate escalation calculus. 44 Furthermore, with regard to Russia’s “forceful” non-nuclear deterrence step, NATO needs to consider cruise missile defense approaches and “point defenses of critical airfields and command-and-control facilities.” 45 Such steps need to be taken in tandem with clarifying thresholds and resolving mutual concerns around the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the European Phased Adaptive Approach approach. 46

In a nuclear crisis, effective U.S./NATO-Russian communication in an environment of cyber-, electronic, and information warfare will be key to credibly signaling limits, including the absence of a threat to the “existence of state” or nuclear forces. From this perspective, the de facto absence of a credible crisis management and communication mechanism poses a significant challenge to successful escalation management. Given the failure of the NATO-Russia Council in past crises, policy efforts need to identify or create such a mechanism.

Russia’s strategic deterrence exploits the attention and fear generated by indirect uses of military force, but Russian analysts have also argued that Moscow must seriously engage Western proposals on transparency of conventional forces. 47 There may be opportunities for the West to pursue efforts to gain further limits and notification requirements on military exercises under the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures; enhanced military information exchanges, including on naval activities; and subregional risk reduction measures. 48

Managing the risks of accidental escalation that could result from force management errors is also essential. Western policy has allowed Russia to normalize coercive strategic deterrence activities, such as “buzzing” by military aircraft, that raise the risk of accidents involving military forces. Some in the West have advocated a plan of action on avoiding hazardous incidents in the Euro-Atlantic area. This plan provides an omnibus NATO-Russian approach to dated and piecemeal bilateral arrangements among numerous states-parties, including the 1972 Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas and the 1989 Agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities. 49 Such a step may help to induce Russian restraint and accountability.

Finally, Western studies have suggested that when faced with a prospect of a nuclear conflict, both sides need to recognize that they share an interest in preventing nuclear use. 50 In line with this, some Russian analysts have called for a high-level statement that would reaffirm U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s declaration that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” 51 To be sure, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently sought to reassure a Western audience that Russia has no intentions of using its nuclear weapons for coercion because that could have escalatory consequences with global implications. 52 Pursuing such a joint U.S.-Russian statement could thus be a useful way ahead. 53


1.   Yu. A. Pechatnov, “Teoriya sderzhivaniya: genesis” [Deterrence theory: Beginnings], Vooruzheniye I Ekonomika, February 2016.

2.   Ibid.

3.   Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, “The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation,” June 29, 2015, http://rusemb.org.uk/press/2029 (hereinafter Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation).

4.   Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, “Russian Strategic Deterrence,” Survival, Vol. 58, No. 4 (August-September 2016): 7-26.

5.   Timothy Thomas, “Thinking Like a Russian Officer: Basic Factors and Contemporary Thinking on the Nature of War,” Foreign Military Studies Office, April 2016, http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/Thinking%20Like%20A%20Russian%20Officer_monograph_Thomas%20(final).pdf.

6.   Andrei Kokoshin, “Ensuring Strategic Stability in the Past and Present: Theoretical and Applied Questions,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, June 2011, http://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/files/Ensuring%20Strategic%20Stability%20by%20A.%20Kokoshin.pdf.

7.   “Alexey Arbatov: Yesli tam budet krupnaya voina, to nam budet uzhe ne do tsen na chernoye zoloto” [If there is a large-scale war, we won’t care about black gold prices], Economy Times, February 16, 2016, http://economytimes.ru/kurs-rulya/aleksey-arbatov-esli-tam-budet-krupnaya-voyna-nam-budet-uzhe-ne-do-cen-na-chernoe-zoloto.

8.   Olga Oliker, “Russia’s Nuclear Doctrine: What We Know, What We Don’t, and What That Means,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), May 2016, https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/160504_Oliker_RussiasNuclearDoctrine_Web.pdf.

9.   Vladimir Kozin, “Russian Approach to Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons and Confidence Building Prospects,” n.d. (remarks at workshop in Warsaw held February 7-8, 2013).

10.   Gudrun Persson, ed., “Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective - 2016,” FOI-R--4326--SE, December 2016, https://www.foi.se/report-search/pdf?fileName=D%3A%5CReportSearch%5CFiles%5C5fa9f89b-8136-4b15-9aaf-1d227aee90a0.pdf.

11.   Alexander Golts and Michael Kofman, “Russia’s Military: Assessment, Strategy, and Threat,” Center for Global Interests, June 2016, http://globalinterests.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Russias-Military-Center-on-Global-Interests-2016.pdf.

12.   Anton Lavrov, “Russia’s Geopolitical Fears,” Moscow Defense Brief, No. 5 (May 2016).

13.   V.M. Burenok and O.B Achasov, “Neyadernoye sderzhivaniye” [Non-nuclear deterrence], Voyennaya Mysl, December 2007.

14.   Forrest Morgan et al., “Confronting Emergent Nuclear-Armed Regional Adversaries,” RAND Corp., 2015, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR900/RR974/RAND_RR974.pdf.

15.   For a discussion of Russia’s defensive logic, see Andrei Kolesnikov, “Do The Russians Want War?” Carnegie Moscow Center, June 2016, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/Article_Kolesnikov_2016_Eng-2.pdf.

