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“I also want to thank Daryl Kimball and the Arms Control Association for allowing me to address all of you today and for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war.”

– Joseph Biden, Jr.
Senator
January 28, 2004
Daryl Kimball

Indonesian Ratification of the CTBT Provides New Momentum for Entry Into Force

Today, the Indonesian parliament approved the ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, bringing the number ratifications necessary for entry into force down from 9 to 8. We hope to “create new momentum so that the other countries in a similar position to Indonesia can also follow suit in beginning their ratification process,” Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in September 2011. “We believe that [the] CTBT is one of the main instruments for nuclear disarmament,” he said. “Indonesia will use its good relations to promote the Treaty in Asia and the Middle East and...

“It is Almost Certain that the U.S. Will Not Test Again,” Says Former NNSA Administrator

Amb. Linton Brooks, the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration during the George W. Bush administration, said there is practically no chance of the United States resuming nuclear testing. Brooks, speaking at an ACA-sponsored Nov. 28 event on “The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty at 15: a Status Update,” described the political bar to testing as “too high” and stated that testing is not the best use of time or resources. Brooks expressed his confidence in the NNSA's Science Based Stockpile Stewardship and Management program ability to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear arsenal...

U.S. Suspends CFE Treaty Implementation

Daryl G. Kimball

In response to the long-running dispute with Russia over the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty regime, the U.S. Department of State announced in a Nov. 22 press release that Washington “would cease carrying out certain obligations” under the CFE Treaty with regard to Russia, putting the future of the 1990 pact in serious doubt.

At a press briefing the same day, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the decision means that the United States “will not accept Russian inspections of our bases under the CFE [Treaty], and we will also not provide Russia with the annual notifications and military data called for in the treaty.” She added that “it is our understanding that a number, if not all, of the U.S. NATO allies will do the same.”

Nuland said the U.S. action “comes after the United States and NATO allies have tried over the past four years to find a diplomatic solution following Russia’s decision in 2007 to cease implementation with respect to all other 29 CFE [Treaty] states.” Russia claimed its 2007 action was a response to NATO member states’ decision to condition their ratification of the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty on the resolution of a dispute over Russian military deployments in parts of Moldova and Georgia.

According to the press release, Washington “will continue to implement the Treaty and carry out all obligations with all States Parties other than Russia” and will not exceed the pact’s numerical limits on conventional armaments. The United States would resume full CFE Treaty implementation “if Russia resume[d] implementation of its Treaty obligations,” according to the statement.

Beginning in 2010, the Obama administration sought to resolve the CFE dispute through the development of a draft “framework” for new negotiations to strengthen the CFE Treaty regime. But by mid-2011, the talks stalled as Russia could not agree to the principle of host-country consent or to a resumption of compliance with the original CFE Treaty. (See ACT, September 2011.)

In response to the long-running dispute with Russia over the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty regime, the U.S. Department of State announced in a Nov. 22 press release that Washington “would cease carrying out certain obligations” under the CFE Treaty with regard to Russia, putting the future of the 1990 pact in serious doubt.

Time to Rethink and Reduce Nuclear Weapons Spending

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Volume 2, Issue 16, December 2, 2011

The supercommittee’s Nov. 21 failure to reach agreement on a deficit reduction plan has triggered deep, automatic reductions in future U.S. defense spending. At the same time, some in Congress are finally beginning to examine how much the United States plans to spend on nuclear weapons in the years ahead.

Through it all, one thing is clear: the changing security environment and increasing budget pressure mean that the United States can and should spend less on nuclear weapons than previously planned.

The automatic reductions, known as “sequestration,” will double the amount of money the Pentagon must cut from its projected budget growth, from about $450 billion to roughly $1 trillion, over the next decade. These cuts could get derailed before they take effect in 2013, but that outcome is impossible to predict. The Pentagon and Congress have to plan for these reductions, and they should start now.

Where should the budget cuts come from? For starters, we should stop funding excessive, Cold War-era nuclear weapon systems and capabilities that do not help address current or likely security threats.  As the Obama administration noted in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), “The massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War era of bipolar military confrontation is poorly suited to address the challenges posed by suicidal terrorists and unfriendly regimes seeking nuclear weapons.”

The most pressing security threats we face today, such as terrorism and cyber attack, simply cannot be addressed with nuclear weapons. The United States does not need to continue to deploy as many as 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads as is allowed under the New START treaty to deter nuclear attack from Russia or any other nuclear-armed state, nor does it need to spend hundreds of billions over the next decade to rebuild the nuclear “triad.”

At the same time, the Obama administration is re-examining the fundamental purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons and how many the country really needs. This review, called the NPR Implementation Study, will likely alter obsolete nuclear deterrence requirements and clear the way for further reciprocal nuclear reductions with Russia.

Even though current nuclear delivery systems will remain operational for another 20-30 years, key decisions on their replacements are being made right now.

