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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."

– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
May 2022
Edition Date: 
Sunday, May 1, 2022
Cover Image: 

IAEA Undertakes Safeguards Missions in Ukraine


May 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Following visits by its director-general to Ukrainian nuclear power plants in April and March, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is coordinating assistance packages and a series of technical missions on nuclear safety, security, and safeguards issues for the war-torn country.

The South Ukraine nuclear power plant where Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Agency visited on March 30. (Photo by Anatolli Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)“It is vital to be on the ground in order to provide effective support to Ukraine in these extremely difficult times,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said during his March 30 trip to the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant. “The IAEA’s on-site presence, where needed, will help prevent the danger of a nuclear accident that could have severe public health and environmental consequences in Ukraine and beyond.”

Grossi in March traveled to Ukraine and Kaliningrad for separate talks with Ukrainian and Russian officials on the IAEA plan to deliver urgent technical assistance to four operational Ukrainian nuclear power plants, plus the inactive Chernobyl nuclear site. This support “will include sending IAEA experts to prioritized facilities and the shipment of vital safety and security supplies including monitoring and emergency equipment,” according to a March 29 IAEA statement.

In April, Grossi visited Chernobyl, where the IAEA and Ukraine agreed to set up a working group to “coordinate IAEA assistance and support to staff who are working hard to keep Ukraine’s nuclear sites safe and secure,” the director-general said. Ukraine on April 23 gave the IAEA a list of equipment needed by different nuclear facilities, including radiation measuring devices, protective material, computer-related assistance, power supply systems and diesel generators.

Grossi also met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and pledged that, “The IAEA will continue to support Ukraine.”

On March 31, Ukraine confirmed that the Russian forces that took control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after the invasion on Feb. 24 had officially transferred control of the site back to Ukrainian personnel.

Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear company, alleged that the Russian withdrawal from Chernobyl stemmed from numerous Russian soldiers receiving “significant doses” of radiation from digging trenches in the forested exclusion zone encompassing the nuclear site. The IAEA is investigating the claim. Grossi said in April that the Russian takeover of Chernobyl was “very, very dangerous” and that any spikes in the radiation level have now returned to normal.

The process of resuming normal regulatory control at Chernobyl had begun by April 5, and staff rotations are now occurring regularly. After 25 days of nonstop work, more than 200 staff members at the nuclear site were first allowed by Russian forces to change shifts on March 20. (See ACT, April 2022.)

In the second rotation on April 10, staff who live in the nearby city of Slavutych could only reach the Chernobyl nuclear power plant via boats on the Pripyat River.

“While it is very positive that Ukrainian authorities are gradually restoring regulatory control of the Chernobyl site, it is clear that a lot of work remains to return the site to normality,” commented Grossi.

Ukraine warned the IAEA on April 9 that the operation of radiation and other sensors have yet to be restored due to the absence of required maintenance and other specialized staff, which may “lead to the failure of other systems and components important to safety.”

The agency now serves as the “single point of contact” for any international technical assistance for Ukraine and currently is in discussions with countries offering support. On April 7, the G7 Non-Proliferation Directors Group, comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, released a statement expressing “its full and continued support” for the IAEA and encouraging “all countries to support the IAEA’s assistance efforts and to make available to the IAEA necessary resources and equipment to facilitate technical support to Ukraine and to restore and to sustain safeguards.”

Meanwhile, “the morale and the emotional state” of Ukrainian staff remains “very low” at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which has been under Russian control since early March. This complex houses six of Ukraine’s 15 reactors, which are split among four active nuclear plant sites. Together, they supply about half of the country’s electricity. Grossi told AP on April 27 that the safety at the plant is a “red light” blinking as his agency seeks access to do repairs.

The agency is preparing assistance packages and technical missions to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.

New Tactical Nuclear Weapons? Just Say No.


May 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal war on Ukraine, along with his implied threats of nuclear weapons use against any who would interfere, has raised the specter of nuclear conflict. Last month, CIA Director William Burns said that although there is no sign that Russia is preparing to do so, “none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons."

A Tomahawk cruise missile launches from the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup (DDG 86) during a live-fire exercise, during Valiant Shield 2018 in the Philippine Sea September 18, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo)As the war drags on, it is vital that Russian, NATO, and U.S. leaders maintain lines of communication to prevent direct conflict and avoid rhetoric and actions that increase the risk of nuclear escalation. Provocations could include deploying tactical nuclear weapons or developing new types of nuclear weapons designed for fighting and “winning” a regional nuclear war.

For these and other reasons, U.S. President Joe Biden was smart to announce in March that he will cancel a proposal by the Trump administration for a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), a weapon last deployed in 1991.

Before President Donald Trump, two Democratic and two Republican administrations had agreed that nuclear-armed cruise missiles on Navy ships were redundant and destabilizing and detract from higher-priority conventional missions. Moreover, renuclearizing the fleet would create serious operational burdens. In 2019, Biden called this weapon a “bad idea” and said there is no need for new nuclear weapons. He was right then and is right to cancel the system now.

Nevertheless, some in Congress are pushing to restore funding for a nuclear SLCM to fill what they say is a “deterrence gap” against Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons arsenal and to provide a future president with “more credible” nuclear options in a future war with Russia in Europe or with China over Taiwan. A fight over the project, which would cost at least $9 billion through the end of the decade, is all but certain.

The arguments for reviving the nuclear SLCM program are as flimsy as they are dangerous. Serious policymakers all agree that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. But deploying nuclear-armed cruise missiles at sea would undoubtedly increase the possibility of nuclear war through miscalculation.

By deploying both conventional and nuclear-armed cruise missiles at sea, any launch of a conventional cruise missile inherently would send a nuclear signal and increase the potential for unintended nuclear use in a conflict with a nuclear-armed adversary because the adversary would have no way of knowing if the missile was nuclear or conventional.

Furthermore, even if Russia’s stockpile of 1,000 to 2,000 short-range nuclear warheads is larger in number than the U.S. stockpile of 320, there is no meaningful gap in capabilities. Superficial numerical comparisons ignore the fact that both sides already possess excess tactical nuclear destructive capacity, including multiple options for air and missile delivery of lower-yield nuclear warheads. Both also store their tactical warheads separately from the delivery systems, meaning preparations for potential use would be detectable in advance.

If one president authorized the use of these weapons under “extreme” circumstances in a conventional war, as the policies of both countries allow, neither side would need or want to use more than a handful of these highly destructive weapons. Although tactical nuclear bombs may produce relatively smaller explosive yields, from less than 1 kiloton TNT equivalent to 20 kilotons or more, their blast, heat, and radiation effects would be unlike anything seen in warfare since the 21-kiloton-yield atomic bomb that destroyed Nagasaki.

Proponents of the nuclear SLCM claim that if Putin used a tactical nuclear weapon to try to gain a military advantage or simply to intimidate, the U.S. president must have additional options to strike back with tactical nuclear weapons. They further argue that he should strike back even if that results in nuclear devastation within NATO and Russian territory.

Theories that nuclear war can be “limited” are extremely dangerous and ignore the unimaginable human suffering nuclear detonations would produce. In practice, once nuclear weapons are used by nuclear-armed adversaries, there is no guarantee the conflict would not quickly escalate to a catastrophic exchange involving the thousands of long-range strategic nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russian arsenals.

As Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command, said in 2018 after the annual Global Thunder wargame, “It ends bad. And the bad, meaning, it ends with global nuclear war.” As the supercomputer in the 1983 movie War Games ultimately calculated, “The only winning move is not to play.”

Adding a new type of tactical nuclear weapon to the U.S. arsenal will not enhance deterrence so much as it would increase the risk of nuclear war, mimic irresponsible Russian nuclear signaling, and prompt Russia and China to build their own sea- or land-based nuclear cruise missile systems. Biden made the right decision to cancel Trump’s proposed nuclear SLCM, and now Congress needs to back the president up.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal war on Ukraine, along with his implied threats of nuclear weapons use against any who would interfere, has raised the specter of nuclear conflict.

The B-52 Bomber: The Iconic U.S. Instrument of Nuclear Combat and Coercion


May 2022
By Michael T. Klare

It should come as no surprise that the U.S. Air Force dispatched four B-52H Stratofortress bombers from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Royal Air Force Base Fairford in the United Kingdom on February 10 as part of a European buildup in anticipation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.1 Of all the weapons in the U.S. inventory, none can deliver greater quantities of explosive ordnance, whether nuclear or conventional, and none has the same capacity to arouse awe and trepidation in the minds of potential targets.

A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bomber goes through an engine check at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana in June 2021. Eight Pratt & Whitney TF33 engines give this aircraft the capability of flying at high subsonic speeds.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kate Bragg)B-52s deployed to Fairford in recent years have been sent over the Black and Baltic seas on simulated air strikes aimed at key Russian ports, air bases, radar stations, and command posts. Given this history, the recent dispatch to Europe of potentially nuclear-armed bombers was surely intended to signal a U.S. intent to inflict severe harm on Russia if it attacked a NATO member state or U.S. forces stationed in Europe—exactly the sort of coercive messaging B-52s have long performed.

The Boeing Stratofortress, known in Air Force circles as the BUFF, for Big Ugly Fat Fucker, flew for the first time 70 years ago on April 15, 1952. Originally developed by U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC) at the end of World War II to deliver atomic bombs on the Soviet Union, it constituted the principal U.S. instrument for obliterating Soviet cities, bases, and industrial centers in the early years of the Cold War. Later, during the Vietnam War, it was converted into a colossal flying dump truck for raining conventional ordnance on enemy positions in South Vietnam and strategic targets in North Vietnam, thus earning a reputation as a particularly dreaded bearer of death and destruction.

Since Vietnam, the BUFF has retained its original nuclear role, although it has also been used on several occasions, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, to deliver conventional munitions on the battlefield. Under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was renewed in February 2021 for five years, B-52s, along with some B-2 stealth bombers, are covered under the category of allowable U.S. nuclear delivery systems, and 40 out of 46 nuclear-capable H-model BUFFs presently are assigned to this role.2 To ensure the B-52 will continue flying for decades to come, all remaining aircraft are being refitted with new Rolls-Royce jet engines, extending the plane’s service life well into the 2050s and making this the longest-serving combat aircraft in the history of aviation.3

Exercise Global Shield ’82

I had a unique opportunity to experience the BUFF’s incredible capacity to inspire awe in July 1982 when I observed a simulated nuclear strike on the Soviet Union as a freelance journalist covering exercise Global Shield ’82, SAC’s largest nuclear war exercise until that time. According to the preflight briefings I received, Global Shield ’82 was intended to test SAC's ability to conduct worldwide nuclear strike operations under simulated “general war” conditions, meaning a full-scale thermonuclear contest between the United States and the Soviet Union. This was a time of heightened tensions with Moscow, coinciding with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and other superpower flare-ups. U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who assumed office in January 1981, adopted a harsh stance toward Moscow and immediately boosted military spending by 13 percent. Later that year, he signed National Security Decision Directive 13, which called for a full-scale nuclear assault on the Soviet Union, employing the entire U.S. arsenal, in the event of a future U.S.-Soviet conflict.4 Global Shield ’82 constituted the first actual test of Washington’s ability to implement the directive, with every component of the U.S. nuclear enterprise expected to play a part.

