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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
US-Russia Nuclear Arms Control

Keeping Outer Space Nuclear Weapons Free


March 2024
By Daryl G. Kimball

Fifty-seven years ago, through the Outer Space Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to codify a fundamental nuclear taboo: nuclear weapons shall not be stationed in orbit or elsewhere in outer space. But there is growing concern that Russia is working on an orbiting anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons system involving a nuclear explosive device that would, if deployed, violate the treaty, undermine space security, and worsen the technological and nuclear arms race.

The flash created by the Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test on July 9,1962 as seen from Honolulu, 900 miles away. (Wikimedia Commons) The White House confirmed on Feb. 15 that U.S. intelligence uncovered evidence that Russia is developing an ASAT weapon that “would be a violation of the Outer Space Treaty, to which more than 130 countries have signed up to, including Russia.” Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a nondenial denial, claiming on Feb. 20 that Russia remains “categorically against…the placement of nuclear weapons in space.”

An ASAT system involving a nuclear explosive device could produce a massive surge of radiation and a powerful electromagnetic pulse that, depending on the altitude of the explosion and the size of the warhead, could indiscriminately destroy, blind, or disable many of the 9,500 commercial and military space satellites now in orbit.

Russia’s reported pursuit of a nuclear-armed ASAT system is another troubling attempt by the Kremlin to challenge the fundamental norms against nuclear weapons and to use nuclear weapons to intimidate and coerce. But it would not be a “Sputnik moment” requiring parallel ASAT weapons system development or radical new countermeasures by the United States.

As with the exotic nuclear delivery systems that Putin first announced in 2018, including a long-range, underwater torpedo and a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-capable ASAT weapons system would add a dangerous capability. But it would not alter the existing military balance of terror.

Russia already fields a range of ASAT system capabilities, including co-orbital systems that can launch cyberattacks and engage in electronic jamming of specific adversary satellites. As with China, India, and the United States, Russia has already demonstrated a capability to use a ground-based missile to hit and destroy an orbiting satellite. All nations with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles also have the latent ability to detonate a nuclear explosive device in space. From 1958 to 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union conducted nuclear explosive tests in the outer atmosphere.

The United States, which has the largest number of satellites in orbit, is already working to improve the resilience of its military communications, early-warning, and surveillance assets. A new Pentagon program soon will put constellations of smaller, cheaper satellites into orbit to counter space-based threats. Any corresponding U.S. nuclear-armed ASAT system effort would put U.S. and other satellites at even greater risk and do nothing to protect U.S. capabilities in space.

Off-and-on talks designed to maintain the peaceful use of space, including restrictions on ASAT weapons systems, have been stymied for years. A long-standing Chinese-Russian treaty proposal would ban objects placed into orbit with the intent of harming other space objects. It also would ban the “threat or use of force against outer space objects,” which would still allow suborbital and ground-based ASAT weapons capabilities.

Until recently, the United States has been wary of any legally binding restrictions on ASAT weapons systems in part because they might restrict U.S. ground-based missile defense capabilities or a possible space-based, kinetic anti-missile system that could involve a number of orbiting interceptors that provide a thin defense against ground-based missiles. More recently, the Biden administration proposed and rallied support for a ban on direct-ascent ASAT missile tests, which create debris fields that pose a major hazard to orbiting objects.

In the coming weeks, Washington, Beijing, and other capitals need to pressure Putin to abandon any ideas about putting nuclear weapons in orbit. As President Joe Biden noted on Feb. 16, that deployment “hasn’t happened yet, and my hope is it will not.”

The possibility of a Russian nuclear-armed ASAT system should also spur Washington, Moscow, Beijing, and other space-faring nations to get serious finally about additional measures to protect space security. They need to implement effective limits on ASAT weapons systems, including direct-ascent ASAT weapons and space-based systems that can destroy satellites and other objects traveling through space.

Russian ASAT weapons systems are not the only destabilizing factor in the dangerous nuclear and deterrence equation. In the absence of new, agreed constraints on Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear arsenals and measures to halt the growth of China’s arsenal, a costly three-way nuclear arms race could accelerate after the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires in 2026. In response, Biden needs to rally international pressure on Russia to support his proposals for talks on a new nuclear arms control framework and separate, regular dialogues with Moscow and Beijing on reducing nuclear dangers. Space and global security depend on it.

Fifty-seven years ago, through the Outer Space Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to codify a fundamental nuclear taboo: nuclear weapons shall not be stationed in orbit or elsewhere in outer space.

Russia Rejects New Nuclear Arms Talks


March 2024
By Libby Flatoff and Daryl G. Kimball

Russian leaders have rejected a formal U.S. proposal to resume talks “without preconditions” on a new arms control framework to succeed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that expires in two years.

