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Issue Briefs

Nuclear Weapons: Less Is More

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In the coming weeks, following a long bipartisan tradition, President Barack Obama is expected to take a step away from the nuclear brink by proposing further reductions in U.S. and Russian arsenals. This would be a welcome step toward making the United States safer while redirecting defense dollars to higher priority needs.

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Volume 3, Issue 10, July 9, 2012

In the coming weeks, following a long bipartisan tradition, President Barack Obama is expected to take a step away from the nuclear brink by proposing further reductions in U.S. and Russian arsenals. This would be a welcome step toward making the United States safer while redirecting defense dollars to higher priority needs.

It was President Ronald Reagan who, in 1986, shifted U.S. policy away from ever-higher nuclear stockpiles--which peaked at about 30,000 nuclear warheads--and started down the path of reductions that continues today. U.S. and Russian arsenals have now been reduced by more than two-thirds, and the world is safer for it.

U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all contributed to reducing the nuclear threat. Within weeks, President Obama is expected to announce revisions to outdated U.S. nuclear deterrence requirements that would allow another round of U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpile reductions beyond those mandated by the 2010 New START treaty.

As President Obama said in March, "we have more nuclear weapons than we need. I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat, and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal."

Military, Bipartisan Support

President Obama's efforts to reduce excess nuclear weapons stockpiles have strong military and bipartisan support. In April, Gen. James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commander of U.S. nuclear forces under President George W. Bush, called for reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals by 80 percent from current levels. He wrote, along with other authors including former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), that the current U.S. and Russian arsenals "vastly exceed what is needed to satisfy reasonable requirements of deterrence."

In March 2011, former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) wrote that, "Deeper nuclear reductions... should remain a priority," and that the United States and Russia, which led the buildup for decades, "must continue to lead the build-down."

Senator Carl Levin  (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in June: "I can't see any reason for having as large an inventory as we are allowed to have under New START, in terms of real threat, potential threat." He added, "The more weapons that exist out there, the less secure we are, rather than the more secure we are."

Today, it is clear that the United States can maintain a credible deterrent at lower levels of nuclear weapons than the 1,550 deployed strategic warheads allowed by New START. There is no reasonable justification today for such high numbers.

Decisions Expected Soon

President Obama and his National Security Staff are now considering options that could lead to major changes in the purpose, size and structure of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The current process--known as the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) Implementation Study--will also establish the basis for further nuclear arms reduction talks with Russia beyond New START.

The Obama administration outlined its approach to U.S. nuclear policy in its April 2010 NPR, which states that, "the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear forces is to deter nuclear attacks against the U.S. and our allies and partners." This is a major shift away from the Cold War-era strategy of "prevailing " in a nuclear war and using nuclear weapons to counter conventional military threats.

By signaling that the United States is prepared to accelerate reductions and go below New START ceilings, Washington could induce Moscow, which is already below New START levels, to rethink its plans to build up its forces, including a new long-range missile with multiple warheads. It could also eventually open the way for discussions with other nuclear-armed states to limit their stockpiles.

Further nuclear reductions would also help trim the high cost of maintaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear forces, which is estimated to cost $31 billion annually.

Nuclear Weapons Strategy, Deterrence, and "Overkill"

Unlike earlier post-Cold War reviews in 1994 and 2001, Obama's 2010 NPR suggests that deploying thousands of strategic nuclear weapons to perform a wide range of missions, including defending U.S. forces or allies against conventional and chemical attacks, is neither appropriate nor necessary for security and stability in the 21st century.

To truly put an end to outdated Cold War thinking, President Obama should:

  • Eliminate entire target categories from the current nuclear war plan, which now include a wide range of military forces, nuclear weapons infrastructure, and military and national leadership targets, and war-supporting infrastructure, mainly in Russia. These targeting assumptions were developed decades ago to deplete war-fighting assets rather than ensure there is a sufficient retaliatory capability to deter nuclear attack in the first place.
  • Direct war planners to discard old assumptions for how much damage must be accomplished to ensure that a target is destroyed. Current plans require hitting many targets with more than one nuclear weapon. To deter a nuclear attack, adversaries need only realize the United States is capable of reducing key targets to radioactive rubble rather than a fine dust.
  • Eliminate the practice of keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch within minutes. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said the practice is "outdated" and "increases the risk of catastrophic accident or miscalculation." A reliable and credible U.S. nuclear deterrent does not require the ability to retaliate immediately if U.S. nuclear forces and command and control systems can survive an attack--and they can.

These and other changes would significantly reduce the number of targets and the number of nuclear weapons and delivery systems "required" to hit them.

Shifting to a more realistic, "nuclear deterrence only" strategy would allow for steep reductions in the number of strategic U.S. nuclear warheads (to 1,000 or fewer deployed and nondeployed) and the number of delivery vehicles (to 500 or less).

By the Numbers

During George H. W. Bush's four years in office, the total U.S. arsenal shrunk from about 22,200 weapons to 13,700--a 38 percent cut. In George W. Bush's eight years, the total U.S. arsenal dropped from about 10,500 weapons to just over 5,000--about 50 percent fewer.

Still, the U.S. and Russian arsenals remain by far the largest of any of the world's nuclear-armed states. Together the U.S. and Russia possess approximately 90% of all nuclear weapons.

Today, the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles (not including warheads awaiting dismantlement) each exceed 5,000 nuclear bombs, any one of which could devastate Washington or Moscow.

As of March 1, 2012, the United States deployed some 1,737 strategic nuclear warheads and has approximately 500 operational tactical nuclear bombs, with an estimated 2,700 nondeployed warheads (i.e. warheads in reserve), putting the total number of active U.S. nuclear weapons at about 5,000.

Russia deploys some 1,492 strategic nuclear warheads, has an estimated 2,000 operational tactical nuclear bombs, and 2,000 in storage, for about 5,500 total.

Under New START each country is still allowed to deploy as many as 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons. Under current plans, thousands of additional warheads would be held in reserve.

Other than Russia, the only U.S. potential adversary with a significant nuclear arsenal is China, but Washington's arsenal of long-range strategic nuclear weapons outnumbers Beijing's by 30 to 1.

The Cost of Maintaining Nuclear Forces

Another factor the President and the Congress much consider is the significant cost of maintaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear forces.

According to a new study by the Stimson Center, U.S. spending on nuclear weapons is approximately $31 billion per year and the projected costs for maintaining and modernizing the current U.S. nuclear force will amount to hundreds of billions in the coming decade.

During the 2003 Senate hearings on the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell noted: "We have every incentive to reduce the number [of nuclear weapons]. These are expensive. They take away from soldier pay. They take away from [operation and maintenance] investments. They take away from lots of things. There is no incentive to keep more than you believe you need for the security of the Nation."

Within the next couple of years, key decisions must be made regarding costly, long-term strategic submarine and bomber modernization programs.

The Navy is seeking 12 new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to carry more than 1,000 nuclear warheads into the 2070s, at a total lifecycle cost of almost $350 billion. The Air Force wants a new, nuclear-armed strategic bomber that would cost at least $68 billion, as well as a new fleet of land-based ballistic missiles that would cost billions more.

In July 2011, then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Cartwright explained that "... we have to recapitalize all three legs [of the nuclear triad], and we don't have the money to do it."

In January 2012, the Pentagon said it would delay procurement of the proposed Ohio-class replacement nuclear-armed submarine by two years, which could save some $6-7 billion in the next ten years. However, without a reduction in the size of the force, the overall cost of the program will remain the same, and take resources away from the Navy's other priority shipbuilding projects.

Significant cost reductions can only be achieved if Obama shifts U.S. nuclear policy and eliminates the current "requirements" for Cold War-sized nuclear forces. This would enable President Obama and the Congress to:

  • Reduce the total number of new strategic subs it plans to buy in the coming years. By delaying procurement of new replacement subs by two years as now planned, and by reducing the current Trident nuclear-armed sub fleet from 14 to eight or fewer boats, and building no more than eight new nuclear-armed subs, the United States could save roughly $18 billion over 10 years, and $122 billion over the 50-year lifespan of the program.
  • Delay spending on a new fleet of nuclear-capable strategic bombers. Given the Pentagon's plan to retain 60 of its existing nuclear-capable, long-range B-2 and B-52 bombers into the 2040s there is no rush to replace this capability. Delaying work on the new bomber program would save $18 billion over the next decade, according to the Pentagon.
  • Reduce the land-based strategic missile force from 420 to 300 by cutting one squadron at each of the three Air Force bases where such missiles are deployed and foregoing a follow-on missile program to replace the existing force, which can be maintained for years to come.

There is bipartisan support for such steps. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) proposed a plan in July 2011 outlining similar cuts to the nuclear force that he said would save $79 billion over the next ten years.

Fresh thinking is in order. The United States does not need and cannot afford oversized strategic nuclear forces. Programs that address low-priority threats can be scaled back to make room for more pressing national priorities and reduce the deficit.

By discarding outdated nuclear war plans, President Obama can open the way for lower U.S.-Russian nuclear force levels, enhance the prospects for mutual, verifiable reductions involving the world's other nuclear-armed states, and reduce the danger that nuclear weapons will be used ever again.--Daryl G. Kimball and Tom Z. Collina

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

Posted: July 9, 2012

Arms Trade Treaty Negotiations Begin July 2

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Volume 3, Issue 9, June 30, 2012

Thousands of civilians around the globe are slaughtered each year by weapons that are sold, transferred by governments or diverted to unscrupulous regimes, criminals, illegal militias, and terrorist groups.

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Volume 3, Issue 9, June 30, 2012

Thousands of civilians around the globe are slaughtered each year by weapons that are sold, transferred by governments or diverted to unscrupulous regimes, criminals, illegal militias, and terrorist groups.

In response to this global problem, diplomats from the United States and over 100 other countries will meet at the United Nations in New York for four weeks beginning on Monday July 2 to try to hammer out a legally-binding, global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The goal is to establish common standards for the import, export, and transfer of conventional arms and ammunition.

The Arms Trade Treaty won't stop all illicit arms transfers, but it has the potential to significantly and positively change behavior by requiring states to put in place basic regulations and follow common sense criteria that reduce irresponsible international arms transfers and and hold arms suppliers more accountable for their actions.

The Unregulated Global Trade In Arms

The conflict in Syria--like recent wars in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Congo--underscores the urgent necessity of common-sense rules to prevent the international transfer of weapons when it is determined there is a substantial risk of human rights abuses or if the weapons are going to states under arms embargoes.