From what I was able to determine from unclassified information, Global Shield ’82 entailed the activation of nearly every B-52 in the Air Force inventory, along with heightened alert status for the other components of the U.S. nuclear triad, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Most SAC bombers were deployed on simulated attack missions on the Soviet Union or possibly China, and at least one Minuteman ICBM was test-fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California toward the Kwajalein test range in the western Pacific, an event I was allowed to witness.5

Although I was given a time, date, and place to appear for my B-52 flight, many aspects of the exercise were kept secret from rank-and-file personnel until the last minute in order to test the ability of air and ground crews to launch the bombers on short notice. Once arrived at Mather Air Force Base in California, I was fitted with a flight outfit and oxygen gear and seated in a crew holding area until a Klaxon sounded, indicating an emergency takeoff. Pilots and crews raced to their planes—each 160 feet of dull-gray metal with distinctive swept-back wings and a low-hanging belly capable of delivering 70,000 pounds of nuclear or conventional ordnance. They were already lined up on the runway in a flight-ready condition, allowing their immediate launch in the event of a Soviet missile strike.

As the flight commenced, the mission was revealed: fly halfway across the Pacific and, after being refueled over Hawaii, reverse course and drop simulated bombs on a target on the U.S. West Coast, presumably a stand-in for Vladivostok or another key location in Russia’s Far East. Periodically during the flight, a radio speaker would broadcast the alphanumeric codes that constitute an emergency action message, a classified directive from nuclear command centers to execute a preplanned action. Each time, the pilot or co-pilot would open a safe in a nearby compartment and remove a red loose-leaf binder with the corresponding actions for each coded signal. These provided instructions on which course of action to follow. In the event of an actual war, they would direct the plane to a predesignated target and indicate which bombs to drop where.

Eventually, we were ordered to deliver the bomber’s simulated nuclear payload on Mono Lake, an iconic tourist site on the California-Nevada border. To get there, the B-52 flew down the spine of the Sierra Nevada mountain range at treetop level. On each approach to a new ridgeline, the pilot appeared to struggle to keep the 183,500-pound plane from crashing into the tallest trees. Upon landing at Mather, 24 hours after departing, that pilot, a 20-something-looking fellow with much older eyes, said on the intercom, “Well crew, we cheated death one more time.”

The Origins of the B-52

The B-52 Stratofortress descended from the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, a four-engine heavy bomber introduced during World War II for use in strategic bombing campaigns over Germany and Japan. The concept of strategic air warfare, or the use of bombers to attack an enemy’s war-making capacity at the rear, as distinct from the tactical use of planes in attacks on frontline troops, was first introduced during World War I. Among its earliest advocates was Lieutenant Colonel Lendrum “Billy” Mitchell, commander of the U.S. Army air component. Mitchell and his associates theorized that enemy forces could be more easily defeated if their factories were no longer able to produce the guns, fuel, ammunition, and other essentials needed to sustain combat. Although rebuffed during World War I, Mitchell’s ideas gained a following among Army Air Corps officials during the interwar period and had a significant influence on U.S. and Allied strategic planning during World War II.6

In consonance with Mitchell’s theories, U.S. and UK strategists determined that they could shorten the war and curtail enemy resistance on the battlefield by inflicting heavy damage on Germany’s and Japan’s industrial and transportation capabilities, especially railroads, refineries, and weapons plants.7 To conduct such strategic air assaults, the United States mass-produced heavy bombers capable of delivering large payloads of ordnance on distant enemy targets. At the start of the war, most of these attacks were conducted by the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, first developed in the mid-1930s. It was succeeded in 1944 by the B-29, a much larger and more capable bomber. Most of these planes were deployed against Japan, where General Curtis LeMay, commander of the 20th U.S. Air Force, used them in nighttime incendiary attacks on urban centers. B-29s of the 20th Air Force were also used to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.8

After those massively destructive bombings, U.S. strategists assumed that nuclear munitions would be the deciding weapon of war and would be delivered to enemy territory by long-range bombers such as the B-29. To provide the United States with the capabilities for such operations, the U.S. Army Air Forces created SAC in 1946 and began developing successors to the B-29. This effort was accelerated in 1947 when Congress, recognizing the centrality of airpower in modern warfare, converted the Army Air Forces into an independent military service, the U.S. Air Force.

By 1948 the pursuit of more-capable bombers had produced two new models: the Convair B-36 Peacemaker, a piston engine-powered aircraft, and the Boeing B-47 Stratojet, the first jet-powered U.S. bomber.9 Although more capable than the B-29, the B-36 and B-47 were considered by many strategic air warfare enthusiasts to lack the combination of speed and range needed to perform the pivotal role expected of bombers in the new era of nuclear warfare. Accordingly, SAC, led after October 1948 by LeMay, commenced a search for a superior aircraft. In 1950, Boeing was authorized by SAC to proceed with development of a new design, which became the B-52 prototype. Two years later, the finished aircraft conducted its first flight; seven months later, the Air Force ordered its first combat-ready versions.10

For the next 20 years, the Stratofortress was largely assigned by SAC to a nuclear strike function in accordance with strategic bombing doctrine and the assumption that any conflict with the Soviet Union would entail massive nuclear attacks on Soviet territory. That was before the widespread deployment of ICBMs and SLBMs, when only long-range bombers such as the B-52 were thought capable of performing that mission. The Stratofortress was then perceived as the symbol of global nuclear annihilation, a status confirmed by its conspicuous role in the 1964 movie “Dr. Strangelove.”

B-52 Operations in Vietnam

The onset of the Vietnam War in 1964 posed a conceptual challenge to Air Force leadership. LeMay, then chief of staff, urged the use of SAC bombers in an orthodox strategic air campaign to break North Vietnam’s will and capacity to support the guerrilla uprising in the South, but Defense Secretary Robert McNamara viewed the war as a limited conventional conflict and chose to employ the BUFFs in an essentially tactical role, using them to drop conventional bombs on guerrilla strongpoints and provide close-air support to U.S. and allied combat units in the South. B-52s commenced these missions in June 1965 and soon became a ubiquitous presence in the war zone. To enhance their bomb-delivery capacity, all B-52Ds underwent a modification, nicknamed “Big Belly,” which increased their capacity from 27 to 84 conventional 500-pound bombs. By 1966, the BUFFs were dropping 8,000 tons of these bombs on enemy positions in South Vietnam every month.11

A Vietnamese man stands in front of the B-52 crash site in Huu Tiep Lake in 2016 in Hanoi, Vietnam. The bomber's wreckage is a legacy of the Vietnam War. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)As the war ground on and U.S. success appeared increasingly remote, the BUFFs were used in a more typical strategic fashion to degrade enemy supply lines and logistical facilities in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. At U.S. President Richard Nixon’s behest, B-52s struck such targets in Cambodia in March 1969 under a secret operation code-named Menu. In another operation, called Commando Hunt, B-52s attacked key bottlenecks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, as well as bridges and other transportation nodes in southern North Vietnam.12

It was only toward the end of the war, that B-52s were used in a truly strategic manner, consistent with the thinking of LeMay and SAC’s early pioneers. On March 30, 1972, in what was termed the Easter Offensive, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) leadership launched its largest operation of the war, sending an estimated 14 NVA divisions into the South and endangering key cities, including Saigon. Nixon responded with an all-out air offensive against the North, called Linebacker I, which targeted railroad yards, petroleum storage facilities, and major bridges.

The NVA was eventually halted by superior U.S. firepower, setting the stage for peace negotiations in Paris. When these talks reached a stalemate in late 1972, Nixon ordered a new air offensive against North Vietnam, Linebacker II, that targeted key facilities in and around Hanoi and Haiphong for the first time in the war. By the time these “Christmas bombings” ended on December 29, B-52s had conducted 729 missions in 11 days and dropped 15,000 tons of ordnance on the North. Fifteen B-52s were shot down during this campaign, the largest number ever lost in combat.13

To this day, analysts and historians debate the effectiveness of these B-52 operations in advancing U.S. war objectives. There is general agreement that the use of the BUFFs to pulverize enemy positions in the South, especially in battles around Saigon, helped the United States and its South Vietnamese allies overcome lightly armed guerrilla forces. Yet, extensive Menu and Commando Hunt operations in Cambodia and Laos, respectively, never halted the flow of arms and personnel from the North to the South, nor did they prevent the NVA’s Easter Offensive. The 1972 Christmas bombings helped solidify domestic opposition to U.S. involvement in the war, provoking widespread condemnation and protests. Although Linebacker II was followed by the return of North Vietnamese negotiators to the Paris talks and the signing of a peace accord, the subsequent withdrawal of U.S. forces from the South left governmental forces there at a significant disadvantage. In 1975 they finally succumbed to the North.14

If anything can be said about the B-52 experience in Vietnam, it may be that it solidified the plane’s reputation as a terrifying killing machine. Nobody who watched television from that time can forget the images of the BUFFs dropping bomb after bomb on the unprotected landscape, leaving fires, explosions, and massive craters in its wake, along with the gruesome remains of men, women, and children. Enemy survivors, questioned afterward, speak of the enormous trauma they suffered from these raids. From then on, the B-52 would be valued as much for its ability to instill fear in opponents as for its capacity to deliver munitions on the battlefield.

B-52s in the 21st Century

After the Vietnam War, the B-52 was relegated largely to its prewar role as a mechanism for delivering nuclear munitions on the Soviet Union. Many older BUFFs were retired, and the remaining fleet, mostly later “G” and “H” models, was refitted with modern avionics to enable penetration of enemy airspace. When Reagan took office in 1981 and nuclear war with the Soviet Union again seemed conceivable, the crews of these surviving aircraft were retrained for long-range nuclear strike missions of the sort replicated in Global Shield ’82.15

During the ensuing years, ICBMs and SLBMs overtook the B-52s as the primary systems for delivering nuclear weapons. These missiles are considered more reliable and survivable than long-range bombers and can deliver their warheads with far greater accuracy. Even so, the BUFFs were retained in the strategic arsenal, partly because of the continued political sway of SAC and its successor organization, the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), and partly because they provide senior officials with flexibility. B-52s can be launched quickly in a crisis and, once launched, can be called back midflight if senior officials conclude that a presumed nuclear threat has been falsely identified, maneuvers that missiles cannot perform. B-52s also have been retained in the inventory because their intercontinental range and large ordnance capacity allow them to be employed in various nonnuclear operations. These include, for example, the use of conventional bombs and missiles to strike enemy troop formations and attacks on vital rear-area targets, such as air bases and command facilities.

