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Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
March 2022
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Tuesday, March 1, 2022
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Putin’s Assault on Ukraine and the Nonproliferation Regime

March 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

President Vladimir Putin has chosen the path of destruction instead of diplomacy. His months-long buildup of a massive Russian invasion force encircling Ukraine and his decision on Feb. 21 to order Russian soldiers into the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk have set in motion a catastrophic war. Putin’s indefensible, premeditated assault on Ukraine will heighten tensions between NATO and Russia, increase the risk of conflict elsewhere in Europe, and undermine prospects for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament—for years to come.

A short-range Iskander missile system flight test. Russian intermediate-range missiles, like the controversial 9M729, are launched from similar platforms. (Photo credit: Russian Defense Ministry.)There are many grievances fueling Putin’s latest and most brazen attempt to reset the post-Cold War European security order through military force. Some are real, such as the effect of NATO’s expansion on the military balance in Europe, and some are imagined. No rationale, however, justifies a violent attack by Russia on one of its neighbors.

In an angry speech announcing his decision to move Russian forces into Ukraine, Putin espoused wild, ethno-racialist, and historically inaccurate claims that Ukraine is not a legitimate state and belongs within a greater Russia. He voiced hyperbolic claims that an independent, westward-leaning Ukraine, which he falsely charged might even build nuclear weapons, is a grave threat to Russia.

Putin’s military adventurism—including Russia’s conflict with Georgia in 2008, its takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, its cyberattacks and political influence games—and his push to modernize Russia’s military have already spurred NATO member states to bolster their military postures. Not surprisingly, Putin’s behavior has led Ukrainians to see Moscow as a threat and seek Western support.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine violates the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States extended security assurances against the threat or use of force against Ukraine’s territory or political independence. In response, Ukraine acceded to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state and gave up the 1,900 nuclear warheads it inherited from the Soviet Union. Ukraine, Russia, and the world were safer as a result. But Putin’s behavior undermines the NPT and reinforces the impression that nuclear-armed states can bully non-nuclear states, thus reducing the incentives for disarmament and making it more difficult to prevent nuclear proliferation.

The vicious cycle of mistrust between Russia and the West in recent years has been exacerbated by the loss—through negligence, noncompliance, or outright withdrawal—of important conventional and nuclear arms control agreements that helped end the Cold War. These guardrails included the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which was designed to prevent major force buildups on the continent; the Open Skies Treaty, which provided transparency about military capabilities and movements; the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was designed to prevent an unconstrained offense-defense arms race; and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which reduced the danger of nuclear war in Europe. As a result, cooperation between the parties has eroded, concerns about military capabilities have grown, and the risk of miscalculation is higher.

With Putin’s deadly war against Ukraine now underway, the United States, Europe, and the international community must maintain a strong and unified response, including more powerful sanctions against key Russian institutions and leaders. The besieged people of Ukraine require urgent assistance from the international community. As it should, the Kyiv government will get defensive military assistance to deter Putin from seizing more, if not all, of its territory.

In the days and weeks ahead, leaders in Moscow, Washington, and Europe must be careful to avoid new and destabilizing military deployments, close encounters between Russian and NATO forces, and the introduction of offensive weapons that undermine common security. For example, the offer from Russia’s client state, Belarus, to host Russian tactical nuclear weapons, if pursued by Putin, would further undermine Russian and European security, and increase the risk of nuclear war.

Although Putin’s regime must suffer international isolation now, U.S. and Russian leaders must eventually seek to resume talks through their stalled strategic security dialogue to defuse broader NATO-Russia tensions and maintain common sense arms control measures to prevent an all-out arms race.

Russia’s December 2021 proposals on security and the Biden administration responses show there is room for negotiations to resolve mutual concerns, including agreements to scale back large military exercises and prevent the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe or western Russia. Washington must test whether Russia is serious about such options.

In the long run, U.S., Russian, and European leaders, and their people, cannot lose sight of the fact that war and the threat of nuclear war are the common enemies. Russia and the West have an interest in striking agreements that further slash bloated strategic nuclear forces, regulate shorter-range “battlefield” nuclear arsenals, and set limits on long-range missile defenses before the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement, New START, expires in early 2026. Otherwise, the next showdown will be even riskier.

President Vladimir Putin has chosen the path of destruction instead of diplomacy.

Long in the Making: The Russian Invasion of Ukraine

March 2022

A week before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, unleashing the biggest military operation in Europe since World War II, three experts on Russia—Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and former NATO deputy secretary-general; Olga Oliker, program director for Europe and Central Asia for the International Crisis Group; and Thomas Graham, distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. presidential adviser on Russia—were interviewed on Zoom and email by Carol Giacomo, chief editor of Arms Control Today, about the origins of the crisis and what an eventual solution might involve. Their comments, made as U.S. and European leaders were still working for a diplomatic solution, have been edited for clarity and length.

ACT: What do you see as the core of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis? What led Russia to demand security guarantees?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Vladimir Putin’s ego. I’m only slightly kidding.

THOMAS GRAHAM: From the Russian standpoint, this is really a question that concerns the post-Cold War settlement back in the 1990s that Russia now believes was imposed on it at a time of extreme strategic weakness in Russia. Of particular concern has been the expansion of NATO eastward across the continent, beginning with the initial invitations issued in 1997 and threatening core principles of Russian security going back decades if not centuries. Russia has sought its security in strategic depth and in buffer zones. They don’t like the idea of a military-political alliance, created to contain the Soviet Union, pressing up against its borders. So while in the United States we talk about a Ukraine crisis, from the Russian standpoint this is a crisis in European security architecture, and the fundamental issue they want to negotiate is the revision of European security architecture as it now stands to something that is more favorable to Russian interests.

OLGA OLIKER: I do think that at the core of this is a European security order that is out of date [and] that does not meet the needs of security as it has developed. Part of that is we have very different views of what it means to be secure in Europe, what sovereignty means in Europe. Why we’ve been unable to adapt the system to current needs is because Moscow on the one hand and Western countries on the other have these misaligned views of what it means to be secure.

Ukrainian soldiers prepare to repel an attack in the breakaway Luhansk region on February 24 after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)GOTTEMOELLER: There is a major economic aspect of this, and that starts at the crisis in 2014 over Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union. It had nothing to do with NATO. Ukrainians are heading to Europe in terms of its culture, its democratic practices, so it is also about Ukraine eventually joining the EU. For me, it’s a bit artificial the way Putin has created NATO as the enemy because NATO all along, and up to the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, was trying to promulgate a partnership with Russia based on the Rome Declaration of 2002 that Putin himself signed and included a wide range of pragmatic projects. They got increasingly difficult to implement in the years running up to 2014. But there were still some significant practical projects going on, like the European Airspace Initiative, right up to the invasion of Crimea.

From NATO’s perspective, they were trying to make it work for Russia. I won’t say that everybody inside NATO was equally trying to make it work; the former Warsaw Pact states were nervous and anxious about Russia’s engagement and involvement in NATO and suspicious about it undermining NATO. But from a NATO policy perspective, the alliance was trying to make its partnership with Russia work. So, that’s what is being missed in the discussion now. Everybody seems to accept at face value that NATO is a problem for Putin. He created the problem in my view, and what this is more about is Ukraine having a healthy economic relationship with the EU; Ukraine suddenly having more of a future than Russia in a way.

OLIKER: I think there’s a lot of truth to that in terms of the facts, the realities of Ukraine’s evolution [and] Russia’s own economic system. But it is also important not to discount the extent to which Russia has consistently viewed NATO as a threat even as NATO was making overtures and saw itself as working to improve relations with Russia, to improve security. Throughout this process, Russia was always pushing back. The Russian view that NATO is an alliance against Russia, that the United States is a threat, and that NATO and the EU work for the United States one way or another is false but consistent, and that is a driver of Russia’s vision. It is interesting that none of the demands we’ve seen in these Russian draft treaties have anything to say about the EU. In fact, there is about as much risk of the Ukraine joining the EU anytime soon as of their joining NATO anytime soon. Neither of these institutions has any plans to incorporate Ukraine, and the EU is going through its own identity crisis.

For Russia, there is this visceral understanding of Ukraine as naturally its own, and that is crucial to Russia’s self-image and its view that Ukraine, however independent or not independent it is, be aligned with Russia. This is something they created for themselves. You invade a country, you annex a chunk of it, [and] shockingly, it’s not going to be as prone to being aligned with you. But there you have it, and they view this as NATO doing it to Russia rather than Russia doing it to itself, and they see this as a threat. The logic doesn’t quite work, but I do believe that they believe this.

In the diplomatic flurry before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron (R) met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on February 7. The distance between the two men as they sat at a long formal table was a sign of the gap between Moscow and the West over the crisis. (Photo by Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)GOTTEMOELLER: I don’t disagree, but who are the Russians in this case? I think there are different views out there. There are Russians, [Andre] Kortunov [director-general of the Russian International Affairs Council], some retired military and KGB senior officers who are saying, “Is it really such a good idea to be heading in this direction of a war, invasion of Ukraine?” They are also saying, “Do we really want to abandon our Western-facing objectives and throw ourselves into the arms of China, is that a good idea?” The Russians aren’t monolithic on this. There always has been a debate of the Westernizers versus the Slavophiles. In this case, the Westernizers are those who still see the necessity of links to Europe for economic, cultural, [and] traditional reasons and because people like to send their kids to school in Europe versus those who say to heck with Europe, to heck with the West, we’re throwing ourselves into the arms of the Chinese.

OLIKER: Those voices that see Russia as European, that see Russia’s future in cooperating with Europe, are not the voices that the government is listening to. Even among those voices, there are two factors to keep in mind. One is that they do continue, for the most part, to see NATO as fundamentally an anti-Russian institution. Even the most liberal Russian has a very difficult time visualizing a Ukraine that isn’t aligned with Russia. Part of the problem is that very few Russian men, especially, have visited Ukraine since 2014, so they are not familiar with some of the changes that have taken place in that country. My point is that even the most liberal, pro-Western Russian thinks of Ukraine as an appendage to Russia, and that has become unacceptable in Ukraine. It has also become quite unacceptable to a variety of European countries to give that to Russia.

ACT: This Russian animus toward NATO and the West has been going on a long time. Does Putin making a big issue of it now seem artificial?

GRAHAM: In 1999 and 2000, Russia really didn’t have the capability to push back. Russia believes now that it is in much better shape, certainly from a military standpoint, probably from the standpoint of political stability and economically, to push back. Also, the West is in greater disarray now than it has been in many years. Beyond that, there are things over the past year that concern Moscow. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has moved actively against what he sees as pro-Russian forces inside Ukraine, putting under house arrest Viktor Medvedchuk, who served in the Ukrainian government at one point but is seen as very close to Putin and a representative of pro-Russian forces in the Ukrainian system. They closed down three TV stations they claim were broadcasting Russian propaganda. Zelenskyy also in the past year has pushed actively for NATO to make some early-term decision on NATO expansion into Ukraine. He tried to put on the international agenda the question of Crimea, which had not been at the center of discussion on European issues over the past several years.

Since Ukraine was granted the enhanced opportunities relationship with NATO, Russia has seen a much more active NATO presence in Ukraine. The United States is there with instructors. The United Kingdom has been on the ground. We’ve done annual exercises that are more ambitious. The Russians saw this as a threat. Finally, Putin wanted to see how the new Biden administration would deal with Russia. He didn’t want to be written off as a significant global actor. I think the Russians resented the national security strategy guidelines that the administration issued in March 2021, which basically said Russia is a destructive element on the international stage and China is what we’re really concerned about. So, from the Kremlin standpoint, they wanted to make sure Russia was on the agenda in this administration. We had the chaotic exit from Afghanistan, which created some sense of perhaps now is a time to push so we can get a favorable decision out of the Biden administration. Finally, you have the energy crisis in Europe this year, which gave Russia some leverage. So a host of things came together that led the Kremlin to decide this is the moment to throw down the gauntlet about NATO expansion.

