"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."

– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
October 20, 2014
October 2020

Arms Control Today October 2020

Edition Date: 
Thursday, October 1, 2020
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Trump’s Disingenuous Disarmament Diplomacy

October 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

For the first three and a half years of President Donald Trump’s term in office, he and his team have dithered and delayed on nuclear arms control matters.

In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in February 2017, Donald Trump reportedly denounced New START, and when Putin raised the possibility of extending the treaty, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was. (Photo: Joyce N. Boghosian/White House) Now, at the 11th hour, they are pursuing an ill-advised strategy that has little chance of success and is probably designed to run out the clock on the last remaining treaty limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals: the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Unless Trump somehow overrules his hard-line advisors and adjusts course or Joe Biden wins the presidential election and makes good on his pledge to extend New START, the treaty very likely will disappear. That would open the door to an ever-more dangerous and costly global nuclear arms race.

With the treaty’s Feb. 5, 2021, expiration date and the U.S. presidential election fast approaching, the Trump administration continues to reject Russia’s proposal of a five-year extension of the treaty.

Instead, Trump’s new arms control envoy, Marshall Billingslea, is demanding that Russia agree to changes to New START verification rules and U.S. terms for a future arms control agreement involving all types of warheads and eventually including China. Even if Russia agrees to the U.S. terms, Billingslea and other officials say Trump would only consider a short-term extension.

If Russia refuses, Billingslea said in September, “we will be extremely happy to continue...without the [New] START restrictions.” He added that the United States would redeploy weapons that had been removed from deployment in order to meet New START limits once the treaty expires.

Washington and Moscow could quickly “upload” several hundred additional warheads on existing deployed delivery systems to exceed the treaty’s 1,550 warhead ceiling.

Billingslea’s threat to build up the U.S. deployed arsenal, something the nation has not done in decades, follows his warning in May that if Russia and China do not agree to Trump’s terms for a new agreement, “we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion.”

In reality, unconstrained nuclear arms racing would be unaffordable and dangerous for both sides. A Congressional Budget Office report published in August estimates the Pentagon could incur costs as high as several hundred billion dollars if Washington tries to build additional delivery systems to increase the arsenal above New START levels.

These costs would be in addition to the $1.5 trillion in minimum planned spending to sustain and upgrade the existing arsenal, which is based on New START limits, over the next several decades.

No one wins an arms race. Each side already deploys far more weapons than it needs to deter nuclear attack.

Billingslea is also demanding unnecessary “fixes” to New START’s monitoring and verification system. No such demands were raised by the United States until Billingslea arrived on the scene in May 2020, for good reason.

As Rose Gottemoeller, the lead U.S. New START negotiator, has written, the treaty “contains detailed, streamlined procedures that make inspections reliable in confirming information that the Russians provide to the United States, and, of course, vice versa.”

Billingslea also rejects Russia’s suggestion that U.S. tactical nuclear weapons and growing strategic missile defense capabilities should be on the negotiating table. In addition, he says Washington rejects Moscow’s long-standing insistence that if China joins future arms control talks, France and the United Kingdom should also be involved.

Not surprisingly, Russia is not budging. Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Sept. 21, “[T]here are no grounds for making any deal in the format proposed by our Washington colleagues. We believe that the...[U.S.] preconditions for extending the New START...do not include any positive elements.”

Russia can and should adjust its long-standing terms for a New START follow-on agreement, but it is naive to think President Vladimir Putin, on the eve of U.S. elections, would agree to unilateral concessions in the hope that Trump might agree to a short-term extension of New START.

In the event of a Biden victory in November, he would have just 16 days after Inauguration Day to reach agreement with Russia on its offer of a clean extension of New START “and use that as a foundation for new arms control agreements.” In that case, it is imperative that Washington and Moscow move swiftly to secure a five-year extension.

No matter who occupies the White House, the sensible path forward is a clean extension of New START and pursuit of follow-on discussions and agreements to address unconstrained nuclear warheads, non-nuclear weapons that impact strategic stability, and the inclusion of other nuclear-armed states in the arms control process.

The Trump administration, which to this point has only dismantled nuclear risk reduction agreements, wants you to believe that its 11th-hour arms control offer to Russia is a reasonable policy that Putin could accept “tomorrow.” On closer examination, it is a losing strategy for Trump, for the United States, and for the world.

For the first three and a half years of President Donald Trump’s term in office, he and his team have dithered and delayed on nuclear arms control matters.

Bargaining With Nuclear Modernization: Does it Work?

October 2020
By Amy F. Woolf

The United States and the Soviet Union, later Russia, have negotiated limits on their nuclear forces for more than 50 years. Arms control has provided both nations with insights into emerging threats from the other’s forces, allowed informed decisions into the types of weapons and capabilities they could eliminate without risking their security, and maintained transparency and communication with an adversary who could kill millions of their citizens in an afternoon.

Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (left) and U.S. President Ronald Reagan sign the INF Treaty in Washington on Dec. 8, 1987. Among other factors, the treaty's completion reflected Gorbachev's desire to transform the Soviet Union. (Photo: Bettman/Getty Images)Arms control did not stop either nation from advancing its nuclear capabilities. Both replaced aging weapons systems, incorporated new technologies, and enhanced their ability to threaten the nuclear forces of the other nation. Neither saw a contradiction in the parallel efforts of negotiating limits while modernizing forces. To the contrary, many U.S. officials who have participated in the process1 and analysts who have watched it from the sidelines2 argue that the two tracks naturally go together: the United States can best achieve its preferred arms control outcomes if it negotiates from a position of strength and demonstrates that it is willing to bolster its forces if the arms control process fails.

Marshall Billingslea, President Donald Trump’s special representative for arms control, advanced this view in May 2020, when he noted that “the risk of any cuts to the bipartisan consensus on modernization and the plans that we have that are underway, in the midst of a negotiation, is to inadvertently or otherwise hand the initiative to either Beijing or Moscow, or both. So we need to stay the course, and that will really strengthen the objective here of getting to meaningful trilateral arms control arrangements.”3 Billingslea also argued that the United States can use its economic strength to wage and win an arms race if Russia and China do not meet U.S. demands in the arms control process, saying that “we know how to win these races and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion.”4

Those who hold the view that the United States must invest in its nuclear forces to achieve success in arms control usually begin by citing evidence of a successful negotiation, then looking backward to identify spending from years earlier. They later assert that the spending created the conditions for the successful negotiations. This paradigm, however, is not an accurate representation of the U.S.-Soviet negotiations that successfully resulted in treaties. Even when the correlation between spending and arms control exists, robust funding and modernization were not the sole cause of successful negotiations and, in some cases, may not have even been necessary.

This paradigm presumes that, with the United States negotiating from a position of strength, the nation negotiating from a position of weakness will respond by seeking to impose limits on U.S. capabilities. Yet, the weaker nation likely has a range of options besides arms control for improving its position. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union expanded some of its capabilities while agreeing to limit others and seeking limits on U.S. forces. In addition, the arms control history contains abundant evidence that the Soviet Union, even when motivated by a desire to alter the U.S.-Soviet military balance, had a number of other reasons to participate in arms control. Domestic politics, budgetary considerations, the limits of technology, and a changing political and security environment all played a role.

The United States conducts a test of two Spartan missiles, part of the Safeguard anti-ballistic missile, in 1971. Many analysts have argued that the U.S. Safeguard investment was key to agreeing to missile defense limits with the Soviet Union, but other factors may have played a greater role. (Photo: Bettman/Getty Images)The argument that the U.S. economy serves as a symbol of strength that should give pause to adversaries and point them to the negotiating table is also flawed. The U.S. gross domestic product may indicate that Washington has the resources to expand funding for military programs, but it is not clear that the U.S. electorate would support this expansion or that the military, if given access to added funds, would choose to direct them toward an expanded nuclear arsenal. Further, this argument does not allow space for debates about the relative cost of nuclear modernization programs and the possible need for trade-offs among competing priorities. It simply assumes that all spending is necessary and no programs should be curtailed until an agreement is complete.

Still, analysts have identified several U.S.-Soviet/Russian arms control agreements that seem to validate the link between nuclear weapons spending and successful arms control. These include the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, negotiated after Congress approved funding for the Safeguard ABM system; the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, negotiated after the United States began to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Europe; the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), negotiated after the United States pursued sharp increases in funding and began to deploy new bombers, missiles, and submarines; and the 1993 START II, negotiated after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Russia experienced severe financial and political weaknesses. A closer look at these agreements, however, raises doubts about the strength of the link between spending and arms control.

The ABM Treaty

The ABM Treaty permitted the United States and Soviet Union to deploy defensive systems for interception of long-range ballistic missiles at only two sites each, one centered on the nation’s capital and one containing launchers for land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Each site could contain up to 100 ABM launchers, along with specified radars and sensors. Each nation also agreed not to develop, test, or deploy ABM systems for the “defense of the territory of its country” and not to provide a base for such a defense. In a protocol signed in 1974, each side agreed to deploy an ABM system at only one site, either around the nation’s capital or around an ICBM deployment area. The Soviet Union deployed its Galosh system around Moscow; it remains operational today. The United States deployed its Safeguard missile defense system around ICBM silo launchers near Grand Forks, North Dakota; this site operated briefly in 1974 before the United States closed it when it proved not to be cost effective.

Analysts have often linked the successful negotiation of the ABM Treaty with the U.S. pursuit of the Safeguard system. Some argue that the commitment evident in U.S. funding for offensive and defensive nuclear programs during the 1960s provided the Soviet Union with an incentive to join the negotiations. Others note that the U.S. ABM system served as a bargaining chip that it could trade away during the negotiations. Although these two views are somewhat contradictory, a weapons system could not be an example of the U.S. commitment to missile defenses and an expendable bargaining chip in the negotiations, both see the pursuit of ABM as a necessary precursor to the completion of the treaty.

Because there is no way to run a counterexperiment, with the United States seeking to limit missile defense systems without first funding Safeguard, it is not possible to dismiss a correlation between two events. Yet, it is also not clear that the U.S. ABM program caused the Soviet Union to join or conclude the talks.

