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"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
US-Russia Nuclear Arms Control

The Future of New START and U.S. National Security

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020
10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Eastern
via Zoom Webinar

With the expiration date for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) less than a year away, the Arms Control Association hosted a discussion with former senior officials on the national security case for the extension of New START, the costs of failing to do so, and why extension is the best next step toward more ambitious arms control talks with Russia and other nuclear-armed states.

Key quotes from the speakers and useful resources are listed below. Some answers to additional questions that participants submitted but that the speakers were unable to address due to time constraints can be found here.

 

Key Quotes

Admiral (ret.) Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007-2011

“Put me down in the column of extension, and the reason for that is the clock is running. Certainly in my experience, getting to the right specifics in a very complex treaty takes a long time. And I would opine at this point we don’t have time to renegotiate—or to negotiate—a new treaty as an option.”

“One of the things that is incredibly important about this treaty is the details of verification, an aspect of which, in addition to national technical means, is spoken to by on-the-ground inspections. I come from a place where there is nothing better than being physically in place in time.”

"Trying to get something done with China between now and February is virtually impossible.”

Rose Gottemoeller, former NATO Deputy Secretary-General, former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and the lead negotiator for New START

“Nowhere is military predictability more important than in the nuclear realm. Our presidents can give a potent sign that they take this matter seriously by an early extension of New START. It would be an act of global leadership, reassuring our publics as they grapple with sickness and uncertainty.”

“Rapid fire negotiation of a follow on agreement was always a difficult proposition, especially the effort to engage the Chinese. Without the potential for hands-on diplomacy, I really think it’s become mission impossible. Extending New START would not only give time for all of the issues to be brought to the table and new actors to be engaged, but also would allow us to get through this pandemic.”

“The last point I would like to emphasize is the firm support for New START extension among U.S. allies, and not only our allies in Europe and North America, but also the ones in Asia. The allies are keen to see the last legally binding nuclear arms reduction treaty remain in force in order to ensure the continuation of a predictable nuclear environment in their regions and to give sufficient time for new negotiations to take place.”

Lt. Gen. (ret.) Frank Klotz, former U.S. Undersecretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration from 2014-2018, and commander of Air Force Global Strike Command from 2009-2011

“Although limiting the number and types of Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons would certainly benefit the security interests of the United States, as well as those of its European and Asian allies, it does not logically follow that the existing limits on longer-range systems imposed by New START should be allowed to lapse because an agreement on shorter-range nuclear weapons has not yet been reached. If that were to happen, there would be more rather than fewer categories and numbers of Russian nuclear weapons that would be unconstrained, including systems that could directly threaten the U.S. homeland. From a military perspective, that hardly makes any sense.”

“Rather than being relevant to the immediate debate on the treaty’s extension, the issue of Russia’s novel nuclear delivery systems is more a matter of those Russian capabilities that might need to be addressed in any follow-on nuclear arms control arrangements.”

“Allowing New START to lapse without replacement would be a grave mistake in terms of our national security.”

Resources

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Special briefing with Admiral (ret.) Michael Mullen, Rose Gottemoeller, and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Frank Klotz

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Potential U.S. Open Skies Withdrawal Announcement Coming Soon | U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch

Potential U.S. Open Skies Withdrawal Announcement Coming Soon The United States could officially submit its intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty by the end of September, despite strong support for the treaty in Congress and from allies and former U.S. officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper have decided to move forward with a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, the Guardian reported April 5. The report indicated that a statement of intent would be forthcoming soon, with official notification to withdraw coming likely by the end of September. Per the...

Video Short: New START at 10 Years

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My name is Kingston Reif and I am the director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association.

What is New START and why is its extension important?

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, which was signed a decade ago this week, limits the size of the still enormous U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear arsenals and provides for an extensive monitoring and verification regime to ensure compliance with the treaty. The use of but a fraction of the still enormous U.S. and Russian arsenals would result in a catastrophe the likes of which humanity has never seen.

New START is excited to expire in less than a year, in February 2021, unless the U.S. and Russian presidents agreed to extend the treaty by up to five years. If New START expires with nothing to replace it, there would be no limits on the size of the U.S. and Russian arsenals for the first time in half a century. The risk of unconstrained nuclear competition and even more fraught bilateral relations would grow. As a global pandemic ravages the nation and the world, we can ill afford to lose the only remaining limits on the world's two largest nuclear arsenals, which would open the door to an arms race.

Can we negotiate a "trilateral" agreement with Russia and China as the Trump administration is pursuing?

The administration's pursuit of a more comprehensive arms control agreement that includes additional nuclear-armed states is a worthwhile and praiseworthy objective. However, such an effort would be unprecedented, extremely complex to negotiate, and time-consuming, and almost certainly cannot be achieved before New START expires in less than a year, all of which reinforces the case for extending New START which will buy an additional five years with which to pursue a more ambitious agreement.

What can concerned citizens do to support New START's extension?

The future of New START hangs in the balance it is important that members of Congress hear from their constituents about the importance of extending New START. You can take action by going to our website ArmsControl.org/TakeAction and encourage your member of Congress to support existing bipartisan legislation in the Senate and the House calling on the President to extend New START.

Thanks for your support. Stay healthy and stay safe

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In the first of a new video short series, Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, describes why it is particularly important now to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia before it expires in February 2021 and how you can help. (April 8, 2020)

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TAKE ACTION: Extend New START

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The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is the only treaty limiting the world’s two largest nuclear weapons arsenals—and its future hangs in the balance.

New START, which requires rigorous monitoring and verification, is set to expire in February 2021 unless the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to extend it. President Vladimir Putin has proposed an extension of five years without conditions, but President Trump remains undecided.

Time is running out on New START and it is now crucial that Congress takes action to protect and extend it.

A growing number of Republican and Democratic members of Congress are voicing their support for the treaty and its extension. For instance:

  • In the House, Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas) introduced the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (H.R. 2529) bill, which expresses the Sense of Congress that the United States should seek to extend the New START Treaty so long as Russia remains in compliance.
     
  • In the Senate, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced a companion bill, also named the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (S. 2394). This bill expresses the same as the House bill.

Unfortunately, instead of working toward an extension of New START, the Trump administration is busy arguing for a new trilateral arms control agreement, one that includes Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons and China's smaller stockpile, which totals approximately 300.

Pursuing talks with other nuclear-armed states, like China, and limits on all types of nuclear weapons is an admirable objective, but such a negotiation would be complex and time-consuming. Not only is China opposed to a trilateral deal at this time, but there is not enough time to negotiate and ratify a new arms control deal before New START expires.

The first step should, therefore, be a five-year extension of New START which would provide a foundation for a more ambitious successor agreement.

Use the form below to urge your senators and representative to support the bipartisan legislation currently before them in the House and Senate.

The active support of your members of Congress for this legislation can help ensure common sense limits on Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal remain in force and can help prevent an unconstrained arms race.

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The New START agreement is now the only treaty capping the world’s two largest nuclear weapons arsenals—and it is in jeopardy. The U.S. and Russian presidents can extend it—and its irreplaceable verification and monitoring system—for up to five years if they choose. The actions of Congress can help protect and extend it. (February 2020)

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Russia’s View on Nuclear Arms Control: An Interview With Ambassador Anatoly Antonov


April 2020

Arms Control Today conducted a written interview in early March with Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States on issues including the current status of U.S.-Russian strategic security talks, the future of New START, talks on intermediate-range missile systems, engaging China in arms control, and President Vladimir Putin’s proposal for a summit of the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Ambassador Anatoly Antonov, then director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department of Security and Disarmament Affairs, speaks at the closing plenary of the New START negotiations on Apr. 9, 2010, one day after the treaty was signed in Prague by the U.S. and Russian presidents. (Photo: Eric Bridiers/U.S. Mission, Geneva)Antonov was appointed ambassador to the United States in August 2017. For more than three decades, he has served in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its successor, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he has specialized in the control of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Serving as the ministry’s director for security and disarmament, he headed Russia’s delegation to the 2009 negotiations on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). He was appointed deputy minister of defense in 2011 and deputy minister of foreign affairs in 2016.