Major procurement decisions should be informed by the results of the administration’s review of nuclear forces. To its credit, Pentagon officials told Congress last month that “no decisions have been made with respect to future force sizing or the modernization plans for nuclear delivery systems; such decisions will be informed by the Administration’s ongoing review of deterrence requirements."

Rather than build a new, more expensive version of the nuclear triad from the 1960s, we must recognize that the world has changed. The Cold War ended 20 years ago, but U.S. and Russian arsenals far exceed what is necessary to deter nuclear attack. According to the State Department, as of Sept. 1 the United States deployed 1,790 warheads on 822 strategic delivery vehicles, and Russia deployed 1,566 warheads on 516 strategic delivery vehicles. Each side possesses thousands more warheads in storage.

No other nuclear-armed country deploys more than 300 strategic warheads; China has no more than 40 to 50 warheads on intercontinental-range missiles. Nevertheless, both Russia and the United States currently plan to spend scarce resources to modernize and deploy excessive numbers of nuclear weapons for decades to come.

The United States can save at least $45 billion over the next 10 years and still maintain a formidable and survivable nuclear force.  Here’s how:

Rightsize the submarine force: Current Navy plans call for 12 new ballistic missile submarines—each with 16 nuclear-armed missiles—to replace the existing fleet of 12 operational Trident subs. Each new sub would cost an average of $7 billion; the entire fleet would cost $350 billion to build and operate over 50 years. The United States can rightsize the current and future ballistic missile submarine fleet from 12 to 8 and save $27 billion over 10 years (and $120 billion over the life of the program). Eight operational boats would allow the Pentagon to deploy the same number of sea-based warheads (about 1,000) as planned under New START.

Delay the new strategic bomber: The Air Force plans to retain 60 nuclear-capable, long-range B-2 and B-52 bombers into the 2040s, but has begun research on a new nuclear-capable heavy bomber, which could cost $50 billion or more to build. It would carry a new air-launched, nuclear-capable cruise missile. There is no rush to field a new bomber given that the Pentagon’s plan to deploy 60 heavy bombers under New START will be be achieved with existing aircraft. Delaying this program would save $18 billion over the next decade, according to the Pentagon.

For additional savings, the Pentagon could consider reductions to its land-based strategic missile force. The Air Force plans to maintain a force of up to 420 land-based missiles through 2030, and wants to buy a follow-on missile in the future. An additional $8 billion could be saved by “eliminating” the land-based missile leg of the nuclear triad, according to the Pentagon. Short of elimination, these missiles could be reduced and the follow-on missile program cancelled.

The Bottom Line

Wasting billions on an excessive nuclear force does nothing to help convince nations, such as Iran or North Korea, or terrorist actors to abandon their pursuit of dangerous weapons.

Nevertheless, “defense hawks” in Congress are calling the sequestration “dangerous” and the military services are lining up to protect their pet programs, such as the new ballistic missile submarine.

Fresh thinking is in order. The automatic reductions, although large, are achievable if done smartly. National security can actually be enhanced through greater budget discipline. Programs that address low priority threats must be scaled back to preserve more pressing national security needs.

As Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Nov. 11, “The amount of money we’re spending on maintaining nuclear weapons, modernizing nuclear weapons, is not in keeping with the modern world. It’s much more a Cold War remnant.”

For the good of the country, it is time to fundamentally rethink federal spending on nuclear weapons. –Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball

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Volume 2, Issue 16, December 2, 2011

The supercommittee’s Nov. 21 failure to reach agreement on a deficit reduction plan has triggered deep, automatic reductions in future U.S. defense spending. At the same time, some in Congress are finally beginning to examine how much the United States plans to spend on nuclear weapons in the years ahead.

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Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran

Daryl G. Kimball

The Obama administration entered office in 2009 seeking both to maintain pressure on Iran to comply with its nonproliferation obligations and to engage Tehran in a renewed dialogue on confidence-building measures to allay concerns about the purpose of its nuclear program.

But Iran’s fraudulent 2009 election, its pursuit of a second enrichment site near Qom, and the ongoing power struggle between key factions in Tehran have undermined the engagement track. Last January’s meeting in Istanbul revealed that Iranian negotiators were not prepared to seriously discuss even modest, interim proposals.

Today, the Obama administration still speaks of its interest in serious talks, but its Iran policy emphasizes pressure more than engagement. Washington must rebalance its approach by renewing discussions on a step-by-step process that leads to more-intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and the confidence-building steps that are essential to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.

International pressure on Iran is at an all-time high. UN Security Council sanctions approved in 2010 have slowed Iran’s nuclear and missile efforts and are steadily being implemented by more and more countries. Last month, 32 of the 35 members of the IAEA Board of Governors agreed to censure Iran’s weapons-related activities. This increasing international pressure was possible only because of the Obama administration’s willingness to engage Iran, and it will be put at risk if Washington minimizes the diplomatic track.