First, the U.S. commitment to the Safeguard system was anything but unwavering, as the United States changed the goals and scope of its ABM program several times. Initially, the program was intended to protect the entire country from Soviet missile attacks, but the high cost and limited effectiveness of the technology made this goal elusive. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, in an effort to hold down costs while recognizing the political value of the program, announced in 1967 that the United States would instead develop a thin defense to protect U.S. cities from Chinese missiles.5 President Richard Nixon changed the program again when he unveiled the Safeguard system, which was designed to defend U.S. ballistic missile and bomber bases against a Soviet attack.

Moreover, Congress almost killed the program in 1969. Many in Congress supported the goal of protecting Americans from missile attack, but concerns about whether a limited system would be effective against a Soviet first strike generated growing skepticism. In August 1969, the Senate voted on an amendment to deny funding for the Safeguard system, while authorizing research and development on new ABM systems. The amendment failed, and many analysts point to this vote as evidence of the Senate’s support for the Safeguard system. The vote, however, was 50–51, with Vice President Spiro Agnew casting the tie-breaking vote to save the program.6 This is hardly a ringing endorsement.

Congress again debated amendments that would ban funding for the deployment of the Safeguard system in 1970. At that point, the Nixon administration argued that the United States needed the system to trade as a bargaining chip in the negotiations. Some members argued that research and development funding should be sufficient to bolster the U.S. negotiating position, while others argued that, absent a commitment to deploy the system, the United States would lack anything to trade for limits on Soviet ABM systems. The latter argument prevailed, and the Safeguard system survived again.

Because the United States and Soviet Union agreed to limit their ABM systems after the Senate twice rejected amendments to defund the Safeguard system, many analysts hold that U.S. support for the system was necessary for the successful conclusion of the treaty. Yet, Soviet leaders were likely aware of the slim congressional support for the system and therefore may have discounted its value as a bargaining chip. Moreover, Soviet leaders may have supported ABM limits if they had their own concerns about the costs and technical feasibility of missile defenses. Hence, they may have pursued limits on ABM systems even if the United States had not moved forward with the Safeguard system.

The INF Treaty

In its 1979 “dual track” decision, NATO responded to concerns about the Soviet deployment of SS-20 intermediate-range ballistic missiles by supporting the deployment of new U.S. missiles in Europe and the negotiation of an arms control arrangement that would limit the deployment of these missiles. After early discussions in 1980, the United States and Soviet Union pursued formal negotiations from 1981 to 1983. The Soviet Union withdrew from the talks when the United States began to deploy the new missiles in 1983, but it returned in 1985, and the two nations signed the INF Treaty on December 8, 1987.

The treaty banned the testing, production, and deployment of all land-based, intermediate-range and shorter-range ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles, which are those missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The Soviet Union destroyed approximately 1,750 missiles, including SS-20 ballistic missiles, which carried three warheads each, and a number of other older, shorter- and medium-range missiles. The United States destroyed 846 missiles, including Pershing II ballistic missiles and Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs). The treaty permitted on-site inspections of missile assembly facilities, storage centers, deployment zones, and repair, test, and elimination facilities for the missiles eliminated under the treaty and established a continuous portal monitoring procedure at one assembly facility in each country.

Analysts often cite the treaty as a near-perfect example of how the United States leveraged the development and deployment of new nuclear delivery systems to achieve its arms control objectives. One has argued that “the United States compelled the Soviet Union to enter the INF Treaty” after it deployed hundreds of “accurate and lethal intermediate-range missiles.”7 Another noted that “the treaty worked because the Soviets came to realize that...they faced the threat of a no-warning strike on critical command and control targets in Moscow.”8 Yet, the success of the INF Treaty negotiations cannot be attributed solely to the NATO decision, the U.S. deployment, and the Soviet fear of these weapons. The story is incomplete without an understanding of the rationale for the dual-track decision and the reality of the political environment at the time.

Rationale for the Dual-Track Decision

During the Cold War, the United States deployed nuclear weapons in Europe to convince the Soviet Union and U.S. allies in NATO that the United States would defend the allies if they were attacked by the Soviet Union. Some allies began to question this commitment in the late 1970s as the Soviet Union deployed growing numbers of long-range missiles with the range to strike the United States. They doubted that the United States would defend them if the Soviet Union could respond with nuclear attacks against the United States. In addition, the relatively short range of many U.S. nuclear weapons meant they were based near the potential front lines of a conflict in West Germany. Because their use would have caused extensive damage on West German territory, some questioned whether NATO would actually employ the weapons early in conflict, when they might deter or repel a Soviet invasion.9

The Soviet deployment of SS-20 intermediate-range missiles complicated this problem. NATO lacked a comparable missile that could reach into Soviet territory from Europe. Further, the Soviet threat to use these missiles against capitals in Western Europe while wielding the implicit threat to retaliate against U.S. territory could have “decoupled” the defense of Europe from the defense of the United States. Yet, the problems that prompted the dual-track decision—the relatively short range of NATO’s theater nuclear weapons and the vulnerability of the United States to Soviet retaliation—would not have disappeared if the SS-20 missiles did not exist. NATO made this clear when announcing this decision: the United States needed to modernize its intermediate-range capabilities even if the Soviet Union agreed to limit its SS-20 missiles.

The INF Negotiating Process

The United States and its NATO allies recognized that the Soviet Union would be unlikely to negotiate away its SS-20 missiles unless it faced a similar threat from U.S. intermediate-range systems. Few, however, expected the Soviet Union to agree to the complete elimination of its SS-20 missiles, and the United States did not plan to negotiate such a ban. U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s administration initially sought an agreement that would impose equal limits on both sides’ intermediate-range missiles. The Soviet Union countered by proposing that the two sides simply freeze the numbers of medium-range systems in Europe. This meant that it would stop deploying but would not reduce its deployments of SS-20 missiles in exchange for the cancellation of all Pershing II and GLCM deployments.10 Neither proposal was acceptable to the other side.

The zero option for intermediate-range missiles appeared in November 1981, when U.S. President Ronald Reagan announced that the United States would seek the total elimination of Soviet SS-20, SS-4, and SS-5 missiles in return for the cancellation of NATO’s deployment plans. The Soviet Union proposed instead that the two sides agree to a phased reduction of all medium-range nuclear weapons (those with a range of 1,000 kilometers) deployed in and around Europe. This would have included Soviet missiles in Asia and would have captured some U.S. aircraft based in Europe and U.S. sea-launched cruise missiles. During 1982 and 1983, the United States and Soviet Union discussed possible compromises that would balance the numbers of U.S. and Soviet missiles, but these discussions made little progress. The Soviet Union withdrew from the negotiations when the United States began to deploy its intermediate-range missile systems in late 1983.

The negotiations resumed in March 1985 and began to gain traction in 1986. Between the Reykjavik summit in October 1986 and June 1987, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev offered several evolving proposals. He first suggested that all intermediate-range missiles—the SS-20s, GLCMs, and Pershing IIs—be removed from Europe, although some would remain deployed in Asia. He then indicated that the Soviet Union was prepared to eliminate all of its shorter-range missiles (those with ranges between 300 and 600 miles) in Europe and Asia. Finally, he proposed a global ban on shorter-range and longer-range systems, essentially accepting the U.S. zero-option proposal from 1982.

The Changing Political Landscape

Some have argued that the Soviet return to the INF Treaty negotiations in 1985 and the eventual conclusion of a treaty that reflected the original U.S. negotiating position demonstrate the success of the U.S. effort to negotiate from a position of strength. U.S. missiles, however, were not the only addition to the landscape between 1983 and 1985. Gorbachev had become the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. His desire to transform the Soviet Union, politically and economically, provided a strong incentive for him to pursue arms control, not just to limit U.S. forces but also to limit the burden on the Soviet Union. These factors almost certainly contributed to his eventual embrace of a complete ban on intermediate-range missiles.

Consequently, even if the Soviet Union sought to limit the threat from U.S. missiles, the changing political landscape after 1985 had as much if not more influence on the eventual conclusion of the INF Treaty. Moreover, because the Soviet Union, before Gorbachev, reacted to the U.S. deployment of intermediate-range missiles by withdrawing from the negotiations, the deployments themselves were unlikely to provide a sufficient incentive for arms control, absent the change in political leadership.


The United States and Soviet Union signed START on July 31, 1991. The negotiations began in 1982, but stopped between 1983 and 1985 after a Soviet walkout in response to the U.S. deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe. The negotiations resumed in 1985 and concluded shortly before the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. A protocol signed in 1992 named four former Soviet republics—Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine—as the successors to the Soviet treaty obligations.

START limited long-range nuclear forces—land-based ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers—in the United States and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. Each side was allowed to deploy up to 6,000 attributed warheads on 1,600 ballistic missiles and bombers. (Some weapons carried on bombers did not count against the treaty’s limits.) Each side could deploy up to 4,900 warheads on ICBMs and SLBMs. START also limited each side to 1,540 warheads on heavy ICBMs, equating to a 50 percent reduction in the number of warheads on Soviet SS-18 ICBMs. The United States placed a high priority on reductions in these missiles because they were thought to be able to threaten a first strike against U.S. ICBMs.

The Reagan administration actively advanced the notion that the United States needed to build up its military capabilities so that it could negotiate from a position of strength in START. U.S. defense spending increased by 34 percent between 1981 and 1986, rising from $317 billion to $426 billion before flattening during the rest of the Reagan administration. The administration revived the B-1 bomber program, which had been canceled by the Carter administration; began production of the MX Peacekeeper ICBM; and pursued development of the Ohio-class (Trident) submarines and Trident II (D-5) SLBMs.

Some argue that the “Reagan buildup” allowed the United States to achieve its goals in the START negotiations. One analyst even stated that the U.S. deployment of Trident and Peacekeeper missiles “hastened” the conclusion of START.11 This narrative is flawed. First, although defense budgets increased during the early 1980s, there was no progress on START while the budgets were rising. Moreover, in 1983, while the budgets were still rising, the Soviet Union walked out of the negotiations, and the budget increases had stalled before the negotiations resumed and began to progress in 1986. Second, although U.S. modernization programs may have provided the Soviet Union with an incentive to reach an agreement, they did not “hasten” the process and may actually have slowed it down. The United States and Soviet Union began START talks in 1982 and signed the treaty in 1991, a period of nine years that vastly exceeded the four years needed to conclude the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks agreement in 1972 and the five years needed for the INF Treaty in 1987. Further, during the final years the pace slowed while the two parties sought to identify limits and counting rules for all new U.S. capabilities.