During the 1991 Gulf War, M-117 750-pound bombs were loaded onto the pylon of a B-52G Stratofortress aircraft prior to a bombing mission against Iraqi forces. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, B-52s played a significant combat-support role by pulverizing enemy positions ahead of advancing U.S. troops and attacking Iraqi supply lines to the rear. B-52s were again used in 2001 during Operation Enduring Freedom to attack Taliban positions around Kabul and later to provide close-air support for U.S. troops fighting remnants of the regime. Two years later, during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the BUFFs were employed to attack Iraqi combat formations at the front and to destroy high-value targets in and around Baghdad.16 By this time, B-52s had been equipped to carry a wide variety of precision-guided munitions, including stand-off weapons that could be fired far from their target, thereby sparing the relatively slow-moving BUFFs from attack by enemy anti-aircraft guns and missiles.

Great-Power Competition

Although largely sidelined in the war on terrorism, the B-52 has gained renewed saliency in the era of great-power competition. As initially formulated in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, this outlook holds that a rising China and newly assertive Russia have come to replace Islamic terrorists as the main threat to national security and that, as a consequence, the U.S. military must be retooled for the “high-end fight” against these “near-peer” adversaries. Citing the growing threats posed by China and Russia, the National Defense Strategy and a companion document, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, call for the modernization of the entire nuclear triad and the replacement of many of its components with entirely new systems, among them a new strategic bomber, the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider. Although the initial flight of the first prototype B-21 is scheduled for 2022, it will be many years before B-21s join the bomber fleet in large numbers, and the B-52H will continue as the mainstay of the triad’s air leg until that time. To ensure that the B-52 remains combat worthy, the Air Force recently awarded Rolls-Royce North America a $2.6 billion contract to replace the plane’s existing Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofan engines with a more modern and capable type, the F130.

Aside from its enduring role as a nuclear delivery system, the BUFF’s main function today is to serve as a flying platform for the launch of advanced conventional weapons against high-value enemy targets, such as radar stations, missile batteries, and command centers. This was a key part of its mission during the 2003 Iraq War and often figures in combat exercises conducted by the Air Force Global Strike Command, the STRATCOM component established in 2009 to oversee all B-52 bomber wings. This command regularly dispatches B-52s on long-range missions intended to demonstrate its capacity to support forward-deployed U.S. and allied forces by bringing an array of advanced conventional and nuclear weapons to bear on adversary forces.

On some occasions, these missions extend beyond training and reassuring allies to intimidating potential adversaries. In such cases, B-52s engage in conspicuous simulated attack maneuvers in the vicinity of enemy cities and military installations. A revealing example was a September 2020 mission by two Minot-based BUFFs that included a mock attack on the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. The two bombers approached Kaliningrad from the sea, then swung east and passed the enclave from above the Suwalki Gap, a narrow stretch of land connecting Poland and Lithuania and dividing Kaliningrad from Belarus, before turning west over Sweden and returning to Fairford. At about the same time, another B-52 from Minot conducted a mock attack run over the Black Sea near Crimea. These maneuvers, closely observed by the Russian military, can only be described as intended to remind Russian leaders of the U.S. ability to conduct powerful attacks on their prized assets.17

When conducting such simulated strike missions, the BUFF is assumed to be armed with advanced standoff weapons of the sort used in the Iraq War. Yet, the bombers are now being fitted to carry a new type of conventional weapon, the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). This new missile will employ a booster rocket to attain hypersonic speeds of more than five times the speed of sound and an unpowered glide vehicle to strike high-value, time sensitive targets in enemy territory. During its most recent test on December 15, 2021, the AGM-183A failed to launch from its B-52 pylon (the third time it did not operate properly), setting back Air Force plans to begin ARRW production in 2022.18 B-52s assigned to nuclear missions carry nuclear-armed cruise missiles, which are also being modernized with a new variant known as the long-range standoff weapon.

Although the B-52’s function in U.S. nuclear war-planning has contracted over the years, it remains today what it has been for seven decades, a powerful symbol of the U.S. long-range strike capability. Through sheer size, conspicuous appearance, and the ability to deliver massive loads of ordnance, the bomber immediately connotes an incipient potential to inflict catastrophic harm on those who run afoul of U.S. and allied security interests. No wonder then that the Air Force deployed those B-52Hs to Fairford on February 10 as Russia prepared to undertake what has proved to be the largest land war in Europe since World War II.

ENDNOTES

1. Thomas Newdick, “B-52 Bombers Return to Europe at a Very Tense Time,” The Drive, February 11, 2022, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/44257/b-52-bombers-return-to-europe-at-a-very-tense-time.

2. Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “United States Nuclear Weapons, 2021,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 77, No. 1 (2021), pp. 43–63.

3. John A. Tirpak, “Rolls-Royce Wins B-52 Re-engining Program Worth $2.6 Billion,” Air Force Magazine, September 24, 2021.

4. For background, see Fred Kaplan, The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020), pp. 145–152.

5. For background on Global Shield ’82, see J.C. Hopkins and Sheldon A. Goldberg, “The Development of the Strategic Air Command 1946–86,” Office of the Historian, U.S. Strategic Air Command, 1986, p. 247. See also Bruce Eickhoff, “SAC Trains the Way It Would Fight,” Air Force Magazine, February 1, 1982.

6. See John F. Guilmartin Jr., “Strategy: Air Warfare Strategy,” in The Oxford Companion to American Military History, ed. John Whiteclay Chambers II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 690–691. See also Lee B. Kennett, A History of Strategic Bombing (New York: Scribner, 1982).

7. See Richard G. Davis, “World War II, U.S. Air Operations in: The Air War in Europe,” in The Oxford Companion to American Military History, ed. John Whiteclay Chambers II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 832–833; Conrad C. Crane, “World War II, U.S. Air Operations in: The Air War in Japan,” in The Oxford Companion to American Military History, ed. John Whiteclay Chambers II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 833–834.

8. Crane, “World War II, U.S. Air Operations in: The Air War in Japan,” p. 834.

9. Bill Yenne, B-52 Stratofortress: The Complete History of the World’s Longest Serving and Best Known Bomber (Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2012), pp. 23–25.

10. Ibid., pp. 27–37. See also Walter J. Boyne, Boeing B-52: A Documentary History (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1994), pp. 43–67.

11. John Darrell Sherwood, “Vietnam War, U.S. Air Operations in the,” in The Oxford Companion to American Military History, ed. John Whiteclay Chambers II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 768–769.

12. Ibid., p. 769.

13. See Boyne, Boeing B-52, pp. 95–102; Yenne, B-52 Stratofortress, pp. 91–99.

14. See Sherwood, “Vietnam, U.S. Air Operations in the,” p. 769. See also Stephen Ambrose, “The Christmas Bombing,” HistoryNet, September 29, 2017, https://www.historynet.com/the-christmas-bombing/; Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam (New York: Free Press, 1989).

15. See Eickhoff, “SAC Trains the Way It Would Fight.”

16. Yenne, B-52 Stratofortress, pp. 121–131, 145–157.

17. David Axe, “U.S. Air Force B-52s Just Flew a Mock Bombing Run on Russia’s Baltic Fortress,” Forbes, September 25, 2020.

18. Valerie Insinna, “Air Force Hypersonic Weapon Runs Into Trouble After a Third Failed Test,” Breaking Defense, December 20, 2021, https://breakingdefense.com/2021/12/air-force-hypersonic-weapon-runs-into-trouble-after-a-third-failed-test/.


Michael T. Klare is professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and a senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association. He is the author of fifteen books, including most recently All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon's Perspective on Climate Change.

Of all the weapons in the U.S. inventory, none arouses trepidation for a potential target like the B-52 bomber. Now it has a new mission, supporting Ukraine.

The Humanitarian Case for Banning Nuclear Weapons: An Interview With Alexander Kmentt


May 2022

The Russian war on Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons to compensate for his country’s conventional military setbacks there have concentrated public attention on nuclear weapons to a degree not seen in decades. It is also likely to raise the profile of a meeting scheduled for June 21–23 in Vienna of the states-parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The treaty, which makes a humanitarian argument for banning all nuclear weapons, went into force in January 2021, and this meeting is the first time that member states are gathering to reinforce its provisions and press forward its mission. Carol Giacomo, chief editor of Arms Control Today, asked Alexander Kmentt, director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation at the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and president-designate of the first meeting of TPNW states-parties, to discuss what they hope to achieve, especially in light of the Russian war. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Arms Control Today: What is the subject and the purpose of this first meeting of TPNW states-parties in June?

Alexander Kmentt: The treaty entered into force a little over a year ago, after the 50th state notified the United Nations of its ratification. Because of COVID-19 delays, this is the first time the states-parties are getting together after the treaty entered into force to basically put the treaty and its implementation on track. It's very important because, after the entry into force, we are moving into a different phase. There are several important decisions that need to be taken, from basic organizational ones to substantive ones.

Anti-nuclear activists of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and other peace initiatives protest with the 51 flags of countries that ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in front of the German Chancellery in Berlin on January 22. Their banner reads: “Nuclear weapons are forbidden!” (Photo by Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)ACT: Can you talk about those substantive decisions?

Kmentt: One basic thing is, we have to agree on rules of procedure, so how are we going to work in the future as states-parties. In terms of substantive decisions, there are several. I can tell you where we are now in the preparations, a little over two months before the meeting starts, but of course all of this is subject to the approval of states-parties. First of all in terms of the main message, states-parties are clear that they want to show that this new treaty is a serious undertaking. The meeting is not an activist gathering. Of course, there will be a very strong civil society presence, which is very important and very welcome. But this is a formal meeting of states-parties who have gone through the due national processes to ratify this treaty and considered this very carefully. The states-parties are embarking on the implementation of this new international legal instrument. This is the most important message because there is such a contestation and false narrative around the TPNW. Secondly, the rationale of the TPNW is the evidence around humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons. We want to very strongly reemphasize these profound arguments and reconnect the nuclear debate to this aspect.

ACT: On the issue of humanitarian response, is there actually going to be a proposal on the table for how you approach this?

Kmentt: Yes. The TPNW has some important, novel aspects with the positive obligations of assistance for victims of nuclear weapons use and nuclear weapons testing, environmental remediation, cooperation, and assistance. We have several states-parties and signatories that have communities and areas that are, to this day, very heavily impacted by past nuclear weapons testing campaigns: Kazakhstan, for example, some of the Pacific Island states, or Algeria—that's a signatory state. So, we are embarking to develop a culture of work to find a way as a community of states-parties to address the humanitarian harm that has been caused, which of course underscores the need for prevention. The rights of victims, essentially, and communities will very much be put into focus. This underscores the humanitarian rationale of the TPNW in a very tangible way.

This approach is inspired by some of the victims-related work that has been done in other conventions, for example, on cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines, where some of those concepts around a very human security-focused approach to victims have been developed. We are learning and profiting from this past experience.

