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Tom Z. Collina

Missile Defense Tester Calls for Redesign

Tom Z. Collina

The Defense Department’s chief weapons tester called in January for the redesign of a key component of the U.S. system intended to intercept long-range missiles launched from North Korea or Iran, raising questions about the department’s plans to expand the current system.

J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, wrote in his annual report, released Jan. 29, that recent test failures of the U.S. ground-based interceptor (GBI) system raise concerns about the system’s reliability and suggested that the missile’s exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) be redesigned to assure it is “robust against failure.”

Echoing Gilmore’s view, Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told a Feb. 25 conference in Washington, “We’ve got to get to more reliable [missile defense] systems.” Merely “patching the things we’ve got is probably not going to be adequate. So we’re going to have to go beyond that,” he said.

The EKV plays a central role in the missile defense mission. It is lifted into space by a booster rocket and then uses its onboard sensors to locate an incoming enemy warhead and destroy it on impact. U.S. officials have compared the task to hitting a bullet with another bullet.

The currently deployed EKVs, built by Raytheon, have missed in their last three tests. One model, called the CE-II, failed its only two tests, both in 2010. An older model, the CE-I, failed last summer. Nonetheless, these same EKVs are now operationally deployed on 30 GBI missiles in Alaska and California, and the Pentagon announced last March that it would add 14 more missiles armed with the CE-II by 2017, if the next test, planned for this summer, is successful. (See ACT, April 2013.)

Deployment Decision

Based on Gilmore’s report, some are now calling on the Pentagon to delay expansion of the system until the new technology is ready. “Not another dime should be spent on more bad GBIs at Fort Greely [in Alaska] or anywhere else. Instead, a new GBI/EKV must be designed, built, and successfully tested to replace the old design,” former Pentagon testing director Philip Coyle said in a Feb. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

Although redesigning the system would likely take five years or more and delay the Pentagon’s plan to field more GBI missiles by 2017, missile defense supporters are reportedly worried that lawmakers might resist paying $1 billion to field interceptors with the troubled EKV on board.

Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said in a Feb. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today that “the 14 additional interceptors will have the second-generation [CE-II] kill vehicle. At this point in time I know of no changes to this plan.”

According to congressional staffers, it is no secret that the GBI EKV needs to be redesigned and that the MDA and Congress support that goal. They said that Congress fully funded the administration’s $70 million request for the Common Kill Vehicle program in the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014. The aim of that program is to build a common EKV for the missiles in the GBI system and the more successful Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), built by Lockheed Martin and now deployed on Navy ships equipped with the Aegis missile defense radar system. According to the MDA, the Common Kill Vehicle program is a continuation of the effort to develop an EKV for the SM-3 IIB, which was canceled last March and was meant to have some capability against long-range missiles.

In November, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon each received a contract from the MDA to develop designs for a common EKV. Development of a new EKV will cost $560 million over the next five years, part of a $4.5 billion increase that is expected for missile defense funding over that period, Reuters reported Feb. 7.

The congressional staffers said that there is bipartisan agreement that the Alaska expansion should go forward with the CE-II if the next test is successful. As one staffer said, “You can only field what you have in hand” even if there are plans to make it better in the future.

Eastern Sites Announced

Meanwhile, the Defense Department announced Jan. 31 that it would conduct environmental impact studies for four possible missile defense sites in the eastern United States, as directed by Congress, but that no decision has been made to construct a new site.

The four sites are Fort Drum in New York, SERE Training Area at Naval Air Station Portsmouth in Maine, Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio, and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan. A site in Vermont was dropped from the original list released in September. (See ACT, October 2013.) The Pentagon said it would take about 24 months to complete the review process.

The Pentagon’s chief weapons tester has called for the redesign of a key component of the U.S. long-range missile interceptor system, raising questions about plans to expand it.

Trimming the Bloated Nuclear Weapons Budget



Volume 5, Issue 3, January 14, 2014

The United States plans to spend at least $355 billion to maintain and rebuild its nuclear arsenal over the next decade, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion, according to another independent estimate.

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These eye-popping projections come at a time that the defense budget is declining along with the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense strategy. The Pentagon announced last June that it could reduce strategic nuclear forces by one-third below levels set by the 2010 New START Treaty, continuing a historical trend. The U.S. nuclear stockpile has dropped by 80 percent since its peak in 1967, but is still a formidable force of about 4,600 warheads.