The Reagan administration also advanced the bargaining chip argument to sustain support for the MX missile during the negotiations.12 Congressional support for the missile had waned in the early 1980s as members raised questions about the cost and feasibility of the basing schemes that were designed to reduce the missile’s vulnerability. The 1983 Scowcroft Commission also recognized that a vulnerable missile could undermine stability, but it recommended that the United States deploy MX missiles in vulnerable silos and justified this in part by noting that the missile could serve as a bargaining chip to win reductions in Soviet heavy ICBMs. Yet, the MX missile never really served as a bargaining chip. There is no evidence that the Reagan administration planned to cancel the missile, and START limits did not restrain the program. Although the United States agreed to eliminate these missiles in the 1993 START II, there was no way to see this coming during the debates over the missile in 1983.

Moreover, as was the case with the INF Treaty, political changes in Russia played a significant role in the completion of START. Gorbachev became the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985. His proposals for deep cuts in nuclear weapons, which nearly led to an agreement on nuclear weapons abolition at the Reykjavik summit, were a reflection of the political will he brought to the negotiations. Reagan also changed his views on the value of arms control in his second term and seemed to favor a more idealistic approach toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. Hence, the U.S. buildup of the early 1980s may have been a contributing precursor to START, but the successful completion of the treaty owes as much if not more to the changing political environment in the later years of the talks.


The United States and Russia signed START II on January 3, 1993, after less than a year of negotiations. The treaty would have limited each side to between 3,000 and 3,500 warheads. It would have banned all multiple-warhead land-based ICBMs and would have limited each side to 1,750 warheads on SLBMs. This would have led to the elimination of the U.S. MX missiles and all Russian SS-18 and SS-24 ICBMs.

START II is an unambiguous case in which the United States negotiated from a position of strength and achieved advantageous outcomes in the resulting arms control treaty. The United States fulfilled its primary arms control goal of the previous 20 years: the elimination of Soviet SS-18 heavy ICBMs. It had to cash in the MX missile “bargaining chip” to win this concession, but in the absence of an acceptable mobile basing mode and diminishing concerns about a Soviet first strike, the Pentagon’s interest in the MX missile had dissipated. Further, many in the United States hoped that further reductions in the U.S. arsenal would produce a “peace dividend” and allow lower defense spending. In addition, Russian President Boris Yeltsin recognized that Russia lacked the financial resources to maintain aging Soviet systems at the levels permitted by START. Recognizing this dynamic, both nations moved quickly to negotiations on START II.

A retired Soviet SS-18 ICBM is displayed at the Strategic Missile Forces Museum in Ukraine. Multiple-warhead missiles such as these were to be eliminated by START II, but the treaty never entered into force, and Russia plans to deploy a new 10-warhead ICBM. (Photo: Luka Novak/Flickr)START II, however, also presents a clear case of how a treaty negotiated when one party is operating from a position of weakness can fail to achieve its expected goals. Russian officials immediately raised concerns about Russia’s financial and technical ability to maintain its forces at START II levels. The ban on multiple-warhead ICBMs would have cut deeply into the number of Russian ICBM warheads, and financial pressures would cut into Russia’s ballistic missile submarine force. At the same time, other U.S. policies and programs repeatedly reminded Russia of its position of weakness. NATO enlargement raised concerns in Russia about its relative position in Europe and the security situation near its borders. NATO engagement in Kosovo in 1999 reminded Russia of its reduced status in the international community. The United States continued to press forward with ballistic missile defense programs, and in 2002, when the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty, Russia officially withdrew from START II.

Russia accepted the terms of START II because it was negotiating from a position of weakness. It withdrew from START II, after facing frequent reminders of that weakness, so that it could improve its position with a wide-ranging nuclear modernization program. Because START II never entered into force, Russia never eliminated its SS-18 ICBMs and will soon replace them with a new 10-warhead Sarmat ICBM. After walking away from START II, it initiated several programs designed to ensure that its nuclear forces can penetrate emerging U.S. missile defenses. Few would argue that the United States, after achieving its goals in the START II negotiations, remained in the same position of strength when START II did not enter into force.


During the Cold War, the United States often expanded its nuclear weapons capabilities. It also occasionally reached agreements with the Soviet Union to reduce those capabilities. The funding for new programs sometimes preceded the negotiated reductions. That does not mean that funding was always a necessary precursor to the reductions or that the existence of new weapons programs caused the eventual arms control outcome. Arguing that the United States must always negotiate from a position of strength to achieve its preferred arms control outcome serves less as an explanation of the conditions that contributed to arms control in the past than as an excuse for continued funding for all nuclear weapons programs in the future.


1. Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S. negotiator for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), noted that “[p]eriods of success in negotiations are followed by droughts, because of politics, military upheaval, arms buildups—yes, sometimes the weapons have to be built before they can be reduced—or a sense of complacency.” Rose Gottemoeller, “U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Negotiations: A Short History,” The Foreign Service Journal, May 2020, p. 26, http://www.afsa.org/sites/default/files/may2020fsj.pdf.

2. One proponent of this view stated, “If Congress wants to promote genuine progress on arms control with great power rivals like Russia and China, it should forget restraint and double down on superiority.” John Maurer, “Post INF Great Power Arms Control,” Real Clear Defense, September 17, 2019, https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2019/09/17/post_inf_great_power_arms_control_114747.html.

3. “Special Presidential Envoy Marshall Billingslea on the Future of Nuclear Arms Control,” Hudson Institute, May 21, 2020, p. 9, https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.hudson.org/Transcript_Marshall%20Billingslea%20on%20the%20Future%20of%20Nuclear%20Arms%20Control.pdf.

4. Jonathan Landay, “U.S. Prepared to Spend Russia, China ‘Into Oblivion’ to Win Nuclear Arms Race: U.S. Envoy,” Reuters, May 21, 2020.

5. James Cameron, The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 94-95.

6. Ibid., p. 123.

7. Maurer, “Post INF Great Power Arms Control.”

8. Gottemoeller, “U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Negotiations.”

9. Richard Weitz, “The Historical Context,” in Tactical Nuclear Weapons and NATO, ed. Tom Nichols, Douglas Stuart, and Jeffrey D. McCausland (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College, 2012), p. 5.

10. Strobe Talbott, Deadly Gambits: The Reagan Administration and the Stalemate in Nuclear Arms Control (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1984), p. 42.

11. Maurer, “Post INF Great Power Arms Control.”

12. Ronald Reagan, “The MX: A Key to Arms Reduction,” The Washington Post, May 24, 1983.

Amy F. Woolf is a specialist in nuclear weapons policy at the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The views here are her own and are not necessarily shared by the CRS or the Library of Congress. A longer version of this article was originally commissioned by the American Nuclear Policy Commission, a project of Global Zero.

A thorough analysis undermines the idea that arms control is only made possible by nuclear weapons modernization.

Stigmatizing Cluster Munitions: A Decade of Success

October 2020
By Erin Hunt

The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) entered into force 10 years ago on August 1, 2010, and it has demonstrated how humanitarian disarmament treaties can succeed even without the support of some military powers. The convention bans the use, production, stockpiling, and trade of cluster munitions based on the widespread, indiscriminate, and unacceptable harm these weapons cause to civilians at and after the time of use. The amount of contaminated land they make dangerous and inaccessible in rural communities causes further years or decades of hardship.

A Colombian Army bomb disposal expert works to dismantle a Chilean-made CB-250K cluster bomb in 2009. The effort completed Colombia's program to dispose of its final cluster munitions. (Photo: Luis Ramirez/AFP/Getty Images)Cluster munitions are defined in the CCM as “a conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms, and includes those explosive submunitions.” Because the convention aims to “end for all time the suffering and casualties caused by cluster munitions,” the definition focuses on those munitions shown to cause unacceptable and indiscriminate harm to civilians. Data collected by the Cluster Munition Monitor indicates that noncombatants have comprised more than 85 percent of all casualties from cluster munitions in the past decade.

Far from the advertised high-tech weapon for fighting modern conflicts, cluster munitions have proved to be battlefield losers, to borrow a term from the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division,1 which left behind contamination that killed friendly ground troops and civilians alike. Evidence from Afghanistan, Laos, Lebanon, Iraq, Serbia, and other affected states’ cluster munitions revealed that there was no responsible way to use cluster munitions due to their inherently indiscriminate nature. Civil society organized under the Cluster Munition Coalition realized quickly that the only sensible thing to do in the face of this evidence from the field was to ban this class of weapons. Civil society mobilized support for a process to do so outside the UN system following the successful treaty adoption process developed in 1997 by the Mine Ban Treaty, and to date, the convention has gained 109 states-parties and an additional 13 signatories that have agreed with the coalition’s assessment and joined the CCM.

A Focus on Victims

Building on the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines, the CCM has set new standards for humanitarian disarmament in the treaty itself and in its processes.

The CCM codified a new legal obligation for victim assistance with a comprehensive definition of a victim that included “all persons who have been killed or suffered physical or psychological injury, economic loss, social marginalization or substantial impairment of the realization of their rights caused by the use of cluster munitions.” By including the families and communities of those directly impacted by cluster munitions in the definition of a victim, the treaty recognizes that it is not just those who are killed or injured that are harmed by the weapon.

The convention’s provisions around victim assistance set a new global standard by outlining details of how states shall assist victims of cluster munitions. The treaty explicitly calls for age- and gender-sensitive assistance, which includes medical and rehabilitative care, psychological support, socioeconomic assistance based on needs assessments, survivor participation, and a national plan, all with effective legal and policy backing. The level of detail about victim assistance has truly set the CCM apart from previous arms control or disarmament treaties.

These two new standards set a precedent that strengthened the implementation of the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines and influenced the negotiations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It also set a model for future negotiators to build on the precedents created in previous humanitarian disarmament treaties and strengthen the stigma and effectiveness of those treaties.