The latest IAEA report underscores that Iran was engaged in a comprehensive nuclear weapons-related research program, which was halted in late 2003 after being exposed. Since then, some weaponization-related activities have resumed.

Although the IAEA and U.S. intelligence findings show that Iran is slowly improving its uranium-enrichment capabilities and already has some of the expertise needed to build nuclear weapons, they also make it clear that a nuclear-armed Iran is neither imminent nor inevitable.

Sanctions have bought time and helped improve negotiating leverage, but the time available must be used constructively. Sanctions alone will not turn Tehran around.

Moreover, talk of military strikes against Iranian nuclear and military targets is counterproductive and naive. The “military option” would set back Iran’s program for no more than a couple of years, convince Iran’s leadership to pursue nuclear weapons openly, rally Iranian domestic support behind the regime, and lead to adverse economic and security consequences.

Ultimately, resolving the nuclear issue will require sufficient pressure and inducements to convince Iran’s current and future leaders they stand to gain more from forgoing nuclear weapons than from any decision to build them.

Rather than being permanently discouraged by Iran’s unhelpful behavior at Istanbul, the United States and its “P5+1” partners—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—should prepare for additional talks with Iran and continue to highlight constructive proposals they are prepared to discuss. This includes outlining the confidence-building steps required to ease the current sanctions regime and end Tehran’s diplomatic isolation.

A near-term goal should be to test Iran’s recent, publicly stated offer to stop producing uranium enriched to 20 percent if it could have access to fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor. A stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium would allow Iran to shorten its time frame to produce weapons; Washington should not forgo any opportunities to reduce that risk.

Another critical objective is to secure more-intrusive access by the IAEA to all of Iran’s nuclear-related activities and convince Tehran to finally address the agency’s questions about weapons-related work. The IAEA needs this increased access to detect and deter any clandestine nuclear activities.

The UN Security Council has also called on Iran to “suspend” its enrichment work as a confidence-building measure. Unfortunately, Tehran has refused to do so, misrepresenting the UN resolution as a denial of Iran’s inherent nuclear rights under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Under the NPT, however, the right to the peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy is conditioned on the responsibility to comply with safeguards against military use. Consistent with the 2006 offer by the P5+1, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has made it clear 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.

A permanent uranium-enrichment halt would be beneficial and very welcome, but it is not necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, and it 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.

If Iran is unwilling to agree to commonsense confidence building steps, Tehran will remain isolated. But the United States cannot afford to wait for Iran to make the first move. Washington must keep testing Iran’s willingness to change course by taking the diplomatic offensive.

The Obama administration entered office in 2009 seeking both to maintain pressure on Iran to comply with its nonproliferation obligations and to engage Tehran in a renewed dialogue on confidence-building measures to allay concerns about the purpose of its nuclear program.

The IAEA's Iran Report: Assessment and Implications

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Volume 2, Issue 15, November 8, 2011

The IAEA report and annex released today provides disturbing and “credible” additional details regarding Iranian nuclear warhead development efforts that have allowed Tehran to acquire some of the expertise needed to build nuclear weapons, should it decide to do so.

The broad outline in the IAEA’s latest report on the military dimensions of Iran’s program is not new, but rather, provides greater detail regarding weapons-related activities outlined in previous public reports.

The IAEA report and annex reinforce what the nonproliferation community has recognized for some time: that Iran engaged in various nuclear weapons development activities until 2003, then stopped many of them, but continued others.

The activities documented in the IAEA report, including research related to nuclear warheads, underscore that Tehran’s claims that it is only seeking the peaceful use of nuclear energy are false.

Iran’s warhead work also contradicts its obligation not to pursue nuclear weapons under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), under which states parties commit “not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

The report suggests that Iran is working to shorten the timeframe to building the bomb once and if it makes that decision. But it remains apparent that a nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable.

The report should prompt greater international pressure on Tehran to respond more fully to the IAEA’s questions, allow for more extensive inspections of its nuclear facilities, engage more seriously in talks on its nuclear program, and to agree to confidence building steps to help resolve the crisis.

Comparison of the IAEA’s Findings with Public U.S. Intelligence Assessments

Because the IAEA report is based largely on intelligence the United States and other IAEA member states have been sharing with the agency for some time, in addition to the agency’s own investigations, the information in the report likely provides greater insight into current U.S. assessments about Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S. intelligence community appears to stand by the judgment made in the 2007 NIE that Iran had a nuclear weapons program that was halted in the fall of 2003. Moreover, in his testimony before a Senate committee in March 2011, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that the intelligence community still had a high level of confidence that Iran has not yet made a decision restart its nuclear weapons program.

Because the weapons program is believed to refer to the series of projects the IAEA report details, Clapper’s statement is not inconsistent with the notion that some weapons-related R&D has resumed which is not part of a determined, integrated weapons-development program of the type that Iran maintained prior to 2003.

