"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Daryl Kimball

War in Ukraine

News Date: 
May 2, 2022 -04:00

New Tactical Nuclear Weapons? Just Say No.

May 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal war on Ukraine, along with his implied threats of nuclear weapons use against any who would interfere, has raised the specter of nuclear conflict. Last month, CIA Director William Burns said that although there is no sign that Russia is preparing to do so, “none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons."

A Tomahawk cruise missile launches from the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup (DDG 86) during a live-fire exercise, during Valiant Shield 2018 in the Philippine Sea September 18, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo)As the war drags on, it is vital that Russian, NATO, and U.S. leaders maintain lines of communication to prevent direct conflict and avoid rhetoric and actions that increase the risk of nuclear escalation. Provocations could include deploying tactical nuclear weapons or developing new types of nuclear weapons designed for fighting and “winning” a regional nuclear war.

For these and other reasons, U.S. President Joe Biden was smart to announce in March that he will cancel a proposal by the Trump administration for a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), a weapon last deployed in 1991.

Before President Donald Trump, two Democratic and two Republican administrations had agreed that nuclear-armed cruise missiles on Navy ships were redundant and destabilizing and detract from higher-priority conventional missions. Moreover, renuclearizing the fleet would create serious operational burdens. In 2019, Biden called this weapon a “bad idea” and said there is no need for new nuclear weapons. He was right then and is right to cancel the system now.

Nevertheless, some in Congress are pushing to restore funding for a nuclear SLCM to fill what they say is a “deterrence gap” against Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons arsenal and to provide a future president with “more credible” nuclear options in a future war with Russia in Europe or with China over Taiwan. A fight over the project, which would cost at least $9 billion through the end of the decade, is all but certain.

The arguments for reviving the nuclear SLCM program are as flimsy as they are dangerous. Serious policymakers all agree that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. But deploying nuclear-armed cruise missiles at sea would undoubtedly increase the possibility of nuclear war through miscalculation.

By deploying both conventional and nuclear-armed cruise missiles at sea, any launch of a conventional cruise missile inherently would send a nuclear signal and increase the potential for unintended nuclear use in a conflict with a nuclear-armed adversary because the adversary would have no way of knowing if the missile was nuclear or conventional.

Furthermore, even if Russia’s stockpile of 1,000 to 2,000 short-range nuclear warheads is larger in number than the U.S. stockpile of 320, there is no meaningful gap in capabilities. Superficial numerical comparisons ignore the fact that both sides already possess excess tactical nuclear destructive capacity, including multiple options for air and missile delivery of lower-yield nuclear warheads. Both also store their tactical warheads separately from the delivery systems, meaning preparations for potential use would be detectable in advance.

If one president authorized the use of these weapons under “extreme” circumstances in a conventional war, as the policies of both countries allow, neither side would need or want to use more than a handful of these highly destructive weapons. Although tactical nuclear bombs may produce relatively smaller explosive yields, from less than 1 kiloton TNT equivalent to 20 kilotons or more, their blast, heat, and radiation effects would be unlike anything seen in warfare since the 21-kiloton-yield atomic bomb that destroyed Nagasaki.

Proponents of the nuclear SLCM claim that if Putin used a tactical nuclear weapon to try to gain a military advantage or simply to intimidate, the U.S. president must have additional options to strike back with tactical nuclear weapons. They further argue that he should strike back even if that results in nuclear devastation within NATO and Russian territory.

Theories that nuclear war can be “limited” are extremely dangerous and ignore the unimaginable human suffering nuclear detonations would produce. In practice, once nuclear weapons are used by nuclear-armed adversaries, there is no guarantee the conflict would not quickly escalate to a catastrophic exchange involving the thousands of long-range strategic nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russian arsenals.

As Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command, said in 2018 after the annual Global Thunder wargame, “It ends bad. And the bad, meaning, it ends with global nuclear war.” As the supercomputer in the 1983 movie War Games ultimately calculated, “The only winning move is not to play.”

Adding a new type of tactical nuclear weapon to the U.S. arsenal will not enhance deterrence so much as it would increase the risk of nuclear war, mimic irresponsible Russian nuclear signaling, and prompt Russia and China to build their own sea- or land-based nuclear cruise missile systems. Biden made the right decision to cancel Trump’s proposed nuclear SLCM, and now Congress needs to back the president up.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal war on Ukraine, along with his implied threats of nuclear weapons use against any who would interfere, has raised the specter of nuclear conflict.

Kremlin Censors Independent Voices on Foreign Affairs

May 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

As part of a broader effort to quell domestic criticism about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, the Kremlin has ordered a crackdown on international nongovernment organizations (NGOs) operating in Russia and has sought to admonish senior Russian foreign policy experts who have called for an end to hostilities.

Five years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin presented a major Russian human rights award to Lyudmila Alexeyeva (C), a leading human rights activist and member of the Helsinki Watch group. Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Putin has cracked down on civil society, including closing the office of Human Right Watch and other activist groups who have operated in Russia for years. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)On April 8, the Russian Ministry of Justice revoked the licenses of 15 international NGOs that have been operating in Russia for decades. Among the organizations shuttered by the Kremlin are Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In March, Russia adopted laws that criminalize independent war reporting, public statements of opposition, and protests against the war.

“The ministry’s statement referred vaguely to Russian legislation, but there is little doubt the move was in response to our reporting on the war [in Ukraine],” according to a statement issued by Human Rights Watch. The organization has been among the critics of Russia’s use of banned cluster munitions against civilians in Ukraine, which the group said could amount to war crimes.