When member states of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) meet in June, one issue will be ameliorating the effects of nuclear testing on places such as Kazakhstan. The Soviet Union detonated 467 nuclear bombs at the Semipalatinsk test site in the northeastern region of the country before it closed in 1991, resulting in thousands of victims who suffer from radioactive diseases. In this 2007 photo, a 4th generation radiation victim, accompanied by his grandmother (R), was treated for a liver disorder at the Medical Academy Center.  (Photo by John van Hasselt/Corbis via Getty Images)ACT: What other substantive issues will the meeting address?

Kmentt: There is one important decision related to the elimination of nuclear weapons, which the negotiation conference in 2017 explicitly tasked the first meeting of states-parties to take up. The TPNW foresees two ways for nuclear-armed states to join. One is essentially the South African model, by which a state first eliminates its weapons, has this verified, and then joins the TPNW, as was the case when South Africa joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state in the 1990s. The second avenue is for a nuclear-armed state to join the TPNW and then eliminate its nuclear weapons in an agreed process of verified elimination. So, this is the framework foreseen by the TPNW. The treaty deliberately does not specify this further because the nuclear-armed states did not participate in the negotiations. This will have to be done at the later stage if and when a nuclear-armed state is ready to join the TPNW. Nevertheless, we have to agree at the meeting on a maximum deadline of verified elimination for nuclear-armed states that want to join the treaty. Of course, the individual time frames will have to be negotiated with individual nuclear-armed states once they join and to take into account the specificities.

Secondly, the treaty also foresees a maximum deadline for the removal of nuclear weapons if a nuclear hosting state joins the TPNW. So, this is again another substantive decision for the meeting. Then, the treaty foresees the designation of a competent international authority or authorities that will foresee the future elimination of nuclear weapons within the TPNW framework. Of course, we know that this is not that urgent because nuclear-armed states are currently reluctant to join the TPNW. Nevertheless, we will most likely take a decision to explore this issue in detail during the intersessional period [between states-parties conferences]. We will assess what is available in terms of existing expertise, what the competencies and mandate of such an authority would have to be so that states-parties are in a position to take a very well-informed decision on this issue in the future.

Moreover, universalization is an obligation under this treaty to its states-parties, and we are preparing that. Working on universalization is not merely encouraging new ratifications but promoting the arguments on which the treaty is based, namely the humanitarian consequences of and the risks associated with nuclear weapons.

Two more issues are being discussed. I'm optimistic that we'll find an agreement on how to best harness scientific advice for the treaty. I think that could be a very important deliverable for the first meeting of states-parties. We are discussing proposals for a scientific advisory group that will help states-parties implement technical aspects of the treaty, such as verification, and also to identify what is out there in terms of research on the humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons. This is a novel area and could be a very significant contribution for the TPNW and possibly beyond.

Second, states-parties are very clear that they want a strong message on the complementarity of the treaty with the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime, in particular the NPT. States-parties are preparing all these decisions in a very serious way. There is a very high degree of common purpose. I have asked facilitators for all these different topics to prepare working papers that contain recommendations, possible actions, and decisions. I hope that these papers are very broadly supported by states-parties before and at the meeting.

ACT: How is what you are doing affected by the war in Ukraine and Putin’s nuclear threats?

Kmentt: I'm very happy to give you my own perspective on this, but I cannot do that as president of the TPNW meeting because states-parties have not yet formally discussed this. I think all of us struggle to understand what the implications of the war in Ukraine are going to be on the nuclear regime. I think the honest answer is that none of us really knows, except that the repercussions will be really profound. It can go in many different ways. I hope that what we have seen is a jolt that maybe rallies the international community, or at least the vast majority of the international community, into more focused and urgent action on nuclear disarmament.

I'm concerned about some of the nuclear weapons “muscle memory” that we observe. We have seen nuclear threats being made in the context of the situation in Ukraine, essentially to enable a nuclear-weapon state to invade a non-nuclear-weapon state in good standing with the NPT. I think it is profoundly damaging to the NPT. This highlights not only nuclear risks and the fragility of nuclear deterrence, it also further underscores the many legitimacy issues around nuclear weapons. What we have seen by these disconcerting developments turns the notion of nuclear-weapon states in the NPT broadly working together as five upside down. I think the P5 process is in very big difficulty and has lost credibility. I hope that there will still be some areas of cooperation left.

What we also noticed is that maybe the attention on the nuclear issue is back. We in the nuclear community were always convinced that this is an important issue, but the wider public didn't really care. It fell off the radar after the Cold War. I think we see that this is changing, that people realize that this is not something of the past or it's not something that's limited to the North Korean issue. In Europe, we see this very much, and people are scared and for good reason. I think that is also a consequence.

For the TPNW, I think the context is difficult, but it's difficult for the whole disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation field. What we have seen underlines the fragility of nuclear deterrence stability and how precarious this entire construct is. The question is, What conclusions are drawn from this? I think it is also an opportunity for the TPNW to highlight the arguments of humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons. I always was convinced that this is very topical, but I think it has become even more important now. Ultimately, the question is whether reliance on nuclear deterrence as a construct that is supposed to bring stability to international relations is too precarious and unsustainable given the existential risks it entails for all humanity.

ACT: Are you concerned that the current international environment will propel non-nuclear-weapon states, such as Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Turkey, to acquire nuclear weapons?

Kmentt: It's an absolutely pertinent question. It is one of those pivotal moments where we could go two ways. It is possible that we move in the direction of more focus on nuclear weapons and the consequence of that will be a proliferation cascade. Whether the world at the end of that process is more secure, I think, is highly questionable. I suggest that it's not. Or, we use this as an opportunity to reinforce the treaties that we have. Maybe those in the international community that are responsible, that care about this normative framework, try to reinforce this normative framework. It is a real threshold moment. Are we “jumping back to the 1950s,” so to speak, into a situation where we did not yet have a nuclear treaty regime and basically have to restart again with rules and treaties, or can we use this as an opportunity to try to strengthen the framework that we have and prevent it from falling apart? The TPNW is the new kid on the block in this framework and we need to strengthen it.

ACT: Are states outside of the TPNW, such as Finland and Switzerland, still interested in attending the meeting and participating in the process in some way?

Kmentt: The short answer is yes. I think people are watching very carefully, very closely what we do in the TPNW process. There's a lot of false narratives going around, if I can say it in that way, from opponents of the TPNW, and that's why I think TPNW states-parties will be extremely focused on the seriousness of the enterprise. I am very much focused on the first meeting of states-parties, and I want this to be a successful meeting, but at the end of the day, the more important thing, really, is what happens afterwards. My goal is that at the end of the first meeting, the treaty is firmly established as a serious forum to engage meaningfully on the profound issues on which the TPNW is based.

This engagement by skeptics of the TPNW has been lacking. The TPNW has been vilified and accused of all sorts of things. We all understand the political dynamics behind it, but states-parties are undisturbed by that. We remain serious about this treaty, serious about our commitment to the TPNW and for a multilateral approach to nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament, and nonproliferation. If this message comes out very strongly at the first meeting of states-parties, then I'm optimistic that some of these unfounded criticisms will fall away. At the end of the day, given what we are seeing now, TPNW opponents should ask themselves whether it is a good thing or a bad thing if more states are willing to take on legally binding obligations against nuclear weapons. I would make the point that we should welcome any additional legally binding commitment from any actor at the moment that tries to reinforce the normative framework and the nuclear disarmament regime.

ACT: Are there going to be any surprises? Is anybody going to show up at this conference that maybe we aren't expecting?

Kmentt: The UN secretary-general is the convener of this meeting. He has sent invitations to every UN member state. So, every UN member state is invited to participate, and our door is certainly open. As I said, from the TPNW side, we are not doing anything and will not do anything that will be an easy excuse for anyone not to show up and be part of this discussion. Of course, we cannot force anyone, but it will be the decision of non-states-parties whether or not to attend. It's not something that we do on the TPNW side to exclude the participation of anyone.

ACT: Have you had much conversation with the United States about this?

Kmentt: I had plenty of conversations with U.S. colleagues. Of course, the overall U.S. position on the TPNW hasn't changed. It's very clear, but there is a dialogue, and I think that's important. Certainly [the Biden] administration is very concerned about the future of the NPT, like all of us should be. With all the disagreement that there may be on some issues, I think there is a willingness to find ways of working together where possible. I think there's very clearly the interest there. Logically, the TPNW states-parties understand that the objective of the treaty will only be achieved with engagement with the states that have these weapons. We're not naive in that sense. We know that we cannot wish nuclear weapons away. This is a discursive process.

From my perspective, it is a very powerful proposition to discuss nuclear weapons from the perspective of humanitarian consequences and risks. It's only fair and a legitimate approach because the risks are borne by the entire international community. I’m convinced the TPNW represents the perspective of the vast majority of non-nuclear-weapon states who have felt disenfranchised about the nuclear discourse over the decades. The request for this discussion
is not going to disappear, and the stronger the TPNW becomes, the legitimacy and the weight to ask for this engagement will grow. I think that is why we want to set this treaty up in a serious way because that discussion has to happen at some stage.

ACT: How do you see the TPNW reinforcing what the NPT review conference, which meets in August, will do?

Kmentt: I think the prospects for the NPT review conference are very uncertain at the moment. It's extremely fragile, and we're all concerned about that. I can say this with absolute certainty, TPNW states-parties have absolutely no interest whatsoever that the NPT is damaged, quite the opposite. The entire TPNW community has always felt it was grossly offensive to be accused by some that the TPNW undermines the NPT. If you look at the states that have most actively promoted the TPNW—Ireland, for example, which has practically invented the NPT with the Irish resolution; South Africa, which had nuclear weapons, gave them up, and joined the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state; Mexico, which has led the entire continent with the Treaty of Tlatelolco, Kazakhstan; my own country, Austria; I could go on—these are states that have a clear and clean record in support of the NPT. We always felt that this was really an offensive accusation coming from states whose own NPT Article 6 implementation leaves some scope for improvement, to say the least.

The TPNW clearly reinforces Article 6 of the NPT [requiring states-parties to pursue nuclear disarmament]. This is one of the pillars of the NPT, and even opponents of the TPNW will agree that a prohibition of nuclear weapons is necessary to implement Article 6. The NPT is a framework treaty. Also, the nonproliferation provision of the NPT required additional instruments, for example, the safeguard systems of the [International Atomic Energy Agency]. So, conceptually, a prohibition is necessary to implement Article 6. The disagreement, if you wish, is, should this come at the end of the process of disarmament, or is it better to do it now? You can have a discussion about it, but that a prohibition is necessary, I think, is unequivocally clear.

