“[My time at ACA] prepared me very well for the position that I took following that with the State Department, where I then implemented and helped to implement many of the policies that we tried to promote.”
– Peter Crail
Business Executive for National Security
June 2, 2022
March 2023
Edition Date: 
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
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Russia Refuses Annual Vienna Document Data Exchange

March 2023
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

Russia has reneged on another international commitment by refusing to share data on its military forces with 57 participating states as called for in the Vienna Document, according to a letter obtained by Arms Control Today and a European official.

Foreign ministers representing the 57 participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe discussed regional security challenges created by Russia’s war against Ukraine during its annual meeting in Lodz, Poland, in December. (Photo by Omar Marques/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)The failure to participate in the annual data exchange occurs as Russia is waging an illegal war against Ukraine, suspending its participation in the last treaty limiting Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear weapons and taking other steps to undermine the post-Cold War European security architecture.

Overseen by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Vienna Document is a confidence and security-building mechanism that has allowed the 57 participating states to observe and notify each other about their military exercises and other relevant events to prevent misinterpretation of these activities. It is one the few remaining mechanisms for political and military cooperation in Europe.

Moscow’s decision was first communicated on Jan. 16, 2022, in a letter signed by Konstantin Gavrilov, head of the Russian arms control delegation in Vienna, to Siniša Bencun, the ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the OSCE who at the time also chaired the organization’s Forum for Security and Cooperation.

Gavrilov said that Russia would not provide national information about its armed forces for 2023 as stipulated by Chapter I of the Vienna Document, essentially suspending its participation in the annual exchange that is supposed to be provided each year by Dec. 15.

Russia still has not provided the required data even though the new reporting year has begun, an official from an OSCE participating state told Arms Control Today on condition of anonymity.

In his letter, Gavrilov wrote that the Russian decision “was taken in response to the Czech Republic’s step to suspend the implementation of its commitments under [the Vienna Document] towards Russia and due to Ukraine’s interpretative statement about its refusal to participate in the 2023 [annual information exchange], as well as to send certain routine notifications provided by the Vienna Document.”

“We proceed from the assumption that if the Russian Federation exchanges its national [data] report, it will for sure end up in the hands of the above-mentioned participating states,” he added.

The letter also accused 29 of the participating states, including Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, of not providing certain notifications on time and alleged that the Netherlands excluded Russia from the list of notification recipients. In addition, Russia accused Bulgaria, France, and Poland of not inviting Russian representatives to their military bases.

As of February, 50 participating states provided the required information for 2023, the official from the OSCE participating state said, while Armenia, Mongolia, Poland, and Ukraine, provided information “on delay,” meaning they were late. The remaining two countries, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, have not submitted information for years.

When asked about Russia’s accusations, U.S. State Department spokesperson, Ned Price said in an email on Feb. 28 that, “the United States continues to fully adhere to all of its commitments under the Vienna Document 2011 on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures, including the provision of required notifications and other information to all Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe participating states, among them Russia.”

Price did not specifically address the issue of Russian compliance.

According to Western officials, Russian adherence to the document has long been eroding. As Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu said in August, “the Vienna Document 2011 remains formally in force, but there are no prospects for its practical implementation.”

“In the absence of trust between the parties, the verification mechanism actually becomes a source of intelligence information, which does not meet the spirit of the agreement," he said at the Moscow Conference on International Security.

When Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014, Ukraine requested under Chapter III of the document that the OSCE send unarmed military and civilian personnel to its territory, starting in Odesa, to dispel concerns about military activity. OSCE military assessment personnel were denied entry to Crimea.

In 2021, Ukraine called for a meeting under Chapter III and requested that Russia clarify its military activities as Russian forces were building up near the Ukrainian border. Russia refused to respond to the inquiry and insisted that it had no obligation to do so but accepted a Swiss inspection in the territories of Voronezh and Belgorod.

In early 2022, before launching its full-scale war on Ukraine, Russia announced that it would no longer host visits to verify the data part of the information exchange or inspections of specified areas to observe military activities. It cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason.

Many recent Western proposals for modernizing the Vienna Document have focused on confidence- and security-building measures as a crisis response tool. Because of the deterioration of the European security architecture, efforts after 2014 were also geared toward the prevention of military incidents between NATO allies and Russia. The latest initiative came just before the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine when Western nations offered arms control ideas to build a common security in Europe.

The West has long been concerned about Russian adherence to the Vienna Document. But Moscow’s decision to further cloak its military activities and conventional forces makes the situation worse by signaling a return to full scale strategic ambiguity as its forces and equipment are spent in Ukraine.

Russia has also increased its defense budget and mobilized its defense industry to support its war in Ukraine. On Dec. 21, Russia announced that it planned to carry out in 2023 its large-scale Zapad exercise, which typically takes place every four years and focuses on the Russian Western Military District and Belarus.

Russia has reneged on another international commitment by refusing to share data on its military forces with 57 participating states as called for in the Vienna Document, according to a letter obtained by Arms Control Today and a European official.

Biden, G-7 Must Deliver on Disarmament at Hiroshima

March 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

In this photo taken on August 6, 2021, the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, as it was known before 1945, and now called the Atomic Bomb Dome, is seen through the cenotaph at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima as the city marks the 76th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack. (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)The May 19–21 gathering creates a crucial opportunity for Biden and his counterparts to recognize the horrors of nuclear war and reaffirm the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons while pledging concrete steps to halt the arms race, guard against nuclear weapons use, and advance nuclear disarmament. Anything less would be a failure of leadership at a time of nuclear peril.

To his credit, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida chose Hiroshima, his home city, as the summit venue “to deepen discussions so that we can release a strong message toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.” In addition to the usual G-7 communique, Japan is proposing a separate joint statement on nuclear matters. Kishida told French President Emmanuel Macron in January that the leaders must “demonstrate a firm commitment to absolutely reject the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

To do so, the G-7 statement should not only reaffirm that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” but also reiterate the powerful Nov. 16 statement by the Group of 20 countries that nuclear weapons use and threats of nuclear use are “inadmissible.” Agreement on such a statement may not be easy because all G-7 states, including host Japan, cling to nuclear deterrence strategies that depend on the threat of nuclear weapons use.

To be credible, the G-7 leaders also should pledge to follow through on their countries’ own, largely unrealized nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Article VI-related disarmament commitments, including to reduce the role, salience, and number of nuclear weapons. NPT obligations and commitments cannot be voided or delayed indefinitely.

In fact, pursuing disarmament is vital to preventing the international security environment from deteriorating further. With the last remaining Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control agreement expiring in 2026, the G-7 must urge the prompt resumption of talks to restore inspections under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and a new nuclear arms control framework.

To more effectively encourage China to exercise nuclear restraint, Biden and the rest of the G-7 should pledge not to support the development of new types of nuclear weapons, including U.S. sea-based nuclear-armed cruise missiles that Biden opposes but some U.S. and Japanese politicians claim are needed to counter China. Biden also should recognize China’s important role in strengthening the fragile nuclear order and invite President Xi Jinping to explore how the two nations can partner to address common nuclear nonproliferation challenges, including North Korea, and disarmament responsibilities.

In response to appeals from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to engage their local communities to understand the reality of nuclear war, Japanese government sources say arrangements are being made for the G-7 leaders to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which U.S. President Barack Obama toured in 2016.

Any U.S. presidential visit to Hiroshima is symbolically and politically important. Serious reflection and engagement with atomic bombing and testing survivors should be a job requirement for the leader of any nuclear-armed state. The G-7 would be smart to acknowledge the harm of the U.S. atomic bombings in 1945, as well as the environmental damage created by the nuclear weapons production and testing activities by all nuclear-weapon states, and to reaffirm their obligation to fully address these devastating impacts.

Biden, who pledged in 2020 to “restore American leadership on arms control and nonproliferation…and work to bring us closer to a world without nuclear weapons,” must provide even bolder leadership. In addition to supporting the strongest possible G-7 statement, joining other leaders at the museum, and laying a wreath in honor of those who perished from the atomic bombings, Biden should make a separate address in Hiroshima or Nagasaki outlining his own vision for a new global nuclear restraint and disarmament dialogue.

Biden could use such a speech to reiterate his invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold serious talks designed to maintain commonsense limits on or, ideally, further reduce Russian and U.S. nuclear stockpiles and to elaborate on why such an approach is essential for U.S., allied, and global security. Biden could remind other nuclear-armed states, particularly China, France, India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, that they need to be part of the solution and urge them to freeze the overall size of their nuclear weapons stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce theirs.

At a time of unprecedented nuclear danger, Japan’s decision to bring G-7 leaders to Hiroshima is an obvious yet bold choice. To be successful, Kishida and Biden must make the Hiroshima summit more than a symbolic backdrop. It must be a catalyst for bold, effective disarmament action to ensure that no country suffers the horrors of nuclear war ever again.

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

The Three-Competitor Future: U.S. Arms Control With Russia and China

March 2023
By Lynn Rusten and Mark Melamed

China’s expanding nuclear arsenal, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the looming expiration in 2026 of the last remaining U.S.-Russian strategic arms control agreement pose unprecedented challenges for U.S. nuclear policy and arms control. This evolving security landscape demands a fresh look at policies aimed at avoiding nuclear war and ensuring the security of the United States and its allies and partners.

Chinese military vehicles carrying DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missiles participate in a military parade in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 2019. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)Critically, Washington should seek to avert an unconstrained multilateral nuclear arms race that would be even more complicated and dangerous than the one during the Cold War. For the next decade, the United States should prioritize maintaining verifiable mutual limits with Russia on nuclear forces while deepening dialogue with China and aiming to bring it into bilateral and multilateral nuclear arms control over the longer term. To prevent limitless arms races and avert nuclear catastrophe, it will be necessary to establish a measure of strategic stability globally and regionally among these three nuclear powers.

For decades, the nuclear age was characterized by a bipolar system in which the two major powers—the former Soviet Union/Russia and the United States—possessed the lion’s share of the world’s nuclear weapons. At the high point of the Cold War, they had more than 30,000 nuclear warheads each. Today, the United States has approximately 3,708 nuclear warheads, and Russia is estimated to have 4,477 nuclear warheads. China, France, and the United Kingdom, as the other recognized nuclear powers, have roughly 400, 290, and 225 warheads, respectively.1

The United States has sized and postured its nuclear forces based on what it deemed necessary to deter Russia from an attack on the United States or its allies or to defeat Russia if deterrence failed. All other nuclear-armed adversaries and strategic threats that might be subject to U.S. nuclear deterrence policy, including China, were considered “lesser included cases,” meaning that whatever nuclear forces were sufficient for deterring Russia also would be sufficient to meet all other U.S. nuclear deterrence requirements. Given recent assessments of China’s plans to expand its nuclear forces over the next decade, that long-standing presumption is facing increasing scrutiny.

Since the early 1970s, the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States have negotiated a series of legally binding, verifiable agreements to limit and reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals. Today, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) limits each side to 1,550 warheads on deployed strategic delivery vehicles. The United States must decide soon whether, when, and what to negotiate with Russia to replace New START before it expires in February 2026. Discussions with Russia on this goal began in the Trump administration and continued under the Biden administration in fall 2021, but broke down when Russia launched its illegal, unjustified war against Ukraine in late February 2022.

Moscow and Washington have since reaffirmed interest in a successor to New START, although each side’s conditions for resuming dialogue remain vague and have changed over time. In January 2023, the United States accused Russia of violating New START by failing to resume on-site inspections following an agreed two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic and by failing to meet in the Bilateral Consultative Commission, the treaty’s implementing body.2 On February 21, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was suspending participation in the treaty by refraining from inspections but would continue to abide by it’s central limits.3 This marks the first time that treaty implementation has been disrupted by political tensions, and it raises the alarming and likely prospect that tensions will continue to impede the resumption of New START inspections and negotiations on a successor agreement.