These high costs, combined with shrinking budgets and stockpiles, should compel the Pentagon to rethink its plans to rebuild U.S. nuclear forces in the years ahead.

Now is the Time to Trim
The Departments of Defense and Energy are in the process of making long-term, multi-billion dollar decisions about how many new missiles, submarines, bombers and nuclear warheads the nation will build and deploy over the next 50 years. Now is the time to reevaluate these plans, before major budget decisions are locked in.

The good news is that it's not too late to chart a different course. Major acquisition programs are just getting off the ground and can be scaled back.

CBO estimates that, under current plans, U.S. taxpayers will spend at least $89 billion to buy new nuclear replacement systems over the next decade. But since these are long-term commitments that are just starting, CBO points out that costs are likely to balloon after 2023 as production begins. From 2024 to 2030, CBO estimates, the cost of modernization would be more than four times higher than in 2014.

The largest share of funding for nuclear delivery systems would go to strategic submarines. The Navy wants to buy 12 new ballistic missile submarines with a total production cost of about $100 billion. The Air Force is seeking up to 100 new, nuclear-armed strategic bombers that would cost at least $55 billion, as well as a new fleet of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles. The Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is pursuing a $60 billion plan to upgrade five nuclear warhead types, including the B61 gravity bomb.

Arms Reductions Create Opportunity
Fortunately, ongoing U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenal reductions under New START open the door to major budget savings at this pivotal time. There is no need to wait for another U.S.-Russian arms reduction agreement to save money.

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The United States maintains a deployed arsenal of about 2,100 strategic and tactical warheads and associated delivery systems--missiles, submarines, and bombers--and another 2,500 in reserve, for a total active stockpile of approximately 4,600 warheads.

New START will take the United States down to 1,550 treaty-accountable, deployed strategic warheads by 2018; Russia, now at 1,400 warheads, is already well below that level. Other than Russia, the only potential U.S. adversary with a long-range nuclear capability is China, which has no more than 75 single-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to the Pentagon.

In June 2013, President Obama announced he would pursue a new agreement with Russia to further reduce strategic weapons, as well as to reduce tactical weapons.  The U.S. military leadership has determined it can reduce deployed strategic warheads to 1,000-1,100, or about one-third below New START levels.

This analysis describes realistic, common sense options for reducing U.S. military spending on nuclear weapons that would save U.S. taxpayers about $70 billion from FY 2014-2023 (see chart below). The baseline for this analysis is the CBO estimate of current plans to maintain U.S. nuclear forces, build a new "triad" of delivery systems (submarines, bombers, and missiles), and extend the service life of nuclear warheads.

These options are not dependent on implementing additional U.S. arms reductions beyond New START. Instead, they are designed to meet New START warhead requirements in a more cost-effective way and to delay major procurement decisions until we really need to make them. If the United States does implement additional arsenal reductions in the future (either by treaty or reciprocal reductions), further budget savings would be possible.  

STRATEGIC SUBMARINES: 10-year savings, $16 billion
The Ohio-class replacement submarine program is the most expensive piece of the nuclear modernization plan ($100 billion for development and production only; $350 billion total over its lifetime) and, according to the Navy, would force the service to forgo 32 conventional ships it is planning to build, including attack submarines and destroyers. Rather than undermine the Navy's shipbuilding plans, the number of strategic subs can be scaled back.

The current fleet of 14 Ohio class submarines and the planned purchase of 12 new replacement subs (SSBNX) can both be reduced to eight. This would save $15.7 billion over 10 years and would still allow the Pentagon to deploy more than 1,000 warheads on submarines as planned under New START, according to a Nov. 2013 report by CBO. Procurement of the first SSBNX can be delayed until 2024, and its deployment delayed until 2033. Savings include personnel costs, procurement costs from pushing back the SSBNX purchase dates, and operations and management costs from reducing the current Ohio class fleet. During the 2030s, this plan would save an additional $30 billion by avoiding the purchase of four more SSBNX subs, according to CBO.

LONG RANGE BOMBERS: 10 year-savings, $32 billion
Under New START, the Pentagon plans to reduce the nuclear-capable, long-range bomber force from about 96 today to 60 (18 B2s and 42 B52s) by 2018. The B2 and B52 bombers are expected to operate into the 2050s and 2040s, respectively. Production of a new bomber is estimated to cost about $55 billion for 80-100 planes, not including development costs which have been estimated to be at least $20 billion.