Consistent with the finding of the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, the IAEA report says that a comprehensive weapons program (known as the AMAD Plan) “was stopped rather abruptly pursuant to a ‘halt order,’” in late 2003, but that some of the program’s activities were resumed later. Key personnel are still involved in those renewed activities apparently tying up loose ends regarding their prior research and development work.

Summary of Key IAEA Findings on Weapons-Related Activities

The IAEA deserves credit for continuing to press the issue and to present this important information to the IAEA Board of Governors in spite of Tehran’s unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation. This resolve helps to bolster the integrity of the agency and show that countries cannot simply get away with nonproliferation violations by denial and obfuscation.

According to the report, Iran was engaged in an effort prior to the end of 2003 which ran the full range of nuclear weapons development, from acquiring the raw nuclear material to working on a weapon they could eventually deliver via a missile. Just as important as the type of work being carried out is how that work was organized. The series of projects that made up Iran’s nuclear program appears to have been overseen by “senior Iranian figures” and engaged in “working level correspondence” consistent with a coordinated program.

Key components of this program include:

  • Fissile Material Production: As documented in previous reports, Iran ran an undeclared effort to produce uranium-tetrafluoride (also known as Green Salt), a precursor for the uranium used in the enrichment process. The affiliation between this project and other projects directly related to warhead development suggests that Iran’s nuclear weapons program included both fissile material production and warhead development. Although the report does not detail a uranium enrichment effort as part of the AMAD Plan, the secret nature of the Natanz enrichment plant prior to 2002 suggests that it was originally intended to produce the highly enriched uranium (HEU) for weapons.
  • High Explosives Testing: Iran’s experiments involving exploding bridgewire (EBW) detonators and the simultaneous firing of explosives around a hemispherical shape points to work on nuclear warhead design. The agency says that the type of high explosives testing matches an existing nuclear weapon design. Iran admits to carrying out such work, but claims it is for conventional military purposes and disputes some of the technical details.
  • Warhead Design Verification: Iran carried out experiments using high explosives to test the validity of its warhead design and engaged in preparatory work to carry out a full-scale underground nuclear test explosion.
  • Shahab-3 Re-entry Vehicle: Documentation reviewed by the IAEA has suggested that, as late as 2003, Iran sought to develop a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on the Shahab-3 missile. Confronted with some of the studies, Iran admitted to the IAEA that such work would constitute nuclear weapons development, but Tehran denies carrying out the research.

The IAEA admits that it has less information regarding warhead-related work Iran has continued to pursue since 2003, but the report has provided some insight into the type of activities that Iran subsequently resumed, which seems to be focused on warhead design verification. The fact that the agency was able to detail some of the organizational changes that have taken place since 2003, including the current position of the person who formerly oversaw the AMAD Plan, suggests that intelligence agencies still have considerable insight into Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran will likely be concerned about its inability to hide such important information and will likely engage in further restructuring following this report, which may delay its efforts once again.

Considering the IAEA's reliance on intelligence information from states, it went through considerable length to demonstrate why it thought this information was credible. It was not just a matter of acquiring consistent information from over 10 countries, but it seems some of the most incriminating evidence comes from the AQ Khan network, which Iran admits it relied upon. The information from the Khan network includes details about nuclear warhead designs the network gave Iran that match up to the research and experiments detailed in the intelligence information.

The IAEA Board of Governors Needs to Respond

The report will be considered by the IAEA Board of Governors at its next meeting Nov. 17-18, along with a draft resolution censuring Iran for violating its nonproliferation commitments. The Board’s 35 members cannot ignore Iran’s warhead development activities or Tehran’s refusal to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation into that work. It must also insist that Iran improve its cooperation with the agency prior to the next board meeting.

A consensus response is unlikely given existing divisions among the 35 countries, and in particular, Cuba’s current membership on the board. Beijing and Moscow have also unfortunately played an unhelpful role prior to the release of the report by calling on Director-General Yukiya Amano to limit the information detailed it contains.

However, it is important that the board’s response receives support from as many countries as possible to demonstrate to Tehran that it cannot engage in work directly related to nuclear weapons with impunity.

In particular, developing countries on the IAEA Board of Governors should no longer treat the Iran nuclear issue as a test case for preserving the right to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Rather, it is time that all states insist that Iran stop abusing that right for the development of a nuclear weapons capability and take meaningful steps to cooperate with the IAEA and suspend enrichment work, particularly enrichment of uranium at the 20% level.

Rights and Responsibilities

Iran cannot complain that Western states are trying to deny the Islamic Republic its nuclear “rights.” The U.S. position, consistent with the 2006 offer by the P5+1, has been that Iran could resume enrichment some time in the future after it re-establishes confidence with the international community that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton explained it to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on March 1, 2011, it is the U.S. Government's position is 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.