Enter China

Even as it contends with Russia, the United States is facing the unprecedented prospect of China as a near-peer nuclear competitor in the next 10 to 15 years. The 2022 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review cites China as “the overall pacing challenge for U.S. defense planning and a growing factor in evaluating our nuclear deterrent.”4 According to a 2022 U.S. Department of Defense report,5 China has more than 400 operational warheads, which is double the estimate in 2020, and if the expansion continues apace, will likely field about 1,500 warheads by 2035. The country is increasing the number of delivery platforms based on land, sea, and air, as well as the capacity to produce weapons-grade nuclear material.

This significant expansion of China’s nuclear force was not anticipated. China has long had a no-first-use policy regarding nuclear weapons. Its stockpile was intended to assure a second-strike capability for deterrent purposes and was not kept at a high state of readiness. China has not explained its nuclear plans publicly and has rebuffed U.S. proposals for dialogue about each side’s nuclear policy, forces, and posture.6

The Chinese expansion raises significant questions about how U.S. nuclear policy, deterrence, and arms control will operate in a world where China and Russia are likely to be nuclear peers of the United States.

Some U.S. experts have suggested that the 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads permitted under New START will not be adequate to deter both Russia and China in the future, although they are not specific as to when that time will come or their assumptions about what size and posture of Russian and Chinese nuclear forces would trigger the need for increasing deployed U.S. strategic nuclear forces.7 These experts also have not indicated whether there is some finite number of U.S. nuclear weapons that would be adequate for deterrence if Russia and China each seek to match U.S. nuclear force levels. This raises the question of how the United States avoids an endless arms race if Russia and possibly China each seek to maintain parity with the United States.

Nuclear deterrence is not a simple mathematical problem. It is premised on convincing an adversary that any use of nuclear weapons will result in a devastating response. Russia and the United States have maintained rough parity in their nuclear forces and, through arms control agreements, have done so at increasingly lower levels. Yet, in a world with two near-peer nuclear competitors, it will not be possible for the United States to achieve parity with both Russia and China. Any effort to increase U.S. nuclear forces to match their combined total weapons likely will be countered by Russia’s determination to maintain parity with the United States and could stimulate China to further increase its nuclear forces. This is a recipe for an unending arms race and it will not stop with Washington, Moscow, and Beijing. If they expand, India, Pakistan, and potentially other nuclear-armed countries likely will conclude they need larger stockpiles as well.

Such an arms race is fundamentally unnecessary and counterproductive for advancing global and regional security and strategic stability. Deterrence is based on the credible threat of retaliation in response to an attack. It is implausible that Russia or China will conclude that they could sufficiently degrade U.S. nuclear capabilities with a first strike, even in a worst-case scenario of a joint Chinese-Russian first strike, to avoid massive retaliation.

There is no evidence to suggest that Russia and China are not adequately deterred by the existing U.S. nuclear stockpile or that the New START level of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads would not continue to deter them at least through 2035. This assumes that Russia remains at rough strategic parity with the United States and that China’s expansion does not exceed the current Pentagon estimate. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Russia and China would be more deterred by an increase in U.S. nuclear weapons. Instead, they may perceive such an expansion as evidence of plans for nuclear war-fighting, not deterrence.

Next Steps With Russia and China

Instead of resigning itself to or embracing an accelerated three-party arms race, the United States should recommit to efforts to mutually constrain the nuclear arsenals of its competitors and to strengthen strategic stability in an increasingly complex security environment. This effort will require elements of continuity and new approaches.

China has resisted proposals to join U.S.-Russian arms control negotiations. Nevertheless, the complexities of an emerging nuclear order in which China, Russia, and the United States will become near peers demand continued efforts to expand multilateral efforts to manage nuclear risks. In recent years, China has been more open to engagement through the P5 process, involving the five nuclear-weapon states recognized under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The United States should explore opportunities for broader and deeper engagement in that channel.

China’s embrace of a January 2022 statement, issued with France, Russia, the UK, and the United States and asserting that a “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” should be welcomed as an opening for deeper engagement. The nuclear-weapon states should build on the statement, which also said, “We each intend to maintain and further strengthen our national measures to prevent unauthorized or unintended use of nuclear weapons,” by considering a regular exchange of information on what each country is doing to strengthen such national measures. This could include commitments to undertake internal nuclear failsafe reviews, as the United States is now doing. Such reviews, which would be carried out independently by each nuclear-weapon state, would identify measures to strengthen safeguards against the unauthorized, inadvertent, or mistaken use of a nuclear weapon, including through false warning of an attack.

The United States also should explore the possibility of a modest trilateral Chinese-Russian-U.S. dialogue on nuclear risk reduction. Notwithstanding statements from Beijing and Moscow about the strength of their partnership and cooperation, Chinese concern about possible Russian use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine is evident. One sign came in November 2022 after Russian President Vladimir Putin made a thinly veiled nuclear threat and Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a public admonition that the international community should “jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons.” Although China stonewalled the Trump administration’s efforts to launch a formal trilateral arms control process, it is worth exploring whether the heightened tensions of the past year could provide an opening for engagement on a modest risk reduction agenda.

There are other important issues at the intersection of evolving technologies and nuclear risk to be explored bilaterally and multilaterally. Understanding and mitigating cyberrisks to nuclear command and control and warning systems are critical. Russia and the United States are probably best equipped to begin this dialogue on a bilateral basis and to develop norms and rules of the road, but China should be encouraged to join as soon as possible. Similarly, military activities in space and the risk and benefits of artificial intelligence are ripe for inclusion in a wide-ranging and in-depth strategic stability dialogue with China and Russia, among others.

Strategic Arms Control

Despite China’s projected nuclear expansion over the next 10 to 15 years, there is time and need for additional Russian-U.S. bilateral steps. A prerequisite is resuming full implementation of New START, including on-site inspections. Even if the parties do not return to full implementation of New START or the treaty expires, at some point strategic logic will compel them to seek to restore mutual limits on their strategic nuclear forces. Be it in six months, two years, or longer, they will need to resume discussions on maintaining mutual restraints on strategic nuclear forces after New START expires and including additional types of Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles in future agreements, recognizing that success likely will require progress across a broader set of strategic capabilities. Even with hostilities in Ukraine, the imperative to manage nuclear risks necessitates Russian-U.S. cooperation on nuclear arms control.

The United States and its European allies are keen to limit Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons associated with intermediate- and shorter-range delivery systems such as this Iskander-M mobile ballistic missile system. (Photo by Vitaliy Ragulin/Picasa Web Albums via Wikimedia)Negotiations on a new treaty or other agreement to succeed New START will not be easy. The United States wants to include all the categories of weapons that the treaty limits plus Russia’s new novel strategic nuclear systems and places a high priority on adding nonstrategic nuclear warheads.8 Russia has a long-standing interest in constraining U.S. long-range conventional strike capabilities and missile defenses and is not keen to accept limits on nonstrategic nuclear weapons or an intrusive new regime for warhead verification. Military activities in outer space, cybercapabilities, and other factors affecting strategic stability also will influence each side’s thinking. Lessons drawn from the war in Ukraine and an apparent growing disconnect between the Kremlin and the Russian ministries of foreign affairs and defense could further complicate if not impede negotiations.

The most immediate priority should be to avoid a situation in which Russian and U.S. strategic arsenals are entirely unconstrained after 2026. This can and should be done even as dialogue on other issues affecting strategic stability between these two countries and perhaps China are proceeding in parallel and at a different pace. For a successor 10-year Russian-U.S. agreement, retaining the New START limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads should be adequate for the United States to deter Russia and China, recognizing that concerns about China’s nuclear expansion make significant Russian-U.S. reductions below New START levels unlikely. A successor agreement should retain limits and verification on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers covered by New START; include new kinds of strategic systems being pursued by both sides; and potentially include all strategic-range conventional prompt global-strike systems.9

Arms control agreements, particularly the next one with Russia, should be used to encourage each side to adopt more stabilizing nuclear force postures that reduce the risk of nuclear use and the pressure on leaders to launch nonsurvivable nuclear forces early in a crisis. For example, the United States should seek to ban the deployment of the novel Russian systems named Poseidon, a nuclear-powered, nuclear-tipped torpedo, and Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed subsonic cruise missile, which are high-risk nuclear doomsday systems prone to catastrophic accident or miscalculation. Such a ban would be similar to prohibitions in the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on deploying strategic nuclear systems undersea or using other exotic basing and delivery modes.

An agreement could limit or ban strategic-range hypersonic vehicles that due to speed and unpredictable flight paths reduce decision time for leaders. It could reinstate a ban on silo-based ICBMs with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) or limit the number of nuclear warheads permitted on each missile, reducing the incentive to “use them or lose them” in a crisis. Deemphasizing ICBMs with MIRVs could set a stabilizing precedent for the future direction of China’s expanding ICBM force. The next treaty also should employ more accurate counting rules for nuclear warheads attributed to heavy bombers, which could lead to a real reduction in the number of each side’s nuclear weapons and a more stringent limit on their nuclear delivery capacity.10

Nonstrategic Nuclear Warheads

The United States and its European allies are keenly interested in limiting Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons given Russia’s larger stockpile, the weapons’ proximity to Europe, and their potential for early use in a conflict, leading to escalation. When the U.S. Senate ratified New START, it called for negotiations with Russia on nonstrategic nuclear weapons, which the Obama and Trump administrations attempted without success due to Russian disinterest. NATO and U.S. interest in limiting these weapons systems has been heightened by Russian nuclear threats during the Ukraine conflict.

Despite the importance of the task, it will not be easy to address this category of weapons systems. Russia and the United States do not have shared objectives, their nuclear stockpiles and operational practices are asymmetrical, there are significant national security sensitivities, and verification will be challenging. Limiting Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons may require trade-offs across other arms control and strategic stability concerns. At a minimum, progress likely will need to come in the context of reengagement on a broader range of issues affecting strategic stability, such as missile defense and long-range conventional strike capabilities.

One approach could be to address nonstrategic nuclear weapons and nondeployed nuclear warheads together by limiting total nuclear warhead stockpiles with a sublimit on deployed strategic warheads and freedom for each side to determine the breakdown of nonstrategic and nondeployed nuclear weapons. Just as the United States has been concerned with Russia’s numerical advantage in nonstrategic nuclear weapons, which are not deployed on a daily basis, Russia has expressed concern about the greater capacity of the United States to upload additional nondeployed nuclear warheads on its strategic delivery systems. This total stockpile approach would permit trade-offs to address each side’s concerns.

There are other options for addressing this weapons category. As a precursor to more ambitious agreements to limit and verify warhead stockpiles, Russia and the United States could agree to increase mutual transparency through exchanges of information about numbers, types, and locations of total warhead stockpiles, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

In a more ambitious approach, the two countries could agree to consolidate nuclear warheads at central storage sites away from operational bases in and near Europe west of the Urals with appropriate verification. This move could reduce the risk of short-warning nuclear attacks using not only tactical systems but also intermediate-range missiles that are no longer banned because the United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019 in response to Russia’s violation of the treaty. For instance, such a consolidation agreement could require Russia to remove nuclear warheads from storage sites associated with operational bases near its western border, including in Kaliningrad, in exchange for the United States, in consultation with NATO allies, agreeing to remove its nonstrategic nuclear weapons from bases in Europe.

In February 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced at a press briefing that the United States would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. (Photo by Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)With the termination of the INF Treaty, there are no longer any constraints on nuclear-capable short- and intermediate-range land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, those having ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.11 Just as the Cuban missile crisis led to new arms control agreements between the Soviet Union and the United States, an eventual end to the war in Ukraine may create opportunities to rebuild the security architecture in Europe.

High on the agenda should be a verifiable agreement by Russia and the United States to ban missiles previously covered by the INF Treaty in Europe west of the Urals. Although negotiating a stand-alone ban would be the most direct path toward reestablishing a prohibition on these missiles in the Euro-Atlantic region, prohibiting or limiting this missile class within a New START successor agreement should also be considered. The United States should consult urgently with NATO on such an agreement, to potentially include transparency measures at missile defense sites in Romania and Poland to rebuff Russian assertions that the United States might deploy offensive missiles in place of missile defense interceptors located there.

