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March 2019

Arms Control Today March 2019

Edition Date: 
Monday, March 4, 2019
Cover Image: 

Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Laws of War

March 2019
By Michael T. Klare

It may have been the strangest christening in the history of modern shipbuilding. In April 2016, the U.S. Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) celebrated the initial launch of Sea Hunter, a sleek, 132-foot-long trimaran that one observer aptly described as “a Klingon bird of prey.” More unusual than its appearance, however, is the size of the its permanent crew: zero.

The Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vehicle (ACTUV), was christened Sea Hunter April 7, 2016, in Portland, Ore. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency ordered the prototype vessel as part of the agency's efforts to develop autonomous, unmanned weapon systems. (Photo: DARPA)Originally designated by DARPA as the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vehicle (ACTUV), Sea Hunter is designed to travel the oceans for months at a time with no onboard crew, searching for enemy submarines and reporting their location and findings to remote human operators. If this concept proves viable (Sea Hunter recently completed a round trip from San Diego, Calif., to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, with no crew) swarms of ACTUVs may be deployed worldwide, some capable of attacking submarines on their own, in accordance with sophisticated algorithms.

The launching of Sea Hunter and the development of software and hardware allowing it to operate autonomously on the high seas for long stretches of time are the product of a sustained drive by senior Navy and Pentagon officials to reimagine the future of naval operations. Rather than deploy combat fleets composed of large, well-equipped, and extremely expensive major warships, the Navy will move toward deploying smaller numbers of crewed vessels accompanied by large numbers of unmanned ships. “ACTUV represents a new vision of naval surface warfare that trades small numbers of very capable, high-value assets for large numbers of commoditized, simpler platforms that are more capable in the aggregate,” said Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “The U.S. military has talked about the strategic importance of replacing ‘king’ and ‘queen’ pieces on the maritime chessboard with lots of ‘pawns,’ and ACTUV is a first step toward doing exactly that.”

The Navy is not alone in exploring future battle formations involving various combinations of crewed systems and swarms of autonomous and semiautonomous robotic weapons. The Air Force is testing software to enable fighter pilots to guide accompanying unmanned aircraft toward enemy positions, whereupon the drones will seek and destroy air defense radars and other key targets on their own. The Army is testing an unarmed robotic ground vehicle, the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET) and has undertaken development of a Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV). These systems, once fielded, would accompany ground troops and crewed vehicles in combat, trying to reduce U.S. soldiers’ exposure to enemy fire. Similar endeavors are under way in China, Russia, and a score of other countries.1

For advocates of such scenarios, the development and deployment of autonomous weapons systems, or “killer robots,” as they are often called, offer undeniable advantages in combat. Comparatively cheap and able to operate 24 hours a day without tiring, the robotic warriors could help reduce U.S. casualties. When equipped with advanced sensors and artificial intelligence (AI), moreover, autonomous weapons could be trained to operate in coordinated swarms, or “wolfpacks,” overwhelming enemy defenders and affording a speedy U.S. victory. “Imagine anti-submarine warfare wolfpacks,” said former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work at the christening of Sea Hunter. “Imagine mine warfare flotillas, distributed surface-warfare action groups, deception vessels, electronic warfare vessels”—all unmanned and operating autonomously.

Although the rapid deployment of such systems appears highly desirable to Work and other proponents of robotic systems, their development has generated considerable alarm among diplomats, human rights campaigners, arms control advocates, and others who fear that deploying fully autonomous weapons in battle would severely reduce human oversight of combat operations, possibly resulting in violations of the laws of war, and could weaken barriers that restrain escalation from conventional to nuclear war. For example, would the Army’s proposed RCV be able to distinguish between enemy combatants and civilian bystanders in a crowded urban battle space, as required by international law? Might a wolfpack of sub hunters, hot on the trail of an enemy submarine carrying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, provoke the captain of that vessel to launch its weapons to avoid losing them to a presumptive U.S. pre-emptive strike?

These and other such questions have sparked a far-ranging inquiry into the legality, morality, and wisdom of deploying fully autonomous weapons systems. This debate has gained momentum as the United States, Russia, and several other countries have accelerated their development of such weapons, each claiming they must do so to prevent their adversaries from gaining an advantage in these new modes of warfare. Concerned by these developments, some governments and a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, under the banner of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, have sought to ban their deployment altogether.

Ever-Increasing Degrees of Autonomy

Autonomous weapons systems are lethal devices that have been empowered by their human creators to survey their surroundings, identify potential enemy targets, and independently choose to attack those targets on the basis of sophisticated algorithms. Such systems require the integration of several core elements: a mobile combat platform, such as a drone aircraft, ship, or ground vehicle; sensors of various types to scrutinize the platform’s surroundings; processing systems to classify objects discovered by the sensors; and algorithms directing the platform to initiate attack when an allowable target is detected. The U.S. Department of Defense describes an autonomous weapons system as a “weapons system that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator.”2

The U.S. Army is testing the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport vehicle, designed to unburden infantry personnel from carrying supplies.  Future versions may feature more autonomy and front-line capabilities. (Image: U.S. Army)Few weapons in active service presently exhibit all of these characteristics. Many militaries employ close-in naval defense weapons such as the U.S. Phalanx gun system that can fire autonomously when a ship is under attack by enemy planes or missiles. Yet, such systems cannot independently search for and strike enemy assets on their own, and human operators are always present to assume control if needed.3 Many air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles are able to attack human-selected targets, such as planes or tanks, but cannot hover or loiter to identify potential threats. One of the few systems to possess this capability is Israel’s Harpy airborne anti-radiation drone, which can loiter for several hours over a certain area to search for and destroy enemy radars.4

Autonomy, then, is a matter of degree, with machines receiving ever-increasing capacity to assess their surroundings and decide what to strike and when. As described by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, autonomy is “the level of independence that humans grant a system to execute a given task.” Autonomy “refers to a spectrum of automation in which independent decision-making can be tailored for a specific mission.” Put differently, autonomy refers to the degree to which humans are taken “out of the loop” of decision-making, with AI-empowered machines assuming ever-greater responsibility for critical combat decisions.

This emphasis on the “spectrum of automation” is important because, for the most part, nations have yet to deploy fully autonomous weapon systems on the battlefield. Under prevailing U.S. policy, as enshrined in a November 2012 Defense Department directive, “autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.” Yet, this country, like others, evidently is developing and testing weapons that would allow for ever-diminishing degrees of human control over their future use.

The U.S. Army has devised a long-term strategy for the development of robotic and autonomous systems (RAS) and their integration into the combat force. To start, the Army envisions an evolutionary process under which it will first deploy unarmed, unmanned utility vehicles and trucks, followed by the introduction of armed robotic vehicles with ever-increasing degrees of autonomy. “The process to improve RAS autonomy,” the Army explained in 2017, “takes a progressive approach that begins with tethered systems, followed by wireless remote control, teleoperation, semi-autonomous functions, and then fully autonomous systems.”5

Toward this end, the Army is proceeding to acquire the SMET, an unmanned vehicle designed to carry infantry combat supplies for up to 60 miles over a 72-hour period. In May 2018, the Army announced that it would begin field-testing four prototype SMET systems, with an eye to procuring one such design in large numbers. It will then undertake development of an RCV for performing dangerous missions at the front edge of the battlefield.6

Similarly, the U.S. Navy is pursuing prototype systems such as Sea Hunter and the software allowing them to operate autonomously for extended periods. DARPA is also testing unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs)—miniature submarines that could operate for long periods of time, searching for enemy vessels and attacking them under certain predefined conditions. The Air Force is developing advanced combat drones capable of operating autonomously if communications with human operators are lost when flying in high-threat areas.

Other nations also are pursuing these technologies. Russia, for example, has unveiled several unmanned ground vehicles, including the Uran-9 small robotic tank and the Vikhr heavy tank; each can carry an assortment of guns and missiles and operate with some degree of autonomy. China reportedly is working on a range of autonomous and semiautonomous unmanned air-, ground-, and sea-based systems. Both countries have announced plans to invest in these systems with ever-increasing autonomy as time goes on.

An Arms Race in Autonomy?

In developing and deploying these weapons systems, the United States and other countries appear to be motivated largely by the aspirations of their own military forces, which see various compelling reasons for acquiring robotic weapons. For the U.S. Navy, it is evident that cost and vulnerability calculations are leading the drive to acquire UUVs and unmanned surface vessels. Naval analysts believe that it might be possible to acquire hundreds of robotic vessels for the price of just one modern destroyer, and large capital ships are bound to be prime targets for enemy forces in any future military clash; while a swarm of robot ships would be more difficult to target and losing even a dozen of them would have a lesser effect on the outcome of combat.7

The Army appears to be thinking along similar lines, seeking to substitute robots for dismounted soldiers and crewed vehicles in highly exposed front-line engagements.

These institutional considerations, however, are not the only drivers for developing autonomous weapons systems. Military planners around the world are fully aware of the robotic ambitions of their competitors and are determined to prevail in what might be called an “autonomy race.” For example, the U.S. Army’s 2017 Robotic and Autonomous Systems Strategy states, “Because enemies will attempt to avoid our strengths, disrupt advanced capabilities, emulate technological advantages, and expand efforts beyond physical battlegrounds…the Army must continuously assess RAS efforts and adapt.” Likewise, senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have emphasized the importance of achieving pre-eminence in AI and autonomous weapons systems.

Arms racing behavior is a perennial concern for the great powers, because efforts by competing states to gain a technological advantage over their rivals, or to avoid falling behind, often lead to excessive and destabilizing arms buildups. A race in autonomy poses a particular danger because the consequences of investing machines with increased intelligence and decision-making authority are largely unknown and could prove catastrophic. In their haste to match the presumed progress of likely adversaries, states might field robotic weapons with considerable autonomy well before their abilities and limitations have been fully determined, resulting in unintended fatalities or uncontrolled escalation.

Supposedly, those risks would be minimized by maintaining some degree of human control over all such machines, but the race to field increasingly capable robotic weapons could result in ever-diminishing oversight. “Despite [the Defense Department’s] insistence that a ‘man in the loop’ capability will always be part of RAS systems,” the CRS noted in 2018, “it is possible if not likely, that the U.S. military could feel compelled to develop…fully autonomous weapon systems in response to comparable enemy ground systems or other advanced threat systems that make any sort of ‘man in the loop’ role impractical.”8

Assessing the Risks

Given the likelihood that China, Russia, the United States, and other nations will deploy increasingly autonomous robotic weapons in the years ahead, policymakers must identify and weigh the potential risks of such deployments. These include not only the potential for accident and unintended escalation, as would be the case with any new weapons that are unleashed on the battlefield, but also a wide array of moral, ethical, and legal concerns arising from the diminishing role of humans in life-and-death decision-making.

The potential dangers associated with the deployment of AI-empowered robotic weapons begin with the fact that much of the technology involved is new and untested under the conditions of actual combat, where unpredictable outcomes are the norm. For example, it is one thing to test self-driving cars under controlled conditions with human oversight; it is another to let such vehicles loose on busy highways. If that self-driving vehicle is covered with armor, equipped with a gun, and released on a modern battlefield, algorithms can never anticipate all the hazards and mutations of combat, no matter how well “trained” the algorithms governing the vehicle’s actions may be. In war, accidents and mishaps, some potentially catastrophic, are almost inevitable.

Extensive testing of AI image-classification algorithms has shown that such systems can easily be fooled by slight deviations from standardized representations—in one experiment, a turtle was repeatedly identified as
a rifle9—and are vulnerable to trickery, or “spoofing,” as well as hacking by adversaries.