An unregulated arms trade increases the availability of weapons in conflict zones. Arms brokers can exploit these conditions to sell weapons to criminals and insurgents, including those fighting U.S. troops.

According to a recent report published by Oxfam, more than $2.2 billion worth of arms and ammunition has been imported since 2000 by countries operating under arms embargoes. The figures show the extent to which states have been flagrantly flouting the 26 UN, regional, or multilateral arms embargoes in force during this period.

While the United States and a few other countries have relatively tough regulations governing the trade of weapons, many countries have weak or ineffective regulations, if they have any at all. Making matters worse, only 52 of the world's 192 governments have laws regulating arms brokers; less than half of these have criminal or monetary penalties associated with illegal brokering.

This patchwork of national laws and the absence of clear international standards allows irresponsible arms brokers to operate in the black holes of the international regulatory system and circumvent the jurisdiction of countries like the United States.

Amazingly, there are more international laws on the trade of bananas than conventional weapons, like AK-47s.

An Historic Opportunity

Human rights, development, security, and religious organizations across the globe are working together to press key governments--particularly the United States--to act and to act responsibly on the ATT during the July 2-27 talks.

To help prevent the next humanitarian disaster fueled by the illicit arms trade, they are pressing President Obama and other global leaders should spare no effort to seize the historic opportunity to negotiate a robust, bulletproof ATT.

In a letter to President Obama delivered last month, the organizations call on the U.S. government to secure a treaty "with the highest possible standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms."

The letter was endorsed by leaders representing 51 human rights, development, religious, and security organizations, including: Amnesty International USA; Arms Control Association; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Human Rights Watch; NAACP; Oxfam America; National Association of Evangelicals; and others.

ATT campaigners will soon deliver a global petition at the UN calling on states to negotiate an effective global Arms Trade Treaty.

Key Issues

To ensure an effective treaty, the United States and other key states must reach agreement on:

  • Strong Criteria Explicitly Linked to Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law--The ATT must prevent states from transferring conventional arms in contravention of UN arms embargoes and when it is determined there is a substantial risk the items will be used for serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law.
  • Comprehensive Coverage--The ATT must apply to the broadest range of conventional arms possible--from military aircraft to small arms--as well as all types of international trade, transfers, and transactions in conventional weaponry. To help prevent "merchants of death" like the notorious Vicktor Bout, the ATT should also specifically require that national laws regulate the activities of international arms brokers and other intermediaries.
  • Include Ammunition in the Scope of the Treaty--The world is already full of guns. It is the constant flows of ammunition that feeds and prolongs conflicts and armed violence. The exclusion of ammunition from the scope of the treaty would greatly reduce its ability to achieve many of its most important goals.

U.S. officials have said the administration supports the inclusion of small arms and light weapons in the treaty. On ammunition, Ann Ganzer, director of the Office of Conventional Arms Threat Reduction at the Department of State said: "We do not have a problem with the regulation of ammunition. The United States licenses the manufacturing, import, and export of ammunition. The issue comes in with some of the other requirements of the treaty--reporting requirements."

Myths and Realities

Unfortunately, here in the United States, the value of an ATT has been obscured by the misleading lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association and its proxies in Congress who allege that the still-to-be-negotiated treaty will clash with legal firearms possession in the United States. That is not the case.

Second Amendment Nonsense: Some of these concerns are reflected in 2010 letters circulated by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and signed by 55 other senators. Although both letters recognize the security and humanitarian benefits of the treaty, the Moran letter expresses concern that the ATT might monitor certain internal arms transfers.

Such measures are undeniably outside the scope of the treaty and the Obama administration has repeatedly stated that it opposes any infringement on national arms transfer and ownership.

Allegations that an ATT would infringe on the right of U.S. citizens to legally possess firearms amount to irresponsible demagoguery.

As Galen Carey, Director of Government Relations for the National Association for Evangelicals puts it: "Some critics claim--wrongly, in my view--that an Arms Trade Treaty would threaten our second amendment rights.  In fact, the framework for the treaty negotiations specifically excludes any restrictions on domestic gun sales or ownership.  This issue is a red herring."

The 2009 UN General Assembly resolution establishing the ATT negotiation process explicitly acknowledges the exclusive right of states "to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections."

The Arms Trade Treaty will level the playing field by keeping unscrupulous operators in other countries from doing what our laws already prohibit.    

Advocates of legal civilian gun possession should recognize the value of an ATT in reducing the carnage created by illicit and irresponsible international arms transfers.

Small Arms and the ATT: A second concern expressed by Sen. Moran is the likely the inclusion of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition within the scope of the treaty. Moran claims this makes the treaty too "broad" and therefore unenforceable.

This argument ignores the fact that the U.S. government already controls the export and import of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition. It is in the interest of the United States to ensure that other states are required to follow similar practices. The Obama administration--and the vast majority of other states--are on record in support of including small arms and light weapons in the scope of the treaty.

Time to Come Together Around a Common Sense ATT

Congress should support the Obama administration's effort to secure an effective Arms Trade Treaty that raises the arms transfer standards of other states closer to those of the United States.

No one, except maybe illicit arms dealers and human rights abusers, should oppose common-sense international law regulating the arms trade.

Additional Resources

  • "If You Resist, We'll Shoot You," Amnesty International report on arms suppliers fueling killings and rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, June 12, 2012.

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

Posted: June 28, 2012

Don't Hold New START Hostage to Budget Battles

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Volume 3, Issue 8, May 16, 2012

This week, the House of Representatives will debate and vote on the annual defense authorization bill, which in its current form would hold up implementation of the 2010 New START Treaty unless Congress increases spending on nuclear weapons activities that the Pentagon did not request and does not want.

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Volume 3, Issue 8, May 16, 2012

This week, the House of Representatives will debate and vote on the annual defense authorization bill, which in its current form would hold up implementation of the 2010 New START Treaty unless Congress increases spending on nuclear weapons activities that the Pentagon did not request and does not want.

On May 9, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee pushed through an amendment by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) to the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would block funding for New START implementation unless higher spending targets for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) nuclear weapons production facilities set in 2010 are met in future years.

In response, the Obama administration issued a warning to Congress yesterday that the President may veto the final bill if these provisions survive, stating that sections 1053-1059 would "impinge on the President's ability to implement the New START Treaty and to set U.S. nuclear weapons policy."

Rep. Turner's partisan "hostage taking" ignores the fact that there is bi-partisan support for New START and bi-partisan agreement among congressional appropriators that additional nuclear weapon budget increases are unaffordable and unnecessary.

Rep. Turner also ignores the fact that twenty years after the Cold War the United States does not need as many nuclear weapons as we plan to maintain. Even after New START is implemented, the U.S. will have 1,550 nuclear warheads deployed on long-range missiles, bombers and submarines.

New START is Too Important for Partisan Games

If the House NDAA provisions to tie up New START were to become law, Russia would likely halt its nuclear reductions as well, risking the treaty's collapse. This would allow Moscow to rebuild its nuclear forces above the treaty ceiling of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and increase the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States.

Moreover, the inspection system established under the treaty could collapse, depriving the U.S. of crucial data exchanges and on-site inspections of Russian forces, undermining transparency and strategic stability.

Rep. Turner and his allies complain that the administration's $7.6 billion request for NNSA weapons activities for  FY2013 is 4 percent lower than projected in 2010, during the New START debate in the Senate.

But they ignore the reality that the FY2013 request is actually 5 percent higher than the 2012 enacted budget. Rather than a breach of faith, this year's NNSA request represents a healthy increase in the face of fiscal pressures imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

No Need to Rush New Plutonium Lab

The main issue of contention is a plutonium laboratory, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Facility, to be built at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, which the administration deferred for at least five years.

However, far from being upset that the administration was not seeking CMRR funds this year, the House Appropriations Committee complained that the facility should have been shelved sooner.

"By not fully considering all available options, millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent for work which will not be needed until a much later date," the Republican-led appropriations committee wrote about CMRR on April 24.

Even so, Rep. Turner and company warn that without CMRR, the U.S. does not have the capability to make 50 to 80 newly produced plutonium cores or "pits" annually for refurbished warheads.

Their bill would authorize $100 million more for the facility next year, call on DoD to cover future costs and stipulate that it is built no later than 2024 (sections 2804-2805).

The reality, however, is that there is no identified need to produce that many plutonium pits. NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino testified to Congress on April 17 that the U.S. does not need CMRR to maintain an effective stockpile. "That's great news for the country, because we're not forced into making rash decisions on significant investments in a very short period of time. So we have time to evaluate this area," D'Agostino said.

With cost estimates for CMRR skyrocketing from $600 million to $6 billion, the delay is a reasonable response to tight budgets given that other NNSA facilities have "inherent capacity" to support ongoing and future plutonium activities, according to NNSA. CMRR deferral will not compromise NNSA's ability to maintain the nuclear stockpile.

East Coast Missile Interceptor Site is Premature

The House bill also includes a $460 million increase for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program, including $100 million to study a strategic ballistic missile interceptor site on the East Coast (section 223). This would be in addition to the two sites already built in California and Alaska at a combined cost of $30 billion. The Congressional Budget Office said this new project would cost $3.6 billion over five years, which is likely a conservative estimate.

The Pentagon did not request funding for an East Coast site and does not want it. "In my military judgment, the program of record for ballistic missile defense for the homeland, as we've submitted it, is adequate and sufficient to the task," Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news briefing last Thursday. "So I don't see a need beyond what we've submitted in the last budget."

The White House said the proposal is "premature because the Administration has not identified a requirement for a third U.S.-based missile defense site, nor assessed the feasibility or cost in a cost-constrained environment."

Moreover, the Obama administration is already building an interceptor system in Europe, known as the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA), to handle potential attacks from Iran, which has yet to deploy long-range missiles that could reach the United States.

The performance of the West Coast GMD system should give pause before deploying a similar one on the East Coast. The GMD system has not had a successful intercept test against since 2008, with two failures in 2010.

According to a recent National Research Council report, which has been misleadingly referenced in support of a near-term East Coast site, the GMD system "has serious shortcomings, and provides at best a limited, initial defense against a relatively primitive threat." Moreover, the GMD system has not been proven effective against a realistic target including decoys.

Building a costly third site for a GMD system that is ineffective and designed to counter a long-range missile threat that may not materialize for many years is not in the best interests of U.S. national security.

Time to Stop Playing Games

It is time to stop playing political games with U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Continued, verified reductions of excessive U.S. and Russian arsenals will enhance U.S. security by reducing the nuclear threat.