A Role for Survivors

When it comes to treaty processes, the CCM calls for the involvement of survivors at the international and national levels. Survivors were instrumental in the negotiation of the CCM and have continued to be strong advocates for and implementers of the treaty throughout the past 10 years. Likewise, affected states have taken a leadership role in the treaty, with countries such as Laos and Lebanon leading implementation and universalization efforts. For example, Laos, as the country most affected by cluster munitions, hosted the first annual meeting of states-parties of the CCM. Laos also set the standard for leadership when the government set “Lives Safe From Unexploded Ordinance” as an additional goal to the 17 UN-established Sustainable Development Goals. Afghanistan and others have followed this example by including clearance operations and victim assistance in their national plans regarding Sustainable Development Goals.

Despite all these developments, victim assistance implementation continues to pose an enormous challenge to states-parties because it requires a new way of thinking—putting the concerns of human beings above that of the state—but some progress has been made. Fourteen states-parties have responsibility for cluster munition victims in their territory, and all but one (Sierra Leone) have designated a victim assistance focal point within government. Six states-parties have national victim assistance plans, and Mozambique has a disability plan that includes victim assistance.

Strengthening the Norm

The CCM has made significant progress over the past 10 years, with almost two-thirds of UN member states having joined. With the treaty’s second review conference scheduled to convene in Lausanne on November 23–27, even more ratifications and accessions are expected soon.

Delegates convene at the seventh meeting of the parties to the Convention Cluster Munitions in Geneva in September 2017. The treaty's second review conference is scheduled to convene in Lausanne in late November.  (Photo: Implementation Support Unit of the Convention on Cluster Munitions/Flickr)The impact of the convention’s norms has outpaced the convention’s universalization, with 144 states voting in favor—only Russia voted against—of the 2019 UN General Assembly resolution on CCM implementation, calling on states outside the convention to “join as soon as possible.” Allegations of cluster munitions use by states not party to the convention are met with passionate denial, indicating that international consensus on the stigma against cluster munitions is strong and growing in strength with each passing year.

The norm against cluster munitions has extended beyond diplomatic and military circles to impact the financial sector. Many states view the prohibitions on assistance with cluster munitions activities in the convention as applying to financial investment in cluster munitions production, and now 11 states have laws prohibiting investment in cluster munitions production. The Dutch peace organization PAX has been leading an international divestment campaign, Stop Explosive Investments, which has been highly successful in encouraging or pressuring financial institutions to remove investments from or halt investments in cluster munitions producers. At least two cluster munitions producers in states that have not yet joined the convention have ceased production, citing the impact of the investment environment. Investments in cluster munitions producers declined considerably over the first decade of the CCM’s life. The 2018 Stop Explosive Investments report listed 88 financial institutions that together invested a total of $9 billion in seven cluster munitions producers. Although that figure is still too high, it is a dramatic drop from the 2017 report, which listed 166 investors and a total of $31 billion invested, due in part to the two companies that ceased cluster munitions production. Declining investment in cluster munitions producers is an indication that the stigma against these weapons is expanding beyond diplomatic and military circles.

Implementation Success

The destruction of cluster munitions stockpiles is one of the largest success stories of the CCM’s first 10 years. According to the Cluster Munition Monitor, almost 1.5 million cluster munitions and more than 178 million submunitions have been destroyed by states-parties. Only a small number of states-parties have cluster munitions stockpiles left to destroy. Stockpile destruction is the most efficient way to ensure that civilians are not harmed by cluster munitions, because it is much easier, safer, and environmentally friendly to destroy cluster munitions and their submunitions in warehouses than it is to locate and dispose of them in the field. Each of those 178 million submunitions destroyed is a life, limb, or livelihood saved. Destroying stockpiles ensures that the weapons never fall into the wrong hands or are used out of desperation.

In addition to destroying stockpiles, the CCM also saves lives by requiring states-parties to clear cluster munitions submunitions from their territory. Cluster munitions clearance is difficult because, as air- or artillery-delivered munitions, submunitions can be found hanging on vegetation, rooftops, and other unusual locations. Unexploded submunitions are unpredictable and risky to manage because they failed to operate as intended.

The Mine Action Review reports that clearance operations have cleared at least 844,000 unexploded submunitions and more than 638 square kilometers since the convention entered into force. The clearance figures for 2018 were record-setting, with more than 128 square kilometers of cluster munitions-contaminated area cleared and more than 135,000 submunitions destroyed.2

Ten states-parties have reported completion of the clearance obligations under the CCM: Albania, Republic of the Congo, Croatia, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Montenegro, Mozambique, Norway, and Zambia. One signatory, Uganda, has completed its clearance process, and non-signatory Thailand has also completed clearing the munitions on its territory. As of August 2020, only 10 states-parties have not completed their clearance obligations. Since the convention’s entry into force, half of the contaminated states-parties have completed clearance of cluster munitions contamination, and more completions may be announced as the second review conference begins.

Challenges Remain

Despite the convention’s success, a number of challenges persist. A small number of states outside the convention continue to use cluster munitions. Since the treaty entered into force, use has been reported in seven nonsignatories: Cambodia (2011), Libya (2011 and 2015), South Sudan (2014), Sudan (2012 and 2015), Syria (2012-present), Ukraine (2014–2015), and Yemen (2015–2017). Communities in all seven states will suffer for years because of the contamination left behind from this use. The ongoing use in Syria is of particular concern due to the widespread and indiscriminate nature of the use. The Cluster Munition Monitor reported at least 674 cluster munitions attacks in Syria up until mid-2019 and 3,262 casualties of cluster munitions attacks or remnants from 2012 to 2017.

Within the convention itself, the slower pace of accessions and ratifications in recent years continues to be troubling. Thirteen signatory states that have not yet ratified the CCM, for example, have no reason to delay ratification, especially because 11 of them have no cluster munitions contamination. Recognizing that there are a number of competing priorities for governments, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, these signatory states need to ratify as soon as possible. Currently the convention is well below its goal of 130 states-parties by the second review conference, but reaching that marker within the next year is possible with concentrated political effort.

A smaller but nevertheless important issue is the problem of nonstate actors employing cluster munitions. The weapons’ complexity limits widespread use by such armed groups, but they still appear in a number of conflicts. Most recently, cluster munitions were used by forces under the control of Khalifa Haftar in Libya, and nonstate armed groups have previously used the weapons in Afghanistan (by the Northern Alliance), Bosnia-Herzegovina (by Croat and Serb militias), Croatia (by a Serb militia), Israel (by Hezbollah), Syria (by the Islamic State group), and Ukraine (by Russian-backed separatists).

The implementation of clearance is always a concern, but the convention’s largest challenge has been the victim assistance obligations. Victim assistance continues to be underfunded and overlooked. Psychological support and economic inclusion, in particular, have seen little improvement under the CCM despite being incredibly important to victims’ welfare and human rights. Victims in rural and remote areas continue to face significant hurdles to accessing assistance and services.

Most states-parties have taken steps to consult and engage survivors as required by the CCM and its action plans, but “generally there was no indication that survivor’s views were actively considered or acted upon.”3 Although the CCM has been very successful in destroying cluster munitions in stockpiles and in the ground, it has been less successful in addressing the lives and livelihoods that have been destroyed by this inhumane weapon.

Looking Ahead

The second review conference provides an opportunity to set a new action plan to guide the next five years of work. Under Switzerland’s presidency, efforts to draft a Lausanne action plan are underway with inputs from states-parties, civil society, and international organizations. The plan is expected to set goals with regard to clearance and victim assistance, with concrete indicators to assess progress, while highlighting cross-cutting issues such as gender and national ownership, which are important to successful implementation of the convention.

A strong action plan is necessary to help the CCM community meet its goal of completing the treaty’s implementation by 2030. This goal is very appropriate considering the links that heavily affected states, such as Afghanistan and Laos, have made between their implementation of the CCM and their work toward the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.

Beyond the likely continued use of cluster munitions in Syria, the United States is one of the biggest concerns as the convention enters its second decade. Although the United States last used cluster munitions in 2003 in Iraq, with the exception of a single attack in Yemen in 2009, U.S. officials have refused to accept that the convention represents an emerging norm and continue to view cluster munitions use as an effective military capability. This view is baffling considering the high civilian casualty rate and the fact that a number of U.S. military personnel were killed or injured by their own failed submunitions. In 2017, the United States revoked a decade-old Department of Defense directive prohibiting it from using cluster munitions that result in more than 1 percent unexploded ordinance after 2018. This change in policy can be viewed as an attempt to weaken the norm against cluster munitions. A concerted effort needs to be made to condemn any moves toward using cluster munitions use by the United States over the next two to three years.

Setting a Standard

Although the CCM has its challenges, it continues to demonstrate the importance of humanitarian disarmament. Seeing arms through a humanitarian lens brings clarity to what needs to be done and prioritizes efforts to protect individuals and communities. By focusing on the weapons that cause the greatest humanitarian harm, the CCM has had a concrete impact on communities around the world in its first 10 years.

Yemenis gather around the coffins of schoolchildren during a funeral in Sanaa in April. Data collected by the Cluster Munition Monitor indicates that noncombatants have comprised more than 85 percent of all casualties from cluster munitions in the past decade. (Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)The convention has set standards for international humanitarian law with regard to definitions of victims and the components of effective victim assistance, which have influenced other treaty bodies and negotiations. The norm against cluster munitions continues to grow, showing that international law works even in states outside the treaty. There are even stories of representatives from nonsignatories who have used cluster munitions asking civil society to stop drawing attention to their use of the banned weapons. They made those requests not because the allegations of use were false, but because the stigma against using such weapons was so high.

With growing stigma on use, stockpiles being destroyed, land being cleared, and some victim assistance being provided, the CCM has proven that it is possible to make significant positive change in communities using international law. Ten years after its entry into force, the CCM is well on its way to becoming the foundation of a world without cluster munitions.


1. Third Infantry Division, “Fires in the Close Fight: OIF Lessons Learned,” n.d., http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/2003/3id-arty-oif.pdf.

2. Mine Action Review, “Clearing Cluster Munition Remnants 2019,” August 2019, http://www.mineactionreview.org/assets/downloads/10799_NPA_Cluster_Munition_Remnants_2019_WEB.pdf.

3. Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, “Cluster Munition Monitor 2019: Victim Assistance,” August 2019, http://the-monitor.org/en-gb/reports/2019/cluster-munition-monitor-2019/victim-assistance.aspx (accessed September 25, 2020).