Arms Control Today: What issues were discussed in the recent U.S.-Russian strategic security talks in Vienna? When do the two sides plan to meet next? Does Russia find this dialogue on issues affecting strategic stability useful and, if so, why?

Amb. Anatoly Antonov: Russia and the United States are the largest nuclear weapons powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council. They bear a special responsibility for preserving world peace and security. That is why it is crucial to maintain the bilateral strategic stability dialogue at any given circumstance, regardless of political situation. It goes without saying that such engagement should be conducted on a regular basis.

While discussing security issues, one must keep in mind that any conversation, no matter how substantial it might be, should focus on achieving tangible results. Reaching agreements on reducing tensions and mutually acceptable arms control solutions could help meet this goal. The primary task is to rebuild confidence in this area, attempt to preserve treaties that are still in effect, [and] mitigate crisis dynamic.

As for the consultations in January, our reaction can be described as “cautious optimism.” On the bright side is the fact that the meeting did take place, even though it exposed serious disagreements between our countries on a number of topics. Without going into detail, I must note that on many occasions we heard our partners talking about a concept of conducting dialogue within the framework of the so-called great power competition. In our view, such a formula could hardly serve as a foundation for building constructive cooperation on security issues between nuclear powers.

Nonetheless, Russian and American negotiators managed to discuss factors that significantly impact strategic stability (even though our partners somehow prefer the term “strategic security”). In our perspective, they include, above all, deployment of global missile defense, implementation of the “prompt strike” concept, threat of placement of weapons in outer space and designation of space as a “war-fighting domain,” quantitative and qualitative imbalances in conventional arms in Europe, development and deployment of low-yield nuclear warheads, and adoption of new doctrines that lead to lowering the threshold of using nuclear weapons.

In our view, another positive outcome of the renewed Russian-U.S. dialogue on strategic stability was the agreement reached in Vienna on conducting expert group discussions on specific topics, which we have to go over and agree on.

ACT: Do you agree or disagree with the idea that there is ample time to decide whether to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)? From Moscow’s view, when must the presidents of the United States and Russia formally agree on extension of New START to ensure completion of the necessary processes before its expiration date? Is it Russia’s view that the treaty can only be extended once, or can it be extended multiple times totaling up to five years if the two parties decide to pursue that approach?

Is it possible for the Duma to provisionally recognize a joint decision by the two presidents to extend the treaty in order to allow a decision on extension closer to the expiration date?

Antonov: As you have correctly noted, Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly spelled out our stance on New START. On December 5, 2019, he declared our country’s readiness to immediately and unconditionally extend the treaty. Later last year, we officially suggested that Russia and the United States should review the entire set of corresponding issues including the term of the treaty’s possible extension (up to five years).

A Russian defense official shows Russia's 9M729 cruise missile at a facility outside Moscow on Jan. 23, 2019. Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov disputes the U.S. accusation that the missile violated the INF Treaty. (Photo: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)However, we have yet to get a response. Trump administration representatives keep claiming that “there is still time” since the extension of the treaty in their view can be formalized in a matter of days. These statements are made despite our repeated clarifications that New START’s extension is not a “mere technicality,” but a rather extensive process that requires the Russian side to undertake a series of domestic legislative procedures. I would like to reiterate that as past similar review processes show, it may take several months to complete the New START extension.

Therefore, it is surprising that the U.S. Department of State refused to conduct consultations proposed by the Russian side on legal aspects of potential extension of the treaty. In response, we hear mixed comments (for instance, during the briefing of a “senior State Department official” on March 9, 2020) on the nature of interaction between the executive and legislative branches in Russia.

As for your last question, I would rather not contemplate in a conditional tense. I wish to emphasize: Russia stands ready to reach an agreement on New START’s extension even this very day. However, our goodwill is not enough. It requires U.S. consent, which we have not received yet. Should Washington agree, we will immediately begin implementation of the corresponding domestic procedures.

We hope that the United States will finalize its stance on New START in the nearest future since there is not much time left before the treaty expires in February 2021.

ACT: For nearly a year, the United States has insisted that China be involved in trilateral nuclear arms control negotiations with Russia and the United States. Chinese officials have said, however, that given the disparities between their arsenal and those of the United States and Russia, they are not interested in trilateral arms control talks at this time. Russia has said that if the U.S. side can persuade China to participate, then other nuclear-armed states such as France and the United Kingdom should be involved.

In Russia’s view, which nuclear arms issues and which types of weapons should be part of any bilateral or multilateral follow-on negotiation to New START? Would Russia be willing to engage in negotiations designed to limit or reduce stockpiles of nonstrategic nuclear weapons as well as strategic nuclear weapons? When, in Russia’s view, should any such New START follow-on talks begin?

Antonov: I would like to remind you that our stance on this issue dates back to 2010. We have said more than once that, with the signing of New START, any possibilities for further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms on a bilateral basis are virtually exhausted and that further progress in this area will require involvement of other states with military nuclear capabilities. However, we do not understand why some of our U.S. colleagues talk exclusively about China. Let’s also involve NATO members possessing nuclear weapons, Great Britain and France. In fact, that is what the special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation, Ambassador Jeffrey Eberhardt, suggested in his March interview with your journal, when he said, “we have to move beyond bilateral discussions between ourselves and Russia and bring in other countries.”

We are convinced that cooperation with third countries in developing possible new agreements in this area should be strictly consensus based and pose no threats to legitimate security interests of the parties. Beijing has clearly rejected the idea of being involved in the so-called trilateral agreements on nuclear arms control that you have mentioned. We believe that this “obsession” with the trilateral format can become a serious obstacle to the development of the Russian-U.S. strategic dialogue, in particular, in terms of preserving existing treaties and developing possible new bilateral agreements.

There is no doubt that the Russian-U.S. bilateral arms control agenda remains relevant. We are open to discussing within the strategic dialogue the issue of the newest and prospective weapons that do not fall under New START. However, the conversation on this topic should be conducted in a comprehensive manner, which takes into account interests of both sides.

At the same time, the possible extension of New START would give Russia and the United States an opportunity to discuss the prospects of bilateral and multilateral arms control regimes in the environment of strategic predictability.

ACT: Regarding your proposal to convene a heads-of-state meeting among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, what specifically would be discussed at such a meeting, and what specific outcomes does President Putin think could be achieved and how?

Antonov: Currently we have been conducting preliminary discussion on a possible date and venue for the summit.

The goal of the summit, as stated by Russian President Putin, is to begin a substantial conversation on the fundamental principles of cooperation on the international arena in order to resolve the most pressing issues faced by the global community. A meeting of the leaders of the five permanent members of the Security Council is the most appropriate format for such a dialogue to commence.

We proceed from an understanding that the leaders will discuss the crisis situation in global stability and security, including the erosion of the UN-set foundations of the world order, regional conflicts, fight against international terrorism and transnational organized crime, challenges of migration, and destabilizing technologies. We will not be able to leave out disarmament and arms control issues. We hope that the summit will allow us to identify approaches to solving pressing strategic stability issues.

But it can only be achieved within an interested and mutually respectful dialogue that implies consideration of interests of all sides. Later, other countries can and must join these efforts since only collectively we may solve the global problems of humanity. The summit is our proposal to the international community to step away from confrontational thinking and get behind a productive agenda.