In response to the IAEA’s report, the international community should redouble efforts to implement existing UN Security Council-mandated sanctions on Iran’s nuclear and missile sectors and, if Iran remains unwilling to cooperate with the IAEA and ignore the Security Council, further isolate Iran diplomatically and economically.

Maintain Pressure and Engage

In response to the report, the White House has appropriately underscored that the United States continues to focus on using diplomatic channels to pressure Iran to abandon its sensitive nuclear activities.

To keep open the option for an effective negotiated resolution to the crisis, President Barack Obama should also reiterate the willingness of the United States and its P5+1 partners to follow-through on the recent letter from the EU’s Catherine Ashton to Iran’s leaders offering to engage them in further talks to address the nuclear program.

Continuing pressure through targeted sanctions against Iran’s nuclear and missile sectors, coupled with the pursuit of a negotiated agreement to resolve serious concerns over Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities and to limit its uranium enrichment capacity provides the best chance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.

Talk of military strikes against Iranian nuclear and military targets is unhelpful and counterproductive. Military strikes by the United States and/or Israel would only achieve a temporary delay in Iran’s nuclear activities, convince Iran's leadership to openly pursue nuclear weapons, rally domestic support behind a corrupt regime, and would result in costly long-term consequences for U.S. and regional security and the U.S. and global economy.

Ultimately, resolving the nuclear issue will require sufficient pressure and inducement to convince Iran that it stands more to gain from forgoing a nuclear-weapons option and much to lose from any decision to build them. –PETER CRAIL, DARYL G. KIMBALL, GREG THIELMANN

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Volume 2, Issue 15, November 8, 2011

The IAEA report and annex released today provides disturbing and “credible” additional details regarding Iranian nuclear warhead development efforts that have allowed Tehran to acquire some of the expertise needed to build nuclear weapons, should it decide to do so.

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Science Replaces Nuclear Tests

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Volume 2, Issue 14, November 2, 2011

A front-page story in today’s Washington Post (“Supercomputers Offer Tools for Nuclear Testing--and Solving Nuclear Mysteries) illustrates how far the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program has come since nuclear explosive tests ended in 1992. Scientists at the three U.S. national laboratories now have a deeper understanding of nuclear weapons than ever before.

“We have a more fundamental understanding of how these weapons work today than we ever imagined when we were blowing them up,” Bruce T. Goodwin, principal associate director for weapons at Livermore National Laboratory, told the Post. Goodwin is in agreement with National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) administrator Thomas D'Agostino, who in 2008 said, "We know more about the complex issues of nuclear weapons performance today than we ever did during the period of nuclear testing."

It’s time for U.S. national policies to catch up with the science. The Senate voted against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1999, in large part because the stewardship program was as yet unproven. Now, with two decades of experience, the Senate can ratify the CTBT with full confidence that the stewardship program can keep the U.S. arsenal safe and reliable.

Countries with nuclear weapons, such as China, India and Pakistan, cannot create advanced nukes without further nuclear test explosions. Without nuclear tests, Iran could not confidently build warheads for delivery by ballistic missiles. The CTBT would also improve America’s ability to detect, deter, and confront any nation that attempts to break the global taboo against nuclear testing. 

Stockpile Stewardship Passes the Test, Again

Almost 20 years after the last U.S. nuclear test explosion, it is clear that the existing arsenal can be maintained indefinitely, without nuclear test explosions and without pursuing new warhead designs.

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, a high-level independent technical review panel, concluded that the "lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence."

And as the National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2002, the stewardship program “provides the technical capabilities that are necessary to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of the existing seven types of nuclear warheads in the active stockpile, provided that adequate resources are made available...and are properly focused on this task."

Stewardship Program Adequately Funded

Since fiscal year 2010, the Obama administration has requested, and the Congress has granted, significant increases for NNSA nuclear weapons activities, upping the budget by 10% to $7.0 billion from the previous year. Longer term, the administration has laid out an unprecedented $88 billion, ten-year plan for the nuclear weapons complex from 2012 to 2021. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in 2010 that, "These investments, and the... strategy for warhead life extension, represent a credible modernization plan necessary to sustain the nuclear infrastructure and support our nation's deterrent."

On December 1, 2010, the then-directors of the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories wrote that they were "very pleased" with the administration's budget plan. Lawrence Livermore director Dr. George Miller, Los Alamos director Dr. Michael Anastasio, and Sandia director Dr. Paul Hommert said that the increased funding plan provides "adequate support" to sustain the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

For fiscal year 2012, the Obama administration is requesting $7.63 billion for NNSA weapons activities. Congress is likely to increase NNSA funding again, but not as much as the administration wants. The Republican-led House appropriations committee increased funding for NNSA weapons activities to $7.13 billion, and the Senate approved a similar increase to $7.19 billion.

However, these minor reductions in the President’s proposed NNSA budget will not prevent NNSA from completing its primary mission.  As House Energy and Water Subcommittee Chair Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said in 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.”