Former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, who has studied the dangers of employing untested technologies on the battlefield, has been particularly outspoken in cautioning against the premature deployment of AI-empowered weaponry. “Unfortunately, the uncertainties surrounding the use and interaction of new military technologies are not subject to confident calculation or control,” he wrote in 2018.10

This danger is all the more acute because, on the current path, autonomous weapons systems will be accorded ever-greater authority to make decisions on the use of lethal force in battle. Although U.S. authorities insist that human operators will always be involved when life-and-death decisions are made by armed robots, the trajectory of technology is leading to an ever-diminishing human role in that capacity, heading eventually to a time when humans are uninvolved entirely. This could occur as a deliberate decision, such as when a drone is set free to attack targets fitting a specified appearance (“adult male armed with gun”), or as a conditional matter, as when drones are commanded to fire at their discretion if they lose contact with human controllers. A human operator is somehow involved, by launching the drones on those missions, but no human is ordering the specific lethal attack.

Maintaining Ethical Norms

This poses obvious challenges because virtually all human ethical and religious systems view the taking of a human life, whether in warfare or not, as a supremely moral act requiring some valid justification. Humans, however imperfect, are expected to abide by this principle, and most societies punish those who fail to do so. Faced with the horrors of war, humans have sought to limit the conduct of belligerents in wartime, aiming to prevent cruel and excessive violence. Beginning with the Hague Convention of 1898 and in subsequent agreements forged in Geneva after World War I, international jurists have devised a range of rules, collectively, the laws of war, proscribing certain behaviors in armed conflict, such as the use of poisonous gas. Following World War II and revelations of the Holocaust, diplomats adopted additional protocols to the Hague and Geneva conventions intended to better define the obligations of belligerents in sparing civilians from the ravages of war, measures generally known as international humanitarian law. So long as humans remain in control of weapons, in theory they can be held accountable under the laws of war and international humanitarian law for any violations committed when using those devices. What happens when a machine makes the decision to take a life and questions arise over the legitimacy of that action? Who is accountable for any crimes found to occur, and how can a chain of responsibility be determined?

These questions arise with particular significance regarding two key aspects of international humanitarian law, the requirement for distinction and proportionality in the use of force against hostile groups interspersed with civilian communities. Distinction requires warring parties to discriminate between military and civilian objects and personnel during the course of combat and spare the latter from harm to the greatest extent possible. Proportionality requires militaries to apply no more force than needed to achieve the intended objective, while sparing civilian personnel and property from unnecessary collateral damage.11

Jody Williams (left), a Nobel Peace Laureate, and Noel Sharkey, the chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, called for a ban on fully autonomous weapons in Parliament Square in London on April 23, 2013. The 'Campaign to Stop Killer Robots' is calling for a pre-emptive ban on lethal robot weapons that could attack targets without human intervention. (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)These principles pose a particular challenge to fully autonomous weapons systems because they require a capacity to make fine distinctions in the heat of battle. It may be relatively easy in a large tank-on-tank battle, for example, to distinguish military from civilian vehicles; but in many recent conflicts, enemy combatants have armed ordinary pickup trucks and covered them with a tarpaulins, making them almost indistinguishable from civilian vehicles. Perhaps a hardened veteran could spot the difference, but an intelligent robot? Unlikely. Similarly, how does one gauge proportionality when attempting to attack enemy snipers firing from civilian-occupied tenement buildings? For robots, this could prove an insurmountable challenge.

Advocates and critics of autonomous weaponry disagree over whether such systems can be equipped with algorithms sufficiently adept to distinguish between targets to satisfy the laws of war. “Humans possess the unique capacity to identify with other human beings and are thus equipped to understand the nuances of unforeseen behavior in ways that machines, which must be programmed in advance, simply cannot,” analysts from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School wrote in 2016.12

Another danger arises from the speed with which automated systems operate, along with plans for deploying autonomous weapons systems in coordinated groups, or swarms. The Pentagon envisions a time when large numbers of drone ships and aircraft are released to search for enemy missile-launching submarines and other critical assets, including mobile ballistic missile launchers. At present, U.S. adversaries rely on those missile systems to serve as an invulnerable second-strike deterrent to a U.S. disarming first strike. Should Russia or China ever perceive that swarming U.S. drones threaten the survival of their second-strike systems, those countries could feel pressured to launch their missiles when such swarms are detected, lest they lose their missiles to a feared U.S. first strike.

Strategies for Control

Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill (center), chair of the Governmental Group of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, speaks at a press conference in Geneva August 27, 2018.  The group was established by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to evaluate the risks of autonomous weapons systems and to develop regulatory strategies. (Photo: Violaine Martin/United Nations)Since it first became evident that strides in AI would permit the deployment of increasingly autonomous weapons systems and that the major powers were seeking to exploit those breakthroughs for military advantage, analysts in the arms control and human rights communities, joined by sympathetic diplomats and others, have sought to devise strategies for regulating such systems or banning them entirely.

As part of that effort, parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), a 1980 treaty that restricts or prohibits the use of particular types of weapons that are deemed to cause unnecessary suffering to combatants or to harm civilians indiscriminately, established a group of governmental experts to assess the dangers posed by fully autonomous weapons systems and to consider possible control mechanisms. Some governments also have sought to address these questions independently, while elements of civil society have entered the fray.

Out of this process, some clear strategies for limiting these systems have emerged. The first and most unequivocal would be the adoption under the CCW of a legally binding international ban on the development, deployment, or use of fully autonomous weapons systems. Such a ban could come in the form a new CCW protocol, a tool used to address weapon types not envisioned in the original treaty, as has happened with a 1995 ban on blinding laser weapons and a 1996 measure restricting the use of mines, booby traps, and other such devices.13 Two dozen states, backed by civil society groups such as the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, have called for negotiating an additional CCW protocol banning fully autonomous weapons systems altogether.

Proponents of such a measure say it is the only way to avoid inevitable violations of international humanitarian law and that a total ban would help prevent the unintended escalation of conflict. Opponents argue that autonomous weapons systems can be made intelligent enough to overcome concerns regarding international humanitarian law, so no barriers should be placed on their continued development. As deliberations by CCW member states are governed by consensus, a few states with advanced robotic projects, notably Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have so far blocked consideration of such a protocol.

Another proposal, advanced by representatives of France and Germany at the experts’ meetings, is the adoption of a political declaration affirming the principle of human control over weapons of war accompanied by a nonbinding code of conduct. Such a measure, possibly in the form of a UN General Assembly resolution, would require human responsibility over fully autonomous weapons systems at all times to ensure compliance with the laws of war and international humanitarian law and would entail certain assurances to this end. The code could establish accountability for states committing any misdeeds with fully autonomous weapons systems in battle and require that these weapons retain human oversight to disable the device if it malfunctions. States could be required to subject proposed robotic systems to predeployment testing, in a thoroughly transparent fashion, to ensure they were compliant with these constraints.14

Those who favor a legally binding ban under the CCW claim this alternative would fail to halt the arms race in fully autonomous weapons systems and would allow some states to field weapons with dangerous and unpredictable capabilities. Others say a total ban may not be achievable and argue that a nonbinding measure of this sort is the best option available.

Yet another approach gaining attention is a concentrated focus on the ethical dimensions of fielding fully autonomous weapons systems. This outlook holds that international law and common standards of ethical practice ordain that only humans possess the moral capacity to justify taking another human’s life and that machines can never be vested with that power. Proponents of this approach point to the Martens clause of the Hague Convention of 1899, also inscribed in Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, stating that even when not covered by other laws and treaties, civilians and combatants “remain under the protection and authority of the principles of international law derived from established custom, from the principles of humanity and from the dictates of human conscience.” Opponents of fully autonomous weapons systems claim that such weapons, by removing humans from life-and-death decision-making, are inherently contradicting principles of humanity and dictates of human conscience and so should be banned. Reflecting awareness of this issue, the Defense Department has reportedly begun to develop a set of guiding principles for the “safe, ethical, and responsible use” of AI and autonomous weapons systems by the military services.

Today, very few truly autonomous robotic weapons are in active combat use, but many countries are developing and testing a wide range of machines possessing high degrees of autonomy. Nations are determined to field these weapons quickly, lest their competitors outpace them in an arms race in autonomy. Diplomats and policymakers must seize this moment before fully autonomous weapons systems become widely deployed to weigh the advantages of a total ban and consider other measures to ensure they will never be used to commit unlawful acts or trigger catastrophic escalation.


1. For a summary of such efforts, see Congressional Research Service (CRS), “U.S. Ground Forces Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) and Artificial Intelligence: Considerations for Congress,” R45392, November 20, 2018.

2. U.S. Department of Defense, “Autonomy in Weapons Systems,” directive no. 3000.09 (November 21, 2012).

3. For more information on the Aegis Combat System, see Paul Scharre, Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War (New York: W.W. Norton, 2018).

4. For more information on the Harpy drone, see ibid.

5. U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, “The U.S. Army Robotic and Autonomous Systems Strategy,” March 2017, p. 3, https://www.tradoc.army.mil/Portals/14/Documents/RAS_Strategy.pdf.

6. Mark Mazzara, “Army Ground Robotics Overview: OSD Joint Technology Exchange Group,” April 24, 2018, https://jteg.ncms.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/02-PM-FP-Robotics-Overview-JTEG.pdf. See James Langford, “Lockheed Wins Army Contract for Self-Driving Military Convoy Systems,” Washington Examiner, July 30, 2018.

7. See David B. Larter, “U.S. Navy Moves Toward Unleashing Killer Robot Ships on the World’s Oceans,” Defense News, January 15, 2019.

8. CRS, “U.S. Ground Forces Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) and Artificial Intelligence.”

9. Anish Athalye et al., “Fooling Neural Networks in the Physical World With 3D Adversarial Objects,” LabSix, October 31, 2017, https://www.labsix.org/physical-objects-that-fool-neural-nets/.

10. Richard Danzig, “Technology Roulette: Managing Loss of Control as Many Militaries Pursue Technological Superiority,” Center for a New American Security, June 2018, p. 5, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNASReport-Technology-Roulette-DoSproof2v2.pdf.

11. See CRS, “Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems: Issues for Congress,” R44466,
April 14, 2016.

12. Human Rights Watch and International Human Rights Clinic, “Making the Case: The Dangers of Killer Robots and the Need for a Preemptive Ban,” December 2016, p. 5, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/arms1216_web.pdf.

13. UN Office at Geneva, “The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons,” n.d., https://www.unog.ch/80256EE600585943/(httpPages)/4F0DEF093B4860B4C1257180004B1B30 (accessed 9 February 2019).

14. See Group of Governmental Experts Related to Emerging Technologies in the Area of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), “Emerging Commonalities, Conclusions and Recommendations,” August 2018, https://www.unog.ch/unog/website/assets.nsf/7a4a66408b19932180256ee8003f6114/eb4ec9367d3b63b1c12582fd0057a9a4/$FILE/GGE%20LAWS%20August_EC,%20C%20and%20Rs_final.pdf


Michael T. Klare is a professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association. This is the second in the “Arms Control Tomorrow” series, in which he considers disruptive emerging technologies and their implications for war-fighting and arms control. This installment provides an assessment of autonomous weapons systems development and prospects, the dangers they pose, and possible strategies for their control.

Reducing human oversight of weapons systems offers attractive advantages to world military powers, but it also raises unsettling moral, ethical, and legal concerns.