Take the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), another weapons of mass destruction prohibition treaty. Nobody disputes the validity of the BWC, which does not have any verification provision. The TPNW follows the same logic and very clearly supports the NPT obligation of Article 6. Moreover, I would argue—and this an aspect that is underrepresented—that the TPNW is also a strong measure to support nonproliferation. By looking at the humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons, we make the argument that reliance on nuclear weapons is ultimately an irresponsible and unsustainable approach to security, so nobody should have them. This is absolutely a nonproliferation measure. So the TPNW supports the nonproliferation pillar of the NPT as well.

How can anybody with a clear mind therefore say that the TPNW undermines the NPT, because obviously the two essential pillars of the NPT, disarmament and nonproliferation, are supported by the TPNW? There was great care and consciousness in the negotiations to make sure that the TPNW is fully compatible with the NPT, and we are absolutely adamant about this. There will be a very clear message at the meeting of states-parties on complementarity between the TPNW and the NPT. I hope that these politically motivated accusations against the TPNW will stop being made.

The president-designate of the first meeting of states-parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons prepares to move the pact forward at a difficult time in Russian-U.S. relations.

Start With Small Steps in the Middle East


May 2022
By Lia Swiniarski

Never has a regional security framework been needed more in the Middle East than it is today. Events of the last decade—the 2011 Arab Spring, Iran’s expanding nuclear program, brutal civil wars in Yemen and Syria, and persistent terrorist activities—have prolonged tensions among regional actors. Geopolitical shifts, such as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the absence of cooperation among global powers in resolving regional conflicts, have further exacerbated an unstable security environment. The result has been louder, more prevalent cries for peace by regional activists and political leaders, so far without a constructive result.

Haidar Abdel Shafi (L), head of the Palestinian delegation, addresses delegates to the Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid in October 1991. The conference launched multilateral negotiations on arms control, security, water, refugees, the environment and economic development. (Photo by Patrick Baz/AFP via Getty Images)One of the biggest concerns is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Although Israel is the only state in the region that has refused to sign the 1970 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, several countries that signed the pact have begun to bypass its restrictions, most notably Iran with its accelerating nuclear program.1 The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and nonstate actors in the Syrian civil war further amplifies the risk of WMD use and the growing willingness to violate long-established international agreements and norms. For all its bruises, the NPT remains the cornerstone of the international nonproliferation regime and has created a precedent for further international arms control treaties, such as the Chemical Weapons Convention. Despite these efforts, recent negative trends highlight the acute need for a region-wide comprehensive solution to the WMD threat in the Middle East, specifically the creation of a WMD-free zone.

Today, there are six nuclear-weapon-free zones in the world in which participating states are bound by treaties that ban development, possession, testing, and transportation of nuclear weapons.2 Although a lack of sustained communication has made cooperation among member states in these zones a challenge, the overall benefits of such zones are undeniable and could improve security in the Middle East. States that commit to these agreements consent to eliminate nuclear weapons from their national security plans, making the pact mutually beneficial to all states in a particular zone. Pledging to remove nuclear weapons from their individual national defense strategies also commits states to the humanitarian goal of ridding the entire world of nuclear weapons. The aim of the international nonproliferation regime is to normalize these goals and encourage more countries to devote themselves to the effort.3

For decades, proponents of WMD-free zones have attempted to establish a similar treaty to ban nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The most recent endeavor is the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, which had its second annual session in November 2021. Despite these efforts, several obstacles have impeded the implementation of concrete measures to rid the region of weapons of mass destruction. These include Israel’s decision not to participate in the conference, stalled negotiations on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and continued distrust and instability among countries in the region.

These difficulties should not obscure the fact that many politicians, activists, and civilians in the region agree that something needs to change to promote stability there. So, why has dialogue and significant progress stagnated? What must be done moving forward to create the conditions necessary to achieve the zone and advance overall regional security?

What the Middle East needs most is trust-building. Previous initiatives have attempted to establish security regimes with verification and confidence-building measures. This approach would be more effective for building bridges between states after ratification of an agreement. Although these measures are important to any regional security framework, they will never be implemented successfully unless regional actors first establish a shared understanding of what security looks like and overcome the mistrust that has hindered the creation of regional security institutions.

The Nuclear Deterrence Paradox

Although most countries in the region presumably share a view of a stable Middle East that is free of weapons of mass destruction and arms races, they differ in their approach to achieving these goals. These opposing positions, which include such basics as the objectives and sequencing of negotiations, can be traced back to the broader Arab-Israeli conflict that erupted after the United Nations recognized Israel as a state in 1948 and has persisted for decades.

Over the years, Israel adopted a policy of nuclear opacity, meaning it has chosen not to acknowledge publicly its nuclear weapons capabilities. Although Israel maintains that it will not “be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East,” it is believed to have produced 100 to 200 nuclear warheads.4 Combined with the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons increases the likelihood that other states in the region also will work to develop the bomb as a deterrent.5

These developments underscore the paradox of the differing Israeli and Arab views on nuclear deterrence policy, which have repeatedly disrupted any chance of creating a WMD-free zone. Although Israel and other regional states would benefit from such a zone, Arab states see Israel’s nuclear disarmament and its agreement to a zone as a necessary condition for regional security. Israel, however, requires regional security as a prerequisite before it signs on to any treaty that promotes disarmament and nonproliferation policies.6

These contradictory approaches have led to the collapse of many initiatives that aimed to develop a nonproliferation regime in the Middle East. Among the most notable was the arms control and regional security working group in the 1990s, which was a set of plenary dialogues with the aim of establishing a new regional security framework. Although it ultimately failed, the initiative still offers lessons that could be applied to future regional dialogues.

Lessons From the Working Group

This initiative, the most comprehensive and serious disarmament and nonproliferation initiative undertaken by the region, came about after the Cold War when the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Persian Gulf War created favorable geopolitical conditions for conflicting parties to negotiate a new security framework. Co-sponsored by the United States and Russia, the diplomatic effort was part of the Middle East peace process and established five working groups to address various security issues. One group, on arms control and regional security, represented the first attempt to bring Arabs and Israelis together to discuss confidence-building measures and progress toward disarmament and regional security.7

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani pose at the White House before signing the Abraham Accords on September 15, 2020. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)Although the initiative collapsed in 1995 due to disagreements between Israel and Egypt over nuclear disarmament issues, it had value in facilitating personal relationships among regional participants who had long viewed each other as enemies. It also produced some narrowly constructive agreements that established a regional security center in Jordan and two affiliated institutions in Qatar and Tunisia, built a regional communications network, instituted procedures for the prenotification of certain military activities and the exchange of military information, and facilitated cooperation on search and rescue missions and the prevention of incidents at sea.

During this process, diplomats were exposed to each other through a mix of Track 1 diplomacy, a traditional format that brings two or more governments into discussions on an official level, and Track 2 diplomacy, which involves informal and unofficial discussions among government officials and sometimes academics that are inherently nonbinding.8 In the Track 2 format, representatives of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia and the Palestinians were able to interact outside of the formal negotiation room and get to know each other as people. As a regional official who participated in the negotiating process stated to the oral history project conducted by the Wilson Center and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, “So, we came up with a question asking, ‘Can we just sit down one day, just relax, and have a cup of coffee and have a little talk about what’s going on, rather than the official meetings?’ So, we had our first conference meeting in the United States down in La Jolla, California... and that’s when they put us all in… and my God, it just took off.”

He said that there unsurprisingly were some “hot times,” especially on nuclear issues, but beyond that, “a lot of issues were discussed outside, having a cup of coffee, having tea, sitting here, sitting there, over dinner. And then later on, when we used to go back to the official meetings, then we kind of understood each other a bit more.”9

This experience offers a lesson to anyone seeking to address the daunting security issues that still haunt a deeply polarized Middle East. Although there were delegates who believed the arms control working group had more failures than successes, they were mostly in agreement on one fact, as another participant acknowledged to the oral history project: “I honestly don’t believe that there were any substantive successes. But I do believe…that the different parties understood that we’re all human, that we can actually discuss these things with each other.”10

Fast-forward more than two decades to the signing of the Abraham Accords by Bahrain, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates in 2020. Many of the geopolitical issues in the region and the world have changed, but clearly the possibility for dialogue and trust-building in the Middle East still exists. Although the accords ignored several key issues, most notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they created a precedent as the third normalization agreement between Israel and its regional neighbors and opened the door for future dialogues on issues of peace and regional security.11

Future Applications

Future goals must be even bolder and aim to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and the potential for such weapons from the region. That must be one item on the agenda when the 10th NPT review conference takes place in November. Conference participants should develop a blueprint to push forward talks on a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone by encouraging the kind of personal dialogue that proved valuable in the arms control working group and by building on the goodwill of the more recent Abraham Accords.

This will not occur without the commitment of all states in the region to disarmament, particularly Iran and Israel. In addition, Iran and the United States must restore mutual compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, which imposes limits on Iran’s nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.

Israel may never give up its nuclear weapons, but like its neighbors, it yearns for a constructive regional security framework within which it can live in peace. One realistic preliminary step would be to have all Middle Eastern states ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and make the region a zone free of nuclear testing. That could start a dialogue on nuclear issues and begin to build confidence among important regional actors.12

ENDNOTES

1. International Crisis Group, “Reviving the JCPOA After Maximum Pressure,” January 29, 2021, https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/north-africa/libya/reviving-jcpoa-after-maximum- pressure.

2. UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, “Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones,” n.d., https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/nwfz/ (accessed April 20, 2022).

3. “Cooperation Among Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones: History, Challenges and Recommendations,” Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, March 2018, p. 9, https://vcdnp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/NWFZ-TF-Report-final-1.pdf.

4. Bennett Ramberg, “Wrestling With Nuclear Opacity,” Arms Control Today, November 2010, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2010-11/wrestling-nuclear-opacity.

5. Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Israel,” July 2017, https://www.nti.org/learn/countries/israel/.

6. Pierre Goldschmidt, “A Realistic Approach Toward a Middle East Free of WMD,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 7, 2016, https://carnegieendowment.org/2016/07/07/realistic- approach-toward-middle-east-free-of-wmd-pub-64039.

7. “Parties of the Madrid Peace Conference Create the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) Working Group,” UN Institute for Disarmament Research, n.d., https://unidir.org/timeline/1990s/1992-1995-arms-control-and-regional-security-working-group-acrs (accessed April 20, 2022).

8. Jennifer Staats, Johnny Walsh, and Rosarie Tucci, “A Primer on Multi-track Diplomacy: How Does It Work?” U.S. Institute of Peace, July 31, 2019, https://www.usip.org/publications/2019/07/primer-multi-track-diplomacy-how-does-it-work.

9. ACRS Working Group delegation regional official, interview by Hanna Notte, October 30, 2020, transcript, ACRS Oral History Project, Wilson Center and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

10. ACRS Working Group delegation senior regional official, interview by Hanna Notte, November 4, 2020, transcript, ACRS Oral History Project, Wilson Center and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

11. Tova Norlen and Tamir Sinai, “The Abraham Accords - Paradigm Shift or Realpolitik?” Marshall Center Security Insights, No. 64 (October 2020), https://www.marshallcenter.org/en/publications/security-insights/abraham-accords-paradigm-shift-or-realpolitik.