A Russian Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile on display in Red Square  in Moscow in 2009. (Photo by Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP via Getty Images)If the decision holds, it means that the only remaining bilateral nuclear arms control agreement limiting the world’s largest nuclear weapons arsenals will expire on Feb. 5, 2026, along with its strict verification provisions.

In a written response to the United States on Dec. 2 obtained by Arms Control Today, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, “The proposal of the U.S. Side to launch a bilateral dialogue ‘to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework’ is unacceptable to us. Such ideas are completely inappropriate and absolutely untimely for they cannot be considered adequate to today’s realities and to the state of Russia-U.S. relations.”

Citing NATO and the “acute conflict around Ukraine,” the Russian diplomatic note also said, “At the moment, the U.S. Side does not demonstrate any interest in a mutually acceptable settlement of the current crisis [Ukraine], does not show readiness to take into account Russia’s security concerns…. Thus, there is no visible basis for a constructive and fruitful dialogue with the United States on strategic stability and arms control.”

The U.S. proposal was first announced by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at the annual meeting of the Arms Control Association last June. Sullivan said that the United States is ready to engage in nuclear arms control diplomacy with Russia and with other nuclear-armed members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “without preconditions.”

“Rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework,” he said. Three days later, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described Sullivan’s comments as “important and positive.” (See ACT, July/August 2023.)

But by August, Russian officials at the preparatory committee for the 11th NPT Review Conference had already started signaling that, in their view, nuclear arms control talks “cannot be isolated from the general geopolitical and military-strategic context,” which includes the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The United States followed up Sullivan’s June speech with a written proposal to Russia that was transmitted in September. (See ACT, December 2023.)

On Jan. 17, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov elaborated on Russia’s written response to the U.S. proposal, saying that “amid a ‘hybrid war’ waged by Washington against Russia, we aren’t seeing any basis, not only for any additional joint measures in the sphere of arms control and reduction of strategic risks, but for any discussion of strategic stability issues with the United States.”

Pranay Vaddi, senior director for arms control at the U.S. National Security Council, said at an event hosted by Center for Strategic and International Studies on Jan. 18 that the rejection “linked other politics to arms control in a way that has not been done in the post-Cold War era…[and] as a result, we don’t have a conversation to be had.”

Vaddi expressed disappointment that Russia had not even offered a counterproposal on nuclear arms control and disarmament. In failing to do so, “Russia is minimizing their obligations under the NPT” and not even attempting “to pursue negotiations in good faith” as required by Article VI of that treaty.

Shortly after Russia’s rejection of the U.S. proposal became public, the U.S. State Department on Jan. 31 released its annual report to Congress on the implementation of New START. It said that the United States had 1,419 warheads on deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers, below the limit of 1,550 deployed warheads permitted by the treaty.

The report said that Russia’s decision to pause New START inspections in 2022 and its failure to provide data on its strategic nuclear forces since it suspended implementation of the treaty in early 2023 “negatively affects the ability of the United States to verify Russia’s compliance” with the New START deployed-warhead limit.

Despite the verification obstacles, the report assesses that Russia “likely did not exceed” the treaty’s deployed-warhead limit in 2023 and “that there is not a strategic imbalance between the [United States] and [Russia] that endangers the national security interest of the United States.”

But the report noted that “due to the uncertainty generated by Russia’s failure to fulfill its obligations with respect to the [t]reaty’s verification regime, the United States was unable to verify that [Russia] remained in compliance throughout 2023 with its obligation to limit its [number of] deployed warheads…to 1,550” on delivery vehicles subject to the treaty.

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with RIA Novosti on Jan. 22 that, “for now, we are focusing on the task of maintaining the quantitative indicators of strategic offensive weapons at the levels established by the treaty on the condition that further destabilizing steps by Washington will not make such a task meaningless for us.”

The decision means that the remaining Russia-U.S. nuclear arms control treaty limiting the world’s largest nuclear arsenals will expire in 2026.

New START to Expire in Two Years as Russia Refuses Talks

With less than two years to go before the expiration of the last remaining treaty limiting the world's two largest arsenals, Russian leaders continue to reject U.S. offers to discuss a new nuclear arms control framework. In late December, Russia sent a diplomatic paper rejecting the United States’ proposal to resume arms control talks, according to U.S. officials , and Russia's foreign minister announced Jan. 18 that Russia was interested in talks on a new arms control framework to supersede the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which expires Feb. 5, 2026. In a speech Jan. 17,...

Russia Mulls U.S. Arms Control Proposal


December 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Russia said it will consider and respond to the formal written arms control proposal from the United States, which announced the proposal in June but did not transmit it until September.