The new bomber program can be delayed until the mid 2020s, saving $32.1 billion over 10 years, according to CBO. Even with a 10-year delay, a new bomber would still be ready by about the time current bombers are reaching the end of their service life, according to CBO, and the delay would allow the new bomber to incorporate technological advances made during that time.

AIR-LAUNCHED CRUISE MISSILE (ALCM): 10-year savings, $6 billion
The new Air Force bomber (above) is planned to eventually carry two types of nuclear weapons: a rebuilt gravity bomb (the B61, see below) and a cruise missile, known as the long-range standoff (LSRO) weapon or Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). The current ALCM, carried by B-52 bombers, was first deployed in the 1980s and is scheduled for retirement in 2030. A new ALCM has not been officially approved and has no official price tag, but is expected to cost at least $1 billion to develop over the next five years and $10-20 billion to produce. In addition, a rebuilt nuclear warhead to go with it would cost another $12 billion, according to NNSA, with about $5 billion to be spent in the next decade.

The need for a bomber with stand off nuclear missiles that are shot from afar is not clear. The new bomber is intended to penetrate enemy air defenses; it needs bombs that can be dropped from above. The current B-2 stealth bomber is a penetrator, too. If the Pentagon is concerned that an adversary's air defenses will improve in the future, the United States has other standoff weapons, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

B61 LIFE EXTENSION PROGRAM (LEP): 10-year savings, $5 billion
A 2012 Pentagon review estimated that the program to refurbish 400 B61 gravity bombs, both strategic and tactical, would cost $10.4 billion or roughly $25 million per bomb. This is an increase of $6 billion over NNSA's original estimate. In 2013 the Senate Appropriations Committee reduced the FY14 NNSA budget for the program by $168 million, or one third, but it was later restored to $537 million in the Omnibus appropriation.

To make the program affordable, NNSA needs to rescope the current plan for the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) and choose a more cost effective option, such as one that does not replace nuclear components or consolidate four versions of the bomb into one. At the same time, given President Obama's intentions to reduce tactical bombs in NATO, B61 bombs may no longer be deployed in Europe by the time the program is completed a decade from now. A scaled back B61 life extension plan could save an estimated $5 billion.

Under New START, the Air Force plans to reduce the current Minuteman III ICBM fleet from 450 to 400-420, and can go lower. The ICBM force recently underwent several modernization programs to extend its life expectancy, and the Air Force plans to sustain it through 2030 and possibly through 2075.

Development of a new ICBM and warhead life extension can be delayed until the mid 2020s without affecting operations of the current ICBM fleet. The new ICBM is in an early design phase and there is no official cost estimate. Independent estimates range from $20-$70 billion depending on how many new missiles are built and whether they would be silo-based or mobile. According to CBO, if the Air Force decides to build a replacement ICBM, development costs for the missile and warhead would add up to $10 billion by 2023. Production costs would fall outside the ten-year window.

Needed: Fresh Thinking
It's time for a more sensible approach to U.S. nuclear weapons spending. The savings proposed here can be achieved without reducing the number of deployed U.S. warheads below New START levels, so there is no need to wait for Moscow to reduce its nuclear forces any further. Reductions beyond New START would lead to additional budget savings in the years ahead.

The United States has more nuclear weapons than it needs. Shielding nuclear programs from budget reductions will force deeper cuts into other, higher priority conventional systems. Reducing nuclear weapons spending now is a smart way to trim the budget. --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. Tom Z. Collina is ACA's research director.


The United States plans to spend at least $355 billion to maintain and rebuild its nuclear arsenal over the next decade, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion, according to another independent estimate.

Nuclear Arsenal Costs to Rise, CBO Says

Tom Z. Collina

The U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost taxpayers $355 billion over the next decade, and expenses are expected to increase into the future as the Defense Department begins a major effort to modernize the weapons, said a December report by Congress’s nonpartisan budget arm. The report raises new questions about how much the Pentagon can afford to spend on nuclear weapons as its budget faces sizable reductions.

The report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, of the $355 billion to be spent during fiscal years 2014-2023, $152 billion would go to maintaining the current arsenal of missiles, bombers, and submarines and the nuclear warheads they carry; $89 billion would be used to modernize or replace those weapons; $56 billion would be spent on command, control, and communications for U.S. weapons and early detection of enemy missile launches; and $59 billion would go for unbudgeted cost growth. These programs will cost $23 billion in fiscal year 2014.