Erin Hunt is the program manager at Mines Action Canada. She has been working in humanitarian disarmament in various capacities since 2006 and doing public education on the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines since 2003.


The Convention on Cluster Munitions, now 10 years old, has proven successful even as it faces new challenges.

Creating an Opportunity to Withdraw U.S. Nuclear Weapons From Europe

October 2020
By Pia Fuhrhop, Ulrich Kühn, and Oliver Meier

In May 2020, a debate erupted in Germany on the future of NATO nuclear sharing and Berlin’s participation in the arrangement that has seen U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in European nations for decades. This may well turn out to be an opportunity for the alliance, European security, and arms control. Even though it might not sound very realistic today, within the next five years the United States could withdraw the tactical weapons it deploys in Europe with no negative consequences for NATO unity and the security of Europe. In order to secure such an outcome, German leaders and NATO policymakers will have to combine reassurance and arms control in novel and smart ways.

Tornado fighters are the only nuclear-capable aircraft in Germany's arsenal. A plan to replace them has sparked a debate over whether the nation and other NATO allies should continue to host U.S. nuclear weapons. (Photo: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)The German nuclear debate was triggered by a mid-April decision by the German Defense Ministry to replace its current fleet of Tornado dual-capable aircraft with 90 Eurofighter Typhoon and 45 U.S. F-18 fighter aircraft. Thirty of the F-18s would be certified to carry U.S. nuclear weapons.1

The plan, announced by German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), quickly attracted criticism not only from opposition parties. Rolf Mützenich, leader of the Social Democrat (SPD) group in the Bundestag, made clear that a discussion about the Tornado replacement would have to include a debate about the new aircraft’s nuclear role. Mützenich argued that the risks associated with continued deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons would outweigh their potential security benefits. He concluded that “it is about time that Germany in the future excludes the deployment” of nuclear weapons on its territory.2 The SPD is a partner in the nation’s governing coalition with the CDU.

Kramp-Karrenbauer clarified that it would be up to the next Bundestag to make a decision on the procurement of a new aircraft and conceded there would be plenty of “room for debate” on the aircraft decision during the campaign for the September 2021 parliamentary elections and while negotiations on a new coalition government would take place.3

Under nuclear sharing arrangements, NATO allies jointly discuss, plan, and train nuclear missions. According to estimates, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey are hosting up to 150 U.S. B61 nuclear gravity bombs on their territories. These countries, except for Turkey, provide their own dual-capable aircraft for the delivery of nuclear weapons in times of war.4 Details of the arrangement remain shrouded in secrecy, although an estimated 20 U.S. nuclear weapons are deployed at Büchel air base in western Germany.

Social Democratic Party of Germany politician Rolf Mützenich speaks to the media in June in Berlin. In May, Mützenich initiated a discussion over the possibility of no longer hosting U.S. nuclear weapons on its German territory. Mützenich’s call for a debate on NATO nuclear sharing triggered predictable criticism. Proponents of the status quo argued that the security situation in Europe provides neither political nor military room for changing NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements. They also maintained that a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany would undermine alliance solidarity. Some even argued that questioning nuclear sharing would hand Russian President Vladimir Putin a diplomatic victory. Others are concerned that Berlin would lose influence over NATO’s nuclear policies, should Germany give up its role as a host nation.5

Beyond such well-known positions, the debate revealed interesting nuances and unique insights. In contrast to previous discussions, many participants distinguished between the operative and technical aspects of sharing associated with the forward deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, on the one hand, and the political aspects involving consultations on NATO’s nuclear policy in the alliance’s respective consultative bodies. Thus, supporters of changes to nuclear sharing pointed out that a withdrawal of nuclear weapons does not mean the end of Berlin’s involvement in nuclear sharing. Even without hosting the B61s, Germany would still participate in NATO nuclear discussions, planning, and exercises, for example in the Nuclear Planning Group. Also, there is now broad agreement across the political divide in Berlin that nuclear weapons deployed in Europe do not have a military role that other conventional or nuclear weapons assigned to NATO could not fulfill. Last but not least, the security concerns of central and eastern European allies, and therefore Germany’s responsibility for European security, turned out to be a key issue in the debate.

Although the debate has subsided since May, the nuclear controversy will return when the Tornado replacement decision comes up in parliament. Hence, there is good reason and sufficient time to explore how steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons can be brought in line with the security and arms control priorities of Germany, its NATO partners, and ideally Russia.

A Five-Year Moratorium

To provide the ground for potential political compromises, Russia and NATO should refrain from introducing new, destabilizing weapons to Europe until 2025. Such a five-year moratorium would make sense given that the next German and U.S. administrations would be in office until 2025. During those five years, the next review cycle of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) will be completed. From a German perspective, a five-year freeze would be feasible because the Tornado aircraft can be kept operational at least until 2025.


Germany has a crucial role to play as an interlocutor. Berlin should urge Moscow and Washington to make use of the current window of opportunity to discuss reductions to nuclear weapons in Europe. A moratorium could prepare the ground for a more comprehensive, sustainable debate on security and stability in Europe. To achieve that goal, NATO should propose to Russia specific, reciprocal, and politically binding arms control measures. One should expect that many NATO allies would support such a moratorium as long as its goals are well communicated and the process is coordinated at NATO headquarters. At the same time, Berlin’s ability to bring all necessary actors to the table would be a litmus test of Germany’s influence in the alliance.

Moscow, for its part, would have to commit not to deploy additional land-based, nuclear-capable, short- and medium-range missiles in the European part of Russia. Moscow has already declared that it keeps warheads for such weapons separate from missile launchers and other means of delivery.6 To increase the credibility of that pledge, Russia would need to be transparent with regard to its central storage sites and communicate the movement of nuclear warheads.7 Russia’s infamous 9M729 missile, which NATO believes violates the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, must be verifiably stored at these sites, at least until 2025.

NATO in return would commit to refrain from deploying additional land-based, intermediate-range missiles in Europe. This would build on the alliance’s commitment not to deploy additional nuclear weapons in Europe in response to the demise of the INF Treaty.8 The alliance would also pledge not to transfer new, modernized B61-12 weapons to Europe before 2025.9 NATO’s Aegis Ashore missile defense site in Poland, currently under construction, would only become operational by 2025 at the earliest.

On the basis of such a moratorium and on reciprocal commitments to halt the deployment of destabilizing weapons, Germany could wait for the results of U.S.-Russian talks before deciding on the procurement of new aircraft. As a consequence, the Tornado might have to fly a few years more. This should be a price worth paying in exchange for giving arms control a serious chance.

As such, an agreement on a moratorium would be a success in its own right and pave the way for confidence-building measures between NATO and Russia. In close coordination with its allies, Berlin could push three parallel debates: on the forward deployment of nuclear weapons, on NATO reassurance, and on arms control between the alliance and Russia.

Forever Forward Deployment?

The five allies hosting U.S. nuclear weapons could use the moratorium to begin consultations among each other on their perspectives on and possible reforms of nuclear sharing. In Belgium and the Netherlands, political support for the continued deployment of nuclear weapons is fragile. The German public has also consistently opposed hosting nuclear arms.10 U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey are in dangerous vicinity to the war in Syria, and Ankara has recently flirted with the idea of its own nuclear arms.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has just appointed a new experts group,11 a brainchild of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. If former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidential election in November, the group might well be charged with preparing the alliance’s next Strategic Concept in the context of the NATO 2030 reflection process. The group should therefore immediately discuss the future of nuclear sharing arrangements. Given the unpopularity of the presence of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in many European host nations, it would be important that the group, which is co-chaired by former U.S. diplomat Wes Mitchell and former German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, discuss nuclear issues as transparently as possible. Including all relevant stakeholders in that process would increase the legitimacy of any recommendations the group might produce.

Strengthening Reassurance

Proponents of the nuclear status quo often argue that reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe are at odds with the security interests of central and eastern European NATO allies. From this perspective, a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons, for example from Germany, would undercut the principles of burden sharing and of alliance solidarity. Therefore, all allies would have to thoroughly discuss and agree on changes to NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe.

Berlin has a particular responsibility for its partners to the east. At the same time, Germany has to do a better job at bringing together collective defense via NATO and cooperative security with Russia. Combining reassurance with arms control, Germany would be following in the best of NATO traditions, such as the 1967 Harmel Report, which recommended a combination of strength and dialogue to overcome conflict and division.12 Particularly in times of U.S. unilateralism, it should not be difficult to find many supporters of such a dual-track approach. With such a unifying strategy, a German “Sonderweg,” leading to a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons, would also be much less likely.

German solidarity would have to begin with a greater contribution toward substantive reassurance measures. Currently, 24 allies contribute to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Poland and the three Baltic states. It is no secret that the four countries would like to see additional reinforcements, given Russia’s conventional edge in the region.

Germany should step up to the plate. As an essential first step, Berlin should actually provide those conventional capabilities that it has already promised. Currently, gaps exist in Germany’s contribution to NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which would be the first to respond should NATO’s eastern flank come under attack. The German government recently had to concede that the forces it contributes are not fully equipped or readily deployable. Over the next three years, German armed forces probably would have to improvise if they were to take on the role as VJTF lead nation. Germany could also contribute more toward air policing and surveillance of the NATO-Russian border region.

Critics might argue that additional efforts to enhance NATO conventional reassurance toward eastern Europe would violate the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act. Among other things, the act prohibits the permanent stationing of additional “substantial combat forces” on the territories of new member states. Although the term was never officially clarified, possible additional conventional German units on the eastern flank might be in violation at least of the spirit of the act.

A new combination of collective and cooperative security would also be necessary, however, because the NATO-Russia Founding Act has de facto established two different zones of security within the alliance, a recurring cause for valid complaint in eastern Europe. In 2022 the act will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Until then, the conventional reassurance of eastern Europe must become part of an overall package between Russia and NATO, which ideally would make the act redundant.

Time for Action

Any such comprehensive agreement would be more sustainable with Moscow’s support. French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative for strengthened arms control might still be a starting point for engaging with the Kremlin. To test Russia, the alliance should offer talks about conventional and nuclear arms control. Internally, the allies could agree on their position on arms control in NATO’s Special Advisory and Consultation Committee on Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.13 Reaching agreement on an arms control initiative, the allies would place the ball in Russia’s court.

