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former IAEA Director-General

Issue Briefs

INF Treaty Crisis: Background and Next Steps

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The INF Treaty crisis is a global security problem. Nations will need to step forward with creative and pragmatic solutions that create the conditions necessary to ensure that the world’s two largest nuclear actors meet their legal obligations to end the arms race and reduce nuclear threats.

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Volume 11, Issue 4, February 1, 2019

The Trump administration announced today that effective tomorrow, Feb. 2, the United States will suspend implementation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and formally notify other parties to the treaty that it will withdraw in six months if Russia does not return to compliance by eliminating its ground-launched 9M729 missile, which the United States alleges can fly beyond the 500-kilometer range limit set by the treaty.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. intelligence agencies assess that the Russians now have four (up from three) battalions of the offending missile, with a total of just under 100 missiles, including spares. The compliance dispute has festered since 2014 and it has worsened since Russia began deploying the system in the field in 2017.

The 1987 INF Treaty, negotiated and signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, is one of the most far-reaching and most successful nuclear arms reduction agreements in history.

The INF Treaty led to the verifiable elimination of 2,692 Soviet and U.S. missiles based in Europe. The treaty helped bring an end to the Cold War and paved the way for agreements to slash bloated strategic nuclear arsenals and to withdraw thousands of tactical nuclear weapons from forward-deployed areas.

The INF Treaty continues to serve as a check on some of the most destabilizing types of nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia could deploy. Without the treaty, there is a serious risk of a new intermediate-range, ground-based missile arms race in Europe and beyond.

Trump Policy Is Counterproductive and A New Approach Is Needed

Unfortunately, the U.S. threat to terminate the treaty will not bring Russia back into compliance and could unleash a dangerous and costly new missile competition between the United States and Russia in Europe and beyond.

Worse yet, the Trump administration has no viable strategy to prevent Russia from building and fielding more intermediate-range missiles in the absence of the agreement.

Diplomatic options that could bring Russia back into compliance are possible but have not yet been explored. Each side appears to be more interested in winning the blame game than taking the steps necessary to save the treaty.

Any new efforts by the Trump administration to develop or deploy missiles once prohibited by the treaty will be strongly opposed by many NATO members, and the U.S. Congress should withhold funding for procurement of such weapons systems.

This week, 11 U.S. senators reintroduced the "Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019," which would prohibit funding for the procurement, flight-testing, or deployment of a U.S. ground-launched or ballistic missile – with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers – until the Trump Administration provides a report that meets seven specific conditions, including identifying a U.S. ally formally willing to host such a system, and in the case of a European country, have it be the outcome of a NATO-wide decision.

Any new U.S. intermediate-range missile deployments would cost billions of dollars, take years to complete, and are militarily unnecessary to defend NATO allies because existing weapons systems can already hold key Russian targets at risk.

With the INF Treaty’s days numbered, new arms control arrangements are needed to head off a dangerous and costly new missile race in Europe. One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that no alliance member will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not field treaty-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory.

And if the treaty is terminated, it becomes more important than ever for Washington and Moscow to agree to extend the New START agreement by five years beyond its 2021 scheduled expiration date. Otherwise, there will be no legally-binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

The INF Treaty prohibited all U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The official figures above show missiles deployed November 1, 1987, shortly before the INF Treaty was signed. The treaty also required destruction of 430 U.S. missiles and 979 Soviet missiles which were in storage or otherwise not deployed. The treaty prevented the planned deployment of an additional 208 GLCMs in the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. The Pershing IAs, under joint U.S.-German control, were not formally covered by the INF Treaty but were also to be eliminated by U.S. and West German agreement.

Where Do Efforts to Resolve the Compliance Dispute Stand?

Since President Trump threatened on Oct. 20, 2018 to “terminate” the INF Treaty, there have been two meetings between U.S. Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov (in Geneva on Jan. 16 and in Beijing Jan. 31 on the margins of a P5 meeting on disarmament issues). Neither meeting led to progress.

While the recent Russian offer to exhibit the 9M729 is a useful first (and overdue) step in the direction of greater transparency, it has been deemed insufficient by the U.S. side (because it doesn’t allow for independent verification). U.S. officials could propose an alternative that does, but they do not seem to pursue this path because they believe the missile violates the treaty.

Another problem is that the United States is not recognizing the validity of the Russian concerns that U.S. Mk-41 launchers (that are part of the Aegis Ashore missile defense deployment in Romania) could be used to launch offensive missiles. To be clear, Russia is not saying the Mk-41s are an INF violation, they are saying they could be in the future. This is a valid concern and one that could be addressed through site visits or other confidence-building arrangements.

U.S. officials want Russia admit it has violated the treaty (which of course it will not do) and eliminate all of the 9M729s. The U.S. government believes that Russia has, to this point, deployed four battalions of the missiles (probably just under100 total, including spares) with some of those located in Western or Southern Russia, which puts targets in Europe within their estimated range (probably around 1,500-2,000 kilometers). It is not clear whether these missiles are nuclear-armed (probably not), but they are nuclear capable.

Russia claims the 9M729 has a range of 480 kilometers and that they have not conducted any surface-to-surface missile flight tests between 2008 and 2014 that exceeded 500 kilometers. The U.S. Director of National Intelligence says Russia did test the 9M729 from a fixed launcher at a range in excess of 500 kilometers, which means the 9M729 has that capability and is noncompliant.

Diplomatic Options Before August Termination Deadline

Both sides can still pursue diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue. But there is no chance for progress so long as the two sides refuse to adjust their current positions.

The Arms Control Association and our independent, nongovernmental colleagues in the U.S.-Russian-German "Deep Cuts Commission" and others have proposed the following solution that begins with reciprocal verification and inspections of the two systems at issue. This could be negotiated and implemented bilaterally. So far, the United States has rejected this idea, which has been proposed to Trump administration officials by some NATO governments:

  • Washington and Moscow should agree to reciprocal site visits by their respective technical experts to examine the missiles or launchers in dispute (the 9M729s and the SM-3/Mk-41s) at their deployment sites. If the 9M729 missile is determined to have a range that exceeds the INF Treaty’s 500-kilometer range limit (which the U.S. experts will likely claim it does) Russia should, as a matter of ‘good faith’ agree to either modify the missile to ensure it no longer violates the treaty or, ideally, halt production and eliminate any such missiles in its possession, including those 9M729s that have been deployed.
     
  • For its part, the United States should agree to modify the Mk-41 missile-defense launchers that Russia believes could be used for offensive purposes, in a way that allows to Russia to clearly distinguish them from launchers that fire offensive missiles from U.S. warships, or agree to other transparency measures to allay Russian suspicions that the launchers contain offensive missiles.

This could be a win-win deal. Such an arrangement would address the concerns of both sides and restore compliance with the treaty without Russia having to acknowledge its original violation of the treaty.

What Missiles Could Each Side Deploy in the Absence of the INF Treaty?

As Kingston Reif reports in Arms Control Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on Dec. 18 that if the United States “breaks the treaty,” Russia will be “forced to take additional measures to strengthen [its] security.” He further warned that Russia could easily conduct research to put air- and sea-launched cruise missile systems “on the ground, if need be.” This could include additional numbers of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile on mobile launchers.

For its part, the Trump administration is already seeking to develop new conventionally armed cruise and ballistic missiles to “counter” Russia’s 9M729 missile. The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act required “a program of record to develop a conventional road-mobile [ground-launched cruise missile] system with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometers,” including research and development activities.

The Defense Department requested, and Congress approved, $48 million in fiscal year 2019 for research and development on and concepts and options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the INF Treaty.

One option might be a ground-launched variant of the Air Force’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile or the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-based cruise missile. Another option could be an intermediate-range ballistic missile could be derived from the U.S. Army’s short-range Army Tactical Missile System, a surface-to-surface missile with a reported range of just under 500 kilometers. The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. officials say, "It is unlikely that flight tests of these new systems would be conducted before the end of the [the INF Treaty’s] six-month withdrawal period.”

However, key NATO states have already expressed opposition to basing any such systems in Europe. Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister told Spiegel Online Jan. 11, 2019: "Even if we are unable to save the INF Treaty, we cannot allow the result to be a renewed arms race. European security will not be improved by deploying more nuclear-armed, medium-range missiles. I believe that is the wrong answer."

Alternative Risk Reduction Strategies in the Absence of INF

Because the loss of the INF Treaty would open the door to a new Euro-missile race, there are steps that can and must be pursued that would benefit the security interests of Russia, Europe, and the United States, as well as the prospects of future arms controls agreements.

  • One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that no alliance members will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not field treaty-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove those 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia. This would also mean forgoing Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, INF Treaty-prohibited missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no need for such a system. Key allies, including Germany, have already declared their opposition to stationing new intermediate-range missiles in Europe. Key members of Congress have introduced legislation that would block procurement funding for any U.S. system currently banned by the treaty.
     
  • Another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As a recent United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research study explains, the sophisticated verification procedures and technologies already in place under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) can be applied with almost no modification to verify the absence of nuclear warheads deployed on shorter-range missiles. Such an approach would require additional declarations and inspections of any ground-launched, INF Treaty-range systems. To be of lasting value, such a framework would require that Moscow and Washington agree to extend New START by five years. New START is now scheduled to expire in 2021 and talks on extension have not yet begun.
     
  • A third variation would be for Russia and NATO to commit reciprocally to each other – ideally including a means of verifying the commitment - that neither will deploy land-based, intermediate-range ballistic missiles, or nuclear-armed cruise missiles (of any range), capable of striking each other’s territory.

There may be still other options that would meet each sides’ security and help to avoid a replay of the 1980s, in which each side had a justifiable fear of sudden nuclear attack.

INF Termination Is Bad. Failure to Extend New START Would Make Things Worse.

If the INF Treaty collapses, as appears likely, the only remaining agreement regulating the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles will be New START. That 2010 treaty, which limits the two sides’ long-range missiles and bombers and caps the warheads they carry to no more than 1,550 each, is due to expire in 2021 unless Trump and Putin agree to extend it by a period of up to five years, as allowed for in the accord’s Article XIV.

Key Republican and Democratic senators, former U.S. military commanders, and U.S. NATO allies are on record in support of the treaty’s extension, which can be accomplished without further Senate or Duma approval.

Unfortunately, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton may try to sabotage that treaty too. Since arriving at the White House in April, he has been slow-rolling an interagency review on whether to extend New START and refusing to take up Putin’s offer to begin extension talks.

Extension talks should begin now, in order to resolve outstanding implementation concerns that could delay the treaty’s extension.

Without New START, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. Both countries would be in violation of their Article VI nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament....”

Bottom Line

The INF Treaty crisis is a global security problem. Without serious talks and new proposals from Washington and Moscow, other nations will need to step forward with creative and pragmatic solutions that create the conditions necessary to ensure that the world’s two largest nuclear actors meet their legal obligations to end the arms race and reduce nuclear threats.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, Executive Director

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Posted: February 1, 2019

Paths Forward on Action-for-Action Process for Denuclearization and A Peace Regime for the Korean Peninsula

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The second summit between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un—tentatively planned for late February—must emphasize substance over pageantry.