In 2011, the Defense Department estimated it would spend $214 billion on the nuclear arsenal during fiscal years 2011-2020, an average of $21 billion a year.

Because U.S. efforts to modernize the nuclear arsenal are just starting, “annual costs for nuclear forces are expected to increase,” the CBO found. For example, the report said that nuclear costs, not including command and control, would average $29 billion by 2023. That amount is 60 percent higher than the 2014 budget of $18 billion.

Of the nuclear weapons programs, the strategic submarines will have the highest cost, $82 billion, accounting for 56 percent of the funds allocated to strategic systems; bombers would get 27 percent, and long-range missiles 17 percent. The highest single-year cost for modernization is expected in 2022, when the Navy would be paying for procurement of the first new SSBN(X) submarine and starting advanced procurement of the second.

The CBO says that it expects modernization costs to keep growing after 2023 as new systems begin production and that most of these costs will occur after the 10-year period examined in the report. The report estimated that, from 2024 to 2030, the cost of modernization would average $15 billion per year, more than four times the 2014 number.

The U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost taxpayers $355 billion over the next decade, and expenses are expected to increase into the future as the Defense Department begins a major effort to modernize the weapons, said a December report by Congress’s nonpartisan budget arm. The report raises new questions about how much the Pentagon can afford to spend on nuclear weapons as its budget faces sizable reductions.

Russia Links Missile Defense, Iran Deal

Tom Z. Collina

The recent deal between six world powers and Iran to temporarily freeze Tehran’s nuclear program would eventually remove the main rationale for NATO’s missile defense plans, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in December.

“Implementation of the Geneva agreement on Iran will remove the cause for construction of a missile shield in Europe,” Lavrov told a Dec. 19 news conference in Poland, where U.S. missile interceptors are planned to be installed by 2018. Lavrov was referring to an interim agreement reached in Geneva on Nov. 24 by Iran and six global powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that are seeking to ensure Tehran does not develop nuclear weapons. The agreement adds a new twist to long-standing Russian arguments against U.S. and NATO plans to field missile defenses in central Europe.

In his comments, Lavrov was highlighting the U.S. contention that a Europe-based missile defense system was needed to counter the potential threat to Europe of a missile attack from Iran. U.S. President Barack Obama said in Prague in 2009, “If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed.”

But current and former U.S. officials say that it would be premature to assume the Iran deal will succeed and that even if it does, that alone would not remove the threat from Iran. According to a Dec. 16 press statement by Defense Department spokesman Carl Woog, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoygu, during a video teleconference earlier that day that the Iran deal does not obviate the need for the United States and its NATO allies to continue their current approach to missile defense in Europe. Hagel told Shoygu said that U.S. and NATO missile defense efforts do not threaten Russia, and he urged Moscow to continue consultations with Washington on missile defense cooperation, Woog said in the statement.

Ivo Daalder, U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2009 to 2013, said in a Dec. 18 interview that the interim agreement starts a promising process but that “the outcome is not inevitable.” Even if the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon were removed, there would still be the threat from Tehran’s missiles, he said, which can reach southern Europe. But if both threats were eliminated, “I would not be surprised to see a new debate on this in NATO,” Daalder said.

In a separate Dec. 18 interview, a senior Republican Senate staffer said that, in the context of U.S. missile defense, Iran will maintain a capability to break out from any future nuclear agreement “faster than we can deploy missile defenses.” He said that existing U.S. plans to field up to 44 interceptors in Alaska and California are “enough for the current Iran situation,” but that if Tehran flight-tests a long-range missile, which it has not done, “that would be an indicator” to start new projects, such as a missile interceptor site on the U.S. East Coast.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Dec. 19 that Moscow was considering the deployment of Iskander short-range missiles, which could carry nuclear warheads, in Kaliningrad, a Russian territory on the Baltic Sea within striking distance of where U.S. missile defenses would be deployed in Poland.

“One of the possible responses [to Western missile defense plans] is to deploy Iskander complexes in Kaliningrad...but I want to draw your attention to the fact that we have not yet made this decision,” Putin said at a press conference, according to RT News.

Putin was contradicting press reports that the Iskanders already were in Kaliningrad, based on a Dec. 16 Russian Defense Ministry statement that “Iskander rocket complexes are indeed standing armed with the rocket and artillery divisions in the Western Military District,” which includes Kaliningrad.