Dialogue With China

Although decades of experience provide a blueprint for Russian-U.S. engagement on nuclear issues, no comparable foundation exists with China. The United States will have to adopt a more incremental approach to China on the basis of a shared interest in reducing nuclear risks and forestalling a dangerous arms race. Despite growing distrust between Beijing and Washington, neither wants a nuclear conflict, but the absence of dialogue fuels worst-case planning on both sides.

The greatest risk is miscalculation or miscommunication, particularly in a regional conflict, leading to unintended escalation and potential nuclear use. Without proactive efforts to change this dynamic, there is a growing likelihood of a nuclear arms race between the two countries with broader implications for stability between Russia and the United States and even between China and Russia.

Dialogue is an essential first step toward transparency and confidence-building measures as initial goals and eventually toward arms control agreements. Improving mutual understanding of each other’s security perceptions and concerns by itself may help shape the trajectory of China’s nuclear expansion. Just as the pace of Chinese nuclear development has accelerated in recent years, it could change again in the future, for better or worse, presumably influenced in part by the Chinese-U.S. relationship.

During military exercises last August, China’s rocket force launched a missile targeting designated maritime areas to the east of Taiwan. (Photo by Li Youzhi/Xinhua via Getty Images)Beginning a dialogue on nuclear issues and agreeing on its scope will be challenging. U.S. policymakers are concerned by the opaque nature of Chinese nuclear plans, but leaders in Beijing perceive a narrow focus on nuclear weapons as a U.S. attempt to entrench the current numerical disparity and disadvantage China by seeking increased transparency about its much smaller nuclear force. Conversely, Washington perceives Beijing’s resistance to discussing Chinese nuclear weapons as a way to pursue nuclear competition without adopting the transparency and confidence-building measures that have contributed to strategic stability between Russia and the United States.

Establishing an effective dialogue will require an agenda that is broad enough to include the issues and capabilities that each side perceives as having strategic impact but leave to other appropriate bilateral channels challenges such as the status of Taiwan and territorial disputes in the western Pacific Ocean. At a minimum, the agenda likely will need to include nuclear capabilities and doctrine; the weaponization of outer space; anti-satellite weapons; long-range conventional strike forces, including hypersonic weapons; offensive cybercapabilities; and missile defense programs and the offense-defense relationship. In addition, talks could address regional developments that directly impact strategic stability considerations, including the North Korean nuclear and missile threat and its connection to U.S. missile defense capabilities, which China perceives as potentially undermining its second-strike capability.

At the outset, the goal should be for each side to have a better understanding of the other’s security concerns and perceptions and their influence on policy and capabilities choices. This dialogue could provide a foundation for modest measures, such as a bilateral agreement for advance notification of ballistic missile launches, to reduce the risk of misunderstanding or unintended escalation in response to false warnings. Beijing and Washington also should work toward establishing nuclear risk reduction centers on both sides to serve as a means of quick, reliable communication on select strategic and military issues.

Given both countries’ obligations under Article VI of the NPT and their respective security interests, the longer-term agenda should include discussion of capping and reducing nuclear arsenals. U.S. policymakers should begin thinking now about formulations for stopping and reversing a nuclear arms race before the size of China’s arsenal approaches that of the United States and Russia. This could include an agreement by China, France, and the UK not to exceed a certain number of warheads so long as Russia and the United States agree on a New START successor agreement and other commitments aimed at addressing key Chinese and U.S. security concerns.12

The Risk of a Trilateral Nuclear Arms Race

With Russia’s aggression and renewed hostility in Europe, Moscow’s suspension of New START, the treaty’s expiration in three years, and China’s nuclear expansion plans and tense relations with the United States, U.S. nuclear policy, posture, and arms control are at a crossroads. Although some experts believe these trends necessitate a near-term expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, there is time to pursue a more stabilizing outcome with Russia and China. Strengthening and extending the 77-year taboo against the use of nuclear weapons will require renewed efforts to mutually limit and reduce nuclear stockpiles and delivery systems and the salience of nuclear weapons, while addressing other military capabilities affecting regional and global strategic stability.

None of these objectives can be achieved by engaging in a nuclear arms race with multiple countries. The U.S. national security posture and that of its allies and partners would be better served by diplomatic efforts to constrain the nuclear arsenals of its adversaries and competitors using a combination of proven tools and new approaches. Doing so will require a sober assessment of the security challenges facing the United States, the contributions and limits of nuclear weapons in assuring security, and realistic strategies for managing and reducing mutual nuclear risks with China and Russia. The obstacles are formidable, but the U.S. priority must be averting the alternative of a dangerous arms race in a complicated and unpredictable world of three near-peer nuclear competitors.



1. Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Status of World Nuclear Forces,” Federation of American Scientists, n.d., https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/ (accessed February 9, 2023); U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2022: Annual Report to Congress,” n.d., https://media.defense.gov/2022/Nov/29/2003122279/-1/-1/1/2022-MILITARY-AND-SECURITY-DEVELOPMENTS-INVOLVING-THE-PEOPLES-REPUBLIC-OF-CHINA.PDF. Four other states with nuclear weapons, none of which are parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, are estimated to have nuclear arsenals of 160 (India), 90 (Israel), 20 (North Korea), and 165 (Pakistan). Kristensen and Korda, “Status of World Nuclear Forces.”

2. U.S. Department of State, “Report to Congress on Implementation of the New START Treaty,” n.d., https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/2022-New-START-Implementation-Report.pdf.

3. President Putin’s speech and a subsequent statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs were silent on whether Russia would continue with the treaty-mandated exchange of data and notifications. See “Foreign Ministry statement in connection with the Russian Federation suspending the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START),” February 21, 2023, https://mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/1855184/.

4. U.S. Department of Defense, “2022 Nuclear Posture Review,” October 27, 2022, p. 4, https://media.defense.gov/2022/Oct/27/2003103845/-1/-1/1/2022-NATIONAL-DEFENSE-STRATEGY-NPR-MDR.PDF#page=40.

5. U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2022: Annual Report to Congress,” pp. 94–100.

6. U.S. Defense Department, “2022 Nuclear Posture Review,” p. 17.

7. Eric S. Edelman and Franklin C. Miller, Statement before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. nuclear strategy and policy, September 20, 2022, https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Edelman-Miller%20Opening%20Statement%20SASC%20Hearing%20Sept.%2020%2020226.pdf.

8. Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles are roughly comparable numerically, but they are configured differently, and Russia has slightly greater numbers. Both countries are in compliance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) limit of 1,550 warheads on deployed strategic delivery vehicles. Beyond that, Russia is believed to have 1,000–2,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The United States has several thousand nondeployed nuclear warheads, but only a small fraction of those is associated with nonstrategic aircraft based in Europe.

9. New START and all previous strategic nuclear arms control treaties with Russia have limited and counted all warheads (or reentry vehicles) attributed to intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles as nuclear warheads, regardless of whether they actually are nuclear. Applying this counting rule to all strategic-range delivery systems that are subject to a new agreement would help to address the concern that even conventionally armed, strategic-range, fast-flying, highly accurate systems, such as ballistic or cruise missiles or new hypersonic vehicles, have strategic effect and should be limited because they put at risk the nuclear forces and command and control and warning systems of the other side.

10. New START counts each heavy bomber as having just one nuclear warhead, when in fact Russian and U.S. bombers can carry up to 16 nuclear bombs or cruise missiles. For more detail on possible elements of a New START successor agreement, see Lynn Rusten, “Next Steps on Strategic Stability and Arms Control With Russia,” in U.S. Nuclear Policies for a Safer World, June 2021, pp. 13–21, https://media.nti.org/documents/NTI_Paper_U.S._Nuclear_Policies_for_a_Safer_World.pdf.

11. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was terminated in August 2019 following the U.S. determination, which was denied by Russia, that Russia violated the treaty by deploying a land-based intermediate-range, nuclear-capable cruise missile, the 9M729. After the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the treaty, it began the development of new missiles that would have been covered by the treaty for possible deployment in Europe or Asia, saying they would be conventionally armed. Russia has proposed to the United States and NATO a moratorium on deploying this class of missiles in Europe and, although not conceding that the 9M729 missile would have been covered by the treaty, seemingly offered to include that missile in the moratorium.

12. For more detail on possible confidence-building measures China and the United States could take to address key concerns, see James McKeon and Mark Melamed, “Engaging China to Reduce Nuclear Risks,” in U.S. Nuclear Policies for a Safer World, June 2021, pp. 36–46, https://media.nti.org/documents/NTI_Paper_U.S._Nuclear_Policies_for_a_Safer_World.pdf.


Lynn Rusten, vice president for the Global Nuclear Policy Program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, was senior director for arms control and nonproliferation on the National Security Council (NSC) staff. Mark Melamed, the program’s deputy vice president, was NSC director for arms control.

China’s nuclear expansion raises questions about how U.S. nuclear policy, deterrence, and arms control will operate in a world where China and Russia are likely to be U.S. nuclear peers.

Mobilizing Feminist Action for Nuclear Abolition

March 2023
By Ray Acheson

Nuclear weapons are gendered. They have gendered impacts; their existence is predicated and perpetuated in part due to gendered norms about power, violence, and security; and their abolition is challenged by the stark lack of gender diversity in discussions and negotiations related to nuclear policy.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has done a lot to address these issues in recent years, but other nuclear governance infrastructure, such as the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), has failed to do so. As a result, much more work is needed to advance intersectional approaches to nuclear weapons, an imperative for achieving nuclear abolition.

Gender and Disarmament

Broadly speaking, gender considerations feature in disarmament in three ways: the harm from specific weapons systems, the discourse within disarmament discussions, and the diversity among disarmament and arms control policymakers.

Elayne Whyte of Costa Rica, who in 2017 presided over UN negotiations on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, meets survivors of nuclear weapons use and testing. (Photo by Ari Beser/ICAN)The latter topic has received the most attention within recent disarmament forums, including those related to nuclear weapons. There is a stark disparity in the level (seniority or rank) and the number of men as compared to women in disarmament, nonproliferation, and arms control discussions, negotiations, and processes. Moreover, most discourse and action related to this subject have centered on a binary notion of gender and thus neglected the intersectionality of identities and oppressions that lead to the marginalization and exclusion of certain people.

Feminist conceptions of intersectionality recognize that, although important, increasing the number of women is insufficient to challenge gender norms or diversify perspectives on weapons and militarism.1 Real diversity is not just about adding bodies to meeting rooms but also about creating space for nonhegemonic ideas, imaginations, and perspectives to inspire concrete changes in policy and practice. It is not useful to treat women as a monolithic group. Disarmament work needs people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, races, classes, abilities, backgrounds, and experiences.

Diversity is not just for its own sake. It is essential for challenging socially constructed norms about identity that impact the approach of diplomats, activists, and academics toward weapons and militarism. Gender norms, for example, perpetuate a binary social construction of men who are violent and powerful and women who are vulnerable and need to be protected. The term “militarized masculinities” has been used by feminists and LGBTQ+ scholars and activists to describe the normative association of cisgendered, heterosexual masculinity with militarized violence. For instance, the framing of war and violence as “strong” and “masculine” is often coupled with a framing of peace and nonviolence as “weak” and “feminine.” In this context, weapons are typically seen as important for security, power, and control while disarmament is treated as something that makes countries weaker or more vulnerable.2

Nuclear weapons are a linchpin of militarized masculinities, signifying the ultimate form of strength and power. In this context, those who amplify the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and call for their prohibition often are accused of being “emotional” and “irrational,” which are typical gendered responses meant to feminize and thus ridicule.3 This gendered framing is extremely problematic with regard to accepting disarmament as a credible approach to security. The persistence of norms around what is considered rational and serious is further compounded by the lack of diversity. People with feminist, queer, and other nondominant perspectives can help challenge ideas that are treated as immutable truths and can articulate alternative conceptions of strength and security.