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Volume 11, Issue 3, January 29, 2019

Months after the historic June 2018 Singapore Summit, the United States and North Korea are still at the starting point of the lengthy and arduous process of negotiating the details of denuclearization and a peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

Because the window for diplomatic progress with North Korea will not remain open indefinitely, the second summit between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un—tentatively planned for late February—must emphasize substance over pageantry. Absent progress, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs—and the security risks they pose—will continue to grow.

Stagnation Since Singapore

In the Singapore Summit joint statement, Trump and Kim made an “unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” and recognized that progress on denuclearization depends on joint “efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime” on the peninsula. But these vague goals were not accompanied by obligations for each side to take specific actions or by any structure for the process of diplomacy going forward.

Clear differences over the scope and sequence emerged in the first follow-up meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials in Pyongyang in July, disparities that have prevented the initiation of direct, expert-level negotiations on the actions necessary to reach the summit’s agreed goals.

At the July meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly insisted that North Korea provide a full declaration of its nuclear weapons program as a first step. The Trump administration also emphasized that North Korea must fully denuclearize before the United States would grant concessions such as sanctions relief.

Select North Korean Nuclear-Capable* Missiles
NameEstimated RangeStatus
Hwasong-5300 kmOperational
Hwasong-6500 kmOperational
Hwasong-7700-1,000 kmOperational
Pukkuksong-11,200 kmTested/Development
No-Dong-11,200-1,500 kmOperational
Pukkuksong-21,200-2,000 kmTested/Development
Hwasong-102,500-4,000 kmTested/Development
Hwasong-124,500 kmTested/Development
Hwasong-135,500-11,500 kmDevelopment
Hwasong-13 Mod 28,000-10,000 kmDevelopment
Hwasong-1410,000+ kmTested/Development
Hwasong-1513,000 kmTested/Development
*Nuclear capable as defined by the Missile Technology Control Regime Guidelines

North Korea, on the other hand, has clearly stated it prefers an action-for-action approach to advance the goals of the Singapore declaration and looked for the Trump administration to take the first step. Pyongyang views its April 2018 commitments to halt nuclear and long-range ballistic missile testing, and actions the following month to destroy tunnels at its nuclear test site, as steps toward denuclearization that the United States should reward.

While the North Korean leadership subsequently offered to take further denuclearization steps, including verifiable decommissioning of its Yongbyon nuclear complex, those measures would be contingent upon “corresponding steps” by the United States. The Pyongyang regime did not demand specific actions from the Trump Administration but has periodically called for limited sanctions relief and U.S. support for a joint political declaration ending the Korean War.

Despite the lack of follow-through, the historic 2018 Trump-Kim summit certainly eased tensions. Intense diplomatic work between North and South Korea has also led to agreement on concrete measures to ease tensions along the Demilitarized Zone.

But contrary to Trump’s self-aggrandizing claim that there is “no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” Pyongyang continues to improve its ballistic missile capabilities and produce bomb-grade nuclear material.

Defining Denuclearization and Peace

Denuclearization is a complex, technical task. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs involve dozens of sites, hundreds of buildings, and thousands of people. Additionally, the United States and North Korea do not yet agree on the scope of the denuclearization process. Rapid progress toward denuclearization should be the goal, but comprehensive, verifiable denuclearization will take years.

A stepwise process that emphasizes threat-reduction in the shorter term does not mean “accepting” North Korea’s status as a nuclear-weapon state. Rather, it underscores the urgency of halting these programs and negotiating an effective deal that reduces the threat posed by these capabilities and leads to their verifiable elimination.

In the long term, any such deal must account for North Korea’s violation of its existing obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The North’s verifiable denuclearization and its return to NPT compliance are necessary steps to preserve and strengthen the nonproliferation regime.

Complicating matters is the fact that the U.S. and North Korean sides still do not have a common understanding, in writing, about what denuclearization entails. For more than a decade, the United States has insisted on the “complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear programs. UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea use similar terminology.

North Korea’s concept of denuclearization is broader and applies beyond the country’s borders. Initially, North and South Korea agreed in the 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons” or to “possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.” They also agreed to mutual inspections for verification. However, in 2003, North Korea declared the 1992 agreement to be “dead.” So it is unclear if North Korea will seek to maintain uranium enrichment or reprocessing for a peaceful nuclear program in an agreement.

Furthermore, North Korea’s concept of “denuclearization” encompasses the entire Korean peninsula, (as opposed to unilateral nuclear disarmament by North Korea). It includes prohibitions on the deployment of U.S. strategic assets in the region and the basing of U.S. troops trained to use nuclear weapons in South Korea, as well as threats to use nuclear weapons.

Getting Diplomacy Back on Track

If the two sides approach the second summit with realistic expectations and a readiness to take reciprocal measures that build confidence in the process, it is possible to move closer to the joint goals of denuclearization and peacebuilding on the Korean peninsula and further from the risk of a catastrophic war.

Freezing, Reversing, and Eliminating Nuclear and Missile Capabilities

North Korea’s voluntary commitment to halt nuclear and long-range ballistic missile testing has eased tensions, but the moratorium is not yet permanent and it was a relatively low-cost commitment for Kim. In his 2018 New Year’s Address, Kim declared North Korea’s nuclear arsenal complete and announced that the country would focus on mass production of nuclear warheads. Kim’s statement implies that North Korea had already decided to halt certain testing activities before announcing the moratorium and focus on expansion of the nuclear weapons stockpile.

North Korean Nuclear Weapons and Testing
Nuclear Weapons StockpileNorth Korea is estimated to have assembled 10-20 nuclear warheads and produced enough fissile material for an estimated 30-60 nuclear weapons.
Nuclear TestingNorth Korea has conducted six nuclear tests explosions, beginning in 2006. Its most recent test in Sept. 2017 had an estimated yield of over 200 kilotons (TNT equivalent).

The testing freeze does prevent North Korea from making certain qualitative advances in its nuclear weapons program. An important next step will be to solidify the testing halt and pursue a partial freeze on fissile material production. Given North Korea’s goal of expanding its arsenal, Pyongyang’s willingness to halt fissile material production would be a critical indication of its commitment to denuclearize. Specific, verifiable arrangements to accomplish these goals could begin with:

  • solidifying North Korea’s voluntary nuclear test moratorium by allowing inspectors to confirm the closure of the existing test site at Punggye-ri and securing North Korean signature of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • expanding on its missile testing halt to include short- and medium-range ballistic missiles;
  • halting fissile material production at Yongbyon and beginning to verifiably decommission all facilities at the site. This would necessitate a partial declaration of the facilities to be decommissioned; and
  • halting fissile material production at undisclosed sites. Initially, this could be verified using remote monitoring technologies if North Korea were unwilling to let inspectors verify a fissile material production freeze.

These initial steps would build confidence in the diplomatic process and would help ensure that North Korea could not expand its arsenal while the longer-term negotiations and denuclearization steps continue.

There are several additional major steps in the denuclearization process, each of which will be challenging. These include:

  • securing a full declaration of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, materials, and weapons to be verified later by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The guidelines and techniques established by the IAEA Model Additional Protocol for nuclear safeguards provide a good foundation for verifying and monitoring the fuel-cycle portions of the declaration;
  • agreeing to a process and a timeline for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile. It is estimated that North Korea has assembled 10-20 warheads and produced enough fissile material for an estimated 30-60 nuclear weapons.
  • achieving a verifiable halt to the production of ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons and to the dismantlement of deployed medium- and longer-range ballistic missiles and launchers;
  • accounting for and securing all separated fissile material. This work would likely have to be supervised by specialists from nuclear-weapon states in cooperation with North Korean technical experts; and
  • beginning to dismantle other nuclear facilities (beyond Yongbyon) under international supervision, including IAEA inspectors. A major negotiating issue at this stage would be which facilities are for civilian purposes and whether North Korea, given its history, should be allowed to retain such capabilities even under tighter international safeguards against misuse. This would be a major undertaking that could build on experience from U.S. and Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, which helped eliminate excess Cold War-era stockpiles, employed former weapons scientists, and repurposed military sites.

“Corresponding Steps”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will not give up North Korea’s nuclear weapons if he believes doing so will compromise North Korea’s security. North Korea has clearly stated that steps on denuclearization must go hand in hand with steps toward reducing tensions and building a peace-regime on the Korean peninsula.

Trump’s post-summit decision to suspend and modify certain joint military exercises with South Korea that Pyongyang views as provocative was an important confidence-building measure. But more will be necessary.

The next steps designed to reduce tensions and build a “peace regime” in return for initial North Korean actions to verifiably freeze and roll back certain parts of its nuclear weapons program might include:

  • reaching a three-party declaration on the end of the Korean War;
  • permanently pledging to remove U.S. strategic bombers and offensive-strike assets from future joint military exercises.
  • easing sanctions blocking humanitarian aid and certain projects designed to build closer economic and cultural ties between North and South;
  • lifting some of the most recent UN Security Council sanctions imposed on North Korea, perhaps including those involving oil and coal;
  • establishing a hotline agreement to help avoid miscommunication in a crisis; and
  • taking steps toward the normalization of relations, beginning with the opening of diplomatic interest sections in Pyongyang and Washington.

Later steps, as the denuclearization milestones are completed could include:

  • initiation of negotiations on a formal peace treaty. The conclusion of such a treaty could coincide with verified and complete denuclearization and it would trigger a removal of nuclear-related sanctions; a significant reduction of military forces on both sides of the demilitarized zone, and formal security assurances against the initiation of hostilities by either side; and
  • further corresponding sanctions relief, including through the revision of existing UN Security Council resolutions with sanctions targeting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

If the Trump administration could move the Korean peninsula demonstrably closer to these ambitious, long-term outcomes, it would be a major breakthrough. But one meeting will not be enough to get the process on track.

To achieve even just some of the additional steps toward the long-term goal of denuclearization of the peninsula and a durable peace regime, the Trump-Kim summit will need to produce agreement on a balanced framework for sustained, direct, high-level negotiations on denuclearization and peace.

The overall goal should be to continue to move as quickly as possible toward halting, reversing, and eliminating the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and away from a renewed crisis that risks bringing the region back to the brink of war. – DARYL G. KIMBALL, Executive Director, and KELSEY DAVENPORT, Director for Nonproliferation Policy

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Posted: January 29, 2019

Trump’s Dangerous Missile Defense Buildup

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The Trump administration’s long-awaited Missile Defense Review, which was released today, proposes a significant and costly expansion of the role and scope of U.S. missile defenses that is likely to exacerbate Russian and Chinese concerns about the threat to their strategic nuclear deterrents, undermine strategic stability, and further complicate the prospects for additional nuclear arms reductions.

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Volume 11, Issue 2, January 17, 2019

The Trump administration’s long-awaited Missile Defense Review, which was released today, proposes a significant and costly expansion of the role and scope of U.S. missile defenses that is likely to exacerbate Russian and Chinese concerns about the threat to their strategic nuclear deterrents, undermine strategic stability, and further complicate the prospects for additional nuclear arms reductions.