Russia warned two years ago that it would put Iskanders in Kaliningrad if NATO were unable to convince Moscow that its missile defense plans were not a threat to Russia. Dmitry Medvedev, then president and now prime minister, said in November 2011 that the missiles could be placed in the region to “secure the destruction of the European component of the U.S. missile defense system.” (See ACT, January/February 2012.) It is not clear whether the missiles are armed with nuclear or conventional warheads.

Russia has been seeking a legal guarantee that NATO missile interceptors would not be used against Moscow’s nuclear-armed, long-range ballistic missiles. NATO has refused, offering political assurances instead.

The Iskander-M, the version of the missile that may be deployed to Kaliningrad, has a range of up to 400 kilometers and is not banned by any U.S.-Russian treaty. It could potentially target ground-based radars and interceptors deployed at Redzikowo, Poland, a site 250 kilometers from Kaliningrad at which NATO plans to deploy interceptor systems by 2018.

Interceptors are also planned for Romania by 2015. Ship-based interceptors were deployed in the Mediterranean Sea in 2011, along with a radar in Turkey. Last March, the Pentagon canceled U.S. plans to field more-capable interceptors in Poland by 2020.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Nov. 5 in Warsaw that the plan to field the system in Poland by 2018 is “absolutely on target” and noted that officials had recently broken ground on the site in Romania.

In the interview, Daalder said that the possible Russian action is less about missile defense and “all about Poland” because “Russia does not want NATO military capability” in the former Warsaw Pact country. Moscow is sending the message that “the threat to Poland will go up” if interceptors are fielded as planned, he said.

Moscow appears to be much more concerned about U.S. plans for missile defense in Europe than actual interceptor deployments in the United States, which have a greater capability against Russian long-range missiles, Daalder said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program would remove the justification for NATO missile defenses.

Hill to Fix, Not Expand, Missile Defense

Tom Z. Collina

Congress voted in December to drop a controversial proposal to build a new missile defense interceptor site on the U.S. East Coast, agreeing instead to spend more to fix problems with the existing system, which has failed in its last three intercept tests.

The new policy is included in the final $625 billion National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 26. The legislation authorizes raising federal spending on missile defense by $358 million to $9.5 billion for the fiscal year that began last Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30.

The final bill dropped a measure approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which called for spending $140 million on a new missile interceptor site on the East Coast. Instead, the final legislation authorizes $190 million to upgrade the existing Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system to counter long-range ballistic missiles. The GMD system is currently operational at one site each in Alaska and California. That system, first deployed in 2004, had its last successful intercept test in 2008, failing twice in 2010 and again last July.

In interviews Dec. 16-17, senior congressional staffers from both parties described the new approach as a bipartisan agreement to upgrade the current system rather than build a new site. Given the problems with the GMD system, Congress has decided to “fix what we’ve got,” said one senior Republican staffer. He said that the administration’s initial budget request to Congress did not include enough money to fix the system’s inadequacies.

The House approved its version of the defense bill June 14 with a requirement that the Defense Department establish an East Coast missile interceptor site by 2018. The Senate version, passed by the Armed Services Committee on June 13, contained no such provision. The bill did not receive a vote by the full Senate.

Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), wrote to the Senate on June 10 that there was no military requirement for an East Coast site. Syring said he would rather invest funds in new sensors that could help the existing system distinguish real targets from fake ones. (See ACT, July/August 2013.)

The system’s ability to tell the difference between real and fake targets is critical because an attacker’s warheads would likely come surrounded by debris and decoys. In congressional testimony last May, Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational testing, said, “If we can’t discriminate what the real threatening objects are, it doesn’t matter how many ground-based interceptors we have; we won’t be able to hit what needs to be hit.”

Noting that Senate Republicans did not have the votes to mandate an East Coast site, the Republican staffer said that a new site should not be established until the system’s performance can be improved through upgrades to sensors and kill vehicles, the devices that sit on top of interceptor missiles and are supposed to collide with an enemy warhead in space. It is not clear that such upgrades would be achievable by 2018, according to the staffers.