As the Pentagon said in January, "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory, as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

Today, Gen. James E. Cartwright, the retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commander of U.S. nuclear forces in the George W. Bush administration, said that U.S. deterrence requirements could be achieved with a total arsenal of 900 strategic nuclear warheads, with only half of them deployed.

A smaller nuclear force would also save money.

The major threats the U.S. faces today, such as proliferation, terrorism or cyber attacks, cannot be addressed by nuclear arms. Rather than demanding American taxpayers cough up yet more money for a new nuclear facility that we don't need, Congress needs to focus on more cost-effective solutions that address the nation's future defense needs.--Daryl G. Kimball and Tom Z. Collina

Note: An earlier version of essay appeared in the May 12, 012 issue of Defense News.

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

Posted: May 16, 2012

More Money for Yesterday's Weapons?

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Volume 3, Issue 7, May 8, 2012

Tomorrow, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to approve its version of the fiscal year (FY) 2013 defense authorization bill. Committee chair Buck McKeon (R-Cal.) and strategic forces chair Michael Turner (R-Ohio) are expected to add $3.7 billion more than the Defense Department requested. This includes hundreds of millions of dollars for nuclear weapons and missile defense programs that the military does not want and the nation cannot afford.

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Volume 3, Issue 7, May 8, 2012

Tomorrow, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to approve its version of the fiscal year (FY) 2013 defense authorization bill. Committee chair Buck McKeon (R-Cal.) and strategic forces chair Michael Turner (R-Ohio) are expected to add $3.7 billion more than the Defense Department requested. This includes hundreds of millions of dollars for nuclear weapons and missile defense programs that the military does not want and the nation cannot afford.

Meanwhile, in response to the bipartisan Budget Control Act, the Pentagon is trying to reduce spending growth by $487 billion over the next decade and faces an additional cut of $500 billion unless the sequestration time bomb can be defused by the end of the year.

Reps. Turner and McKeon's proposals to spend more on unneeded projects will eventually take limited resources away from defense programs the nation needs to address real 21st century security threats.

We Don't Need to Rush to Build an Expensive New Plutonium Lab

Rep. McKeon's draft defense authorization bill released on Monday includes $100 million for a new plutonium laboratory, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Facility, to be built at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico.

There is already bipartisan agreement to delay CMRR. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) did not request any funds for CMRR and deferred construction for at least five years. The Pentagon does not support the facility, nor does the GOP-led House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee.

In fact, the Appropriations Subcommittee complained that the facility should have been shelved sooner. "By not fully considering all available options, millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent for work which will not be needed until a much later date," the subcommittee wrote about CMRR on April 24.

NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino testified in April that the United States does not currently need CMRR to maintain an effective stockpile. "That's great news for the country because we're not forced into making rash decisions on significant investments in a very short period of time. So we have time to evaluate this area," he said.

With cost estimates for CMRR skyrocketing from $600 million to $6 billion, the delay is a reasonable response to tight budgets given that other NNSA facilities have "inherent capacity" to support ongoing and future plutonium activities, according to NNSA.

The FY2013 NNSA budget request represents a healthy 5% increase despite fiscal pressures imposed by the Budget Control Act and the House Appropriations Committee's decision last year to cut the program. This year, the committee did not add additional funds above the administration's $7.6 billion request.

Further increases in the NNSA budget for the CMRR lab are out of step and are not necessary to maintain the existing U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

But We Do Need New START

Compounding the misguided effort to restore CMRR funding, Rep. Turner is expected to try to block implementation of the 2010 New START Treaty unless the funding is provided.

Blocking U.S. implementation of New START, as Rep. Turner's bill  H.R. 4178 threatens to do, would likely result in Russia doing the same. The treaty would unravel, allowing Moscow to rebuild its forces above treaty ceilings and increase the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States. Moreover, the inspection system established under the treaty could collapse, depriving the United States of crucial data exchanges and on-site inspections of Russian forces that the U.S. intelligence community depends on for its assessments.

Such outcomes are clearly not in the U.S. national security interest. Yet Rep. Turner would put New START at risk--ignoring the will of the 71 senators who voted for it--to extort additional spending on nuclear weapons that is unsustainable and unnecessary, and that the Pentagon and key members of his own party do not support.

New START remains in the U.S. national interest because the treaty reduces the threat to the United States from Russian nuclear forces, and the administration has managed to save money in FY2013 while still achieving its goal of modernizing the nuclear arsenal and production complex.

East Coast Strategic Missile Interceptor Site?

Rep. McKeon's bill includes a $460 million increase for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program, including $100 million to study a missile defense site on the East Coast. This would be in addition to the two sites already built in California and Alaska at a combined cost of $30 billion.

The Pentagon did not request this funding and does not want it. Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr., commander of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace and Defense Command, testified during a Senate hearing in March that, "today's threats do not require an East Coast missile field, and we do not have plans to do so."

Moreover, the Obama administration is already building an interceptor system in Europe, known as the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA), to handle attacks from Iran, which has yet to deploy long-range missiles that could reach the United States.

The performance of the West Coast GMD system should give us pause before deploying a similar one on the East Coast. The GMD system has not had a successful intercept test against a cooperative target since 2008, with two failures in 2010. According to a recent National Research Council report, the GMD system "has serious shortcomings, and provides at best a limited, initial defense against a relatively primitive threat." Moreover, the GMD system has not been tested against a realistic target including decoys.

Building a costly third site for a GMD system that is ineffective and designed to counter a long-range missile threat that may not materialize for many years is not in the best interests of U.S. national or economic security.

We Don't Need 12 New Strategic Nuclear Subs

Rep. McKeon's bill also includes an increase of up to $347 million for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine replacement program, known as the SSBNX. The Navy did not request this money, and instead wants to delay the program by two years.

By accelerating the SSBNX program, Rep. McKeon hopes to prevent the U.S. strategic submarine fleet from dropping from 12 to 10 operational subs around 2030, and the Seapower subcommittee would require the Navy to maintain a minimum of 12 subs. But in reality the United States has no need for 12 subs and could safely make do with eight--and would save at least $18 billion over ten years by doing so.

Just one U.S. Ohio-class submarine, currently armed with 96 nuclear warheads, could kill millions.

From a national security perspective, a shift to eight strategic submarines would provide a more than adequate nuclear deterrent. Under New START, the Pentagon plans to deploy approximately 1,000 nuclear warheads on strategic submarines. Eight fully armed Ohio-class or SSBNX submarines can meet this target. Therefore, a shift to eight operational submarines would not affect the Pentagon's planned warhead deployment levels.

This budget-saving approach takes advantage of the excess capacity that currently exists on each D-5 missile (which is designed to hold eight warheads but is currently loaded with four or five). Although each missile and submarine would carry more warheads under this plan, the submarines-unlike land-based missiles-would still be invulnerable to attack when deployed at sea.

An Office of Management and Budget (OMB) analysis in November 2011 reportedly recommended that the Navy should purchase only 10 submarines and increase the number of missile tubes from 16 to 20 on each boat. Congress has directed the Navy to prepare a report on more economical options for the new fleet, to be completed by mid-2012.

Time to Stop Playing Games

While the Defense Department is seeking reasonable ways to trim spending, Reps. McKeon and Turner are telling the military to spend millions on nuclear weapons and missile defense programs that the Pentagon does not want. This makes no sense, particularly when the Pentagon is trying to reduce spending by $487 billion over the next decade and sequestration looms. The days of ever-increasing defense budgets are over.

In particular, future nuclear force reductions cannot be held hostage to annual congressional debates about the defense budget. It remains in the U.S. national security interest to verifiably reduce excess Cold War U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals.

As the Pentagon's January 2012 strategy document Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense says: "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

The major threats the United States faces today, such as proliferation, terrorism or cyber attacks, cannot be addressed by nuclear arms. Rather than asking American taxpayers to cough up yet more money for yesterday's weapons, Congress needs to focus on more cost-effective solutions that address the nation's future defense needs.--Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

Posted: May 8, 2012

Holding New START Hostage

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Volume 3, Issue 6, April 20, 2012

In the next few weeks, the Republican leadership on the House Armed Services Committee is expected to try to block implementation of the New START Treaty unless the Obama administration agrees to further increase spending on the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure. This type of partisan "hostage taking" threatens to undermine U.S. national security, ignores budget reality, and defies common sense.

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Volume 3, Issue 6, April 20, 2012

In the next few weeks, the Republican leadership on the House Armed Services Committee is expected to try to block implementation of the New START Treaty unless the Obama administration agrees to further increase spending on the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure. This type of partisan "hostage taking" threatens to undermine U.S. national security, ignores budget reality, and defies common sense.

Blocking U.S. implementation of New START, as Strategic Forces Subcommittee chairman Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio)'s bill H.R. 4178 threatens to do, would likely result in Russia doing the same. The treaty would unravel, allowing Moscow to rebuild its forces above treaty levels and increase the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States. Moreover, the inspection system established under the treaty could collapse, depriving the United States of crucial data exchanges and on-site inspections of Russian forces.

Such outcomes are clearly not in the U.S. national security interest. Yet Rep. Turner would put New START at risk--ignoring the will of the 71 senators who voted for it--to extort additional spending on nuclear weapons that is unsustainable and unnecessary, and that key members of his own party do not support.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) added his voice to the debate with an April 17 letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee stating that "if modernization efforts to ensure the safety, security and reliability of a smaller stockpile are not sustained, then further reductions to the stockpile should not be considered" until New START expires in 2021. However, modernization efforts are being sustained, with increased spending in FY2013.

Both Sen. Lieberman's and Rep. Turner's proposals to hold New START and future arms reductions hostage are all pain, no gain.

Nuclear Weapons Funding is Sufficient

Critics often point out that the administration's FY2013 $7.6 billion request for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) weapons activities is 4% lower than projected in 2010, during the New START debate in the Senate. What they tend to ignore is that the FY2013 request is actually 5% higher than the 2012 enacted budget.

Rather than a breach of faith, as Rep. Turner sees it, the FY2013 NNSA request represents a healthy increase despite fiscal pressures imposed by the bipartisan 2011 Budget Control Act and the GOP-led House Appropriations Committee's failure to fully fund the program last year. In fact, the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee marked up its FY2013 budget this week and did not add additional funds above the administration's $7.6 billion request.

Given the new fiscal environment, congress cannot expect two-year-old budget projections to remain valid. As Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) put it in March, the New START debate took place "nine months before the Budget Control Act became law," and thus "falling 4 percent short of the [2010-derived] target is reasonable given the fiscal reality facing us today."

Bipartisan Agreement: We Don't Need CMRR Now

The administration's FY2013 NNSA weapons activities budget request contains no funding for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Facility, to be built for plutonium research at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, and deferred work for at least five years.