16.   Pechatnov, “Teoriya sderzhivaniya: genesis.”

17.   A.A. Kokoshin, Yu. N. Balueyvskiy, V. Ya. Potapov, “Vliyaniye noveishikh tendentsii v razvitii tekhnologii i sredstv vooruzhennoi bor’by na voyennoye iskusstvo” [Impact of new tendencies in development of technologies and means of arms combat on military art], Vestnik Moskovskogo Universiteta, Vol. 25, No. 4 (2015).

18.   Persson, “Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective - 2016.”

19.   Łukasz Kulesa, Thomas Frear, and Denitsa Raynova, “Managing Hazardous Incidents in the Euro-Atlantic Area: A New Plan of Action,” European Leadership Network Policy Brief, November 2016, http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/medialibrary/2016/11/02/ab4a4c1d/ELN%20Managing%20Hazardous%20Incidents%20November%202016.pdf.

20.   Thomas, “Thinking Like a Russian Officer.”

21.   S.G. Chekinov and S.A. Bogdanov, “Evoliutsiya sushnosti I soderzhaniya ponyatiya ‘voina’ v XXI stoletii” [Evolution of the nature and meaning of the concept “war” in the 21st century], Voyennaya Mysl, January 2017.

22.   See “Velichaishaya ostorozhnost i blagorazumiye” [Greatest care and consideration], August 24, 2015, http://www.globalaffairs.ru/number/Velichaishaya-ostorozhnost-i-blagorazumie-17638.

23.   Kokoshin, Balueyvskiy, and Potapov, “Vliyaniye noveishikh tendentsii v razvitii tekhnologii i sredstv vooruzhennoi bor’by na voyennoye iskusstvo.”

24.   Ibid.; Thomas, “Thinking Like a Russian Officer.”

25.   See S.V. Goncharov and N.F. Artamonov, “Moralno-psikhologicheskoye obespecheniye mobilizatsionnoi raboty” [Moral-psychological support of mobilization work] Voyennaya Mysl, April 2014.

26.   Kokoshin, Balueyvskiy, and Potapov, “Vliyaniye noveishikh tendentsii v razvitii tekhnologii i sredstv vooruzhennoi bor’by na voyennoye iskusstvo”; Thomas, “Thinking Like a Russian Officer.”

27.   Kokoshin, “Ensuring Strategic Stability in the Past and Present.”

28.   A.A. Kokoshin, “Strategic Nuclear and Nonnuclear Deterrence: Modern Priorities,” Science and Society, Vol. 84, No. 3 (2014): 195-205.

29.   Yu. A. Pechatnov, “Metodicheskii podhod k opredelniuy sderzhivayushchego ushcherba s uchetom subyektivnykh osobennostei ego vospriyatiya veroyatnym protivnikom” [Methodological approach to determining deterrent damage considering subjective specialties of its perception by likely adversary], Vooruzheniye I Ekonomika, Vol. 3, No. 15 (2011).

30.   Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, no. 26.

31.   Burenok and Achasov, “Neyadernoye sderzhivaniye.”

32.   Kokoshin, “Strategic Nuclear and Nonnuclear Deterrence.”

33.   Ibid.; Burenok and Achasov, “Neyadernoye sderzhivaniye.”

34.   Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, no. 14b.

35.   Konstantin Sivkov, “Pravo na udar” [Right to strike], Voyenno-Promyshlennyi Kuryer, March 5, 2015, http://vpk-news.ru/articles/19370.

36.   Pavel Podvig and Javier Serrat, “Lock Them Up: Zero-Deployed Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons in Europe,” UN Institute for Disarmament Research, 2017, http://www.unidir.org/files/publications/pdfs/lock-them-up-zero-deployed-non-strategic-nuclear-weapons-in-europe-en-675.pdf.

37.   Andrei Zagorski, “Russia’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Posture, Politics, and Arms Control,” Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, 2011, http://www.unidir.org/files/medias/pdfs/executive-summary-a-zagorski-eng-0-325.pdf.

38.   Dave Johnson, “Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s Approach to Conflict,” Fondation Pour la Recherche Stratégique, No. 06/2016 (November 2016), https://www.frstrategie.org/publications/recherches-documents/web/documents/2016/201606.pdf.

39.   Ibid.

40.   Pechatnov, “Teoriya sderzhivaniya: genesis.”

41.   Alexey Arbatov, “Understanding the U.S.-Russia Nuclear Schism,” Survival, Vol. 59, No. 2 (April-May 2017).

42.   Vladimir Dvorkin, “Yadernyi psikhoz krepchayet” [Nuclear psychosis is getting stronger], Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, May 19, 2016; Greg Thielmann and Andrei Zagorski, “INF Treaty Compliance: A Challenge and an Opportunity,” Deep Cuts Working Paper, No. 9 (February 2017), http://www.deepcuts.org/images/PDF/DeepCuts_WP9_ThielmannZagorski.pdf.

43.   Kokoshin, Balueyvskiy, and Potapov, “Vliyaniye noveishikh tendentsii v razvitii tekhnologii i sredstv vooruzhennoi bor’by na voyennoye iskusstvo.”

44.   Lisa Sawyer Samp et al., “Recalibrating U.S. Strategy Toward Russia,” CSIS, March 2017, https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/170329_Hicks_USStrategyTowardRussia_Web.pdf.