To address Syring’s call for better sensors, the defense act authorizes $30 million as a down payment on the deployment of an additional “long-range discriminating radar” to track missiles launched from North Korea. The new radar would likely be located in Alaska, according to the congressional staffers. The act also says that the secretary of defense should be prepared to field additional sensors near the East Coast by 2019 if a future long-range missile threat emerges from Iran. Unlike North Korea, Tehran has not tested a long-range missile that could reach the United States, although it reportedly sent a monkey into space Dec. 14.

New Radar, Kill Vehicle

In addition to $30 million for the radar, the defense act authorizes $80 million to fix problems that caused the most recent GMD test failure last July, $50 million for better capabilities to distinguish real warheads from fake ones, and $30 million to develop a better kill vehicle. The act allocates $20 million for studying a possible new interceptor site on the East Coast.

Reflecting the MDA’s desire for a more reliable and capable kill vehicle, the act requires the agency to prepare a plan this May to “develop, test, and deploy” an upgraded kill vehicle to be fielded in 2018 or later that can pick out “lethal objects.” This effort is expected to eventually cost up to $150 million per year, according to the Republican staffer.

The Pentagon announced last March that it intends to increase the number of U.S. interceptors from 30 to 44 by 2017, with the additional 14 to be placed at Fort Greely in Alaska. Before that can happen, the interceptor must be successfully tested, according to the Defense Department. The next intercept test is planned for this spring. (See ACT, September 2013.) These additional 14 interceptors have already been purchased, so they would not include the proposed upgrades, the staffers said.

House Provisions Diluted

Like the requirement for an East Coast missile defense site, other aspects of the original House bill were watered down in the final version of the legislation. For example, the House bill would have blocked reductions required by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) until the Pentagon submitted an implementation plan, and it said that reductions below the levels specified in New START could be carried out only under a formal treaty approved by Congress. Obama called for such reductions in a speech last June.

In contrast, the compromise bill allows the Pentagon to prepare for New START reductions, which do not have to be completed until 2018. In addition, the bill expresses only the nonbinding “sense of Congress” that further arms reductions “should” be “pursued through a mutually negotiated agreement” with Russia under the president’s “treaty-making power.”

The defense bill language authorizes about $30 billion more than Congress will be allowed to appropriate under the terms of a bipartisan budget agreement approved in December. Appropriators must decide which programs to cut back by Jan. 15, when the current budget agreement expires.

The final version of the defense authorization bill dropped House language calling for an East Coast missile defense site and boosted funding to improve interception technology.

CTBTO Announces Pledges to Limit Xenon

Tom Z. Collina

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) announced Nov. 13 that four medical isotope makers have pledged to reduce radioxenon emissions, a step that the organization said would help it in its mission of identifying nuclear test explosions.

The producers also have agreed to share information on emission levels, the CTBTO said in the announcement.

The increasing global production of medical isotopes has led to higher emissions of the radioactive noble gas xenon, the CTBTO said, and could affect one of the CTBTO’s key verification technologies by masking a potential xenon release from an underground nuclear test. CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said the cooperation with the medical isotope producers “helps us to provide confidence to our member states that, now and in the future, no radioactive release from a nuclear test will go unnoticed.”

The four companies that signed the pledge are the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Coquí RadioPharmaceuticals Corp. in the United States, the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, and PT Batan Teknologi Company Indonesia. The CTBTO will assist producers in clarifying any concerns due to elevated xenon levels.

The Belgian-based Institute for Radio Elements signed the pledge in June.

The agreement was signed during a workshop at the CTBTO’s Vienna headquarters on the radioactive signatures of medical and industrial isotope production. The permanent representatives to the UN office in Vienna of Belgium, Indonesia, South Korea, and the United States attended the ceremony, along with 70 representatives from established and prospective producers of medical isotopes from 24 countries and representatives from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, in outer space, underwater, and underground. The CTBTO’s global verification regime, which is to have 337 facilities when it is fully operational, monitors the globe for nuclear explosions. Once the CTBT has entered into force, on-site inspections can also be used to search for evidence of a nuclear explosion.

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) announced Nov. 13 that four medical isotope makers have pledged to reduce radioxenon emissions, a step that the organization said would help it in its mission of identifying nuclear test explosions.

Obama Announces Key NNSA Nominee

Tom Z. Collina

The Obama administration on Nov. 6 announced it would nominate Madelyn Creedon to be principal deputy administrator at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous part of the Energy Department. That position is the second-most senior in the NNSA, which oversees all U.S. nuclear weapons production and maintenance activities, as well as nonproliferation programs.