ACT: Are you somewhat sympathetic to the Russian side?

GRAHAM: When you’re doing an analysis, you shouldn’t be sympathetic. I am trying to describe what is driving the Russians at this point, and that’s important in the United States if we’re going to develop a policy that advances our interests and defends our principles. I don’t find this unusual. Any major power that felt that a peace was imposed on it will seek to revise that peace when it’s strong enough to do that. We saw Germany do that after the Versailles Treaty was imposed on it in 1919. That said, obviously there are certain things the Russians have done that are problematic from our standpoint. Even if it doesn’t invade Ukraine, and my sense is that is not the first option the Kremlin is thinking about at this point, they have used the threat of force in coercive diplomacy to put this on the agenda. That is problematic. It does lead to questions of how do we deal with this in a way that will resolve the crisis but not encourage Russia to use coercive diplomacy in the future to try to advance its interests. That’s where diplomacy comes in, how do we do this in a way that accommodates Russia but doesn’t undermine our interests or jeopardize our core principles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signs documents, including a decree recognizing the independence of two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 21. (Photo by Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)ACT: What do you think is Putin’s goal? His foreign minister has called for “radical changes” in European security, among the litany of Russian demands.

OLIKER: What I hope he wants is as much as he can get. Then, when you get to the talks, you can actually negotiate something. What I fear he wants is to prove to the United States and NATO that he cares more about Ukraine and possibly all of European security than they do, that none of the rest of them will use force but he will, and then they’re going to have to reckon with him. I think that would be a horrible misjudgment on Moscow’s part if they really think that is what is going to happen.

GOTTEMOELLER: This hasn’t been emphasized, but this is also about Putin’s domestic situation and trying to position himself for a successful transition. Like most autocrats, he cannot designate a successor for fear that he’ll end up getting knocked off by his successor before time. I think he is trying to also shape Russian politics as the ultimate strongman, the ultimate all-wise, all-powerful leader, and show he is tactically adept. That means he can also handle the domestic political environment. It’s a huge roll of the dice for Putin, whether he can come out of this successfully. Some ways we would not be happy with, some ways we can work with, particularly if Russia heads in the direction of really useful negotiations that produce good results for Russia, of course, but also for NATO and the United States. But I also think he’s trying to position himself as he turns 70 this October, to say, let’s figure out with his barons, his power structure the next moves in terms of governance in Russia, but “don’t mess with me in the meantime.”

ACT: There are specific Russian, U.S., and NATO proposals on the table. Do you see convergence? What is likely to result from talk of realigning or reforming the security architecture of Europe?

GRAHAM: Certainly, these are negotiable at this point, in part because if you look at the draft treaties that Russia presented publicly, see the U.S. and NATO response, there is an agreement that we need to negotiate new arms control measures, confidence-building measures, if we’re going to enhance security in Europe for everybody. So, we’re not going to call it the [Conventional Forces in Europe] CFE Treaty, but certainly some of the principles that informed that treaty would be appropriate today. I think the United States and NATO would be willing to undertake obligations not to deploy certain types of weapons systems or even concentrations of military forces in a certain zone along the Russian-NATO frontier. We’ll see how much flexibility there is on the Russian side.

Ukranians flash the v-sign after taking down the Soviet red flag from the Ukrainian Communist Party headquarters on August 25, 1991 in Kyiv. (Photo by Anatoly Supinski/AFP via Getty Images)In the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, NATO pledged it would not deploy “substantial permanent combat forces” in new member states. We adhere to that up to this point, but we may be able to define that with greater clarity. This would require reciprocity on the Russian part, which means they would have to undertake not to deploy their forces within a certain distance of the border, which means they will put limitations on their ability to move their own forces and staff on Russian territory. The Kremlin standpoint is that Russia has every sovereign right to deploy its forces anywhere it wants to on its sovereign territory and that shouldn’t be a problem for any other country [because] it’s not threatening. That said, if you’re planning on invading a country, you generally concentrate your forces along the border, right? So any concentration of forces along the border does raise legitimate concerns in neighboring countries as to what your intentions actually are. Can we negotiate something like that? I think the answer is yes, but it’s going to be difficult because it will require concessions on both sides. Reciprocity is something the United States is focused on. We believe Russia violated the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty. That’s the reason we withdrew or at least one of the reasons we withdrew. Russia had its own grievances about our missile defense sites in Poland and Romania.

The whole dance around ending the INF Treaty was undertaken to cast blame on the other side for the demise of the treaty, which both countries actually wanted to get out from under. Now in the current circumstances, in the interests of European security, there’s some interest in reviving this treaty, but limited to Europe. If we’re going to negotiate that, the Russians are going to have to answer our concerns about the missile system that they’ve already deployed. We’re going to have to answer their questions about our missile defense systems. We’ll see over the next several weeks whether there is the political will to find the technical fixes that will allow us to come to an agreement that we will not deploy land-based intermediate-range nuclear forces or nuclear-capable forces in the European theater. Then there are notifications of military exercises, rules of conduct to avoid dangerous incidents at sea and in the air. All those things are negotiable. I think both sides agree they’re important to European security.

OLGA: The analyst, Gabriela Rosa Hernandez, sent me an email on the Russian response of February 17, which she summarized as follows: “There’ll be a military technical response if you keep ignoring us, but we won’t invade Ukraine. We’re not going to negotiate confidence-building measures or arms control deals unless we address the European security architecture and Ukraine’s NATO membership. It’s a package, not a menu.”

Protesters carry a giant Ukrainian flag during a rally in Odessa on February 20 to show unity and support of Ukrainian integrity amid soaring tensions with Russia. (Photo by Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty Images))It’s not a good Russian response because it is very hard-line. I can see points of overlap. Everybody at this point is okay with a European intermediate-range nuclear forces deal, even if we might have questions about its military usefulness, since the United States isn’t planning to do this anyway. I think the mutual inspections, exercise limits, and things like that, you can do these things. One big disconnect is the Russians want the limits where it’s Russian, and perhaps Belorussian, territory up against NATO territory. When it comes to Ukraine, the Russians want the ability to build up forces all around Ukraine, put a bunch of ships in the Black Sea with missiles on them, and threaten Ukraine. There is no new European security architecture deal, I don’t think, that doesn’t also take into account the security of countries like Ukraine one way or another. If the Russians really do push this “it’s a package, not a menu” story, I mean good luck with negotiating. You can’t negotiate one big package like this quickly.

GOTTEMOELLER: One of Putin’s early-warning shots was to say, “I don’t want to get into the dead-end swamp of endless negotiations.” But now, if they are taking this position that it’s a package and not a menu, that is a recipe for endless negotiations. Speaking from the perspective of a negotiator, I can say that you have to carve off doable do’s where you can quickly see some momentum building and you work through it piece by piece. That’s why, to my mind, that was Putin’s offer in the first place, that we take intermediate ground-launched missiles out of Europe. Although he doesn’t admit the [Russian] 9M729 is a missile that is flying to intermediate range, he was willing to say, “We’ll take it out as a goodwill gesture and put in place monitoring and verification.” That was his so-called moratorium proposal. Now, we’re ready to say, “Yes, let’s do this, and let’s do it quickly and figure out what the monitoring and verification would be.” That is where there could be quick progress, and it would lend momentum to these further things that we want to get done. But if they’re saying, “You’ve got to agree to our whole package and talk about our whole package,” it’s like they’re saying no to real diplomacy.

ACT: Is there a solution to Russia’s opposition to Ukrainian membership in NATO?

GRAHAM: The stumbling point at this point is the issue of NATO expansion eastward into the former Soviet space. The Russian position is never. They want legally binding guarantees about that. The U.S. position is that NATO has an open door and sovereign states have the right to decide who they’re going to associate with for security, political, and other purposes. At the end of the day, this issue has to be put on the table. The question is, How do you bridge the gap between those two positions and come up with some reasonable solution that satisfies minimal security requirements for Russia, but also allows the United States to say it hasn’t compromised its core interests or its core principles? I think the Ukrainians understand NATO membership is a distant possibility for them. So you would think that, given what everybody will tell you in private, we ought to be able to find a clever diplomatic solution to this problem. This is where the idea of a moratorium comes up. My guess is, eventually, we’re going to get there.

In some ways, the simplest solution for NATO and the United States would be for Ukraine to decide that it didn’t want to join NATO, take it out of the constitution, and reinsert a provision about nonalignment. That may be where we end up. But I think the United States, as a major power, ought to simply be prepared to say that we’ve looked at the situation, [that] we don’t believe Ukraine is going to be ready for decades, and that a moratorium is the best way of doing this at this point, then allow the Ukrainians the space to sort out how they feel about that and what they want to do going forward, as opposed to pressuring them to make a statement that takes us off the hook.

ACT: Should negotiations on European security and arms control take place within the
U.S.-Russian strategic stability dialogue format?

GRAHAM: My preference would be for a separate group to work on these questions of European security. There’s not a strict overlap between those people who deal with security architecture and those who are focused and should rightfully be focused on arms control negotiations, developing a follow-on treaty for New START, which expires in four years. You could do that under the umbrella of a strategic stability dialogue by setting up a separate working group with different individuals to focus on this.

A woman clears debris at a residential building in a Kyiv suburb that was believed to be damaged by a military shell on February 25 after Russian forces reached the outskirts of the capital city. (Photo by Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)While it’s important to have this type of structure, we also need a genuinely confidential back channel where we can discuss what are very sensitive issues. Much of the dialogue over the past several months has been conducted in public. To a great extent, the Russians are to blame for that by publishing those treaties 24 to 48 hours after they had presented them to the United States. It was clear our response was going to be leaked at some point. But these are such sensitive issues, you can’t negotiate them seriously in the public glare because resolution will require backing away from stated positions. That’s very difficult to do given the political context in the United States. It’s also difficult to do on the Russian side. So if you’re really serious, you have to have a platform that is protected from the public glare, where serious people can get together and discuss very sensitive issues that will require difficult trade-offs. You have to do this in confidence and then present the total package to the public for debate. Any element of a compromise solution can be debated to death. When you see the whole package and how pieces fit together, you have a different assessment.

ACT: How does this conflict with Russia end? Is there a chance it could escalate to use of nuclear weapons?

GOTTEMOELLER: I don’t think it will escalate to the nuclear level, but I do think we could get into a serious kinetic conflict that would be bolstered by serious and continuing hybrid attacks. There’s a kind of mixed bag here of hybrid action, cyberattacks; there’s [a] very strong misinformation campaign and then kinetic action gets added on top. Perhaps what I fear most is the spillover that would affect NATO allies, and that’s the reason why the Biden administration has bolstered troops in Poland. Other NATO countries are sending some troops forward to help deter and defend in those states directly bordering on Russia and Belarus. No NATO troops will be involved in Ukraine per se, but I do worry about spillover into NATO countries. We already see spillover on the hybrid side. There are constant cyberattacks on NATO headquarters and on NATO countries individually.

OLIKER: I don’t think this conflict has a real nuclear risk. I think the next conflict, the next crisis does. This is my concern that however this ends, if it does not end with everybody at the negotiating table thinking about how to build a more secure Europe and staying at that negotiating table, in the next crisis, everybody comes to that table saying we failed in Ukraine. This time we have to do more. This time we have to push harder, and by everybody I mean both on the Russian side and on the NATO side. There I start seeing risks of escalation that involve NATO member states, and there I start seeing risks of escalations where the Russians are thinking that there are going to be attacks on the Russian homeland, and that’s where you start getting into nuclear use areas.