Life Extensions: Be Conservative

Beyond funding questions, NNSA needs to ensure that the national labs are focused on the highest priority stockpile stewardship tasks. For example, the labs should only pursue cost-effective, technically conservative warhead life extension strategies that minimize unnecessary changes to already well-understood and proven warhead designs.

From fiscal year 2011 to 2031, NNSA plans to spend almost $16 billion on Life Extension Programs (LEPs) to extend the service life and in some cases modify almost every warhead in the enduring stockpile. This includes an estimated $3.7 billion on the W88 warhead, $3.9 billion on the B61 bomb, $4.2 billion on the W78 warhead, $1.7 billion on the W76 warhead, and $2.3 billion on the W80-1 warhead.

Some enhancements for safety and security may be warranted, but there is a risk. For years, stockpile managers and designers have preached design-change “discipline,” noting that an accumulation of unnecessary design and materials modifications could undermine confidence in warhead reliability.

For example, the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee warned in September that efforts to modify the B61 bomb with “untried technologies” should “not come at the expense of long-term weapon reliability. New safety and security features should be incorporated in weapon systems when feasible, but the primary goal of a life extension program should be to increase confidence in warhead performance without underground nuclear testing.”

As a result, the Senate reduced the B61 LEP budget request by more than $43 million. Former weapons designer Bob Peurifoy, a retired Sandia National Laboratory vice president, said that NNSA’s plans to change the B61 are “risking a very reliable system.”

The NNSA and Congress need to review the current life extension program to ensure that enthusiasm associated with extensively modifying warheads does not get out of hand. Marginal improvements in weapons security and safety should not come at the expense of long-term weapon reliability.  —Daryl G. Kimball and Tom Z. Collina

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Volume 2, Issue 14, November 3, 2011

A front-page story in today’s Washington Post (“Supercomputers Offer Tools for Nuclear Testing--and Solving Nuclear Mysteries”) illustrates how far the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program has come since nuclear explosive tests ended in 1992. Scientists at the three U.S. national laboratories now have a deeper understanding of nuclear weapons than ever before.

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Strategic Choices on Tactical Weapons

Daryl G. Kimball

In one of the smartest and boldest moves of the nuclear age, President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed in 1991 to withdraw most U.S. and Soviet forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons and dismantle a large portion of those weapons. These actions reduced tensions and the risk of nuclear catastrophe as the Soviet Union broke apart.

On Sept. 27, 1991, Bush announced the United States would end naval tactical nuclear deployments and withdraw and eliminate ground-launched tactical stockpiles. This prompted Russian leaders to pursue reciprocal steps, including the withdrawal of their tactical nuclear weapons to Russian territory.

Twenty years later, however, there have been no formal talks reducing the remaining tactical nuclear stockpiles. This is due in part to Russia’s belief that tactical weapons help counter Chinese and NATO forces and the view among some in NATO that U.S. forward-deployed nuclear weapons are a symbol of alliance cohesion.

In the coming weeks, NATO leaders can take decisive steps to change the alliance’s outdated nuclear policy and open the way for reductions of these Cold War nuclear relics.

Introduced into Europe more than half a century ago to counter Soviet conventional forces, battlefield nuclear bombs serve no meaningful military role in the defense of NATO or Russia. Top U.S. officials acknowledge this point; senior White House adviser Gary Samore has said that “whatever military mission they serve could of course also be accomplished through the use of systems that are not tactical systems based in Europe.”

Nevertheless, the United States still stations about 180 nuclear gravity bombs in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. For its part, Russia is estimated to possess 2,000 usable tactical nuclear weapons. The devastating power and collateral effects of such weapons make them inappropriate tools against non-nuclear targets, while the possible loss or theft of these weapons poses additional dangers.

The United States can and must persuade its NATO partners to eliminate any formal military or political requirement for forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons in the alliance’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review, which is to be completed before NATO’s May summit in Chicago.

The posture review was launched earlier this year to determine “the appropriate mix of conventional, nuclear, and missile defence forces”—an issue that alliance members failed to resolve in the course of their deliberations on their November 2010 Strategic Concept.

The Strategic Concept declares that it is NATO’s goal to “seek Russian agreement to increase transparency on its nuclear weapons in Europe and relocate these weapons away from the territory of NATO members.”

To spur action by Russia, however, the alliance must signal that it is willing to withdraw the obsolete U.S. tactical weapons from Europe if Russia is prepared to take reciprocal actions. By agreeing to eliminate its nuclear relics, NATO would increase pressure on Russia to account more fully for and to further consolidate its own stockpile.

If some NATO member states insist that even a few U.S. weapons remain in Europe, however, Russia is likely to continue to use them as cynical justification to keep its larger stockpile, and everyone’s security will be diminished.