45.   Dennis M. Gormley, “The Offense-Defense Problem,” Deep Cuts Working Paper, No. 6 (May 2016), http://deepcuts.org/images/PDF/DeepCuts_WP6_Gormley_UK.pdf.

46.   Thielmann and Zagorski, “INF Treaty Compliance.”

47.   Sergei Oznobishchev, “Russia and NATO: From the Ukrainian Crisis to the Renewed Interaction,” in Russia: Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security, ed. Alexei Arbatov and Sergei Oznobishchev (Moscow: IMEMO, 2016), https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/SIPRI-Yearbook-Supplement-2015.pdf.

48.   For a good discussion of some of these approaches, see Kimberly Marten, “Reducing Tensions Between NATO and Russia,” Council Special Report No. 79, Council on Foreign Relations, March 2017, https://www.cfr.org/sites/default/files/pdf/2017/03/CSR_79_Marten_RussiaNATO.pdf.

49.   Kulesa, Frear, and Raynova, “Managing Hazardous Incidents in the Euro-Atlantic Area.”

50.   Morgan et al., “Confronting Emergent Nuclear-Armed Regional Adversaries.”

51.   Arbatov, “Understanding the U.S.-Russia Nuclear Schism.”

52.   President of Russia, “Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club,” video, October 27, 2016, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/53151.

53.   The author would like to thank Lynn Davis and several other reviewers for their feedback on earlier versions of this piece.

Anya Loukianova Fink is a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the RAND Corporation. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the Stanton Foundation or the RAND Corporation.

The Evolving Russian Concept of Strategic Deterrence: Risks and Responses

Report of Note: Hacking UK Trident: A Growing Threat

Hacking UK Trident: A Growing Threat
Stanislav Abaimov and Paul Ingram, British American Security Information Council, June 2017

Researchers Stanislav Abaimov and Paul Ingram assess the potential for a cyberattack against the United Kingdom’s nuclear-armed Vanguard-class submarines. The two researchers assess the types of vulnerabilities that terrorists or hostile states might seek to exploit. For the submarines, the issues involve the security of the vessels and their systems, control software for the missiles armed with Trident II D-5 nuclear warheads, and the secret designs and operational intelligence involving the vessel, weapons systems, crew, and directives. “The very possibility of cyberattack and the growing capability to launch them against [ballistic missile submarines] could have a severe impact upon the confidence of maintaining an assured second-strike capability and therefore on strategic stability between states,” they conclude. The UK House of Commons voted July 18, 2016, to build a fleet of Dreadnought-class submarines to be operational by the 2060s. In light of their findings, Abaimov and Ingram say that it is “crystal clear that the highest level of priority must be given to cyberprotection at every stage” of construction.—SAMANTHA PITZ

By Stanislav Abaimov and Paul Ingram, British American Security Information Council, June 2017


Report of Note: Risky Business: A System-Level Analysis of the North Korean Proliferation Financing System

Risky Business: A System-Level Analysis of the North Korean Proliferation Financing System
by David Thompson, C4ADS, June 2017

The pace of North Korea’s missile testing has accelerated in recent months, bringing a further urgency to resolving the threat posed by leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear arsenal. This study from C4ADS, a nonprofit organization working on conflict and security issues, seeks to contribute to that effort by providing insight on measures to disrupt North Korea’s  weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile programs. Pyongyang relies on a complex overseas network to provide needed inputs for its weapons programs, ranging from sophisticated technologies to mundane products such as switches and relays. In 2016, C4ADS released its first investigation of North Korea’s overseas networks and called for a more detailed understanding of how these channels operate. This follow-up study is intended to be a resource for policymakers in crafting a more targeted, effective sanctions regime. Using open source data, the report finds North Korea’s funding and procurement network to be centralized, limited, and vulnerable. As a result, the report argues that North Korea’s supply channels are ripe for disruption, countering the narrative that sanctions are an ineffective policy response due to North Korea’s “closed” economy. The open source information in this report should be a useful resource for disrupting North Korea’s overseas network because information derived from classified sources cannot be used to prosecute sanctions violators.—TYLER RODGERS

Risky Business: A System-Level Analysis of the North Korean Proliferation Financing System
by David Thompson, C4ADS, June 2017

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policies: A Conversation with Michèle Flournoy

July/August 2017
Interviewed by Kingston Reif and Maggie Tennis

Michèle Flournoy (Photo credit: Erin Scott/Erin Scott Photography)Michèle Flournoy is co-founder and chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security. She served as undersecretary of defense for policy from February 2009 to February 2012. The interview was conducted May 25 by Kingston Reif and Maggie Tennis. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

ACT: The Defense Department announced in April that the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) had commenced. Each president since the end of the Cold War has undertaken such a review. President Donald Trump has declared his ambition to “greatly strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities, and he has also criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia. Do you think the NPR is likely to set in motion significant changes in U.S. policy or is likely to reflect more continuity than change?

Flournoy: I don’t think we know yet. What we can say is that some of the president’s early statements on these issues are not based in any deep policy review or any in-depth briefings he’s received. He hasn’t really focused on this set of issues yet as far as I know. I think we’ve also learned in other areas that as he dives into an issue, he can evolve his position, he can learn and refine his views. So, I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on some of his initial statements or first gut reactions to topics as they have come up.