A Russian RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is shown in Moscow during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in May. Russia says it is considering a U.S. proposal for new nuclear arms control negotiations. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)The Wall Street Journal first reported on Nov. 1 that Washington sent Moscow a proposal in September. A senior Biden administration official told the newspaper that the United States awaits a response but hopes to initiate “a conversation on what a framework after New START could look like,” referring to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expiring in 2026.

The proposal reflected U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s speech in June at the Arms Control Association annual meeting and “added additional details,” Pranay Vaddi, senior director for arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation at the U.S. National Security Council, told the Russian newspaper Kommersant on Nov. 3. (See ACT, July/August 2023.)

“Russia has not responded to it, but [Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei] Ryabkov said Russian authorities are working on a response,” Vaddi added.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has expressed skepticism that Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control talks would occur. “Dialogue is unequivocally necessary,” he said on Nov. 8. “But so far, the actual situation has not changed in any way.” Moscow repeatedly has stated that, as a precursor to any nuclear arms control talks, Washington must first withdraw support from Ukraine. (See ACT, April 2023.)

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have boasted about having what they called a superior Russian nuclear arsenal. No one “in their right mind would consider using nuclear weapons against Russia,” Putin said on Oct. 5.

A month later, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev touted that, “[f]or the first time in the history of the existence of nuclear weapons, our country is ahead of its competitors in the [nuclear] domain.”

Russia launched its annual nuclear exercise, known as Grom, on Oct. 25, but it proved relatively scaled down compared to exercises in previous years.

“Putin led a training exercise that involved the forces and resources of the ground, sea, and air components of Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“The exercise included practical launches of ballistic and cruise missiles,” it added.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that this year’s exercise involved “delivering a massive nuclear strike by strategic offensive forces in response to an enemy nuclear strike.”

Meanwhile, NATO held its annual exercise for 10 days beginning Oct. 16. Known as Steadfast Noon, the exercise included the participation of 13 allied countries and more than 60 aircraft taking part in training flights over Italy, Croatia, and the Mediterranean Sea.

“The exercise involves fighter aircraft capable of carrying nuclear warheads, but does not involve any live bombs,” the alliance said in a statement on Oct. 13. “The exercise is not linked to current world events and the bulk of the training is held at least 1,000 kilometers from Russia’s borders.”

After the exercises ended, Shoigu warned of “the threat of a direct military clash between nuclear powers,” laying blame on the United States for its “steady escalation” of conflict and its destruction of “the foundations of international security and strategic stability,” including arms control agreements.

Russia said it will respond to the formal written U.S. arms control proposal, which was announced in June but was not transmitted until September.

Upholding the CTBT Regime in a Time of Adversity

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As with other critical nuclear risk reduction and arms control agreements, the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is under threat due to inattention, diplomatic inaction, and worsening relations between nuclear-armed adversaries.

Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill from the Russian parliament to “un-ratify” the CTBT, ostensibly to “mirror” the United States’ posture toward the treaty and somehow pressure the United States to ratify the pact.

Opening remarks from:

  • Dr. Robert Floyd, executive secretary of the CTBT Organization (CTBTO)

Followed by expert panelists:

  • Elena Chernenko, head of the international section at the Kommersant newspaper in Moscow, where she focuses on nonproliferation and arms control issues. She is also a member of the German-Russian-U.S. Experts Commission on Deep Cuts in nuclear arsenals.
  • María Antonieta Jáquez Huacuja, counselor, Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, which is a co-sponsor of the resolution in support of the CTBT at the 78th UN General Assembly.
  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association, veteran campaigner to end nuclear testing and advance the CTBT.
  • Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst, Arms Control Association, moderator


Additional Resources

  • Reducing Tensions Over Nuclear Testing at Very Low Yield
    By Julien de Troulliou de Lanversin, Christopher Fichtlscherer and Frank N. von Hippel
    in the November 2023 Arms Control Today

    Given rising nuclear tensions involving China, Russia, and the United States, it is imperative that key states discuss a new transparency and verification regime for very low-yield nuclear tests.
     
  • Russia, the CTBT, and International Law
    By David A. Koplow
    in the November 2023 Arms Control Today

    Even after withdrawing its ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Russia would still be obligated to refrain from nuclear testing.

  • Managing an Arsenal Without Nuclear Testing
    An Interview with Jill Hruby of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration
    in the December 2023 Arms Control Today

    The NNSA administrator affirms confidence in the U.S. stockpile and advocates more transparency among nuclear-weapon states.
     
  • The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty At A Glance
    ACA Fact Sheet

    The treaty was opened for signature in September 1996, and has been signed by 187 nations and ratified by 178. The treaty cannot formally enter into force until it is ratified by 44 specific nations, eight of which have yet to do so.
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Russia’s move to withdraw its ratification from the 1996 treaty is a reminder that the de facto global test moratorium cannot be taken for granted.