Assessing the 2019 Missile Defense Review

March 2019

In January 2019, the Trump administration released the results of the last of its planned major strategic policy reviews, the Missile Defense Review, to examine U.S. “policies, strategies, and capabilities…to counter the expanding missile threats posed by rogue states and revisionist powers.” It is the first such review since the Obama administration conducted one in 2010. To assess how U.S. missile defense goals and programs are evolving, Arms Control Today invited two experts to comment on the review: Laura Grego, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Elaine Bunn, a consultant with extensive government experience in missile defense policy.


Mixed Messages on Missile Defense
By Laura Grego

The arms control community has been waiting with great anticipation for the Trump administration’s 2019 Missile Defense Review to learn how the U.S. Department of Defense’s strategy would depart from previous Pentagon plans, whether new defenses would be proposed, and how the United States views the missile threats of its potential adversaries. With the new report in hand, many questions remain, but the review plants the seeds of a deeply problematic policy shift.

President Donald Trump unveiled the 2019 Missile Defense Review on January 17, saying, "Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States—anywhere, anytime, anyplace." (Photo: Martin Simon/Getty Images)Some of the administration’s preferences were apparent before the report was released in January. President Donald Trump's budget requests in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 directed the expansion of existing theater and strategic ballistic missile defense systems. The 2018 National Defense Strategy and 2017 National Security Strategy, outlined missile defense goals broadly consistent with those of the Obama administration in its 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review1, which focused on regional missile defense and development of a capability to defend the U.S. homeland against limited potential threats from North Korea and Iran.

The Obama administration sought ways to cooperate with Russia on missile defense and to engage Russia and China in discussions “to help them better understand the stabilizing benefits of missile defense.” The Obama administration investments largely reflected these objectives. It canceled its predecessor’s plan to put long-range interceptors in Europe and replaced it with a phased NATO system to defend against existing Iranian short- and medium-range threats and future longer-range missiles. The Obama administration also pursued negotiated limits on Iran’s capability to develop nuclear weapons, which culminated in 2015 with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy report, released in December 2017, identified the “revisionist” powers of Russia and China as the United States’ primary strategic challenge, but it took pains to point out that “missile defense is not intended to undermine strategic stability or disrupt longstanding strategic relationships with Russia or China.”

Programmatic Continuity

The review reflects continuing support for established programs. It supports earlier Trump administration budget increases to augment the capacity of existing systems. For example, the administration sought funds to expand the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system in Alaska and California, which is designed to defend the U.S. homeland against a North Korean or Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) attack, from 44 to 64 interceptors and to build additional radars to enhance missile tracking and discrimination. The budget boost also supported increasing the number of ships comprising the sea-based Aegis regional missile defense system from 38 to 60 by 2023 and procuring more of that system’s most capable, Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptors and testing them against ICBM targets by 2020.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, shown here February 12, has suggested that U.S. missile defenses are now intended to defeat Russian missiles, a change from previous U.S. policies. (Photo: Vladimir Simicek/AFP/Getty Images)Surprisingly, the review delayed decisions on a number of issues. Although the report discusses different boost-phase ballistic missile defense ideas, including space-based interceptors and new interceptors for F-35 Lightning II aircraft, it does not begin programs of record for them. Rather, it orders the Pentagon to conduct six-month studies on them and continues research and development on the existing drone-based, directed-energy, boost-phase program.

Defense against cruise and hypersonic missiles are part of the review’s vision, regionally at first and eventually for the homeland. The report orders the Defense Department to flesh out plans for these defenses in the coming months.

No fewer than 11 studies or decisions are left as homework to be completed in the year after the report’s release. These include looking at a laundry list of possible new programs without clarifying which potential programs are most important, what criteria they must meet, or how they would fit into the overall missile defense posture.

Strategy and Policy

Although the review did not introduce major new systems or cancel any current systems, it should not be mistaken for a simple continuation of previous policy.

Until 2016, U.S. missile defense policy was guided by the carefully negotiated National Missile Defense Act of 19992, in which Congress called for deploying an effective system to defend against a limited missile attack on the United States. Limited attack was understood to be a few missiles from a country such as North Korea or a small accidental or unauthorized launch by China or Russia.

In 2016, however, Congress quietly and with little substantive debate rewrote the act3, eliminating the word “limited” and opening the door to defending against the larger and more sophisticated Russian and Chinese missile arsenals. How far would the Trump administration walk through this open door? The Magic 8 Ball says, “Reply hazy.”

Some of this is due to inconsistent messaging. When unveiling the document at the Pentagon in January, Trump described an expansive but certainly unachievable vision for missile defense: “to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States—anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”4

This is a stark departure from long-standing policy, not to mention unattainable technically or financially. The president has yet to amend this statement. In fact, his administration has amplified the message. U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo has suggested that Russia would see itself as a target of U.S. missile defense: “What is Russia seeing from the Trump administration?… [A] missile defense review that makes sure that America will be capable of defending itself not only next year but 20 years from now. I assure you that none of these things sat well with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.”

This approach stands in sharp contrast to the statement of principle in the review: “Russia and China also are expanding and modernizing their strategic offensive missile systems, including the development of advanced technologies. The United States relies on nuclear deterrence to prevent potential Russian or Chinese nuclear attacks employing their large and technically sophisticated intercontinental missile systems.”

The president’s comments could indicate a lack of disciplined discourse, but a careful read of the report reveals a tension between this language and its actual approach. Although the Trump report argues that missile defense is “stabilizing,” as did the Obama administration, its contents counter this framing.

First, the significant buildup of strategic-capable ballistic missile defenses, including the GMD system and the Aegis ship- and shore-based missile defense interceptors5, will have strategic implications for Russia and China whether they are currently described as its targets or not.

The Aegis system’s most capable interceptor, the SM-3 Block IIA, is slated to be tested against an intercontinental-range missile target by 2020. The inventory of GMD and SM-3 Block IIA6 interceptors may eventually number in the hundreds. They will be supported by additional ground-based radars to track adversary missiles and to improve the system’s capability to discriminate warheads from decoys. The report also refers to plans for a space-based constellation of sensors to track missiles launched from anywhere “from birth to death.” Hundreds of strategic-capable interceptors, an expansive constellation of space-based sensors, and new suite of radars would be difficult for a near-peer adversary to overlook.

As these investments continue, Russia and China fear the United States may one day believe it has a credible first-strike capability; this is an incentive to improve and diversify their nuclear delivery systems. Indeed, the Chinese and Russian development of systems designed to overcome ballistic missile defenses, such as multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles and hypersonic and cruise missiles, are presented in the report as novel threats rather than steps taken to hedge against a U.S. missile defense system that has not been constrained since the 2002 U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. This action-reaction cycle is the very dynamic the 1972 ABM Treaty was designed to prevent. Indeed, without any intervening arms control, a cyclical, costly, and dangerous buildup of offense and defense seems all but guaranteed.

This review amplifies the issue with its very deliberate integration of offensive and defensive strategies. The report proposes bringing attack operations into the overall missile defense posture as a triad along with active defenses, such as interceptors, and passive defenses, such as hardening and dispersal of potential missile targets. These attack operations, essentially a kinetic version of “left of launch,” are a pre-emptive strategy of targeting potentially mobile missiles before an adversary’s first attack.

Although the report’s discussion of pre-emptive attack centers on rogue states, Russia and China will find it difficult to ignore the elevation of this strategy, particularly as the United States spends more on overhead sensors designed to provide constant coverage and long-range conventional prompt global-strike capabilities, including hypersonic missiles, that could hold strategic targets at risk. This begins to look more like a strategy supporting a disarming first strike rather than a deterrence strategy. Indeed, the first Russian statement on the review cited this exact concern.7

The renewed interest in space-based missile defense is likely to worsen these concerns. The report suggests that a space-based interceptor layer could “increase the overall likelihood of successfully intercepting offensive missiles [and] reduce the number of U.S. defensive interceptors required to do so.”

Space-based missile defense has not been a Pentagon favorite and has not appeared in a budget request for a decade. Expert advice has consistently warned that such a system would be exorbitantly expensive. A 2012 National Research Council study concluded that an “austere” space-based defense to defeat a few North Korean missiles would require more than 650 satellites and cost more than $300 billion.8

That expense is likely to be prohibitive, but is not the greatest challenge. Space-based missile defenses, whether interceptors or lasers, are vulnerable to being overwhelmed by salvo missile launch or disabled by anti-satellite weapons, rendering the system ineffective. Space-basing would allow U.S. interceptors to get close to a launching missile, but putting assets in space makes them particularly susceptible to attack. It is difficult to imagine such a system could be constructed in full without it being challenged politically by opponents to space weaponization and militarily by adversaries.

The review-mandated “examination” of space-based missile defense concepts may include on-orbit experiments. This would be extremely problematic because even a small number of interceptors in the guise of research and development would be destabilizing. Putting weapons in space would cross a line that has held firm for more than 60 years and make much more difficult any prospect for limits on space weapons and anti-satellite weapons necessary to underpin a secure and sustainable space environment into the future.

Implications for Future Arms Control

The report makes no more than a cursory reference to arms control and states clearly, as did the Obama administration’s report, that “[t]he United States will not accept any limitations on the development or deployment of missile defense capabilities.” Russia has made it very clear, however, that it is not prepared to negotiate further limits on offensive nuclear weapons without including defenses in the discussion. This creates some urgency for U.S.-Russian leaders to agree to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is due to expire in 2021. An extension would provide more time for what are likely to be difficult negotiations for a follow-on agreement. Without a treaty extension, there is a dangerous prospect of having no limits on strategic nuclear systems in the near future.

Whether Trump’s vision of an all-encompassing missile defense or the more moderate review carries the day will become more clear when the fiscal year 2020 budget request is submitted this month. The full impact of the review, however, will not be felt until the completion of the many commissioned studies later this year. The biggest changes may instead appear in the fiscal year 2021 budget submission.

Congress will certainly get its say and will be significantly more skeptical about missile defense than it has been in past years. The Senate’s main patrons of space-based missile defense, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), are no longer on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. Furthermore, the new Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives has made clear it intends to increase missile defense oversight and to reject programs that could fuel an arms race.9



Musings of a Missile Defense Moderate
By Elaine Bunn

The 2019 Missile Defense Review describes U.S. planning for new and modified missile defense technologies to face increasingly complex missile threats from the nation’s adversaries. Some of these developments do not fit neatly into categories implicit in past missile defense discussions. In some respects, what the report describes and the way it was presented leave uncertainty and ambiguity.

A Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor is launched from the USS John Finn during an October 2018 test. The 2019 Missile Defense Review calls for testing the interceptor against an intercontinental ballistic missile target in 2020. (Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency)Over the past two decades, three intersecting questions have informed missile defense efforts. First, is the objective to defend the U.S. homeland or forces abroad and allies? Second, what types of missiles are U.S. defenses intended to defeat? Historically, the targets were ballistic missiles, but the new review includes cruise missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles. Third, which countries’ missiles are U.S. defenses designed to destroy? Earlier U.S. missile defense policies aimed to protect the U.S. homeland and areas abroad from North Korea and Iran, to provide regional but not homeland defense against Chinese threats; and to offer neither homeland nor, in practice, regional defense against Russian missiles.

The 2019 review suggests that the answers to these questions are evolving, redefining the missile defense discussion into five “To Be Determined” areas.

The Scope of Homeland Defense

The report says that homeland missile defense is intended to protect against rogue states such as North Korea and potentially Iran, not against Russia and China. “U.S. missile defense capabilities will be sized to provide continuing effective protection of the U.S. homeland against rogue states’ offensive missile threats. The United States relies on nuclear deterrence to address the large and more sophisticated Russian and Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities, as well as to deter attacks from any source.” This was also the approach of the two previous administrations regarding the long-range missile threats of Russia and China.