For FY2012, the House Appropriations Committee cut CMRR by $100 million, or 33 percent, indicating bipartisan concern about the need for CMRR.

As House Energy and Water Subcommittee Chair Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said last June:"Yes, 'Weapons Activities' is below the President's request, but this request included hundreds of millions of dollars for construction projects that are not ready to move forward, capabilities that are secondary to the primary mission of keeping our stockpile ready, and, yes, slush funds that the administration has historically used to address its needs...The recommendation before you eliminates these weaknesses and it is responsible."

For FY2013, the House Energy and Water Subcommittee has so far not provided any money for CMRR.

With total cost estimates for CMRR skyrocketing to $6 billion, the delay is a reasonable response to tight budgets given that other NNSA facilities have "inherent capacity" to support ongoing and future plutonium activities, according to NNSA. As a result, the CMRR deferral will not compromise NNSA's ability to maintain the nuclear stockpile.

When asked at a February hearing if the FY2013 budget request fully meets the requirements to maintain the nuclear stockpile, NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino said: "...it absolutely does, fully meets the requirements, and we'll be able to take care of the stockpile... So the stockpile is safe, secure, and reliable."

Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, testified before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee April 17, that "I wouldn't want to suggest that the [nuclear] force that's deployed today is not safe, secure and effective. It is. I believe it can achieve its deterrence responsibilities as we sit there today. In fact, I'm extremely confident in that."

Charles McMillan, director of Los Alamos lab where CMRR would be built, told congress April 18 that the decision to defer CMRR "leaves the United States with no known capability to make 50 to 80 newly-produced pits on the timescales planned for stockpile modernization."

The reality, however, is that there is no identified need to produce that many plutonium pits and the nation has time to evaluate its options.

D'Agostino testified April 17 that "We're not hampered by saying the nation has to have a capability right now to make 50 or 80 pits per year in order to take care of the stockpile. That's great news for the country because we're not forced into making rash decisions on significant investments in a very short period of time. So we have time to evaluate this area."

Assistant Defense Secretary for Global Strategic Affairs Madelyn Creedon testified April 17 that CMRR's planned production capacity would be revisited. She said, "what is the future pit requirement, how big CMRR has to be, how much plutonium it has to hold -- those are all decisions that may in fact change...when we once again resume consideration of the funding and the design of the CMRR."

New START Resolution of Approval Provides the Path Forward

In addition to being misguided, Rep. Turner's bill is unnecessary because the December 2010 New START Resolution of Advice and Consent already provides recourse. The resolution's condition 9 declared a "sense of the Senate" that the United States is committed to providing the resources needed to maintain nuclear weapons at the levels "set forth in the President's 10-year plan provided to the Congress pursuant to section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (Public Law 111-84)," otherwise know as the 1251 report.

Just in case Congress did not provide sufficient resources in the future, condition 9 of the resolution of ratification states that the President shall submit a report detailing how the administration would address the resource shortfall; the proposed level of funding required; the impact of the shortfall on the safety, reliability, and performance of U.S. nuclear forces; and whether "it remains in the national interest of the United States to remain a Party to the New START Treaty."

It is the responsibility of Congress to fund programs, and Congress did not fully fund the administration's request for 1251 report activities in FY2012, nor is it likely to add money in FY2013. The Pentagon said in March that it intends to submit the condition 9 report soon on how to deal with the shortfall and on the value of remaining a party to New START.

New START Still In U.S. Interests

New START remains in the U.S. national interest because the treaty reduces the threat to the United States from Russian nuclear forces, and the administration has managed to save money in FY2013 while still achieving its goal of modernizing the nuclear arsenal and production complex.

Future nuclear force reductions cannot be held hostage to annual congressional debates about the particulars of each and every component of the NNSA budget, which is higher than it was before negotiations on New START began. It remains in the U.S. national security interest to verifiably reduce excess Cold War U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals.

As the Pentagon's January 2012 strategy document Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense says: "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy." It would also save money.

The major threats the United States faces today, such as proliferation, terrorism or cyber attacks, cannot be addressed by nuclear arms. Rather than asking American taxpayers to cough up yet more money for yesterday's weapons, Congress needs to focus on more cost-effective solutions that address the nation's future defense needs.--Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

Posted: April 20, 2012

The New NAS Report: The Case is Stronger Than Ever for the Test Ban Treaty

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Volume 3, Issue 5, March 30, 2012

Today, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its long-awaited report on technical issues related to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The independent panel of senior scientific and military experts was charged in 2009 with reviewing technical developments related to the U.S. nuclear stockpile and to nuclear explosion test monitoring that have occurred since the 2002 NAS report on the CTBT and the Senate's brief debate and rejection of the treaty in 1999.

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Volume 3, Issue 5, March 30, 2012

Today, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its long-awaited report on technical issues related to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The independent panel of senior scientific and military experts was charged in 2009 with reviewing technical developments related to the U.S. nuclear stockpile and to nuclear explosion test monitoring that have occurred since the 2002 NAS report on the CTBT and the Senate's brief debate and rejection of the treaty in 1999.

The new NAS report, The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Technical Issues for the United States, reaffirms that the United States no longer needs--and would not benefit from--nuclear explosive testing. Renewed nuclear testing would only help improve other nations' nuclear capabilities and reduce U.S. security. And the report documents why U.S. ratification and entry into force of the CTBT would significantly improve our ability to detect and deter nuclear testing by others.

The NAS report lays out a stronger case than ever before for supporting the CTBT:

  • The 2012 NAS report documents that significant technical advances have resolved earlier concerns about the treaty.

The panel concluded that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship program "has been more successful than was anticipated in 1999," when the Senate last considered the CTBT. Maintaining an effective nuclear stockpile will require continued diligence, but it does not require nuclear test explosions.

"Similarly," the panel said, "the status of U.S. national monitoring and the International Monitoring System has improved to levels better than predicted in 1999."

The new study cites substantial advances in the U.S. national monitoring and the International Monitoring System capabilities across all of the key verification technologies deployed worldwide to detect and deter nuclear test explosions-seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, radionuclide, and satellite monitoring.

  • More is known today than ever before about the U.S. nuclear arsenal and there is no technical or military reason to resume testing.

As former NNSA administrator and NAS panel member Linton Brooks said in Dec. 2011, "as a practical matter, it is almost certain that the United States will not test again ... in recent years I never met anybody who advocated that we seek authorization to return to testing."

Similar to the 2002 NAS report, the new study finds that if sufficient resources are dedicated to the task the United States has the technical ability to maintain a safe, secure, and reliable stockpile of nuclear weapons into the foreseeable future without resuming nuclear test explosions.

The nuclear weapons labs have more resources than ever before to perform core stockpile stewardship work. Since 2009, funding for the NNSA nuclear weapons complex has increased by 13%. The Obama administration's $7.6 billion budget request for fiscal year 2013 would boost NNSA weapons programs funding even more-by 5% over last year's appropriation of $7.2 billion.

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein noted at a March 21, 2012 appropriations committee hearing, "Regarding nuclear weapons activities, I believe the fiscal year 2013 budget request provides more than sufficient funding to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile."

  • National and international test ban monitoring and verification capabilities have improved immensely.

With the combined capabilities of the International Monitoring System (IMS), national technical means (NTM), and civilian seismic networks, no potential CTBT violator could be confident that a nuclear explosion of any military utility would escape detection.

The panel's detailed report also concludes that "[c]onstraints placed on nuclear-explosion testing by the monitoring capabilities of the IMS and ... U.S. NTM, will reduce the likelihood of successful clandestine nuclear-explosion testing, and inhibit the development of new types of strategic nuclear weapons."

The report found that "[o]ther states intent on acquiring and deploying modern, two-stage thermonuclear weapons would not be able to have confidence in their performance without multi-kiloton testing. Such tests would likely be detectable (even with evasion measures) by appropriately resourced U.S. national technical means and a completed IMS network."

The study noted that on-site inspections as allowed under the treaty once it enters into force, "would have a high likelihood of detecting evidence of a nuclear explosion with a yield greater than 0.1 kilotons, provided that the event could be located with sufficient precision ... and conducted without hindrance." The panel noted that an on-site inspection "constitutes a deterrent to treaty violation whether or not an inspection actually takes place...."

  • The security value of the CTBT is greater than ever.

U.S. ratification and entry into force of the treaty would improve our ability to detect and deter nuclear testing that could allow others to improve their arsenals.

The NAS report documents how the CTBT constrains the ability of the established nuclear-weapon states, including Russia and China, to build new types of more sophisticated nuclear warhead designs.

The report also documents why, without the option of nuclear explosive testing, newer testing nations, including potentially Iran, could not perfect sophisticated two-stage thermonuclear warheads that can be delivered on long-range ballistic missiles.

The report found that "the development of weapons with lower capabilities ... is possible with or without the CTBT for countries of different levels of nuclear sophistication, but such developments would not require the United States to return to nuclear testing in order to respond because it already has-or could produce-weapons of equal or greater capability based on its own nuclear-explosion test history."

The United States has detonated 1,030 nuclear test explosions--more than all other nations combined--the last of which was in September 1992. Russia has conducted 715 nuclear tests; China 45; North Korea 2; Iran 0.

Time for a Thorough, Thoughtful Review

The Senate has not seriously examined these issues in years. In the decade since the Senate last considered the CTBT, 59 Senators have left office; only 41 Senators who debated and voted on the CTBT in 1999 remain.

Good policy depends on good information. Senators and their staff need to take a serious look at the merits of the CTBT in light of the new NAS findings and not rush to judgment on the basis of old information, misconceptions, or partisan politics.

President Obama has repeatedly expressed his commitment to the CTBT, most recently in a March 26 speech in Seoul. But he and his team must provide stronger leadership to ensure the Senate's questions on the CTBT are fully addressed and to create the necessary climate and support for a successful vote in 2013.

The bipartisan approval of New START in 2010 shows that a successful treaty approval process requires months of hearings, answers to thousands of questions, and a serious commitment to building understanding for the national security issues at stake.

U.S. ratification of the CTBT is essential for entry into force and would very likely prompt other states, including China, India, and Pakistan, to follow suit.

The American people expect their leaders to take action to reduce the threats posed by nuclear weapons and proliferation. U.S. ratification of the CTBT would advance American national security interests by helping to reduce nuclear threats and enhancing our ability to detect, deter, and confront proliferators. --DARYL G. KIMBALL

For more information on the CTBT, see:

Posted: March 30, 2012

Test Ban Treaty: Myths vs. Realities

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Volume 3, Issue 6, March 30, 2012

The March 30 release of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty--Technical Issues for the United States lays out the most compelling case to date, based on the latest classified and intelligence information, that the United States does not need nuclear tests to maintain its arsenal and that the Test Ban Treaty can be verified.