ACT: Would Russia’s proposal for talks on a moratorium on deploying intermediate-range missiles also prohibit Russian deployment of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile, which U.S. and NATO officials have charged as an Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty)-noncompliant system? Which geographic “environments” does the Russian proposal envision becoming nondeployment zones for these prohibited missiles? How would the parties to the agreement monitor and verify compliance or otherwise share information about the locations and numbers of the prohibited systems? Lastly, is Russia open to considering counterproposals to its initial concept, and with which countries does Russia seek to negotiate such a missile moratorium?

Antonov: Russian President Putin’s message to the heads of the leading countries, including the United States and other NATO members, dated September 18, 2019, states that our country made a voluntary commitment not to deploy ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles in Europe and other regions so long as the United States refrains from doing so. On many occasions, we have called on other countries to support this initiative in order to prevent a new missile arms race, primarily on the European continent.

We believe that a multilateral moratorium in accordance with the Russian proposal will require additional verification measures, especially considering that launchers capable of firing intermediate-range land-based missiles are already deployed in Romania (Poland soon will follow suit). It was clearly proven during the test of a sea-based Tomahawk cruise missile fired from a ground-based Mk41 launcher conducted on August 18, 2019. Should our U.S. and European partners be interested, Russia is ready to work out corresponding technical aspects of the verification regime.

As for 9M729 missiles, the alleged “proof” amassed by the United States and NATO of our systems violating the INF Treaty (while it was in effect) has never been presented either to us or the international community.

Russia stands ready to discuss the issues of intermediate- and shorter-range ground-based missiles with all concerned countries. Our call to adhere to a moratorium, similar to the one already observed by our country, is addressed above all to Washington and its allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

ACT: Regarding the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), what are the main action steps on nuclear disarmament, previously agreed in the 2010 review conference outcome document, or perhaps new steps that Russia will encourage the 10th NPT review conference to support? What specific nuclear risk reduction measures is Russia ready to support in the context of the NPT review conference? [Editor: The 2020 NPT Review Conference will not meet as scheduled, see ACT news article, this issue.]

Antonov: Our stance and priorities in nuclear disarmament have been comprehensively described in the Russian working paper submitted to the second preparatory committee for the 10th NPT review conference. It stipulates a consensus-based incremental approach that implies consistent work on creating the right conditions that help the global community to continue down the path toward nuclear disarmament.

In this regard, we consider the forced development of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (now open for signing) as wrongful. It fails to promote nuclear disarmament, undermines the NPT, and creates additional tensions between its participants. We believe that complete elimination of nuclear weapons is only possible within comprehensive and complete disarmament and under conditions of equal and indivisible security for all, including nuclear states, in accordance with the NPT.

A significant contribution to progress in nuclear disarmament would be made by extending New START and adopting a moratorium on the deployment of ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles by the United States and its allies. An important role in efforts to limit and reduce nuclear weapons is played by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Unfortunately, since the CTBT was opened for signature 20 years ago, the world has still been awaiting its entry into force.

As for nuclear risks, we are working on a joint statement with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council on the inadmissibility of a nuclear war (the United States has failed to respond to Russia’s proposal to do it in a bilateral format). This could in a way become a reconfirmation of the well-known Gorbachev-Reagan formula, this time in a multilateral format.

Russia’s ambassador to the United States discusses strategic security, New START, and other key topics.

Surging U.S. Nuclear Weapons Budget a Growing Danger

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Volume 12, Issue 3, March 19, 2020

The projected cost to sustain and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal continues to grow. And grow. And grow some more. The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget request released in February reinforces what has long been forewarned: The administration’s excessive strategy to replace nearly the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal at roughly the same time is a ticking budget time bomb, even at historically high levels of national defense spending.

“I am concerned that … we have underestimated the risks associated with such a complex and time-constrained modernization and recapitalization effort,” Adm. Charles Richard, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 13.

Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, the director of the Navy strategic systems programs, put it even more bluntly to the House Armed Services Committee on March 3. There is a “pervasive and overwhelming risk carried within the nuclear enterprise as refurbishment programs face capacity, funding, and schedule challenges,” he said.

Adm. Richard and Vice Adm. Wolfe support the administration’s modernization approach and believe that delays to the effort could undermine the U.S. nuclear deterrent. But their warnings should prompt renewed questions about whether the spending plans are necessary and sustainable. The need for a fundamental reassessment is magnified by the rising human and financial toll that the novel coronavirus is inflicting on the national economy. The threat to worker safety and health posed by the disease could exacerbate the execution challenges identified by Adm. Richard and Adm. Wolfe.

Last year, Congress supported the administration’s nuclear budget priorities despite strong opposition from the Democratic-led House. But the costs and opportunity costs of the plans are real and growing – and the biggest modernization bills are just beginning to hit. Scaling back the proposals for new delivery systems, warheads, and their infrastructure would make the nuclear weapons modernization effort easier to execute and save scores of billions of taxpayer dollars that should be spent on addressing higher priority national and health security challenges. Such adjustments would still leave ample funding to sustain a devasting U.S. nuclear deterrent.

The Fiscal Year 2021 Nuclear Budget Request

The administration is requesting $44.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 for the Defense and Energy Departments to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems and warheads and their supporting infrastructure, a larger-than-anticipated increase of about $7.3 billion, or 19 percent, from the fiscal year 2020 level. This includes $28.9 billion for the Pentagon and $15.6 billion for the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The proposed spending on nuclear weapons constitutes about 6 percent of the total national defense request, up from about 5 percent last year. By 2024, projected spending on the nuclear arsenal is slated to consume 6.8% of total national defense spending. The percentage will continue to rise through the late-2020s and early-2030s when modernization spending is slated to peak.

The largest increase sought is for the NNSA nuclear weapons activities account. The budget request calls for $15.6 billion, an astonishing increase of $3.1 billion, or 25 percent, above the fiscal year 2020 appropriation and $2.8 billion above the projection for 2021 in the fiscal year 2020 budget request. Over the next five years, the NNSA is planning to request over $81 billion for weapons activities, a nearly 24 percent increase over what it planned to seek over the same period as of last year.

To put the NNSA weapons activities request in perspective, $15.6 billion is almost twice as much as the $8.3 billion emergency spending bill signed into law March 6 to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus through prevention efforts and research to quickly produce a vaccine for the deadly disease.

The budget request would support continued implementation of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which called for expanding U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. In addition to continuing full speed ahead with the previous administration’s plans to upgrade the arsenal on a largely like-for-like basis, the Trump administration proposed to develop two new sea-based low-yield nuclear options (one of which it has already begun deploying) and lay the groundwork to grow the size of the warhead stockpile.

The projected long-term cost of the proposed nuclear spending spree is even more staggering. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected last year that the United States is poised to spend nearly $500 billion, after including the effects of inflation, to maintain and replace its nuclear arsenal between fiscal years 2019 and 2028. This is an increase of nearly $100 billion, or about 23 percent, above the already enormous projected cost as of the end of the Obama administration. Over the next 30 years, the price tag is likely to top $1.5 trillion and could even approach $2 trillion.

These big nuclear bills are coming due as the Defense Department is seeking to replace large portions of its conventional forces and must contend with internal fiscal pressures, such as rising maintenance and operations costs. In addition, external fiscal pressures, such as the growing national debt and the significant economic contraction caused by the coronavirus pandemic, are all likely to limit the growth of – and perhaps reduce – military spending. Indeed, the Trump administration is recommending a lower national defense budget top line in fiscal year 2021 than Congress provided last year.

“The Pentagon must come to terms with the reality that future defense budgets are likely to be flat, which will force leaders to make some tough choices,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Feb. 6.