Creedon is assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs, a position she has held since 2011. From 2001 to 2011, Creedon was counsel for the Democratic staff on the Senate Armed Services Committee and was responsible for the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and threat reduction and nuclear nonproliferation issues. From 2000 to 2001, she served as the deputy administrator for defense programs at the NNSA.

In August, President Barack Obama nominated retired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz to lead the NNSA. Klotz is senior fellow for strategic studies and arms control at the Council on Foreign Relations and is a former commander of Air Force Global Strike Command. Earlier, Klotz served as the defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Later, from 2001 to 2003, as the director for nuclear policy and arms control on the National Security Council staff, he represented the White House in the talks that led to the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.

At Klotz’s Sept. 19 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the panel’s ranking member, said that “Congress has serious concerns about [NNSA] management, especially with respect to cost growth, schedule slippage, security, and planning.”

Klotz said at the hearing that “security and safety” would be his top priorities.

Klotz would replace Thomas D’Agostino, who retired in January. Creedon would replace Neile Miller, who left in June.

The Obama administration on Nov. 6 announced it would nominate Madelyn Creedon to be principal deputy administrator at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous part of the Energy Department. That position is the second-most senior in the NNSA, which oversees all U.S. nuclear weapons production and maintenance activities, as well as nonproliferation programs.

UN Vote Backs Talks on Nuclear Arms Ban

Tom Z. Collina

In a sign of rising frustration among states without nuclear weapons at the slow pace of disarmament efforts, the UN’s disarmament committee in New York passed a resolution in November with the support of 129 states calling for the “urgent” start of multilateral negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons and designating Sept. 26 as the international day for their “total elimination.”

“Our delegations joined the call of the overwhelming majority of states for more urgency, focus, and new momentum for nuclear disarmament,” Ireland’s representative said after the Nov. 4 vote, also speaking on behalf of Austria, Liechtenstein, Malta, New Zealand, and San Marino.

First proposed in October, the resolution was meant as a follow-up to the high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament held Sept. 26 in the UN General Assembly. Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, which drafted the language, Indonesia’s representative, Desra Percaya, said Nov. 4 that the resolution underlined the strong support expressed at the high-level meeting for taking effective action toward a nuclear-weapons-free world. (See ACT, November 2013.)

The resolution, approved by the UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with nuclear disarmament, calls for the “urgent commencement” of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva for the “early conclusion” of a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons to prohibit their “possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer and use or threat of use, and to provide for their destruction.”

The resolution also declares Sept. 26 the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons to “mobilize international efforts” toward a nuclear-weapons-free world and calls for a second UN high-level meeting by 2018 on nuclear disarmament “to review the progress made in this regard.”

The resolution was approved by a vote of 129-28 with 19 abstentions and, unlike many of the other resolutions on which votes were taken, commits UN member states to future actions. The General Assembly is scheduled to vote on the resolution Dec. 5; the measure is expected to pass by a similar margin.

The General Assembly approves resolutions by majority vote, but the CD works by consensus. Therefore, no agreement on nuclear weapons elimination can be reached without the support of the five original nuclear-weapon states.

Four of those five—France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—voted against the resolution. China voted in favor of it, but said that countries with the largest nuclear arsenals should continue to take the lead in reductions. All five states are parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

In a joint statement, France, the UK, and the United States said that “a practical step[-]by[-]step process is the only way to make real progress” on disarmament and that “there are no short cuts.” The states said that they are seeking “early commencement” of negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) at the CD and “prompt” entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

India and Pakistan, which have nuclear weapons but are not members of the NPT, voted in favor of the resolution.

The other states that voted against the resolution or abstained are members of NATO, such as Germany, which collectively “share” U.S. nuclear weapons, or are “nuclear umbrella” states that have nuclear security agreements with Washington, such as Japan.

Many non-nuclear-weapon states argue that the step-by-step process is not working and, according to a European diplomat, is “not very credible.” They point out that the FMCT talks have been stalled in the CD since the late 1990s and the United States has not made progress toward ratification of the CTBT since the Senate voted against ratification in 1999.

Noting that the next NPT review conference will take place in 2015, the joint statement by the three nuclear-weapon states said that planning a conference on nuclear disarmament in 2018 “is not consistent with the NPT agenda” and “risks weakening commitment among states to securing a successful outcome” at the review conference.