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ACA Warns Against Calls for Buildup of the Already Massive U.S. Nuclear Arsenal in Race with Russia, China 

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Preliminary Assessment of the Report of the
Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States

For Immediate Release: October 12, 2023

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

Following more than a decade of deteriorating relations and uncertainty on disarmament diplomacy, the three states with the larget nuclear arsenals—Russia, the United States, and China—are on the precipice of a unconstrained era of dangerous nuclear competition.

The last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), will expire in February 2026; the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty no longer exists; the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty is history; and Russia is moving to "de-ratify" the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. At the same time, China is expanding and diversifying its relatively smaller nuclear arsenal so it can maintain a retaliatory capacity that its leaders believe is sufficient to withstand potential U.S. nuclear or conventional strikes and U.S. missile defenses.

The experience of the Cold War teaches us that an unconstrained arms race has no winners, only losers. Leaders in Moscow, Beijing, and Washington need to seize the opportunity to engage in nuclear risk reduction talks, negotiate sensible and verifiable reductions of their arsenals, and refrain from building new destabilizing types of weapons, rather than proceed down a "lose-lose" path of nuclear competition.

Regrettably, the final report of the bipartisan Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, issued today, suggests that in response to Russia’s nuclear and military behavior and the anticipated growth of China's strategic nuclear arsenal, the United States must be prepared to add more capability and flexibility to the U.S. strategic deterrent to counter two "near-peer" nuclear adversaries. Moreover, as the risk of military conflict with Russia and China grows, the report also advises that the United States must be prepared to fight and “win” two simultaneous wars, by enhancing its missile defense capabilities, and if necessary, bolstering its nuclear weapons capabilities, including new theater-range capabilities.

If there is a military conflict between nuclear-armed states, deterrence will have failed and, in the ensuing conflict, there will be no “winners.” 

Once nuclear weapons are used in a war between the United States and Russia or between the United States and China, there is no guarantee a nuclear war could be “limited.” According to independent estimates, a large-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia would kill and injure more than 90 million people in the first few hours, and many more in the days and weeks afterward.

Some commissioners, in their individual capacities, have argued in separate papers (see Project Atom, pages 38-48) that “deterring China and Russia simultaneously [requires] an increased level of U.S. strategic warheads” and enhancing U.S. sub-strategic nuclear capabilities. We disagree.

As Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin noted in remarks Dec. 9, 2022, at StratCom Headquarters: “Nuclear deterrence isn't just a numbers game. In fact, that sort of thinking can spur a dangerous arms race.”

In the current context, any decision to increase the number of deployed U.S. strategic nuclear weapons above New START levels could trigger a dangerous action-reaction cycle. It would not enhance deterrence in the face of China’s growing nuclear capabilities or Russia's existing capabilities. It would more likely encourage China to deploy more nuclear weapons on an even wider array of delivery systems over the coming decade and prompt Russia to match any increases in the U.S. strategic force.

Under New START, the United States (and Russia) can now deploy as many as 1550 strategic nuclear warheads on 700 missiles and bombers. Each has additional non-strategic nuclear weapons. China’s total nuclear force is estimated to include just over 400 nuclear warheads of all types.

Increasing the number of deployed U.S. strategic nuclear weapons or adding new types of nuclear war-fighting weapons to the the arsenal would not only be counterproductive, but prohibitively expensive. A July 2023 Congressional Budget Office report estimates that, if carried out, the current plans for nuclear forces delineated in the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) fiscal year 2023 budget requests would amount to a staggering $756 billion over the 2023–2032 period, or an average of over $75 billion a year.

Despite reckless behavior on the part of Russia and China in pursuing a more diverse array of nuclear weapons, the scale and diversity of the current U.S. nuclear arsenal still exceeds what is necessary to hold a sufficient number of adversary targets at risk so as to deter enemy nuclear attack.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, in his address on June 2, 2023, reiterated that "the United States does not need to increase our nuclear forces to outnumber the combined total of our competitors to effectively deter them."

While the Commission’s final report does recognize the value and importance of continued U.S. efforts to engage Russia and China in the nuclear arms control enterprise, it underplays the importance of stronger U.S. leadership on arms control in preventing an unconstrained nuclear arms race. 

For more than 50 years, U.S. presidents of both parties have recognized the value of nuclear arms control to constrain adversary capabilities that can threaten the United States, its allies, and the world.

This is why the Biden administration's 2022 Nuclear Posture Review states that “Mutual, verifiable nuclear arms control offers the most effective, durable and responsible path to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy and prevent their use.” The President's National Security Advisor said June 2, 2023, that the United States is ready to engage in nuclear arms control diplomacy with Russia and with other nuclear-armed members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “without preconditions.”