But I don’t want to end on that note. For a lot of years, one of the things we’ve been saying, those of us who’ve been trying to push for some conventional arms control mechanisms and not seen much progress, is that it might take a crisis to get everyone to come to their senses and realize how important it is to have these conversations. If this could be that crisis, that would be a huge silver lining. The problem is that it really is a crisis, so it could go in the other direction.

GOTTEMOELLER: Yes, to close as well on a bit more of a positive note, when I was assistant secretary for arms control over 10 years ago, I used to call conventional arms control the redheaded stepchild of the arms control agenda. Any attempts that we made at the time to push forward in that arena, there were a lot of people in Washington who were just not interested or liked the way things were and felt why mess with conventional arms control at all. Then things just keep getting worse. Again, I lay the blame in part at the Russian door. They ceased to implement the CFE Treaty. They put roadblocks in the way of modernizing the Vienna Document; they played a bit fast and loose with implementation of the Open Skies Treaty. But I also think there was a lack of energy and interest on our side. So now there’s energy and now there’s interest. Let’s hope the Russians pay attention. It’s an opportunity we need to grasp.

ACT: Should the primary focus be conventional arms control and not nuclear weapons generally or withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe?

GOTTEMOELLER: From a NATO perspective, that will be off the table. The NATO nuclear mission in Europe is not even a couple hundred warheads. It’s a very small number, but it’s the essential glue that links the NATO alliance to the central strategic deterrent of the United States. But I don’t want to see the strategic stability talks abandoned as we switch our focus to trying to right the conventional architecture in Europe. We have to do both. We also need to be sitting down now to begin to think about how to replace New START.

OLIKER: I think we can do both. Honestly, if we’re willing to sit down for the conventional conversation, we are surely willing to sit down for the nuclear conversation. It won’t be easy. All of these issues—Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons arsenal, missile defense that has frozen things for so long—they’re still there. A real negotiation has to reckon with all of that, and it is in everyone’s interest that it does. However, doing so becomes that much more difficult in the face of escalation.

Three experts on Russia talk about the origins of the crisis and what a resolution could involve.

Russia’s Anti-Satellite Weapons: An Asymmetric Response to U.S. Aerospace Superiority

March 2022
By Jaganath Sankaran

Russia conducted a direct-ascent hit-to-kill anti-satellite (ASAT) test on November 15, 2021, striking a Russian satellite and rendering it into more than 1,500 pieces of orbital debris.1 Reacting to the test, U.S. Space Command commander Army Gen. James Dickinson claimed that Russia is “deploying capabilities to actively deny access to and use of space by the United States and its allies.”2 He further noted that Russia’s counterspace weapons systems undermine strategic stability.

A Soyuz-2 1b rocket booster carrying the Kosmos-2546 military satellite of the Russian Defense Ministry before launch by the Russian Aerospace Forces from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in May 2020. That same year, Russia used other versions of Kosmos satellites in anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests. (Photo by Russian Defense Ministry/TASS via Getty Images)Russian military leaders and analysts argue, however, that their counterspace weapons provide a means to restore strategic stability. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu characterized the test as a routine operation of a “cutting-edge future weapon system” to strengthen Russia’s deterrent and defense against U.S. attempts to attain “comprehensive military advantage” in space.3

Russian leaders believe that a change in the character of warfare has been unfolding over the past three decades. They write that the next generation of warfare will be waged in the aerospace domain with weapons enabled by satellite targeting and navigation.4 For instance, in a 2015 speech, President Vladimir Putin asserted that U.S. and NATO forces possess “high-precision long-range non-nuclear weapons comparable in their effect to nuclear weapons.”5 Russians fear that, in a conflict, these weapons may be used against them in a coordinated strike against their nuclear and conventional forces.

At a 2013 conference attended by several cabinet ministers and members of the Russian Military-Industrial Commission, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin identified five conflict scenarios that Russia could face in the future.6 One of them involved a noncontact war with a technologically advanced adversary, presumably the United States and NATO. In this scenario, the United States would strike the Russian homeland, drawing from its “lightning-fast global strike” weapons using satellite targeting and navigation. Rogozin suggested that such a strike could destroy 80 to 90 percent of Russia’s strategic arsenal, rendering its nuclear deterrent almost useless.

These scenarios reflect a worst-case analysis that may not match reality. As Vladimir Dvorkin, a former Russian military officer with deep involvement in Russian nuclear policies, has noted, “[I]t seems rather fantastical to suggest that the Pentagon could be planning a disarming conventional strike against Russia’s strategic nuclear forces: such a measure would not only prove absolutely useless, but would trigger a devastating retaliatory nuclear strike.”7 Dvorkin suggests Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missile silos are hardened to withstand any such strikes, its mobile launchers are difficult to target, and its ballistic missile submarines can be dispersed quickly and are protected by naval forces.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) has said Russian ASAT tests reflect a "cutting-edge future weapon system" designed to offset U.S. attempts to gain "comprehensive military advantage" in space. (Photo by Vadim Savitsky/TASS via Getty Images)Yet, these fears permeate the Russian debate on the aerospace capabilities of U.S. and NATO forces. Russian military exercises are now designed to “repel a massive” aerospace strike by hypersonic weapons, short- and medium-range cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles with highly mobile anti-air and anti-space units.8 Russian planning also includes ASAT weapons to target the critical satellite systems that enable these modern aerospace weapons.9

Dissuading Russian ASAT weapons development and testing will require a concerted effort at arms control. In December 2021, the United Nations voted to establish an open-ended working group to prevent an arms race in space.10 The UN forum may offer a chance to establish norms on space and foster a debate on the linkages between space security and other national security considerations. Likewise, the Biden administration seems inclined to pursue a ban on debris-generating ASAT tests.11 Securing multilateral support for such a ban, however, will require engagement and support from the Russians and Chinese. Such engagement will have to incorporate a discussion on the role of advanced aerospace weaponry, address their perceived vulnerabilities to these weapons, and develop ways to limit them.

Russian Anti-Satellite Weapons

The ASAT test in November is the latest in a series of such actions by Russia. The missile used in the test, Nudol, has been tested several times in the past without a hit-to-kill mission. At the 2021 Reagan National Defense Forum, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) noted that Russia had attempted to test its ground-launched ASAT missile “several times in recent years and failed, so it was predictable that they would keep trying until they scored a hit.”12 The latest hit-to-kill demonstration indicates that Russia may have perfected its ASAT missile.

In 2014, the Russian Olymp-K satellite demonstrated co-orbital ASAT capabilities in the geostationary orbit where several critical military command-and-control satellites operate.13 Additionally, Russia has fielded ground-based lasers and a range of satellite-jamming systems to deny and degrade the capacity of weapons that rely on satellited-enabled information. These weapons are detailed in Russian military literature as a vital mechanism to eliminate Russian vulnerabilities to Western precision weapons.

Russia has also tested co-orbital ASAT systems that target satellites beyond low-earth orbit. In October 2017, three Russian satellites—Kosmos-2519, Kosmos-2521, and Kosmos-2523—conducted high-velocity orbital maneuvers. In January 2020, two Russian satellites, Kosmos-2542 and Kosmos-2543, performed coordinated, close-approach orbital maneuvers in the vicinity of a U.S. military reconnaissance satellite, the KH-11. Six months later, in July 2020, the Kosmos-2543 satellite fired a high-velocity projectile into outer space. Such a projectile could act as a potent ASAT weapon. U.S. Space Force commander Gen. John Raymond has described the orbital experiments performed by these satellites as “Russian nesting doll” satellites and claimed they “exhibited characteristics of a weapon system.”14

A Russian Perspective on Future Wars

Russian military scholars examining U.S. and NATO military campaigns note that high-precision aerospace weapons supported by satellite-enabled data have become indispensable to the U.S. way of war.

Igor Morozov, head of operations at the Russian Space Force, has written that, “[d]uring the Second World War, to destroy such a target as a large railway bridge, it was required to make 4,500 sorties and drop 9,000 bombs. In Vietnam, the destruction of a similar target was achieved with 190 bombs and 95 sorties. In the war against Yugoslavia, the same mission was solved by [one to three] cruise missiles fired from a submarine.”15 Similarly, Russian analysts point out that the ratio of standoff long-distance cruise missiles to aircraft-launched precision weapons has steadily increased “from 1:10 in Operation Desert Storm to 1:1.5 in Operation Desert Fox to 1:1 in Operation Allied Force to 1.8:1 in Operation Enduring Freedom.”16

Russian military literature is replete with discussions about how these high-precision aerospace weapons are changing the nature of warfare. Russians argue that, in past wars, the main burden of any confrontation rested on ground forces tasked to breach the enemy’s forward defense and enter the adversary’s territory to occupy it. Future wars, they argue, will not be conducted using the massing of armed troops. Instead, their opening salvo will involve massive air missile strikes at targets throughout the adversary’s territory. The 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 1999 NATO campaign in Yugoslavia are showcased as evidence.

Russian military commentators studying the Gulf War point out it was the first time in the history of modern warfare that a formidable army of half a million troops was unable to override the aerospace operations mounted by U.S. and allied forces.17 Moreover, Russian writings note that, by the time the Iraqi army encountered U.S. ground forces, it had been decimated by the weeks of air and missile strikes made possible by satellite-enabled targeting and navigation.18

Similarly, Russian military commentators conclude that Yugoslavia’s disintegration was achieved at the end of the months-long aerospace campaign without a significant force-on-force conflict. Even more concerning for the Russian analysts was that the military intervention was executed without endorsement by the UN Security Council, setting a dangerous precedent for the West’s arbitrary use of force against sovereign states and possibly Russia itself.19

Russian military analysts use these conflicts as a template to write regularly about a future war in which a massive air missile strike campaign could be mounted against Russia. First, they believe that U.S. conventional hypersonic weapons, developed under the Prompt Global Strike program, would start an aerospace assault against crucial Russian government command-and-control posts and mobile and stationary launchers of nuclear-armed missiles.20 Next, U.S. missile defenses would further degrade Russia’s retaliatory potential.21 These would be followed up quickly with electronic warfare to suppress Russian air and space defense forces. Then, large numbers of standoff high-precision weapons such as cruise missiles, heavy-strike unmanned aerial vehicles, and other strike forces will be used to destroy military facilities and troops, in addition to Russian government administration centers, economic assets, power and energy supply systems, and critical communication nodes.22 Finally, the standoff strikes would coincide with an information warfare campaign to collapse the prevailing political order.23

Some Russian commentators question the viability of such massive attacks against a significant nuclear power using high-speed, high-precision weaponry as “science fiction.”24 One analyst writes that the danger of an attack on Russia with many cruise missiles is improbable and points out that assembling the formations required for such a strike requires lengthy preparations that cannot be done secretly during a crisis.25

Notwithstanding these assessments, most Russian analysts display a severe fear of U.S. and allied technological superiority. Although these fears may reflect an extreme worst-case scenario, many Russian military analysts share them. Therefore, they argue, the dependence of U.S. and NATO forces on space-based assets is a vulnerability of which Russia cannot fail to take advantage in a crisis. Russian military commentators claim ASAT and other counterspace weapons will deter aggression and offer war-fighting advantages if deterrence fails.26

A Russian rocket topped with Kosmos-2543 and Kosmos-2542 satellites is shown as it was erected in November 2019. The following year, Russia deployed both satellites to perform coordinated, close-approach orbital maneuvers in the vicinity of a U.S. military reconnaissance satellite, the KH-11. (Photo by Russian Defense Ministry)These Russian motivations pose profound challenges to pursuing lasting space arms control measures. Several proposed nonbinding behavioral norms may stall the testing of ASAT weapons for the near term. For instance, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks recently argued for a global ban on ASAT tests that create debris.27 These norms can be diplomatically pursued through multilateral dialogues, including at the UN. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated a U.S. desire to develop informal norms to standardize acceptable behavior in space operations. In a speech at the UN Conference on Disarmament, he said the United States wants to engage in “developing standards and norms of responsible behavior in outer space.”28 He further noted, “[W]e should be reducing tensions in outer space, not making them worse.”29

Such diplomatic engagements would provide the United States and its NATO allies with some transparency into Russia’s ASAT and counterspace programs and motivations. Similarly, Russia would gain transparency into U.S. and NATO programs and concerns. Diplomatic engagements can also help communicate redlines and establish a shared understanding of pathways that could lead to conflict escalation in space.30

In the end, however, there are limits to what dialogue and voluntary behavioral norms can accomplish. Without mutual restrictions on aerospace weapons and combat operations, Russians will continue to argue that U.S. and NATO forces retain a significant war-fighting superiority that can be offset only with counterspace systems. Addressing Russia’s perceived vulnerabilities to modern aerospace campaigns will require deeper engagement and structured arms control, possibly with an instrument similar to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Such binding agreements are a difficult proposition in the prevailing geopolitical environment, but they are essential to achieve comprehensive space security and strategic stability.