Diversity among participants and perspectives in disarmament diplomacy and decision-making also impacts consideration of how weapons cause harm and to whom they cause harm. Men tend to comprise most of the direct victims of armed violence and armed conflict. Sometimes, they are targeted for being men, which constitutes gender-based violence;4 but women, girls, and nonbinary and LGBTQ+ people often suffer harm that is disproportionate to the number of those directly involved in conflict or violence. Although less likely to wield weapons, women are still harmed by weapons. They are more likely to be targeted for acts of gender-based violence and may face social and political inequalities and pressures, including in accessing survivor assistance or participating in peace-building or postconflict reconstruction.5

Some weapons harm disproportionately or differentially based on sex. The ionizing radiation from nuclear weapons, for example, causes increased risk of cancers in cisgendered women and girls, affecting reproduction and maternal health.6 Social norms in certain societies also may lead women to suffer increased exposure to such radiation7 and subsequent ostracization.8

Weapons development, testing, and use also have racialized impacts. For example, the nuclear-armed states primarily have carried out nuclear weapons testing on the lands, water, and bodies of indigenous people. Settler states and colonial governments have mined uranium for nuclear weapons primarily on indigenous lands. Nuclear weapons development and radioactive waste storage are situated largely within or near poor communities, especially communities of color. Thus, diversity in participation and perspectives is not just about sex or gender. It also is essential for overcoming white supremacy, racism, and other forms of bias and discrimination in nuclear disarmament policy and practice.

Gender and the TPNW

All of these issues can and should be considered in the context of gender and disarmament. Some intergovernmental forums have started addressing the marginalization of women and the disproportionate gendered harm caused by weapons, but the nuclear space has largely ignored these concerns. So far, governments have not considered gendered norms such as militarized masculinities to any meaningful degree. Although activists and scholars increasingly are raising feminist, queer, and anti-racist perspectives on everything from small arms to nuclear bombs, government policymakers and disarmament diplomats largely have avoided such discussions in favor of an exclusive focus on women’s participation.

After decades of interventions by civil society, however, this approach is slowly starting to change. In addition to banning nuclear weapons, the TPNW, adopted at the United Nations in July 2017, recognizes the disproportionate impact of ionizing radiation on women and girls and calls for women’s increased participation in nuclear disarmament. At the first meeting of TPNW states-parties last June, participants adopted an action plan that commits them to implement the treaty’s gender provisions.9

Ray Acheson, director of Reaching Critical Will, a disarmament program, speaks at an anti-nuclear weapons rally at U.S.-Australian Joint Military Base Pine Gap, in Australia in 2016. (Photo by Tim Wright/ICAN)This includes engaging relevant stakeholders, including international organizations, civil society, affected communities, indigenous peoples, and youth, at all stages of the victim assistance and environmental remediation process; providing victim assistance that is age and gender sensitive; developing guidelines for voluntary reporting on national measures related to victim assistance, environmental remediation, and international cooperation; integrating gender considerations as the treaty is implemented; and considering the different needs of people in affected communities and Indigenous people.

The action plan mandated the establishment of a scientific advisory group comprised of a “geographically diverse and gender balanced network of experts” to support TPNW implementation. It also called for specific actions to operationalize the treaty’s gender provisions by emphasizing the gender-responsive nature of the treaty; taking gender considerations into account across all TPNW-related national policies, programs, and projects; and establishing a “gender focal point” to work during the intersessional period on guidelines for ensuring age- and gender-sensitive victim assistance and for integrating gender perspectives in international cooperation and assistance.

A diplomat from Chile’s UN mission has been appointed to the gender focal point position. A progress report is due at the second meeting of states-parties, to take place November 27–December 1 in New York under the presidency of Mexico.

The declaration approved at the states-parties’ meeting also reiterated a commitment to “work inclusively with affected communities” and emphasized “the innovative gender provisions of the treaty and…the importance of the equal, full and effective participation of both women and men in nuclear disarmament diplomacy.”10 Taken together, the declaration and action plan contain the most inclusive language of any outcome approved by a multilateral disarmament forum or treaty body to date.

The commitment to inclusivity was reflected further in the open consultation process organized by Austria, the meeting host, and in the meeting itself. Governmental representation from states-parties and signatories around the globe, especially from the Pacific region, Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Africa, was strong, while survivors, affected communities, and civil society groups from the global South participated more meaningfully and in greater numbers than in meetings of other nuclear treaty bodies. Even so, participation, especially among activists and academics, was still dominated by the global North and thus disproportionate to the treaty’s membership.

Other weaknesses also persist. The TPNW declaration and action plan reinforce a gender binary. They do not recognize other gender identities or gender nonconforming people, nor do they adequately advance an intersectional approach to disarmament beyond affected communities. These documents also do not comprehensively reflect or explicitly seek to address all harms generated by nuclear weapons.

As Diné activist Janine Yazzie, who is coordinating the protocols of the Nuclear Truth Project, said during a TPNW side event,

The catastrophic impacts of nuclear-related activities do not start nor end with the detonation of a bomb, nor does the mass murder end with the aftermath of the impacts of the blast. No, the mass murder from these industries, and those responsible for creating, investing and protecting them, continues as long as the devastation to the health of our peoples and our environment continues. As long as our waters are undrinkable, our soil is contaminated, and our babies are being born with uranium in their bodies.11

Similarly, in a letter to the Australian prime minister and parliament, members of the Yankunytjatjara, Kokotha, Adnyamathanha, Dieri, and Kuyani peoples and civil society groups in Australia noted that, “[f]ar from being a historical event, we are clear that the [nuclear] tests themselves were not the only damage. The waste left behind and the on-going complications and fears from fallout and contamination, and the mental scares, are still strongly felt in Aboriginal communities across the regions where testing took place.”12

The TPNW aims to stop nuclear threats, nuclear arms races, and nuclear weapons. It also aims at nuclear abolition, not just at arms control or disarmament. This means it aspires to justice, not just to dismantle bombs but to build a world that is safer for all in solidarity with all. In this sense, the TPNW is well suited to address these long-ignored harms and legacies. Although states-parties have more work to do to live up to this potential, the TPNW is still light-years ahead of other nuclear weapons-related treaties.

Gender and the NPT

In contrast, the other key nuclear governance treaty—the NPT—does not reference gender, affected communities, or indigenous populations, and neither do subsequent outcome documents and action plans adopted throughout the treaty’s more than 50-year history. It was only during the most recent NPT review cycle (2017–2022) that states-parties began incorporating any kind of gender perspective, primarily through calls for improving women’s participation and, less frequently, in relation to the gendered impacts of nuclear weapons use and testing.

Ray Acheson, director of Reaching Critical Will, a disarmament program, speaks at an anti-nuclear weapons rally at U.S.-Australian Joint Military Base Pine Gap, in Australia in 2016. (Photo by Tim Wright/ICAN)In 2017, Ireland and Sweden presented research showing that women’s participation rate in NPT meetings is lower than in other multilateral forums. In 2019, both governments hosted side events at the NPT preparatory committee meeting related to gender and nuclear weapons. Ireland submitted working papers in 2017, 2018, and 2019 related to gender,13 and governments affiliated with the Gender Champions Initiative tabled working papers on women’s participation together with the UN Institute for Disarmament Research in 2019 and 2022.14 These papers do not sufficiently incorporate a gender analysis of nuclear weapons discourse or norms, nor sufficiently draw on the knowledge of marginalized people other than “women” in a monolithic sense.

Nevertheless, these working papers introduced the topic of gender and disarmament into the NPT context, which was then reflected in the official record. In 2017, the NPT preparatory committee chair included in his factual summary a recommendation for increasing women’s participation, noting that states-parties “emphasized the importance of promoting the equal, full and effective participation of both women and men in the process of nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”15 The summary said states-parties “were encouraged, in accordance with their commitments under United Nations Security Council resolution 1325, actively to support participation of female delegates in their own NPT delegations and through support for sponsorship programs.” It acknowledged the gendered impacts of radiation and called for this to be factored into discussions.

In 2018, the chair’s summary similarly noted that states-parties “endorsed the fundamental importance of promoting the equal, full and effective participation and leadership of both women and men in nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.” They “welcomed the increased participation of women during the session and highlighted the importance of fulfilling commitments under Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), to support actively the participation of female delegates in their own delegations, including through sponsorship programs.”16

The 2019 chair’s summary endorsed similar language on the “full and effective participation” of women and men and also encouraged states-parties, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1325, “to actively support gender diversity in their NPT delegations and through support for sponsorship programs.” Finally, it recognized “the disproportionate impact of ionizing radiation on women and girls.”17

Despite the limited nature of these nonbinding reflections and recommendations, some states-parties pushed further at the 10th NPT Review Conference last August. Sixty-seven states-parties signed a joint statement on gender, diversity, and inclusion that recognized that “the intersections of race, gender, economic status, geography, nationality, and other factors must be taken into account as risk-multiplying factors” in relation to nuclear weapons. They noted that nuclear weapons have different effects on different demographics and recommended ways to address the impacts of nuclear weapons and diversify participation in disarmament and nonproliferation work.

Although the statement still largely focuses on increasing women’s participation in a binary and nonintersectional way, it recognizes that, “for women and other underrepresented groups, there must not only be a seat at the table, but also real opportunities to shape conversations, policies, and outcomes.”18

During negotiations on the review conference draft outcome document, a handful of delegations called for a reference to “all genders” in relation to participation, rather than the men-women binary. In urging a more intersectional approach, the Costa Rican delegation suggested language to encourage other metrics of diversity.19 Some governments opposed any reference to gender perspectives or diversity, while others accepted language on women’s participation but opposed the term “all genders.”

In the end, the draft outcome document, which was not adopted for other political reasons, contained eight paragraphs that called for an enhancement of women’s participation in the work of the NPT.20 Although this was a binary rather than intersectional approach, the text was an improvement over past NPT documents, which contain zero references to these issues. In another first for an NPT document, the final draft included a reference to providing assistance to people and communities affected by nuclear weapons use and testing. That was a clear testament to the long, difficult work of TPNW states-parties, civil society groups, and affected communities in raising these issues.

Intersectional Feminism and Nuclear Abolition

Whether in the context of the TPNW or the NPT, the commitment to advancing gender perspectives and diversity in disarmament is still largely words on paper. As has been seen time and again in previous initiatives, women’s participation in disarmament meetings and processes does not necessarily lead to meaningful change. Bodies or identities in themselves do not change policy. Alternative perspectives, analysis, experiences, strategies, and solutions do.

Many feminist, queer, and anti-racist organizers have pointed out that having women, people of color, or LGBTQ+ persons at the table does not necessarily lead to less militaristic solutions to international conflict or to disarmament. Under the Obama administration, for example, women held leadership positions throughout the national security and nuclear weapons establishment, yet the administration still objected vociferously to the banning of nuclear weapons and actively lobbied U.S. allies to reject the TPNW.

Although the call for gender equality is a welcome recognition of the significant exclusions in diplomacy and in governmental offices related to international security and weapons policy, it fails to acknowledge the power structures embedded in the institutions that limit discourse around weapons, militarism, and war. Instead, this call reinforces a men-women binary without acknowledging gender fluidity or nonconformity, does not address intersectional issues related to diversity of identity and experience, and does not examine why women and others need to be empowered to participate in the first place.

To advance the work that has been done by governments so far and to fully integrate feminist, queer, and anti-racist perspectives in disarmament diplomacy, action must be taken beyond calls for greater participation. The TPNW gender focal point, states-parties and signatories, activists, and academics should challenge states that resist the incorporation of gender perspectives, gender and racial diversity, and intersectional approaches in disarmament spaces and promote the TPNW as a progressive framework for these considerations.

They must facilitate the active participation of those who can bring lived experience and non-normative analysis of nuclear weapons. This could include funding participants’ travel to meetings, enabling virtual options for remote engagement, and ensuring that marginalized groups are included in implementing the 2022 action plan and developing further commitments.

Adopting an abolition framework can help facilitate this work. Abolition means seeking to deconstruct the systems and institutions that cause harm while simultaneously building up structures for equality, justice, and well-being. In the context of advancing gender and disarmament, this involves deconstructing gender and militarized masculinities to foster approaches that see disarmament as a positive force for change rather than a capitulation to power.

Dismantling militarized masculinities means refusing to buy into idealized notions of strong men and passive women, of men needing to be providers and protectors and women needing protection, and of states needing weapons and the ability to wage war. Rejecting the gender binary is essential to this work.