Rather than take actions that might accelerate dangerous nuclear competition, the United States must exercise prudent nuclear restraint and energetically pursue effective arms control and disarmament diplomacy with Russia, China, and other nuclear-armed states inside and outside of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

As Sullivan emphasized June 2, with respect to Russia: "It is in neither of our countries’ interests to embark on an open-ended competition in strategic nuclear forces—and we’re prepared to stick to the central limits as long as Russia does. And rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences—the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework."

Sullivan noted that the type of limits the United States can agree to after the New START Treaty expires "will of course be impacted by the size and scale of China’s nuclear buildup" which is "why we’re also ready to engage China without preconditions—helping ensure that competition is managed, and that competition does not veer into conflict."

Considering that new bilateral nuclear arms control limits with Russia may be difficult to achieve so long as Russia's war on Ukraine rages on, the United States could seek an executive agreement or simply a reciprocal unilateral arrangement verified with national technical means of intelligence that commits Russia and the United States to respect New START’s central limits until a more permanent and comprehensive nuclear arms control arrangement is concluded.

At the same time, U.S. and other world leaders should urge China, France, and the United Kingdom to cap the size of their nuclear arsenals as long as Russia and the United States meet their fundamental nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations, which involve participating in genuine negotiations to halt and reverse a potential nuclear arms race.

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The Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States suggests that in response to Russia’s nuclear and military behavior and the anticipated growth of China’s strategic nuclear arsenal, the United States must be prepared to add more capability and flexibility to the U.S. strategic deterrent and enhance its missile defense capabilities.

Russian De-Ratification of Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Would Be Self-Defeating “Own Goal,” Say Experts

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More Than 80 Civil Society Leaders Call on Russia to “Reaffirm Its Full Support for the CTBT”

For Immediate Release: Oct. 6, 2023

Media Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—Following remarks by Russian President Putin yesterday indicating he is “not ready to say now whether we really need or don’t need to conduct tests” and suggesting that Russia could revoke its ratification of the 1996 treaty to ban nuclear tests to “mirror” the United States, the Russian Duma will consider “de-ratification” of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The United States has signed the treaty, but unlike Russia, it has not yet ratified the pact.

“Russian ‘de-ratification’ of the CTBT would be a clumsy, self-defeating gimmick that would have no effect on the United States nuclear test ban policy,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which has campaigned for decades for a global ban on all nuclear weapons tests.

“Instead, it would undermine efforts to bring into full legal force the CTBT, which has the support of the other 186 states that have signed the treaty since 1996, including China and virtually all of the world’s non-nuclear weapon states,” he said.

Other nonproliferation experts and members of civil society agree. In a statement delivered Sept. 22 at a conference on the CTBT at the United Nations, 87 nuclear experts and organizations said:

“De-ratification would further undermine Russia's already shaky nuclear nonproliferation reputation, alienate non-nuclear weapon states, and damage the broader nuclear nonproliferation system.”

“Contrary to perceptions among some in Moscow,” Kimball added, “Russian ‘de-ratification’ of the CTBT would not in any way create leverage for Russia vis-a-vis ‘the collective West,’ nor will it change the United States government’s strong support for the CTBT and the de facto global nuclear test moratorium.”

“Ironically,” Kimball noted, “Russian ‘de-ratification’ of the CTBT would not bring the United States any closer to ratification of the treaty, which requires a supermajority of 67 out of 100 Senators. That legislative body is currently divided on highly partisan lines. Generally speaking, politicians do not change their votes under pressure from foreign governments.”

“To the contrary, it is more likely that de-ratification of the CTBT by the Duma would raise questions about whether Russia plans to resume nuclear explosive testing, which would make some U.S. Senators more hesitant about approving U.S. ratification,” said Kimball, who has lobbied for a ban on testing and the CTBT since 1990.

“De-ratification by the Duma would also contradict recent and past Russian statements and pledges on the CTBT and its nuclear test moratorium,” Kimball said.

In 2016, Russia joined the United States, China, and other members of the UN Security Council in support of Resolution 2310, which reaffirms support for the CTBT, and Russia joined a statement from its permanent five members pledging they would not take any action that would “defeat the object or purpose of the treaty.”

Resolution 2310 also took note of a Sept. 15, 2016, joint statement by the five permanent Security Council members recognizing that “a nuclear-weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT.” By endorsing this language, the resolution affirmed the view of these five states that even before the treaty enters into force, all CTBT signatories have an existing obligation not to conduct nuclear test explosions.

“We strongly urge states parties to the CTBT and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which also bans nuclear tests, to call upon President Putin to reaffirm full support for the CTBT and the moratorium on nuclear testing, and not to take Russia and the world backward to a dangerous era of tit-for-tat nuclear threats and nuclear arms racing,” Kimball said.