1. Kylie Atwood et al., “US Says It ‘Won’t Tolerate’ Russia’s ‘Reckless and Dangerous’ Anti-Satellite Missile Test,” CNN, November 16, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/15/politics/russia-anti-satellite-weapon-test-scn/index.html.

2. U.S. Space Command Public Affairs Office, “Russian Direct-Ascent Anti-Satellite Missile Test Creates Significant, Long-Lasting Space Debris,” https://www.960cyber.afrc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2844494/russian-direct-ascent-anti-satellite-missile-test-creates-significant-long-last/.

3. “New Russian System Being Tested Hit Old Satellite With ‘Goldsmith’s Precision’- Shoigu,” Tass, November 16, 2021; “Russian Defence Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu Confirms Successful Test of Anti-Satellite System,” Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, November 16, 2021, https://eng.mil.ru/en/news_page/country/[email protected].

4. “Как Станут Вести Войну в Будущем: По Небу Танки Грохотали” [How will the future war be waged: Tanks rumbled across the sky], MKRU, August 9, 2016, https://www.mk.ru/politics/2016/08/09/kak-stanut-vesti-voynu-vbudushhem.html.

5. “Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club,” President of Russia, October 22, 2015, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/50548.

6. “Пять сценариев войны. Дмитрий Рогозин: Россия Должна Быть Самостоятельной, Либо Ее Не Будет Вовсе [Five War Scenarios. Dmitry Rogozin: Russia Must Be Independent and Strong, or It Won’t Exist at All],” Российская Газета [Rossiyskaya Gazeta], July 3, 2013, https://rg.ru/2013/07/03/rogozin.html; Rogozin Dmitry, “Незвездные Войны: Вице-Премьер Дмитрий Рогозин - о Пяти Сценариях Возможных Войн [Not Star Wars: Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on Five Scenarios of Possible Wars],” Российская Газета [Rossiyskaya Gazeta], July 4, 2013, https://rg.ru/2013/07/04/voyna.html.

7. Vladimir Dvorkin, “Risky Contradictions: Putin’s Stance on Strategic Arms and Missile Defense,” Carnegie Moscow Center, October 2, 2016, https://carnegiemoscow.org/commentary/62719.

8. Anton Lavrov and Roman Krezul, “Воздушный Убой: Силы ПВО На Маневрах Отражали Современные Угрозы” [Aerial slaughter: Air defense forces responded to modern threats during maneuvers], Izvestia, April 6, 2020, https://iz.ru/995981/anton-lavrov-roman-kretcul/vozdushnyi-uboi-sily-pvo-na-manevrakh-otrazhali-sovremennye-ugrozy.

9. U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), “Challenges to Security in Space,” January 2019, p. 24, https://www.dia.mil/Portals/110/Images/News/Military_Powers_Publications/Space_Threat_V14_020119_sm.pdf.

10. Mary Ann Hurtado, “UN Panel Approves Working Group on Space,” Arms Control Today, December 2021, pp. 28–30.

11. Theresa Hitchens, “Biden’s Space Policy Nominee Backs Ban on Destructive ASAT Testing, Pushes Norms,” Breaking Defense, January 13, 2022, https://breakingdefense.com/2022/01/bidens-space-policy-nominee-backs-ban-on-destructive-asat-testing-pushes-norms/.

12. Sandra Erwin, “U.S. Was Not Blindsided by Russia’s Anti-Satellite Test, Say Officials,” Space News, December 5, 2021.

13. Anatoly Zak, “Proton Successfully Returns to Flight Delivering a Secret Olymp Satellite,” RussianSpaceWeb.com, October 19, 2015, http://www.russianspaceweb.com/olymp.html.

14. W.J. Hennigan, “Russian Spacecraft Tailing U.S. Spy Satellite, General Says,” Time, February 10, 2020.

15. Igor Morozov, Baushev Sergey, and Kaminsky Oleg, “Космос и Характер Современных Военных Действий” [Space and the nature of modern military operations], Aerospace Defense, August 11, 2009, http://www.vko.ru/koncepcii/kosmos-i-harakter-sovremennyh-voennyh-deystviy.

16. Maj. Gen. S.V. Kuralenko, “Changing Trends in Armed Struggle in the Early 21st-Century,” Military Thought, Vol. 21, No. 4 (2012): 31.

17. Col. S.G. Chekinov and Lt. Gen. S.A. Bogdanov, “Asymmetrical Actions to Maintain Russia’s Military Security,” Military Thought, Vol. 19, No. 1 (2010): 10.

18. Ibid.

19. Tetekin Vyacheslav, Alexander Gorkov, and Oleg Falichev, “Войска ВКО: Болезни Роста” [VKO troops: Growing pains], Military Industrial Courier, October 7, 2013, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/17720.

20. V.V. Selivanov and Col. Yu.D. Ilyin, “Choosing Priorities in Developing Kinetic Energy Weapons for Military Conflicts,” Military Thought, Vol. 26, No. 4 (2017): 71, 75.

21. “Комментарий Департамента Информации и Печати МИД России в Связи с Новым «Обзором Политики США в Сфере ПРО» - Новости - Министерство Иностранных Дел Российской Федерации” [Commentary by the Department of Information and Press of the Russian Foreign Ministry in connection with the new “Review of US Missile Defense Policy”], Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, January 18, 2019, https://archive.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3479839.

22. Chekinov and Bogdanov, “Asymmetrical Actions to Maintain Russia’s Military Security,” p. 10.

23. “Как Станут Вести Войну в Будущем: По Небу Танки Грохотали” [How will the future war be waged: Tanks rumbled across the sky].”

24. Yaroslav Vyatkin, “«Быстрый Глобальный Удар» в Исполнении России [’Prompt Global Strike’ Russian-Style],” Аргументы Недели [Arguments of the Week], April 16, 2015, https://argumenti.ru/army/n484/396359; Dmitry Akhmerov, Evgeny Akhmerov, and Marat Valeev, “По-Быстрому Не Получится | Могущество неядерных крылатых ракет иллюзорно [It Won’t Work Quickly: The Power of Conventional Cruise Missiles Is Illusory],” Военно-Промышленный Курьер [Military Industrial Courier], October 19, 2015, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/27617.

25. Ibid. See also Yevgeny Miasnikov, “The Counterforce Potential of Precision-Guided Munitions,” in Nuclear Proliferation: New Technologies, Weapons, Treaties, ed. Alexei Arbatov and Vladimir Dvorkin (Moscow: Carnegie Moscow Center, 2009), pp. 97–99.

26. DIA, “Challenges to Security in Space,” p. 24. See also “Генштаб: Особенностью Конфликтов Будущего Станет Применение Роботов и Космических Средств” [General staff: A feature of future conflicts will be the use of robots and apace assets], Tass, March 24, 2018, https://tass.ru/armiya-i-opk/5062463.

27. Theresa Hitchens, “Biden Administration to Propose New Global Norms for Military Space,” Breaking Defense, December 1, 2021, https://breakingdefense.com/2021/12/biden-administration-to-propose-new-global-norms-for-military-space/.

28. U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, “Secretary Blinken: Remarks at the High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament,” February 22, 2021, https://geneva.usmission.gov/2021/02/22/secretary-blinken-cd/.

29. Ibid.

30. Theresa Hitchens and Joan Johnson-Freese, “Toward a New National Security Space Strategy: Time for a Strategic Rebalancing,” Atlantic Council, June 2016, p. 27, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/report/toward-a-new-national-security-space-strategy-time-for-a-strategic-rebalancing-2/.

Jaganath Sankaran is an assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Fearing U.S. dominance in a future war in space, Russia is building and testing anti-satellite weapons.

Human Augmentation and Nuclear Risk: The Value of a Few Seconds

March 2022
By Marina Favaro and Elke Schwarz

Nearly 30 years ago, the fate of humankind hung in the balance when a Soviet Union early-warning system indicated that a series of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were headed toward Soviet soil. The alert came with a “high reliability” label. At the height of the Cold War, Soviet doctrine prescribed that a report of incoming U.S. missiles would be met with full nuclear retaliation—there would be no time for double checking, let alone for negotiations with the United States.

U.S. soldier tests out a brain-computer interface device as part of a U.S. program to expand the use of technology to augment the performance of military forces. (Photo by U.S. Army)The officer on duty that day, Soviet Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, had a quick decision to make. Reporting the incoming strike flagged by the system would result in a nuclear strike by the Soviet forces; not reporting it could risk making an error that would prove devastating for the Soviet Union. After a moment of consideration, Petrov went with his gut feeling and concluded that the likelihood of a system error was too great to risk a full-scale nuclear war. Indeed, the system had misidentified sunlight reflected from clouds for missiles. The worst had been avoided.

That incident, now a well-known chapter in nuclear weapons history, occurred in 1983, when the pace of weapons technology advancement was comparatively slow, when aspirations to accelerate decision-making through real-time computational technologies were not yet within reach, and when advances in military human enhancement were comparatively limited. The current military-operational context is very different.

Today, renewed great-power competition is being intensified by technological advancements that allow for the real-time relay of information that requires decisions be made within seconds. Human beings are embedded much more intricately into the military technological systems logic, as operator and functional element, in the pursuit of speed and optimization. In order to function within a highly scientific, technologically sophisticated conflict environment, those involved in the action chain, including operators and fighters, are themselves in need of a tune-up.

Indeed, military human enhancement is one of the new frontiers in emerging weapons technology, as advanced militaries across the globe are planning to enhance and augment the capabilities of their war-fighting forces. This development is shifting the parameters of decision-making, including nuclear decision-making. What, for example, might have happened if Petrov had been more intricately woven into the computer system that reported the erroneous satellite signal, perhaps via an implantable neural interface to facilitate speedier human-machine communication for more efficient decision-making? Notwithstanding its operational and strategic importance, human augmentation is not typically discussed in nuclear policy. This oversight needs redress as ministries of defense begin to focus on human enhancement as the “missing part” of the human-machine teaming puzzle.1

Definition and History of Human Augmentation

Human augmentation is a vast field with many linkages to other areas of study. There is no commonly agreed definition, and it is known by many names, which are often used interchangeably. “Augmentation” usually refers to the transformation of capabilities to include a new or additional capability, but “enhancement” refers to the fortification of existing capabilities. Both concepts can be broadly defined as “the application of science and technologies to temporarily or permanently improve human performance.”2 As with all emerging technologies, human enhancement technologies exemplify aspects of continuity and change.

The development of physically and mentally resilient soldiers has a long history, involving techniques and technologies that work toward fortifying the human body and mind with the objective of extending capacities and limiting vulnerabilities in war. Such technological transformations begin with straightforward tools such as a soldier’s armor, the crossbow, the machine gun, the rocket launcher, and a range of natural and synthetic substances with pharmacological effects. Roman and Greek legionnaires strengthened their bodies with leather and bronze and their resolve with wine, beer, rum, and brandy. Opioids and amphetamines have long been used in battle to gain a greater edge in fighting.3 Pain relievers and other synthetic drugs are instrumental in alleviating pain and facilitating healing. Meanwhile, propaganda, systematic training, and enemy dehumanization are used to augment or suppress the war-fighter’s emotions. Human augmentation programs today extend much further into the development of the soldier as fighter, as well as the solider as operator, through various modes of scientific-technological inscriptions, shaping bodies toward greater operational efficiency and effectiveness.