Of particular concern was President Donald Trump’s statement during his remarks at the Pentagon that the goal of U.S. missile defenses is to “ensure we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, anytime, anyplace.” This would be a costly, unachievable, and destabilizing departure from longstanding policy and contradicts the text of the review, which limits U.S. homeland missiles defense to their traditional role of defending against limited attacks from North Korea or Iran. In addition, the review proposes “to further thicken defensive capabilities for the U.S. homeland” with the new Aegis SM-3 Block IIA interceptor, hundreds of which could eventually be deployed on land and at sea across the globe.

As Congress scrutinizes the Missile Defense Review, members would do well to recognize that rushing to fund an open-ended and unconstrained missile defense buildup is misguided and would diminish U.S. security.

Congress in 2016 mandated the Pentagon to conduct a broad review of missile defense policy and strategy. Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis initiated the review in the spring of 2017 and it was originally slated to be published alongside the Nuclear Posture Review in February 2018. The reasons for the delay in the completion of the review are unclear.

The review expands the purpose of missile defense to defend against cruise and hypersonic missiles, proposes more aggressive defense against Russian and Chinese regional missile threats, alludes to the future development of airborne interceptors for "boost-phase" missile defense (i.e. when missiles are traveling at their slowest right after launch), and proposes to augment the defense of the U.S. homeland with additional ground- and sea-based Aegis SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptors.

Even before the release of the review, Congress during the first two years of the Trump administration approved record appropriations for the Missile Defense Agency to expand existing regional and missile defense systems and advance the development of new technologies.

The review reaffirms preexisting Trump administration plans to:

  • try to destroy enemy missiles before launch (known as “left of launch”),
  • arm unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with lasers to zap long-range missiles during their boost phase,
  • test the SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptor against an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-class target by 2020,
  • expand the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system in Alaska and California from 44 to 64 interceptors by 2023, and
  • develop multiple kill vehicles for the GMD system.

Costly and Technically Risky

United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars since the 1950s in an effort to field effective ballistic missile defenses and has but a limited capability against a small number of relatively unsophisticated missile threats to show for it. More realism is needed about the costs and limitations of defense capabilities and the long-standing obstacles that have prevented them from working as intended. For example, the $67 billion GMD system designed to defend the U.S. homeland against a North Korean or Iranian threat has an intercept test record of just over 50% and none of the tests have included realistic decoys and countermeasures that the system would likely face in a real attack.

Several of the new technologies proposed in the review face significant technical hurdles. A 2012 report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “boost-phase missile defense—whether kinetic or directed energy, and whether based on land, sea, air, or in space—is not practical or feasible.” Additionally, broad area defense against emerging hypersonic missiles will pose an even greater challenge than defending against ballistic missile threats, which generally fly on a more predictable trajectory.

The review discusses how the administration will proceed with several controversial proposals, including space-based interceptors and building a third GMD site in the eastern part of the United States.

On space-based interceptors, the review proposes a near-term feasibility study “of the concepts and technology for space-based defenses.” It adds that the study “may include on-orbit experiments and demonstrations.” During the George W. Bush administration, Congress rejected proposals to fund a space test bed that would put prototype interceptors in space. Further study of putting interceptors in space should end with the same conclusion previous studies have: space-based interceptors are unaffordable, unworkable, and massively destabilizing.

The review states that no decision has yet been made on whether to deploy a third GMD site and that the location for a potential site “will be informed by multiple pertinent factors at the time.” The Missile Defense Agency has repeatedly stated that the estimated $3-$4 billion cost to build such a site would be better spent on improving the capabilities of the existing GMD system.

That this Pentagon is punting, at least for now, on a decision on fielding space-based interceptors and an additional GMD site goes to show how expensive and rightly controversial they are.

Adverse Impact on Russian and Chinese Threat Perceptions

Although the Pentagon’s wish list stops short of green-lighting some of the most controversial missile defense concepts, the new plan could significantly exacerbate Russian and Chinese concerns about the threat U.S. missile defenses pose to their nuclear retaliatory capabilities.

The review comports with longstanding U.S. policy in stating that homeland missile defense capabilities will be sized to defend against “rogue states’ offensive missile threats” and not “more sophisticated Russian and Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities.” But in his remarks on the review, Trump went beyond the text of the review and stated that “We will terminate any missile launches from hostile powers...regardless of missile type or geographic origin.” Moscow and Beijing may understandably wonder whether Trump’s statements or the text of the review reflect U.S. policy.

Furthermore, the administration’s plan to test the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor against an ICBM target by 2020, and to build hundreds of the interceptors by the 2030s, threatens to cross the line between expanding missile defense capabilities to counter regional and “rogue” state threats to the homeland, and the development of capabilities that can counter Russian and Chinese long-range missiles.

Such concerns could potentially be mitigated if Washington agreed to limit the number, location, and capabilities of this systems, but the Missile Defense Review asserts that the United States will forswear any limits on U.S. defenses.

Russia fears that advancing U.S. defenses and offensive conventional strike capabilities could soon allow Washington to threaten Moscow's secure second-strike capability. Moscow has also conditioned further reductions to its nuclear arsenal below the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) on limits on U.S. missile defenses.

In a speech last year touting several new Russian nuclear delivery systems such as an intercontinental undersea torpedo and hypersonic glide vehicles, President Vladimir Putin described the rationale for the new weapons largely in terms of concern about U.S. missile defense systems.

China may already be augmenting its smaller nuclear strike capabilities in response to current U.S. missile defenses and an expansion of these defenses could prompt Beijing to make additional qualitative and quantitative improvements to its arsenal. Such improvements would make it even more difficult to achieve further reductions to the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

The Missile Defense Review comes at a time when the bilateral U.S.-Russian arms control architecture is under siege. The 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is on the verge of collapse and the future of New START is uncertain.

Both sides are citing the other’s missile defense deployments and plans as rationales to outfit their strategic nuclear arsenals with more capable weapons. Neither Moscow nor Washington is taking into account the concerns the other has about their offensive and defensive developments sufficiently seriously to avoid increased risks of instability.

Bottom Line

Rather than rush to spend billions on a potentially dangerous expansion of U.S. missile defenses, a more disciplined approach would focus on improving the shortcomings that continue to plague current systems, such as GMD, and improve capabilities to detect and track missiles. Moreover, the United States should pursue wide-ranging dialogues with Russia and China on strategic stability, including the impact of missile defense, and not pursue particularly destabilizing steps, such as pursuing space-based interceptors and testing the SM-3 Block IIA against ICBMs.—KINGSTON A. REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

Posted: January 17, 2019

How Congress Can Exert Responsible Oversight on Trump’s Dangerous Approach to Arms Sales

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Congress has the tools and authority to ensure U.S. arms sales strengthen, rather than undermine, enduring America’s values and norms, writes Jeff Abramson.
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Volume 11, Issue 1, January 15, 2019

In December, the Senate issued a stunning rebuke of President Donald Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia and its actions in the bloody war in Yemen, which are exacerbating a massive humanitarian crisis. A bipartisan group of 56 Senators took the extraordinary step of invoking the 1973 War Powers Resolution to direct the president to cease direct U.S. military engagement in the war, including through any aerial refueling of Saudi coalition aircraft fighting there–a step that had garnered steam since nearly winning approval in March 2018.

In a separate measure, the Senate said by voice vote that it “believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder” of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi—a finding the president has not fully supported. Trump’s refusal to hold the prince accountable and to consider suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to the grisly murder further underscores his retreat from common-sense U.S. and international norms regarding international arms sales.

Trump’s lack of concern about human rights and harm to civilians caused by U.S. arms trade partners is not, however, surprising. The conventional arms transfer policy his administration issued in April 2018 dangerously elevated economic arguments as a driving motive for arms transfer approvals. A November 2018 update on implementing that plan and a related factsheet on sales agreements again stress his administration’s desire to expedite the sale of increasingly more weapons, citing as success agreements to supply American arms to repressive regimes in not just Saudi Arabia, but also Bahrain and Nigeria.

Options to Encourage a More Responsible Approach

As the new Congress develops its agenda, both chambers can be expected to pass another resolution that seeks to restrict the role of U.S. military support for the war in Yemen. Members of Congress should also more fully utilize their oversight powers to ensure U.S. arms trade is more responsible. The first opportunity to do so typically comes when the administration delivers customary pre-notifications of potential arms sales to the Senate Foreign Relations (SFRC) and the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), where the chair and ranking members tend to lead any review.

In June 2018, Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking SFRC member, properly placed a hold on tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions kits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Other members of these key committees should, as necessary, consider supporting and initiating such efforts during this pre-notification period in order to hold or amend dangerous potential sales.

Once officially notified, Congress typically has 30 days to pass a joint resolution of disapproval that bars the president from going forward with unwise sales. Over the past few years, the full Senate has publicly debated controversial arms sales to places such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia during this notification period—positive examples of what a functioning Congress should do—but House procedures make it very difficult to get such measures to the full floor.

Legislation introduced late in the 115th Congress under the Arms Sales Oversight Act should be revisited as one possible avenue for better empowering Representatives to assert oversight, while properly keeping HFAC as the first committee of review. Other measures, such as an amendment offered on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in 2018 to strengthen oversight as relates to human rights deserve reconsideration. So too does a resolution proposing a comprehensive approach to the conflict in Yemen, especially if it were expanded to incorporate arms suspensions to all Saudi partners, including the critical UAE.

While the public can raise its voice against irresponsible Foreign Military Sales (FMS) because such government-to-government negotiated sales are quickly added to a public website, the increasingly important business-led Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) are not as transparent, in part because any public notification is obscure or functionally comes after the initial review period has passed. Earlier this month, news broke with this exact scenario on a missile defense sale to Saudi Arabia. Members of Congress could insist that, or possibly take it upon themselves to make, these potential DCS transactions more transparent. Proposed sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia via the more opaque DCS process came to light because concerned members of Congress took the initiative to reveal them.

While the notification period garners the most attention, Congress also can block a sale up until weapons are delivered. Given how security, geopolitical, and humanitarian realities can change between the time of notifications and often years-later deliveries, members should follow the entire process. In 2014, Congress gave itself the authority (see Section 201) to receive from the State Department notification of an arms shipment at least 30 days before its delivery. It is currently limited to joint requests by the chair and ranking members of the SFRC or HFAC and may have only been used once. Those leaders should exercise it much more diligently and Congress should consider making it much easier to use by allowing all committee members to request pre-delivery notifications.

In general, transparency around arms deliveries remains too obscure as a New Hampshire NPR reporter recently discovered. When U.S. census export data showed weapons worth more than $61 million had been sold from his state to Saudi Arabia in August 2018, he could not uncover what was in the sales nor which companies provided the weapons. Annual reports on U.S. arms transfers have grown increasingly opaque. Congress should mandate a change demanding much greater transparency on the specifics of what is in U.S. weapons deliveries.