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Consideration by the Russian Duma to “de-ratify” the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would be a "clumsy, self-defeating gimmick," say nuclear nonproliferation experts with no effect on United States nuclear test ban policy.

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Russia Still Awaiting Formal U.S. Arms Control Proposal


September 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Russia said that it still has not received a formal written arms control proposal from the United States, after U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan offered in June for the two countries to hold nuclear risk reduction and arms control talks without preconditions.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, pictured in March, told reporters in July that Moscow still has not received a formal nuclear arms control proposal from the United States. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)“No, we have not received a written proposal,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters on July 21. He noted that Moscow “was very clearly aware” of Sullivan’s address outlining the Biden administration’s broader arms control strategy and found it lacking. (See ACT, July/August 2023.)

A U.S. national security spokesperson told Reuters on July 26 that the Biden administration “privately” conveyed the proposal to Russia, but declined to elaborate on when the communication took place or what the proposal contained.

The United States “remains open to discussing nuclear risks and the future of arms control with Russia,” the spokesperson stated. “Unfortunately, the Russian side appears not to share this willingness.”

The same day, the U.S. State Department released its annual assessment to Congress on the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The report said the treaty continues to enhance U.S. national security despite a dispute with Russia that has halted treaty activities, such as on-site inspections of nuclear weapons-related facilities and daily notifications on the status and the location of treaty-accountable items. (See ACT, April and July/August 2023.)

“The United States continues to assess that there is not a strategic imbalance between the United States and the Russian Federation that endangers the national security interests of the United States, and to assess that the Russian Federation’s violations of the treaty do not currently threaten the national security interests of the United States,” the report concluded.

The State Department also determined that, as of July 1, Russia “has not engaged in significant activity” above New START’s central limits of 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 delivery vehicles.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against using nuclear weapons in the war on Ukraine. “Don’t go there,” Biden said on July 13. “I don’t think there’s any real prospect—you never know, but—of Putin using nuclear weapons,” he continued, noting that other countries such as China have warned Putin as well.

The Financial Times reported on July 5 that, during his March visit to Russia, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Putin against nuclear weapons use. The Kremlin denied the report.

Nonetheless, heightened concerns about Russia employing nuclear weapons against Ukraine persist as Russia purports to transfer tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus. In June, Putin announced that Belarus received the first batch of Russian nuclear warheads. Moscow has declined to disclose how many warheads it plans to send to Minsk.

Russia has said that Putin will retain control over the use of the weapons, but Belarusian President Alexander  Lukashenko claimed on July 6 that “control is carried out perfectly, jointly by Belarusians and Russians.”

“If Russia ever decided to use nuclear weapons, I am sure that it would consult with its closest ally—with us,” he said. In a June address, Lukashenko described the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons as “my firmest initiative,” but assured that “we will never have to use them while they are here.”

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on June 26 that the United States continues to see “no indication that there’s any intent to use nuclear weapons inside Ukraine.”

Western governments and nuclear experts are debating whether Russia in fact has deployed tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus.

U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency senior officials told CNN on July 21 that they have “no reason to doubt” the deployment. They acknowledged that the weapons, which would be placed in storage rather than forward deployed, are tricky for the intelligence community to track.

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told CNN on July 21 that the United Kingdom has “seen signs of this [transfer] progressing,” adding that Putin “doesn’t always lie.”

But a few weeks prior, Western officials speaking anonymously told CNN that Belarus does not appear to have the proper infrastructure for housing the weapons, an assessment shared by Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists.

“Our observations and analyses show no clear observable indicators of construction of the facilities we expect would be needed to support transport and deployment of Russian nuclear weapons into Belarus,” they wrote in a June 30 blog post. “We are underwhelmed by the lack of visual evidence.”

In late June, a one-day mutiny by the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary group heavily involved in the invasion of Ukraine, also sparked worries over the custody and security of Russian nuclear weapons, as the group moved within 100 miles during its march to Moscow of two sites that have stored nuclear weapons.

The head of Ukrainian intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, told Reuters in a July 11 interview that Wagner forces reached the Voronezh-45 facility and planned to acquire small Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

But the U.S. National Security Council said that it could not corroborate the report. Reuters also could not independently verify the claim.

Nuclear experts were skeptical that Wagner aimed to obtain Russian nuclear weapons. Korda said it would be “virtually impossible for a non-state actor” to undermine Russian nuclear security.

In addition, operationalizing the weapons would prove difficult for Wagner, said Olga Oliker of the International Crisis Group. “Russian weapons and facilities are under solid control, and there’s no evidence that Wagner or anyone else is looking to capture them.... Not only would they be tremendously difficult to gain use of, there’s no real logic for doing so. ”

Despite Russian comments, a U.S. spokesperson said the Biden administration privately conveyed an arms control proposal announced in June.  