Separating Russian and Chinese threats from other state threats stems from the technical question of what missiles the United States is capable of defeating. Defending the U.S. homeland from a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or a hypothetical Iranian one is within the realm of the doable. Defending against Russia or China, when they are determined to be able to strike the United States, is not
doable, at least not without some technological breakthrough.

The review’s recommendation to add 20 ground-based interceptors (GBIs) at Fort Greely, Alaska, simply continues the past policy of “staying ahead” of the North Korean ICBM threat and a potential Iranian one. Russia and China may complain about the increase in the number of GBIs; they have been reacting negatively for years to U.S. homeland and some regional missile defense deployments, even when the last U.S. administration repeatedly made clear that U.S. homeland defense capabilities were not designed against and would not undermine Russian or Chinese strategic deterrent capabilities.

At the January announcement of the report’s release, however, President Donald Trump said, “Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States—anywhere, anytime, anyplace.” Although such rhetoric may be merely aspirational, it would appear to envision defending the U.S. homeland not just from North Korean and Iranian threats, but also from Russian and Chinese missile attacks. The variance between the report and Trump’s words, combined with the U.S. exploration of new technologies, raises the question of whether the administration is creating intentional policy ambiguity. This lack of clarity could be viewed as an effort to undermine Russian confidence that it could ever succeed in a very limited, “escalate-to-de-escalate” strike against the U.S. homeland.

Homeland Defense Against Nonballistic Targets

It is unclear whether the report proposes defending the U.S. homeland by intercepting Russian and Chinese cruise missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles or just seeks to improve early warning of such attacks. In some sections, the report focuses on early warning; in others, it appears to be talking only about regional defense against Russian and Chinese cruise missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles. In still other sections, the report states that enhancing U.S. ability to track hypersonic glide vehicles and advanced cruise missiles will make defeating them possible.

Addressing cruise missiles specifically, the report mentions plans to improve defenses for the United States and Canada. The report also calls for a six-month study on which organization should have the responsibility for acquiring U.S. capabilities to defend the homeland against cruise missiles.

The recommended policy and program directions are unclear and possibly self-contradictory. The report reaffirms the U.S. policy of not designing or sizing homeland defense to deal with the sophisticated and numerous Russian and Chinese ballistic missile threats. Then why try to defend the U.S. homeland against just their cruise missile or hypersonic glide vehicle threats with missile defenses? Improving early-warning systems, on the other hand, would increase warning time to disperse national command authorities and avoid the perception that a decapitating strike could work.

Testing Interceptors Against ICBMs

In the area of regional missile defense, this year’s review produced continuity and change from previous ones. In continuity, the report maintains the long-standing U.S. emphasis on cooperation and interoperability with allies and partners on regional missile defenses. In addition, the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), the U.S. contribution to NATO missile defense against threats from the Middle East, is unchanged. Plans continue for Aegis Ashore deployments in Poland, though by 2020 instead of 2018 due to construction delays, including at least some of the more advanced Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptors.

The 2019 Missile Defense Review recommends deploying 20 additional ground-based interceptors, such as this one shown in a May 2017 test. (Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency)As for change, the report discusses plans to test this interceptor against an ICBM by 2020 to assess its potential to provide an additional layer for homeland defense against rogue states’ long-range missiles. Russia will likely complain that such testing will enable NATO sites with SM-3 Block IIA interceptors to intercept Russian ICBMs.

The locations of the Polish base and another in Romania will, however, prevent their interceptors from destroying Russian long-range missiles. By the time the interceptors are alerted to a launch, they would need to chase the faster-accelerating Russian targets from behind and could not catch up. As a “catcher’s mitt” near the U.S. homeland, SM-3 Block IIA interceptors may be able to defend a small area against relatively simple ICBMs, not Russian ones. Nevertheless, testing these interceptors against an ICBM may well increase U.S.-Russian and NATO-Russian tensions. Likewise, China may complain about such tests because Japan is co-producing and plans to deploy its own SM-3 Block IIA interceptors.

How this interceptor will fare in tests against an ICBM, where it may be deployed for homeland defense if tests are successful, and what the implications will be for relations with Russia, China, and allies are all open issues.

Countering Russia’s Anti-Access and Area Denial Missiles

Although EPAA plans remain unchanged, the 2019 report is more explicit about regional missile defense against all potential adversaries, including Russia. The 2010 report was clear about using regional defenses to counter rogue states’ and Chinese short- and intermediate-range missiles. This year’s report makes clear that Russia is now included in such defenses.

There were multiple reasons the last administration did not design and plan defenses against Russia’s regional missiles. Under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia was not supposed to have land-based, intermediate-range missiles; and there was scant concern over sea- or air-launched regional missiles or the short-range, land-based missiles allowed by the treaty.

Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and its illegal annexation of Crimea changed the way the United States and NATO viewed Russia. The strategic concern now is that Russia could use its regional ballistic and cruise missiles to prevent or complicate U.S reinforcement of its allies in Europe. The vulnerability of ports and airfields and the need to defend them came up late in the Obama administration as planners worried about potential scenarios in the Baltic countries.

NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense policy and doctrine seem to allow for such regional missile defense capabilities, but the United States and its allies have lacked any significant capability in this area since the Cold War. An increased focus on missile defense against Russian anti-access and area-denial threats will necessitate further conversations with European allies about what capabilities are needed, how much the United States will do, and how much allies will be expected to contribute. Current relations with allies, some of which are anxious about Trump’s commitment to alliances, will likely make these conversations more difficult. In any event, there will continue to be competing demands on U.S. and allied budgets. It is not clear how far or how fast increased regional missile defense capabilities will materialize.

New and Repurposed Technology

The 2019 report places renewed emphasis on new technology, funded at low levels in the last administration, as well as repurposing existing technology and solving the long-standing problems of boost-phase intercept, directed energy for defenses, and space-based interceptors.

Enthusiasm about boost-phase intercept is understandable because it is conceptually very attractive to be able to shoot down missiles near their launch point. In the past, either technological hurdles, such as getting lasers to propagate through the atmosphere, or operational drawbacks, such as flying continuous air patrols near ballistic missile targets, have undermined boost-phase defense efforts. A new study may find new solutions, such as interceptors on F-35 aircraft or directed-energy breakthroughs, or again burst the conceptual bubble.

Several of the most interesting decisions about cutting-edge capabilities have been put into studies due six months after the report’s release. These include a study on developing and fielding a space-based intercept layer capable of boost-phase defense and a study identifying the resources, testing, and personnel requirements necessary for defense against hypersonic threats. That means the implications of the review for space-based intercept and for defense against hypersonic missiles are not yet known and will not be clear until at least June. Until then, celebration on the part of supporters or chagrin on the part of opponents is premature.

If successful, programs for boost-phase intercept, directed-energy, and space-based interceptors could be relevant for homeland and regional defenses against multiple types of missiles from a variety of countries, thus blurring the previous missile defense distinctions.

Evolving Thinking

How these “To Be Determined” issues play out will be affected by the answers to two additional questions: What will Congress do this year and in coming years about missile defense? Will the U.S. Department of Defense get the money needed to do all the things in the report?

Funding aside, the 2019 report recognizes growing complexity in the distinctions that previously defined missile defense policy, plans, and programs: homeland versus regional defenses, ballistic missiles only or cruise or hypersonic missiles too, and the identification of which countries’ missiles were to be included in homeland defense and which in regional defense programs. Given those complexities, the thinking about missile defense policy and programs, as well as discussions with allies on cooperation and with adversaries on potential arms control and transparency, will need to evolve.



ENDNOTES (Mixed Messages on Missile Defense by Laura Grego)

1. U.S. Department of Defense, “Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report,” February 2010.

2. National Missile Defense Act of 1999, Pub. L. No. 106-38, 113 Stat. 205 (1999).

3. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, Pub. L. No. 114-328, 130 Stat. 2000 (2016).

4. “Remarks by President Trump and Vice President Pence Announcing the Missile Defense Review,” The White House, January 17, 2019, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-vice-president-pence-announcing-missile-defense-review/.

5. George Lewis, “Ballistic Missile Defense and Deep Nuclear Cuts,” n.d.,  https://pacs.einaudi.cornell.edu/sites/pacs/files/Lewis.BMD-DeepCuts.final-for%20posting.pdf.

6. U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Missile Defense: Ballistic Missile Defense System Testing Delays Affect Delivery of Capabilities,” GAO-16-339R, April 28, 2016, p. 45, https://www.gao.gov/assets/680/676855.pdf.

7. Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Comment by the Information and Press Department on the new US Missile Defence Review,” January 18, 2019, http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3479839.

8. Committee on an Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives, “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense,” National Research Council, 2012.

9. U.S. House Armed Services Committee, “Smith Statement on Trump Missile Defense Review,” January 17, 2019, https://armedservices.house.gov/press-releases?ID=367F71B5-D629-4E76-86B8-7E768935964C.

Laura Grego is a senior scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She is a physicist by training and focuses her research and advocacy on missile defense and space security issues.

Elaine Bunn is a consultant whose previous 40-year U.S. government career spanned six presidential administrations. Her first missile defense job was in 1986, and her last was serving as deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy in the Obama administration.





Arms Control Today invited two experts to comment on the review, the first since 2010.

The INF Treaty Crisis: Filling the Void With European Leadership

March 2019
By Nikolai Sokov

The pending demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty indicates the larger deterioration of the U.S.-Russian arms control relationship. The chances that the parties will resolve their disagreements are extremely low or, more realistically, nonexistent.

Russia displays a purported canister and launcher for the disputed 9M729 cruise missile January 23. The gesture of transparency may have been intended to demonstrate Russian willingness to save the INF Treaty, but both the United States and Russia suspended their adherence to the treaty several days later. (Photo: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)The United States and Russia have each announced they will suspend adherence to the treaty, and Washington has formally announced its plans to withdraw from the pact in early August.

The next likely victim is the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). All signs suggest Washington and Moscow will not be able to engage in constructive dialogue on arms control for a long time, perhaps years. Others must fill that void to prevent an unregulated arms race, and key European nations are best positioned for that role.

There is little doubt that the gap between the U.S. and Russian positions can be bridged as long as the two nations view their differences as technical issues, but the problems are virtually insurmountable at the political level. The United States will continue to insist that Russia admit to violating the INF Treaty by deploying a missile that can fly farther than the treaty allows, but Russia will never concede such a violation, even if it were to agree to remove the offending 9M729 missile. Similarly, Russia could drop its concern that the U.S. MK-41 missile defense launcher could be used to fire treaty-prohibited missiles, but the United States has so far refused to treat that issue as a valid concern or allow Russia to inspect the launcher. In other words, broader foreign policy and domestic political impulses are prevailing over substantive arms control or security considerations.

Some technical discussion was initiated, but too late. At a January 15, 2019, meeting in Geneva, Russia reportedly offered a demonstration of the 9M729 missile while the United States outlined procedures for the verifiable elimination of that missile. Predictably, the United States said the Russian demonstration would not be enough to prove the missile’s range, and Russia rejected both U.S.-proposed procedures for such a demonstration and the procedures for the verified elimination of the missiles as excessively intrusive. Such disagreements are natural at an early stage of negotiations, but the remaining time is short, and political conditions are not conducive for mutual concessions.