The costs and risks of the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans are compounded by its hostility to arms control. The administration withdrew the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August 2019 and has shown little interest in extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). If New START expires in February 2021 with nothing to replace it, the incentives for the United States and Russia to grow the size of their arsenals beyond the treaty limits would grow. A new quantitative arms race would cause the already high costs of the modernization effort to soar even higher.

Triad Budget Rises as Planned

The budget request contains large but planned increases to maintain the schedule of Pentagon programs to sustain and rebuild the U.S. triad of nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers.

The request includes $4.4 billion for the Navy program to build 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The Air Force is seeking $2.8 billion to continue development of the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, $500 million for the long-range standoff weapon program to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile, and $1.5 billion for the program to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile with a missile system called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). The Pentagon is also asking for $4.2 billion to sustain and upgrade nuclear command, control, and communications systems.

Collectively, the request for these programs is an increase of $3.2 billion, or more than 30 percent, above the fiscal year 2020 level.

Over the next five years, the Pentagon is projecting to request $167 billion to sustain and modernize delivery systems and their supporting command and control infrastructure. The Columbia-class, GBSD, and B-21 programs could each cost between $100-$150 billion after including the effects of inflation and likely cost overruns, easily putting them among the top 10 most expensive Pentagon acquisition programs.

 
 

 

NNSA Budget Explodes

The NNSA budget submission includes large unplanned cost increases for several ongoing warhead life extension programs, the acceleration of the W93 program to develop a newly-designed submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, the expansion of the production of plutonium pits for nuclear warheads to at least 80 per year, and other large infrastructure recapitalization projects.

The factors driving the NNSA to request such large unplanned increases are unclear. The agency said last year that its fiscal year 2020 budget plan was “fully consistent” with the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review and “affordable and executable.” Under that proposal, the NNSA did not plan to request more than $15 billion for the weapons activities account until 2030.

Several major ongoing programs would reportedly be delayed in the absence of the increase, which would suggest that they have encountered cost overruns. 

It is unlikely that the NNSA will be able to spend such a large increase in one year. Allison Bawden, a director at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the House Armed Services Committee on March 3 that spending the requested amount “will be very challenging.” This view is supported by the fact that the weapons activities account is sitting on approximately $5.5 billion in unspent carryover balances from previous years.

Despite massive budget increases since the Trump administration took office, the executability of NNSA’s plans is highly questionable. The ambition of the agency’s modernization program is unlike anything seen since the Cold War. Bawden noted that the GAO is “concerned about the long-term affordability of the plans.” Former NNSA administrator Frank Klotz said in a January 2018 interview before the release of the Nuclear Posture Review that the agency was already “working pretty much at full capacity.”

According to Bawden, the tightly coupled nature of the NNSA’s modernization program is such that “any delay could have a significant cascading effect on the overall effort.” The agency has consistently underestimated the cost and schedule risks of major warhead life extension programs and infrastructure recapitalization projects. An independent assessment published last year found “no historical precedent” for the NNSA’s plan to produce 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030. The assessment also stated that the agency had never completed a major project costing more than $700 million in fewer than 16 years.

This chart shows the NNSA’s future-years nuclear security program (FYNSP) for each fiscal year starting with FY 2017. The FYNSP reflects what the agency estimates its budget will be for that current fiscal year and the four succeeding fiscal years.Moreover, while the NNSA’s five-year spending projection sustains the enormous fiscal year 2021 funding proposal, outyear funding is slated to grow at a set rate of 2.1 percent. In other words, the outyear projections aren't based on what NNSA believes it will actually need. Several major NNSA efforts, such as developing a warhead for a new sea-launched cruise missile and the full scope of the plutonium pit production and uranium enrichment recapitalization plans, are not yet part of the budget. In sum, if "past is precedent," the outyear projections will exceed growth with inflation.

Nuclear Force Modernization Cannibalizes Conventional Military Modernization

The damaging opportunity costs of the administration’s decision to prioritize nuclear weapons are on full display in the budget request. The Navy has long been warning that the planned recapitalization of the ballistic missile submarine force will pose a particularly significant affordability challenge. The request includes funding to purchase the first submarine in the class over the next three years.

“[W]e must begin a 40-year recapitalization of our [SSBN] force,” Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly wrote in a Feb. 18 memo directing the Navy to identify $40 billion in savings over the next five years. “This requirement will consume a significant portion of our shipbuilding budget in the coming years and squeeze out funds we need to build a larger fleet.”

The Navy is requesting $19.9 billion for shipbuilding in fiscal year 2021, a decrease of $4.1 billion below the fiscal year 2020 level.

The shipbuilding budget also paid the price for the enormous unplanned increase for the NNSA. The agency’s budget submission was reportedly a controversial issue within the Trump administration and was not resolved until days before the Feb. 10 public release of the budget. President Trump ultimately signed off on adding over $2 billion to the NNSA’s weapons activities account, forcing a late scramble to make room for the additional funding.

Though the Pentagon has not confirmed the exact amount that was taken to pay for the increase, members of Congress and media reports indicate that the increase for the NNSA prevented the Navy from adding a second Virginia-class attack submarine to the shipbuilding budget. The decision to cut an attack submarine to pay for a budget increase the NNSA said last year it didn’t need is hard to square with the Pentagon’s top overall defense priority of preparing for great power competition with China.

Nuclear Weapons Aren’t Cheap

The Pentagon argues that even at its peak in the late-2020s, spending on nuclear weapons is affordable because it will consume a peak of roughly 6.4 percent of total Pentagon spending in 2029. But this figure is misleading for several reasons. For starters, the figure doesn’t include spending at the NNSA. When NNSA spending is included, nuclear weapons already account for 6 percent of the total FY 2021 national defense budget request. Regardless, even 6 percent of a budget as large as the Pentagon’s is an enormous amount of money. By comparison, the March 2013 congressionally mandated sequester reduced national defense spending (minus exempt military personnel accounts) by 7 percent. Military leaders and lawmakers repeatedly described the sequester as devastating.

Meanwhile, a better measure of the opportunity costs of prioritizing nuclear modernization is to compare spending on that modernization to overall Defense Department acquisition spending. The Pentagon is requesting $17.7 billion for nuclear weapons research, development, and procurement in fiscal year 2021. This amount already accounts for 7.3 percent of the total requested Pentagon acquisition spending. While the Pentagon is projecting a decline in total acquisition spending over the next five years, nuclear acquisition spending is primed for a major increase. The CBO estimated in 2017 that by the early 2030s, spending on nuclear weapons would rise to 15 percent of the Pentagon’s total acquisition costs.

Pentagon officials also repeatedly claim that unless they get every penny that they are asking for to modernize the arsenal, the arsenal will begin to erode into obsolescence. But this is a false choice. The right question is whether the administration’s approach is necessary, sustainable, and safe, especially in the absence of any negotiated restraints on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. And the right answer is that the administration’s current path is unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe – and must be rethought.

Recommendations for Congress

The bottom line is that Trump administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans cannot be sustained without significant and sustained increases to defense spending – which are unlikely to be forthcoming – or cuts to other security priorities. The current approach is a costly and irrational recipe for nuclear modernization program delays and scope reductions.

But while the plans pose significant challenges, they need not prevent the United States from continuing to field a powerful and credible nuclear force sufficient to deter or respond to a nuclear attack against the United States and its allies. The administration inherited a larger and more diverse nuclear arsenal than is required for deterrence and its approach to modernization and arms control would increase the risks of miscalculation, unintended escalation, and accelerated global nuclear competition.