Russia to Consider U.S. Arms Control Proposal


July/August 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Russia has suggested it will consider a U.S. proposal for Moscow and Washington to engage without preconditions in bilateral talks on nuclear risk reduction and a potential new arms control framework.

Russian spokesperson Dimitri Peskov (R), seen at the Kremlin on June 5, called an arms control proposal announced by U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “important and positive.” (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan outlined the proposal in a speech to the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting in Washington on June 2. “Rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework” to follow the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) after its expiration in 2026, he said.

“It is in neither of our countries’ interests to embark on an open-ended competition in strategic nuclear forces,” Sullivan acknowledged.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has continued to dismiss the prospect of arms control talks, specifically on tactical nuclear weapons, most recently in a June 16 address to an international economic forum in St. Petersburg.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has emphasized that Moscow’s position against participating in such talks until the United States withdraws from Ukraine remains the same.

But other comments from Russian officials suggest that Moscow may not have shut down all potential dialogue on arms control.

On June 5, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, described Sullivan’s remarks as “important and positive,” noting that “we are expecting it to be supported with steps that will be made de facto through diplomatic channels.”

Meanwhile, Ryabkov said on June 8 that when the Biden administration sends an official diplomatic proposal based on Sullivan’s remarks to Moscow, “we will consider it.”

U.S. President Joe Biden commented on June 17 that he continues to worry about the possibility of Putin employing tactical nuclear weapons. “It’s real,” he told reporters.

In his June 2 remarks, Sullivan outlined the three components making up the Biden administration’s nuclear arms control and risk reduction strategy. The first piece includes engaging in bilateral arms control discussions with Russia and with China without preconditions.

Sullivan reiterated that the United States continues to observe the central limits on its strategic nuclear arsenal under New START, as well as to notify Russia ahead of ballistic missile launches and major nuclear exercises under ongoing separate agreements. (See ACT, June 2023.)

But as of June 1, the United States adopted reversible countermeasures to Russia’s violations of New START,
including withholding day-to-day treaty notifications on the
status and the location of treaty-accountable items, refraining from on-site inspections on U.S. territory, and withholding telemetric information on ballistic missile launches. In March, Washington had suspended participation in the treaty’s biannual data exchanges.

A State Department official told reporters on June 2 that the United States and Russia engaged bilaterally the week prior, at which time Moscow “refused to change their current course on New START.”

Sullivan said that the countermeasures “will help guarantee that Russia does not receive benefits from a treaty they refuse to abide by and that the principle of reciprocity—a key tenet of strategic arms control—is upheld.” This will “demonstrate to Russia the benefits of returning to full compliance,” he said.

Furthermore, Sullivan noted that the limits on the U.S. nuclear arsenal in any new arms control arrangement with Russia after 2026 will be affected by the size of and the capabilities in China’s nuclear arsenal. At the same time, he emphasized that “the United States does not need to increase our nuclear forces to outnumber the combined total of our competitors in order to successfully deter them.”

On a bilateral basis with China, the Biden administration still has not seen Beijing express a willingness to come to the table for an arms control dialogue or demonstrate an effort to compartmentalize strategic stability from broader issues between the two countries, Sullivan said.

China also has rebuffed military-to-military communications, rejecting a proposed meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at an annual security forum in Singapore in early June and, two weeks later, an effort by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to resume military-to-military communications during a visit to Beijing.

A senior U.S. defense official told reporters in late May that, since 2021, China “has declined or failed to respond to over a dozen requests from the Department of Defense for key leader engagements, multiple requests for standing dialogues, and nearly 10 working-level engagements.”

Blinken met Chinese President Xi Jinping, top diplomat Wang Yi, and Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing on June 18-19. The visit was rescheduled from February, when the Biden administration canceled Blinken’s trip due to a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States.

“The two sides had candid, substantive, and constructive discussions on key priorities in the bilateral relationship and on a range of global and regional issues,” according to a statement from the U.S. Department of State. Blinken further noted in a June 20 interview that, “in the months to come,” Biden and Xi may meet in person.

The two other components of the U.S. arms control strategy include engaging in new multilateral arms control efforts, such as within the P5 process, involving the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and helping to establish and support the norms and values of “the new nuclear era,” according to Sullivan. P5 members last met on June 13-14 in Cairo.

Meanwhile, Russia and Belarus continued with plans to transfer Russian tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, formalizing the arrangement on May 25. (See ACT, May 2023.) “The first nuclear warheads have been delivered to Belarus but only the first batch,” Putin said June 16. “There will be more.” He said on June 9 that the new nuclear weapons storage facilities in Belarus will be completed by July 8, a week later than the original schedule, after which the process to deploy the weapons would begin.