Worse still, the situation concerning the extension of New START, which expires in early 2021, is almost identical. Russia has declared it would agree to such an extension only if its concerns about the U.S. implementation of the treaty are addressed. Moscow says it is not able to confirm the irreversibility of the conversion of missile tubes on U.S. strategic submarines. The United States has denied any wrongdoing and rejected any additional verification measures. This conflict has remained overshadowed by the INF Treaty crisis so far, but after that treaty’s demise, New START will move to the forefront.

Given these developments, it will be vital to begin consultations on possible new arms control measures without delay because an unregulated, nontransparent, and unpredictable military balance is simply too dangerous. The collapse of arms control regimes is driven primarily by political factors, so the prospects of new consultations will depend primarily on how the INF Treaty will end, namely, whether relevant actors demonstrate, even if only indirectly, that they are prepared to start looking beyond the INF Treaty. After all, in diplomacy, signals and appearance matter as much as substance, sometimes even more.

The prospects for a renewed arms control effort will be defined by answers to two related questions: Who will agree to talk to Russia, and with whom will Russia agree to talk?

Who Will Negotiate With Russia?

The likelihood of serious U.S.-Russian bilateral engagement seems minimal. Interaction in the remaining months of the INF Treaty’s existence will continue to be rancorous, an atmosphere that will likely persist as the deadline for an extension of New START approaches. The political atmosphere in the United States is not conducive to a serious dialogue with Moscow, and the issue of INF Treaty compliance, which will remain unresolved, is bound to generate strong opposition to a new exercise in arms control because Russia will be seen as untrustworthy by definition. Resumption of a serious bilateral dialogue will likely take years.

One alternative would be for Europe to take a larger role in engaging Russia on arms control issues. Although a more proactive European role is feasible and desirable, certain challenges must be understood and addressed to ensure success.

The first is the potential risk of undermining Atlantic solidarity and having such a new role be seen as a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although the concern is certainly valid, Atlantic solidarity is not synonymous with providing unquestioning support of the United States or of taking the most unyielding position possible on Russia. Solidarity presupposes consensus on policy decisions, but at the stage of policy development, debates are feasible and welcome.

Second, the probability of Europe becoming a single actor appears low (members of both NATO and the European Union differ considerably on handling Russia), so the burden of new arms control initiatives will have to be borne by individual countries. This will become particularly vital if the United States decides to deploy new intermediate-range weapons in Europe under bilateral agreements rather than joint NATO arrangements.

The better option is for Germany or other key European nations to take the leadership reins. Germany has been increasingly active in promoting new approaches to arms control, marked in  2016 by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s initiative to launch a structured dialogue with Russia within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.1 More recently, Germany has become even more active on these issues under Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose call for a renewed dialogue on arms control, rather surprisingly, has enjoyed the support of the United States and Russia.2

Third, European countries will likely find it difficult to include China in a future dialogue. Engaging Chinese experts is possible, but the prospects are not particularly encouraging. Nonetheless, the value of restarting serious arms control dialogue will overshadow that shortcoming. If that endeavor succeeds, China could be integrated at a later date.

Areas for European Discussion

Given the challenges of Europe-wide representation, Germany and other European nations could play this vital role in several ways in the coming months and years. First, they can provide a platform for a wide-ranging discussion about a new framework for arms control. The German initiatives for renewed dialogue move in the right direction, but conferences cannot provide answers; they are good primarily for formulating questions. Perhaps even more vital is making such a platform sustainable. That will require creating a series of back-channel discussions, often called Track 1.5 and Track 2 meetings, to enable nongovernmental experts as well as national officials in unofficial capacities to begin to formulate solutions to technical, political, and legal issues on a broad variety of outstanding issues.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet the press after discussing INF Treaty issues in Moscow January 18. (Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)Options for regulating weapons with nuclear and conventional capability. NATO in the 1960s and 1970s and Russia from 2000 to 2014 relied on nuclear weapons to balance their adversaries’ conventional advantage. It seems increasingly likely that the United States and NATO could respond in a similar way to the acquisition and deployment of more conventionally armed weapons by Russia. Consequently, arms control no longer can be limited to nuclear weapons.

Tactical, or short-range, nuclear weapons. The traditional arms control approach, which has emphasized counting launchers and missiles, not warheads, does not apply well to this category of weapons, so it will be necessary to count warheads for limits on tactical nuclear weapons. Any breakthrough on this issue will help reframe strategic nuclear weapons arms control in the direction proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010 to address strategic and nonstrategic, deployed and nondeployed nuclear weapons.3

Sea- and air-launched intermediate-range weapons in and around Europe. None of these weapons were limited by the INF Treaty, an omission that was a major Soviet concession during the treaty’s negotiation and will not be repeated. Today, Russia has similar weapons of its own, and their number is rapidly growing along with their capabilities, especially with the planned introduction of hypersonic weapons.

The role of missile defense in European security and options for regulating it. Missile defense remains an untouchable topic for the West, but that situation is not sustainable. Russia will refuse to conclude new arms control agreements that exclude missile defense, and its own defense capability is growing. U.S. and NATO concerns about Russian defensive weapons deployments in Kaliningrad is an indicator of a much larger problem that cannot be addressed without putting Western defense assets on the table.

Confidence-building and transparency measures between military forces deployed on land, sea, and air in Europe. Although not directly weapons related, this issue is timely, given the deterioration of the security environment and the growing likelihood of unintended confrontations with escalation potential. The need to address these risks in new regimes is acute. Luckily because they are easier to achieve, they should be made an independent avenue for early action.

Developing Verification Tools

In addition to these discussions, an independent role of European countries could emphasize technical issues, especially accounting and verification. Nongovernmental and international organizations have done much forward-looking work in that area—the UN Institute for Disarmament Research has been particularly productive—but that work needs to be transferred to at least a semiofficial dialogue. Arms control negotiations have shown that these issues are particularly challenging and may take a very long time. It would help if at least some relevant work is done outside formal negotiations. There is even a vehicle that could be used for focused work in that area: the European Nonproliferation and Disarmament Consortium, which consists of a network of European think tanks and research centers.

Nongovernmental work can be complemented by groups of technical experts, which are a time-honored, efficient tool for this kind of work beginning with the development in the 1950s of measures to verify limits or a ban on nuclear testing. Such groups could be initiated and sponsored by European countries, and they could pave the way for diplomats and politicians.

European Treaty Crafters

Another role for European nations could involve developing European positions or drafts of future arms control agreements. Although there was a long-term decline in arms control expertise after the end of the Cold War, interest in these issues has surged in recent years, and there is a new generation of arms control experts. In fact, a close look suggests that the arms control community in Europe is growing as fast or faster than in the United States. European countries might produce a well-developed foundation for future agreements, including possible treaty language, and negotiate them separately with the United States and Russia so that the two Cold War superpowers would come to the negotiating table with ready text proposals.

Such an endeavor would be a long shot—Europe is simply not accustomed to that role—but it is not unthinkable. The young generation of arms controllers in Europe seems to be professionally and psychologically ready to cross the traditional boundaries that Europe has set for itself and take a more proactive and central role in arms control.

Russian Acceptance of Negotiating Partner

The second major question then is with whom Russia may be prepared to seriously engage. It is not enough for Europe to assume a leading role for interacting with Russia; it is also necessary for Russia to agree to talk with Europe in a serious, professional way without trying to utilize them for other purposes. Attempts to split NATO are, in the end, one possible goal for such interaction, and it will be vital to make such interaction focused on arms control rather than on unrelated policies.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces the U.S. suspension of its INF Treaty obligations at a Febuary 1 press briefing in Washington. The following day, the State Department also formally notified Russia that the United States would withdraw from the treaty in six months. (Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images)There is little reason to believe that Russia will want to engage in an arms control dialogue with the United States, although it will declare its readiness to do so. The likelihood of such dialogue was further reduced by Putin’s announcement that Moscow will no longer take a proactive approach, although all its earlier initiatives will remain on the table.4 Effectively, he has said that Russia will sit patiently and wait for others to come to it to ask, even beg, for arms control. The delay in arms control interaction will be driven not just by Washington, but equally by Moscow.

Whether Russia may be interested in a meaningful dialogue with Europe will be largely determined by Europe’s behavior during the remaining months of the INF Treaty and New START. Russia offered a positive response to German initiatives when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met his German counterpart, Maas, on January 18 in Moscow expressing readiness to “jointly consider” development of new norms on nuclear weapons and, more broadly, strategic stability.5 A closer look, however, suggests that Russian post-INF Treaty interaction with Europe is far from assured.

Europe has become a meaningful player in the INF Treaty conflict rather recently, after a briefing conducted last fall by the United States for its NATO allies to explain the U.S. position. Obviously, NATO supported this position and has tried to pressure Moscow to accept everything the United States wants. Germany has been particularly active in this regard; Maas has been making relevant statements on an almost weekly basis.

Russian Outreach

A series of events launched after the failed U.S.-Russian consultations on January 15 in Geneva apparently were intended primarily for European consumption. Russia held two such events: a briefing for diplomats stationed in Moscow on January 18, which was held by the Foreign Ministry, and the display of the controversial 9M729 cruise missile—rather the purported missile in its canister and its associated launcher—by the Defense Ministry on January 22. The former was confidential, the latter was public, and significantly, Moscow disclosed new details about that missile system, which never been seen in the public domain. On January 25, Russia presented its perspective at the NATO-Russia Council, this time again behind closed doors.

This activism can be interpreted in different ways. Some see it as evidence that “pressure is working” and that the INF Treaty could be saved with more pressure by the unified West to eventually force Moscow to accept U.S. demands before the treaty’s six-month withdrawal period. Such a development, which is not impossible but highly unlikely, would require a major Russian retreat and effectively return its policy to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s era, which is perceived today in Russia as bordering on high treason. More likely, Moscow will declare, “Well, we tried,” and happily allow the INF Treaty to end.

Another explanation for Russia’s recent outreach entails a two-fold goal. The first is to demonstrate that Moscow had “gone the extra foot”—it would be too much to say “extra mile”—so that the collapse of an important arms control treaty could be blamed on Washington. This will hardly succeed. Alternatively, Russia’s recent engagements could be an attempt to find a better interlocutor in the West, one capable of listening to Russia. It is difficult to say whether Moscow truly hopes to split the West—such an endeavor is doomed to failure—but an attempt to open a new channel for dialogue on arms control cannot be ruled out. At the very least, Europe could transfer Moscow’s messages to Washington even if it refuses to develop its own, independent approach. In other words, the recent steps might indicate that Russia is already looking beyond the INF Treaty.

Europe’s Next Steps

Moving forward, Europe will need to fashion its statements and actions in such a way that they signal Atlantic solidarity and open-mindedness about future arms control regimes. As long as the latter is present, the former will hardly be seen in Moscow as discouraging.

To achieve a proper balance between the two goals, Europe must demonstrate its ability and willingness to listen. Therefore, the decision by the majority of NATO members, including Germany, to decline the invitation to Russia’s January 22 missile demonstration was a mistake. It would have been better to attend and then criticize the insufficient transparency. After all, diplomacy is not about acceptance but about engagement. Refusal to talk does not improve prospects of an agreement; it makes agreement less likely.

A riskier but still tenable proposition for Europe would be a demonstration of some understanding of Russian concerns about the implementation of the INF Treaty, in particular by hearing Russian complaints about the MK-41 launcher and maybe others. During U.S. President George W. Bush’s first term, Moscow proposed to address armed unmanned aerial vehicles through an amendment to the INF Treaty, which would have excepted them from the definition of cruise missile, but that proposal was rejected. It is not too late to return to
that option.

With today’s U.S.-Russian animosity, illustrated by the almost-dead INF Treaty and the similarly fated New START, the only actor who can successfully talk to Russia and with whom Russia may talk is Europe or, more precisely, certain individual European countries. They have the capacity to play that role.