12. Goldschmidt, “Realistic Approach Toward a Middle East Free of WMD.”

 


Lia Swiniarski is a recent graduate of Middlebury College and was a research fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies on efforts to promote a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

A working group created as part of the 1991 Middle East peace process may offer a lesson in how to build trust and advance security in that region.

Blown to Hell: America’s Deadly Betrayal of the Marshall Islanders

 

May 2022

An Enduring Injustice

Blown to Hell: America’s Deadly Betrayal of the Marshall Islanders
Walter Pincus
Diversion Books
November 2021

Reviewed by Desmond Narain Doulatram

Many researchers have written extensively on the nuclear history of the Marshall Islands, but these publications have not benefited the indigenous Marshallese population justly. Ultimately, it is the Marshallese, not outsiders, who live with the consequences of these circulated narratives, which focus on the environmental and human impact of more than 60 nuclear tests conducted by the United States in their region from 1946 to 1958.1

“The Marshallese people and land [are] often violently exploited by outsiders who use the Marshall Islands to advance their own interests, careers, learning, or power” at the expense of the indigenous community, according to the Marshall Islands National Nuclear Commission. The situation is made worse when such a small community is dependent on an indigenous, extended family network where camaraderie and cooperation is essential to ensuring its overall sustainable development. As the commission has observed, unidimensional depictions of Marshallese people as victims detract from their admirable story of resilience and self-reliance.

Even the title of Walter Pincus’ book, Blown to Hell: America’s Deadly Betrayal of the Marshall Islanders, ironically showcases that this betrayal is not always attributed only to U.S. military operations and U.S. governmental negligence, but also to careless researchers and writers involved in the mass media who are misled into believing that they are conveying moral intelligence. This is because even well-intentioned publications can be invasive and create more hardship for the communities in question where researchers are literally privileged memory-makers, given the power of the written text to inscribe identity and ascribe memories. So one question to ponder is, Did Pincus fall victim to this unfortunate trap?

Implicit Biases Expand Divisions
The author widely references written documents and circulated narratives that drown out indigenous voices in favor of a Western framework bordering on a victimhood mentality. He reveals the atrocities of nuclear weapons by attempting to shine a light from the receiving end, where the common man perspective takes root in the conversation and where indigenous tribal cultural traditions displayed by the Kabua kin, from which Marshall Islands President David Kabua descends, are demonized and individuals are accused of self-interest. Americans have not always been kind to indigenous tribal monarchs as their illegal overthrow of Hawaii’s Queen Lili‘uokalani in 1893 demonstrated, so one should not be surprised that Pincus makes it known how he feels about the Kabua family. He goes so far as to accuse the Marshall Islands’ founding father, Amata Kabua, who spearheaded the nation’s independence, of being a self-interested politician.

Islanders from Rongelap Atoll in The Marshall Islands, which was damaged by U.S. nuclear testing, march while holding banners marking the 60th anniversary of the Bravo hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in Majuro on March 1, 2014. The Marshallese have long called on the United States to resolve the "unfinished business" of its nuclear testing legacy in the western Pacific nation.  (Photo by Isaac Marty/AFP via Getty Images)In fact, Amata Kabua was fighting for his people in the same way that Lili‘uokalani did when she was branded a dictator, a defamation that was only corrected when the U.S. Congress passed the “Apology Resolution” in 1993 during the Clinton administration. It is offensive to indigenous Marshallese that outsiders would even think that way without hearing an indigenous perspective, but there is a long history of being ignored. For example, as early as 1953, Amata Kabua’s mother, Dorothy Kabua, known as the queen (Leroij) of Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, saw the danger of nuclear testing and urged the United States to stop. No one listened to her.2

Many negative perspectives advanced by outside researchers and writers have impacted public viewpoints and discourses about the Marshall Islands. This reality was a key point of discontent, for instance, when U.S. Representative Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa) testified last year during a congressional oversight hearing chaired by Representative Katie Porter (D-Calif.) on the U.S. nuclear dump site in the Marshall Islands.3 Radewagen said,

The Marshall Islands are dear to my heart and like a second home to me. Former President Amata Kabua was close to my father and was like an uncle to me and his mother Dorothy named my sister Limanman. So, it’s a personal as well as official concern when U.S. officials insist known legal claims settled in 1986 mean we can wash our hands of the nuclear test legacy. I wish [the] State Department was here today to be reminded of U.S. obligations under the 1986 settlement for cooperation and justice based on human needs
and harm not fully understood back in 1986.4

Even within his narrative, Pincus perpetuates the notion that Judah, the leader of Bikinians and a commoner, was the actual king whereas archived evidence points otherwise, showcasing that Amata Kabua’s grandfather, Jeimata Kabua, was the real indigenous Marshallese king of Bikini Atoll.5

Book Triumphs in Other Ways

Despite the book’s flaws, Pincus succeeds in leaving readers with the impression that an incredible debt is still owed to the people of the Marshall Islands because the United States still has not complied with the financial assistance provision in the Compact of Free Association that it signed with the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. The agreement allows the Marshallese and the Micronesians to live and work in the United States and gives the U.S. military exclusive access to their territories, but the compact is due to end in 2023, leaving Washington little time to fulfill this economic self-sufficiency commitment. Pincus utilizes a narrative framework that has divided and inflamed political tensions in the Marshall Islands in ways similar to 2013, when Julianne Walsh’s Marshallese History textbook, carrying the Marshallese seal, was suspended from being taught in the public school system until factual corrections were made. Nevertheless, Pincus, like Walsh, has expanded access to archived material in a single textbook, a notable and praiseworthy feature of his work.

Another strength of Pincus’ narrative is how he holds the United States accountable to the UN trusteeship agreement of 1947. He writes that the United States was obligated to “protect the health of the inhabitants as well as promote the economic advancement and self-sufficiency of the inhabitants, and to this end…protect the inhabitants against the loss of their lands and resources.” Further, he stressed that, as “the world’s richest nation at the time and the most scientifically advanced, and most powerful democracy,” the United States pledged to care for and educate its inhabitants toward self-government. Despite these obligations, U.S. officials treated the Marshallese as pawns and guinea pigs by “withholding key information about the possible radioactivity threat from their environment, while closely keeping track of any signs that their health was being affected,” Pincus adds.

The author also underscores the grave U.S. failure to acknowledge the “changed circumstances petition”6 in light of the pressures of climate change on these nuclear communities, specifically the people of Bikini Atoll. This topic receives considerable attention toward the end of the book, particularly the last two chapters and epilogue, where Pincus updates readers on the current situation of the Bikini people and the Rongelap people. He asserts that they continue to be victims of failed leadership from their local governments and from the U.S. government, particularly the Trump administration, which relaxed funding oversight of Bikini’s trust fund.

Nuclear Justice Remains Uncertain

President Kabua announced in March on Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day in the Marshall Islands that he will not sign or renew the Compact of Free Association, known as Compact III, if the nuclear justice issue is not settled once and for all. That would include the United States changed circumstances petition submitted to Congress in 2000, which showcases greater nuclear testing-related damage to the Marshall Islands than was previously understood or acknowledged. The petition requests additional compensation for personal injuries and property damages and restoration costs, medical care programs, health services infrastructure and training, and radiological monitoring. After a long hiatus of no substantive engagement on Compact negotiations since the end of the Trump administration in January 2021, President Joe Biden, seeking to counter Chinese influence in the Pacific, finally chose Joseph Yun as his special envoy to lead the negotiations, but it is uncertain whether the nuclear justice issue will be put on the table. The concept of nuclear justice asserts that the United States should acknowledge the full scope of the damages from its nuclear testing in the Pacific by enacting the changed circumstances petition along with financial assistance to cover intergenerational and incidental damages. This compensation should include the safe resettlement of displaced human populations and the restoration of economic productivity of affected areas given Marshall Islands unique indigenous land economy and its associated blue economy.7

As with the 2004 Compact of Free Association, when the Bush administration rejected the changed circumstances petition, the future remains uncertain as to whether the long-term health and environmental damages of U.S. nuclear testing, predicted by the first Marshallese president on May 1, 1979,8 and recapitulated by Pincus in his epilogue, will finally be resolved. On a positive note, in marking Nuclear Victims Day of Bravo, a congressional resolution was introduced in March 2021 that would apologize to the Marshallese people for the effects of the U.S. nuclear testing program. Sponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Representative Porter, and co-sponsored by Representative Radewagen, the resolution calls attention to what transpired in the Marshall Islands during the nuclear testing period and raises awareness on the need to undo existing and expected long-term harm.9

Equally worth noting is that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force on January 22, 2021, and is the first treaty of its kind drawing serious attention to the humanitarian horrors of these weapons. The Marshall Islands has not ratified the treaty because of concerns that the “provisions on responsibility for addressing nuclear testing impacts have an ineffective and inappropriate shift of the primary burden from the states which have undertaken such testing, to the host nation where such testing occurred.” The Marshallese support the treaty’s moral call and believe it has placed a well-deserved focus on the suffering of victims.10 Nevertheless, the government remains unconvinced of the TPNW’s ultimate value given how the UN system has failed the nation before, specifically in the 1950s when the Marshallese petitioned to end the nuclear testing program.11 That story is missing from Pincus’ narrative, and its inclusion would have been the simplest way to turn the book into a clear winner. Stories of Marshallese resilience remain underappreciated and rarely mentioned in the book where “epistemological silencing”12 is evident.

Given the years of insufficient visibility on the nuclear legacy, Pincus is worth applauding for using his platform as a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter to highlight a neglected part of U.S. history that was largely driven by nuclear colonialism and environmental racism.13 As he notes, “In telling of these people, I hoped to show how much is owed to Marshall Islanders.” His book is a well-intentioned effort to educate the American public on its moral responsibility to the Marshallese people, a promise yet to be fulfilled.

Still, it is crucial that white male authors with positions of privilege not remove “indigenous agency,” and thereby inadvertently promote “institutional racism” and “pedagogical silencing” under the classic “white savior syndrome” that “encourages individual dependency rather than long-term community building or long-term community self-sufficiency.”14 That is where the author should have dedicated his efforts. By reframing the Marshallese story as one of survivors15 rather than victims, Pincus would have granted the indigenous population a greater voice and would have granted his book more authenticity.

ENDNOTES

1. Jane Dibblin, Day of Two Suns: U.S. Nuclear Testing and the Pacific Islanders (New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1998), p. 34.

2. Peace Boat (NGOピースボート) (@peace_boat), “Desmond Doulatram of @REACH_MI16 in the #MarshallIslands speaks on the nuclear legacy, including efforts of Marshallese to petition the international community…” Twitter, December 2, 2021, 8:48 p.m., https://twitter.com/peace_boat/status/1466690870712090628.