Reaching agreement within NATO is never easy. In the coming weeks, President Barack Obama and his team must step up efforts to persuade NATO partners to eliminate any requirement in the posture review for maintaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. The review should clarify that these weapons are not necessary to deter or respond to external threats, including those from Russia.

NATO’s new Strategic Concept already states that “[t]he supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance” and not the U.S. tactical bombs stored in Europe.

NATO’s posture review also should clarify that the fundamental purpose of nuclear weapons for the alliance is to deter a nuclear attack by a potential adversary and that NATO pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that are non-nuclear-weapon states.

This policy would bring NATO into alignment with the results of the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review and with British nuclear doctrine. It would signal that NATO is reducing the role and salience of nuclear weapons and thus bolster the global nonproliferation regime. Such a policy also would demonstrate that NATO recognizes that the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear threats or adversaries would be disproportionate, inappropriate, and inconsistent with the values of NATO member states.

Although alliance members have vowed that as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world NATO will remain a nuclear alliance, it is in NATO’s interest to declare a more limited role for its nuclear capabilities and clear the way for overdue reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear forces.

In one of the smartest and boldest moves of the nuclear age, President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed in 1991 to withdraw most U.S. and Soviet forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons and dismantle a large portion of those weapons. These actions reduced tensions and the risk of nuclear catastrophe as the Soviet Union broke apart.

CTBT Signatories Push Entry Into Force

Daryl G. Kimball

Fifteen years after the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was opened for signature, more than 160 senior government officials met at a Sept. 23 conference at the United Nations to urge its signature and ratification by nine key remaining states to trigger entry into force.

More than 50 officials spoke at the seventh biennial Article XIV Conference on Facilitating Entry Into Force. Under the treaty’s Article XIV and Annex 2, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force. Nine of those states—China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States—have not yet done so.

The final conference declaration “urge[s] all remaining States…to sign and ratify the Treaty without delay” and endorses bilateral, regional, and multilateral initiatives to achieve the treaty’s “earliest entry into force.”

In his address to the conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted the growing calls, at the international political level and from the many victims and survivors of nuclear testing, for bringing the treaty into force. “My message is clear: Do not wait for others to move first. Take the initiative. Lead. The time for waiting has passed,” he stated. “We must make the most of existing—and potentially short-lived—opportunities.”

Since the 2009 Article XIV conference, the treaty has been signed and ratified by Trinidad and Tobago and ratified by four other states: the Central African Republic, Ghana, Guinea, and the Marshall Islands. To date, 182 states have signed the treaty, and 155 have ratified it. Yet, entry into force remains years away.

Carl Bildt and Patricia Espinosa, the foreign ministers of Sweden and Mexico, respectively, presided over the conference. Sweden and Mexico will head multilateral efforts to promote CTBT entry into force for the next two years.

The United States and China, which have signed but not ratified the treaty, have repeatedly expressed their support for it. In a Jan. 19, 2011, joint communiqué, Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao declared that “both sides support early entry into force of the CTBT.”

In May of this year, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher announced that the administration would begin a quiet effort to discuss the technical issues of the treaty with some Senate offices. (See ACT, June 2011.) In an interview posted Sept. 2 on the Web site Arms Control Wonk, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller confirmed that the effort has begun, noting that “the way people are going to come to their decisions about the treaty [is] through [a] process of very serious discussion and debate, seeing the facts, and coming to understand them.”

Gottemoeller also said, “[W]e’re not going to set any deadlines for ratification…we’re not rushing into this. We’re playing this as a long game, and really want to have that serious discussion and debate, and to get all the facts in front of the responsible figures: the Senators, the members and their staffs who are going to have to absorb and understand what all the issues are.”

In his Sept. 21 address before the UN General Assembly, Obama pledged that “America will continue to work for a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons.”

At the Sept. 23 CTBT conference, Tauscher reiterated the Obama administration’s support for the treaty and said, “[W]e intend to see it enter into force, but we cannot do it alone. As we move forward with our process, we call on all governments to declare or reaffirm their commitment not to test.”

Although movement toward U.S. Senate reconsideration of the CTBT remains slow, U.S. financial and technical support has substantially increased under the Obama administration.

Already the largest contributor to the Vienna-based Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), the United States announced two voluntary contributions in September. The first, valued at $8.9 million, will underwrite in-kind projects implemented by U.S. agencies in coordination with the CTBTO. These include enhancing radionuclide and noble gas detection technologies, refining seismic detection techniques, and supporting auxiliary seismic stations, according to a Sept. 6 CTBTO press release. The second contribution of $25.5 million will be used to reconstruct a damaged hydroacoustic station in the French Southern Territories, thereby completing the global hydroacoustic network to detect prohibited nuclear explosions, according to the CTBTO.