They can translate capacity into real action on two conditions. First, they need the political will to emerge from their traditional place on the margins to a more proactive role. Second, they need to start sending the correct signals now, without waiting for the end of the INF Treaty. The manner in which the treaty ends will determine how long the world must wait for renewed arms control. The longer the security environment is unregulated, the lower the chances for survival. During the Cold War, arms control efforts resulted from the Cuban missile crisis. Waiting for a similar stimulus is not the wisest course of action, as the world might not survive this time.



1. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “More Security for Everyone in Europe: A Call for a Re-launch of Arms Control,” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, n.d., https://www.osce.org/cio/261146?download=true (article originally published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on August 26, 2016).

2. “National Statement by Heiko Maas, Member of the German Bundestag, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the OSCE Ministerial Council,” MC.DEL/25/18, December 7, 2018, https://www.osce.org/chairmanship/405665?download=true.

3. U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, p. 47, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf.

4. “Meeting With Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Shoigu,” February 2, 2019, http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/59763 (in Russian).

5. Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Statement and Answers to Media Questions During a Joint News Conference Following Talks With Foreign Minister of Germany Heiko Maas,” January 18, 2019, http://www.mid.ru/ru/vizity-ministra/-/asset_publisher/ICoYBGcCUgTR/content/id/3478159?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_ICoYBGcCUgTR&_101_INSTANCE_ICoYBGcCUgTR_languageId=en_GB.


Nikolai Sokov is a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, a program of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. A former official in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he participated in negotiations for the first and second strategic arms reduction treaties.


In the absence of active U.S.-Russian efforts to resolve disagreements over the INF Treaty, other nations may be
able to lead the way toward preventing a new arms race.

Frank S. Houck (1930–2018) Champion of Nuclear Safeguards

March 2019
By Dean Rust

Francis “Frank” Scanland Houck, a pioneer of international nuclear safeguards and nonproliferation, died November 11 at the age of 88. Soft-spoken and modest, Houck had few equals in supporting the trailblazing efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. 

After earning his doctorate from Columbia University and completing a short stint at the U.S. Department of Defense, Houck joined the fledgling U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in 1962. It was just a year after the independent agency was created with a mission of managing U.S. participation in international arms control negotiations, among many other activities.

Houck became a key participant in U.S. efforts to establish IAEA tools to monitor, or safeguard, peaceful nuclear programs against their diversion to military purposes. Houck’s knowledge of the nuclear fuel cycle, combined with lawyerly attention to detail and experience, made him one of the most important experts on the technical parameters and implementation of
IAEA safeguards.

Houck spent more than a decade in Vienna as a consultant to the IAEA and served for many years as the U.S. representative to the IAEA Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation, including as chairman. He was a key participant in bilateral consultations with U.S. allies that proved essential in garnering support for strengthening international safeguards. Highly respected internationally, Houck received the Distinguished Service Award from the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management in 1999 for “long-term, noteworthy contributions to nuclear materials management.”

Houck proved to be invaluable as U.S. nuclear nonproliferation officials grappled with ways to adapt IAEA safeguards to new challenges. He had an unmatched understanding of the safeguards system, including its limitations, and produced ideas that few others could offer. He made profound contributions
in the 1990s to strengthening safeguards and to negotiating the Model Additional Protocol to IAEA safeguards agreements.

Today, the IAEA applies safeguards in about 1,300 locations with nuclear material in 150 countries and is widely respected as an essential nonproliferation tool. The IAEA is the only credible international mechanism
to detect violations of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the foundation of today’s international nonproliferation regime. Frank Houck’s legacy as an important contributor to this component of global security is secure.

In recognition of the IAEA’s role in promoting international security, the agency received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, the year Houck retired after 43 years of service to his country in preventing nuclear proliferation. Looking back, the coincidence seems a fitting end to his career.

Frank S. Houck (1930–2018) Champion of Nuclear Safeguards

Nuclear Deterrence: Megatons in a Minibook

March 2019
Reviewed by Henry Sokolski

Assessing the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence is a bit like attempting the illicit mathematical operation of dividing an integer by zero: in both cases, you can get almost any answer you want. That, however, is not to argue that what is thought to deter does not matter. It does. If enough people think a nuclear force will or will not deter specific kinds of aggression, this has serious military operational implications, which war planners ignore at their peril. As a consequence, the literature on nuclear deterrence is nuanced, contradictory, complicated, and vast. It would be nice if things were simplified.

Enter Lawrence Freedman with a 7,000-word minibook, Nuclear Deterrence, written to be accessible.  Freedman’s minibook runs just 50 small pages, 25 of which are full-page color illustrations.

Some might view such an abbreviation as excessive. After all, the author’s previous work on things nuclear, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (2000), ran close to 500 pages. His more modest tome, Deterrence (2004), ran no fewer than 160 pages.

What can 25 short sheets on this topic offer? More than one might think. For the uninitiated, there is basic science on the construction of the first bombs. For the upperclassman, there’s a useful history from the start of the Manhattan Project to President Donald Trump. Think of Nuclear Deterrence as a conversation starter.

The book also focuses on the headaches ahead. Besides Iran and North Korea, nuclear terrorism, Russia, and China, the book lifts the veil on future headlines. What if the current invulnerability of nuclear ballistic missile submarines is eliminated by some technical breakthrough? What if nuclear command and control systems are disabled by cyberattacks? Might Egypt and Saudi Arabia go nuclear if Iran does? What if terrorists, not states, attacked major states with nuclear arms? What if major states use nuclear weapons? Depending on the answers, faith in the future utility of nuclear deterrence could crumble.

One could add to the list. Deterring and balancing nuclear forces against the Soviets was one thing, but deterring China and Russia today is two and therefore far more demanding qualitatively and quantitatively. With the prospect of other states getting their fingers on nuclear forces of their own, the old bugaboo of catalytic wars that begin conventionally or with nuclear threats but end in superpower nuclear dares or worse seems far more likely—think of a Suez-styled Syria crisis but with all key parties laded with nuclear arms.

Also, since the Cold War, completely new domains of strategic war have emerged. There are now major military scientific advances in space, cybertechnologies, artificial intelligence, hypersonics, precision guidance, robotics, and synthetic biology. Will states mistakenly presume a strategic advantage in these domains that might prompt them to take imprudent risks in a still massively nuclear-armed world? In this case, how might nuclear deterrence end?

All of these future-related questions demand attention, not just from experts but of lay citizens. Presumably, the point of Nuclear Deterrence is to get this public discourse ball rolling. In this case, it would make sense if a U.S. edition of this book was made available, as well as Chinese, Indian, Iranian, Israeli, Japanese, Korean, Pakistani, and Russian editions.

Henry Sokolski is the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and teaches graduate-level classes on nuclear policy at the University of Utah and the Institute of World Politics.


A 50-page minibook aims to make nuclear deterrence understandable to all.

‘The Day After’: The Arms Control Association’s Forgotten Role

March 2019
By Greg Webb

Forty years ago, the Arms Control Association may have played an embryonic role in the most influential U.S. cultural event to inform Americans of the horrors of nuclear war.

Reprinted courtesy Tampa Bay Times. In late 1978, editors at the Florida's St. Petersburg Times newspaper decided to run a large feature on the effects of a nuclear blast. Knowing little about the technical aspects of such an event, they sought guidance.

They found association Executive Director William Kincade, who enlisted freelance journalist Nan Randall to help write a fictional account of a nuclear warhead exploding over St. Petersburg. The four-day article ran in the St. Petersburg Times starting Feb. 25, 1979.

The Association was a “tremendous, tremendous help in those pre-internet days,” recalled Frank Peters, the newspaper’s graphic artist who prepared the article’s many color illustrations.

Randall’s experience drew the attention of the now-defunct Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), and the federal scientific advisory agency enlisted her to write a similar account focused on the effects of a nuclear attack on Virginia and Washington, D.C.  for an annex to the May 1979 OTA report “The Effects of Nuclear Weapons.” Randall's story was titled "Charlottesville."

Soon after, Stanford University physicist Michael Riordan was seeking projects for a small publishing house he managed. He spoke with his university colleague Sidney Drell, an association director from 1978 to 1994, who recommended he look at the OTA report.

Riordan edited and reorganized the report, leading off with Randall’s story, and published the book in 1982 to immediate acclaim just as the Nuclear Freeze movement was peaking with millions of supporters protesting the nuclear arms race.

“The book was in response to people wondering about the consequences of President Ronald Reagan’s interest in new nuclear weapons,” Riordan told Arms Control Today.

It was titled The Day After Midnight.

Randall's appendix to the OTA report, “Charlottesville, ” also caught the attention of the director and writer who was tapped to create an ABC-TV docu-drama on the human consequences of nuclear conflict titled The Day After.

When it was broadcast the evening of November 20, 1983, The Day After drew some 100 million viewers, then a record audience for a made-for-television movie. ABC followed up the broadcast with a live-televised town hall discussion featuring then-Secretary of State George Shultz, astronomer Carl Sagan, and former Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara.

The movie boosted public awareness of the risks of nuclear war and demanded the attention of policy makers to take action to reduce the danger. President Reagan watched and was moved.

In 1987, when the United States concluded the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan sent a telegram to the director: “Don’t think your movie didn’t have any part of this, because it did.”

Reflecting back on the St. Petersburg Times series, the OTA report, and The Day After, Riordan said, “I’d like to think there was chain of causation, but I can’t prove that.”Unquestionably, depictions of the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use have profoundly affected public perceptions of the risks of nuclear war.

Did Arms Control Association leaders play a seminal role in the production of the made-for-television film ‘The Day After’?

REMARKS: Steps to Reduce Nuclear Risks

March 2019
By Winston Peters

In the Pacific, we have a long history with nuclear weapons from the years when our region was used as a testing ground. We know only too well what nuclear explosions can do because some of our Pacific neighbors are still bearing the horrific scars.

Winston Peters, deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister of New Zealand, delivers opening remarks to the Pacific Island Conference on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Auckland on December 5, 2018. Photo credit: Hagen Hopkins/Getty ImagesWe see the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as the global version of our nuclear-free zone. We hope our region will be as strong in its support for the prohibition treaty as we have been for the Treaty of Rarotonga.

We are up against some fairly tough opposition, but we do not see that those who are opposing the prohibition treaty are putting forward better ideas of their own about how they want nuclear disarmament to move forward.

Nuclear disarmament is described as the UN membership’s oldest and highest security priority. After the Cold War and until just a very few years ago, it looked like it was, broadly speaking, on track and moving—although much slower than we wanted—in the right direction. It’s not that way now.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently warned us all that the risks we already face from nuclear weapons are unacceptable. Now they’re growing. The threat that nuclear weapons might actually be used for
the first time since 1945 is now higher than it has been at any point for the
last few decades.

Nuclear-weapon possessors have modernization programs under way, and nuclear postures are expanding, not contracting, the range of circumstances in which their weapons might be used. There is talk of a new nuclear arms race and of new, more usable types of weapons, ones that could lower the threshold for their use. We face a real prospect of nuclear proliferation, especially if the 50-year-old nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty starts to unravel as a result of insufficient progress
on disarmament.

Much more is known nowadays about the many accidents and “near misses” that have occurred over the years in relation to nuclear weapons. This is something which New Zealand and other members of the De-Alerting Group have sought to mitigate for over a decade now by encouraging, in particular, the United States and Russia to lower the launch readiness of their nuclear weapons.