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Volume 3, Issue 6, March 30, 2012

The March 30 release of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty--Technical Issues for the United States lays out the most compelling case to date, based on the latest classified and intelligence information, that the United States does not need nuclear tests to maintain its arsenal and that the Test Ban Treaty can be verified.

The NAS report concludes that, without nuclear tests, "the United States is now better able to maintain a safe and effective nuclear stockpile and to monitor clandestine nuclear-explosion testing than at any time in the past."

Nevertheless, critics of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) will no doubt continue to repeat misinformation about the treaty. It is well-past time to put these myths to rest.

The Reality: Case For the Test Ban is Stronger Than Ever

The United States was the first nation to sign the CTBT when it was completed in 1996 and the treaty now has 182 members, including all U.S. allies in NATO. Russia and China stopped nuclear explosive testing as a direct result of the CTBT and only one nation (North Korea) has conducted nuclear tests since 1998. The CTBT has halted the regular practice of nuclear explosive testing, reducing the nuclear danger to the United States and its allies.

The United States was able to confidently sign the CTBT because it already has the most sophisticated and well-tested nuclear arsenal in the world. The United States conducted 1,030 nuclear detonations from 1945 to 1992--more than all other nations combined (Russia conducted 715 nuclear tests; China, 45; North Korea, 2; Iran, 0).

Moreover, the United States remains the world's unquestioned conventional weapons superpower. Today, there is no technical or military rationale for the United States to resume nuclear testing, and Washington gains an important constraint on nuclear proliferation by preventing testing by others.

The Senate failed to approve the CTBT when it came up for a vote in 1999, mainly due to political considerations and lack of sufficient time to fully debate the issues. But some senators also had concerns about whether the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s stockpile stewardship program (SSP) would be able to maintain the U.S. nuclear arsenal without testing, and whether the international monitoring system (IMS) to detect clandestine nuclear tests would be as effective as predicted.

Twelve years later, we have now gained enough experience with the SSP and the IMS to know that the predictions were correct. According to the new NAS report, these programs have proven to be even more effective than expected.

Commenting on how the case for the CTBT has improved, George Shultz, President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State, said in April 2009, "[Republicans] might have been right voting against [the CTBT] some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now, based on these new facts.... [There are] new pieces of information that are very important and that should be made available to the Senate."

Debunking the Myths

The Senate has a responsibility to reconsider the treaty in light of the new evidence and not rush to judgment on the basis of old information. In particular, senators must dispel the tired myths that CTBT opponents continue to repeat about the treaty.

1. The Test Ban and Non-Proliferation

Ignoring abundant evidence to the contrary, CTBT critics make the unsubstantiated claim that ratification of the CTBT would not strengthen efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons. These views are at odds with a growing list of bipartisan leaders who agree that the CTBT provides an important constraint on the ability of other states to threaten American security.

As Dr. Sigfried Hecker, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in 2009, "the single most important reason to ratify the CTBT is to stop other countries from improving their arsenals."

Supporting this view, the NAS report states that Russia and China are "unlikely to be able to deploy new types of strategic nuclear weapons" without conducting "multi-kiloton tests to build confidence in their performance." Such large tests, according to NAS, "would likely be detectable (even with evasion measures) by appropriately resourced U.S. national technical means [NTM] and a completed IMS network."

For example, with additional nuclear testing China could perfect smaller warhead designs and thereby put multiple warheads on its relatively small arsenal of strategic ballistic missiles. China has not conducted a nuclear test since it signed the CTBT, and is reportedly waiting for the United States to ratify before it does so.

The NAS report also found that, "Other states intent on acquiring and deploying modern, two-stage thermonuclear weapons would not be able to have confidence in their performance without multi-kiloton testing."

In other words, potential nuclear-armed states like Iran could use nuclear tests to develop more advanced nuclear warhead designs that could fit on ballistic missiles. Given Tehran's uranium enrichment and missile capabilities, it is important to establish additional barriers against a sophisticated Iranian nuclear weapons capability in the years ahead.

It does not make sense to forego the CTBT and leave the door open to the resumption of nuclear testing by Russia, China and others. As Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concluded in his 2001 report on the CTBT, "For the sake of future generations, it would be unforgivable to neglect any reasonable action that can help prevent nuclear proliferation, as the Test Ban Treaty clearly would."

Preventing nuclear testing not only denies proliferators an important tool to develop more threatening warheads, but the CTBT is vital to broader U.S. nonproliferation goals. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) would probably not have been extended indefinitely in 1995 without the pledge from the United States and the other original nuclear powers to stop testing and conclude CTBT negotiations by the end of 1996.

Another myth is that the CTBT might actually promote proliferation by forcing U.S. allies to question the effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The reality is that all U.S. NATO and other allies support the CTBT.

For example, on April 29, 2011, the foreign ministers of 10 key U.S. allies--Australia, Germany, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates--issued a statement calling on "all states which have not yet done so to sign and ratify the CTBT... We believe that an effective end to nuclear testing will enhance and not weaken our national as well as global security and would significantly bolster the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime."

2. The Utility of Nuclear Test Explosions

Some claim that nuclear tests are still needed, and thus the United States should not limit its options under the CTBT. The reality is that the United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992, and does not need nuclear tests today or in the foreseeable future. The NAS report finds that "the United States has the technical capabilities to maintain a safe, secure, and reliable stockpile of nuclear weapons into the foreseeable future without nuclear-explosion testing."

As NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino said in an April 2011 interview, the United States has "a safe and secure and reliable stockpile. There's no need to conduct underground [nuclear] testing."

And as D'Agostino's predecessor in the Bush administration, Linton Brooks, said in November 2011, "as a practical matter, it is almost certain that the United States will not test again... I have been in and out of government for a long time.  And in recent years I never met anybody who advocated that we seek authorization to return to testing."

The technical strategy for maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile without explosive testing has been in place for almost two decades. Since 1994, each warhead type in the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been determined to be safe and reliable through a rigorous annual certification process. The stockpile stewardship program includes nuclear weapons surveillance and maintenance, non-nuclear and subcritical nuclear experiments, and increasingly sophisticated supercomputer modeling.  Life extension programs have successfully refurbished existing types of nuclear warheads and can continue to do so indefinitely.

A 2009 study by JASON, the independent technical review panel, concluded that the "lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence."

The 2012 NAS report found that "The technical capabilities for maintaining the U.S. stockpile absent nuclear-explosion testing are better now than anticipated" when the NAS issued its previous report in 2002.

Moreover, NNSA has more resources than ever before to perform core stockpile stewardship work. Since 2009, funding for the nuclear weapons complex has increased by 13%. The Obama administration's $7.6 billion budget request for fiscal year 2013 would boost NNSA weapons programs funding even more, by 5% over last year's appropriation of $7.2 billion.

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein noted at a March 21, 2012 appropriations committee hearing, "Regarding nuclear weapons activities, I believe the fiscal year 2013 budget request provides more than sufficient funding to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile."

Another myth is that the United States might someday need to test to develop a new type of nuclear weapon. First, this need would only arise in response to a new weapon developed by another state that had conducted nuclear tests, which the CTBT itself would help prevent. Second, in the exceedingly unlikely event that nuclear testing is needed in the distant future, the United States has the option of exercising the CTBT's "supreme national interest clause" and withdraw.

However, given that the United States already has the most advanced nuclear arsenal in the world, setting off another round of global nuclear tests would only serve to undermine U.S. security by helping other nuclear-armed states improve their nuclear capabilities.

3. Test Ban Verification

One of the most enduring myths is that the CTBT is not verifiable. The reality is that national and international test ban monitoring capabilities have improved immensely over the last decade. With the combined capabilities of the international monitoring system (IMS), U.S. national technical means (NTM), and civilian seismic networks, no potential CTBT violator could be confident that a nuclear explosion of any military utility would escape detection.

The 2012 NAS report finds that national and global technical capabilities to monitor nuclear tests "have improved significantly over the past decade." Most (80%) of the stations planned as part of the IMS are now complete, and the United States' own global NTM capabilities are "superior to that of the IMS and can focus on monitoring countries of concern to the United States."

U.S. NTM includes seismic and radiation detection stations, spy satellites, human intelligence, and other tools, and data from these sources can be employed to verify treaty compliance.

NAS finds that these monitoring capabilities will "reduce the likelihood of successful clandestine nuclear-explosion testing, and inhibit the development of new types of strategic nuclear weapons."

North Korea has provided two recent real-world tests of U.S. and global monitoring capabilities. In October 2006, the international monitoring system easily detected North Korea's relatively low-yield (0.6 kiloton) nuclear explosion at 22 seismic stations and had a solid estimate of its location within five hours of the event. Radioactive gases from this test were detected by South Korea, the United States and 4,600 miles away in Yellowknife, Canada, at one of the international monitoring network's noble gas monitoring stations.

The second test by North Korea on May 25, 2009, with a yield of a few kilotons, was detected by a total of 61 international seismic stations. Some have suggested that because the international monitoring network did not detect radionuclide particles from the second North Korean test explosion, the system failed.

But, in fact, the seismic evidence alone would have provided a firm basis for on-site inspections (OSIs). The CTBT sets a limit of 1,000 square km for the inspected area, and the seismic data located the test well within this limit. According to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in Vienna, "The data would have provided a clear lead to the inspection team regarding where to look."

The NAS study noted that on-site inspections as allowed under the treaty once it enters into force, "would have a high likelihood of detecting evidence of a nuclear explosion with a yield greater than 0.1 kilotons..." The panel noted that an on-site inspection "constitutes a deterrent to treaty violation whether or not an inspection actually takes place."

Another myth suggests that because the CTBT requires 30 of 51 nations on the CTBTO's Executive Council to agree to an OSI, states unfriendly to the U.S. could block them. In reality, the CTBT's on-site inspection provisions were established to balance the need for rapid response to a suspected test against the possibility of "frivolous or abusive" inspections. The approval of 30 out of 51 members of the Executive Council was designed to give nations like the United States and Israel confidence that inspections would be approved as needed, but not by a small minority with questionable motives.

4. Test Ban Treaty "Scope"

A common myth is that states have different interpretations of what the CTBT prohibits and that therefore some states believe that very low-yield tests are permitted.

The reality is that the negotiating record is clear: Article I of the CTBT bans "any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion" and all signatories of the treaty understand that means "zero" nuclear test explosions.