Pavel Podvig, a senior researcher at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, tweeted on June 10 that he remains “skeptical about the prospects of nuclear weapons being physically transferred to Belarus (though cannot rule it out).”

Belarus is expected to host the weapons, but Russia has said that Putin will retain control over their use. Lukashenko warned on June 13 that “there will be no hesitation [to use these weapons] in the event of an aggression against us,” but added that he would “coordinate launching a strike” with Putin beforehand.

The United States and NATO continue to monitor Russia’s actions, but have yet to see any reason to change their respective nuclear postures, according to statements from Blinken and the alliance on June 16.

A senior Russian official said the Kremlin is waiting for an official diplomatic communication from the Biden administration following a speech outlining the U.S. approach by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.  

Countering Nuclear Extremism With Prudent Restraint


June 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

The decades-long effort to halt and reverse an arms race involving the world’s deadliest weapons may soon number among the casualties of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of independent, non-nuclear Ukraine and his increasingly reckless nuclear threats.

Russian intercontinental ballistic missile rolls along Red Square during a military parade on June 24, 2020 in Moscow. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)Over the apparent objections of his own foreign ministry and defense advisers, Putin announced in February that Russia will “suspend” implementation of the last remaining bilateral treaty capping U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the United States for undermining talks to resolve differences over New START with its “hostile policy towards Russia.”

Russia will no longer share detailed data on its nuclear stockpile or allow the resumption of on-site inspections, but the Kremlin says it will comply with the central limits of New START, which is set to expire in less than three years. If the two sides fail to negotiate new arrangements to supersede or succeed the treaty, there will be no limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

Without New START, which restricts each side to no more than 1,550 strategic warheads deployed on 700 delivery vehicles, Moscow and Washington could quickly double the size of their nuclear arsenals by uploading additional warheads on ballistic missiles.

U.S. President Joe Biden has made it clear consistently that his administration stands “ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026. But negotiation requires a willing partner operating in good faith.”

The United States, its allies, and many other states have strongly condemned Putin’s suspension of New START and called on Russia to change course. At its summit in May, the Group of Seven industrialized countries declared that “[t]he overall decline in global nuclear arsenals achieved since the end of the Cold War must continue” and called on Russia to engage in substantive discussions in line with its nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) disarmament obligations.

As with Russia, the United States has its own contingent of nuclear weapons extremists. In mid-May, a loud group in Congress, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), introduced legislation that calls for the United States to withdraw from New START, increase the size of its already massive nuclear arsenal, and would only allow a future treaty with Russia if it restricts all types of nuclear warheads and if China is included.

Such action to stop implementation of New START or to withdraw from the treaty entirely would neither advance U.S. interests nor increase U.S. negotiating leverage vis-à-vis Russia. Rather, it would lend credence to Putin’s cynical disinformation campaign about who carries blame for the breakdown of nuclear arms control, further escalate already high tensions with a dangerous Russia, undoubtedly encourage China to ramp up its efforts to expand and diversify its nuclear arsenal; and undermine the security of U.S. allies in Europe and Asia. It might even trigger the unraveling of the NPT itself.

Cotton is among those who seem to believe that, in order to deter a Russian or Chinese nuclear attack, the United States must grow its nuclear arsenal to a size greater than the combined Russian and Chinese arsenals. But he is wrong.

First of all, the size and diversity of the current U.S. nuclear arsenal still exceeds in number and in destructive capability what is necessary to hold a sufficient number of adversary military assets at risk so as to deter an enemy nuclear attack. Fielding even more nuclear weapons will not produce a more stable balance of nuclear terror.

In addition, as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted in December, “[N]uclear deterrence isn’t just a numbers game. In fact, that sort of thinking can spur a dangerous arms race.” After all, as history shows, arms races are very costly and very dangerous and do not produce any winners.

Rather than take dangerous actions that accelerate dangerous nuclear competition, the United States must exercise prudent nuclear restraint. Most importantly, the United States could seek an executive agreement or simply a reciprocal unilateral arrangement verified with national technical means of intelligence that commits Russia and the United States to respecting New START’s central limits until a more permanent arms control arrangement is concluded.

At the same time, world leaders should urge China, France, and the United Kingdom to freeze the size of their nuclear arsenals as long as Russia and the United States meet their most fundamental disarmament responsibility, which is to engage in good faith negotiations to halt and reverse the nuclear arms race.

Preventing nuclear arms racing, nuclear proliferation, and nuclear war must be a global endeavor, but there is no substitute for commonsense U.S. leadership to reduce the nuclear danger.

The decades-long effort to halt and reverse an arms race involving the world’s deadliest weapons may soon number among the casualties of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of independent, non-nuclear Ukraine and his increasingly reckless nuclear threats.

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