That said, I do think this NPR will be very consequential because it’s coming at a time when we face major decisions about how much and how to reinvest in the nuclear triad. So many systems are up for modernization. Do we modernize everything that we have, which is essen­tially the current plan, or do we use the opportunity of the NPR to ask some more fundamental questions about what we need for deterrence in the future? I think this NPR has the potential to be very consequential.

On arms control, the administration will need to decide, along with Russia, whether to extend New START and its monitoring regime for five years beyond its February 2021 expiration date as allowed by the treaty, to negotiate some kind of follow-on agreement, or to go forward without legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. What would be the consequences if the United States withdraws from New START or did not seek to extend it? How do you think the administrations should seek to engage Russia on arms control?

If we withdrew or failed to extend New START, it would be an unforced error on our part. An easy win is to pursue an extension of the treaty as is. It buys us predictability. It buys us transparency and verification measures. It buys us a lot that contributes to stability at a time when the other dimensions of the relationship with Russia are both in flux and under tremendous scrutiny. It’s probably unrealistic to expect, based on what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has said and what Russia is actually doing, that we can negotiate a new arms control framework anytime soon. I think politically that would be a tough thing on our side until we get to the bottom of questions like Russia’s role in our elections and in campaigns to undermine other Western democracies. My view is that we should pursue an extension to buy some time and to buy some stability and then see what’s possible in the future.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy testifies with General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing April 2, 2009. (Photo Credit: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)Shifting to another arms control agreement, the United States has accused Russia of deploying a ground-launched cruise missile with a range prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Do you think it’s possible to convince Russia to return to compliance, and how should the United States respond to Russia’s alleged violation?

It’s pretty clear that they are violating the treaty. I think we should respond in a multidimensional way. First, press them through diplomatic channels to come back into compliance. I think this could be a multilateral diplomatic effort to put some pressure on Russia to come clean. There’s been some precedent for this. Back in the day when we believed that the Krasnoyarsk radar was violating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, they denied it, they denied it, they denied it for years; and then finally, as the political context changed, they eventually admitted it and stopped the construction. We have some track record of Russia coming back into compliance. Do I think that’s likely anytime soon on the INF Treaty? No. But the last thing we should do is say we’re going to walk away from the treaty because then the failure of the treaty regime would be on us and not them.

The second key dimension of this is that we need to do a clear-eyed analysis of the military relevance of this new system and what are the ways that we can counter it. I think people are too quick to jump to a symmetric response: “Oh, well this means we need to redeploy U.S. nuclear intermediate-range missiles in Europe.” Well, not necessarily. Let’s take a look at how significant these systems are. What is the full range of countermeasures that we might adopt? I suspect there are a range of conventional countermeasures and other asymmetric approaches that might be used to make this militarily not a huge problem for us.

According to some estimates, the United States is on track to spend more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years to sustain, replace, and refurbish nuclear delivery systems, warheads, and supporting infrastructure. Numerous Pentagon officials in recent years, as well as outside experts, have warned about the affordability problem posed by the current approach. Are tough trade-offs going to have to be made in the military budget to accommodate the current modernization plans? Do you think there are options to potentially alter the pace and scope that would be more cost effective while still providing a strong deterrent?

While we need to invest in ensuring we maintain a strong, stable, effective nuclear deterrent, we also have to make sure that it’s one that we can afford and sustain. If you look at the full range of challenges we’re going to face in the future and the need to modernize other aspects of our military, there’s a lot of competition for a limited amount of dollars—limited even under the increases that are being projected by this administration. So, trade-offs do have to be made. I think that rather than automatically modernizing every single nuclear program on the books, we should use the NPR as an opportunity to say, “Can we get to a stronger, more enduring, more sustainable nuclear deterrent with a different mix of systems and capabilities?” I do think we need to debate that in looking at the broad architecture of the triad, but also looking at specific systems and what is the most cost-effective approach to creating a more modern set of capabilities.

(Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)The NPR will almost certainly review the existing U.S. nuclear force structure, which currently includes a triad of sea-, land-, and air-based delivery systems. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in January 2015, James Mattis, now the defense secretary, raised the question, “Is it time to reduce the triad to a dyad, removing the land-based missiles? This would reduce the false-alarm danger.” What contribution do you believe that intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) make to deterrence today? Has the rationale for the ICBM leg changed since the end of the Cold War?

In the middle of the Cold War when the risk of a bolt-from-the-blue strike was real or we believed it to be real, I think the ICBM leg was pretty critical to deterrence. In the world we live in now and given the advance of other technologies, I think that it’s a question as to (a) whether we need an ICBM leg and (b) if we do need some ICBM leg, how big does it really have to be to serve the purpose. I think that is one of the fundamental questions that the NPR should take on, whether we should move to a dyad and, even if you believe we should stay at a triad, can the balance change. I think everybody agrees that the most survivable leg, where we have the most competitive advantage, is the submarine leg. The bomber force, we’re going to get for both conventional and nuclear purposes.

From a triad perspective, the focus is going to really be on the future of the ICBMs, what’s strategically necessary and what’s most cost effective. In particular, I think the Defense Department should more seriously consider further extending the life of the existing Minuteman III ICBMs as a cheaper near-term alternative to the current plan to build an entirely new ICBM system.