The CTBT is a "zero-yield" treaty, meaning that it prohibits all nuclear explosions that produce a self-sustaining, supercritical chain reaction. According to the State Department, the parties made a deliberate decision not to include a specific definition of scope in the treaty so as to avoid loopholes that could arise from a technical list of what specific activities were and were not permitted. A review of the negotiating history and statements by world leaders shows that all states understand and accept the CTBT as a "zero-yield" treaty.

The CTBT follows the precedent of the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) that used this same approach. The LTBT has been in force for nearly fifty years, and the language has never been at issue.

Under the CTBT, supercritical "hydronuclear" tests (which produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction) are banned, but subcritical "hydrodynamic" experiments, which do not produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are permitted. According to the State Department, these decisions were made to ensure that the CTBT banned all nuclear testing, but permitted the United States to maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal.

In 1999, the United States' CTBT negotiator, Amb. Stephen Ledogar, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the subject: "I have heard some critics of the treaty seek to cast doubt on whether Russia, in the negotiation and signing of the treaty, committed itself under treaty law to a truly comprehensive prohibition of any nuclear explosion, including an explosion/experiment/event of even the slightest nuclear yield. In other words, did Russia agree that hydronuclear experiments would be banned, and that hydrodynamic explosions (which have no yield because they do not reach criticality) would not be banned?"

Ledogar continued, "The answer is a categoric 'yes.' The Russians, as well as the other weapon states, did commit themselves. That answer is substantiated by the record of the negotiations at almost any level of technicality (and national security classification) that is desired and permitted. More importantly for the current debate, it is also substantiated by the public record of statements by high level Russian officials...."

As the Russian government explained to the Duma when it ratified the CTBT in 2000: "Qualitative modernization of nuclear weapons is only possible through full-scale and hydronuclear tests with the emission of fissile energy, the carrying out of which directly contradicts the CTBT." It is clear to all parties that the CTBT establishes a "zero-yield" prohibition on nuclear test explosions.

Dangerous Mythology

Taken together, these outdated CTBT myths amount to a "do-nothing" approach that would deny the United States the clear benefits of CTBT ratification. Without positive action on the CTBT, the risks of a resumption of nuclear testing by others will only grow. U.S. ratification, however, would reinforce the taboo against testing and prompt other hold-out states--such as China, India, and Pakistan--to ratify the treaty.

Nuclear testing is a dangerous and unnecessary vestige of the Cold War that the United States rightly rejected two decades ago. The United States does not need nuclear weapons test explosions, but those who seek to improve their arsenals do.

U.S. action on the CTBT would build support for updating and strengthening the global nonproliferation system at a critical juncture. The Senate's reconsideration of the CTBT should be based on an honest and up-to-date analysis of the facts and the issues at stake. --TOM Z. COLLINA and DARYL G. KIMBALL

For more information on the CTBT, see:

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

Posted: March 30, 2012

Reality Check: Nuclear Weapons Spending and New START

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Volume 3, Issue 4, March 19, 2012

In recent weeks, a handful of Congressional Republicans have charged that the Obama administration and the Defense Department are failing to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and weapons production complex "as promised" in 2010 during consideration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

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Volume 3, Issue 4, March 19, 2012

In recent weeks, a handful of Congressional Republicans have charged that the Obama administration and the Defense Department are failing to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and weapons production complex "as promised" in 2010 during consideration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

A March 12 Senate Republican Policy Committee paper claims, for example, that the President's FY2013 budget request "broke his promise by significantly underfunding nuclear modernization."

In addition, some House Republicans are threatening to block the implementation of New START through legislation such as H.R. 4178, introduced March 8 by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Such approaches ignore key facts and, if adopted, would harm U.S. national security interests.

Only In Washington Is More Considered Less

Assertions about "failing to meet funding commitments" ignore the reality that spending for nuclear weapons maintenance and infrastructure programs has increased significantly under Obama's watch.

Actual funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s nuclear weapons complex has increased by 13% since 2009. The administration's $7.6 billion FY2013 request would boost NNSA weapons programs funding even more-by 5% over last year's appropriation of $7.2 billion-even as other federal program budgets are being downsized.

The critics base their arguments on the fact that the exact funding levels projected in 2010 for NNSA nuclear weapons activities do not match those in the President's FY2013 budget request. As Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said at a March 14 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: "I don't know exactly what the amount of money [is that] we need.  But the amount that was committed [in 2010] is not provided for in this budget."

That is the wrong metric to use. What really matters is whether the resources are adequate for the stockpile stewardship activities that maintain the effectiveness of the existing U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. At well over $7 billion per year, the nuclear weapons labs have more than enough to get the job done.

Congress, Not the White House, Appropriates

Congressional critics of the administration's nuclear weapons and arms control strategy also conveniently ignore the fact that it was Congress that decided not to approve the administration's full budget request for higher funding for NNSA weapons work.

In fact, it was the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee that refused to fully fund the administration's nuclear weapons request in the FY2012 budget. Although the committee increased the NNSA weapons activities budget over the previous year, the appropriations bill allocation for fiscal 2012 is $500 million less than the Obama administration's whopping $7.6 billion request.

Budget Control Act Changes Everything

In addition, between the 2010 New START debate and the FY2013 budget request, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress passed the bipartisan Budget Control Act, which dramatically altered the fiscal environment and forced both sides to reexamine their funding priorities and commitments.

The Pentagon and NNSA are now planning to reduce budget growth by $487 billion in "050" defense-related spending over the next decade, and this cut may double if the current law requiring "sequestration" is not changed before January 2013.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said at the March 14 hearing that since the New START debate took place "nine months before the Budget Control Act became law, falling 4 percent short of the [2010-derived] target is reasonable given the fiscal reality facing us today."

In this fiscal context, the administration had little choice but to adjust its defense spending projections, as it did in many budget areas. Rather than asking "has the budget changed," the right question is "does the new the budget achieve the mission?" The answer is yes.

The bottom line is that small changes in the defense budget, as mandated by the Budget Control Act, do not alter the fact that the administration is meeting its commitments to the Senate under New START. Planned defense spending for nuclear weapons modernization is more than adequate. Claims to the contrary are incorrect.

The Nuclear Weapons Complex Budget Has Increased Significantly

As required by the Senate's December 22, 2010 Resolution of Advice and Consent to Ratification of New START, the President certified to the Senate on Feb. 2, 2011 that he would:

"...accelerate, to the extent possible, the design and engineering phase of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) building and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF)..." and request full funding for these facilities upon completion of their design and engineering phase. (Emphasis added.)

The FY2013 budget request for NNSA contains no funding for the CMRR, to be built at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, and deferred work for at least five years. The House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee cut CMRR by $100 million, or 33 percent, as part of the FY2012 budget process, indicating bipartisan concern about the need for CMRR.

With total cost estimates of $6 billion for CMRR and $6.5 billion for UPF, and given current NNSA budget realities, it is simply not possible to build both of these facilities at the same time. The delay of CMRR is a reasonable response to tight budgets given that other NNSA facilities have "inherent capacity" to support ongoing and future plutonium activities, according to NNSA.

As a result, the CMRR deferral will not compromise NNSA's ability to maintain the nuclear stockpile. In addition, the delay allows NNSA to prioritize construction of UPF at the Y-12 Plant in Tennessee, which would be funded at $340 million in FY2013, a $180 million increase over FY2012.

Moreover, NNSA's FY2013 request for weapons activities is $7.6 billion, an increase of $363 million or five percent above enacted FY2012, and $1.2 billion more than FY2010. Historically, this funding level is higher than at any time since the Cold War.

When asked at a February congressional hearing if the FY2013 budget request fully meets the requirements to maintain the nuclear stockpile, NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino said: "...it absolutely does, fully meets the requirements, and we'll be able to take care of the stockpile... So the stockpile is safe, secure, and reliable."

Nuclear Weapons Delivery Systems Are Being Modernized

The Defense Department is also modernizing U.S. nuclear delivery systems, and there is no basis for claims to the contrary.

As also required by the New START Resolution of Advice and Consent, the President certified to the Senate on Feb. 2, 2011 that he would:

"...modernize or replace the triad of strategic nuclear delivery systems: a heavy bomber and air-launched cruise missile, an [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile or ICBM], and a nuclear power-ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and [Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile or SLBM]..." (Emphasis added.)

It is important to note that the President's commitment does not specify that weapon systems have to be replaced (as opposed to modernized), nor does it specify funding levels, numbers of systems, or production schedules.

As then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated in 2010, "The studies and development programs for these [nuclear delivery] systems will consider a range of possible options, with the objective of defining a cost-effective approach that supports continued reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons while promoting stable deterrence."

The Pentagon's FY2013 budget request includes:

  • New Bomber: $292 million for a new long-range bomber ($6.3 billion over five years), with plans to produce 80-100 planes at $550 million each starting in the mid-2020s. The existing fleet of 91 B-52 and 20 B-2 nuclear-capable bombers is expected to stay in service into the 2040s and beyond (2058 for the B-2), and is being upgraded at a cost of $4 billion over the next five years.
  • New Cruise Missile: $2 million to study a new air-launched cruise missile.
  • New ICBM: $11.6 million to study a new ICBM; the current force of 450 Minuteman III ICBMs will remain in service through 2030 or longer.
  • New Submarine: $565 million for a new strategic submarine, the SSBN-X, to replace the current 14 Ohio-class subs starting in 2031. The current sub fleet will stay in service through 2040. The FY2013 budget would defer first procurement of the SSBN-X by two years, a reasonable response to budget pressures that will not adversely affect U.S. security, saving $4.3 billion over five years. The existing D-5 SLBM would be maintained into the 2040s.

At over $6 billion per boat and a total life-cycle cost of almost $350 billion for a fleet of 12, concern about the cost of the SSBN-X is shared across party lines. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said March 15 that, "We are getting to a point where more than half of the Navy's total shipbuilding budget will be required to build extraordinarily expensive nuclear submarines. I am worried that funding needed to modernize the surface fleet is being crowded out..."

As former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright's said in July 2011 "... we have to recapitalize all three legs [of the nuclear triad], and we don't have the money to do it." Some on the Hill may share Cartwright's concern, but there is no basis to claim that the administration is breaking promises on delivery systems made in the context of New START, and no reason to jeopardize New START implementation by tying it to unsustainable spending levels outlined two years ago.

The Obama administration remains committed to maintaining a formidable mix of U.S. nuclear weapons delivery systems (submarines, bombers and missiles) in the years ahead, though the ultimate size and cost of that force can and should be reduced given that the current force is based on outdated "requirements" for deterrence and nuclear war fighting developed more than a decade ago.