Instead, the United States could save at least $150 billion in fiscal year 2017 constant dollars through the mid-2040s by adjusting the current modernization approach while still retaining a triad and deploying the New START limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. Such an approach would reflect a nuclear strategy that reduces reliance on nuclear weapons, emphasizes stability and survivability, de-emphasizes nuclear warfighting, reduces the risk of miscalculation, and is more affordable and executable.

The options include:

  • Buying 10 instead of 12 new Columbia class ballistic missile submarines;
  • Extending the life of the existing Minuteman III ICBM instead of building a new missile and reducing the size of the ICBM force from 400 missiles to 300 missiles (for a detailed discussion of the case for this option, see here);
  • Foregoing development of new nuclear air- and sea-launched cruise missiles;
  • Scaling back plans to build newly-designed ICBM and SLBM warheads;
  • Aiming for a pit production capacity of 30-50 pits per year by 2035 instead of at least 80 pits per year by 2030;
  • Foregoing development of a new uranium enrichment facility; and
  • Retiring the megaton-class B-83 gravity bomb.

Simply reverting to the fiscal year 2020 budget plan for NNSA weapons activities would save over $15.5 billion over the next five years.

Now is the time to re-evaluate nuclear weapons spending plans before the largest investments are made. Of course, pressure on the defense budget cannot be relieved solely by reducing nuclear weapons spending. A significant portion of the overall cost of nuclear weapons is fixed. That said, changes to the nuclear replacement program could make it easier to execute and ease some of the hard choices facing the overall defense enterprise.

In addition to pursuing adjustments to the scope and scale of the modernization program, Congress should also take steps to improve its understanding of the long-term budget challenges. These include:

  • Holding in-depth hearings on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and spending;
  • Requiring the Defense and Energy Departments to prepare a report on options for reducing the scale and scope of their nuclear modernization plans and the associated cost savings;
  • Mandating unclassified annual government updates on the projected long-term costs of nuclear weapons;
  • Requiring an independent report on alternatives to building a new ICBM;
  • Tasking the GAO to annually assess the affordability of the Defense and Energy Department’s modernization plans; and
  • Requiring the NNSA to perform detailed work examining the estimated life of plutonium pits.

Also, lawmakers should more aggressively highlight the relationship between arms control and upgrading the arsenal. The administration’s current one-sided approach both compounds the dangers of the spending plans and flies in the face of longstanding Congressional support for the pursuit of modernization and arms control in tandem.

If the administration continues to insist on nuclear weapons modernization without arms control, then Congress should make it clear that it will not allow the president to increase the size of the arsenal above the New START limits and will be further emboldened to seek to restrain the administration’s excessive and unsustainable spending plans.—Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and Shannon Bugos, research assistant

Description: 

The Trump administration’s excessive strategy to replace nearly the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal at roughly the same time is a ticking budget time bomb, even at historically high levels of national defense spending.

Country Resources:

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, March 13, 2020

Trump Officials Remain Bullish on Trilateral Arms Control and Bearish on New START President Donald Trump said recently that he is open to meeting with the other heads of state of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to discuss arms control and will soon put forward a trilateral arms control proposal with Russia and China. But China continues to express its opposition to trilateral talks and has yet to respond to U.S. overtures to begin a bilateral strategic security dialogue. At the same time, the U.S. administration continues to deflect questions about its stance on the New...

No One Wins an Arms Race or a Nuclear War


March 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

Fulfilling a goal outlined in its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report, the Trump administration acknowledged last month that the United States has deployed for the first time a low-yield nuclear warhead on some U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

The move comes as the administration is proposing to increase spending to more than $44 billion next year to continue and, in some cases, accelerate programs to replace and upgrade all the major elements of the bloated U.S. arsenal. Unless curtailed, the plan, which departs in important ways from long-standing U.S. policies, will accelerate global nuclear competition and increase the risk of nuclear war.

As if to underscore the dangers of the administration’s strategy, the Defense Department led an exercise last month simulating a limited nuclear war. “The scenario included a European contingency…. Russia decides to use a low-yield, limited nuclear weapon against a site on NATO territory,” and the United States fires back with a “limited” nuclear response, according to the Pentagon. The U.S. response presumably involved the low-yield sub-launched warhead, known as the W76-2.

The exercise perpetuates the dangerous illusion that a nuclear war can be fought and won. The new warhead, which packs a five-kiloton explosive yield, is large enough destroy a large city. It would be delivered on the same type of long-range ballistic missile launched from the same strategic submarine that carries missiles loaded with 100-kiloton strategic warheads. Russian military leaders would be hard pressed to know, in the heat of a crisis, whether the missile was part of a “limited” strike or the first wave of an all-out nuclear attack.

Nevertheless, Trump officials insist that the president needs “more credible” nuclear use options to deter the possible first use of nuclear weapons by Russia. In reality, once nuclear weapons of any kind are detonated in a conflict between nuclear-armed adversaries, there is no guarantee against a cycle of escalation leading to all-out global nuclear war. Lowering the threshold for nuclear use by making nuclear weapons “more usable” takes the United States and Russia and the world in the wrong direction.

The administration plans do not stop there. Its fiscal year 2021 budget proposal calls for other new kinds of destabilizing nuclear weapons systems, including a new nuclear warhead for SLBMs, dubbed the W93, and a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile for deployment on surface ships and submarines. If developed, the W93 would be the first new warhead design added to the U.S. arsenal in more than three decades.

The Defense Department is also seeking $28.9 billion next year, a 30 percent increase, for programs to sustain and recapitalize the existing nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon’s nuclear modernization spending binge includes $4.4 billion to begin construction of a fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines; $2.8 billion for the new B-21 stealth bomber program; $1.5 billion to start work on a new ground-based intercontinental ballistic missile system; and $500 million to continue development work on a new nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missile.

The administration is also demanding a 25 percent boost for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s weapons budget, to $15.6 billion, to cover the growing cost of nuclear warhead refurbishment, design, and production work. This includes expanding the capacity to build plutonium warhead cores to at least 80 per year—an unrealistic and unnecessary goal.

The administration’s grandiose proposals not only would contribute to a dangerous global qualitative nuclear arms race, but they are excessive and unaffordable. Over the next 30 years, these and other nuclear weapons programs are estimated to cost taxpayers at least $1.5 trillion.

Worse yet, the Trump administration’s program of record would sustain deployed strategic warhead numbers at levels 30 percent higher than the Pentagon itself determined in 2013 is necessary to deter nuclear attack. Taken together, Trump’s policies to “greatly strengthen and expand” the U.S. nuclear capability and his failure to engage in good faith negotiations to end the arms race and pursue disarmament are a violation of U.S. obligations under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

It does not have to be this way. First, the Trump administration needs to heed calls from military officials, U.S. allies, and bipartisan national security leaders to take up Russia’s offer to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by five years before it is due to expire early next year. Without the treaty, the doors to an open-ended global nuclear arms competition will swing open. History shows that there are no winners in a nuclear arms race.

Second, the Congress, and perhaps a new president in 2021, must rein in the exploding cost and scope of the U.S. nuclear modernization program, particularly the efforts to develop “more usable” nuclear weapons. Hundreds of billions of dollars can be saved by delaying, trimming, or eliminating major elements of the current plan while maintaining a devastating nuclear deterrent. This would allow for those monies to be redirected to other, more urgent national security projects and domestic programs that address real human needs.