As human and machine become increasingly entwined, the concept of the “super soldier,” where human tissue and technological circuitry fuse for maximum performance, is taking shape. In May 2021, the UK Ministry of Defence and the German Bundeswehr co-published a report that conceptualizes “the person as a platform” and heralds the “coming of the Biotech age.”4 Half a year earlier, China and France published reports indicating their readiness to augment military personnel physically, cognitively, psychologically, and pharmacologically.5,6 In the United States, the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency has been investing in neurotechnology since the 1970s and today is expanding the frontiers of the field, with a focus on neural interface technology.7

Current trends in military human enhancement focus on external enhancements such as augmented reality, exoskeletons, wearables, and biosensors and internal augmentations through pharmacological supplements. Implantable chips for a medical or curative purpose are already on the horizon.8 Directly enhancing human capabilities, however, is only half of the equation. The other half is that human augmentation will become increasingly relevant to security and defense because it is the binding agent between humans and machines.9 Beyond these external and internal enhancements, there is considerable interest in developing technologies that facilitate smoother and more functional teaming between the human and computational systems through so-called neural interface technologies.

The importance of effective integration of humans and machines is widely acknowledged, but has been primarily viewed from a technocentric perspective. Many of the existing solutions are technology focused, such as “building trust into the system” by making artificial intelligence (AI) more transparent, explainable, and reliable. Although this is necessary for cultivating trust in human-machine teams, it does not account for the human element in the teaming equation. Proponents of human augmentation argue that it is the necessary adjustment for a world in which future wars will be won by those who can most effectively integrate the capabilities of personnel and machines at the appropriate time, place, and location.10

As militaries increasingly incorporate automated and autonomous processes into their operations, brain-interface technologies could serve as a crucial element in future human-machine teaming.11 Brain-interface technologies offer methods and systems for providing a direct communication pathway between an enhanced, or wired, brain and an external device.12 In other words, they enable the transfer of data between the human brain and the digital world via a neural implant. This has implications for all spheres of military operations. What might this mean for the future of nuclear decision-making?

Human Augmentation and Nuclear Stability

The United States is a good case study for understanding how human augmentation might intersect with nuclear decision-making, given that it is more transparent about its nuclear decision-making protocols than other states possessing nuclear weapons.

There is a clear sequence of events involved in the short period from considering a nuclear strike to the decision to launch.13 When the president decides that a launch is an option, they convene a brief conference of high-ranking advisers, including members of the military, such as the officer in charge of the war room. Whatever the president decides, the Pentagon must implement. For a strike decision, the next step is to authenticate the order, then the encoded order goes out via an encrypted message. Once the launch message has been received by the submarine and ICBM crews, the sealed authentication system codes are retrieved and compared with the transmitted codes in a further authentication step before launch. The missile launch then is prepared. If launched from a silo, it takes five ICBM crew members to turn their keys simultaneously for a successful launch. This entire process from decision to ICBM launch can be completed within five minutes, 15 minutes if the launch is executed from a submarine. This is already a quick decision process with very little room for mediation, deliberation, or error. With human augmentation, the timelines would be compressed even further.

What is the effect on nuclear decision-making if brain-computer interface technologies tie humans more closely to computers and speed communication? That is one question that needs greater examination in nuclear policy, authors Marina Favaro and Elke Schwarz write. Here, members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron monitor an operational test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Michael Peterson)To understand the relevance of human augmentation to nuclear decision-making, three scenarios, each positioned at different points in the decision-making process, are illustrative and reflect a military context in which nuclear weapons interact with a brain-computer interface. Such an interface could detect when certain areas of the brain are cognitively activated (e.g., by certain thoughts) and transmit this signal, thereby enabling brain-controlled action or communication. The scenarios focus on the incorporation of a brain-computer interface into nuclear decision-making because of their potential to accelerate communications. The ability of an interface to compress temporal timelines enables us to probe the boundaries of the question “What is the value of a few seconds?”

The first scenario involves the advisory and decision chain. Assuming the above decision chain, the president, upon learning of a potential threat and considering the need to give a nuclear launch command, could shorten the deliberation time frame of their human advisers by transferring data directly to military participants via a brain-computer interface. In addition, the senior military commander could be plugged into an AI system that can compute many possible scenarios and give recommendations through the brain-computer interface in real time.

The upshot of human enhancement in this scenario might be that the military adviser has more data available through the interface, but critically, there is no guarantee of the quality or accuracy of this data. Moreover, with civilian and military advisers partaking in the advisory conference, there is a risk of the same algorithmic bias that is evident in human-machine teaming with AI systems. This refers to the tendency of humans to give uncritical priority to decisions that are ascertained with the help of technology, also called automation bias. This may make an advisory team superfluous and weaken the quality of advice in a critical situation. The mandate to act faster based on technologically derived advice could prevail and shorten the deescalation window.

In the second scenario, involving the executive chain, the launch crew is assumed to be partially or wholly networked through brain-computer interfaces. Perhaps the transmission of the launch codes takes place directly through computational networks, shortening the time between receiving the order, authenticating the codes, and executing the order. The submarine and ICBM crews executing the order by coordinated action are networked to facilitate the launch. In addition to the obvious vulnerabilities that any network inevitably produces, such as information and network security compromises, this would have the consequence of accelerating action. Any errors may be overlooked or not acted on in time. Particularly concerning is the possibility that a given action could rest on flawed initial inputs or skewed calculations, which would greatly increase the risk of unwarranted escalation.

Finally, there is the Petrov example, or the predecision phase. As suggested above, the decision chain does not really begin with the president’s decision to launch but with the input that the president receives from those in the military chain of command. If Petrov, the Russian duty officer whose job was to register apparent enemy missile launches, had been operating with a brain-computer interface in place and received the information transmitted directly to his brain and the brains of other military personnel, would there have been the impetus or indeed the opportunity to question the information from the system? Would he have had enough time to understand the context, draw on his experience, and make a considered judgment; or might he have felt compelled to uncritically execute the recommendations made by the system, which may well be indistinguishable in his mind to his own judgments?

In all three scenarios, the human is less able to exercise important human judgment at critical nuclear flashpoints. Algorithmic bias, increased system fog, lack of overall situational awareness, cognitive overload, and an accelerated action chain are consequences of intricate human-machine teaming through interfaces. This blurring of boundaries could obscure where machine input starts and human judgment ends. It could reduce the scope for cognitive input from the human and increase the extent to which algorithmic decisions prevail without serious oversight. Human experience and foresight based on noncomputational parameters are likely to be bracketed considerably. Is that wise in a nuclear context? As military operations prioritize speed and networked connectivity, slotting the human into a computer interface in the nuclear context may significantly exacerbate nuclear instability.14

Other Major Concerns

Regardless of its impact on nuclear stability, military human enhancement raises a myriad of ethical, legal, political, and other concerns that need to be explored. Among the questions that arise in this context, one involves consent, namely, can soldiers give free and informed consent to these enhancements, especially those that require a surgical procedure or invasive treatment, without pressure from their employer or peers? Will soldiers who consent to these interventions become part of an elite class of super soldiers, and what would be the impact of two classes of soldiers, enhanced and unenhanced, on morale? For how long would soldiers consent to these enhancements? Can an enhanced soldier ever go off duty or retire from service? In other words, when soldiers leave service, are they able to reverse these interventions? If not, what kinds of additional issues could this create for those who leave the service, who already encounter difficulties adjusting to a civilian environment?15 These consent issues are magnified in the many countries that maintain conscription.

In the area of brain-interface technologies, some American leaders worry about falling behind China, which experts say has a more coherent plan for using the technology, including to enhance military forces. (Photo by Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)Second, has the practice of military human enhancement already created an arms race, with states scrambling to out-enhance each other?16 Already locked in an ostensible arms race for dominance in military AI,17 the United States, China, and Russia, among other states with advanced militaries, are all keeping a close eye on who is enhancing their fighting forces and how.18 If human enhancement is the missing link in perfecting human-machine teaming, a race in this arena is perhaps inevitable. Oversights and flaws associated with arms racing then become a cause for concern, especially given that human integrity is on the line.

Third, what kinds of information security concerns does human enhancement create? If service personnel use dual-use computer technologies in the same way as civilians use them, is it possible that this technology could create vulnerabilities and reveal sensitive data?19 Everything that is digitally connected can, in principle, be hacked. What kinds of vulnerabilities will be created by connection of the brain to a computer or by an increased number of networked devices, such as biosensors? How does the mere potential of cyberattacks on wearable or transdermal devices erode trust in the system? How can mass personal data collection and use be done without infringing on privacy?

Finally, who has this technology, and how do they use it? What kinds of interoperability concerns might military human enhancement create between allies? How might an asymmetry between “red” and “blue” forces using this technology impact nuclear stability? On a more philosophical note, if there is an accelerated action chain in a nuclear conflict, can such wars be won?

Averting Nuclear Risk

Notwithstanding the risks that embedding a brain-computer interface into nuclear decision-making could create, some types of enhancements could significantly benefit nuclear stability. It would be alarmist to focus exclusively on the risks created by human augmentation without also highlighting the potential opportunities. Indeed, brain-computer interfaces can provide new ways of accessing vast amounts of information and new ways of communication if human judgment is not sidelined in the process.

One significant opportunity created by military human enhancement relates to minimizing the risk of accidents. Nuclear weapons duty is known to be conducive to serious behavioral problems due to isolation, monotony, and confinement. During emergencies, sleep deprivation and heavy responsibilities may cause inaccuracy in judgment, hostility, or paranoia.20 In a prolonged nuclear alert, missile crews have reported visual hallucinations, balance disturbances, slowed movements, and lack of vigilance. The advantages of biosensors and bioinformatics to identify, predict, and treat such symptoms or at least give operators a break when needed could minimize the likelihood of nuclear war as a result of miscalculation, misunderstanding, or misperception. Indeed, evidence suggests that the world has been lucky, given the number of instances in which nuclear weapons could have been used inadvertently as a result of miscalculation or error.21 Future research should examine historical cases of nuclear near use and determine whether human augmentation could have minimized the likelihood of these disturbingly close calls. Meanwhile, bioinformatics could play a key role in identifying commanders and staff with the right cognitive and adaptive potential for command and control roles.22

There are also indications that biosensors could assist in the detection of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents embedded in smart clothing;23 better identify signs of nuclear activities,24 including weapons development; monitor and respond to radiation, including proposing treatment options in response to nuclear fallout;25 and prevent the illegal transportation and transfer of nuclear materials.26 This is not an exhaustive list; there are certainly other unforeseeable ways in which human augmentation will be relevant to the nuclear order, nuclear disarmament, and nuclear policy.

As is the case with all emerging technologies, there are risks and opportunities related to human augmentation and nuclear decision-making. On the one hand, human augmentation could minimize the risk of accidents and enable better human-machine teaming. On the other hand, there are profound legal, ethical, information security, and personnel-related questions that are overdue for rigorous examination. More research programs should consider how to mitigate the risks associated with human enhancement technologies, while remaining cognizant of their potential benefits. Ultimately, the question is, What is the value of a few additional seconds or minutes in the nuclear decision-making process, and are the trade-offs worthwhile?

Fortunately, the world is still some distance from a future of ubiquitous human augmentation, and the hype that suggests otherwise must be met with skepticism. Even so, human augmentation and nuclear decision-making have long been bedfellows; and the changing nature of war in the 21st century demands that all citizens, not just political and military leaders and technology experts, think deeply about what new risks and opportunities this intersection could unleash.