New START Resolution of Approval Provides the Path Forward

The New START Resolution of Advice and Consent declared a "sense of the Senate" that the United States is committed to providing the resources needed to maintain the weapons production complex at the levels "set forth in the President's 10-year plan provided to the Congress pursuant to section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (Public Law 111-84)," otherwise know as the 1251 report.

Just in case Congress did not provide sufficient resources in the future, the Resolution of Advice and Consent states that the President shall submit a report detailing how the administration would address the resource shortfall; the proposed level of funding required; the impact of the shortfall on the safety, reliability, and performance of U.S. nuclear forces; and whether "it remains in the national interest of the United States to remain a Party to the New START Treaty."

It is the responsibility of Congress to fund programs, and Congress did not fully fund the administration's request for 1251 report activities in FY2012, nor is it likely to do so in FY2013. It is now up to the administration to submit the required report on how to deal with the shortfall and whether to remain a party to New START.

New START Still In U.S. Interests

New START remains in the U.S. national interest because the treaty reduces the threat to the United States from Russian nuclear forces, and the administration has managed to reduce its funding request for FY2013 while still achieving its goal of modernizing the nuclear arsenal and production complex.

Some congressional Republicans, by contrast, would like to increase spending on nuclear weapons at the expense of other, higher priorities for national defense. Where exactly would the Senate Republican Policy Committee like the nuclear weapons budget increases to come from? Troop pay, body armor, or ammunition? They do not say. But given the budget crunch, these trade-offs cannot be avoided.

Furthermore, the idea that implementation of New START should be frozen unless every dollar is appropriated by Congress for an outdated budget plan defies common sense and the bipartisan will of 71 Senators who voted to approve ratification of New START.

Bottom Line

Nuclear weapons are simply not the security priority they once were. It is in the U.S. national security interest to verifiably reduce excess, Cold War U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals. As the Pentagon's January 2012 strategy document "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense" clearly says: "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

The major threats the United States faces today, such as proliferation, terrorism or cyber attacks, cannot be addressed by nuclear arms. Rather than asking American taxpayers to cough up yet more money for yesterday's weapons, Congress needs to focus on more cost-effective solutions that address the nation's future defense needs.--Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today

Posted: March 19, 2012

A Window of Opportunity with Iran

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Volume 3, Issue 3, March 9, 2012

President Barack Obama said during a March 6 White House press conference that there was still a "window of opportunity" to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse diplomatically. With an agreement finally reached between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran to hold nuclear negotiations, the opportunity to make serious progress toward such a resolution appears to be on the horizon, with talks likely to begin in April.

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Volume 3, Issue 3, March 9, 2012

President Barack Obama said during a March 6 White House press conference that there was still a "window of opportunity" to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse diplomatically. With an agreement finally reached between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran to hold nuclear negotiations, the opportunity to make serious progress toward such a resolution appears to be on the horizon, with talks likely to begin in April.

The talks will be critical both in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and another war in the Middle East, but they will not solve the issue in a single meeting. Rather, the upcoming negotiations should focus on the most pressing proliferation risk: Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20%, a level that could allow Iran to rapidly produce weapons-grade material. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has previously suggested that Iran would halt enrichment to 20% in exchange for reactor fuel. That proposition should be tested.

A Serious Step-by-Step Approach

In recognition of the need to make steady progress towards a comprehensive agreement, EU foreign policy chief and P5+1 representative Catherine Ashton said in her March 6 letter to Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili that the six countries were seeking a "step-by-step approach," beginning with specific confidence-building measures. An arrangement under which Iran halts enriching to 20%, therefore, would only be an intermediary step that builds trust and buys time on the road to a final settlement. If policymakers prematurely criticize such an important achievement for failing to resolve the issue all at once, it only becomes more difficult to reach a permanent agreement that places sufficient constraints and transparency over Iran's nuclear program.

Serious negotiations on such a high stakes issue will inevitably entail a series of meetings amongst the seven countries, but more importantly, bilateral talks between the United States and Iran. Iran unfortunately rejected bilateral meetings with the United States during the last round, and their willingness to do so now will be a key test of their seriousness. Contrary to myth, such sustained negotiations do not allow Iran to buy time to expand its nuclear program. In fact, in the absence of talks, Iran continued to enrich uranium and scaled up its enrichment capacity over the past year.

The recent intensified sanctions-which U.S. officials say are aimed at changing Iran's behavior and increasing negotiating leverage-also make it critical for the United States and its diplomatic partners to go back to the table with Iran to gauge whether it is willing to fulfill its nonproliferation obligations. Failure to do so would only make it more difficult for the sanctions to achieve their primary goal, because it is only through negotiations that a commitment from Tehran to alter its dangerous course can be secured.

The rough outline of a potential long-term deal has already been charted out by the P5+1, involving efforts by Iran to undertake practical steps to ensure its nuclear program will not be used for nuclear weapons in exchange for cooperation with the West in a number of areas. Accomplishing that goal will be difficult, but a sustained dialogue remains the only way to a permanent resolution.

Another Shot at the Fuel Swap?

Recent P5+1 diplomatic initiatives have centered on near-term confidence-building measures that can be used as stepping-stones to a more comprehensive agreement. A key focus has been Iran's need to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which runs on 20%-enriched uranium fuel, rather than the normal low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel used in most nuclear power reactors.

In October 2009, Iran initially agreed to a U.S.-proposed, IAEA-brokered confidence-building measure intended to fuel the TRR and alleviate concerns about Iran's accumulation of LEU. The bulk of this material, roughly 5,500 kilograms, is currently enriched to about 3.5%.

Despite Iran's initial assent, political divisions in Tehran ultimately led Iran to reject the deal. Tehran then began to increase the enrichment level of some of its LEU to 20% in February 2010, ostensibly for TRR fuel.

Months later, a diplomatic initiative by Brazil and Turkey to renew the fuel swap proposal resulted in the May 2010 Tehran Declaration between Presidents Lula da Silva, Erdogan, and Ahmadinejad.

France, Russia, and the United States rejected the Tehran Declaration on a number of grounds, highlighting the fact that it did not address Iran's production of 20%-enriched uranium nor did it address Iran's accumulation of a larger amount of LEU since the offer was proposed.

These concerns were valid and the Tehran Declaration was indeed deficient in these areas, but the three countries could have addressed these issues in any follow-up negotiations. Because Russia and France would provide the TRR fuel as part of any final arrangement, the terms of the Vienna Group would inevitably supercede that of the Tehran Declaration. In the end, Iran's 20% enrichment has not only continued unchecked, earlier this year Tehran increased its 20%-enriched uranium production by three-fold.

The dubious rationale for this scaled up production is that, in addition to fueling the TRR, Iran would need to fuel additional research reactors it intends to build in the future. This rationale stretches plausibility because Iran likely does not have the technical expertise to construct such facilities, it is already building the Arak research reactor for the same questionable rationale of medical isotope production, and Tehran has provided no information to the IAEA on its reactor construction plans.

The only plausible reason for Iran's decision to stockpile 20%-enriched uranium is to acquire material that it can rapidly convert to weapons grade should it decide to produce nuclear weapons. This dangerous prospect makes halting Iran's enrichment to 20% a near-term priority, as the accumulation of a ready stockpile of 20% material greatly reduces the timeframe in which Iran might make a dash to produce a weapon, a fact that also raises the risk of a military strike to preempt such a move.

The United States has reportedly drafted a proposed confidence building measure that would require that Iran halt 20% enrichment and ship out the 20%-enriched uranium it has produced. In exchange, the P5+1 would provide Iran with fuel for the TRR and an agreement not to pursue an additional round of UN sanctions.

Although such an arrangement would not take the place of the UN Security Council's requirement that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment, much less the need for Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA, if Iran agreed to this proposal it would effectively end one of the most dangerous aspects of Iran's existing nuclear work and create an important precedent that Tehran agree not to enrich to levels above normal reactor-grade.

There appear to be divisions in Iran about just how far they are willing to press on with enrichment to 20%. President Ahmadinejad said publicly on a number of occasions in late 2011 that Iran would be willing to "immediately halt 20% enrichment" if Iran received fuel for the TRR (a suggestion which also shows that Iran's claimed plans to construct reactors that will use 20%-enriched fuel are not to be taken seriously). The Iranian president went even further to make the startling admission that the "production of 20 percent [enriched] fuel is not economical." At the same time, Iran has recently installed additional centrifuges at its Fordow plant to increase its production of 20%-enriched uranium.

Though it would be welcome if he made the even more accurate admission that there is no enrichment level in Iran that makes economic sense, Ahamdinejad's statement suggests that there are elements in the Iranian leadership are willing to seek a deal on the issue. It is possible, if not probable, that they cannot make good on the offer just as Iran was unable to agree to the initial fuel swap proposal in 2009, but given the proliferation risk of an increasing stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium, the P5+1 cannot afford to ignore diplomatic opportunities to reduce that risk.

Russia's Step-By-Step Proposal

The principle of capping Iran's enrichment in the near-term to reactor-grade also features in a proposed step-by-step process that has been advanced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and was first publicly announced in July 2011.

The specific details of the Russian plan have not been made public, but they have been characterized as an "action for action" process in which Iranian confidence-building and transparency measures are met with an easing of sanctions by the P5+1.

So far, the other P5+1 members have not voiced public opposition to the Russian proposal, but some do not appear to support it in its current form. U.S. officials have said that Washington is studying the proposal and have held meetings with Moscow regarding the plan. Similarly, Iran publicly welcomed the proposal but has been non-committal regarding its terms, claiming it would take several months to study.

In its current form, the Russian proposal does not appear to be well tailored to address concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program as it lifts key nonproliferation sanctions early in the process before requiring sufficient levels of transparency that make those sanctions unnecessary. The principle of a step-by-step process, however, is sound, and the proposal could be adjusted to achieve the goal of reaching a comprehensive agreement.

Finding a Comprehensive Agreement

Given the difficulties in reaching even a short-term arrangement, it may seem premature to talk about what a comprehensive agreement could look like. However, it is important that the two sides have some sense of where any negotiations are intended to lead, and that Iran in particular understand what steps it needs to take to come back into full compliance with its nonproliferation obligations.

The proposal by the P5+1 in 2006 provides a broad outline of just what is expected of Iran and what Tehran could receive in return for this cooperation, although Iran would likely need to agree to additional transparency measures for a certain period of time to demonstrate that its is not seeking nuclear weapons. After all, Iran applied the IAEA Additional Protocol between 2003 and 2006 but still stonewalled some aspects of the IAEA's investigations and continued on a path to a nuclear-weapons capability.