Moving to the bomber leg, Mattis at his confirmation hearing declined to affirm the need for a new fleet of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), stating that he’d have to study the rationale in more detail. Critics argue that retaining nuclear-armed ALCMs is redundant given current plans to build the stealthy, nuclear-capable B21 “Raider” long-range bomber, armed with the upgraded B61 nuclear gravity bomb, as well as to modernize the other two legs of the triad. There is also the growing lethality of conventionally armed air- and sea-launched cruise missiles. In your view, do ALCMs make a unique contribution to the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent?

This is one where, honestly, I am studying the issue because I haven’t made up my mind. I think if the B21 is everything we hope it will be, you may not need this. But if adversary anti-access, area-denial capabilities, particularly sophisticated air defenses, continue to progress—and perhaps there are issues with the ability of our current and future bombers to penetrate those defenses—you might want a cruise missile in your arsenal. That’s not so much from a war-fighting perspective but more from the perspective of an assured ability to hold targets at risk and therefore deter your adversary.

Do you have any indication from your time in government or since that there are questions about whether our submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) or our ICBMs would be able to reach even the most well-defended targets?

No, no, so you do have the options from ICBMs and SLBMs as well. As I said, I’m working my way through this, but I don’t have a definitive answer.

The Trump administration’s NPR may also reconsider the declaration in the 2010 NPR Report that life extension programs for nuclear warheads “will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.” Is there a military requirement for new or, in particular, low-yield warheads that don’t currently exist in the U.S. nuclear stockpile?

I think you have to add to that question, is that unique requirement worth all that that would mean in terms of starting to design, test, build, and deploy new nuclear weapons? Let’s put it this way, I have yet to hear a case for a new nuclear warhead that is compelling enough to take on both the investment costs and the political costs of going down that road.

As you also know, nuclear weapons figured very prominently in the 2016 presidential election campaign. Many Americans relearned or learned for the first time that the president alone has the ability to launch, particularly ICBMs and SLBMs, within minutes of a decision to do so and that the military retains and exercises the ability to launch ICBMs under attack. In your view, does vesting the power to use nuclear weapons in the hands of one person still make sense? Are there steps that you believe could be taken to reform current U.S. nuclear launch protocols?

With the current construct, the potential for your ICBMs to be under attack or taken out within minutes creates enormous time pressure in the decision-making process if you’re going to launch under attack. As a practical matter, it means that the president has to make a decision with very little information and very little time. He has advisers on the call with him to help. But it is, having gone through the rehearsals for these things, a very compressed timeline for a very momentous decision. I would like to see measures taken to increase the decision-making time. This has been part of what has motivated people like Bill Perry, Sam Nunn, George Shultz, and others to question whether we need to keep launch under attack as a practice. This is part of what their concern has been, along with the risk of accident or miscalculation.

I’m not ready to completely rewrite the decision-making structure of our government on this question, but I do think there’s real value to increasing the decision-making time because, by definition, you’re going to have more knowledgeable experts able to advise the president meaningfully if you give him more time in that circumstance.

Michèle Flournoy stands with other senior members of President Barack Obama’s national security team as he speaks about Afghanistan in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building March 27, 2009. (Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)Can you envision a scenario where a president of the United States would make the most consequential decision a president will have ever made in a matter of minutes?

It’s hard to imagine. When I think of the presidents I’ve worked for, like Barack Obama, it would be hard for such a deliberative, careful, decision-maker to make that kind of decision absent being 1,000 percent sure that we were actually under attack and a nuclear explosion was going to happen on U.S. soil. The whole launch-under-attack scenario assumes a president is willing to make that decision in the absence of certainty. I think that’s an open question in some cases. Would Trump make that decision? Maybe. We don’t know. Let’s hope we never find out. But I think we are failing the president, any president, at some level to put them in that position. There have to be better ways to provide more time to verify information and make a fully informed decision. Because of our history with false alerts and mistakes made where training tapes were thought to be real, we have to be very careful not to miscalculate given the consequences.

Last year, it was reported that the Obama administration considered but ultimately rejected changing U.S. nuclear declaratory policy to state that the United States would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Are there circumstances under which the benefits of first use of nuclear weapons would outweigh the costs, and if nuclear weapons are used by one nuclear-armed adversary against another, what guarantee do we have that such use would not escalate to a full-scale nuclear exchange with the United States or against a U.S. ally?

I think if you have nuclear use by one nuclear power against another, the risk of full-scale escalation is there. The case that has, in recent years, stopped presidents from fully embracing [a] no-first-use [policy] has been the potential for catastrophic weapons of mass destruction [WMD] attacks of a different nature—for example, a successful, massive bio-attack that would have consequences on the order of a nuclear attack in terms of people killed and so forth. It’s that exceptional case that has kept people from making the full statement.

I personally believe that we should emphatically state that the purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter the use of other nuclear weapons. Period. In a real world instance, if a president felt that there was an exceptional case where he had no other option to respond to a catastrophic WMD attack that was non-nuclear, okay, then that’s a presidential decision at that point. But I think there’s benefit to declare that we don’t believe these weapons are for war-fighting and that we stand in opposition and in contrast to countries like Russia who talk in a very cavalier manner about escalating to nuclear use in order to try to stop conventional war, which is incredibly irresponsible and incredibly dangerous. I think there’s room to strengthen U.S. declaratory policy in this area.