In a separate move, Putin signed a decree on March 28 to expel four prominent experts from the 152-member scientific council under the Russian Security Council who were among a group of experts who signed an international appeal issued on March 3.

The four individuals named in the decree were Alexey Gromyko, director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Alexander Nikitin, director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Security, MGIMO University, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Alexander Panov, chief researcher, and Sergey Rogov, scientific director, both of the Institute for the USA and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The staff of the Security Council explained to the Russian newspaper Kommersant that Putin’s order was designed to “update” the structure of the advisory group, which provides “scientific, methodological and expert-analytical support for the activities of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, its working bodies and apparatus.”

Rogov, 73, was the most senior member of the scientific council. He is a veteran arms control and global affairs expert who has engaged in numerous Track 1.5 discussions with U.S., European, and Russian counterparts and officials, including with the Arms Control Association. With Gromyko and Adam Thompson, the European Leadership Network director, he has co-chaired an ongoing NATO-Russian military confrontation risk reduction dialogue involving senior Russian, U.S., and European experts and former officials.

In early March, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine was beginning, the four Russian experts excluded by Putin from the scientific council joined a group of more than 100 other experts, including 23 Russians, on a statement expressing “extreme concern over the biggest crisis on the European continent since the Second World War.” In the statement, which was organized through the NATO-Russian dialogue, they said that all parties to the conflict must immediately agree to an unconditional ceasefire, adopt coordinated measures to deescalate the situation, and negotiate a political settlement. They also said that it is urgent to establish cooperation on humanitarian aspects in the conflict zones.

They urged all parties to exercise the highest measure of responsibility and restraint in matters relating to nuclear weapons and refrain from threatening nuclear rhetoric and actions and stated that it is necessary to resume Russian-U.S. negotiations on strategic stability. Furthermore, they said that it is necessary to agree on additional measures to prevent military incidents between the United States and NATO and Russia and to establish direct contacts between Russian and U.S. and NATO military forces.

One of the experts expelled from the scientific council, Alexey Gromyko, the grandson of the Cold War-era Soviet foreign minister of the same name, told the privately owned, Russian-language RTVi television network that those expelled were not informed of the reason for the decision.

“It’s hard for me to say why we were expelled, we weren’t notified. The statement contained great meaning in those days from the point of view of the national interests of our country,” Gromyko said on March 29.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Russian scientific experts are among those affected by the restrictions.


U.S. Commits to ASAT Ban

May 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

The United States has become the first space-faring nation to declare a ban on anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons testing. In a statement on April 18, the Biden administration said the United States would commit “not to conduct destructive, direct-ascent [ASAT] missile testing, and that [it] seeks to establish this as a new international norm for responsible behavior in space.”

An Indian DRDO anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) is displayed during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi in January 2020.  (Photo by Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images)The announcement follows the Russian launch on Nov. 15 of an interceptor from a Nudol ground-based ASAT system that was used to destroy one of its own aging satellites in low earth orbit. The collision created at least 1,500 pieces of trackable debris that will pose a threat to orbiting objects for years to come.

Destructive ASAT tests “jeopardize the long-term sustainability of outer space and imperil the exploration and use of space by all nations,” the White House said in an April 18 fact sheet on national security norms in space.

“This commitment is verifiable and attributable by many parties, and we encourage other countries to make similar commitments to build international support against…destructive direct-ascent [ASAT] missile tests,” according to a series of April 18 tweets from the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

Since the first Soviet ASAT test in 1968, there have been 16 destructive ASAT tests, resulting in more than 6,300 pieces of debris, according to the Secure World Foundation, which tracks space security developments.

China, India, and the United States have also demonstrated the ability to destroy satellites with ground- or air-launched missiles.

In 1985, the United States successfully tested an air-launched missile to destroy a weather satellite. In 2007, China used a ground-based SC-19 ballistic missile to destroy a weather satellite. In 2008, the United States used a modified ship-based Standard Missile-3 missile defense interceptor to destroy a failed U.S. intelligence satellite. In 2019, India used a ground-based Prithvi ballistic missile to destroy one of its own target satellites.

The U.S. ASAT moratorium was announced by Vice President Kamala Harris at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. She said the United States “will engage the international community to uphold and strengthen a rules-based international order for space.”

In 2021, President Joe Biden issued the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance,” which stated that the United States “will lead in promoting shared norms on space.”

Efforts to launch talks that might produce new understandings on maintaining the peaceful use of space have long been stymied.

For many years, the United States was wary of any legally binding restrictions on ASAT systems in part because they might restrict U.S. ground-based missile defense capabilities or a possible space-based kinetic anti-missile system that could involve orbiting interceptors that provide a thin defense against intercontinental missiles.

The U.S. ASAT testing moratorium could energize an open-ended working group mandated by a 2021 UN resolution to develop rules of the road for military activities in space, including legally binding measures designed to prohibit counterspace activities that threaten international security. (See ACT, December 2021.)

In an April 21 statement, the French Foreign Affairs Ministry welcomed the U.S. move and said, “France, which has never carried out such tests, will continue to advocate for a legally binding universal standard prohibiting such actions.”

The Biden administration’s decision could energize UN-mandated discussions on rules for military activities in space.

Five Decades On, Our Work Is Not Done

Inside the Arms Control Association April 2022 Fifty years ago, on May 26, 1972, the first bilateral nuclear arms control agreements were struck: the U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. That breakthrough followed the entry into force of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1970. At the same time, the Arms Control Association was established as a project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, becoming an independent, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization in 1972. As the first ACA Newsletter from April 1972 notes, the...


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