Fulfilling a goal outlined in its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report, the Trump administration acknowledged last month that the United States has deployed for the first time a low-yield nuclear warhead on some U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

Time to Renew the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle


March 2020
By Lewis Dunn and William Potter

The risk of use of nuclear weapons among the great powers is greater today than since the height of the Cold War. Growing political-military competition has increased the possibility of a U.S.-Russian or U.S.-Chinese military conflict. Any such conflict would carry with it the danger of escalation across the nuclear threshold, most probably driven by misinterpretation and miscalculation.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan arrive at a session of their 1985 summit in Geneva. Their agreement that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought" was the most notable achievement of the summit. (Photo: Bettman/Getty Images) Concerns about this risk have focused renewed attention among officials, experts, and civil society on the 1985 statement by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Whether or not nuclear-weapon states should endorse what came to be known as the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle, or make some other equally compelling commitment to avoiding use of nuclear weapons, almost certainly will be part of the debate at the upcoming 2020 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Since the United States dropped two atomic bombs to end World War II in 1945, the subsequent nonuse of nuclear weapons is one of the more perplexing, if positive, phenomena of the past 75 years. This tradition, or what some prefer to consider to be a taboo or norm, has persisted despite the existence of a number of unfavorable conditions, from the demonstrated technical effectiveness of the weapon to the centrality of nuclear weapons in the deterrence strategies, military doctrines, and operational war plans of a growing number of states.1 Although the strength and vitality of the tradition of nuclear nonuse has fluctuated over time, the very fact of decade after decade of nonuse has steadily strengthened the norm.

The language of the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle has its roots in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. That crisis led to an increasingly shared recognition in Washington and Moscow of the risks of using nuclear weapons and the need to stabilize the “balance of terror.”2 Although the precise formulation of this recognition is most closely associated with the November 1985 summit in Geneva between Reagan and Gorbachev, the underlying philosophy was reflected in a number of U.S.-Soviet agreements and treaties negotiated between 1969 and 1979. The 1971 Agreement on Measures to Reduce the Outbreak of Nuclear War, for example, proceeds from the premise that nuclear war would have “devastating consequences…for all mankind” and expresses “the need to exert every effort to avert the risk of outbreak of such a war.”3 Similarly, the 1972 Basic Principles of Relations Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics proceeds from “the common determination that in the nuclear age there is no alternative to conducting…mutual relations on the basis of peaceful coexistence...[and the parties] will do their utmost to avoid military confrontations and to prevent the outbreak of nuclear war.”4 The same perspective is articulated in almost verbatim language in the 1973 Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and 1979 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II Treaty.

This recognition of the risks of nuclear use was sustained in the 1960s and 1970s across both Republican and Democratic administrations, but it appeared to be in jeopardy when Reagan arrived in the White House in 1981. Some of his early comments about the potential for limiting the escalation of a war involving tactical nuclear weapons prompted Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to declare in October 1981 that “it is dangerous madness to try to defeat each other in the arms race and to count on victory in nuclear war.” Brezhnev added that “only he who has decided to commit suicide can start a nuclear war in the hope of emerging a victor.”5

Almost immediately thereafter, Reagan responded to Brezhnev’s charge by declaring that he had been misquoted and that the United States also opposed the use of nuclear weapons as “all mankind would lose” in a nuclear exchange.6 Subsequently, in April 1982, Reagan refined his message in the famous line from a national radio address: “Those who’ve governed America throughout the nuclear age and we who govern it today have had to recognize that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”7 Frequently repeated by Reagan thereafter, the language later became the most notable achievement of the 1985 Geneva summit. After the summit, this phrase was repeated in bilateral settings such as the December 1987 Washington summit8 and the May-June 1988 Moscow summit.9 Variants of the statement also appeared in both Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty texts.10 Significantly, however, neither the more recent 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty nor the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty make direct or indirect reference to the principle.

Although references to the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle are much less prominent in multilateral disarmament and nonproliferation fora, there is language in the NPT and occasional formulations in the NPT review process that are consistent with the principle. Perhaps most importantly, the preamble to the NPT highlights “the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war and to take measures to safeguard the security of peoples.” Although the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference did not adopt a consensus document, the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle also is referenced in the report of Main Committee I, which states that “[t]he conference reaffirms that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, considering the devastation that a nuclear war would bring.”11 Aside from this 1995 report, no other NPT review conference made specific reference to the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle, although the related theme of the global humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use appears in the 2010 NPT Review Conference final document.12

Renewed Attention but Elusive Agreement

During the past two years, there has been renewed interest in the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle and its possible affirmation by the United States and Russia, as well as its endorsement more widely by all five NPT nuclear-weapon states. In 2018, UN High Representative for Disarmament Izumi Nakamitsu highlighted the current relevance of the principle.13 Writing in April 2019, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) called for U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin jointly to reaffirm that declaration.14 In the months preceding the May 2019 NPT Preparatory Committee meeting in New York, China had unsuccessfully proposed an affirmation by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council when it served as chair of the P-5 process, periodic consultations among China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States on NPT-related matters. China also brought the issue back into the review process at that preparatory committee but received no public support for its initiative to include reference to the principle in the Chair’s Factual Summary.15

Chinese President Xi Jinping greets Russian President Vladimir Putin at a ceremony during their 2016 summit in Beijing. China and Russia have supported an affirmation of the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle. (Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)The thinking among these five states recognized as nuclear-weapon countries under the NPT on an affirmation of the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle is complex, and the lack of formal policy statements make understanding their policies more difficult. China has most strongly and consistently supported affirmation, and the United States has been the most reluctant. The Russian Federation appears to have been open to the Chinese effort to gain a joint statement on the subject and also has stated that it had sought unsuccessfully to gain U.S. affirmation of the principle in the fall of 2018.16 The position of the United Kingdom appears to have fluctuated over time, publicly in step with the United States but privately being more amenable to an endorsement. France has staked out its own position, at times suggesting that the principle erodes the fundamental logic of its nuclear deterrence posture.

The 2020 Review Conference

There are competing arguments on whether the review conference is an opportunity or perhaps a “forcing event” to create consensus among the nuclear-weapon states in support of the principle. Renewal could be pursued in several different ways: by a bilateral U.S.-Russian statement on the eve of the review conference, with which the other nuclear-weapon states could associate themselves; by its inclusion in a joint P-5 statement prior to or at the review conference; or by its inclusion in a review conference final declaration.

The primary argument for seeking agreement by all five nuclear-weapon states to affirm the principle is that it would be an important signal among themselves that they recognize today’s growing dangers of nuclear confrontation, crisis, and conflict escalation. Moreover, by signaling their shared interest in avoiding a nuclear war, an endorsement could be a stepping stone to more concrete actions to address today’s nuclear risks. Today’s P-5 discussions of nuclear doctrine could be broadened to include crisis avoidance and crisis management, perhaps by creating a dedicated working group to focus explicitly on the risks of misinterpretation, miscalculation, and subsequent escalation in a U.S./NATO-Russian or a U.S.-Chinese confrontation and how to reduce those risks. All of the five could also revisit the Cold War agreements aimed at reducing the dangers of nuclear war with the goal of first updating and then transforming those bilateral agreements into multilateral ones. By so contributing to reducing nuclear risks, renewal also would serve the interests of all the non-nuclear-weapon states.

Affirmation also could help create a more conducive political context for other bilateral risk reduction efforts such as resumption (in the U.S.-Russian case) or intensification (in the U.S.-Chinese case) of contacts between defense and military personnel to avoid possible accidents, miscalculations, and misinterpretations. Similarly, by signaling a shared interest in reducing nuclear dangers, affirmation could help halt the pending collapse of U.S.-Russian arms control as well as facilitate exploration of cooperative measures to avoid intensification of U.S.-Chinese strategic competition. Here, too, nuclear and non-nuclear nations would benefit.

Participants of the 2010 NPT Review Conference in New York, shown here in plenary session, agreed to adopt the NPT Action Plan, including a commitment by nuclear-weapon states to discuss policies to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. (Photo: United Nations)Renewal of the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle by all NPT parties could contribute, moreover, to a successful NPT review conference.17 By partly responding to widespread fears among many non-nuclear-weapon states of a heightened risk of nuclear use and greater reliance on perceived nuclear war-fighting doctrines by some nuclear-weapon states, it would set a more positive tone for the review conference. It also would signal that the nuclear powers understand and take seriously their concerns about nuclear risks.