'Tremendous Experience'

ACT: One of your first jobs in Washington early in your career was as a senior analyst at the Arms Control Association, working on nuclear weapons policy and defense issues. Could you tell us how that experience impacted your career path?

Flournoy: It was a tremendous experience and opportunity. It was really the first time where I was able to develop a real depth of expertise in a given area and to build a body of work as a young analyst. That became important for a number of reasons. One is, it attracted a very important mentor to me. Based on an Arms Control Today article I had written, Ted Warner reached out to me and introduced himself and said, “I agreed with every word of your article. I’m working on the same thing over at RAND [Corp.] We should meet.” As my career unfolded later, Ted was the person who hired me and gave me my first job in the Pentagon.

The other thing I would say is that there were wonderful mentors within the organization. People like Spurgeon Keeny and Jack Mendelsohn invested enormously in the young people they had working for them and helping ensure that we were developing as professionals. I owe them and the organization a debt of gratitude for helping me get started.

Michèle Flournoy is co-founder and chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security. She served as undersecretary of defense for policy from February 2009 to February 2012. The interview was conducted May 25 by Kingston Reif and Maggie Tennis. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

REMARKS: Dealing with North Korea: Lessons from the Iran Nuclear Negotiations

July/August 2017
By Suzanne DiMaggio

Kelsey Davenport (left) and Suzanne DiMaggio (right) at the 2017 Arms Control Association Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: Terry Atlas/Arms Control Association)The Trump administration’s re­cently completed North Korea policy review calls for “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang, but leaves open room for engagement. Although President Donald Trump warned in an interview in late April that “a major, major conflict” with the North was possible, he also said he would prefer a diplomatic outcome. Following “Track 2” talks in Oslo in May, a senior North Korean diplomat, Choe Son Hui, told reporters that his country is open to dialogue with the United States “under the right conditions.” The task at hand is to find out what the right conditions might be.

In thinking through a diplomatic path, it is worth considering some lessons from the Iran nuclear negotiations. Of course, the two cases are very different. One obvious difference is that North Korea has nuclear weapons; Iran has never possessed a nuclear weapon and is a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It is clear that the applicability of the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a model is limited at best, but the process of diplomacy that the United States pursued with Iran could offer some insights on how to begin engagement with an adversary whose leadership is extremely distrustful of the United States and vice versa.

There are three elements of diplomacy with Iran that we should be looking at. The first is to initiate a low-key diplomatic channel authorized at the highest level. Prior to the start of official negotiations, diplomats from the United States and Iran engaged in a series of meetings held secretly over a period of about 16 months. These eventually led to the multilateral P5+1 talks and an interim agreement in November 2013. Given the level of mistrust between Pyongyang and Washington, it would be a good first step to try to have a dialogue without preconditions. We can call it “talks about talks” to help clarify the acceptable conditions to begin negotiations. How can we meet them and overcome differences? What are the non-negotiables?

The second element is to focus on a limited set of realistic objectives, not a grand bargain. The U.S.-Iranian discussions were limited to what both sides deemed to be a very specific, manageable set of items in the nuclear field. The United States placed a priority on preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon; the Iranians focused on lifting sanctions. Now the United States must decide on its highest priority with North Korea. It must zero in on identifying a key, early goal that is within the realm of achievability. To diffuse tensions, the best bet would be to begin by pursuing a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear testing. One of the key goals would be to get International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors back into the country. One of the most remarkable elements of the JCPOA is its extensive monitoring and verification requirements. It is an important precedent we should strive to emulate.

A suspension of testing is an interim step, and a nuclear weapons-free Korean peninsula should remain an end goal. Writing recently in The New York Times, Harvard scholar Graham Allison asked rhetorically, “Is United States’ national security really strengthened if a 33-year-old dictator with a record of executing his enemies and defying red lines is left with an arsenal of 20 warheads and missiles that can deliver nuclear strikes against Seoul and Tokyo?” We know the answer. The suspension of testing is an important first step that could create the space to pursue an additional agreement or agreements.

The third element is to pursue a win-win approach. The United States and Iran committed themselves to a win-win narrative in their early talks that enabled them each to say they succeeded in fulfilling their objectives at the end. This reinforced the understanding that each side would have to make compromises.

Recently, I was on a panel, and one of the other participants disagreed with what I was proposing. The reason, he said, was that we have tried diplomacy with the North Koreans before—it is too difficult, they cheat, and they cannot be trusted. I heard the same arguments about Iran for years. In fact, during the 35 years of hostility before the JCPOA was reached, there were countless failed attempts at diplomacy, as well as missed opportunities. Yet, we now have an agreement that is working.

Because we have failed in the past does not mean we should not try again. Indeed, we should learn from past attempts.

Suzanne DiMaggio is a director and senior fellow at New America, where she directs a long-running U.S.-Iran policy dialogue and a recently launched a U.S.-North Korea “Track 2” dialogue. This piece is adapted from remarks at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting on June 2.

REMARKS: Dealing with North Korea: Lessons from the Iran Nuclear Negotiations

Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty Adopted

July/August 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The formal adoption of the first legally binding global treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons possession, use, and threat of use was greeted with widespread approval from the international community, with the exception of the nuclear-weapon states and their defense treaty allies who dismissed the accord as irrelevant and even potentially dangerous.