Rather than accepting a gendered or racialized dichotomy, nonbinary thinking facilitates different ways of solving problems such as nuclear violence or international security. Instead of us versus them, this approach posits that all states and all peoples and other living things share this planet and have a responsibility to care for each other and to collaborate in creating a better world. It enables the articulation and establishment of other forms of security based on peace and justice rather than violence.

TPNW states-parties should pursue these kinds of ideas to advance the burgeoning intersectional approach adopted in last year’s declaration and action plan. The nature of the process by which governments and activists engage to achieve nuclear disarmament, in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion of people and of perspectives, is important. It is largely because of leadership from women, queer people, and the global South that the TPNW was achieved at all. Their rejection of the nuclear-armed states’ binary conception of security was instrumental to the TPNW’s framing and success so far. This fundamental inclusivity and diversity of ideas and people must continue for the treaty to meet its full potential and abolish nuclear weapons forever.



1. Ray Acheson, “Notes on Nuclear Weapons & Intersectionality in Theory and Practice,” Princeton University Program on Science and Global Security, June 2022, https://sgs.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/2022-06/acheson-2022.pdf.

2. Carol Cohn, Felicity Ruby, and Sara Ruddick, “The Relevance of Gender for Eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction,” Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, n.d., https://genderandsecurity.org/sites/default/files/the_relevance_of_gender_for_eliminating_weapons_of_mass_destruction_-_cohn_hill_ruddick.pdf (paper no. 38).

3. Ray Acheson, Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2022).

4. See Ray Acheson, Richard Moyes, and Thomas Nash, “Sex and Drone Strikes: Gender and Identity in Targeting and Casualty Analysis,” Article 36 and Reaching Critical Will, October 2014, https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Publications/sex-and-drone-strikes.pdf.

5. See Gabriella Irsten, “Women and Explosive Weapons,” Reaching Critical Will, 2014, https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Publications/WEW.pdf.

6. See Gender and Radiation Impact Project, https://www.genderandradiation.org; Mary Olson, “Human Consequences of Radiation: A Gender Factor in Atomic Harm,” in Civil Society Engagement in Disarmament Processes: The Case for a Nuclear Weapons Ban (New York: UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, 2016), https://www.un.org/disarmament/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/civil-society-2016.pdf.

7. UN General Assembly, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Implications for Human Rights of the Environmentally Sound Management and Disposal of Hazardous Substances and Wastes, Calin Georgescu,” A/HRC/21/48/Add.1, September 3, 2012.

8. See Reiko Watanuki, Yuko Yoshida, and Kiyoko Futagami, “Radioactive Contamination and the Health of Women and Post-Chernobyl Children,” Chernobyl Health Survey and Healthcare for the Victims—Japan Women’s Network, 2006).

9. First Meeting of States-Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, “Draft Vienna Action Plan,” TPNW/MSP/2022/CRP.7, June 22, 2022.

10. First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, “Draft Vienna Declaration of the 1st Meeting of States Parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: ‘Our Commitment to a World Free of Nuclear Weapons,’” TPNW/MSP/2022/CRP.8, June 23, 2022, p. 3.

11. Janene Yazzie, Facebook video message, June 22, 2022, https://www.facebook.com/janene.yazzie/videos/568148638000767.

12. ICAN Australia, “Statement From People Impacted by Nuclear Testing,” June 23, 2022, https://icanw.org.au/statement-nuclear-testing.

13. Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Gender, Disarmament and Nuclear Weapons: Working Paper Submitted by Ireland,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.I/WP.38, May 9, 2017; Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Impact and Empowerment—The Role of Gender in the NPT: Working Paper Submitted by Ireland,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.II/WP.38, April 24, 2018; Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Gender in the NPT: Recommendations for the 2020 Review Conference; Working Paper Submitted by Ireland,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP.48, May 7, 2019.

14. Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Improving Gender Equality and Diversity in the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Process: Working Paper Submitted by Australia, Canada, Ireland, Namibia, Sweden and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP.25, April 18, 2019; Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Integrating Gender Perspectives in the Implementation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Working Paper Submitted by Australia, Canada, Ireland, Namibia, Sweden and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP.27, April 18, 2019; 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “From Pillars to Progress: Gender Mainstreaming in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; Working Paper Submitted by Australia, Canada, Colombia, Ireland, Mexico, Namibia, Panama, the Philippines, Spain, Sweden, and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research,” NPT/CONF.2020/WP.54, May 17, 2022.

15. Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Draft Chairman’s Factual Summary,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.I/CRP.3, May 11, 2017.

16. Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Draft Chair’s Factual Summary,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.II/CRP.3, May 3, 2018.

17. Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Recommendations to the 2020 Review Conference,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/CRP.4/Rev.1, May 9, 2019.

18. “Joint Statement on Gender, Diversity and Inclusion at the 10th NPT Review Conference,” n.d., https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/revcon2022/statements/4Aug_Gender.pdf.

19. Ray Acheson, “Report on Main Committee I,” NPT News in Review, Vol. 17, No. 7 (August 18, 2022), pp. 5–19, https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/NIR2022/NIR17.7.pdf.

20. 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Draft Final Document,” NPT/CONF.2020/CRP.1/Rev.2, August 25, 2022.


Ray Acheson is director of Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and author of Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy.

Nuclear weapons are gendered and have gendered impacts. 

Reconciling the Korean Peninsula’s Dual Nuclear Proliferation Crises

March 2023
By Frank Aum

North Korea’s codification of its nuclear weapons program last September and its ongoing diplomatic deadlock with the United States have intensified two debates: whether Washington should accept the rogue nation’s nuclear weapons status and whether Seoul should follow suit by producing its own nuclear weapons.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, shown here in photo from last May, recently raised the possibility of arming his country with nuclear weapons. (Photo by Jeon Heon-Kyun - Pool/Getty Images) Some arms control advocates argue that accepting North Korea’s nuclear status would provide more tangible security benefits than the current U.S. policy of pushing for denuclearization. Jeffrey Lewis has asserted that this shift would remove the main impediment to bilateral talks and could help reduce the growing risks of an inadvertent conflict.1 Ankit Panda and Toby Dalton have agreed, noting that although denuclearization may be an “unbridgeable” issue for North Korea, it shares an interest in avoiding nuclear war with the United States.2

Analysts such as Bruce Klingner, however, have countered that arms control proponents “mischaracterized denuclearization as requiring North Korea to rapidly abandon the entirety of its nuclear and missile programs before receiving any benefits” and failed to explain how accepting North Korea’s nuclear status would “spark any reciprocal diplomatic, security or military response.”3 In addition, it is important to consider that Pyongyang has not explicitly articulated U.S. acceptance of its nuclear status as a precondition for returning to talks, only that Washington drop its “hostile” policy.4

This debate also underscores the paradox of reconciling North Korea’s unstoppable status as a de facto nuclear weapons country with the unmovable U.S. unwillingness to normalize diplomatic and economic relations with a nuclear pariah state. Even if the United States were to accept North Korea’s nuclear status from a planning perspective, that does not mean that Washington would be willing to accord diplomatic ties, remove all economic sanctions imposed on the North, and permit normal trade, which is what Pyongyang really wants.

Threading the needle on these two dilemmas (arms control versus denuclearization and nuclear acceptance versus diplomatic normalization) will require a more flexible stance by all sides, especially the United States, on how the denuclearization goal is framed. Some analysts have suggested that a more realistic U.S. policy would be to deemphasize denuclearization but not jettison it entirely.5 This approach would acknowledge, rather than accept, North Korea’s nuclear program in order to secure the pragmatic constraints that could make disarmament possible in the long run. Indeed, the United States should maintain denuclearization as an “aspirational, long-term, or fig-leaf goal” to ensure the viability of the nonproliferation regime and U.S. political support for an ultimate deal with North Korea.6 Washington must also pursue aggressive engagement with Pyongyang to jump-start the type of talks that can enhance mutual understanding, achieve diplomatic normalcy, and reduce the risks of nuclear war.7

South Korean marines participated in a military exercise with their U.S. counterparts in Pohang, South Korea in 2018. Such exercises are a crucial feature of the alliance between the two countries and their commitment to security on the Korean peninsula. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)Whether the United States accepts North Korea’s nuclear status or not, the extreme unlikelihood of North Korea giving up its nuclear deterrent anytime soon means that it will continue to occupy a sui generis category akin to the other three nuclear outliers—India, Israel, and Pakistan. In the case of acceptance, North Korea would be closer in terms of perception, treatment, and status to a country such as Pakistan, whose desire for nuclear recognition and trade is undermined by its record on nonproliferation.

Even if North Korea takes steps toward denuclearization, the impossibility of verifying disarmament with certainty would make North Korea a more ambiguous nuclear state like Israel. North Korea would always be in a state of denuclearizing but perhaps never quite getting there, similar to the nuclear-weapon states that committed under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to pursue negotiations in good faith toward nuclear disarmament but still have not achieved that goal.

The reality of dealing with a nuclear North Korea for the long term has reinvigorated the nuclear ambitions of its southern neighbor. Last month, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol raised the possibility of arming his country with nuclear weapons. It marked the first time that such an idea has been broached publicly by a South Korean leader since the United States withdrew its nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula in 1991. Although the Yoon government quickly downplayed the statements and stressed that they did not reflect actual policy, the comments do echo a growing sentiment among many South Koreans to take greater control over their country’s national security. A 2022 survey found robust South Korean public support for nuclear weapons, with 71 percent of the respondents favoring the development of indigenous nuclear weapons in South Korea and 56 percent favoring the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea.8 Even when faced with potential repercussions for acquiring nuclear weapons, such as international sanctions, the withdrawal of U.S. troops, or Chinese retaliation, only 11 percent of those who supported the weapons changed their views.

Television screens, using file footage, show a news report about the North Korean missile launch on November 3. The North’s advancing nuclear weapons and missile programs are the major source of tension on the Korean peninsula.  (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)Some South Korean advocates of nuclear weapons believe that alliance deterrence capabilities and demonstrations of resolve, such as joint military exercises, need to be enhanced to counter the growing threat from North Korea. Some analysts have even suggested that South Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons would ensure a stronger alliance with the United States and prevent decoupling. As Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, has argued, “If South Korea possesses nuclear weapons, the United States will not need to ask whether it should use its own weapons to defend its ally, and the alliance will never be put to a test.”9 Other analysts assert, however, that although the U.S. extended deterrence commitment may be strong today, recurring strains of “America First” policies in Washington suggest this promise could be jeopardized in the future.

Researchers have pointed to different rationales for why South Koreans support indigenous nuclear weapons development. The 2022 survey found the main driver of support to be concern about the Chinese threat (55 percent), followed by the prestige derived from being a state possessing nuclear weapons (26 percent). Contrary to the reassurance rationale offered by some South Korean analysts, the study revealed that 61 percent of the respondents who supported nuclear weapons were confident that the United States would meet its extended deterrence commitments.

Analyst Lauren Sukin has suggested, however, that most South Koreans prefer to have their own indigenous nuclear capabilities precisely because they have faith in the willingness of the United States to use nuclear weapons to defend them, albeit in a reckless way.10 Why should South Korea trust the United States to be cautious in nuclear use, she wrote, when the previous U.S. president promised to wreak “fire and fury” on the Korean peninsula? Among South Koreans who hold this view, there is value in their country having its own nuclear weapons because it could better calibrate nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula with greater restraint.

Nevertheless, Yoon’s provocative statements, while being offhand, still reflect a real desire among some South Korean conservative politicians and analysts to pressure the United States to deliver more concrete security assurances. As a presidential candidate in 2021, Yoon promised to request the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. In 2022, Yoon and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed to expand the scale and scope of joint military exercises and enhance the deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the Korean peninsula. Recently, Yoon mentioned that the two allies were proceeding with nuclear cooperation through joint military planning and exercises, which the Biden administration swiftly clarified would be limited to simulated exercises. Other conservative South Korean analysts have pushed for a NATO-like nuclear-sharing agreement in which South Korean aircraft would be allowed to carry U.S. nuclear weapons during conflict.