Finally, sometime in the first quarter of 2019, the administration is expected to publish final rules transferring export authority on select firearms from the State Department to the Commerce Department, despite a large number of negative public comments and a great deal of concern. Members of Congress have raised an alarm that they will lose notifications about these sales, which in the past two years has enabled them to forestall small arms sales to Turkey and the Philippines. Last year, legislation was introduced to stop these changes and should again be considered. As with Trump’s broad approach to arms sales, these changes risk making it easier for weapons to end up in the hands of terrorists, international criminals, and abusive regimes.

Just before the December 2018 vote on direct U.S. military engagement in the war, Sen. Menendez expressed concern that the Trump administration believed “selling weapons to the Saudis was more important than America’s enduring commitment to human rights, democratic values, and international norms.” Congress has the tools and must now use its authority to ensure U.S. arms sales strengthen, rather than undermine, those enduring values and norms. —JEFF ABRAMSON, nonresident senior fellow

Posted: January 15, 2019

U.S. INF Treaty Termination Strategy Falls Short

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Analysis from Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, and Kingston A. Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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Volume 10, Issue 10, December 4, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today declared Russia in material breach of the landmark 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and announced that the United States plans to suspend U.S. obligations under the treaty in 60 days unless Russia returns to compliance.

In a new statement on the INF Treaty also released today, NATO foreign ministers collectively declared for the first time “that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty. The ministers also stated: “It is now up to Russia to preserve the INF Treaty.”

In delivering the Trump administration’s ultimatum, Pompeo expressed the “hope” that Russia will “change course” and return to compliance with the treaty.

But hope is not a strategy.

If NATO member states want to preserve a key arms control treaty that has enhanced their security for more than two decades, they will insist that the United States and Russia exhaust diplomatic options and should put forward proposals for how the two sides can resolve issues of concern about treaty implementation.

Unfortunately, Pompeo provided no indication that the administration wants to make a final effort to save the treaty by engaging in talks with Russia to address the compliance concerns raised by Washington and Moscow.

Notably, the NATO foreign ministers statement does not express support for, or even reiterate, Pompeo's ultimatum that the United States will suspend its obligations in 60 days unless Russia returns to compliance.

Once a withdrawal notification is issued, Article XV of the treaty requires the United States to wait six months before it can leave the agreement. Pompeo said the administration will issue a withdrawal notice in 60 days. 

Reports last week indicated that the Trump administration planned to give formal notice of withdrawal from and suspend implementation of the treaty today, but the administration was persuaded to postpone that action for two months following President Trump’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last Saturday at the G-20 summit in Argentina.

European Concerns

Several NATO allies have expressed concern about president Trump’s announcement last October that he planned to withdraw from the treaty and that they had not been consulted about the decision. For example, the European Union declared in a statement that the United States should “consider the consequences of its possible withdrawal from the INF on its own security, on the security of its allies and of the whole world.”

Russia’s production, testing, and deployment of an illegal, ground-launched cruise missile with a range between 500 to 5,500 kilometers is unacceptable and merits a strong response from all nations that value arms control and the reduction of nuclear risks. Without the INF Treaty, we will likely see the return of Cold War-style tensions over U.S. and Russian deployments of intermediate-range missiles in Europe and perhaps elsewhere.

A Path Forward

Clearly, diplomatic options to resolve the INF crisis and avoid a new missile race in Europe (and Asia) have not yet been exhausted. To date, diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue have been limited and unsuccessful. Since Trump took office, U.S. and Russian officials have met only twice at the working level to try to resolve the compliance dispute, the last time being in June 2018.

However, the delay of the suspension notification provides little time and will be of little value unless NATO governments, along with Russia and the United States, use the time productively. The focus should be on negotiating a solution that addresses U.S. and NATO concerns about Russia’s noncompliant 9M729 missile and addresses Russia concerns about, in particular, U.S. Mk-41 Aegis Ashore missile-interceptor launchers in Romania (and by 2020 in Poland) that could be used for offensive missiles.

Averting the collapse of the treaty at this point requires NATO members (starting at the NATO foreign ministerial Dec. 4-5 in Brussels) to call on the United States and Russia to immediately meet to redouble off-and-on diplomatic efforts to resolve the INF Treaty compliance crisis. It is disappointing the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has not yet done so.

On Nov. 26, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said that Russia is “open to any mutually beneficial proposals that take into account the interests and concerns of both parties.” If Washington is serious about removing the 9M729 missile threat, NATO should explore what that means and table a serious proposal.

If Russia is serious about preserving the INF Treaty, it will agree to discuss U.S. concerns, agree to implement transparency measures, and, if the 9M729 is found to be noncompliant, either modify or eliminate the illegal missile as a “sign of good faith.”

In addition, the United States needs to acknowledge Russia’s concerns about U.S. implementation of the agreement, specifically the Mk-41 launchers for the Aegis ashore missile interceptors in Romania (and soon in Poland) and agree to transparency measures that reduce concerns that the launchers could be used to deploy offensive missiles.

There is precedent for using diplomacy to resolve treaty violations. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan continued to observe the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow despite its determination that a large radar located at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia violated the treaty. It also engaged in negotiations with the Soviet Union on the INF Treaty and what became the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty during this period. It took time, but diplomacy worked, and the Soviets eventually tore down the radar.

“No New Missiles” Pledge

The United States must ensure that Russia does not gain a military advantage from 9M729 ground-launched missile, which the U.S. intelligence community assesses has a range capability beyond the 500km range limit set by the INF Treaty and has been deployed in areas of Russia that enable it to reach parts of Europe. But even without the INF Treaty, there is no military need for the United States to develop a new and costly treaty-noncompliant missile for deployment in Europe.

The United States can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten the same Russian targets that new ground-launched missiles prohibited by INF Treaty would. In addition, no European nation has agreed to host such a missile, which could take years to develop, and even if one did, it would be a significant source of division within the alliance—one Russia would be eager to try and exploit.

Instead of accepting the U.S. intention to begin “developing and deploying” new ground-based missiles to counter Russia, the U.S. Congress, as well as NATO member states should insist that if the United States and Russia do not find an 11th hour diplomatic solution to preserve the INF Treaty, they will at least pledge not to be the first to deploy intermediate-range missile systems anywhere in or in-range of NATO Europe.

And regardless of the fate of the INF Treaty, responsible governments and members of the U.S. Congress should also insist that Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend the 2010 New START agreement by five years (from 2021 to 2026) to guard against the possibility of an unconstrained nuclear arms race.

—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director and KINGSTON A. REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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Posted: December 4, 2018

Trump’s Counterproductive Decision to “Terminate” the INF Treaty

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Under the influence of his new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, Trump announced Saturday at a campaign rally that he will “terminate” a key nuclear arms control agreement that helped end the Cold War race–the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in response to a long-running dispute over Russian noncompliance with the treaty. Here's why that's counterproductive.

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Volume 10, Issue 9, October 21, 2018

Under the influence of his new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, Trump announced Saturday at a campaign rally that he will “terminate” a key nuclear arms control agreement that helped end the Cold War race–the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in response to a long-running dispute over Russian noncompliance with the treaty. 
 
The decision represents a shift in the administration’s INF response strategy  which was announced in January and before Bolton joined the administration.
 
Trump’s move to blow-up the INF Treaty is unnecessary and self-defeating wrong turn that could lead to an unconstrained and dangerous nuclear arms competition with Russia.
 
The breakdown of the agreement and uncertain future of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) creates the most serious nuclear arms control crisis in decades.
 
The Russian Foreign Ministry said today that the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty is “unacceptable” and “dangerous.” Russia continues to assert that there is no basis for the U.S. claim that Russia has violated the treaty, but the Russian Foreign Ministry said “there is still room for dialogue."
 
Bolton meets Monday in Moscow with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov.
 
The INF Treaty Still Matters 

The INF Treaty, which was negotiated by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 km (300 to 3,500 miles).
 
The treaty successfully eliminated an entire class of destabilizing nuclear weapons that were deployed in Europe and helped bring an end to the spiraling Cold War arms race. It has been a cornerstone of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control architecture. And as NATO defense ministers said earlier this month, the INF Treaty “has been crucial to Euro-Atlantic security.”
 
Without the INF Treaty, we will likely see the return of Cold War-style tensions over U.S. and Russian deployments of intermediate-range missiles in Europe and elsewhere.  

Russian Noncompliance

The INF Treaty, while very successful, has been at risk for some time. In 2014, Washington charged that Moscow had tested a weapon, which it later identified as the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile, at a range beyond the limit set by the treaty. In 2017, the Pentagon declared that Moscow had begun deploying the weapon. 

Russia denies that it has violated the treaty and asked the United States to divulge the technical details behind the charge. Moscow has expressed its own concerns about U.S. compliance with the pact, notably that U.S. missile defense interceptor platforms deployed in eastern Europe could be used for offense purposes that would violate the treaty.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue have been limited and to date unsuccessful. Since Trump took office, U.S. and Russian officials have met only twice to try to resolve the compliance dispute. 

Clearly, neither side has exhausted the diplomatic options that could resolve their concerns. 

U.S. Withdrawal Would Be An “Own Goal.” 

Trump claims that the United States is pulling out to show Russia that it will not tolerate Russia’s alleged violation of the treaty. “We’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” Trump said. 

Trump may want to sound tough, but the reality is that withdrawing from the treaty weakens U.S. and allied security and does not provide the United States any military advantage in Europe or elsewhere.

  • U.S. withdrawal does nothing to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty and it distracts from the fact that it was Russia’s actions that precipitated the INF Treaty crisis. 
  • U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty opens the door for Russia to produce and deploy the missile of concern, the 9M729, in greater numbers without any constraints.
  • There is no military need for the United States to develop, as Trump has proposed, a new and costly INF Treaty-noncompliant missile. The United States can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten the same Russian targets that ground-launched missiles that are prohibited by INF Treaty would. 
  • NATO does not support a new INF Treaty-range missile in Europe and no country has offered to host it. Attempting to force the alliance to accept a new, potentially nuclear missile would divide the alliance in ways that would delight the Kremlin.

Even without the INF Treaty in force, the U.S. Congress and NATO governments should reject Trump’s push to develop a new U.S. ground-based INF Treaty-range missile in Europe (or elsewhere), and instead focus on maintaining conventional military preparedness to deter adversaries without violating the treaty.

Does the United States Need Ground-launched, INF Treaty-Range Missiles to Counter China?

No. In 2011, long before any Russian INF compliance concerns surfaced, John Bolton proposed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Washington should to withdraw from the treaty in order to counter China, which is not party to the treaty. In his Oct. 20 remarks on withdrawing from the treaty, Trump also pointed to China as a reason for abandoning the INF Treaty.

When asked at a congressional hearing in July 2017 about whether withdrawal from the INF Treaty could be useful because it would allow the U.S. to develop new ground-based systems to hit targets in China, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva said that such a move was unnecessary because the United States can already hold those targets at risk with treaty-compliant air- and sea-based assets.