In any case, talks on transparency and perhaps even limits on conventional forces would be complicated and would have to focus on the most urgent threat perceptions.14 Concerns about a Russian land grab indicate that traditional conventional force imbalances still matter. There are also concerns that Moscow might prepare a surprise attack under cover of one of its notorious snap exercises. Russia must therefore be willing to discuss constraints on certain conventional forces and capabilities close to the NATO-Russian border. Of course, it would also be desirable to limit dual-capable, long-range strike weapons and novel weapons technologies, as well as hybrid forms of warfare, but it is rather easy to overburden the agenda. The security of central Europeans would already be improved if it were possible to significantly reduce the risk of surprise attacks.

In parallel, both sides should urgently discuss measures to reduce nuclear risks. The forward deployment of nuclear weapons would have to be part of such an agenda. For years, Moscow has repeated its mantra that it is willing to address its own stockpile of an estimated 2,000 tactical nuclear warheads were the United States to withdraw its nuclear arms from European soil. It is about time to turn the table and ask the Kremlin which reductions to its tactical stockpile it would accept, should the alliance be willing to change its nuclear posture in Europe. It is not a sign of NATO’s strength that allies avoid bold initiatives by simply pointing to Russian intransigence.

A Package Deal

NATO needs to bring together the interests of the nuclear host nations with the legitimate security requirements of the other allies. This can be done by pursuing three parallel tracks on reforming the forward deployment of nuclear weapons, strengthening reassurance, and getting serious about arms control. Should the alliance succeed in reaching an agreement with Russia on specific measures to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in Europe, withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from all host nations and in a coordinated and consistent manner would be possible.

Intermediate steps are feasible. Washington might relocate B61 warheads to the United States but keep the nuclear infrastructure intact until Moscow has irreversibly removed its tactical nuclear arms from the European part of Russia. In any case, NATO would continue nuclear consultations, for example on the UK and U.S. strategic nuclear weapons assigned to the alliance.

If Moscow rejects the alliance’s arms control initiative after a five-year period, Germany would likely decide to continue hosting U.S. nuclear weapons, but Berlin would do so on the basis of having invested serious political capital in significantly strengthening stability through reassurance and arms control. Ideally, Germany would have initiated a process that leads to reducing instabilities and which puts NATO cohesion on a more solid footing. Simply continuing the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe without addressing Europe’s underlying insecurities contributes neither to stability or cohesion.


1. Oliver Meier, “German Politicians Renew Nuclear Basing Debate,” Arms Control Today, June 2020.

2. Rolf Mützenich, “Es wird Zeit, dass Deutschland die Stationierung zukünftig ausschließt,” Tagesspiegel, May 3, 2020.

3. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, “Eine Bückentechnologie,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, April 22, 2020.

4. Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons, 2019,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 75, No. 5 (2017): 252–261.

5. For an overview of such arguments, see Sophia Becker and Christian Mölling, eds., “(Nuclear) Sharing Is Caring: European Views on NATO Nuclear Deterrence and the German Nuclear Sharing Debate,” DGAP Report, No. 10 (June 2020).

6. The director of NATO’s nuclear policy directorate, Jessica Cox, confirmed that, by 2010, Russia had “consolidated its tactical nuclear weapons at ‘central storage facilities’” and “removed tactical nuclear weapons from its ground forces.” See Jessica Cox, “Nuclear Deterrence Today,” NATO Review, June 8, 2020, https://www.nato.int/docu/review/articles/2020/06/08/nuclear-deterrence-today/index.html.

7. For a proposal on how to monitor such an arrangement, see Pavel Podvig, “Nuclear Weapons in Europe After the INF Treaty,” Deep Cuts Issue Brief, No. 10 (June 2020), https://deepcuts.org/files/pdf/Deep_Cuts_Issue_Brief_10-NW_Post-INF_Europe.pdf.

8. “Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Following the Meetings of NATO Defence Ministers,” June 26, 2019, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_167072.htm?selectedLocale=en.

9. Deployment of the B61-12 is expected to begin during 2022-2024 at the earliest. See Kristensen and Korda, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons, 2019,” p. 258.

10. A July 2020 poll found that 83 percent of Germans support complete withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany. Other polls have consistently found that approximately two-thirds would support such a move. See, “Greenpeace-Umfrage zu Atomwaffen und Atomwaffenverbotsvertrag,” July 2020, https://www.greenpeace.de/sites/www.greenpeace.de/files/publications/umfrage_atomwaffenverbotsvertrag__0.pdf.

11. “Secretary General Appoints Group as Part of NATO Reflection Process,” March 31, 2020, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_174756.htm.

12. Ulrich Kühn, “Deter and Engage: Making the Case for Harmel 2.0 as NATO’s New Strategy,” New Perspectives, Vol. 23, No. 1 (2015): 127–157.

13. See Oliver Meier, “NATO Agrees on New Arms Control Body,” Arms Control Now, February 26, 2013, https://www.armscontrol.org/blog/2013-02-26/nato-agrees-new-arms-control-body.

14. Wolfgang Zellner, Olga Oliker, and Steven Pifer, “A Little of the Old, a Little of the New: A Fresh Approach to Conventional Arms Control in Europe,” Deep Cuts Issue Brief, No. 11 (forthcoming).

Pia Fuhrhop leads the Berlin office of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg. Ulrich Kühn heads the institute’s Arms Control and Emerging Technologies research. Oliver Meier is a senior researcher at the institute.

A revitalized debate in Germany offers a path to reducing or removing U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.

IAEA Maintains Programs During Pandemic

October 2020

The 12 months since the last regular session of the General Conference have been unprecedented in the history of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

(Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)We spent several months in lockdown from March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were able to begin a phased return to the Vienna International Centre in May, but things are still far from normal, as is clear from the special arrangements made for this GC.

During the lockdown, we continued to implement safeguards throughout the world to prevent any misuse of nuclear material and we launched the largest operation in the agency’s history to help countries confront the coronavirus.

Thirteen hundred consignments of equipment for virus detection and diagnosis and other supplies have been delivered, or are in transit, to 123 countries.

Fighting the coronavirus will remain our top priority until the pandemic is finally defeated.

As far as safeguards implementation is concerned, we continued to carry out all of our most time-critical in-field verification work, while rescheduling some less urgent activities, such as equipment installation and maintenance. For the first time, we chartered aircraft to enable our inspectors to reach their destinations.

The number of states with safeguards agreements in force stands at 184, 136 of whom have brought additional protocols into force.

The performance of state or regional authorities (SRA) and state systems of accounting for and control of nuclear materials (SSAC) has a direct impact upon the effectiveness and efficiency of safeguards implementation

I have therefore launched a new initiative, known as COMPASS, to help States further strengthen the effectiveness of their SRA and SSAC. Building on existing capacity development programs, this initiative will offer additional, tailored assistance to member states.

I report regularly to the Board of Governors on Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its safeguards agreement. Evaluations regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities for Iran continue.

Last month, I went to Tehran for discussions with President Hassan Rouhani and other senior officials. We reached agreement on the resolution of some safeguards implementation issues raised by the Agency. The agency subsequently conducted a complementary access, under the Additional Protocol, at one of two locations specified by us. Our inspectors took environmental samples which will be analyzed. A complementary access at the second specified location will take place later this month.

I welcome the agreement between the agency and Iran, which I hope will reinforce cooperation and enhance mutual trust.

The agency continues to monitor the nuclear program of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), using open source information, including satellite imagery.

The DPRK’s nuclear activities remain a cause for serious concern. The continuation of the country’s nuclear program is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.

I call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations under Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the agency in the full and effective implementation of its NPT safeguards agreement and to resolve all outstanding issues, especially those that have arisen during the absence of agency inspectors from the country.

The agency is intensifying its readiness to play its essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear program.

The IAEA low-enriched uranium bank in Kazakhstan, a last-resort mechanism intended to give countries confidence that they will be able to meet their future needs for nuclear fuel, is now fully stocked and operational.

The great benefits of nuclear technologies are sustainable only if they are used safely and securely.

The IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security, known as ICONS 2020, was held at ministerial level in February, It was a great success, with a record 54 ministers and 141 countries participating.

A Ministerial Declaration reaffirmed support for the central role of the agency in international cooperation to ensure that nuclear and other radioactive material is properly protected.

As I have said before, I believe that funding for the IAEA’s nuclear security activities needs to be put on a more sustainable footing. Nuclear security is much too important to be dependent on extra-budgetary contributions, as is the case today.

Adapted from remarks by IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi to the agency’s annual General Conference on Sept. 21.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi describes the agency's work on nuclear safeguards and security during the pandemic.

U.S., Allies Spar Over Iran Sanctions

October 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States threatened to sanction any country that does not enforce UN restrictions on Iran that the Trump administration claims were reimposed last month, but the UN secretary-general said he will not take any steps to implement those measures, and other states dismissed U.S. claims as invalid.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks to the media in Brussels on Sept. 21. He indicated that month that the United States has no standing to demand the reimposition of UN sanctions on Iran. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)UN sanctions on Iran were lifted or modified in 2016 as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the seven-party deal that limited Iran’s nuclear activities. Recently, the Trump administration asserted on Sept. 19 that the sanctions had been restored after the United States initiated a so-called snapback mechanism, created by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which contains language allowing participants in the nuclear deal to reimpose UN sanctions in a manner that cannot be vetoed. The U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018 has created a dispute over U.S. standing to demand the return of UN sanctions under the terms of Resolution 2231.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sept. 19 that the United States expects “all UN member states to fully comply with their obligations under these reimposed restrictions.” Pompeo said failure to do so would result in the United States using “domestic authorities to impose our consequences for those failures.” He later threatened that “no matter who you are, if you violate the UN arms embargo on Iran, you risk sanctions.”

But Reuters reported on Sept. 19 that UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council in a letter that due to “uncertainty” over the status of the UN sanctions, he will not take any action to implement the measures. Guterres said that “it is not for the secretary-general to proceed as if no such uncertainty exists.”

The same day, Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted the U.S. “illegal and false ‘deadline’ has come and gone” and that Security Council “member states continue to maintain [the] U.S. is NOT a JCPOA participant, so its claim of ‘snapback’ is null and void.”