Delegates and observers applaud at the United Nations moments after the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is adopted July 7 by a vote 122 in favor, 1 against, and 1 abstention.  (Photo credit: Alicia Sanders-Zakre/Arms Control Association)On July 7, 122 non-nuclear-armed states voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons following four weeks of talks at a special UN conference. Supporters hailed it as a new tool to strengthen norms against nuclear weapons use and said it can, in tandem with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), discourage other states from seeking to obtain nuclear weapons and spur further action on nuclear disarmament.

“After many decades, we have managed to sow the first seeds of a world free of nuclear weapons,” declared Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez, president of the conference.

The Netherlands, the only NATO ally participating, voted against the treaty, and Singapore abstained. No nuclear-armed state participated, and the United States actively opposed the effort. The treaty has provisions governing how nuclear-weapon states could join the treaty, verifiably giving up their arsenals, although treaty supporters recognized that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Even so, the treaty, which opens for signature when the UN General Assembly convenes in September, represents a powerful international statement at a time of renewed anxieties over potential nuclear weapons use. Dell Higgie, New Zealand’s ambassador for disarmament,  applauded the “strong and balanced treaty” in a July 8 email to Arms Control Today, commenting that the negotiations “put nuclear disarmament and the humanitarian spirit in the spotlight again.”

The negotiations were authorized in December 2016 by the UN General Assembly, which called for a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” Such talks had been sought by states and disarmament advocates long frustrated by what they regard as the nuclear-weapon states’ lack of progress on their existing NPT disarmament obligations, by the growing risk of intentional or accidental nuclear weapons use, and by the recognition of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of a nuclear detonation. (See ACT, June 2017.)

“We hope that today marks the beginning of the end of the nuclear age,” Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said in a July 7 statement.

The effort and outcome united individuals such as Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, and former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, who oversaw the U.S. nuclear force under President Bill Clinton.

Thurlow, who has spent her lifetime advocating nuclear abolition, brought many participants to tears as she called on them to “pause for a moment to feel the witness of those who perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Perry, who now warns of a nuclear abyss, applauded the treaty as “an important step towards delegitimizing nuclear war as an acceptable risk.”

“Though the treaty will not have the power to eliminate existing nuclear weapons, it provides a vision of a safer world,” Perry said in a July 7 statement.

A note of discord emerged as the negotiations concluded. The Netherlands called for a vote, instead of allowing adoption by consensus. The Dutch delegates explained that the treaty was incompatible with its obligations as a NATO member, had provisions that are not verifiable, and could undermine the NPT. Singapore abstained after provisions it sought were not adopted.

Outside the negotiation room, opposition was more stark. In a joint statement on July 7, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France strongly rejected the “purported ban” that they said will not result in “the elimination of a single nuclear weapon” since it fails to address the security concerns “that continue to make nuclear deterrence necessary.”

“We are disappointed at the ban negotiations, for the proposed treaty will be ineffective at best and may in fact be deeply counterproductive,” Chris Ford, special assistant to the president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation on the U.S. National Security Council, said in a July 10 email to Arms Control Today. “We hope, however, that the more thoughtful of its supporters will join us in seeking genuinely effective measures related to ending nuclear arms races and fulfilling the objectives of the NPT.”

Ford said the Trump administration is engaged in “efforts to reduce nuclear dangers worldwide,” including through initiatives to strengthen the NPT; secure or eliminate nuclear materials “that might otherwise fall into the hands of terrorists and other rogue actors;” improve nuclear safety; counter threats to nuclear facilities; improve crisis communications between nuclear powers to reduce the risk of nuclear accident or miscalculation; and promote and maintain strategic stability through diplomatic engagement and “effective arms control.”

This agenda “includes a commitment, consistent with the NPT, to seeking to ease tension and strengthen trust between states in ways that will help reduce nuclear dangers and offer the best hope of fulfilling the NPT’s objectives,” he said.

Treaty Provisions

The treaty has a 24-paragraph preamble acknowledging the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use and the value of existing international disarmament agreements, including the NPT, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and nuclear-weapon-free-zone agreements, as well as the right of states-parties to peaceful nuclear energy applications.

States-parties are prohibited to use, threaten to use, develop, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess, stockpile, transfer, station, or install nuclear weapons or assist with any prohibited activities. Non-nuclear-weapon states are required to have, at a minimum, a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

A state-party must declare, when joining the treaty, whether it has eliminated a previous nuclear weapons program, currently has nuclear weapons, or holds anther country’s nuclear weapons on its territory. In the latter case, it must remove them when it signs the treaty.

A nuclear-weapon state can accede to the treaty and eliminate its nuclear weapons in one of two ways: it can join the treaty and then destroy its nuclear weapons, or destroy its nuclear weapons and then join the treaty. States that “destroy and join” must cooperate on verification with a “competent international authority” to be designated in the future. States that “join and destroy” must immediately remove nuclear weapons from operational status and submit a time-bound plan for their destruction within 60 days of joining the treaty.

The treaty requires any current or former nuclear weapons state that seeks to join the treaty to conclude a safeguards agreement with the IAEA to verify that nuclear materials are not diverted from peaceful to weapons purposes. The treaty also obligates states-parties to provide victim assistance and environmental remediation to those affected by nuclear weapons use and testing.