In his remarks Saturday, Trump suggested he might support a ban on INF Treaty-range missiles if "Russia comes to us and China comes to us” ... "and let’s none of us develop those weapons.” Russia did approach the United States in 2007 and jointly proposed in a UN General Assembly resolution multilateralizing the INF Treaty. The idea of “multilateralizing INF has been around for more than a decade, but neither Russia nor Washington have devoted serious effort into the concept and China is highly unlikely to join an agreement that would eliminate the bulk of its missile arsenal.

Trump’s INF Treaty decision is a debacle. But without New START it will be even worse 

If the INF Treaty collapses, as appears likely, the only remaining treaty regulating the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles will be New START. New START is due to expire in 2021 unless Trump and Putin agree to extend it by five years as allowed for in Article XIV of the agreement.

Unfortunately, Bolton may try to sabotage that treaty too. Since he arrived at the White House in May, he has been slow-rolling an interagency review on whether to extend New START and refusing to take up Putin’s offer to begin talks on its extension. 

Key Republican and Democratic Senators are on record in support of New START extension, which can be accomplished without further Senate or Duma approval.

Instead, one option Bolton is talking about is a “Moscow Treaty" approach that would dispense with New START and its rigorous inspection system on warheads and missiles to ensure compliance. This option would simply set limits on deployed warheads only and without any verification—an approach Moscow is very unlikely to accept because it could give the United States a significant breakout advantage.

The current crisis makes it all the more important to get a serious U.S.-Russian arms control dialogue back on track. 

Trump and Putin should agree to relaunch their stalled strategic stability dialogue and commit to reaching an early agreement to extend New START by five years to 2026 – which is essential if the two sides are to meet their legal commitment under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty "to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament …."

If they fail to extend New START, an even more dangerous phase in U.S.-Russian relations is just over the horizon.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, and KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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Posted: October 21, 2018

Can Trump and Putin Head Off a New Nuclear Arms Race?

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Trump and Putin have an important opportunity to put the brakes on a new, potentially more dangerous, arms race.

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Volume 10, Issue 8, August 8, 2018

The much-anticipated July 16 summit meeting in Helsinki between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin did not go well for the United States. In a news conference following the two-hour, one-on-one tête-à-tête between the two leaders, Trump, unfortunately, failed to condemn Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and said he believed Putin’s denial of involvement to be “extremely strong and powerful.”

Nor does it appear that the meeting has resulted in any tangible breakthrough toward the goal of improving the strained U.S.-Russian relationship. This includes the most important area in which U.S. and Russian security interests continue to align: reducing the risk of catastrophic nuclear war and curbing a qualitative nuclear arms race that threatens to become a quantitative arms race.

The United States is poised to spend more than $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years on maintaining and upgrading its nuclear delivery systems (bombers, land-based missiles, and submarines) and their associated warheads and supporting infrastructure. The Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review spells out – with more frightening specificity than before – the circumstances under which use of American nuclear weapons will be considered and proposes two new, “more usable” types of low-yield nuclear weapons.

Russia is also replacing and upgrading its bloated nuclear arsenal. Worse yet, Russia is in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and Putin has boasted of new, Strangelovian weapons, including nuclear-armed hypersonic glide vehicles, globe-circling nuclear-powered cruise missiles and very long-range nuclear torpedoes for use against American port cities.

Neither the planning nor the boasting needs to become our reality. Indeed, Trump told reporters at the White House in March that he wanted to meet with Putin in large part “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control” and has characterized the costly nuclear upgrade programs being pursued by each side as “a very, very bad policy.”

In Helsinki, Putin presented the Trump administration with several proposals “to work together further to interact on the disarmament agenda, military, and technical cooperation.” These included: beginning discussions about an extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which verifiably limits U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear forces and expires in early 2021; reaffirming commitment to the INF Treaty; resuming dialogue on Russian concerns about U.S. missile defense plans and joint efforts to eliminate missile threats; and measures to prevent dangerous military incidents. Russia also proposed to resume “strategic stability” talks as a forum to discuss the above and related issues.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet at the 2017 G-20 Hamburg Summit, July 2017 (Source: Kremlin.ru)

Following the summit, Trump stated that “[p]erhaps the most important issue we discussed at our meeting...was the reduction of nuclear weapons throughout the world.”

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee July 25 that no specific agreements were reached on nuclear arms control in Helsinki and the administration doesn’t yet have a position on whether to extend New START. U.S. officials have said that Washington has been seeking to resume the strategic stability talks, but the two sides have not agreed upon a date.

As the United States and Russia work to build on the dialogue that began in Helsinki and prepare for a possible second summit meeting between Trump and Putin, there are four relatively simple decisions the two leaders could make that could reduce nuclear risks and lay a more positive foundation for further steps not just in nuclear arms control, but in the still thornier disputes that divide the two powers.

Immediately Extend New START

Like the larger relationship, the U.S.-Russian arms control architecture is under significant strain. New START remains one of the few bright spots in the relationship. Ratified in 2011, the Treaty limits the number of deployed strategic warheads to a maximum of 1,550 on each side, a target each met earlier this year, and which is far below the tens of thousands we pointed at each other during the Cold War. The Treaty imposes important bounds on strategic nuclear competition as long as it is in force.

Although it expires in February 2021, the treaty can be extended by up to five years by agreement by the two Presidents, without requiring further action by the Congress or the Duma. If New START is not extended, then in 2021 there will be no legally-binding limits on the world’s two largest strategic arsenals for the first time since 1972. Unconstrained U.S.-Russian nuclear competition - in both numbers and technology - could spark an arms race as dangerous as that of the 1950s and 1960s and add scores of billions in additional costs to an already unrealistic U.S. nuclear upgrade plan.

For his part, Putin has repeatedly voiced interest in extending the treaty. This seems due in part to the fact that if the New START limit on deployed strategic warheads (1,550 each) were to expire, the United States would have a significant “upload” potential by virtue of its higher number of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles.

The most recent New START data exchange shows that the United States has 652 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers, while Russia has 527. Russia appears to be seeking a similar upload capability. This means that in the absence of New START, each side could quickly increase the number of warheads deployed on these systems.

In his first call with Putin after inauguration day, Trump reportedly described New START as another flawed deal negotiated by his predecessor, like the Iran deal that he recently upended. Before joining the Trump administration as National Security Advisor, John Bolton also castigated the agreement. The administration is currently conducting a review of the pros and cons of extending the treaty.

But a decision to extend the Treaty can be packaged so that it is a personal victory for President Trump, rather than an extension of an Obama achievement. Extension until February 2026, would preserve its significant security advantages – not only the numerical limits, which aid U.S. military planning, but also the mutual transparency provided by the treaty’s verification measures (including data exchanges, notifications, and inspections).

An extension would also buy more time for the two sides to discuss other stabilizing measures while improving the bilateral political atmosphere. It would provide a venue to discuss and possibly limit several of the new systems under development by Russia (the treaty allows for the limitation of new strategic arms developed after the treaty entered into force) and lay the base for talks to further reduce each side’s nuclear stockpiles.

Moreover, while many observers are rightly concerned about what Trump might give away in diplomacy with Putin, extending New START could help create a positive atmosphere for reducing tensions in the U.S.-Russian relationship without making an unwise or impractical concession to Moscow. Key Senate Democrats have called for an extension of the treaty so long as Russia remains in compliance with it.

Resolve the INF Treaty Compliance Dispute

The INF Treaty made a major contribution to European and global security by verifiably eliminating all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

However, the treaty is now at risk, with the United States charging that Russia has deployed an illegal ground-launched cruise missile – the 9M729. Moscow, for its part, alleges, far less credibly, that Washington may be violating the treaty too. Its major gripe is that the U.S. is deploying missile defense systems in Europe that could be used to launch offensive missiles.

Russia’s flagrant violation of the treaty, as well as other key agreements such as the Chemical Weapons Convention, is unacceptable and requires a firm U.S. response, including enhancements to U.S. and NATO conventional military preparedness if the violation persists.

Complicating matters further, the Trump administration is pursuing a response to Russia’s violation that includes the development of our own treaty-prohibited missile. Some in Congress are also suggesting that we respond to Russia’s violations by declaring the agreement null and void if Russia doesn’t immediately return to compliance. Both moves play directly into Moscow’s propaganda interests.

Efforts to address the reciprocal accusations through the treaty’s dispute mechanism – the Special Verification Commission – have done little to resolve either side’s concerns. This is the moment when Trump and Putin need to provide a political impetus to those stalled expert discussions. The problems are technically complex, but they can be resolved.

Independent U.S. and Russian experts who are familiar with the nature of the Russian INF violation agree that in order to break the impasse, both sides need to acknowledge the concerns of the other side. They argue that Washington and Moscow should agree to reciprocal site visits by experts to examine the missiles and the deployment sites in dispute. If the 9M729 missile is determined to have a range that exceeds 500 km, Russia could modify the missile to ensure it no longer violates the treaty or, ideally, halt production and eliminate any such missiles in its possession.

For its part, the United States could modify its missile defense launchers to clearly distinguish them from the launchers used to fire offensive missiles from U.S. warships or agree to transparency measures that give Russia confidence the launchers don’t contain offensive missiles. Such an arrangement would address the concerns of both sides and restore compliance with the treaty without Russia having to acknowledge its original violation of the treaty.

Resume the Dialogue on Strategic Stability

Russian-American consultations on strategic stability are neither a luxury nor “business as usual.” They provide a means for each side to express concerns about new technologies and capabilities that may disrupt the tenuous balance of nuclear terror that has held – with a good deal of luck – for more than 60 years. This dialogue provides the forum at which military officials can make agreements that reduce the risk of a non-nuclear conflict. It also provides the ‘circuit breaking’ signal mechanisms that can prevent an incident from escalating from conventional to nuclear combat.

As Bernard Brodie noted in 1946 at the onset of the nuclear age, the chief job of the military is now not to win wars, but to avert them. A strategic stability dialogue serves the function of enhancing understanding and avoiding misperceptions between two military establishments with world-killing power that can be unleashed within minutes of an order to do so.

There is much of concern to discuss through the strategic stability format as first envisioned by the Obama administration. In addition to the development of new nuclear weapons and the erosion of key arms control guardrails, technological change and advances in conventional weapons are raising concerns about new escalation dangers. Both sides are developing hypersonic missiles, new missile defense capabilities, offensive cyber weapons, and anti-satellite and counterspace weapons.

U.S. efforts to convene such a bilateral dialogue have led only to intermittent meetings in the last five years, with no hard results. The United States and Russia held a round of strategic stability talks in September in Helsinki, but Russia pulled out of the second round of talks slated to take place in March in Vienna.

The Nuclear Posture Review did not offer any proposals to advance U.S.-Russian arms control or address these growing challenges to strategic stability more broadly. But with Trump’s State Department team finally in place, it’s time for the two leaders to commit to an intensified dialogue to reduce the immediate risk and to lay the basis for eventually achieving a less threatening nuclear posture on both sides. To succeed such a dialogue must include topics which the United States has always been reluctant to put on the agenda, such as ballistic missile defense and the development of rapid-strike conventional weapons.