One possible reason why Yoon floated the nuclear weapons idea might have been to lay the foundation for an eventual U.S. concession to allow South Korea to develop its own nuclear weapons, if not during his term then during a future conservative administration. There is precedent in South Korea’s five-decade pursuit of greater sovereignty over its ballistic missile capabilities. In 1979, Seoul agreed to U.S.-recommended ballistic missile guidelines that limited development of the weapons to 180 kilometers in range and 500 kilograms in payload. Despite initial concerns about the proliferation of missile technology, the United States, over the years and under considerable South Korean pressure, relented to greater range and payload limits, including 300 kilometers in 2001, 800 kilometers in 2012, an unlimited payload in 2017, and a complete lifting of the guidelines in 2021.

Assenting to South Korean nuclear weapons today may be a bridge too far, but as North Korea’s nuclear status becomes more entrenched and its arsenal grows exponentially, South Korean demands for reassurance will not be sated by status quo U.S. responses.11 After exhausting a range of U.S. deterrence and reassurance options, including declaratory statements about U.S. extended deterrence commitments, enhanced joint military exercises, deployments of U.S. nuclear and strategic assets to the Korean peninsula, senior-level deterrence strategy committees, tailored deterrence strategies, and visits by South Korean officials to U.S. Strategic Command and bomber bases, Washington has little new to offer.

Joint nuclear planning meetings and tabletop exercises may satisfy Seoul for the moment, but there is not much left in the bag except higher-order options such as NATO-like nuclear sharing arrangements, redeployment of U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea, and acquiescence to South Korea’s own nuclear weapons. A recent report already has recommended that the United States should “lay pre-decisional groundwork for possible redeployment of U.S. low-yield nuclear weapons,” including tabletop planning exercises, environmental impact studies, mapping of storage locations, joint training on nuclear safety and security, and certification of South Korean aircraft for nuclear missions.12

Despite the conventional wisdom that conservative South Korean administrations are better aligned with U.S. security policy, the United States has often had to restrain their aggressive actions, including the push for nuclear weapons, ballistic missile development, and stronger counterprovocation measures against North Korea. It remains to be seen whether South Korea’s simmering desire for nuclear weapons, as in the case of pursuing the lifting of its ballistic missile guidelines, will overcome U.S. objections through attrition. This saga may include warnings about a potential alliance rupture coming from one or both sides. Neither will let this happen, but absent a radical change in the North Korean threat, the alliance defense posture will not remain at the status quo.



1. Jeffrey Lewis, “It’s Time to Accept That North Korea Has Nuclear Weapons,” The New York Times, October 13, 2022.

2. Toby Dalton and Ankit Panda, “U.S. Policy Should Reflect Its Own Quiet Acceptance of a Nuclear North Korea,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 15, 2022, https://carnegieendowment.org/2022/11/15/u.s.-policy-should-reflect-its-own-quiet-acceptance-of-nuclear-north-korea-pub-88399.

3. Bruce Klingner, “This Is Not the Time to Abandon North Korean Denuclearization,” The Hill, October 29, 2022.

4. Frank Aum, “Don’t Isolate North Korea: Why Another Pressure Campaign Would Be a Mistake,” Foreign Affairs, December 22, 2022, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/north-korea/dont-isolate-north-korea.

5. John Carl Baker, “North Korean Arms Control Doesn’t Have to Conflict With Disarmament,” U.S. Institute of Peace, January 19, 2023, https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/01/north-korean-arms-control-doesnt-have-conflict-disarmament.

6. Aum, “Don’t Isolate North Korea.”

7. Frank Aum and George A. Lopez, “A Bold Peace Offensive to Engage North Korea,” War on the Rocks, December 4, 2020, https://warontherocks.com/2020/12/a-bold-peace-offensive-to-engage-north-korea/.

8. Toby Dalton, Karl Friedhoff, and Lami Kim, “Thinking Nuclear: South Korean Attitudes on Nuclear Weapons,” Chicago Council on Global Affairs, February 2022, https://globalaffairs.org/sites/default/files/2022-02/Korea%20Nuclear%20Report%20PDF.pdf.

9. Sang-Hun Choe, “In a First, South Korea Declares Nuclear Weapons a Policy Option,”
The New York Times, January 12, 2023.

10. Lauren Sukin, “The U.S. Has a New Nuclear Proliferation Problem: South Korea,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 19, 2023, https://thebulletin.org/2023/01/the-us-has-a-new-nuclear-proliferation-problem-south-korea/.

11. Michelle Ye He Lee, “N. Korea’s Kim Vows ‘Exponential’ Increase in Nuclear Arsenal in New Year,” The Washington Post, January 1, 2023.

12. CSIS Commission on the Korean Peninsula, “Recommendations on North Korea Policy and Extended Deterrence,” January 2023, pp. 18–19, https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2023-01/230119_Korean_Commission_2023.pdf.


Frank Aum is the senior expert on Northeast Asia at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a former senior adviser on Korean peninsula affairs at the U.S. Department of Defense.

The reality of dealing with a nuclear North Korea for the long term has reinvigorated the nuclear ambitions of its southern neighbor.

Thomas Hughes (1925–2023), Jo L. Husbands-Rosenberg (1948–2022)

March 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball


Thomas Hughes (1925–2023)

(Photo courtesy of National Security Archive)Thomas Hughes, a long-time U.S. Department of State official in the 1960s who later became president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a founding member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association, died January 2 in Washington at the age of 97.

Growing up in Minnesota in the 1940s, he became involved with the Student Federalists, a movement promoting world government. As its national president, he traveled and spoke widely and attended the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. After graduating from Carleton College in 1947 with a degree in government relations, he spent the next two years as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and then graduated from Yale Law School in 1952.

Hughes served briefly with the Air Force as a lawyer, then became a senior member of the staff of Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.). He later worked for Representative Chester Bowles (D-Conn.), who in 1961 was appointed deputy secretary of state in the Kennedy administration.

Bowles asked Hughes to join him as a senior adviser at the State Department and later appointed him to be director of the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research. As director, Hughes was soon at the center of hot-button foreign policy concerns from China to the Soviet Union to the growing U.S. military presence in Vietnam.

Hughes and his team at the bureau were skeptical about the efficacy of the proposed buildup of U.S. forces planned by the Johnson administration shortly after the 1964 election. Hughes' analysis of the situation caught the attention and won the support of Humphrey, who had since become vice president. In February 1965, Humphrey wrote the president a private memorandum warning against getting "embroiled deeper in fighting with Vietnam over the next few months."

The memo was prescient. It predicted that "political opposition will steadily mount. It will underwrite all the negativism and disillusionment which we already have about foreign involvement generally—with direct spill-over effects politically for all the Democratic internationalist programs to which we are committed—AID, UN, disarmament, and activist world policies generally."

Hughes continued to serve as bureau director through the end of the Johnson years and into the Nixon administration. After leaving the State Department, Hughes in 1971 became president of the Carnegie Endowment, a role he held for two decades, enabling him to update and reshape the institution into one of the premier think tanks in the world.

At the Carnegie Endowment, Hughes also served as the chair of the editorial committee for Foreign Policy magazine and supported the establishment of new projects, including the Carnegie Endowment's program on arms control, which became an independent membership organization, the Arms Control Association, in 1972. Hughes was among the founding board members of the association, serving into the late 1990s and providing support, advice, and inspiration for its director and for the organization long after he retired from active involvement.


Jo L. Husbands-Rosenberg (1948–2022)

(Photo courtesy of Women in International Security)Jo L. Husbands-Rosenberg passed away at age 74 on November 30 in Washington after a distinguished career as a scholar and researcher on the intersection of science, technology, and arms control in global security. Shedied after a long fight against a range of illnesses.

Through top-notch scholarship and quiet persistence, Husbands shattered a number of barriers for women in her field. Born in Puyallup, Washington, near Tacoma, she earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in international public policy from Johns Hopkins University.

From 1982 to 1986, Husbands was deputy director of the Committee for National Security, a Washington-based nongovernmental organization; and for much of her career, she was an adjunct professor in Georgetown University's security studies program. She was best known, however, for her work as a senior project director at the National Academies of Science (NAS), which she joined in 1986.

From 1986 to 1991, she was director of the NAS project on democratization and a senior research associate for its Committee on International Conflict and Cooperation. Later, she served for 15 years as the NAS director of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) and its working group on biological weapons control.

As an NAS staff researcher and study director, Husbands was the linchpin for numerous NAS workshops, studies, and reports on U.S. nuclear weapons policy, nuclear war, biosecurity, and the international security implications of climate change.

For example, in 1990 she co-edited the two-volume work Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War, which examined the behavioral and social phenomena underlying the execution of nuclear decision-making and policy, including the behavior of decision makers during crises, the pressure of public opinion, the causes of war among great powers, and the processes of international security negotiation.

In 1997 she coordinated the pathbreaking CISAC study “The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy,” which recommended the use of nuclear weapons be limited to a core mission of deterring the use of nuclear weapons by others. The study also called for a program of progressive constraints to reduce Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals to 1,000 total warheads each and then, if security conditions permit, to a few hundred warheads, provided adequate verification procedures were put in place.

Husbands later served as the NAS representative on the multinational biosecurity working group of the InterAcademy Partnership network, which involved extended trips to engage with other scientific colleagues working on international security challenges in Europe, Russia, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. She anchored NAS workshops and studies on the biosecurity implications of developments in the life sciences, especially as they relate to the Biological Weapons Convention. She also was involved in the 2015 study by a NAS task force into "potential risks and benefits of gain-of-function research" on infectious diseases following an alarming outbreak of the avian flu.

Husbands was a member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association from 1999 to 2002. She also was a strong supporter of Women in International Security (WIIS). As a member of that organization’s advisory board, she was part of a WIIS summer symposiums series that brought together young leaders from around the world to discuss the complex dynamic between globalization and security. Donations to the Dr. Jo L. Husbands Memorial Fund will support the WIIS Next Generation Scholars Program.

Thomas Hughes (1925–2023), Jo L. Husbands-Rosenberg (1948–2022)

Striking Asymmetries: Nuclear Transitions in Southern Asia

March 2023

Examining a Complex Nuclear Dynamic

Striking Asymmetries: Nuclear Transitions in Southern Asia
By Ashley J. Tellis
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Reviewed by Manpreet Sethi

Southern Asia is a region with a complex nuclear dynamic. Three nuclear-armed states—China, India, and Pakistan—lie geographically next to each other. They suffer from long-standing territorial and ideological disputes. Each has its own thinking on how to establish nuclear deterrence. The buildup in capability by one of them, China, is directly linked to its threat perceptions of the United States, an extraregional power, although its responses impinge on others in the region. The countries form not just two adversarial dyads, but a nuclear chain where there is also perceived collusion between actors. Meanwhile, unlike the rough parity of Soviet and U.S. forces during the Cold War, the nuclear players in Southern Asia today are at disparate levels in terms of conventional, space, and cybercapabilities, as well as nuclear capabilities.

This complicated regional nuclear dynamic is challenging to understand and navigate. Yet, Striking Asymmetries by Ashley Tellis, a keen watcher of nuclear developments in Southern Asia, has managed to grasp and explain the nuclear intricacies of and between the three nuclear countries in the region. Given his long-standing scholarly eye on Asia, including a stint as senior adviser to the U.S. embassy in New Delhi and later as an adviser to the U.S. Department of State during negotiations on the Indian-U.S. nuclear deal, Tellis has a good perch from which to explain insightfully the ideational and material evolution of the Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani nuclear weapons programs since 1998.

True to expectation, the book is an erudite, systematic presentation of vast amounts of information. It undertakes an in-depth assessment of nuclear developments in each of the three countries over more than two decades. Following a uniform frame of analysis, the author patiently examines each country on the same three parameters: doctrine at declaratory and operational levels; material components, such as fissile material stockpiles, nuclear weapons designs and inventories, delivery systems, command and control arrangements and strategic defenses; and operational posture and force employment options. The first three chapters will be a go-to source for the vast literature that is laboriously mined and painstakingly listed in the 900-plus endnotes.