3. Susanne Rust, “Rep. Katie Porter Presses Biden Team on Marshall Islands Nuclear Waste, Gets Few Answers,” Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2021.

4. House Natural Resources Committee Democrats, “Runit Dome and the U.S. Nuclear Legacy in the Marshall Islands,” YouTube, October 22, 2021, 2:28:40, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUrTu7Z0Q1E.

5. Desmond Narain Doulatram, “Marshallese Downwinders and a Shared Nuclear Legacy of Global Proportions,” https://static1.squarespace.com/static/58bd8808e3df28ba498d7569/t/5f980e8f2171b96b663ece70/1603800720503/Desmond+Dulatram+presentation.pdf (paper presented at the Physicians for Social Responsibility/International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War conference “Human Rights, Future Generations & Crimes in the Nuclear Age,” Basel, September 14–17, 2017) (hereafter Doulatram paper).

6. Thomas Lum et al., “Republic of the Marshall Islands Changed Circumstances Petition to Congress,” CRS Report for Congress, RL 32811, March 14, 2005.

7. Arms Control Association, “75 Years After the Trinity: The Taboo Against Nuclear Testing and the Legacy of Past Nuclear Tests,” YouTube, September 6, 2020, 1:29:03, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5oUN1iOoxw&t=48s.

8. Doulatram paper.

9. “Amata Cosponsors Resolution to Formally Apologize for U.S. Nuclear Legacy in the Marshall Islands,” press release, March 4, 2022, https://radewagen.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/amata-cosponsors-resolution-formally-apologize-us-nuclear-legacy; Anita Hofschneider, “Resolution Would Apologize to Marshall Islands for Nuclear Testing,” Honolulu Civil Beat, March 1, 2022, https://www.civilbeat.org/beat/resolution-would-apologize-to-marshall-islands-for-nuclear-testing/.

10. Eriko Noguchi, “Marshall Islands Grapple With Consequences of Superpowers’ Actions,” The Japan Times, February 28, 2022.

11. Peace Boat, “[Part 2-2] World Nuclear Survivors Forum 2021,” YouTube, December 3, 2021, 1:30:15, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTJE4WA178g&t=2467s (hereafter Peace Boat video).

12. Ibid.

13. ICAN (@nuclearban), “‘This is an issue of institutional racism that stems from nuclearcolonialism.’ Desmond Narain Doulatram of REACH-MI speaks about how #nuclearcolonialism is one…” Twitter, December 3, 2021, 8:59 p.m., https://twitter.com/nuclearban/status/1466693491082285060.

14. Colleen Murphy, “What Is White Savior Complex, and Why Is It Harmful? Here’s What Experts Say,” Health.com, September 20, 2021, https://www.health.com/mind-body/health-diversity-inclusion/white-savior-complex.

15. Peace Boat video.


Desmond Narain Doulatram is a social science instructor at the College of the Marshall Islands Liberal Arts Department, a member of the National Board of Education of the Marshall Islands, and a co-founder of two nongovernmental organizations, one dealing with environmental issues, JO-JiKuM, and the other, nuclear issues, REACH-MI.

Despite its flaws, this book by journalist Walter Pincus underscores the incredible debt owed to the people of The Marshall Islands for enduring years of U.S. nuclear testing.

May 2022 Books of Note


May 2022

Networked Nonproliferation: Making the NPT Permanent
By Michal Onderco
October 2021

Twenty-five years after entering into force in 1970, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) faced an uneasy future as its members met in New York City to decide whether to extend one of the most significant arms control agreements of its time. Some states favored a limited extension—many, none at all—but as recounted in Michal Onderco’s “Networked Nonproliferation,” the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995. Drawing on declassified documents, contemporary literature and interviews with the diplomats and experts present at the 1995 NPT Review Conference, Onderco explores how the United States leveraged its unique diplomatic, economic and military heft to convince other countries to keep the treaty alive. But it wasn’t just Washington’s nuclear wonks who were responsible for saving the treaty: European partners, Egypt and South Africa were also part of the broad network of states that favored nuclear nonproliferation and a formal regime to keep nuclear weapons in check. In addition to offering the most detailed account of the NPT extension, the book makes clear that, although U.S. leadership on such major issues is important, harnessing a robust network of other countries can also make history. —JOHN BEDARD

 



Brazil in the Global Nuclear Order, 1945–2018
By Carlo Patti
2021

Carlo Patti’s Brazil in the Global Nuclear Order offers a comprehensive historical review of Brazil’s nuclear program and its decision to forgo pursuit of a nuclear weapons program, despite having an advanced nuclear capability. His book seeks to answer the question of, “Why do countries capable of ‘going nuclear’ choose not to?”

Brazil acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1998, almost thirty years after the treaty opened for signature, marking a reversal in Brasilia’s long-standing objection to the regime. Patti draws on declassified primary sources, archival research, and interviews with former presidents, diplomats, and scientists to explain the complex decisions and power dynamics that influenced Brazil’s decision to join the global nuclear nonproliferation regime after years of vocal opposition. He finds that “U.S. nonproliferation policies deeply affected Brazil’s decisions” when it came to the trajectory of its nuclear program. Patti’s book, which examines Brazil’s nuclear program spanning from its origins in 1945 until 2018, also delves into domestic and international factors that shaped the evolution of Brazil’s nuclear diplomacy and offers a forward-looking discussion on Brazil’s future political goals.—THE EDITORS

Networked Nonproliferation: Making the NPT Permanent, By Michal Onderco

Brazil in the Global Nuclear Order, 1945–2018, By Carlo Patti

Allies Step Up Military Support for Ukraine


May 2022
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

The United States and its allies have shifted from providing small arms and defensive equipment to hastily ratcheting up deliveries of heavy weaponry to Ukraine as the brutal Russian war there intensifies.

President Joe Biden, at the White House, announced $800 million in U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on April 21.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)On April 21, U.S. President Joe Biden pledged $800 million in additional weaponry and $500 million in direct economic aid. More than $400 million in additional military aid was announced on April 24 when Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, bringing the total U.S. military assistance since the beginning of the war to $3.7 billion.

Biden significantly upped the ante on April 28 by announcing plans to seek an additional $33 billion from the U.S. Congress for Ukrainian and European security through September.

“Our support for Ukraine going forward will continue…until we see final success,” Blinken told a news conference with Austin on the Polish-Ukrainian border after their stealth visit to the Ukrainian capital.

“The bottom line is this: We don’t know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign, independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than [Russian President] Vladimir Putin is on the scene.”

Austin said, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” Russia “has already lost a lot of military capability and a lot of its troops, quite frankly, and we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability,” he said.

The influx of weaponry so boosted Ukrainian resolve that Zelenskyy on April 22 expressed increasing confidence that his country would defeat Russian forces. He had told CNN on April 17 that Ukraine would not give up its territory and spent weeks pleading for faster Western arms deliveries and for heavier weapons to stave off a new Russian offensive.

Some Western officials and experts have worried that a surge in new, more lethal military investments could increase the risk of a direct NATO-Russian confrontation in part because they could be viewed as offensive instead of defensive. On April 14, Russia sent a formal diplomatic note to the United States warning that U.S. and NATO military shipments to Ukraine were “adding fuel” to the conflict and could bring “unpredictable consequences,” The Washington Post reported. Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, reiterated the warning on April 25. “What the Americans are doing is pouring oil on the flames,” Antonov said, according to Al Jazeera. “I see only an attempt to raise the stakes, to aggravate the situation, to see more losses.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov escalated the rhetoric on April 26 when he told Russian state TV, “The danger [of nuclear war] is serious, real … NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy.” But Ukraine and its allies played down the remarks.

Meanwhile, as the Ukrainians pressed the fight against their better-armed foe even as the extent of Russian brutality in Bucha, Mariupol, and elsewhere was laid bare, the United States and its allies increased the size and quality of their weapons deliveries.

“We’re in a critical window now of time where…they’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war,” Biden said on April 21, referring to the Russian tactical shift to eastern Ukraine. The United States and its allies are “moving as fast as possible” to provide Ukraine with the equipment and weapons it needs, he added.

On April 5, the Czech Republic became the first country to send tanks to Ukraine, including more than a dozen T-72 tanks and armored personnel carriers, according to Reuters. Three days later, the Biden administration expressed gratitude to Slovakia for donating a Russian-made S-300 air defense system to Ukraine and said it would reposition a more modern U.S. Patriot missile system to Slovakia to ensure that the ally was not left undefended.

The Czech Republic announced that Czech defense companies would repair Ukrainian tanks and other military vehicles that have suffered damage during the fighting or needed servicing, Reuters reported on April 19. That same day, Slovakia also offered to repair Ukrainian military equipment, according to Euractiv.

After a heavy lobbying effort by Zelenskyy and members of the U.S. Congress, the Biden administration on April 13 approved a new defense package worth $800 million to help Ukrainian forces match the Russian technological advantage. The package included artillery systems, artillery rounds, additional helicopters, and armored personnel carriers. Washington also promised to enhance intelligence sharing. This comes on top of a $100 million aid package announced by Blinken in early April.

The weapons sent or headed to Ukraine include C-4, howitzers, Javelin anti-tank missiles, Mi-17 helicopters, armored Humvees, M113 personnel carriers, Switchblade drones, and M18A1 Claymore anti-personnel mines configured to be compliant with the Ottawa Convention, meaning they will be set to be “command detonated” (see page 34).

The Pentagon confirmed on April 19 that Ukraine received fighter airplanes and aircraft although officials refused to clarify what kind of aircraft were sent to Ukraine or their origin. The United States helped in transferring spare aircraft parts, according to France24. On April 20, the Ukrainian Air Force claimed it did not receive new aircraft from its partners but did receive enough spare parts and components for the restoration and repair of some of its aircraft. Such aid will allow Ukraine to put more equipment into service.

The April 21 military assistance package by the United States, following an equivalent $800 million package announced a week earlier, included 155 mm howitzers, 144,000 ammunition rounds, 72 tactical vehicles to tow 155 mm howitzers, more than 121 experimental Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems, plus spare parts and field equipment, according to a Pentagon fact sheet.

The Canadian government has delivered heavy artillery, including M777 howitzers and anti-armor ammunition, to Ukrainian forces, it said on April 21.

French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed on April 22 that France provided MILAN anti-tank guided missile systems and CAESAR artillery howitzers to Ukraine, Ouest-France reported. Macron also noted that the risk of escalation was very high and said that although Europe should help the Ukrainians, it cannot become a co-belligerent in the war.

In late March, the Russian Defense Ministry indicated that the first phase of its military operation in Ukraine had been completed and that it would focus on the liberation of the Donbas after it failed to seize Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

As a result, Zelenskyy requested that the West and other countries provide his country with more lethal weaponry, including air defense systems, unmanned aviation vehicles, artillery systems, multiple-launch rocket systems, tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, combat aircraft, long-range weapons, and anti-ship missiles.