1. UK Ministry of Defence, “Human Augmentation—The Dawn of a New Paradigm,” May 2021, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/986301/Human_Augmentation_SIP_access2.pdf.

2. Ibid.

3. Norman Ohler, Blitzed (New York: Penguin, 2017).

4. UK Ministry of Defence, “Human Augmentation.”

5. Elsa B. Kania and Wilson VornDick, “China’s Military Biotech Frontier: CRISPR, Military-Civil Fusion, and the New Revolution in Military Affairs,” China Brief, Vol. 19, No. 18 (October 8, 2019), https://jamestown.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Read-the-10-08-2019-CB-Issue-in-PDF2.pdf.

6. Pierre Bourgois, “‘Yes to Iron Man, No to Spiderman!’ A New Framework for the Enhanced Soldier Brought by the Report From the Defense Ethics Committee in France,” IRSEM Strategic Brief, No. 18 (February 24, 2021), https://www.irsem.fr/media/5-publications/breves-strategiques-strategic-briefs/sb-18-bourgois.pdf.

7. U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), “DARPA and the Brain Initiative,” n.d., https://www.darpa.mil/program/our-research/darpa-and-the-brain-initiative (accessed February 13, 2022).

8. Emily Waltz, “How Do Neural Implants Work?” IEEE Spectrum, January 20, 2020, https://spectrum.ieee.org/what-is-neural-implant-neuromodulation-brain-implants-electroceuticals-neuralink-definition-examples.

9. NATO Science & Technology Organization, “Science & Technology Trends 2020–2040: Exploring the S&T Edge,” March 2020, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2020/4/pdf/190422-ST_Tech_Trends_Report_2020-2040.pdf.

10. UK Ministry of Defence, “Human Augmentation.”

11. Anika Binnendijk, Timothy Marler, and Elizabeth M. Bartels, “Brain-Computer Interfaces: U.S. Military Applications and Implications,” RAND Corp., RR-2996-RC, 2020, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR2900/RR2996/RAND_RR2996.pdf.

12. Ibid.

13. Dave Merrill, Nafeesa Syeed, and Brittany Harris, “To Launch a Nuclear Strike, President Trump Would Take These Steps,” Bloomberg, January 20, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/graphics/2016-nuclear-weapon-launch/.

14. Olivier Schmitt, “Wartime Paradigms and the Future of Western Military Power,” International Affairs, Vol. 96, No. 2 (March 2020): 401–418, https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiaa005.

15. Sarah Grand-Clement et al., “Evaluation of the Ex-Service Personnel in the Criminal Justice System Programme,” RAND Corp., RR-A624-1, 2020, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RRA600/RRA624-1/RAND_RRA624-1.pdf.

16. Yusef Paolo Rabiah, “From Bioweapons to Super Soldiers: How the UK Is Joining the Genomic Technology Arms Race,” The Conversation, April 29, 2021, https://theconversation.com/from-bioweapons-to-super-soldiers-how-the-uk-is-joining-the-genomic-technology-arms-race-159889.

17. Richard Walker, “Germany Warns: AI Arms Race Already Underway,” Deutsche Welle, June 7, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/artificial-intelligence-cyber-warfare-drones-future/a-57769444.

18. Thom Poole, “The Myth and Reality of the Super Soldier,” BBC News, February 8, 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-55905354.

19. Alex Hern, “Fitness Tracking App Strava Gives Away Location of Secret US Army Bases,” The Guardian, January 28, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/28/fitness-tracking-app-gives-away-location-of-secret-us-army-bases.

20. A.W. Black, “Psychiatric Illness in Military Aircrew,” Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 54, No. 7 (July 1983): 595-598.

21. Patricia Lewis, Benoît Pelopidas, and Heather Williams, “Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy,” Chatham House, April 28, 2014, https://www.chathamhouse.org/2014/04/too-close-comfort-cases-near-nuclear-use-and-options-policy.

22. UK Ministry of Defence, “Human Augmentation.”

23. Richard Ozanich, “Chem/Bio Wearable Sensors: Current and Future Direction,” Pure and Applied Chemistry, Vol. 90, No. 10 (June 12, 2018), https://doi.org/10.1515/pac-2018-0105.

24. “New Biosensor Could Help Search for Nuclear Activity,” CBRNE Central, February 22, 2017, https://cbrnecentral.com/new-biosensor-could-help-search-for-nuclear-activity/10601/.

25. M. Gray et al., “Implantable Biosensors and Their Contribution to the Future of Precision Medicine,” The Veterinary Journal, Vol. 239 (September 2018), pp. 21–29, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tvjl.2018.07.011.

26. Thamir A.A. Hassan, “Development of Nanosensors in Nuclear Technology,” AIP Conference Proceedings, Vol. 1799, No. 1 (January 6, 2017), https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4972925.

Marina Favaro is a research fellow at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, focusing on the impact of emerging technologies on international stability and human security. Elke Schwarz is a senior lecturer in political theory at Queen Mary University of London, focusing on the political and ethical implications of new technologies.

Brain-interface technologies could greatly augment human capabilities and even create “super soldiers.” If they shorten decision-making time, what is the impact on nuclear stability?

Putin Orders Russian Nuclear Weapons on Higher Alert

March 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Amid a full-scale military assault on Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his country’s nuclear forces to move to the heightened alert status of a “special regime of combat duty,” further escalating a catastrophic war in Europe and upending international stability and nuclear arms control and disarmament.

Damage to the upper floors of a high-rise building in Kyiv on Feb. 26 after it was reported to have been struck by a Russian rocket. (Photo by Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)“Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly economic actions against our country, but leaders of major NATO countries are making aggressive statements about our country,” Putin said on Feb. 27 during a meeting with defense officials. “So, I order to move Russia’s deterrence forces to a special regime of combat duty.”

Belarus, Russia’s client-state, followed up by agreeing to abandon its status as a non-nuclear weapon country and reaffirming its offer to host Russian tactical nuclear weapons on its territory.

Asked at a press conference at the United Nations on Feb. 28 if there is a scenario under which Russia would use nuclear weapons, Russia's UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, replied, "On the use of nuclear weapons, god forbid it." He said Moscow was exercising “a kind of deterrence.”

Although Putin’s decision raised the risk of nuclear weapons confrontation, it was not entirely unexpected given that a few days earlier the Russian leader threatened any country that tries to interfere in Ukraine with consequences “such as you have never seen in your entire history.”

The United States and NATO immediately criticized Moscow’s move, but their response was measured and there was no indication that the status of U.S. and NATO nuclear forces would mirror Russia.

“This is really a pattern that we’ve seen from President Putin through the course of this conflict, which is manufacturing threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Feb. 27. “At no point has Russia been under threat from NATO [or] has Russia been under threat from Ukraine.”

“This is dangerous rhetoric,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said of Putin. “This is a behavior which is irresponsible.”

It was not immediately evident exactly what changes to Russian nuclear forces and command and control systems Putin had demanded. One senior U.S. defense official cautioned that although there is “no reason to doubt the validity of this order [,]…how it’s manifested itself I don’t think is completely clear yet.”

Putin’s move to place Russian nuclear forces on a higher alert occurred in the early days of Moscow’s invasion. During an address on Feb. 24, Putin stated that Russia will undertake “a special military operation” in Ukraine. Soon after, Russian military forces launched deadly missile attacks and invaded the country from southern Belarus, western Russia, and Crimea, a part of Ukraine that Putin occupied in 2014. By Feb. 25, they had reached the capital Kyiv.

“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in response.

A senior U.S. defense official said on Feb. 24 that “this is just an initial phase” of the invasion and the Pentagon believes Moscow has “every intention of basically decapitating the [Ukrainian] government and installing their own method of governance.”

Putin attempted to justify his military operation by repeating longtime grievances, such as NATO’s expansion eastward, and by falsely claiming that Ukraine has plans to build nuclear weapons or obtain them from the United States.

Under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security assurances that there would be no threats or use of force against its territory or political independence. Washington has repeatedly rebutted claims that it would base nuclear weapons in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member state.

The attacks began after Putin signed executive orders on Feb. 21 recognizing the two Russian-controlled Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent and ordering forces into the regions to perform “peacekeeping functions.”

The invasion was preceded by weeks of feverish diplomacy, including an exchange of security proposals that experts believe eventually could be a basis for negotiation. Russia initiated the exchange on Dec. 15 with proposals related to arms control, risk reduction, and transparency. (See ACT, January/February 2022.) The United States and NATO put forward their respective counterproposals on Jan. 26. Russia responded to the U.S. proposals but has yet to comment on NATO’s package.

Among the various competing ideas, those with the most promise related to crafting a new agreement similar to the now-defunct 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, negotiating a follow-on to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), and establishing risk reduction and transparency measures, such as hotlines.

In a Russian security council meeting with Putin on Feb. 21, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there were small “openings” for progress on some of the security proposals. But Moscow has insisted its main priority is blocking the further eastward expansion of NATO. The United States and NATO consider prohibiting Ukraine from joining the alliance a nonstarter, even though such membership is unlikely anytime soon.

Responding to the U.S. proposal on Feb. 17, the Kremlin emphasized that “Russia’s proposal is a package deal and should be considered in its entirety, not item by item.”

In 2014, Putin seized the Crimean Peninsula and deployed forces to eastern Ukraine. By ordering the latest invasion with the goal of toppling the government in Kyiv, Putin likely slashed any near-term prospects for new arms control and disarmament arrangements to follow New START, which expires in 2026.

The massive assault included successfully capturing the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where a nuclear reactor exploded in 1986, contaminating areas in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. “Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated,” tweeted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, just hours before Russian forces took the plant.

Cheryl Rofer, a former nuclear scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, cautioned that, “for those imagining more lurid scenarios, the dangerous material lies deep under the concreted-in reactor in a solid radioactive mass. [It is] hard to reach, and explosions are not effective in dispersing that kind
of material.”

In the lead-up to the assault on Ukraine, Russia held 10 days of military exercises in Belarus, which included sending an estimated 30,000 troops to the country, and followed up by conducting its annual strategic nuclear exercises, dubbed Grom 2022, on Feb. 19, which featured intercontinental ballistic missiles and hypersonic weapons. At the time, U.S. officials estimated that Moscow had deployed approximately 160,000–190,000 troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Biden last spoke with Putin for about an hour on Feb. 12. “The call between the two presidents was professional and substantive,” a senior administration official told reporters afterward. But “there was no fundamental change in the dynamic that has been unfolding now for several weeks.”

Biden had agreed “in principle” to an in-person meeting with Putin, brokered by France, but it was cancelled because of the invasion. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also cancelled a planned meeting with Lavrov on Feb. 24 in Geneva.

France, Germany, and Ukraine attempted to engage Russia in the so-called Normandy format over a potential revival of the 2015 political deal dubbed Minsk II. The four countries first met Jan. 26 in Paris and then Feb. 10 in Berlin, but to no avail.

Other diplomatic engagements have included a special session of the U.S.-Russian strategic stability dialogue on Jan. 10 in Geneva to discuss Moscow’s initial proposals from December. U.S. and Russian officials emphasized that only some of the issues under discussion coincided with the purview of the dialogue, which was previously held in July and September after Biden and Putin revived it in June 2021.

On Feb. 26, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that Washington will not proceed with the dialogue under the current circumstances.

Although the specific effect of the order is unclear, it escalates a catastrophic war and upends international stability and nuclear arms control and disarmament.

Russia, U.S., NATO Security Proposals

March 2022

Prior to Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement in February 2022 that Russia would recognize the two Russian-controlled Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine as independent and his decision to order his military forces into Ukraine, Russia and the United States/NATO exchanged written security and arms control proposals. Russia initiated the exchange in December 2021 with proposals related to arms control, risk reduction, and transparency. The United States and NATO put forward their respective counterproposals in January 2022. The following is a side-by-side summary of the various proposals.