Biennial meetings of states-parties will address implementation and other measures. Review conferences will be held every six years. The treaty enters into force 90 days after the 50th state ratifies it.

Issues During Negotiations

The treaty underwent significant revisions during two sessions of often constructive but at times contentious negotiations. Language on declarations, safeguards, and treaty accession by nuclear-weapon states was the most heavily revised, largely for precision and clarity.

The biggest debates centered on whether to include controversial language on prohibitions and strengthening safeguards re­quirements. Whyte Gómez chose not to incorporate contested proposals into the final text in order to conclude a treaty with broad support. The failed measures include a proposal supported by Cuba and Iran for additional prohibitions on financing and transit of nuclear weapons, which Brazil and Mexico opposed. Sweden and Switzerland pushed for stronger safeguards requirements, specifically a reference to the IAEA Model Additional Protocol, but Brazil opposed making mandatory a previously voluntary agreement.

There was a last-minute debate on July 5 about removing the clause that permits withdrawal from the treaty, which Whyte Gómez ultimately decided to retain.

The Work Ahead

Supporting states hailed the achievement, even as many dele­gates acknowledged the treaty is only a step toward nuclear disarmament. The treaty “lays the foundation,” but adoption is “just the beginning,” Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi, Austria’s permanent representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said in a statement after the vote.

The negotiators agreed to set 50 ratifying states as the threshold for the treaty’s entry into force, but they recognized the accord will have greater normative weight with the more states that join. Although most of the 122 states that voted to approve the treaty will likely sign this year, the ratification process will be more time consuming, especially if the major nuclear-armed states seek to dissuade key states from ratifying.

Under the terms of the accord, states-parties are obligated to press other states to “accept, approve or accede to” the treaty with a “goal of universal adherence.” Brazil was among those to hint at the challenge of reaching that goal, urging “a continued dialogue with those that did not join this treaty, including those with nuclear weapons.”—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty Adopted

North Korea’s ICBM Presents ‘Global Threat’

July/August 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea crossed a technical and political threshold with the successful test of its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which experts assess could target parts of the United States.

The development raises the stakes as North Korea demonstrates advances in its nuclear and missile capabilities in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and other international efforts. The July 4 test occurred just days after U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea President Moon Jae-in, meeting on June 30 at the White House, issued a joint statement that called on North Korea to refrain from provocative actions and pledged cooperation to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un celebrates the successful July 4 test of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile in a photo from the official Korean Central News Agency. (Photo credit: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called the test “another brilliant victory of the Korean people in their struggle against the U.S.-led imperialists,” according to the government-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Kim was cited as saying that his country “would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations…nor flinch even an inch from the road of bolstering the nuclear force chosen by itself unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to [North Korea] are definitely terminated.”

The two-stage missile, designated the Hwasong-14, was tested at a lofted trajectory and splashed down in the Sea of Japan about 930 kilometers from the launch site. John Schilling, an aerospace engineer and analyst for the website 38 North, said in a July 6 press call that the missile’s range, if flown at a standard trajectory and in an eastward direction that takes advantage of the earth’s rotation, could be 7,000 to 8,000 kilometers.

That puts the Hwasong-14’s capability well beyond the 5,500 kilometer threshold for an ICBM and would allow North Korea to target Alaska (5,800 kilometers) and Hawaii (7,400 kilometers). Schilling said it is possible that North Korea could make performance improvements to extend the range to between 9,000 and 9,500 kilometers, which would cover the U.S. West Coast. Striking the U.S. East Coast would require a three-stage ICBM, he said.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said that the range of the missile and its mobile launch platform were North Korean capabilities that the United States had not seen previously. North Korea’s ICBM capability still considered limited because Pyongyang has not shown a successful re-entry vehicle nor the ability to fit a warhead onto the missile, he said.

In a July 5 statement, KCNA said that the ICBM can carry a “large-sized heavy nuclear warhead.” Schilling said that, in the near term, North Korea could use a basic type of re-entry vehicle called a blunt body that is less accurate but easier to engineer than newer types. Despite North Korea’s potential ability to mate a warhead with the ICBM, Schilling noted that the missile would be unreliable, particularly if launched under the time pressures of combat conditions.

The ICBM test was widely condemned by the international community as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting North Korean ballistic missile activity. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on July 4 that global action is required to stop the “global threat” posed by North Korea.

At a UN Security Council meeting July 5, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the United States is working on a resolution that “raises the international response in a way that is proportionate to North Korea’s new escalation.” Without providing details, she said that the international community can cut off “major sources” of hard currency, restrict oil for military programs, and increase maritime restrictions for North Korea.

China and Russia issued a joint statement condemning the test and urging the United States along with North Korea and all other states to “refrain from provocative actions.”

China and Russia also proposed a deal in which North Korea freezes missile and nuclear testing in exchange for the United States suspending military exercises with South Korea, reprising a Chinese initiative that the United States rejected in March. North Korea made a similar “freeze for freeze” proposal in January 2015 that Washington turned down as “inappropriately” linking U.S. defense exercises and North Korea’s prohibited nuclear and missile activities. (See ACT, March 2015.)—KELSEY DAVENPORT

North Korea’s ICBM Presents ‘Global Threat’


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