The United States issued a snapback notification to the Security Council president and Guterres on Aug. 20, but Security Council members, including the presidents in August and September, rejected the Trump administration’s claim that it was entitled to use the mechanism in Resolution 2231 to reimpose UN sanctions. The Trump administration took that step after it failed to pass a Security Council resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran, which is set to expire in October according to the terms of the nuclear deal and Resolution 2231. (See ACT, September 2020.)

The United States argues that it is still listed as a participant in the nuclear deal under Resolution 2231, despite having withdrawn from the accord. The Security Council presidents and other Security Council members, including the remaining parties to the nuclear deal, have argued that the United States lacks the standing to trigger a snapback, despite still being listed as a JCPOA participant.

In a Sept. 18 letter to the Security Council, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom said the U.S. snapback is “incapable of having any legal effect” due to Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA.

France, Germany, and the UK, along with Russia and China, are all parties to the JCPOA and sit on the Security Council.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who coordinates the group of JCPOA participants known as the P4+1, said on Sept. 19 that “sanctions-lifting commitments under the JCPOA continue to apply.” He also referred to a Sept. 1 statement after a meeting of the P4+1 and Iran, which noted that the United States has not participated in JCPOA-related activities since it withdrew in May 2018 and “therefore could not be considered as a participant state.”

Russia’s ambassador to the UN tweeted more bluntly “Is Washington deaf?” and noted that “we all clearly said in August that U.S. claims to trigger snapback are illegitimate.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed his appreciation at the UN General Assembly for the Security Council’s “decisive and resounding” rejection of the U.S. attempt to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran. The United States is in “self-created isolation,” he said on Sept. 22.

Despite the widespread rejection of the U.S. claim that UN sanctions were reimposed, the Trump administration issued a Sept. 21 executive order aimed specifically at sanctioning entities that engage in conventional arms trade with Iran. The order stated that “transfers to and from Iran of arms or related materiel or military equipment represent a continuing threat to regional and international security.”

It is unclear why the Trump administration issued the order, as existing U.S. authorities already allow the president to sanction arms transfers to and from Iran.

Iran views UN sanctions relief, specifically the expiring arms embargo, as one of the few remaining benefits of continued participation in the nuclear deal after the United States withdrew and reimposed U.S. sanctions in May 2018.

But given the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s arms sales, which remained in place even when the United States was a participant in the JCPOA, the EU embargo on Iranian arms sales, and other UN measures that prohibit arms sales to Lebanon and Yemen, Iranian arms transfers will still face a number of restrictions once the UN embargo expires in October.

The United States also announced on Sept. 21 specific sanctions against individuals that are “directly involved” in Iran’s production of enriched uranium in excess of the nuclear deal’s commitments and individuals involved in Iranian-North Korean missile cooperation.

Iran initially threatened to retaliate if the UN snapped back sanctions on Iran, but did not immediately announce any new steps to violate the accord or ratchet up existing nuclear activities in response to the Trump administration’s actions. The near-universal rejection of the U.S. attempt to reimpose the UN measures appears to have mollified Tehran.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Sept. 21, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif underscored Iran’s continued commitment to the nuclear deal and its willingness to return to full implementation if all parties do the same.

Iran will “absolutely not” renegotiate the JCPOA, he said, but a “more for more” deal may be possible if the United States commits under the nuclear deal “that it will not violate it again, that it will not make demands outside the scope of the deal, [and] that it will compensate Iran for the damages.”

The Trump administration has failed to win support for its effort to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran.

U.S., Russia Hit Impasse on New START

October 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

As the clock winds down on the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control treaty, the United States and Russia remain locked in a stalemate with numerous obstacles blocking the path to prolonging the agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration will only contemplate a short-term extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) if Russia agrees to a framework for a new trilateral treaty that verifiably covers all nuclear warheads, includes those of China in the future, and makes changes to the painstakingly negotiated New START verification regime.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov arrives for nuclear talks with U.S. officials in Vienna on June 22. The discussions yielded little progress, and more recently he said "there are no grounds for any kind of deal in the form proposed." (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)Moscow, which supports an unconditional five-year extension of the treaty, has called the U.S. proposal “absolutely unrealistic.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that “there are no grounds for any kind of deal in the form proposed” by Washington in a Sept. 21 interview with Kommersant. New START permits an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree.

The U.S. approach raises several questions, such as whether the Trump administration is actually interested in extending New START at all, what the United States would be willing to put on the negotiating table in exchange for concessions from Russia, and why the administration believes that withholding an extension of the treaty provides the United States leverage in negotiations.

With Russia showing little sign of agreeing to the framework, the Trump administration will soon face the choice of whether to extend the treaty as is or set it on a path to expiration in February, which could trigger a costly arms race.

The Trump administration has also suggested that, if Russia does not agree to framework prior to the U.S. presidential election in November, Washington will tack on additional conditions for New START extension. What those conditions would be are unknown.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said that if he is elected president in November and New START has not been extended, he will pursue the treaty’s extension and “use that as a foundation for new arms control arrangements,” according to his campaign website.

Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, told Kommersant on Sept. 21 that if Russia does not agree to the Trump administration’s framework, the United States will not extend New START. Billingslea also threatened that the United States would increase the deployed strategic arsenal "immediately after the expiration of the treaty in February."

The U.S. insistence on the framework and refusal to extend New START without unilateral concessions by Moscow has prompted some skeptics to wonder whether the Trump administration is attempting to set Russia and China up to take the blame for an expiration of the treaty.

U.S. officials said that, with four months until New START expires on Feb. 5, 2021, sufficient time remains for Russia to agree to the U.S. offer before a decision must be made on an extension. Yet even if Russia were open to discussions with the United States on its demands, negotiating the specifics of a framework could take weeks if not months.

In addition, according to officials from the Russian Foreign Ministry, Moscow might need months to process a “technical extension” of the treaty.

Billingslea has claimed that the United States has significant leverage because Russia is desperate for an extension of the treaty. But Russia has said that it desires an extension of the treaty only as much as the United States and will not pursue an extension at any cost.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in July that, if the Trump administration does not agree to extend New START, “we will not insist.”

Extending the treaty for a period of less than five years, as the Trump administration is contemplating, also poses risks. Negotiations on arms control treaties are difficult and time consuming. A new agreement along the lines proposed by the Trump administration could take years.

Billingslea has declined to say how long an extension the administration has proposed, telling Kommersant that it “depends on how flexible the Russian leadership will be.”

Moreover, assuming Moscow would even agree to multiple short-term extensions totaling less than five years, preparing and posturing for such extensions could distract from the broader talks the administration says it seeks.

Although any framework agreement is likely to require mutual concessions from Washington and Moscow, the Trump administration refuses to detail what it would be willing to put on the negotiating table, besides a short-term extension of New START, in order to secure Russia’s agreement.

Russia has long said that it prioritizes the inclusion of U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom in arms control discussions. In addition, Moscow seeks to capture other factors it deems essential to maintaining strategic stability, such as missile defense, ground-based short- and intermediate-range missiles, space weapons, and hypersonic weapons.

Billingslea, however, has dismissed the idea of including limits on U.S. missile defenses, involving France and the UK in multilateral talks, and removing U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.

The Trump administration also has yet to describe what it would be willing to do in order to bring China to the table. Billingslea told CNN on Sept. 18 that Russia could persuade China to join talks, although Moscow has previously refused to do so.

“It’s [Russian President] Vladimir Putin,” he said. “He’s got all kinds of leverage. If they really wanted to help, they could.”

China has repeatedly declined to join trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia. The only way that Beijing would join, said Fu Cong, director-general of the Chinese Department of Arms Control and Disarmament, in July, was if the United States decreased its nuclear arsenal to the size of China’s. (See ACT, September 2020.) The United States has an estimated 6,000 nuclear weapons, including retired warheads; China’s arsenal numbers in the low 200s, according to a U.S. Defense Department report in September.

Billingslea claims that the verification regime put into place by New START suffers from significant loopholes and deficiencies, such as the absence of sufficient exchanges of missile telemetry and the limited frequency of on-site inspection.

The U.S. military, however, places great value on the treaty’s inspections and has not indicated that such flaws exist. Vice Adm. David Kriete, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in July 2019 that “those verification procedures that the U.S. gets to execute all the time provide great insight into Russia’s capabilities, numbers, and all kinds of things associated with their nuclear weapons.” If those procedures disappeared, he said, then “we would have to go look for other ways to fill in the gaps.”

Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for New START, also emphasized the importance of New START’s verification setup, saying that it used what worked in previous treaties and discarded those elements that previously encountered issues with implementation. “In the end,” she said in May, “the United States got what it wanted in the New START verification regime: streamlined inspection procedures at a sufficient level of detail to be effectively implemented.”

Although the Trump administration has expressed its willingness to let New START expire, members of Congress continue their calls for the treaty’s five-year extension.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) sent a Sept. 8 letter to Trump calling for the United States to extend New START.

According to an internal State Department report for Congress obtained by Foreign Policy in September, U.S. allies are “concerned about the potential repercussions to the international security environment should New START expire before its full term.”

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have continued a pause on inspections under New START and a postponement of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), which oversees implementation of the treaty.

“The United States is studying how and when to resume inspections and the BCC while mitigating the risk of COVID-19 to all U.S. and Russian personnel,” a State Department spokesperson told Arms Control Today. “The United States continues to implement and abide by” New START.

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.


U.S. demands for new nuclear restrictions appear to foreshadow the demise of the last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty.

U.S. Aims to Add INF-Range Missiles

October 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States is moving quickly to develop and deploy missiles formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to Trump administration officials, but questions remain about what missiles the military might develop and where they would be based.

A U.S. Navy Tomahawk cruise missile launches during a 2018 exercise. A senior Army official said his service was considering deploying a land-based version of the missile, a weapon that would have been prohibited by the INF Treaty.  (Photo: William Collins/U.S. Navy)“Now that we are out of the INF Treaty, the department is making rapid progress to field ground-launched missiles,” said Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist on Sept. 10 at the Defense News Conference.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea in August told Nikkei Asian Review, a Japanese news outlet, that the United States aims to talk with its allies in Asia about where to base such missiles.