Russian Proposals on Security Guarantees to the United States and NATO, Dec. 15, 2021 U.S. and NATO Responses to Russia, Jan. 26, 2022
Arms Control, Risk Reduction, and Transparency

Parties shall not deploy ground-launched, intermediate- and short-range missiles either outside their national territories or inside their national territories from which the missiles can strike the national territory of the other party.

The United States is prepared to begin discussions on arms control for ground-based intermediate- and short-range missiles and their launchers. NATO calls for Russia to engage with the United States on these discussions.

The United States is prepared to discuss transparency measures to confirm the absence of Tomahawk cruise missiles at Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland, so long as Russia provides reciprocal transparency measures on two ground-launched missile bases of U.S. choosing in Russia.

No similar articles.

The United States proposes to begin discussions immediately on follow-on measures to New START, including on how future arms control would cover all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons (strategic and non-strategic, deployed and non-deployed) and new kinds of nuclear-armed intercontinental-range delivery vehicles. NATO calls for Russia to engage with the United States on these discussions.

NATO calls for all states to recommit to their international arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation obligations and commitments, such as toward the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention. NATO calls for Russia to resume implementation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty.

NATO is ready to consult on ways to reduce threats to space systems and to promote a free and peaceful cyberspace.

Sources: Article 6, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Article 5, Russia Proposal to NATO; Pages 3 and 4, U.S. Response to Russia; Article 9, NATO Response to Russia
Nuclear and Conventional Forces Posture

Parties shall not deploy nuclear weapons outside their national territories and shall destroy all existing infrastructure for deployment of nuclear weapons outside of their national territories.

Parties shall not train military and civilian personnel from non-nuclear countries to use nuclear weapons or conduct exercises that include scenarios involving the use of nuclear weapons.

The United States and NATO are prepared to discuss areas of disagreement between NATO and Russia on U.S. and NATO force posture, including possibly the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, and discuss conventional forces concerns, including enhanced transparency and risk reduction through the Vienna Document.

NATO is prepared to discuss holding reciprocal briefings on Russia's and NATO's nuclear policies.

Sources: Article 7, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Article 4, Russia Proposal to NATO; Page 3, U.S. Response to Russia; Article 9, NATO Response to Russia
NATO-Russia Relations

Parties reaffirm that they do not consider each other as adversaries.

Parties shall not undertake actions, participate in activities, or implement security measures that undermine the security interests of the other party. Parties shall not use the territories of other states to execute an armed attack against the other party.

Parties shall settle all international disputes by peaceful rather than forceful means. Parties shall use fora such as the NATO-Russia Council to address issues or settle problems. Parties shall establish telephone hotlines.

NATO poses no threat to Russia.

NATO believes that tensions and disagreements must be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, rather than through the threat or use of force. NATO calls for Russia's immediate de-escalation around Ukraine. 

NATO supports re-establishing NATO and Russian mutual presence in Moscow and Brussels and establishing a civilian telephone hotline.

Sources: Articles 1 and 3, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Articles 1, 2, and 3, Russia Proposal to NATO; Articles 1, 2, and 7, NATO Response to Russia
NATO Expansion

All NATO member states shall commit to prohibit any further NATO expansion, to include denying the accession of Ukraine. The United States shall not establish military bases in or develop bilateral military cooperation with former USSR states who are not part of NATO. 

The United States and NATO are committed to supporting NATO's open door policy. The United States is willing to discuss reciprocal transparency measures and commitments by both the United States and Russia to not deploy offensive ground-launched missile systems and permanent combat forces in Ukraine.

Sources: Article 4, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Article 6, Russia Proposal to NATO; Pages 1 and 2, U.S. Response to Russia; Article 8, NATO Response to Russia
Military Maneuvers and Exercises 

Parties shall regularly inform each other about military exercises and main provisions of their military doctrines.

Parties shall not deploy armed forces in areas where the deployment could be perceived by the other party as a threat to its national security (except when the deployment is within the national territories of the parties).

Parties shall not fly heavy bombers (whether nuclear or non-nuclear) or deploy surface warships in areas outside national airspace and national territorial waters where they can strike targets in the territory of the other party. 

Parties shall maintain dialogue to prevent dangerous military activities at sea.

NATO calls for Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.

The United States is prepared to discuss confidence building measures regarding ground-based military exercises in Europe (to include modernization of the Vienna Document) and to explore an enhanced exercise notification regime and nuclear risk reduction measures (including strategic nuclear bomber platforms).

The United States and NATO are prepared to explore measures to prevent incidents at sea and in the air (to include discussing enhancements in the Incidents at Sea Agreement and the Vienna Document).

Sources: Article 5, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Articles 2, 3, and 7, Russia Proposal to NATO; Pages 2 and 3, U.S. Response to Russia; Articles 8 and 9, NATO Response to Russia
Reaffirmation of UN Charter

Parties shall ensure that all international organizations or military alliances in which at least one party participates adhere to the principles contained in the United Nations Charter. 

NATO remains committed to the fundamental principles and agreements underpinning European security, including the United Nations Charter.

Sources: Article 2, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Article 8, Russia Proposal to NATO; Article 3, NATO Response to Russia


A chart outlining proposals put forward by the three parties to resolve differences over Ukraine and European security.

Iran Nuclear Deal Hangs in the Balance

March 2022
By Julia Masterson

The United States and Iran are “potentially within days” of reaching an agreement to restore mutual compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Feb. 23. Negotiations in Vienna have made “significant progress” but some issues are still unresolved and “there’s very little time remaining to reach a deal given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances,” she told a press briefing.

As negotiations on reviving the Iran nuclear deal intensified, Rafael Mariano Grossi (R), director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), held talks with Ali Bagheri Kani, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, at IAEA headquarters in Vienna on Feb. 15. (Photo by Dean Calma/IAEA)The negotiators have produced a 20-page document with appendixes on sanctions, nuclear commitments, and implementation of the restored agreement, including sequencing and verification, according to an unnamed Iranian source in Tehran. That source, quoted by the website Amwaj.media on Feb. 15, said the document reflects “the whole deal,” but is still under negotiation.

Philippe Errera, France’s lead negotiator in Vienna, on Feb. 23 tweeted a photo of the apparent draft under consideration with the words “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” written across the top of the page.

Disagreements between Iran and the other negotiating parties (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) continue to slow the talks, which are aimed at restoring U.S. and Iranian compliance with the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Both sides appear to remain divided over issues of scope and verification, as Tehran is demanding broader relief from U.S. sanctions than Washington is willing to offer, and a formal guarantee against a future U.S. withdrawal from the accord. Even so, pressure is growing for a resolution because of Iran’s continued nuclear advancements, which could soon render it impossible to recapture some of the nonproliferation benefits envisaged by the JCPOA.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price warned on Feb. 14 that “at the current rate of Iran’s nuclear advancements, we have little time left, and that’s precisely because at a certain point very soon those nuclear advances will obviate the advantages that the JCPOA, as it was finalized in 2015 and implemented in 2016, initially conveyed.” The deal imposed a series of limitations on Iran’s nuclear activities that shrank its nuclear program and lengthened the time it would take for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched uranium-235 for one nuclear bomb. “Time is very quickly ticking away,” Price added, as Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile continues to grow.

Negotiations to restore the deal began in April 2021, almost three years after U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the accord. Iran began to breach the deal’s limits in May 2019, and now, its nuclear program is larger and more sophisticated than it was before the nuclear deal was implemented. If talks succeed in restoring the accord, Iran will revert to the JCPOA’s limits in exchange for the United States recommitting to the deal and lifting certain sanctions.

The United States and Iran have yet to meet face to face in Vienna, but each has taken provisional steps toward compliance with the accord that could be perceived as a tacit concession to the other side.

According to an unreleased report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran informed the agency on Jan. 19 of its intent to close the Karaj centrifuge component manufacturing workshop in favor of a different facility. The Karaj workshop, which was the subject of a months-long impasse over access between Iran and the IAEA that threatened to upend JCPOA negotiations, is now closed, according to the agency. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

The United States, for its part, moved on Feb. 4 to reinstate nonproliferation waivers that were mandated by the JCPOA but were lifted after the United States withdrew from the deal. As a result, cooperative nonproliferation projects can resume in Iran without penalty of sanctions. The waivers will “facilitate discussions that would help to close a deal on a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and lay the groundwork for Iran’s return to the performance of its JCPOA commitments,” the State Department wrote in its report to Congress.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the coordinator of the JCPOA, said, “I strongly believe an agreement is in sight” after a Feb. 14 phone call with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. “The moment has come to make an ultimate effort and reach a compromise,” he added.

But, several challenges remain. Tehran has called repeatedly for the “total lifting” of U.S. sanctions on Iran, including those imposed on its ballistic missile programs and other military activities. The Biden administration has said it is only willing to revoke the sanctions that were lifted when the JCPOA was implemented and reimposed when the United States withdrew from the accord.

Yet an anonymous congressional aide cited by The Washington Post on Feb. 23 remarked, “Right now, there are enough changes in the draft deal that the administration is expected to declare that the new agreement is subject to INARA,” the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which authorized the U.S. Treasury Department to lift sanctions when the deal was first implemented. The aide’s assessment suggests the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iran beyond those prescribed by the 2015 JCPOA could be up for consideration.

A source close to Iran’s negotiating team told reporters on Feb. 8 that Tehran had made a political decision presumably to return to compliance with the JCPOA and that Washington should follow suit. In a phone call to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Feb. 8, Amirabdollahian said the United States “needs to make a decision on lifting sanctions [and] show significant distance from [the] failed policies” of the Trump administration.

Iran insists that the Biden administration verify that the sanctions are lifted by providing a guarantee that the United States will not again withdraw from the accord under a future administration, as Trump did in 2018. Amirabdollahian told The Financial Times on Feb. 16 that, “as a matter of principle, public opinion in Iran cannot accept as a guarantee the words of head of state, let alone the United States, due to the withdrawal of Americans from the JCPOA.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Feb. 21 that if the United States cannot offer a political guarantee against withdrawal, Iran will accept an “inherent guarantee.” He suggested that means Iran will promptly begin to breach the JCPOA if the United States again withdraws and reimposes sanctions in the future.

Despite progress in Vienna, Iran’s lead negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani tweeted on Feb. 24, “No matter how close we get to the finish line, there is not necessarily a guarantee to cross it.”

Although some issues remain, negotiators seeking to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal say they are near agreement.

Experts Discover North Korean ICBM Base

March 2022
By Julia Masterson

The discovery of what is likely a new North Korean base for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is further evidence of the country’s expanding military capabilities and is heightening concerns that Pyongyang could soon end its moratorium on ICBM testing.

Located 338 kilometers north of the demilitarized zone and only 25 kilometers from the Chinese border in Chagang Province, the Hoejung-ni missile operating base will likely house a regiment-sized unit equipped with North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported in February. (Photo by Maxar Technologies)


The Hoejung-ni missile operating base is underground and just 15 miles from the Chinese border, a location that analysts surmise was chosen to deter preemptive strikes by the United States and other adversaries. A strike against the base would invariably affect Chinese entities, said Victor Cha, one of the analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who publicly identified the location in a Feb. 7 report.

They wrote that “[t]he Hoejung-ni missile operating base will, according to informed sources, likely house a regiment-sized unit equipped with [ICBMs].”

“[S]hould operational ICBMs not become available in the near term, it is likely that intermediate-range ballistic missiles will be deployed,” the experts added.

North Korea has not tested an ICBM since November 2017, but it launched the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile in January 2022, marking its first longer-range missile test in more than four years. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un imposed a long-range missile testing moratorium in April 2018, when he said that “we no longer need any nuclear test or test launches of intermediate- and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.”