The case for reducing the risk of an accidental nuclear weapons launch seems compelling to us. It becomes even clearer if we think of the possible cyber implications of retaining these weapons on high alert. Cyberattacks could render command and control arrangements useless or could jeopardize the reliability of warning systems, making it appear, for instance, that an enemy attack is imminent.

New Zealand will continue to press the case for de-alerting. That’s one reason why, in responding to UN Secretary-General Guterres’ recent “Agenda for Disarmament,” we’ve signaled our interest in being listed as a supporter of work focused at lowering the risks associated with nuclear weapons. We’ve also let the United Nations know that we’re interested in joining the efforts of others on two of the conventional weapons action points identified in the agenda: small arms and the use of conventional explosive weapons in populated areas.

This is mentioned now because we want to emphasize New Zealand’s willingness to partner with you, our Pacific neighbors, in areas of work such as nuclear weapons risks, which you might have in mind to signal in your own responses to the secretary-general’s “Agenda for Disarmament.”

This is adapted from opening remarks by Winston Peters, deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister of New Zealand, to the Pacific Island Conference on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Auckland on December 5, 2018.

New Zealand's foreign minister promotes the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

As INF Treaty Falls, New START Teeters

March 2019
By Kingston Reif

Following President Donald Trump’s announcement last October that he planned to “terminate” the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the chances were remote that the United States and Russia could achieve an 11th-hour diplomatic miracle to save the treaty and reduce the growing risk of a renewed missile race in Europe.

Russia displays a purported canister for the 9M729 cruise missile near Moscow on January 23. The United States has charged that the missile can fly farther than allowed by the INF Treaty. (Photo: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)German Chancellor Angela Merkel persuaded Trump to hold off on withdrawal for 60 days to give diplomacy one last chance, but Washington and Moscow spent more time assigning blame for the crisis than discussing ways to resolve their concerns. Those issues revolve around the years-old U.S. charges that Russia developed and deployed a treaty-prohibited, ground-launched, nuclear-capable cruise missile, known as the 9M729, and Russian countercharges that the United States is violating the treaty. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

It came as no surprise, therefore, that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally declared on Feb. 2 that the United States would withdraw from the treaty effective in August. Pompeo also stated that Washington would immediately suspend its obligations under the pact. The announcement reflected National Security Advisor John Bolton’s long-held opposition to the INF Treaty and other negotiated arms limitation agreements.

Russia immediately reciprocated by announcing that it too would suspend its treaty obligations.

To make matters worse, as the INF Treaty draws its final breaths, the future of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is increasingly uncertain. If New START is allowed to expire without a replacement in 2021, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest strategic arsenals for the first time since 1972.

The INF Treaty required Russia and the United States to eliminate permanently their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Pompeo left open the possibility that the United States would return to the treaty if Russia verifiably eliminates “all 9M729 missiles, their launchers, and associated equipment in this six-month period.”

Russia, however, has given no indication that it would meet U.S. demands for an inspection of the missiles; and the United States is similarly unwilling to address Russia’s concerns about U.S. treaty compliance, notably the fielding of U.S. missile defense interceptor launchers in Europe that Moscow says could be used to launch offensive missiles in violation of the agreement.

New Missile Deployments in Europe?

Although apparently eager to end the treaty, the White House has yet to articulate a strategy to prevent Russia from building more and new types of land-based, intermediate-range missiles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a Feb. 2 meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that Russia would retaliate to the U.S. abrogation of the agreement by beginning research and development on “land-based modifications of the sea-based Kalibr launching systems” and “land-based launchers for hypersonic intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles.”

Putin added that Russia would “not deploy intermediate-range or shorter-range weapons, if we develop weapons of this kind, neither in Europe nor anywhere else, until U.S. weapons of this kind are deployed to the corresponding regions of the world.” If there were such U.S. deployments, however, Putin vowed Feb. 20 that Russia would “be forced to respond with mirror or asymmetric actions” such as Russian “weapons that can be used not only in the areas we are directly threatened from [Europe], but also in areas that contain [U.S.] decision-making centers for the missile systems threatening us.”

In his Feb. 6 State of the Union address, Trump alluded to negotiating a new intermediate-range missile agreement that would also include China, but the administration has not yet raised the issue with China, which possesses hundreds of land-based, intermediate-range missiles. Joining the INF Treaty would mean that China would have to eliminate 95 percent of its missile arsenal.

Some European leaders have suggested diplomatic options that could avert a new missile race that would undermine European security.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto proposed on Feb. 16 at the Munich Security Conference that the United States and Russia could agree to keep Europe “free” of INF Treaty-prohibited missiles.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said before Feb. 12 meetings with NATO defense ministers that the alliance is “planning for a world without the INF Treaty.”

“Any steps we take will be coordinated, measured, and defensive,” he added. “We do not intend to deploy new ground-based nuclear missiles in Europe.” Stoltenberg did not say whether the alliance, which has expressed support for the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, would also forgo the deployment of conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles.

Congress approved $48 million in fiscal year 2019 to research and develop concepts and options for such conventional missile systems. (See ACT, November 2018.) The status of the development work is unclear.

Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told PBS NewsHour on Feb. 7 that the United States is not currently planning to deploy banned missiles in Europe, but noted that “when we develop next steps, it will be in consultation with partners and allies.”

The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2020 budget request, due for release in mid-March, is likely to include additional funding for developing new ground-launched missile systems.

Even if the United States were to develop such weapons, they would need to be deployed on the territory of allies neighboring Russia. So far, no country has said that it would be willing to host such missiles. If one did, a bilateral arrangement that circumvents NATO decision-making would likely be controversial.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said at the Munich conference on Feb. 15 that Poland is “against” hosting U.S. ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles. If a decision is made to deploy such missiles, he added, “it will be a decision of all the [NATO] alliance.”

Consequences for Strategic Arms Control

In the likely event that the INF Treaty collapses, the only remaining U.S.-Russian arms control agreement would be New START, which expires in 2021 but can be extended by up to five years by mutual agreement.

The Trump administration has yet to formulate the U.S. position on New START’s future. (See ACT, September 2018.) Thompson said on Feb. 7 that the administration “has an interagency process addressing that.… We will see what 2021 holds.”

Before joining the Trump administration, Bolton was a frequent and vocal critic of New START, castigating the agreement as unilateral disarmament.

Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in extending the treaty, but it has raised concerns about U.S. procedures to remove submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers and some B-52 bombers from treaty accountability.

Thompson last year described the Russian concerns about U.S. implementation of New START as manufactured and raised concerns about Russia’s development of new strategic-range nuclear weapons systems, such as globe-circling, nuclear-powered cruise missiles, and very long-range nuclear torpedoes. Russia claims that these systems would not be limited by New START because they do not use ballistic flight trajectories.

In an 11-page paper sent to members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee last December, Russia described the U.S. conversion procedures as “unlawful” and warned that “these problems might potentially disrupt prospects” for New START’s extension after 2021.

New START gives each party the right to formulate its own conversion procedures. The treaty does not require conversions to be irreversible or that the other side agree with the conversion procedure.

According to the Russian paper, the Trump administration in December 2017 proposed two steps to address Russia’s concerns, including “a cabinet-level written political commitment that the United States does not intend to reverse the conversion of any of the converted Trident II SLBM launchers or B-52H heavy bombers for the duration” of New START. Russia characterized these proposals as “a step in the right direction,” but ultimately deemed them insufficient. It is not clear if the U.S. proposals remain on the table.

Pranay Vaddi, a former State Department official and now a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a Feb. 19 email that this Russian concern “is a silly issue to stand in the way of a potential extension of the treaty, but can be resolved with minimum effort if the sides have the will to do it.”

“The United States and Russia should focus discussions on increased transparency using existing treaty mechanisms as a model, rather than attempting major changes to the [conversion] procedures, or to the regular operations of U.S. submarines and bombers,” he added.

The White House appears to believe that there is plenty of time left for the two sides to make a decision on an extension, but Russia is warning that time is short.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow on Feb. 7 “that there is almost no time left” to discuss Russia’s continuing concerns about U.S. implementation of the treaty and other issues necessary to pave the way for an extension.

“It gives reason to suspect our American counterparts of setting ground to…just let the treaty quietly expire,” Ryabkov said.


How Did We Get Here? Documenting the Demise of the INF Treaty

On Feb. 2, the United States formally issued its notification of withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, to take effect in six months, and it also announced the immediate suspension of its treaty obligations, raising concerns about a renewed missile race in Europe and beyond.

Russia immediately followed the U.S. announcement by declaring that it would also suspend its treaty obligations.

The treaty’s withdrawal clause sets a six-month waiting period before a party’s withdrawal takes effect, and the Trump administration stated that it would reverse its decisions if Russia returns to “full and verifiable” compliance with the pact during that time.

After a Dec. 4, 2018 announcement by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the United States had found Russia in “material breach” of the treaty and that the United States would suspend its treaty obligations unless Russia returned to compliance within 60 days, U.S. and Russian officials held several discussions. Most notable were a two-hour Jan. 15 meeting in Geneva between Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, which came to no conclusion, and a Jan. 31 meeting at the same level on the sidelines of a major powers meeting in Beijing, again to no resolution.

Although the United States rejected Russian offers to demonstrate and exhibit the contentious 9M729 cruise missile in exchange for U.S. demonstrations of its MK-41 missile launchers in Europe, Russia went ahead and held a Jan. 23 event to display equipment purportedly related to the 9M729 for an audience of foreign military attachés. No U.S. or NATO officials attended, and Thompson argued later that a static display would not address questions of the missile’s flight range.

For some time, the U.S. intelligence community, reinforced by NATO findings, has charged that the Russian missile exceeds the INF Treaty’s range limits and Russia has violated the treaty by testing and deploying the missile.

Russia has refused to acknowledge any noncompliance and has countered with questions about U.S. treaty compliance. Chief among those concerns is Russia’s assertion that the MK-41 missile launchers of the U.S. Aegis Ashore missile defense systems, currently deployed in Romania and under construction in Poland, can be easily converted to launch treaty-prohibited ground-launched missiles. The United States has refused to address the Russian concerns and has not appeared interested in reciprocal transparency site inspections, as several U.S. allies have proposed.

Following the Feb. 1 U.S. public announcements that official notice of suspension and withdrawal would occur the next day, NATO’s North Atlantic Council, quickly said that “allies fully support” the U.S. withdrawal. Some key NATO partners, however, showed less enthusiasm for the official statement. The French Foreign Ministry said Feb. 1 that France “regrets reaching a situation” that resulted in the withdrawal, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted Feb. 16 that the treaty’s termination was the “really bad news this year” for Europeans. Non-NATO allies shared similar sentiments, with Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stating that due to the historic role the treaty played in arms control, it was “undesirable” for the agreement to end.

Responding to the U.S. decisions, Russian President Vladimir Putin directed his foreign and defense ministries “not to initiate talks” on disarmament matters “until our partners are ready to engage in equal and meaningful dialogue.” He further directed that Russia “will not deploy intermediate-range or shorter-range weapons…neither in Europe nor anywhere else until U.S. weapons of this kind are deployed to the corresponding regions of the world.” This promise may have been undermined by The Wall Street Journal reporting on Jan. 31 that Russia currently has four deployed battalions of the 9M729 system, estimated to be nearly 100 missiles, including some within range to strike NATO countries.

In his Feb. 6 State of the Union address, President Donald Trump reaffirmed his decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty and raised questions of U.S. post-treaty military and diplomatic plans. “Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t, in which case we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far,” Trump said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said several times, including after a NATO defense ministerial meeting on Feb. 13, that NATO has no plans to deploy ground-based “nuclear missiles,” leaving open the possibility of deployments of conventionally armed INF Treaty-range missiles in NATO countries.