But there were signs of disagreements about what kind of weaponry the allies should donate. For instance, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delayed his decision to provide tanks to Kyiv, Politico reported on April 7. On April 11, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock broke with the chancellor and called for heavy weapons deliveries to Ukraine. “What’s clear: Ukraine needs more military material, especially heavy weapons. The terrible horror that we see every day in Russia’s war against Ukraine made the need for such supplies more than clear,” she said.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom on April 8 approved another security assistance package for Ukraine, totaling more than $130 million and including Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles, 800 anti-tank missiles, and precision munitions. In late April, various media reported that Poland sent T-72 tanks to Ukraine after the UK proposed to compensate Poland with a different kind of tank. Soon after, Germany decided to send Ukraine roughly 50 Gepard air-defense tanks.

Despite these remarks, European countries were under increased pressure to do more. On April 20, Bloomberg reported that Germany would provide artillery and ammunition training to Ukraine. Two days later, Euractive reported that Germany agreed to a swap deal with Slovenia, in which it donated Marder tanks and Fox wheel tanks to Slovenia in return for Slovenia delivering 30 to 40 T-42 tanks to Ukraine. Around the same time, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that the Netherlands will send armored vehicles to Ukraine, while the UK was reported to be sending more vehicles, drones, and anti-tank weapons.

On April 10, Lithuania announced that it would host a mission in Kyiv to train Ukrainian soldiers to use new weaponry sent by the allies. Previously, the United States confirmed that it was training a small number of Ukrainians in the United States to use Switchblade drones.

The United States and its allies have shifted from providing small arms and defensive equipment to hastily ratcheting up deliveries of heavy weaponry to Ukraine.

Finland, Sweden in Talks to Join NATO


May 2022
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

Propelled by the Russian war on Ukraine, Finland and Sweden are in serious discussions about applying for NATO membership and are widely expected to join.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (L) speaks while Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto listens on April 20 as the Finnish parliament began debating whether to seek NATO membership. The Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked a surge in political support for joining the bloc. (Photo by Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images)Even before the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin had threatened “retaliation” if the two countries join the Western alliance. But his brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has escalated the security concerns of neighboring states. Finland and Sweden officially are nonaligned, but have been NATO partners since the mid-1990s.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused Finland to review our security strategy. I won’t offer any kind of timetable as to when we will make our decision, but I think it will happen quite fast. Within weeks, not within months. The security landscape has completely changed,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on April 14, according to Defense News.

The Finnish parliament began debating the possibility of NATO membership on April 21 as its major parliamentary groups expressed support for some form of a military alliance in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Finland is expected to make its decision before NATO’S two-day summit in Madrid beginning on June 29, Defense News reported.

Although Sweden has been more reluctant, momentum is also building there for NATO membership, according to a Financial Times article on April 20. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on April 21 that the government wants to speed up consideration of the NATO issue and will now make its security policy analysis public on May 13 instead of May 31, Reuters reported.

In early April, the Finnish government released its own new report on changes in the security environment. It included an assessment of the effects of Finland’s possible NATO membership and noted that if Finland were to be part of NATO, that would raise the threshold for the use of military force in the Baltic Sea region. In turn, this would increase regional stability.

The report also noted that Finland would be prepared to support other NATO members in an Article 5 scenario, the bedrock commitment to defend other members if they come under attack. Yet, this does not mean Finland is obliged to accept nuclear weapons, host NATO troops permanently, or accept NATO military bases on its territory, the report noted.

Just two weeks ago, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson was more cautious in her approach to the subject than her Finnish counterpart. “What we need to do is to carefully think through what is in the best long-term interests of Sweden, and what we need to do to guarantee our national security, our sovereignty and secure peace in this new heightened tension and situation,” Andersson said on April 13. She also said, “We always consider Finnish security together with our own,” according to The New York Times.

Prior to the war in Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg noted that “Sweden is an enhanced opportunity partner. Sweden and Finland are our most…closest partners. The fact that we work together, that we share information, that we exercise together is something which is important, and the importance is demonstrated in this situation we are faced with now.”

Stoltenberg also has said that all allies would welcome Finland and Sweden into the alliance. “We know that they can easily join this alliance if they decide to apply,” he said, according to ABC News on April 12. He even hinted that NATO members may be prepared to give Sweden and Finland security guarantees during the NATO membership application process.

Finland and Sweden inhabit important geostrategic locations and possess the economic stability to fulfill the NATO commitment that members spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

Finland and Sweden joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1994. Throughout the years, they have consistently participated in NATO’s military exercises, such as the Saber Strike series and the BALTOPS exercises in the Baltic Sea region. Both nations are also part of the enhanced NATO Response Force, a highly competent multinational force made up of land, maritime, air, and special operations components that NATO can deploy quickly when needed, in a supplementary role and subject to national decisions.

In addition, Finland and Sweden have signed a memorandum of understanding on host nation support, which requires them to provide logistical support to NATO forces transiting or located on the territory of Finland or Sweden during an exercise or a crisis. The memorandum is subject to national decision.

The move to seriously consider joining NATO is a strong signal that Finland and Sweden may not be fully reassured by the EU mutual defense clause in the 2007 Lisbon Treaty. According to Defense Post, Andersson told reporters in early March that Finland and Sweden wrote a joint letter to remind the other EU member states how seriously the two states view the defense solidarity clause. The mutual defense clause is similar to NATO’s Article 5 and requires “other EU countries to come to the support and aid, with all possible means, of a member state under armed attack,” Andersson said.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, has warned that Russia would need to take serious measures to guarantee its security if Finland and Sweden became NATO members, RIA Novosti reported on April 14. “If Sweden and Finland join NATO, the length of the alliance’s land borders with the Russian Federation will more than double. Naturally, these borders will have to be strengthened, seriously strengthened, the grouping of land forces and air defense, deploy significant naval forces in the waters of the Gulf of Finland,” he said.

Medvedev added, “In this case, there will be no talk of any nuclear-free status of the Baltic. The balance must be restored. Until today, Russia has not taken such measures and was not going to. If we are forced, well, ‘notice—we didn’t offer it,’ as the hero of the famous old movie said.”

That same day, Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov was asked about Medvedev’s remarks and the possibility of stationing nuclear weapons in the Baltic Sea region. “After working out Putin’s instructions on strengthening the borders, everything will be discussed at a separate meeting, [after] Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu provides Putin with ideas on strengthening the western borders. It takes time,” Peskov said.

Hours later, RIA Novosti quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying that Russia supported diplomatic contact with Finland and Sweden. On April 20, Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry press secretary, announced that Russia had warned Finland and Sweden about possible consequences if they became NATO members, TASS reported.

Neither Finnish nor Swedish officials have clarified the timeline as to how long it would take for either country to become NATO members. But the first step is for the aspirant to declare its intentions to accede to the Washington Treaty, according to the recent Finnish government report. After that, NATO could invite the applicants to engage in accession negotiations and eventually extend a membership action plan. At the conclusion of these negotiations, the applicants must confirm their willingness and ability to accede to NATO membership. Then, alliance members must sign and ratify the ascension protocol in accordance with their national procedures.

Once this step is completed, the allies submit their instruments of ratification to the United States, the official depositary. Finally, the NATO secretary-general invites the aspirants to join the Washington Treaty, and the invitees must accept the accession agreement in accordance with their national procedures. With the deposit of the final instrument of accession, the invitee becomes a NATO member.

Propelled by the Russian war on Ukraine, the two Nordic countries are widely expected to formally apply for alliance membership.

Kremlin Censors Independent Voices on Foreign Affairs


May 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

As part of a broader effort to quell domestic criticism about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, the Kremlin has ordered a crackdown on international nongovernment organizations (NGOs) operating in Russia and has sought to admonish senior Russian foreign policy experts who have called for an end to hostilities.

Five years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin presented a major Russian human rights award to Lyudmila Alexeyeva (C), a leading human rights activist and member of the Helsinki Watch group. Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Putin has cracked down on civil society, including closing the office of Human Right Watch and other activist groups who have operated in Russia for years. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)On April 8, the Russian Ministry of Justice revoked the licenses of 15 international NGOs that have been operating in Russia for decades. Among the organizations shuttered by the Kremlin are Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In March, Russia adopted laws that criminalize independent war reporting, public statements of opposition, and protests against the war.

“The ministry’s statement referred vaguely to Russian legislation, but there is little doubt the move was in response to our reporting on the war [in Ukraine],” according to a statement issued by Human Rights Watch. The organization has been among the critics of Russia’s use of banned cluster munitions against civilians in Ukraine, which the group said could amount to war crimes.

In a separate move, Putin signed a decree on March 28 to expel four prominent experts from the 152-member scientific council under the Russian Security Council who were among a group of experts who signed an international appeal issued on March 3.

The four individuals named in the decree were Alexey Gromyko, director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Alexander Nikitin, director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Security, MGIMO University, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Alexander Panov, chief researcher, and Sergey Rogov, scientific director, both of the Institute for the USA and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The staff of the Security Council explained to the Russian newspaper Kommersant that Putin’s order was designed to “update” the structure of the advisory group, which provides “scientific, methodological and expert-analytical support for the activities of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, its working bodies and apparatus.”

Rogov, 73, was the most senior member of the scientific council. He is a veteran arms control and global affairs expert who has engaged in numerous Track 1.5 discussions with U.S., European, and Russian counterparts and officials, including with the Arms Control Association. With Gromyko and Adam Thompson, the European Leadership Network director, he has co-chaired an ongoing NATO-Russian military confrontation risk reduction dialogue involving senior Russian, U.S., and European experts and former officials.

In early March, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine was beginning, the four Russian experts excluded by Putin from the scientific council joined a group of more than 100 other experts, including 23 Russians, on a statement expressing “extreme concern over the biggest crisis on the European continent since the Second World War.” In the statement, which was organized through the NATO-Russian dialogue, they said that all parties to the conflict must immediately agree to an unconditional ceasefire, adopt coordinated measures to deescalate the situation, and negotiate a political settlement. They also said that it is urgent to establish cooperation on humanitarian aspects in the conflict zones.

They urged all parties to exercise the highest measure of responsibility and restraint in matters relating to nuclear weapons and refrain from threatening nuclear rhetoric and actions and stated that it is necessary to resume Russian-U.S. negotiations on strategic stability. Furthermore, they said that it is necessary to agree on additional measures to prevent military incidents between the United States and NATO and Russia and to establish direct contacts between Russian and U.S. and NATO military forces.

One of the experts expelled from the scientific council, Alexey Gromyko, the grandson of the Cold War-era Soviet foreign minister of the same name, told the privately owned, Russian-language RTVi television network that those expelled were not informed of the reason for the decision.

“It’s hard for me to say why we were expelled, we weren’t notified. The statement contained great meaning in those days from the point of view of the national interests of our country,” Gromyko said on March 29.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Russian scientific experts are among those affected by the restrictions.

 

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