In all, North Korea conducted eight missile tests this year, prompting the United States to strengthen its sanctions and press the United Nations for increased international sanctions against Pyongyang. All except the Hwasong-12 were shorter-range missiles.

Reacting to what he called U.S. “hostile policy,” Kim announced via state-run media on Jan. 20 that Pyongyang would consider “restarting all temporarily suspended activities,” which include nuclear and ICBM tests. He warned that the military threat by the United States has reached “a danger line that cannot be overlooked.” In a Feb. 9 statement, the North Korean Foreign Ministry further boasted that North Korea can “[fire] a missile with the U.S. mainland in its range” and highlighted the “remarkable achievements” of the missile tests conducted in January.

Among those missiles tested were purported hypersonic glide vehicles, which North Korea launched on Jan. 5 and Jan. 11. North Korea claimed the tests involved hypersonic glide vehicles, which travel more than five times the speed of sound and feature an advanced maneuverable glide vehicle atop a ballistic missile that is capable of evading enemy defenses. But analysts at 38 North assessed on Jan. 18 that, in both instances, Pyongyang instead tested a maneuvering reentry vehicle, which, although still traveling at hypersonic speed, is less technically advanced than a hypersonic glide vehicle.

Maneuverable reentry vehicles operate in a functionally similar way to hypersonic glide vehicles and are designed specifically to evade ballistic missile defenses by shifting trajectories midflight.

North Korea’s advancing capability with maneuverable reentry vehicles could further destabilize regional security by posing serious challenges to U.S. missile defenses in East Asia.

North Korea claims to have tested a hypersonic glide vehicle once before, in September 2021.

Responding to North Korea’s Jan. 5 test, South Korea disputed the claim that it involved a hypersonic glide vehicle and argued that Pyongyang had not acquired the technology or mastered the capability to launch such a weapon.

Instead, the South Korean Defense Ministry asserted that the test involved a ballistic missile that could be intercepted by U.S. and South Korean missile defenses. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command issued a statement on Jan. 5 reaffirming that “the U.S. commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.”

Sung Kim, the U.S. envoy for North Korea, discussed North Korea’s escalatory missile tests with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, Noh Kyu-duk and Funakoshi Takehiro, respectively, in Hawaii on Feb. 10–15.

The newly-identified base for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles is viewed as a sign of North Korea’s expanding military capabilities.

Pentagon to Speed Development of Hypersonic Weapons

March 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hosted more than a dozen hypersonics industry executives in February as a demonstration of the Pentagon’s commitment to quicken the development of hypersonic weapons systems, which the department considers a technology priority as it races to keep pace with China and Russia.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, shown here on a trip to Poland, gathered executives from the hypersonics weapons industry at the Pentagon on Feb. 3 to emphasize the U.S. commitment to speed development of hypersonic weapons.  (Photo by Chad McNeeley/Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs)During the Feb. 3 meeting, Austin “noted the need for persistent dialogue in order to meet the department’s current and future capabilities requirements for defensive and offensive capabilities,” according to a Pentagon statement released afterward.

Politico reported on Jan. 26 that plans for the meeting came together after the military services submitted fiscal year 2023 budget proposals that Austin deemed inadequate for speeding up the development and deployment of hypersonic weapons systems, which China and Russia have already begun to field.

Officially, the executive roundtable was part of a series of engagements focused on the Pentagon’s critical technology development areas, including hypersonics, that Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, revealed in a Feb. 1 memo. She highlighted three groups of 14 technology areas and announced that she will craft a new national defense science and technology strategy, which will be influenced by the yet-to-be-released 2022 National Defense Strategy.

“By focusing efforts and investments into these 14 critical technology areas, the department will accelerate transitioning key capabilities to the military services and combatant commands,” wrote Shyu, who stressed the need for this transition of technology from invention to fielding to occur “more swiftly.”

In the defense-specific category, Shyu listed hypersonics, noting that “strategic competitors,” namely China and Russia, have already deployed such capabilities and declaring that the Pentagon “will develop leap-ahead and cost-effective technologies for our air, land, and sea operational forces.”

Shyu’s 14 critical technology areas broadly overlap with the 19 items on the National Science and Technology Council’s critical and emerging technologies list, released on Feb. 7. That list was released by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and was intended to identify the advanced technologies relevant to U.S. national security and inform efforts promoting U.S. technological leadership.

This top-level push for a reinvigorated focus on hypersonic weapons systems at the Defense Department comes even as there remain unanswered questions, acknowledged by officials, about the overall cost, mission, and required quantity of U.S. hypersonic weapons.

Shyu noted on Jan. 13 that the current price tag for hypersonic capabilities is high, but said that it could come down with automation and higher production quantities.

The Pentagon has not publicized the exact number of hypersonic glide vehicles and cruise missiles it wants to acquire, although Gillian Bussey, director of the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office, called for higher quantities on Feb. 8.

Possessing hypersonic weapons “isn’t going to make a difference unless we have sufficient quantities,” Bussey said. “Having a dozen hypersonic missiles, regardless of whether they’re really hypersonic or not, isn’t going to scare anyone.”

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall cautioned in January that the United States must “be careful about not mirror-imaging the potential threats.” In other words, he does not see a need to match China and Russia one for one. Rather, Kendall said, “we have to look very carefully at the targets that we’re interested in and at the most cost-effective way to deal with [them].”

Details on the exact targets and missions envisioned remain scarce.

“What missions would [hypersonic weapons] perform? Against what types of targets? In what geographic setting?” asked Tom Mahnken, president at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in a Jan. 26 Politico article. “Answers to questions such as these would go a long way toward determining how many hypersonic weapons we need to buy and of what type.”

The Feb. 3 industry roundtable was chaired by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and attended by Shyu. Among the companies invited were Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, L3Harris, and BAE Systems.

According to a Feb. 4 report by Breaking Defense, two major concerns expressed by the executives were the effects of the existing continuing resolution on the fiscal year 2022 budget and the lack of infrastructure for hypersonic weapons testing, such as wind tunnels.

Although Congress passed the 2022 defense authorization bill in December, it has yet to adopt the relevant appropriations bills, which would actually make funding available, and instead passed stopgap continuing resolutions through March 11. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

Regarding hypersonics testing, “[P]articipants identified a need to expand access to modeling capabilities and testing facilities in order to adopt a ‘test often, fail fast, and learn’ approach which will accelerate the fielding of hypersonic and counter-hypersonic systems,” according to the Pentagon statement.

This testing concern voiced by hypersonics industry executives echoed a finding in a Jan. 27 report by the Pentagon’s testing and evaluation office that the department does not have enough open space on its missile test ranges to test hypersonic weapons. Bloomberg first reported on this finding Feb. 3 after obtaining the nonpublic version of the report, as the public version excluded that information.

Test ranges across the country are projected to face an overwhelming increase in demand of more than 50 percent by 2025 unless they are expanded, the report stated.

The public version of the report did acknowledge that the test schedule for the Air Force’s hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system, “could be delayed due to the limited number and availability of hypersonic flight corridors, target areas, and test support assets.” These limited assets, the report said, “will not allow a standard assessment for operational effectiveness, lethality, suitability, and survivability.”

The ARRW system failed three flight booster tests, in April, July, and December 2021, and is slated to achieve an initial operating capability this fiscal year. (See ACT, January/February 2022.) The Air Force could still stick to this timeline and start production this year, said Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force program executive officer for weapons, in a Jan. 13 interview with Breaking Defense. But “it is dependent on resolution of the failure [in December] and executing the rest of the test program up through all-up-round [testing],” he cautioned.

The ARRW system must successfully complete booster and all-up-round test flights before a contract is awarded to manufacturer Lockheed Martin to kick-start production.

The nonpublic version of the Pentagon’s testing report also highlighted concerns with hypersonic missile defense. The Defense Department cannot sufficiently simulate the threat from an incoming hypersonic weapon and therefore “needs to continue to pursue the representation of these environments in model and simulation and live fire testing,” the report said.

The lack of the necessary 2022 defense appropriations bill has also impeded the Pentagon’s plans for hypersonic missile defense, according to Vice Adm. Jon Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

“We live in a world right now where we don’t have current year appropriations, and we also don’t have insight into the following year’s topline. Unfortunately, that throttles this program,” Hill said, referring to the Glide Phase Interceptor, a hypersonic missile intended to destroy an adversary’s hypersonic weapon in its glide phase. The MDA awarded contracts to three companies in November to develop prototypes for this interceptor. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

In a related development, Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Jan. 6 a new agreement with Japan aimed at fostering greater collaboration on research and development of emerging technologies, to include counterhypersonic technologies.

“We’re launching a new research and development agreement that will make it easier for our scientists, for our engineers, and program managers to collaborate on emerging defense-related issues, from countering hypersonic threats to advancing space-based capabilities,” Blinken said.

The announcement came a day after North Korea claimed it had tested a hypersonic glide vehicle and followed reports in October that China allegedly had tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle that could circle the globe.

Defense leaders are concerned the U.S. program is insufficient to keep up with China and Russia.

OPCW Confirms Two Chemical Incidents in Syria

March 2022
By Leanne Quinn

The international chemical weapons watchdog agency has confirmed two occasions of chemical weapons use in Syria, in 2015 and 2016. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission concluded in two recent reports that a blister agent and industrial chlorine were used as chemical weapons during the two attacks in Syria’s ongoing civil war.

A protection mask used by experts with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a UN agency that for two decades has been central to eliminating the world's toxic arms stockpiles. (Photo by John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)Established in 2014, the mission has a mandate to determine whether chemical weapons or toxic chemicals have been used as weapons in Syria. It is not permitted to identify who is responsible for the incidents.

After an extensive investigation of environmental samples, digital evidence, and witness interviews, the mission concluded in its Jan. 26 report that a blister agent from Schedule 1.A.04 of the Chemical Weapons Convention was used as a weapon in Marea, Syria, on Sept. 1, 2015. According to testimonials from victims and medical staff, approximately 50 individuals developed symptoms indicative of exposure to a blister agent during the attack.

A second incident in Marea on Sept. 3, 2015, was also investigated, but insufficient evidence prevented the mission from reaching a conclusion about whether chemical agents were used as a weapon.

In its Feb. 1 report, the mission concluded that industrial chlorine was used as a chemical weapon on Oct. 1, 2016, in an agricultural field in Kafr Zeita, Syria. As part of its investigation, the OPCW obtained an industrial chlorine cylinder “from the location of the incident and was able to link it” to use in October 2016. Through laboratory analysis and digital simulations, the mission concluded that the “cylinder ruptured as a result of mechanical force and released a toxic irritant substance.”

The report said that approximately 20 individuals suffered from suffocation and breathing difficulties as a result of the chemical incident.

Although the reports do not attribute blame for the attacks, previous reports by the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) about similar incidents that occurred around the same time as the Marea and Kafr Zeita chemical attacks provide some additional context.

Established in 2015, the JIM was an independent body tasked with identifying the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks confirmed by fact-finding missions. In 2016 the JIM released a report that determined that the Islamic State group was responsible for an Aug. 21, 2015, sulfur mustard chemical attack in Marea. The group was also implicated in a separate blister agent chemical attack in Umm Hawsh on Sept. 15 and 16, 2016.

Of the other chemical incidents that the JIM investigated, Syrian armed forces were found responsible for dropping barrel bombs from aircraft that released chlorine gas in Tamenes in April 2014 and Sarmin and Qmenas in March 2015. The Syrian military was also found responsible for dropping munitions that released sarin gas in Khan Shaykhun in 2017.

Although no action has been taken by the United States or the OPCW in light of the findings, the results of the two reports are likely to dominate the discussion at the 99th executive council meeting of the OPCW in March.

The attacks occurred in Marea in September 2015 and in Kafr Zeita in October 2016 during the Syrian civil war.

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