Making Avoiding Nuclear War Great Again

When Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for a summit meeting in 1985 in Geneva, they issued a joint statement that was both self-evident and reassuring: “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” It set the right tone for the resumption of nuclear arms reduction negotiations that would eventually yield dramatic results in the years that followed.

In itself, such a statement from Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at their next meeting would not immediately reduce bloated U.S. and Russian arsenals or eliminate the launch-under-attack nuclear doctrines that still could lead us to a civilization-ending conflict. But it would demonstrate to a world on edge about Moscow and Washington’s nuclear bluster that those who fashion themselves as world leaders recognize their most basic responsibilities to humanity.

For decades, U.S. leadership has limited the spread of nuclear weapons, drastically reduced the global inventory of these weapons, brought about a halt to all nuclear testing by all but one state (North Korea), and sustained a strong taboo against nuclear weapons use.

But today—five decades after the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons was negotiated—the global nuclear order is under increasing strain due to the North Korean threat, stalled progress on global disarmament, rising tensions between several nuclear-armed states, and global technological advances that are putting new pressures on nuclear stability.

Trump and Putin have an important opportunity to put the brakes on a new, potentially more dangerous, arms race. Important steps in that direction would come from extending New START, preserving the INF Treaty while resolving compliance disputes, and resuming discussion of the strategic stability agenda, from which both sides and the broader world community will benefit.

THOMAS M. COUNTRYMAN, former acting under secretary of state for arms control and international security and chairman of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association; KINGSTON A. REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy; DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director

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Posted: August 8, 2018

The U.S.-North Korean Summit and Beyond

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What would constitute an effective deal on denuclearization and peace with North Korea?

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Toward an Effective Deal on Denuclearization and Peace with North Korea

Volume 10, Issue 7, June 8, 2018

The South Korean-brokered diplomatic opening between leaders from the United States and North Korea that began in January 2018 is a welcome shift away from the missile and nuclear tests and “fire and fury” threats of 2017 that brought the region to the brink of a catastrophic war.

Donald Trump deserves credit for being so bold as to agree to pursue the June 12 summit meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The ongoing inter-Korean dialogue and prospect for a historic U.S.-North Korean summit has lowered tensions but tensions could flare up once again – especially if Trump goes off-script, acts impulsively, or if either side has unrealistic expectations about what the meeting can accomplish.

After creating unrealistic expectations for the planned summit with Kim Jong-un, canceling the encounter and then directing his team to make it happen, Donald Trump finally appears to understand that a single summit cannot resolve the decades-long North Korean nuclear problem.

After meeting with a high-level North Korean official June 1, Trump said the summit was part of a process with North Korea. Indeed, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will be a years-long endeavor, requiring reciprocal steps.

The long history of U.S.-North Korean nuclear and missile diplomacy underscores the importance of sustaining progress beyond the glow of the initial diplomatic breakthrough. Both sides need to have the political will and courage to follow through on their commitments, and they must have the skills necessary to overcome the implementation and compliance disputes and delays that will inevitably occur down the road.

The overall goal for the Trump administration, and U.S. allies and partners, should be to continue to move as quickly as possible in the right direction: toward halting and reversing and eliminating North Korea’s nuclear strike potential, and away from a worsening crisis involving a growing North Korean nuclear capability and increased risk of war.

For the June 12 summit in Singapore to be a success and to set a course for real, lasting progress, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un will need to agree on a framework for ongoing direct, expert-level negotiations to hammer out the details and timeframe for specific action-for-action steps on denuclearization, as well as concrete steps toward a peace regime on the Korean peninsula that addresses the security concerns of North Korea and other states in the region.

On the Same Page?

In the days leading up to the encounter in Singapore, it is still not clear yet whether top U.S. and North Korean leaders are on the same page about the end goals, the pace, and the sequencing of many steps involved in the complete “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.

It is also not entirely clear whether the Trump administration itself is of one mind about its own strategy. Top Trump advisors, including National Security Advisor John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence, contributed to creating a hostile environment just a couple of weeks ahead of the summit by suggesting “the Libya model” for rapid denuclearization by North Korea with promises of security only coming afterward, and threatening war if North Korea does not agree to a deal.

Given the fact that North Korea has long maintained that its nuclear weapons are a deterrent against U.S. "hostile policy," it should have been no surprise to the Trump White House that senior North Korean officials lashed out at such an approach.

As the April 2018 Panmunjeom Declaration negotiated by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the Republic of Korea’s president Moon Jae-in underscores, the North Korean leadership is only interested in talking about denuclearization if their security interests can be guaranteed.

In the days ahead of the summit, it was reported that "Trump wants Kim to commit to disarmament timetable at summit" but Trump has been advised not to offer any concessions. That is not a winning formula. You don't get something for nothing when you deal with North Korea.

The Summit and Beyond: A Process for Denuclearization and a Peace Regime

To achieve real, lasting progress, the two sides will need to agree on a framework for sustained, direct, high-level negotiations on the specific action-for-action steps toward denuclearization and a peace regime.

The North Korean denuclearization effort would be without precedent and there is no guarantee of success. No country with a nuclear arsenal and infrastructure as substantial as Kim Jong Un’s, and that has openly conducted nuclear weapon test explosions, has given up its nuclear weapons program.

The North Korean nuclear and missile programs involve dozens of sites, hundreds of buildings, and thousands of people. Rapid progress should be the goal, but as Siegfried Hecker and Bob Carlin note in their recent Stanford University study, a comprehensive denuclearization process is complex and will take years to accomplish.

A near-term priority goal for the Trump administration should be to reach a common understanding Kim Jong-un about what denuclearization entails. A good basis for common understanding would be the 1992 South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Another near-term priority should be to solidify North Korea’s declared nuclear and missile testing halt and secure a freeze on fissile material production at all suspected sites, which will help ensure that North Korea cannot expand its arsenal of some 20-60 bombs even further. This could be achieved by:

  • Securing North Korea’s pledge to sign and ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would help transform its no-test pledge into a legally-binding international commitment, and to secure agreement for on-site inspections by the CTBTO to confirm the closure of its test site. The destruction of the test tunnel entrances at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site is a positive step in the right direction, but it does not permanently prevent it from resuming nuclear tests in the future. Additional tests by North Korea could be used to achieve further advances in nuclear warhead design. This action step is likely within reach since Pyongyang has recently hinted that it might join the CTBT;
  • An agreement to halt further ballistic missile tests, including “space launches,” cease new ballistic missile production and decommission all ICBM launch sites, which could stop North Korea just short of developing a reliable long-range nuclear strike system;
  • Securing a freeze on uranium enrichment and plutonium production, to be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which would put a ceiling on the potential number of nuclear devices that North Korea could assemble.

Another early goal should be to secure a commitment by North Korea to deliver a full declaration on its nuclear infrastructure, nuclear material inventory, and its nuclear weapons stockpile to be verified later by the IAEA, using guideline and techniques established by the Model Additional Protocol for nuclear safeguards, with the support and a legal mandate from the United States and other permanent members of the UN Security Council.

At a later stage, following more intensive expert-level talks, the two sides could agree to a process and a timeline for dismantling weapons stocks and securing separated fissile material stocks under the supervision of a UN Security Council-mandated technical team consisting of specialists from nuclear weapon states, in cooperation with the technical experts from North Korea.

Facilities that are part of North Korea's nuclear complex and its longer-range missile production and deployment infrastructure would also need to be verifiably dismantled or converted under international supervision. This would be a major undertaking that could build upon the experience and lessons learned from U.S. and Russian cooperative threat reduction programs that helped eliminate excess Cold War-era stockpiles and sites.

Phased Steps to Reduce Tensions on the Peninsula

To achieve real and lasting progress on denuclearization, the U.S. side must be willing to simultaneously take a series of phased, concrete steps to demonstrate it does not have “hostile intent” toward the regime in Pyongyang and that North Korea’s security and sovereignty does not depend on possessing nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged this reality in his press briefing May 31 when he noted that the U.S. side will need to convince North Korea’s leadership that their security will be assured—and be even greater—if they make the strategic decision to pursue complete and verifiable denuclearization.

Clearly, differences still need to be ironed out on pacing and sequencing of denuclearization steps and concrete steps to assure the North Korean leadership that they can survive without nuclear weapons. Key measures might include:

  • Agreeing to security guarantees, including a commitment not to initiate the use of force against one another;
  • Removing U.S. strategic bombers and offensive strike assets, including nuclear-capable systems from U.S. and joint military exercises with allies in the region;
  • Formally initiating negotiations on a peace treaty to replace the Korean War Armistice, which would involve talks between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, and Chinese leaders, and pursuing steps toward the normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations, beginning with the opening of a diplomatic interest section in Pyongyang and Washington;
  • Jointly reducing military force deployments on both sides of the DMZ in a manner consistent with a future peace treaty.

The Role of Congress

The Trump administration will also need to keep members of Congress better informed on its evolving strategy with regular reports on the negotiations. It will need Congressional advice and support to sustain the process, which will last beyond the life span of the Trump administration.

Members of Congress can and should seek clarification from the Trump administration regarding how it defines the denuclearization process and they should hold the administration accountable as to whether progress is or is not being achieved, but the executive branch will need political space to negotiate the specifics with Pyongyang.

As Senator Robert Menendez, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote in a May 16 op-ed in The Washington Post, “… even a partial agreement that verifiably begins the process of rolling back North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs would constitute success. Such an agreement should be combined with continued pressure, a strong deterrence posture and a continuation of the emerging North-South dialogue. This would over time provide a reliable pathway to full denuclearization.”

Stay Calm and Carry On

If the planned summit with Kim Jong-un falls apart or does not produce immediate results, Trump must resist the urge to abandon diplomacy and make irresponsible threats, which will only reinforce North Korea's incentive to further improve its nuclear and missile activities and increase the likelihood of a military confrontation.

There is no viable military option to deal with the North Korean nuclear challenge. A second war with a nuclear-armed North Korea would be catastrophic for all sides involved. Tens of millions of people in East Asia and possibly the United States could perish in such a conflict, which would quickly go nuclear.

Trump must also recognize that his policy of “maximum pressure” has real limits. Without a serious, sustained diplomatic effort designed to reach a deal to verifiably halt and reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, global support for the existing sanctions regime may erode.

If negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang do ultimately break down, the United States should maintain a principled, sober strategy of diplomacy and deterrence that serves U.S. and allied interests and averts a catastrophic war.

The American people support a diplomatic solution. According to a recent Pew/ Economist/YouGov survey, around 70 percent support direct negotiations between the United States and North Korea, while 62 percent say Trump should not threaten military action against North Korea if it does not give up its nuclear weapons, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll.

The June 12 encounter will capture the world’s attention. Barring a dramatic breakdown, it will be viewed as a positive first step.

But the true measure of the Singapore summit between Trump and Kim is whether it will actually lead to concrete, steady progress toward the twin goals of denuclearization and the easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The pursuit of disarmament diplomacy is hard work, and when it comes to North Korea, progress never comes easily, but it is better than the alternatives. —DARYL G. KIMBALL, Executive Director

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Posted: June 8, 2018

Trump Favors Arms Industry in Effort to Loosen Export Controls

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If the Trump administration is serious about changing U.S. arms sales policies, it should add much greater transparency into the arms transfer and monitoring process. 