The Trump administration wants to “engage in talks with our friends and allies in Asia over the immediate threat that the Chinese nuclear buildup poses, not just to the United States but to them, and the kinds of capabilities that we will need to defend the alliance in the future,” said Billingslea on Aug. 15.

Billingslea specifically highlighted the ground-launched variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile that the United States tested shortly after withdrawing from the INF Treaty in August 2019. (See ACT, September 2019.) Washington also tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile in December 2019. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The cruise missile is “exactly the kind of defensive capability that countries such as Japan will want and will need for the future,” said Billingslea.

Meanwhile, Defense News reported on Sept. 2 that the U.S. Army is planning to develop a ground-launched missile prototype with a range between 500 and 2,000 kilometers. The Army aims to begin fielding the prototype by 2023.

General Joseph Martin, vice chief of staff of the Army, said on Aug. 21 that the Army is “looking at land-based, land-launched Tomahawk missiles and SM-6s, which are in the Navy’s inventory.”

The new missile would join other ground-launched missiles already under development by the Army with a range formally prohibited by the treaty, including the Precision Strike Missile and the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon.

“What we want to do is provide arrows in the quiver… options to our combatant commanders that present multiple dilemmas to our competitors,” Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, the head of the Army’s development of long-range fires, told Breaking Defense, on Sept. 8. “That’s how we deter.”

The Marine Corps fiscal year 2021 budget request released in February included funds to purchase Tomahawk missiles, ostensibly for use as a ground-launched capability. (See ACT, June 2020.)

In October 2019, Taro Kono, Japan’s defense minister, downplayed the idea of Tokyo hosting INF-range missiles from the United States, saying that the two countries “have not been discussing any of it.” (See ACT, December 2019.) Australia and South Korea have also poured cold water on the prospect.

Both China and Russia responded to Billingslea’s remarks, saying they will respond if the United States deploys new ground-launched missiles.

“China firmly opposes U.S. plan to deploy land-based medium-range missiles in the Asia Pacific,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian Aug. 21. “If the U.S. is bent on going down the wrong path, China is compelled to take necessary countermeasures to firmly safeguard its security interests.”

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Aug. 20 that, “Undoubtedly, the deployment of new American missile systems in the region would provoke a dangerous new round of the arms race.” Such a move by Washington “would call for compensatory response measures,” she added.

Meanwhile, Billingslea rejected the idea of a moratorium on deploying missiles that were once banned by the INF Treaty, a proposal made by Russian President Vladimir Putin after the U.S. withdrawal.

“I really wouldn’t spend a lot of time thinking about or worrying about an INF moratorium because, simply put, that’s not going to happen,” said Billingslea during a June 24 press briefing.

NATO officially rejected the proposal in September 2019. France and Italy have acknowledged the moratorium proposal as an opportunity for dialogue.

Signed in 1987, the INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

The Pentagon is continuing to develop options for deploying missiles that were once banned by the INF Treaty.

OPCW to Investigate Navalny Poisoning

October 2020
By Julia Masterson

The international agency overseeing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) aided in a preliminary investigation into the recent illness of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned by a dangerous chemical agent, according to multiple
test analyses.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny marches in a Moscow demonstration on Feb. 29. He fell ill in August after an alleged attack with a chemical agent. (Photo: by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)Navalny was reportedly given the agent on Aug. 20 in Russia, where he received initial medical treatment before being flown to Germany, where doctors assessed that he had been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, a substance banned under the CWC. The finding was corroborated by laboratories in France and Sweden, according to German government spokesman Steffen Seibert. He said on Sept. 14 that samples of the nerve agent detected in Navalny’s system were also sent to The Hague for additional tests at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the treaty’s implementing body. He called on Russia to “explain these events.”

The OPCW announced on Sept. 17 that it provided technical assistance to Germany regarding the allegations of chemical weapons use against Navalny. According to the OPCW, “[A] team of experts from the Technical Secretariat independently collected biomedical samples from Mr. Navalny for analysis by OPCW designated laboratories.” The analyses of those samples are forthcoming, the watchdog said.

Using toxic agents, even in the poisoning of a single individual, is considered use of chemical weapons and is prohibited under the 1997 CWC. Following news of Navalny’s poisoning, OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias said on Sept. 3, “States-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention deem the use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances as reprehensible and wholly contrary to the legal norms established by the international community.”

The treaty’s near universality strengthens the well-established global norm against chemical weapons use. Just four states—Egypt, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan—are not party to the convention and therefore not subject to the treaty’s prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.

Novichok was added to the CWC list of banned substances as a Schedule 1 agent in November 2019, after states-parties voted to amend the treaty’s Annex on Chemical Weapons to include Novichok as among the most tightly controlled agents that states are prohibited from producing, transporting, stockpiling, or using. Under the CWC, these Schedule 1 agents are those with “little or no use for purposes not prohibited” under the treaty. That amendment entered into force on June 7, 2020. (See ACT, December 2019.)

The 2018 poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom triggered the campaign by CWC members to amend the annex, subjecting countries in possession of the nerve agent to the treaty’s most stringent verification and declaration requirements. Moscow is widely believed responsible for that attack, but although the OPCW conducted sample analyses of the agent used on Skripal and confirmed Novichok was used, Russia was never held accountable in the OPCW. (See ACT, May 2018.)

The CWC bans the use of any chemical as a chemical weapon, but the addition of Novichok to the treaty’s list of tightly controlled Schedule 1 agents grants the international chemical watchdog a newfound political ability not only to determine whether the agent used in Navalny’s poisoning originated in Russia, but also to impose punitive consequences for violating the treaty if that conclusion is reached.

“The first step is for the OPCW to complete the assessment of the samples it gathered in Germany,” Gregory Koblentz, an expert on chemical and biological weapons and the director of biodefense graduate programs at George Mason University, told Arms Control Today. Should the OPCW conclude that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, the other states-parties to the CWC would likely pressure Russia to declare its past research and development of the nerve agent and to destroy any existing stockpiles or production capabilities. If Russia refuses to cooperate, states may demand a challenge inspection under the CWC into any suspected chemical weapons production or storage facilities in Russia.

“Since that provision of the treaty has never been invoked, the OPCW would be entering uncharted waters,” Koblentz said. “It’s too soon to predict how this will play out.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sept. 9 that there is a “substantial chance” that senior officials in Moscow were behind the attack. He warned that “this will prove costly for the Russians.”

Russia has vehemently denied allegations that the Kremlin was involved in the attack on Navalny and has accused Germany and its allies of victimizing Moscow over the dissident’s poisoning.

The governing Executive Council of the OPCW is scheduled to meet next in early October, where the incident will likely be subject to further discussion.


Recent changes to the CWC empower the treaty’s implementing organization to undertake more stringent reviews of certain chemicals.

North Korea Continues Uranium Enrichment

October 2020
By Julia Masterson

A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on North Korea reveals ongoing uranium enrichment at its Yongbyon facility and continuing progress toward construction of an experimental light-water reactor (LWR). North Korea’s five-megawatt, gas-graphite reactor remains inactive, however; and there are no signs that plutonium reprocessing occurred within the last year, the agency’s Sept. 3 report finds.

Massimo Aparo, head of the IAEA Department of Safeguards, speaks to member states in July 2019 in Vienna. His department's September report on North Korea found that Pyongyang is continuing to produce material that could be used for a nuclear weapon. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)Although the agency notes that, without inspector access to North Korea’s nuclear facilities the IAEA “cannot confirm either the operational status or configuration/design features of the facilities or locations described,” the report suggests that North Korea’s production of fissile material, specifically of highly enriched uranium (HEU), continues. That the agency detected no indications of plutonium reprocessing would suggest that North Korea’s plutonium production has stalled.

But the report suggests the IAEA is not able to determine whether irradiated fuel from the reactor’s most recent operational cycle, which ended in December 2018, remains inside the reactor or whether fuel rods were removed and stored in the spent fuel pond to await reprocessing. The latter action could imply a forthcoming plutonium reprocessing campaign, which would expand North Korea’s stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium.

The agency’s report does not estimate how much HEU North Korea produced during the reporting period or how much fissile material it has stockpiled in total.

According to the report, Pyongyang is continuing to make progress toward constructing an experimental LWR at the Yongbyon nuclear complex. The report notes that although internal construction appears to have continued during the reporting period, the IAEA is unable to estimate based on available information when the reactor will become operational. Construction on the reactor began in late 2010.

North Korea’s failure to cooperate with the IAEA limits implementation of the agency’s safeguards practices to those that can be conducted remotely and without on-site access. Safeguards conclusions, including those reflected in the Sept. 3 report, are drawn largely from open source information and satellite imagery analysis.

Despite these limitations, the IAEA has taken steps to strengthen its preparedness to verify North Korea’s nuclear program should a diplomatic agreement on denuclearization be reached. According to the agency, these steps include efforts to enhance open source monitoring tools, expand collection of satellite imagery, and shore up inspectors’ familiarity with the technical aspects of North Korea’s nuclear program. The IAEA formed a North Korea team within its Department of Safeguards in August 2017 to develop and implement these safeguards practices.

Whether a denuclearization agreement with North Korea necessitating IAEA safeguards can be achieved remains in doubt. Kim Yo Jong, who heads the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea, said on July 10 that “summit talks are not needed this year and beyond.”

She did not say that denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang were off the table permanently, but she listed a series of conditions to be met for diplomacy to proceed. Namely, she said, “denuclearization on the Korean peninsula can only be realized when there are major changes made on either side, i.e., the irreversible, simultaneous major steps to be taken in parallel with [North Korea’s] actions.” (See ACT, September 2020.)

In the meantime, Pyongyang appears to be continuing its development of nuclear weapons and offensive missile capabilities. A South Korean military official reported on Sept. 16 that North Korea may soon conduct an underwater-launched ballistic missile test for the first time in about a year. This test could support development of an eventual submarine-launched ballistic missile capability.

Although the IAEA’s September safeguards report and indications of an upcoming North Korean missile test are concerning, South Korean officials maintain that any military conflict with the North, even one in which North Korea uses nuclear weapons, can be countered by joint U.S.-South Korean forces without resorting to nuclear retaliation. Seoul said on Sept. 15 that no U.S.-South Korean military plan calls for the use of nuclear weapons.


Using off-site monitoring tools, the IAEA assesses North Korea’s nuclear activities.


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