In 2008, the P5+1 revised the package, spelling out in greater detail some of the benefits Iran would receive and making an effort to highlight those benefits directly to the Iranian people, meeting with Iranian officials for the first time in Tehran to discuss the proposal.

Rights and Responsibilities

Iranian officials and negotiators have consistently misrepresented the aim of the United States and its negotiating partners as trying to deprive Iran of its "rights" to nuclear technology. In fact, the six countries have insisted all along that they recognize Iran's rights to a peaceful nuclear program, and have offered as part of their negotiation proposals technical and financial assistance for a nuclear energy program in Iran.

A sticking point has been the continuation of an Iranian enrichment program, which various Western P5+1 countries, at different points in time, have insisted must be halted indefinitely-rather than merely suspended until Iran meets certain conditions.

Tehran has used this implicit indefinite denial of enrichment as a way to divide the international community, suggesting that its rights are being violated if the world powers do not recognize an explicit right to such technology. This was one of Iran's preconditions at its last meeting with the P5+1 in January 2011 in Istanbul that contributed to scuttling those talks.

Yet Iran is seeking an explicit right to enrich uranium that does not exist. Although the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) does not prohibit countries from maintaining any specific nuclear technology that can be used for peaceful purposes, it does not grant an explicit right to the pursuit of certain nuclear technologies either.

Regardless, the IAEA Board of Governors has determined that Iran violated its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, in essence breaking the very condition on which its rights to peaceful nuclear technology are predicated.

The Issue of "Suspension"

What the P5+1 have formally called for and what the UN Security Council has required is that Iran suspend enrichment while long-term negotiations progress and until Iran can re-establish confidence that it is not seeking nuclear weapons through additional transparency measures and a full accounting of its nuclear history to the IAEA.

Even as some P5+1 members have been reluctant to publicly agree that Iran can enrich again at some point in the future, the group's comprehensive proposals have included a review mechanism for suspension-implicitly indicating that the suspension could be lifted at some point. In the U.S. political context, it is also important to recall that the 2006 and 2008 P5+1 proposals permitting eventual enrichment in Iran were agreed by the Bush administration, which had previously insisted on zero enrichment.

The Obama administration sought to capitalize on this position by making it clear to Iran in public that its arguments that its rights were being undercut were without merit. On March 1, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that "under very strict conditions" and "having responded to the international community's concerns," Iran would have a "right" to enrich uranium under IAEA inspections. This is consistent with the rights and responsibilities contained in the NPT.

Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Ambassador Hossein Mousavian has suggested that, as part of a negotiated settlement, Tehran can agree to enrich consistent with its fuel needs. Such a commitment would entail a de facto suspension because of Iran's lack of near-term domestic fuel needs, but it would provide Iran with a way to rationalize such a halt without appearing to capitulate entirely.

It is important to remember in this context that Iran has no near-term need to enrich-even if one accepts its argument that it cannot rely on outside sources of nuclear fuel for its nuclear energy program-because Russia has provided the initial fuel for Iran's sole nuclear power reactor. And because Iran does not have sufficient domestic uranium reserves to fuel its ambitious nuclear power program, it will inevitably have to rely on other countries for fuel anyway, even if it carries out enrichment itself.

On the other hand, while a permanent uranium enrichment halt would be beneficial and very welcome, it is not necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Furthermore, a permanent halt is not realistic given the strong support for enrichment across the political spectrum in Iran. Tying enrichment amounts and levels to the actual needs of Iran's nuclear power plants might provide an acceptable compromise.

The fundamental question for Iran is whether it wants to maintain enrichment to protect its "rights" and to maintain its national pride, or if it wants to maintain and expand uranium enrichment (and other sensitive fuel cycle activities) to provide a path to nuclear weapons.

The broad proposals outlined by the P5+1 allow Iran to do the former, putting in place transparency measures and confidence-building steps to make it difficult to do the latter. It appears that Iran cannot yet decide that it simply wants to keep enrichment, but rather continues to desire a hedge in the form of a rapid capacity to make nuclear weapons.

If Iran is unwilling to agree to commonsense confidence building steps, Tehran will become increasingly isolated. But P5+1 leaders in Washington and other capitals must continue both tracks of their "dual-track policy" and keep testing Iran's willingness to change course by pursuing opportunities to engage Iran on the nuclear issue.--Peter Crail

* This is an update of an Iran Nuclear Brief first published Jan. 26, 2012.

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Posted: March 9, 2012

The IAEA Outlines the Path for Iran to Come Clean, But is Tehran Ready?

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Volume 3, Issue 2, March 7, 2012

After years of denying any need to respond to international concerns about suspected nuclear weaponization work, Iran has finally engaged in a discussion with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to address an alleged weapons program. This is a positive development, but it will only be meaningful in the context of serious efforts by Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA's investigation.

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Volume 3, Issue 2, March 7, 2012

After years of denying any need to respond to international concerns about suspected nuclear weaponization work, Iran has finally engaged in a discussion with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to address an alleged weapons program. This is a positive development, but it will only be meaningful in the context of serious efforts by Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA's investigation.

The agency met with Iranian officials in Tehran on two occasions in January and February to discuss a way forward on the issue but Iran did not allow the IAEA to begin with an initial step of visiting a key site believed to have been involved in warhead-related high explosives testing.

In a February 20 IAEA document, the agency identifies the kinds of actions Iran needs to take to address suspected weapons-related activities and ensure that there is no ongoing warhead development work. The specific topics that the IAEA wants to address were laid out extensively in the agency's November 2011 report, including:

  • High-explosives experiments with nuclear weapons implications;
  • Neutron initiation and detonator development;
  • Work to fit a nuclear warhead on a missile, along with arming, firing and fusing mechanisms;
  • And Iranian procurement activities related to its alleged warhead work.

Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, distributed a version of the Feb. 20 document to members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that contains Tehran's suggested revisions to the IAEA's proposed work plan. The two sides are still negotiating the procedures for the agency's investigation.

While any country would have a legitimate need to protect information that is not relevant to the IAEA's investigation, Iran's counter-proposals to the Agency's proposed work plan would place undue limitations on the agency's work that will make it more difficult to determine whether Iran has carried out or still maintains a warhead development program.

Any access that Iran is willing to provide is a step in the right direction and should be encouraged, but the international community should make clear that token measures will only drag out the investigation rather than close the case. Three issues in particular stand out in the document that Soltanieh circulated.

The IAEA Should Avoid a "One and Done" Approach

Iran's responses to the agency show that it would like to prevent the IAEA from adequately following up on any information it obtains during the course of its investigation. Iran has suggested removing a clause stating, "Follow up actions that are required of Iran to facilitate the agency's conclusions regarding the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program will be identified as this process continues."

Iran also inserted language specifying that, after steps are taken on each issue the agency wishes to address, that issue "will be considered concluded."

Iran's proposed approach risks that, even if the agency does not receive sufficient information from Iran during its initial investigation, Tehran will try to assert that particular aspects of the case are closed and refuse to answer any follow-up questions. Iran's suggestions would preclude any efforts to go back to topics that the agency previously investigated should new information arise. Such limitations do not match up with what Soltanieh describes in his communication to the NAM states as a "proactive and cooperative approach."

Strictly Sequencing the Issues Investigated Only Delays the Process

The Feb. 20 document says that steps to address the IAEA's questions should be completed in time for the agency's June 2012 meeting, "if possible." Such a quick timeframe would be welcome, particularly as tensions over the issue increase.

But Iran's opposition to potentially addressing some of the IAEA's questions in parallel unnecessarily delays the process. If Iran's nuclear program is purely peaceful, there is little reason to drag out the investigation in such a way and rejecting any parallel investigations does nothing to address legitimate concerns about protecting access to information unrelated to Iran's nuclear program.

More importantly, because many of the activities that the IAEA is investigating appear to be interlinked, it would be natural for the agency to seek to address multiple issues at once if information it obtains is relevant to them.

Verifying the Completeness of Iran's Declarations

Section C of the Feb. 20 document details steps the IAEA requests Iran take to ensure that it has a firm grasp of all the nuclear-related activities being carried out in the country. These steps are hardly new. Most of them either stem from provisions of Iran's safeguards agreement that Tehran unilaterally suspended (a requirement to provide early design information of nuclear facilities under so-called Code 3.1), or the agency's Additional Protocol (allowing access to undeclared sites).

Unlike the rest of the document--which is focused on Iran's alleged warhead work--the actions requested in Section C are directly related to ensuring that Iran's known nuclear activities are not being diverted for possible weapons use. Achieving agreement on these steps would provide some of the most vital assurances that Iran's nuclear activities will not be misused. However, the appearance of bracketed text suggests that this section may be subject to extensive negotiation. Iran has refused to provide many of these measures for several years.

Is Iran Ready to Come Clean?

The November 2011 IAEA report makes a convincing case that Iran was indeed involved in a comprehensive nuclear weapons program prior to 2004, some elements of which have likely continued. Iran's full and complete cooperation with the agency would likely bear this out, demonstrating that Iran's claims that it has pursued a peaceful nuclear program all along have been false.

Tehran does not appear to be ready to either make such an admission, or to be confronted with more conclusive evidence of such activities. Iran's leaders should understand that their failure to address the agency's concerns only undermines Tehran's claim that it is simply pursuing a peaceful nuclear program.

The international community should also make clear that, while additional transparency on Iran's part is positive, half measures will not alleviate suspicions. The agency has a job to do, and it should continue to pursue of answers to questions raised over the course of its investigation.

At the same time, the leadership in Tehran is unlikely to decide that it can fully address the IAEA's concerns and verifiably end any ongoing warhead work absent a diplomatic process aimed at producing a comprehensive resolution to the nuclear impasse.

In the course of that process, Iran must be convinced of two things: 1) that continuing down a path toward nuclear weapons will only result in increasing isolation and diminished security; and 2) that genuine and meaningful cooperation will be met by an easing of pressure, rather than an escalation. Iran should not be at risk of being punished for coming clean.

The talks between the P5+1 and Iran to be scheduled for later this spring provide the best chance to provide Iran with an "off-ramp" from its current course. This process should begin with confidence building steps addressing the most pressing proliferation risks, which would pave the way for additional measures to bring Iran further and further back from a nuclear-weapons breakout capability.

Answering the IAEA's questions will be a critical step en route to a broader, comprehensive arrangement that should also include full transparency over Iranian nuclear activities. --Peter Crail

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Posted: March 7, 2012

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