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Volume 10, Issue 6, June 7, 2018

The Trump administration is pushing to make sweeping changes in U.S. conventional arms export policies in order to sell more weapons, more quickly, and typically with less transparency and oversight. One reason given for these changes—advancing economic security—is simply faulty.

Worse still, the policies are dangerous, creating new risks that these weapons end up in the hands of terrorists and international criminals and further undermining the promotion of human rights norms that should be central to U.S. actions.

In mid-April, the president issued a new conventional arms transfer policy, giving the State Department 60 days to submit an implementation plan. In May, the administration also started a 45-day public comment period on regulatory changes that would transfer the control of assault rifles and other weapons of choice in armed violence to the Commerce Department.

If the administration is serious about claims that these changes make for responsible policy, it should add much greater transparency into the arms transfer and monitoring process. Congress, if it does not act to stop these new approaches, should make sure, at a minimum, that it maintains meaningful oversight to prevent abuses that undermine longstanding U.S. foreign policy objectives designed to avoid fueling conflicts around the world and propping up regimes that do not respect the basic human rights of their people.

Background

On April 19, Donald Trump issued a national security presidential memorandum replacing a January 2014 presidential policy directive that, like the 1995 iteration from the Clinton administration, included an unweighted list of criteria to guide decisions on U.S. conventional arms transfers.

Common to these policies are goals to improve the security of the United States and its allies, prevent proliferation, and support relevant multilateral agreements. With the backing of major arms producers, the Trump approach explicitly adds “economic security” as a factor in considering whether to approve arms exports. It promises that “the executive branch will advocate strongly” on behalf of U.S. companies and “maximize the ability” of U.S. industry “to grow and support allies and partners.”

Michael F. Miller, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State discusses new US conventional arms transfer policy and proposed changes to firearms exports at Forum on the Arms Trade conference in Washington DC on May 22. (Photo: Stimson Center)The memorandum retains many of the same provisions regarding human rights as the Obama-era conventional arms transfer policy, although consolidating their reference to a single section rather than reiterating them throughout. The new policy, however, does not explicitly say that past records on human rights will be a factor in decisions. It does contain a new commitment to “facilitate” ally and partner efforts “to reduce the risk of national or coalition operations causing civilian harm.”

Whether the implementation plan due soon from the Secretary of State explains how this will be done remains to be seen, but it is expected that training of forces will be touted as a critical component. Such training was written into arms sales last year to Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

Proposed changes to the regulation of exports were announced May 14 and published in the Federal Register May 24, beginning a public comment period that ends in July.

Specifically, the rules relate to the first three categories of the United States Munitions List (USML) maintained under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), whose lead administrator is the Department of State. Under the proposal, many items would move from the USML to the Commerce Control List (CCL) to become part of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), whose lead administrator is the Commerce Department. Most notably, non-automatic and semi-automatic firearms and their ammunition currently controlled under USML category I would move to new EAR 500-series classifications in the CCL.

The primary rationale given for the change is that these weapons no longer merit tight control. According to the State Department: 

The Department of State is engaged in an effort to revise the U.S. Munitions List so that its scope is limited to those defense articles that provide the United States with a critical military or intelligence advantage or, in the case of weapons, are inherently for military end use. The articles now controlled by USML Categories I, II, and III that would be removed from the USML under this proposed rule do not meet this standard, including many items which are widely available in retail outlets in the United States and abroad.

The revisions were drafted during the previous administration’s export reform control initiative, which sought to build higher fences on fewer items. During Obama’s presidency, action was taken on 18 of the USML’s 21 categories, but frequent mass shootings and an administration more supportive of gun control efforts contributed to the firearms categories going unpublished.

Critics of President Trump, such as Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), have pointed to the domestic U.S. gun lobby as the real driver behind these changes and called the decision to move forward “politically tone deaf as our nation reckons with a gun violence epidemic.”

Adding in Transparency and Enabling Assessment

As the Trump administration works to implement these changes, it should build in transparency and process changes that make it possible to assess whether U.S. arms exports are meeting the stated goals of the new policies.

This would not only be good public policy, but such an approach has the potential to address rising congressional and international distress about an administration that has shown less restraint, including by moving ahead with arms sales to Bahrain, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia that the previous administration had held back on due to serious human rights concerns.

As a start, a public accounting and evaluation of training that might go along with arms sales is desperately needed, especially if it will be a cornerstone of an effort to protect civilians. With another round of controversial precision-guided munition sales expected soon to Saudi Arabia (as well as the UAE), it is imperative that much more is shared about how training is done, who receives it, and whether it works.

As the Saudi-led coalition continues to hit civilian areas and an invasion of the port of Hodeida looms that threatens to further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is not enough to simply say training is important. It must make a difference.

Similarly, much greater transparency into the arms sales process at a public level is critical. Under current procedure Congress is notified of potential major arms sales whether through the foreign military sales (FMS) process or via direct commercial sales (DCS), starting a review period by which it could block agreement to the sale.

Unlike FMS notifications, DCS notifications are not posted on a publicly accessible website, giving the American people less time to inform their representatives of any concerns. If the administration wants to make it easier for companies to negotiate their arms sales, it should also improve transparency into them.

While Congress can block or amend an arms sale up until a weapon is delivered, those deliveries often occur years after notification. There is typically much less public attention on arms sales during this period. If the administration wants to speed the time between agreement and delivery, it should agree to also make clear when a delivery is imminent, so as to create predictable moments for oversight. In 2014, Congress created a mechanism for receiving notification at least 30 days before delivery when requested on select sales, but has only used the authority once. The administration should instead make this standard on all sales and make it public.

Public reporting afterward, via the State Department’s so-called 655 report, also now has less detail than in the past. These reports, as well as others on end-use monitoring, should provide information on the number of specific weapons involved and other data, rather than broad categorical details. Importantly, reports from the Commerce Department should also improve in detail, especially if the changes on firearm exports are put into place that transfer oversight away from the State Department.

Without these specifics, it becomes more difficult not only to assess these policy changes, but to further goals such as combating illicit trafficking and weapons flows to terrorists and other unintended users.

A recent report from the Center for Civilians in Conflict and Stimson Center offers an array of good suggestions that run the life of a weapon—from pre-transfer to end-use monitoring—with “trigger” mechanisms along the way that allow for reassessment as situations change. Those recommendations, primarily focused on protecting civilians but also relevant to promoting human rights and international law, deserve strong consideration.

The Value of Congressional Oversight

In 2002 Congress amended its notification threshold so that it would be informed of potential commercial sales of firearms under USML category I when they were valued at just $1 million, as opposed to $14 million for other major weapons sales.

During a Sept. 26 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, then-ranking member Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) pointed to forestalling small arms sales to Turkey and the Philippines as recent examples of Congress’ needed role. In 2017, the administration notified Congress of more than $660 million of proposed firearms sales regulated under the USML, according to the Security Assistance Monitor.

Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.)No similar statutory requirement of congressional notification exists for most arms sales under the CCL, meaning Congress would lose its oversight role on these weapons. It could take steps to require that notification continues. In response to the new measures, Cardin said May 15

For years, I advised both the Obama and Trump Administrations against this type of transfer. Weakened Congressional oversight of international small arms and munitions sales is extremely hazardous to global security.  Small arms and light weapons are among the most lethal weapons that we and other countries export because these are the weapons that are most likely to be used to commit atrocities and suppress human rights, either by individuals, non-state groups, or governmental security and para-military forces.

While Congress does not have control over the president’s conventional arms transfer policy, it can mandate the types of transparency recommended above, including an expansion on pre-delivery notifications. It could also pass legislation that retains the classification of firearms as military weapons and placement on the USML.

The Administration’s Faulty “Economic Security” Excuse

According to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United States remains the leading and expanding provider of major conventional weapons into a growing international arms market. Russia, long the number two arms exporter, is in decline as Washington accounts for more than one-third of all major weapons deliveries.

It begs credulity to argue that the United States needs a special push in order to compete in the international arms market. Linkages of U.S. jobs to international arms sales are also overblown as arms deals frequently come with co-production agreements or other incentives that support jobs abroad rather than at home.

At a more fundamental level, U.S. arms are not like any other commodity and should not be treated as such. These are first and foremost killing machines. The over-emphasis on economic security threatens to jeopardize higher priorities, including peace and security concerns. If more weapons flow to countries with poor human rights records, norms around responsible weapons use and transfer will be harder to build and uphold.

Regarding firearms, these weapons are controlled because a significant amount of violence that occurs, including against U.S. military and law enforcement personnel, is inflicted by small arms. Research indicates that the types of weapons being transferred to Commerce control—AR-15s and AK-47 style assault rifles and their ammunition—are “weapons of choice” of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Many can also be easily converted to fully automatic weapons, which will remain under USML control. U.S. military members often operate their fully-automatic-capable weapons in a semi-automatic or less-than-automatic mode.

The transfer of firearms export control to the Department of Commerce will also likely remove a number of brokering registration requirements, may open up license exemptions that facilitate weapons ending up in the wrong hands, and limit legal or investigative actions to stop such results.

Claiming that these weapons do not have military utility because they may be commercially available, are somehow less dangerous,or do not merit stronger international control, is wrong.

In the end, these policies continue the wrong-minded approach of the Trump administration to treat weapons as any other trade commodity, threatening to undermine long-term global security and true U.S. national security interests.—JEFF ABRAMSON, nonresident senior fellow

Posted: June 7, 2018

Trump's Threat To Violate The Iran Nuclear Deal And How To Respond

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Volume 10, Issue 5, April 30, 2018

President Donald Trump’s unrealistic demands that Congress and Washington’s European partners “fix” the effective 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran is setting the United States up to violate the deal, jeopardize its future, and undermine U.S. credibility and leverage in the region.

Despite the success of the nuclear deal in verifiably blocking Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear bomb, Trump has threatened not to renew U.S. sanctions waivers May 12, as required by the nuclear deal, if the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) and Washington do not conclude a supplemental agreement designed to address what he terms are “flaws” in the accord.

Although E3 and U.S. negotiators have been meeting since Trump issued his ultimatum in January, it looks increasingly likely that Trump will choose not to renew sanctions waivers May 12, putting the United States in violation of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

While there has been progress in areas outside of the nuclear deal that Trump wants to address, such as on ballistic missiles, his demand that an agreement changing the so-called "sunsets"—those provisions of the deal that expire over time—has proven contentious and may prevent the E3 and the United States from finalizing an arrangement. Trump’s claim—that the deal paves the way to an Iranian nuclear weapon in 10 years—is based on a flawed analysis that discounts the value that the permanent monitoring mechanisms and prohibitions put in place by the deal have as a bulwark against nuclear weapons development.