Since the establishment of the CTBTO in 1997, the global monitoring and data analysis system for verifying the treaty has been built up and is nearly complete, with about 85 percent of the planned 337 monitoring stations now operational. The CTBTO’s International Data Center also contributes to information for tsunami early warning, and earlier this year, the CTBTO provided global surveillance of the radioactive emissions from the Fukushima nuclear reactor complex after the March 11 accident there.

Fifteen years after the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was opened for signature, more than 160 senior government officials met at a Sept. 23 conference at the United Nations to urge its signature and ratification by nine key remaining states to trigger entry into force.

Disarmament and the Deficit

Daryl G. Kimball

Within weeks, a congressional “supercommittee” is due to deliver recommendations for reducing the U.S. federal budget deficit over the next decade. The Pentagon and the White House support trimming military spending by at least $350 billion as part of the plan, but some Republicans are balking. If Congress fails to agree on a deficit reduction formula, even deeper budget cuts will be triggered.

If Congress and the White House are serious about reducing unnecessary defense expenditures, they should start by curtailing the Pentagon’s ambitious plans to develop and build new and excessively large strategic nuclear delivery forces that could cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in the years to come.

Although U.S. and Russian arms reduction agreements have significantly reduced the size and salience of the two countries’ Cold War-era nuclear stockpiles, each country’s arsenal far exceeds what is necessary to deter nuclear attack. Today, the United States deploys 1,800 warheads on 882 deployed strategic delivery vehicles; Russia deploys 1,537 warheads on 521 deployed strategic delivery vehicles. Each side possesses thousands more warheads in storage.

No other nuclear-armed country deploys more than 300 strategic warheads; China has no more than 40 to 50 warheads on intercontinental-range missiles. Nevertheless, both Russia and the United States currently plan to spend scarce resources to modernize and deploy excessive numbers of nuclear weapons for decades to come.

The Obama administration has outlined plans to replace 12 of the existing 14 Trident nuclear-armed submarines that now carry 228 missiles armed with about 1,100 thermonuclear warheads. The Pentagon is seeking billions to extend the life of 420 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles and develop and build a follow-on intercontinental missile. Pentagon planners also want 80 to 100 new nuclear-capable strategic bombers with a new air-launched, nuclear-capable cruise missile to replace the existing B-2 and B-52 bombers that are expected to last another 20 years. The total lifetime costs for the new subs and bombers alone would exceed $400 billion.

As outgoing Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright told reporters July 14, “The challenge here is that we have to recapitalize all three legs [of the nuclear triad], and we don’t have the money to do it.”

To keep pace and to field the 1,550 strategic warheads allowed under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), Russia would have to follow through on its own very expensive, multiyear nuclear modernization effort.

Rather than maintaining obsolete arsenals that they neither need nor can afford, leaders in Washington and Moscow could pursue further, reciprocal reductions in their overall strategic nuclear forces—to 1,000 warheads or fewer each—and still retain more than enough megatonnage to deter nuclear attack by any current or future adversary.

The White House, Congress, and the supercommittee can pursue disarmament and deficit reduction in a number of ways.

For example, by rightsizing its fleet of Trident nuclear-armed subs from 14 to 8 or fewer and building no more than 8 new SSBN(X) nuclear-armed boats, the United States could still deploy the same number of strategic nuclear warheads at sea as is currently planned (about 1,000) and save roughly $26 billion over 10 years, $31 billion over 30 years, and $120 billion over the life of the program.

By delaying the Long-Range Penetrating Bomber (LRPB) program beyond the next 10 years, the United States would save at least $3.7 billion in research and development costs. If the LRPB program were canceled, the United States would save at least $50 billion in procurement costs alone. Because the Pentagon will continue to deploy 60 already-proven B-2s and B-52s under New START, delaying the new bomber program would not have any impact on U.S. nuclear force deployments.

Although the United States could achieve even deeper nuclear reductions while still maintaining all three legs of the triad, further budget savings could be achieved by phasing out long-range bombers from the nuclear mission.

The fiscal and national security logic of trimming U.S. nuclear excess is so strong that one hawkish senator, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), recently proposed cutting $79 billion from the U.S. nuclear weapons budget over the next decade by reducing the deployed nuclear stockpile and by delaying development of the new bomber until the mid-2020s.

The Soviet Union dissolved 20 years ago and, with it, the threat of a bolt-from-the-blue nuclear attack from Russia. Maintaining thousands of nuclear weapons does nothing to address this century’s top security challenges—civil war, famine, nuclear terrorism, and failed states.

By responsibly reducing strategic nuclear forces and scaling back new weapons systems, the United States can help close its budget deficit. By reducing the incentive for Russia to rebuild its arsenal, these budget savings will make the United States safer and more secure.

Within weeks, a congressional “supercommittee” is due to deliver recommendations for reducing the U.S. federal budget deficit over the next decade. The Pentagon and the White House support trimming military spending by at least $350 billion as part of the plan, but some Republicans are balking. If Congress fails to agree on a deficit reduction formula, even deeper budget cuts will be triggered.

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