Meanwhile in Congress, public reactions to the Trump administration’s treaty withdrawal announcement have fallen along partisan lines, with Republicans supporting the withdrawal and Democrats opposing the action. Democrats have also rallied behind several pieces of legislation to restrict funding for ground-launched, INF Treaty-range missiles unless several specific conditions have been met, the key one being a requirement that any deployment of such a missile in Europe come from a NATO-wide decision, not a bilateral agreement.

The “Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019” was first introduced in the Senate on Jan. 31 by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and 11 Democratic co-sponsors, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), plus Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). A companion version was introduced on the House side Feb. 14 by Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) and co-sponsored by fellow Democrats Ted Lieu (Calif.), Ro Khanna (Calif.), and Mark Pocan (Wis.). Separately, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) introduced legislation Feb. 14 limiting funding for INF Treaty-range missiles with Democratic colleagues Ilhan Omar (Minn.), James McGovern (Mass.), and Mark Pocan (Wis.).—SHERVIN TAHERAN

The INF Treaty crisis threatens far more than the INF Treaty.

Trump-Kim Summit Ends With No Deal

March 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

The second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended abruptly Feb. 28 in Hanoi without agreement on the next steps to advance denuclearization and peace-building on the Korean peninsula.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) and U.S. President Donald Trump stroll in a Hanoi hotel garden during a break from their second summit on February 28.  (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)“I’d much rather do it right than do it fast,” Trump told reporters following the meeting, but he did not provide any details on the next steps in the negotiating process.

Trump attributed the meeting’s failure to North Korea’s demand for U.S. sanctions to be lifted “in their entirety” in return for just a partial rollback of North Korea’s nuclear program. The United States “couldn’t
give up all of the sanctions for that,” Trump said, so he “had to walk away.” It is unclear if this gap over sanctions relief between the United States and North Korea existed in the lead up to summit meeting, or if Trump or Kim insisted on last-minute changes.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho disputed Trump’s characterization of the summit at a March 1 press conference. He said North Korea had asked for “partial” removal of sanctions that “hamper the civilian economy and the livelihood or our people” in exchange for the permanent dismantlement of all nuclear material production facilities at the Yongbyon nuclear complex in the presence of U.S. experts, but the United States demanded “one more measure.”

He warned that Kim may have lost “the will” to continue negotiations.

Despite the setback, Trump expressed optimism for reaching an agreement with Kim in the future, citing “a warmth that we have.” Trump said the two nations would continue the conciliatory measures each adopted last year: North Korea would maintain its moratorium on testing missiles and nuclear weapons announced in April, and the United States would continue to suspend or modify military exercises with South Korea that Pyongyang finds provocative. The testing moratorium prevents North Korea from making certain qualitative advancements to its nuclear warhead designs and ballistic missiles, but Pyongyang is free to continue expanding its arsenal as
talks continue.

The summit’s failure to produce a concrete outcome is not surprising. Talks stalled for several months after the June 2018 Singapore summit, and negotiating teams had little time to prepare for the Feb. 27–28 meeting in Hanoi. Ahead of the meeting, U.S. officials downplayed expectations, but did include a signing ceremony in the summit schedule.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo implied that the U.S. and North Korean negotiating teams had failed to resolve all of the differences between the two countries ahead of the Hanoi meetings. Speaking at the post-summit press conference with Trump, Pompeo said that “we made even more progress when the two leaders met over the last 24, 36 hours,” but Kim was “unprepared” to do more. Pompeo said that progress made at the summit puts the United States “in a position to get a really good outcome,” but he did not provide any details on plans for follow-up talks.

Trump did not provide any details on what denuclearization steps North Korea was willing to take, but the offer likely involved the dismantlement of the Yongbyon complex that houses the nuclear reactor that North Korea uses to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons and a uranium enrichment facility.

Kim reportedly offered to dismantle Yongbyon in exchange for “corresponding measures” during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2018. He did not provide details at that time about the “corresponding measures” North Korea was seeking, but commentary from state-run media outlets emphasized the importance of sanctions relief.

Initially, the Trump administration emphasized that North Korea would not receive any sanctions relief until the denuclearization process was complete. This strategy, which front-loaded North Korean commitments early in the process, contributed to the stalemate in negotiations after the Singapore summit.

In the last several months, however, U.S. officials appear to have shifted their approach and eased up on requiring that North Korea fully and verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program prior to receiving any relief. Pompeo said Feb. 21 that sanctions could be eased if North Korea “substantially reduced” its nuclear program.

An agreement exchanging limited sanctions relief for a verifiable halt to fissile material production and the dismantlement of facilities at Yongbyon would have been a significant step toward denuclearization, but North Korea maintains a number of covert sites that
are part of its nuclear weapons program. In his press conference, for example, Trump alluded to an additional North Korean uranium enrichment facility. “I think they were surprised we knew” about the site, he said.

If the United States had lifted all sanctions in return for only partial dismantlement of select sites, the Trump administration would have far less leverage to negotiate the remaining steps necessary for complete, verifiable denuclearization.

Moon described the summit outcome as “unfortunate” on Feb. 28, but expressed hope that dialogue will continue. He also said that South Korea will “do all it can to ensure that the United States and North Korea can maintain momentum for dialogue while continuing their close communication and cooperation.” In the end, Trump remained hopeful for future progress. “This wasn't a walk-away, like you get up and walk out,” he said.
“No, this was very friendly. We shook hands.”


The second Trump-Kim summit ended with no agreement on any topic.

Trump Seeks Missile Defense Buildup

March 2019
By Kingston Reif

Citing a “markedly more dangerous” threat environment, the Trump administration released its long-awaited 2019 Missile Defense Review on Jan. 17, envisioning a significant expansion of the role and scope of U.S. missile defenses.

The destroyer USS Fitzgerald test fires a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor in 2012. The 2019 Missile Defense Review calls for testing the most advanced SM-3 against an intercontinental ballistic missile in 2020.  (Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)The ultimate impact of the review remains to be seen, given the divergence between U.S. President Donald Trump’s description of U.S. missile defense objectives and those described in the report. Uncertainty was also generated by the report’s call for several follow-up studies and by misgivings from some members of Congress.

In addition, rival powers Russia and China have expressed concern about the review and could take steps to counter new U.S. missile defenses.

In remarks at the report’s rollout, Trump stated that the goal of U.S. missile defenses is to “ensure we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States—anywhere, anytime, anyplace.” This goes further than the text of the report, which limits the purpose of U.S. homeland defenses to their traditional role of defending against limited missile attacks from North Korea and Iran, not Russia and China.

Previous administrations have not depended on missile defenses to defend the continental United States against Russian and Chinese missile attacks due to insurmountable technical, financial, and geopolitical obstacles.

The review endorses other elements of continuity with long-standing U.S. missile defense policy, such as affirming the need for a layered missile defense architecture to attempt to intercept missiles during any phase of their flight, providing the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) with special acquisition authorities, and rejecting any negotiated limits on U.S. missile defenses.

The review breaks new ground by proposing to augment defenses against regional ballistic, cruise, and hypersonic missile threats no matter the source, place greater emphasis on the importance of space, and study new technologies to intercept missiles during their boost phase when they are traveling at their slowest.

The review also seeks to integrate offensive attack operations more closely with missile defenses and to supplement the defense of the U.S. homeland with the Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptor. The MDA plans to test this interceptor, which was originally designed to counter regional missile threats, against an intercontinental ballistic missile target in 2020.

“For the first time, the document puts Russia and China in the same sentence as missile defenses,” said Thomas Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Consequences of Expanding Scope

Among all these goals, however, it was the review’s expansion of the scope of missile defenses to confront Russia and China more assertively that has drawn the most attention from missile defense experts, with some observers expressing concern about the weighty implications.

James Miller, a former undersecretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration, noted in a Feb. 13 email that he found the review to be reasonable. He nevertheless said the objective “to bring the SM-3 IIA missile into the national defense architecture…means that China and Russia must expect the United States by 2025–2030 to have many hundreds of available interceptors for national missile defense.”

“We should expect the Chinese nuclear arsenal to grow substantially and Russia to resist reductions below the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty—and to prepare seriously to break out,” he warned.

In keeping with past criticisms of U.S. missile defense strategy, Russia and China reacted harshly to the report.

The Russian Foreign Ministry stated on Jan. 18 that the report “confirms Washington’s invariable policy of increasing the destabilizing potential of global missile defense that is expected to be reinforced by new technological and financial resources.” On the same day, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that “China is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposes” the review’s findings.

Other Concerns

Even before the report’s release, the U.S. Congress during the first two years of the Trump administration approved record levels of MDA appropriations to expand existing regional and missile defense systems and advance the development of new technologies. (See ACT, November 2018.)

The review reaffirms pre-existing Trump administration plans to arm unmanned aerial vehicles with lasers to zap long-range missiles during their boost phase, expand the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system from 44 to 64 interceptors by 2023, and field a space-sensor layer to provide birth-to-death tracking of ballistic missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles.

Several of the recommendations in the review could be difficult to fulfill effectively. For example, the $67 billion GMD system in Alaska and California, designed to defend the U.S. homeland against a North Korean or Iranian threat, has an intercept success rate of just over 50 percent in controlled testing.

“Improving the accuracy and reliability of the 44 ground-based interceptors (GBIs) that we have makes sense,” wrote Madelyn Creedon, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in a Jan. 22 blog post. “[B]ut additional spending should be focused on the real threat,…intermediate- and short-range conventional cruise and ballistic missiles, and not on more GBIs.”

A 2012 report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “boost-phase missile defense—whether kinetic or directed energy, and whether based on land, sea, air, or in space—is not practical or feasible.”

The review is largely silent on the budget implications of expanding U.S. missile defenses. Undersecretary of Defense John Rood told reporters on Jan. 17 that “missile defense…occupied a substantial portion of the Defense Department’s budget in the past and it will going forward.”

Despite taking nearly two years to complete, the review directed 11 follow-on studies on several subjects, including controversial issues such as space-based interceptors for boost- phase defense.

The review proposes a six-month feasibility study “of the concepts and technology for space-based defenses.”
It adds that the study “may include on-orbit experiments and demonstrations.”

The review argues that a space-based interceptor layer “may increase the overall likelihood of successfully intercepting offensive missiles, reduce the number of U.S. defensive interceptors required to do so, and potentially destroy offensive missiles over the attacker’s territory rather than the targeted state.”

Critics argue that space-based interceptors are an unaffordable, ineffective, and a destabilizing form of defense. (See ACT, September 2018.)

“The biggest potential impact of this [review] comes from its opening the door to space-based systems,” Miller said. “If the administration proposes and Congress supports space-based interceptors…strategic stability will be shot in the head.”

The release of the report has drawn mixed reviews from lawmakers. Republicans have generally expressed support for the review’s recommendations. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said in a Jan. 17 statement that “[m]issile threats are clearly growing, and America’s missile defenses play a key role in deterring and defeating attacks on the U.S. and our forces stationed around the world.”

Democrats have been more critical of the review. “While it is essential that we continue investing in proven missile defense efforts,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) in a Jan. 17 statement, “I am concerned that this missile defense review could lead to greater investment in areas that do not follow these principles, such as a space-based interceptor layer that has been studied repeatedly and found to be technologically challenging and prohibitively expensive.”


The 2019 Missile Defense Review envisions a significant expansion of the role and scope of U.S. missile defenses.


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