Trump also disregards the fact that his solution, making permanent some of the limitations that expire in 10-25 years under the threat to reimposing sanctions, would violate the accord. Congress and the E3 have rightly resisted agreeing to make demands that would abrogate, or otherwise recast, the terms of the JCPOA. These fundamental differences make an arrangement between the E3 and the United States that addresses Trump’s areas of concerns without violating the agreement difficult to negotiate.

Additionally, given Trump’s record of hostility toward the accord, his campaign pledge to tear up the deal, and his unpredictability, there is no guarantee that even if an agreement on a supplemental arrangement is reached, Trump will accept it or abide by it.

After meeting with Trump and floating the idea of a new agreement that keeps the 2015 nuclear deal in place and, in separate arrangements, addresses regional issues, ballistic missiles, and options for how to address Iran’s nuclear program after the deal expires, French President Emmanuel Macron predicted April 26 that Trump “will get rid of this deal on his own, for domestic reasons.”

While it behooves the E3 to continue pursuing negotiations with the Trump administration on an arrangement that satisfies Trump without violating the deal, the E3, Russia, China, Iran, and the U.S. Congress should now prepare to pursue “plan B”–implementation of the JCPOA without the United States. That must include denouncing Trump’s failure to renew sanctions for what is a clear violation of the deal —and taking steps to sustain the nuclear accord.

For as EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stated in October, the nuclear agreement is multilateral and it is “not up to a single country to terminate it.”

A Clear Violation of the Deal

Reimposing sanctions is a twofold abrogation of U.S. commitments under the JCPOA and it is critical that members of Congress and Washington’s P5+1 partners recognize it as such. Not only did the United States commit not to reimpose sanctions, Washington also committed not to interfere with the full realization of sanctions relief.

To the first point, Paragraph 26 of the JCPOA clearly states that the United States “acting consistent with the respective roles of the president and Congress, will refrain from reintroducing or reimposing the sanction specified in Annex II that it has ceased applying under this JCPOA.”

Reimposing sanctions lifted by the deal, particularly when even top U.S. officials and critics of the deal admit that Iran is in compliance with its commitments, clearly abrogates U.S. commitments under this paragraph.

Additionally, the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, given the extraterritorial nature of the measures, will interfere with foreign companies and banks conducting legitimate business with Iran that is permitted by the JCPOA.That would directly inhibit Iran from realizing the benefits of sanctions relief.

For instance, the United States also committed in Paragraph 26 to “make best efforts in good faith… to prevent interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting.” In paragraph 28, the United States committed to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.”

Even if the administration claims that it is not implementing the sanctions and therefore not violating the deal, failing to renew the waivers will make certain transactions with Iran illegal. Additionally, entities are not going to wait for the Trump administration to start implementing the measures to take actions to comply with the restrictions and avoid being penalized by the United States. The risk of sanctions penalties alone will result in a certain amount of self-enforcement, particularly for the sanctions measures that are due to be renewed May 12.

The Impact of Reimposing Oil Measures

The sanctions that will be reimposed May 12 if Trump does not renew waivers come from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012. The sanctions in the NDAA require states purchasing oil from Iran to make significant reductions in imports every 180 days or risk being sanctioned. While “significant reduction” was not defined in the legislation and it is unclear what standard the Trump administration will use, it was understood by the Obama administration to mean an 18 percent decrease in the total price paid for oil purchases every 180 days. If the sanctions are reimposed, compliance would be assessed Nov. 8, 2018. Failure to meet the “significant reduction” standard would result in sanctions on the foreign banks that process the transactions.

Key U.S. allies will be affected if this measure is snapped back. Right now the top five purchasers of Iranian oil include China, Japan, South Korea, India, and the European Union. Some of these states have already begun reducing purchases of Iranian oil in anticipation of the reimposition. South Korea’s purchases of Iranian oil products were down 40 percent in March 2018, when compared to prior year, although that is partially due to a decrease in the supply of certain oil products.

Reimposing these measures will also have a negative impact on support in Iran to maintain the deal, given the central role that oil sales play in Iran’s economy. The increase in oil sales after the JCPOA was implemented constitutes a significant portion of the sanctions relief Iran has experienced under the JCPOA.

In addition to higher sales since the agreement was implemented in 2016, Iran’s production of oil has also rebounded to 4 million barrels per day, up from the approximately 2.6 million barrels per day during the period from 2012-2016 when the EU oil embargo and the U.S. sanctions from the 2012 NDAA were in place. Crude oil sales are up from 1.1 million barrels per day during the negotiations from 2013-2015, when further reductions were capped, to about 2.5 million barrels per day.

Options for Congress

If Trump fails to renew the sanctions waivers, it is critical that members of Congress immediately denounce his action as a clear violation of the nuclear deal and call upon Washington’s partners in the agreement to sustain the accord.

Failure to call out Trump for violating the deal could be interpreted as an implicit endorsement of his approach and, more broadly, a rejection of multilateral efforts to address issues of proliferation concern. For this reason, it is also critical that members of Congress call on the remaining P5+1 to continue to implement the nuclear deal with Iran.

At a time when the overarching nonproliferation and disarmament architecture is under considerable stress, the nuclear deal with Iran was widely viewed in the international community as a nonproliferation success that averted a nuclear crisis and brought Iran back into compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Now, with the deal under threat from Trump, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, opened the door to Iranian withdraw from the NPT in response to a U.S. violation of the JCPOA, an action which would have grave consequences for the treaty and remove the binding legal prohibition on developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. Such an action would not only undermine international security, but it would severely undermine Iran’s own security and standing.

Demonstrating that Trump’s extreme view is outside of the mainstream and the deal still has support from policymakers in the United States may help persuade Tehran from making such a drastic move in response to the U.S. violation.

Members of Congress would also be right to point out that Trump will be responsible for the consequences if the U.S. violation ultimately causes the deal to collapse and the damage that would be done to U.S. credibility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported Iran’s compliance with the accord in 10 consecutive reports and Trump’s own Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a critic of the Iran deal, testified to Congress that there is no evidence of Iranian noncompliance with the accord, there is no legitimate reason for Trump to violate the agreement. Given Iran’s full implementation of the JCPOA, a decision by Trump to violate the accord and risk the future of the nuclear deal should be denounced by responsible members of Congress.

EU Measures to Sustain the Deal

Washington’s P5+1 partners, particularly the EU, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, have committed to the continued implementation of the JCPOA, irrespective of U.S. actions. To sustain the deal, however, the E3 and the EU must do more than just denounce U.S. actions as a violation and detrimental to the future of the nuclear deal.

The EU can, and should, take actions to block the application of U.S. secondary sanctions and seek to assure Iran that the rest of the P5+1 remain committed to Iran realizing sanctions relief under the deal.

The EU has experience responding to U.S. extraterritorial sanctions. In the 1990s, the EU issued blocking regulation to protect its banks and businesses from U.S. sanctions targeting Cuba by instructing the entities not to comply with U.S. sanctions. In that case, the EU had an assurance from the United States that Washington would not target EU businesses for violating the sanctions.

While a handshake agreement that the United States will not seek to penalize EU businesses in the Iran case is highly unlikely, the EU should still pursue the blocking regulation. The blocking regulation probably will not provide enough guarantee that banks and businesses will be shielded from U.S. sanctions that business with Iran will continue–the penalty of being cut off from the U.S. financial system is likely too high a risk—but it will send an important political signal to Iran that the EU supports the deal. Equally important, it sends a message to the United States the decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran is unacceptable and the EU will not be pressured into abiding by U.S. measures.

The EU could also consider setting up channels to facilitate business transactions with Iran that do not rely on the U.S. dollar. Isolating such transactions from the U.S. financial system could provide an avenue for doing business with Iran and demonstrate to Tehran that the EU is still serious about implementing the deal.

These actions will be critical to try and continue sanctions relief. Failure to do so might push Iran to resume troublesome nuclear activities halted by the JCPOA, such as enrichment to 20-percent uranium-235, an activity currently prohibited by the deal until 2031.

As Zarif told CBS April 22, if “benefits of the deal for Iran start to diminish, then there is no reason for Iran to remain in the deal.”

The EU also has other channels for supporting the JCPOA. One often overlooked benefit of the nuclear deal is the technical cooperation for nuclear research and assistance in advancing nuclear safety and security. The EU and Iran have conducted several meetings to date and the results over some clear benefits to Iran. Pledging to continue to help Iran realize the full benefit of Annex III of the JCPOA is another way the EU can show its commitment to the deal.

Russia and China have also indicated support for sustaining the JCPOA and denounced Trump’s threats to the deal. At a meeting on the NPT in Geneva, Russia and China circulated a statement affirming their "unwavering support for the comprehensive and effective implementation" of the deal and invited all states present to sign on to the agreement. The Russian envoy to the meeting called upon states “not to remain silent in hopes that this situation will somehow blow over by itself but rather to take serious steps to preserve the JCPOA.”

Washington’s P5+1 partners should also use the dispute resolution mechanism set up by the JCPOA to present a united front in the face of the U.S. violation or support Iran if Tehran chooses this path. While the dispute resolution might push the E3 and the EU into the unattractive position of siding with Russia and China against the United States, it would send a strong signal to the Trump administration that the United States is isolated in its rejection of the deal.

Beyond the P5+1

The world is looking to the E3 to save the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran–but it is not just the responsibility of the other P5+1 states to avert the nonproliferation crisis that would follow if Trump reimposes sanctions. States beyond the P5+1 have an obligation to contribute to efforts to sustain the deal and uphold nonproliferation norms.

The UN Security Council endorsed the JCPOA in a 2015 resolution that “calls upon all Member States” to “take such actions as may be appropriate to support the implementation of the JCPOA” and “refraining from actions that undermine the implementation of commitments” under the deal. The preamble of the Resolution 2231 also emphasizes the importance of a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue “would benefit nuclear-nonproliferation.” The Security Council resolution statements may be nonbinding, but they underscore the global importance of the deal for nonproliferation and the responsibility that all UN member states have toward supporting the agreement.

States like South Korea, Japan, and India also have a stake in the economic consequences of any U.S. decision to violate the deal and reimpose sanctions. Not only would they be subject to restrictions on oil purchases from Iran, but banks and entities in these countries engaged in legitimate trade with Iran risk penalties if they do not cut ties with Tehran.

Like the EU, these states may think about what measures they can take to shield businesses and entities from U.S. sanctions. Pursuing strategies similar to the EU blocking regulation would send a strong signal of support for the Iran deal and demonstrate to Washington that there are consequences for blatantly disregarding multilateral accords.

Conclusion

If Trump fails to renew sanctions waivers May 12 it will be a clear violation of the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran. Withholding waivers would be irresponsible, dangerous, and risk a nuclear agreement that is verifiably restricting Iran’s nuclear activities. Trump’s action may not cause the deal collapse, but it certainly jeopardizes the future of the JCPOA and isolates the United States from key allies.

It is critical that members of Congress, Washington P5+1 partners, and the broader international community denounce Trump for violating the agreement if he fails to renew the sanctions waivers. Collapse of the agreement would have international consequences. Defending the JCPOA must be a global responsibility.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

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Posted: April 30, 2018

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