Despite the benefits of pursuing the principle, there also are arguments for avoiding the effort. The consequences of trying and failing to reaffirm the principle could heighten suspicions the nuclear-weapon states have about each other. In particular, some Russian experts have warned that U.S. reluctance to reaffirm the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle has already raised questions in Moscow about U.S. intentions. Closely related, trying and failing could reinforce the existing judgment of some if not many non-nuclear-weapon states that several P-5 nations increasingly believe that nuclear weapons are usable. This outcome could negatively affect the atmosphere at the review conference and dampen prospects for a successful outcome.

It is difficult to anticipate the costs of trying and failing. Given that U.S., French, and to a lesser degree UK reluctance to reaffirm the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle is already well known publicly, the costs of a failed effort may well be sunk costs by now, already paid. It also is difficult to gauge how much credibility to give Russian claims that U.S. reluctance to reaffirm the principle has created new uneasiness about U.S. intentions. Nonetheless, there likely would be some cost in trying and failing.

A very different argument against seeking an affirmation of the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle in the NPT context is that it could be construed as ignoring the non-NPT nuclear-armed states. Nonetheless, rather than providing a reason to set aside pursuit of an affirmation by the nuclear-weapon states, this argument suggests the importance of finding ways to engage non-NPT nuclear-armed states. Indeed, a parallel commitment to do so could be a complement to an endorsement of the principle at the review conference.

In addition, it is sometimes argued that it makes no sense to affirm the principle because it was relevant only in the bygone U.S.-Soviet Cold War era. In many ways, however, today’s environment of mutual mistrust and heightened military competition among the United States, Russia, and China is all too reminiscent of the early 1980s when the U.S. and Soviet leadership worried about the risk of nuclear escalation and use.

Finally, there are concerns in some quarters that affirmation of the principle could contribute to the erosion of deterrence. While conceivable, other declarations and actions are apt to be far more relevant to a robust U.S. deterrence posture in a future crisis. Moreover, the argument that affirmation is at odds with the logic of nuclear deterrence, with its combination of a threat to use nuclear weapons and preparations to do so, is not as compelling because nuclear deterrence has long been based on a threat that the country making it ultimately would not have wanted to carry out. This dilemma is at its core, and an affirmation of the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle would not alter that predicament. Indeed, perhaps that partly explains why Reagan and his key advisers, clearly all very strong supporters of robust deterrence of the then-Soviet Union, were quite able to sign on to what became the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle.

It is difficult to predict how states will respond to the aforementioned points, and some may continue to object to a simple affirmation of the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle. Modified formulations could generate greater support. For example, one possibility would adapt the language of the NPT’s preamble to “affirm the commitment of the NPT nuclear-weapon states to be guided in their mutual actions by their joint recognition of the vast devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war involving them.” Alternatively, the nuclear-weapon states could state their “recognition of their unique and special responsibility to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again as well as their commitment to sustain and strengthen their mutual engagement, bilaterally and within the P-5 process, in order to avoid mutual misperceptions and miscalculations that could lead to a process of escalation to use of nuclear weapons.” Both of these statements would comprise a strong commitment to avoid the use of nuclear weapons and to act accordingly, but they lack the simplicity of the original formulation.

A Way Forward

A review of these considerations reinforces the logic of the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle and the desirability of seeking its affirmation in one form or another at the 2020 review conference. Admittedly, it is late in the game, but it is not too late, especially given past instances in which one or more of the P-5 has made a last-minute decision that led to a review conference outcome. Outside experts and civil society should make endorsement of the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle at the review conference a priority. That endorsement could be part of a broader package of actions consistent with the principle to address today’s risk of use of nuclear weapons. P-5 countries should acknowledge their unique responsibility to act in ways to avoid the use of nuclear weapons and to preserve the 75-year old nuclear taboo. Endorsing the principle also could be accompanied by a joint commitment to use the P-5 process along with bilateral actions to reduce the risks of nuclear escalation and use posed by misinterpretation and miscalculation during a crisis.

Ideally, governments that attach importance to the principle should pursue efforts diplomatically to secure its affirmation, at high levels, with the United States and other P-5 countries. They should consider doing so in any upcoming bilateral consultations on the NPT review conference and in other political consultations. Retired former senior officials could make the case yet again for affirmation privately and publicly.

Similarly, like-minded governments, outside experts, civil society, and others should look for ways to keep the issue of reviving and affirming the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle on the review conference agenda. Hopefully, China will again raise this issue within the P-5 context, while the current chair of the P-5, the United Kingdom, should keep the issue on the P-5 agenda. Supportive non-nuclear-weapon states also could call for endorsing the principle in their national statements at the review conference, while encouraging a similar call in the statements of those regional and political groups with which they are affiliated, including the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, the New Agenda Coalition, and the Non-Aligned Movement. Nakamitsu already has raised this issue on a number of occasions, but could do so again. It also could be an element of any statement by UN Secretary-General António Guterres prior to or at the review conference.

Going a step further to mobilize and generate support, a group of countries could circulate a draft resolution at the review conference on affirmation and line up support from as many NPT parties participating in the conference as possible. This step would follow the model of the Canadian decision to circulate a resolution in support of indefinite extension of the NPT at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. The Canadian resolution gained support from many more countries than a majority of the participants in that conference, demonstrating in an irrefutable manner that the votes were present for indefinite extension. This knowledge helped to generate momentum for the eventual indefinite extension of the NPT without a vote. As in that case, the purpose of a resolution on affirmation would not be to seek a vote but to shift the thinking of countries, which otherwise might be reluctant to include affirmation of the Reagan-Gorbachev Principle as part of the review conference outcome.

How states will address the many problems that await them at the 2020 review conference remains uncertain. What is indisputable is the urgent need to reduce the danger of nuclear use. Hopefully, they will recognize that now, more than ever, is the time to renew the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. It is a precept that serves the interests of all NPT parties and merits special attention on the 75th anniversary of what should remain the first and only use of nuclear weapons.

 

ENDNOTES

1. William C. Potter, “In Search of the Nuclear Taboo: Past, Present, and Future,” IFRI Proliferation Papers, No. 31 (Winter 2010). For two of the most important scholarly works on the norm against nuclear weapons use, see Nina Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); T.V. Paul, The Tradition of Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).

2. Animated partly by that same concern, the Cuban missile crisis also led to greater U.S.-Soviet cooperation on nonproliferation. For a discussion of this relationship, see William C. Potter and Sarah Bidgood, eds., Once and Future Partners: The United States, Russia and Nuclear Non-Proliferation (New York: Routledge, 2018).

3. Agreement on Measures to Reduce the Risk of Outbreak of Nuclear War Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, preamble, September 30, 1971, 807 U.N.T.S. 57.

4. Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, “116. Paper Agreed Upon by the United States and the Soviet Union,” n.d., https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v01/d116.

5. Serge Schmemann, “Brezhnev Bids Reagan Help Ban a Nuclear Attack,” The New York Times, October 21, 1981, p. A7.

6. Jim Anderson, “President Reagan, Answering a Challenge From Soviet Leader Leonid…,” UPI, October 21, 1981.

7. “Radio Address to the Nation on Nuclear Weapons,” Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, April 17, 1982, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/41782a.