Exhaustive Scan

Tellis’ scan of the environment establishes that a qualitative and quantitative transformation in nuclear forces is underway in all three countries within the larger context of their difficult political interactions. Pakistan, sensing a disparity with India in conventional military power, views its nuclear capability as the equalizer. Nuclear weapons have assumed a centrality in Pakistan’s national security, serving as a shield for the country’s cross border terrorism provocations while averting the prospect of a conventional war with India. Pakistan projects an ability to handle escalation at each level by building capability that has evolved from the concept of credible minimum deterrence to full-spectrum deterrence.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ballistic missile defense program and its ability to use strategic missiles with conventional warheads provides the rationale for China to buttress its own deterrence by expanding its nuclear arsenal and improving its penetrability and survivability. These developments are expected to result in China attaining nuclear superiority over India.

In contrast to the flurry of nuclear activity in Pakistan and China, Tellis assesses that India is following a path of “strategic conservatism.” New Delhi has moved steadily to fulfill its decision to build a modest nuclear arsenal, despite a two-front nuclear threat. It maintains the arsenal at a relatively relaxed posture and is focused on developing and deploying elements that can ensure survivability. A no-first-use policy whose credibility comes from a commitment to assured retaliation has freed India from the need to develop large numbers of nuclear warheads and highly accurate nuclear delivery systems. India maintains that the benefit of nuclear weapons lies more in their possession than their use and hence has shown no desire for nuclear arms racing.

Strategic Stability in the Region

Notwithstanding the varying pace and nature of nuclear transformation in the region, Tellis finds that strategic stability is relatively robust in the two dyads. In the case of China and India, he attributes this to a common belief that nuclear weapons are useful for deterring nuclear attacks and coercion, not war-fighting. As a result, neither country has felt the need to revise its no-first-use doctrine, despite debates within their strategic communities, or to keep the weapons at high readiness levels. Even in conflict scenarios on the historically disputed border and territories, Tellis concludes that China and India have shown no proclivity to threaten nuclear use against each other or draw attention to their nuclear muscle.

By contrast, the Indian-Pakistani nuclear equation suffers from the risk of conventional war caused by Pakistan’s “continuing nuclear shadowed campaign of terrorism against India.” The crises caused by these terrorist attacks inevitably raise the possibility of escalation, although mutual vulnerability and reasonably robust second-strike capabilities offer a level of deterrence stability.

As the map shows, China, India, and Pakistan are so proximate to each other that a nuclear exchange would affect them all. (Image by Arun Ganesh, National Institute of Design Bangalore)Interestingly, Tellis finds that all three countries are inclined toward conservative operational postures based on their underlying belief in deterrence by punishment. Despite the buildup of some capabilities that can help China and Pakistan adopt a strategy of deterrence by denial, neither country has abandoned the conviction that the fundamental utility of nuclear weapons lies in deterring nuclear attacks. This “enduring element” is a significant factor contributing to strategic stability in the region.

Tellis, however, also identifies three potential developments that could upset regional strategic stability: the introduction of missile defenses that could interfere with the ability of nuclear weapons to cause unacceptable damage; the development of offense-driven counterforce capabilities that could target retaliatory nuclear forces, thereby increasing temptation for preemption; and the growth in transparency through developments in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) technology, data aggregation and analyses, and cyberintrusion.

Although these developments, individually or in combination, could threaten stability, the author’s prognosis underplays some features that are unique to the region. For instance, China and India have undertaken some missile defense efforts, but seem to have rejected the possibility of erecting national missile defense systems for their large landmasses. Point or area defenses have been considered for ensuring survivability of their arsenals or command and control systems. Mutual vulnerability, therefore, remains a consideration.

Further, with regard to nuclear counterforce and increasing transparency, none of these countries could launch a guaranteed nuclear first strike that would be sufficient to disarm the adversary. After all, the United States has not found it prudent to take that risk against North Korea despite having an overwhelmingly superior ISR capability, highly accurate missiles, and a nuclear arsenal estimated to be close to 100 times bigger than North Korea’s arsenal.

Another relevant factor in Southern Asia that has not been given due consideration in the book is geographic contiguity. The proximity of China, India and Pakistan means they cannot escape the effects of even a modest nuclear exchange. Therefore, a decision to use nuclear weapons will be affected by considerations other than those based only on availability of better counterforce or ISR capabilities. In fact, it can be argued that more than the deliberate use of nuclear weapons underwritten by improved capability, the region could stumble inadvertently into nuclear war because of some risk-prone strategies being pursued, ostensibly to enhance deterrence. For instance, China’s deployment of dual-capable missiles, including their commingling, and Pakistan’s signaling of an early use of tactical nuclear weapons are developments with a high potential for inadvertent escalation due to miscalculation.

Asymmetries in Understanding Deterrence

The main premise of Tellis’ book is that nuclear transitions in Southern Asia are creating striking asymmetries that, when juxtaposed with difficult political relations among the dyads and the overarching Chinese-U.S. competition, could pose new dilemmas. In the concluding chapter, Tellis focuses particularly on how the emergence of China as a “daunting strategic danger” might affect India on two specific issues and counsels the United States on how these could be leveraged to its benefit.

Should France, which produced this Barracuda class nuclear attack submarine, provide India with nuclear-powered submarines to balance its military asymmetries with China? That’s one issue raised by author Ashley Tellis’ book. (Photo by Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty Images)The first issue is “India’s biggest nuclear deficiency,” which the author identifies as the “absence of reliable high-yield weapons in its inventory.” Based on data from India’s 1998 nuclear tests and subsequent assessments by scientists, he questions the weapons design base and argues that India does not have the “cutting-edge sophistication that would be needed for [weapons] reliability in real world conditions.” In order to validate advanced nuclear designs, Tellis believes India will feel the need to do a fresh round of testing and recommends that when this happens, the United States should not apply sanctions or suspend or terminate the Indian-U.S. nuclear deal. For the author, this would be “the best U.S. contribution toward enhancing geopolitical stability in the wider Asian region at a time when Chinese assertiveness will be increasingly harder to deter.” Given that China looms large on the U.S. threat radar, Tellis’ proposal is unsurprising, but it is not supported by any historical instance where the United States facilitated nuclear weaponization or testing even for its closest allies. It is doubtful that the suggestion will find traction with U.S. nonproliferation loyalists.

Meanwhile, Tellis’ questioning of the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrence on the basis of the difference between atomic and thermonuclear weapons ignores basic Indian deterrence philosophy. The argument that only the threat of thermonuclear weapons could deter China because only megaton weapons can cause unacceptable damage to megacities tends to overlook the regional reality of high-density populations. A salvo of strategically dropped fission weapons will cause a degree of damage that no rational leader can find acceptable. Relatively sparsely populated Soviet and U.S. cities may have necessitated thermonuclear weapons to signal massive retaliation. Today, intelligent targeting can derive maximum damage potential from a nuclear weapon. Over the years, advances in real-time computational power, algorithmic sophistication, and data analysis have aided weapons improvements. Further, given India’s three decades of experience in fusion and plasma physics, it is unlikely that an adversary would want to risk checking out its thermonuclear weapons. Nuclear deterrence practiced through the idea of punishment fortunately is less demanding than the yardstick of denial strategies.

Tellis’ second recommendation involves helping India overcome the limitations of its sea-based deterrent so that it can put its weapons at sea to counter the growing vulnerability of its land forces to China’s highly accurate ballistic missiles. The author doubts India’s capability to develop a “powerful yet compact naval reactor” and a very quiet strategic nuclear submarine. He suggests that as with the Australia-UK-U.S. agreement that enabled the United States to reach out to an ally to balance their common adversary (China), a French-Indian-U.S. agreement could be crafted to help a friend (India) with the same objective. The transfer of French technology to India with regard to six conventional Scorpene submarines is already under way, but Tellis’ recommendation for the United States to “mid-wife” French nuclear propulsion technology seems somewhat unrealistic.

Whether there are takers for this idea in Washington or Paris or not, New Delhi would have its own set of reservations. In a global environment constrained by technology denials and export controls, India’s strategic nuclear submarine program has been based on a clear-headed approach of self-reliance in program management, platform design, and integration of diverse technologies with demonstrated levels of indigenization. This approach naturally gives the program the flexibility to progressively improve platform design and systems. The suggestion to establish another line of strategic platform production with its concomitant supply chain complexities at this juncture may not be an optimal solution for a country that has many demands on its fiscal resources.

The book performs yeoman’s service in comprehensively collating and analyzing nuclear evolution in Southern Asia. The author examines the nuclear landscape, highlights the transitions, and offers solutions for the future as he deems fit while keeping U.S. national interests in mind. Checkmating China is the primary U.S. national security concern in contemporary times, and Tellis offers some imaginative ideas. His suggestions, however, are unlikely to find widespread appeal in the U.S. nonproliferation community. Meanwhile, from an Indian perspective, they reflect a deterrence-by-denial approach to deterrence, which India has rejected.

In fact, if the nuclear players in Southern Asia continue to maintain their current common understanding that nuclear weapons are best suited for deterrence by punishment, they would be able to escape the trap of the war-fighting approach where credible deterrence demands demonstrated sophistication of warhead designs, increased reliable yields, counterforce accuracies, and damage limitation strategies. Nuclear transitions are inevitable with technological progression, but it looks likely that Southern Asia will adapt these advancements to its own understanding of deterrence and specific regional realities.

Manpreet Sethi is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies in New Delhi.


Unlike the rough parity between Soviet and U.S. forces in the Cold War, China, India, and Pakistan are at disparate levels in terms of conventional, space, cyber, and nuclear capabilities.       

Russia Suspends New START

March 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his decision last month to suspend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), further weakening the last remaining treaty limiting U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement on Feb. 21 that he would suspend New START, the only remaining Russia-U.S. arms reduction treaty, marks the latest body blow to the international arms control regime. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)“I am compelled to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation” in New START, Putin said in a state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly on Feb. 21. To resume treaty activities, the United States would need to cut off support for Ukraine and bring France and the United Kingdom into arms control talks, he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Putin’s decision as “deeply unfortunate and irresponsible,” but emphasized that “we remain ready to talk about strategic arms limitations at any time with Russia irrespective of anything else going on in the world or in our relationship.”

Less than a month earlier, the U.S. Department of State assessed in an annual report that Russia has failed to comply with New START due to its refusal to permit on-site inspections and to reschedule a required treaty meeting.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the report on Feb. 8, claiming that “any positive signals or concessions on issues raised by the United States in the context of compliance with New START will be unjustified, untimely, and inappropriate until Washington reviews its hostile policy towards Russia and abandons its line of building up threats to our national security.”

The U.S. assessment primarily found issue with on-site inspections. “In refusing to permit the United States to conduct inspection activities on Russian territory, based on an invalid invocation of the ‘temporary exemption’ provision, Russia has failed to comply with its obligation to facilitate U.S. inspection activities, and denied the United States its right to conduct such inspection activities,” the report said.

The two countries suspended on-site inspections at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. They had been in communication about a potential resumption of the inspections since mid-2021, but could not come to an agreement.

Moscow further extended the suspension in August 2022 with its decision, based on a provision in the treaty’s protocol, to prohibit inspections at Russian facilities subject to New START. (See ACT, September 2022.) Russia cited challenges over reciprocal access to U.S. facilities for inspections.

Moscow and Washington scheduled a meeting of the treaty’s implementation body, the Bilateral Consultative Commission, for late November in Cairo, during which the two sides were expected to address and potentially resolve the inspection issue. But a day before the meeting, Russia unilaterally postponed the session as a result of a decision made “at the political level.” (See ACT, December 2022.)

New START’s protocol requires that a commission meeting occur no later than 45 days after the requested date, but Russia continues to refuse to reschedule the meeting due to U.S. rhetoric and actions related to the war in Ukraine. As a result, the U.S. State Department found Russia to be noncompliant with the treaty on a second count.

Russian Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles drive through Red Square in Moscow in preparation for a military parade in May 2019. (Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)Cara Abercrombie, coordinator for defense policy and arms control at the U.S. National Security Council, said on Feb. 1 that Russia’s noncompliance with New START “threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control moving forward.” The treaty expires on Feb. 5, 2026, and a successor arms control arrangement does not exist at this time. This has deepened concern among experts that, in three years, the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals might go unconstrained for the first time since 1972.

Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists estimated on Feb. 7 that, in a scenario with no arms control, Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear forces would approximately double in size “if both countries uploaded their delivery systems to accommodate the maximum number of possible warheads.”

“The United States would have more deployable strategic warheads, but Russia would still have a larger total arsenal of operational nuclear weapons, given its sizable stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear warheads, which are not treaty-accountable,” they wrote.

In addition, the U.S. report noted a concern, rather than a determination of noncompliance, with Russian adherence to the treaty’s central limit of no more than 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads.

“The continued lack of U.S. inspection activities in Russia poses a threat to the U.S. ability to adequately verify Russian compliance with the treaty limit on deployed warheads,” the report said. It added, however, that Russia likely remained under the New START warhead limit at the end of 2022.

New START requires Moscow and Washington to exchange data on their strategic nuclear arsenals twice a year. Until now, despite the disputes, the two countries have expressed their ongoing adherence to the treaty’s central limits, data exchanges, and notifications. But Putin’s decision to suspend the treaty will halt the data exchanges and prompt further concern about the number of Russian strategic warheads.

The U.S. report determined that, overall, Russia’s noncompliance with the treaty does not threaten U.S. national security interests and that there does not exist “a strategic imbalance” between the world’s two largest nuclear weapons possessors.

The Biden administration has not said whether that assessment has changed in light of Russia’s suspension of the treaty, but Blinken stressed on Feb. 21 that “We’ll be watching carefully to see what Russia actually does.”

Republican members of Congress criticized Russia for violating the treaty and the Biden administration for “naively” agreeing to the treaty’s extension in 2021.

“This episode…highlights why we must continue to modernize our existing nuclear deterrent and adapt our future forces to meet the dual threats of Russia’s increasing aggression and China’s massive nuclear buildup,” according to a Jan. 31 statement by four Republican lawmakers—House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (Ala.), Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Roger Wicker (Miss.), Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.), and Sen. Deb Fischer (Neb.).

Meanwhile, three Democratic senators—Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (R.I.), and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (Va.)—responded to the U.S. assessment by highlighting their past support for Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control.

In a Feb. 1 statement, the trio also warned that “compliance with New START…obligations will be critical to Senate consideration of any future strategic arms control treaty with Moscow.”


The move, which the United States called “irresponsible,” further weakens the decades-old arms control regime. 

South Korea Walks Back Nuclear Weapons Comments

March 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

South Korea walked back comments from its president suggesting that the country may need to pursue a nuclear deterrent to counter the growing threat posed by North Korea’s advancing weapons program. International backlash to the comments suggests that South Korea would pay a high price if it decided to develop its own nuclear weapons.

South Korea’s advanced civil nuclear structure would allow it to quickly develop nuclear weapons. A view of South Korea’s first nuclear plant at Wolsong-Myeong, South Korea. (Photo by Seung-il Ryu/NurPhoto via Getty Images)President Yoon Suk Yeol told officials in the South Korean Defense and Foreign Affairs ministries on Jan. 11 that if the threat posed by North Korea “gets worse,” it is possible that “our country will introduce tactical nuclear weapons or build them on our own.” He added that if the decision were made to develop nuclear weapons, Seoul could build them “pretty quickly, given our scientific and technological capabilities.”

South Korea had a nuclear weapons development program, but gave it up, and in 1975 joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits states-parties from developing nuclear weapons. After joining the NPT, South Korea built an extensive civil nuclear program and now exports nuclear reactors.

From 1979 to 2000, South Korea conducted experiments with uranium and plutonium that it failed to declare to the International Atomic Energy Agency, as required by its treaty commitments. Seoul said the work was part of its ambitious civil nuclear program and not weapons related. Although its advanced civil nuclear infrastructure would allow Seoul to quickly develop nuclear weapons, it would need to withdraw from the NPT, a move with significant security and economic repercussions.

South Korean officials quickly walked back Yoon’s comments. South Korean Minister of Unification Kwon Young-se said on Jan. 29 that discussing the development of nuclear weapons is “inappropriate” and undermines the long-held goal of denuclearization on the Korean peninsula.

He noted that U.S. nuclear weapons in the region can be used quickly against North Korea if necessary and that South Korea “should not simply think that deploying tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula will strengthen” its capability to respond to North Korean nuclear weapons.

Yoon also appeared to downplay his remarks, saying in a Jan. 18 interview at the World Economic Forum that Seoul’s “rational option is to fully respect the NPT.”

John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council spokesperson, rejected the idea that Seoul will develop nuclear weapons. In a Jan. 12 press briefing, he said South Korea has “made clear that they are not seeking nuclear weapons” and reiterated the U.S. commitment to the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.

Yoon’s comments reflect a growing South Korean interest in domestic nuclear weapons. Polling data suggest that 70 to 75 percent of the population favors developing such weapons.

But the polls “do not adequately explain to the people the high price South Korea will pay for building nuclear weapons,” a former South Korean official said in a Feb. 13 email to Arms Control Today. South Korea should expect “diplomatic isolation, sanctions, and a rupture in the [South Korean-U.S.] alliance” if it goes down that road, he said.

If Yoon’s comments were intended as a trial balloon for future nuclear weapons development, “the balloon was popped spectacularly,” the former official said, but if they were intended to push the United States to provide South Korea with greater military support, “it might have some success.”

The Biden administration is working closely with Seoul to restore confidence in U.S. defense commitments after President Donald Trump called the alliance into question. Kirby said on Jan. 12 that the United States will seek “improvements in extended deterrence capabilities” jointly with South Korea.

Comments by Yoon earlier in January suggested that his administration is interested in a greater role in U.S. nuclear planning and extended deterrence commitments to South Korea. Although U.S. President Joe Biden said on Jan. 3 that the United States is not participating in joint nuclear exercises with South Korea, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said on Jan. 11 that Washington is willing to "drastically expand” information shared with Seoul and take its views into account. He also said the two allies were planning tabletop exercises for February that are focused on “extended deterrence under the scenario of North Korea’s nuclear attacks.”

After meeting Lee on Jan. 31, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the United States will increase the number of fighter jets, bombers, and other advanced weapons systems deployed in South Korea. Austin and Lee also agreed to expand South Korean-U.S. military exercises and to continue the “timely” deployment of U.S. strategic assets in the region.

Pyongyang responded by saying that the United States is “going to ignite an all-out showdown” with North Korea and that expanding military exercises “will result in turning the Korean peninsula into a huge war arsenal.” It promised to use its “powerful deterrence” to root out the U.S. hostile policy and the military threat posed by the United States and “its vassal forces.”

This is not the first time Yoon raised the prospect of nuclear weapons in South Korea. During his presidential campaign, he suggested that the United States could redeploy tactical nuclear weapons that it removed from South Korea in 1991, but the Biden administration quickly rejected the idea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shown in file footage on South Korean television in May after his country fired off one in a year-long series of ballistic missile tests. (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)Yoon’s comments come amid increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula and a significant expansion in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea conducted an unprecedented 69 ballistic missile tests in 2022, and South Korea responded to several of them by launching its own systems. North Korea also flew drones into South Korea in December, prompting the South to respond by sending its own drones into North Korea.

The expansion of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program appears poised to continue in 2023.

On Feb. 18, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which state-run media said was part of the government’s “persistent and strong” plan to counteract South Korean-U.S. military drills. The next day, the United States responded to the test by flying B-1B strategic bombers over the Korean peninsula in coordination with the South Korean air force. The flights prompted North Korea to launch two short-range ballistic missiles on Feb. 20.

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said on Feb. 20 that Pyongyang will continue to use the Pacific Ocean as a “shooting range” in response to U.S. military actions in the region.

Kim Jong Un declared in a Jan. 1 speech that Pyongyang plans to increase exponentially its stockpile of nuclear warheads, including the mass production of tactical nuclear weapons, and to develop a new ICBM for a “quick nuclear counterstrike” capability. (See ACT, January/February 2023.) The focus on expanding tactical nuclear weapons, which have a lower yield than strategic nuclear weapons and are more likely to be deployed on shorter-range missiles or artillery, is directed at South Korea in particular.

During a military parade on Feb. 8, North Korea displayed an unprecedented 17 ICBMs, including a mockup of what is likely the new solid-fueled system that Kim said is under development. Solid-fueled systems can be launched more quickly than their liquid-fueled counterparts. North Korea tested a large solid-fueled rocket motor in 2022.

The other ICBM displayed was the Hwasong-17, which is capable of carrying multiple warheads and targeting the entire United States.


After South Korean President Yook Suk Yeol raised the possibility of an indigenous nuclear weapons program in response to North Korea, others called the remarks inappropriate.

IAEA Presses for Safety Zone in Ukraine

March 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) traveled to Russia and Ukraine in early 2023 to continue discussions on establishing a safety zone around Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, but officials from the two countries do not appear optimistic that negotiations will succeed.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in January visited the Chernobyl nuclear power plant which was the site of a nuclear disaster in 1986 and is still undergoing decommissioning. Grossi launched an IAEA expert mission to support Ukraine’s civil nuclear infrastructure, which is at risk in the war zone.  (Photo by Ruslan Kaniuka/Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)Russia attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in March 2022 and continues to occupy the Ukrainian facility in violation of international law. (See ACT, April and June 2022.) Shelling in and around the plant over the past year repeatedly has cut power to the facility and damaged buildings at the site, raising the risk of a nuclear accident. (See ACT, September 2022.) Russia and Ukraine deny responsibility for the attacks on the site. To mitigate the risks of a radiation release, Ukraine shut down the six reactors at the facility.

Meanwhile, to help prevent a nuclear accident and assist Ukrainian personnel operating the facility, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi established a permanent IAEA presence at the site in September and is trying to negotiate a protection zone around the facility. In December, Grossi expressed hope that such a zone could be established by the end of 2022.

After meetings in Moscow on Feb. 9–10, Grossi said that he discussed current plans for the zone in detail with senior Russian officials and that he remains hopeful that a zone will be established.

In his Feb. 9 statement, Grossi reiterated that the current situation at Zaporizhzhia is “very precarious” and said that “we cannot lose any more time.” Before traveling to Moscow, he said that “more determined efforts are required from all sides” to reach an agreement. He also noted that recent shelling around the plant prevented a new IAEA team from rotating into the site.

Alexei Likhachev, head of the Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom, met Grossi during the Moscow trip and said the talks “will give us a chance to get a step closer” to creating a safety zone.

Rosatom stationed personnel at Zaporizhzhia and reportedly plans to connect the power plant to the electric grid in Crimea. But Ukraine’s nuclear regulator said in January that it will only allow Zaporizhzhia to resume generating power after the plant has been returned to Ukrainian control and inspected to ensure that the reactor units can operate safely.

Prior to Grossi’s trip, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Jan. 30 that negotiations over the zone are “not progressing easily.” He said Moscow is waiting for Kyiv to respond to its proposals for the zone and accused Ukraine of “just stalling.”

Although Ukrainian officials support the creation of a zone, Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine’s nuclear energy company Energoatom, said on Jan. 4 that he does not think that establishing it is “realistic” at this point and predicted that the Ukrainian military will need to retake the site by force. He called for sanctions against Rosatom until the Russians “end the illegal capture of civilian facilities.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that Ukraine is asking for the resumption of control of Zaporizhzhia and the “complete withdrawal” of all Russian troops and Rosatom personnel from the facility.

After meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Jan. 19, Grossi said that although the negotiations on the zone are “very complex,” everyone agrees that the nuclear power plant “needs to be protected.”

While in Ukraine, Grossi also announced that the IAEA established a permanent presence at the three other operational nuclear power plants in Ukraine and at Chernobyl. IAEA personnel will provide “technical assistance and advice” and assess needs at the nuclear power plants, Grossi said.

Grossi said the IAEA is “here to stay” in Ukraine “for as long as we are needed.”

He noted that the establishment of the IAEA presence at the sites “marks a major milestone in our efforts to help Ukraine ensure nuclear safety and security during this tragic war.”

Ukrainian and Russian officials do not seem optimistic that negotiations on the safety zone will succeed.


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