8. International Atomic Energy Agency, “Text of the Joint U.S.-Soviet Summit Statement,” INFCIRC/348, December 21, 1987.

9. “Joint Statement Following the Soviet-United States Summit Meeting in Moscow,” June 1, 1988, http://insidethecoldwar.org/sites/default/files/documents/Joint%20Statement%20Following%20the%20Soviet-United%20States%20Summit%20Meeting%20in%20Moscow.pdf.

10. See “Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms,” Conference on Disarmament, CD/1192, April 5, 1993; U.S. Department of State, “Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START II),” n.d., https://2009-2017.state.gov/t/avc/trty/102887.htm (“Conscious that nuclear war would have devastating consequences for all humanity, that it cannot be won and must never be fought…”).

11. 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Final Document: Part II,” NPT/CONF.1995/32) (Part II), 1995, p. 253.

12. 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Final Document: Volume I,” NPT/CONF.2010/50) (Vol. I), 2010.

13. Izumi Nakamitsu, “Remarks at the First Committee Side Event Entitled ‘Disarmament to Save Humanity: Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” October 9, 2018, https://s3.amazonaws.com/unoda-web/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Izumi-Remarks-at-First-Committee-Side-Event-on-Reducing-Nuclear-Risks.pdf.

14. George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, and Sam Nunn, “The Threat of Nuclear War Is Still With Us,” The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2019.

15. The only other country to endorse the principle during formal sessions of the Preparatory Committee meeting was Switzerland, which in the opening general debate called on all states that possess nuclear weapons to affirm the appeal by the UN secretary-general that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

16. See Elena Chernenko, “Yadernomu miru—da, da, da” [Toward Nuclear Peace—Yes, Yes, Yes], Kommersant, April 19, 2019, p. 1; “Briefing for Representative of Mass-Media by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov on the Issues of Preparation to the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” April 26, 2019 (copy on file with authors. Oddly, Russia did not speak to the issue in any formal session of the Preparatory Committee and did not endorse the Chinese position.

17. The authors define a successful review conference outcome as one that advances the goals of the NPT, whether in a traditional final document; one or more separate resolutions or decisions; a series of stand-alone voluntary commitments made by groups of states, including the nuclear-weapon states; or a combination of these actions.


Lewis Dunn is a former U.S. ambassador to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference. William Potter is the Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. The authors wish to thank Vladislav Chernavskikh for his research assistance.

Reaffirming the principle that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” could strengthen this year’s review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

U.S.-Russia Talks to Begin Soon, U.S. Says


March 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia are nearing the start of new arms control talks, but China is presently uninterested in limiting its nuclear forces, U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said last month.

White House National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien participates in a February event in Washington. He acknowledged publicly for the first time in February that China is not interested in arms control talks with the United States or Russia. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)“We’ll be sitting down with our Russian colleagues very soon,” O’Brien said Feb. 11. “We’ll have to wait and see how those negotiations play out.”

He also acknowledged—the first time an administration official has done so—that China has no interest in joining the negotiations. “So far, and this is not surprising, the Chinese are not interested in arms control,” he said.

O’Brien’s admission stands in contrast to repeated statements from U.S. President Donald Trump that China is eager to join arms control talks. Beijing is “extremely excited about getting involved,” Trump claimed last December.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), signed in 2010, will expire on Feb. 5, 2021, unless the United States and Russia mutually agree to extend it by up to five years.

Moscow stands ready to extend New START immediately and without any preconditions, according to remarks Russian President Vladimir Putin made in late 2019, but the Trump administration has yet to make its decision regarding the future of the accord. During his Feb. 11 remarks, O’Brien said he would not “get into conditions or that sort of thing in this context or in this forum” on potential U.S. preconditions for extending New START. U.S. officials have previously said Washington prefers to seek a more comprehensive deal that covers additional types of nuclear weapons and includes China.

Senior administration officials addressed bringing China into the arms control process at a Feb. 14 background briefing for reporters at the White House, but the administration has not yet put forward a proposal for a new accord. “Now is the time for China to put its money where its mouth is and prove that it is a responsible international actor,” said one official, Reuters reported.

“On New START, we have made no decision on a possible extension as we are focused on addressing a broader range of threats beyond just the weapons subject to the treaty,” another official said.

For its part, China has consistently expressed its opposition to trilateral talks with the United States and Russia. “This position is very clear and has been widely understood by the international community, including Russia,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters on Jan. 22. The United States “constantly makes an issue of China on this to dodge and shift its responsibilities for nuclear disarmament,” he said.

Robert Wood, the U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, claimed on Jan. 21 that Washington and Moscow had reached an “understanding” about pursuing trilateral talks with China. “Hopefully over time and through the influence of others besides the United States, [China] will come to the table,” he said.

Soviet Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, however, stated on Feb. 10 that Moscow “will not try to convince China” to join the talks. “If the Americans are quite sure that it makes no sense to take any further steps on the New START…without China, let them get down to business on this all on their own,” he said. “Even if a multilateral process gets under way, it will be utterly protracted,” and “we ought to have a safety net in an extended New START.”

“We have told the Americans as much,” he said. “They are still silent.”

In addition to pursuing trilateral talks with Russia and China, Christopher Ford, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said on Dec. 20 that the United States had invited China to begin a bilateral strategic security dialogue. Fu Cong, director of the arms control department at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, remarked on Feb. 12 at a conference of nuclear-weapon states in London that Beijing will answer Ford’s proposal “soon.”

Another reported hindrance to the U.S. effort to negotiate a more comprehensive replacement for New START is the Trump administration’s inability to find a lead negotiator for the undertaking. The administration has offered the role to several potential candidates, but no one has agreed to take it, Politico reported on Feb. 12.

Calls from key foreign leaders and former officials to extend New START have intensified amid the administration’s continued indecision on the future of the accord.

“It is critical that the New START…be extended beyond 2021,” said French President Emmanuel Macron in a Feb. 7 speech on defense and deterrence. The uncertainty regarding the treaty’s future, he said, contributes to “the possibility of a return of pure unhindered military and nuclear competition by 2021.” Macron joined other U.S. allies, such as Finland, Germany, and the United Kingdom, in endorsing the treaty’s extension.

The Aspen Ministers Forum, a group of former foreign ministers from around the world, released a statement on Feb. 10 also supporting prolonging the treaty. “Extending New START would lay solid groundwork and build momentum towards increased international cooperation in the new decade,” they stated.

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia resumed their dialogue on strategic security on Jan. 16 in Vienna. The State Department said the two sides discussed “nuclear stockpiles and strategy, crisis and arms race stability, and the role and potential future of arms control, including the importance of moving beyond a solely bilateral format.” The dialogue will continue, and the two sides will “begin expert-level engagement on particular topics in the near future,” according to the State Department.

In remarks to the press after the January meeting, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov commented that the talks were “difficult” and that Russia does not have a clear understanding of Washington’s overall strategic plan for arms control.

New START caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers, and 800 deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers each. It also put into place a rigorous inspections and verification regime, on which the U.S. military relies for knowledge about the Russian arsenal.

While declining to share his advice to the Trump administration on New START’s extension, Gen. John Hyten, current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), recently emphasized the importance of the accord.

“If you’re the STRATCOM commander, New START is really important,” Hyten said Jan. 17. “It allows you to posture your force and understand what you have to do in order to deter the adversary, Russia in this case, and tells you what you have to do. It also gives you insight into the Russian nuclear forces because of the verification regime.”

Hyten expressed concern about Russian nuclear weapons not covered by the treaty, such as new strategic nuclear weapon delivery vehicles that Moscow is developing and Russia’s larger arsenal of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, estimated at 2,000 warheads. “We have to make sure that when we sit down with Russia, we talk about all the nuclear weapons that are out there,” he said.

 

A dialogue may be advancing between the United States and Russia, but China appears unwilling to discuss any limits to its nuclear arsenal.

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