Since 1975, NPT review conferences, held every five years, have often been fraught with discord over the slow pace of disarmament efforts. Three of them—in 1980, 1990, and 2005—failed to agree on a final document, considered by many states and independent observers to be a key measure of the success of the month-long meetings. There is widespread concern that the 2015 conference also may fail to reach consensus on a final document.

In their Nov. 4 joint statement, Ireland and the five other countries said they saw the resolution on nuclear weapons elimination as “entirely consistent” with the NPT, noting that Article VI of the treaty requires “effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament” and that the 2010 NPT Review Conference agreed to “the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons.”

Non-nuclear-weapon states at the United Nations showed their growing impatience with inaction on disarmament by voting to start “urgent” talks on the elimination of nuclear weapons.

On Nukes, Senate Should Not Tie President's Hands



Volume 4, Issue 14, November 20, 2013

The National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1197) is on the Senate floor, and there may be debate on how much latitude the President should have when seeking to reduce excess U.S. nuclear forces. Some will argue that any future nuclear reductions can only occur via a formal treaty; others will counter that informal approaches should also be an option. There is an obvious, bipartisan answer: Current and future presidents should have as much flexibility as previous presidents, both Republicans and Democrats.   

Unfortunately, some Republicans are seeking to take this flexibility away from President Obama. Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) have offered a "sense of congress" amendment (2136) that additional reductions "should only be pursued through mutual negotiated agreement with the Russian Federation." Similarly, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has expressed concern that the administration has not definitively pledged that "militarily significant reductions to the U.S. nuclear arsenal would only be carried out through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate."

It is understandable that senators want to protect their right under the constitution to approve or disapprove treaties. But that is not the issue here. According to Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), ranking member on the Foreign Relations committee, the State Department has "affirmed the Senate's role in any future negotiations with Russia." But Sens. Lee, Fischer and Rubio appear to want to go beyond that and stop any U.S. reductions outside of a treaty. They are reaching too far.

Presidents from both parties have sought to protect their flexibility to pursue arms reductions without a treaty when the circumstances and U.S. national security warrant doing so. If the Senate adds language to the defense bill to restrict White House flexibility on this matter, the President would likely veto the bill. The two previous Republican administrations would not likely have allowed such constraints, either.

Bush Administrations Had Flexibility, Too

Treaties may be the preferable way to effect mutual nuclear arms reductions, but they are not the only way. In addition to formal bilateral treaties (such as the 2010 New START treaty), the United States has used informal measures. The primary examples of the latter are President George H.W. Bush's bold Presidential Nuclear Initiatives in 1991 to remove thousands of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from forward deployment as the Soviet Union began to break apart. Days later, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev reciprocated, reducing the risk that these weapons would fall into the wrong hands. No formal treaty was ever negotiated or signed, nor did the administration seek the approval of Congress. In this case, the need for expediency outweighed the benefits of a legally binding agreement.

Even in the case of the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT, or the "Moscow Treaty"), President George W. Bush initially set out to reduce U.S. forces without a formal agreement. As he said in 2001: "We don't need an arms control agreement to convince us to reduce our nuclear weapons down substantially, and I'm going to do it."

However, Russian President Putin wanted a formal treaty, as did the U.S. Senate, and President Bush changed his mind. Nevertheless, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2002 that, "We would have made these cuts regardless of what Russia did with its arsenal." "We're making [the reductions] not because we signed the treaty," he explained, "but because the transformation in our relationship with Russia means that we do not need as many deployed weapons as we once needed."

Ultimately, both Bush presidencies reduced U.S. nuclear forces by roughly 50 percent each, using formal and informal means.

By comparison, President Obama's planned and proposed reductions are modest. By 2018, New START will reduce the deployed U.S. strategic arsenal by about 400 warheads, a 10 percent reduction from the overall stockpile (strategic and tactical, deployed and in storage) of about 5,000 warheads. President Obama's June proposal to reduce strategic warheads by an additional 500 or so would increase his reductions to 20 percent, still a far lower percentage than previous administrations.

In response to President Obama's June proposal, 24 Senate Republicans wrote a letter to the White House stating: "It is our view that any further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal should only be conducted through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate."

This position is at odds with the view that 71 Senators expressed just three years ago. The Senate's resolution of ratification for New START states that "further arms reduction agreements obligating the United States to reduce or limit the Armed Forces or armaments of the United States in any military significant manner may be made only pursuant to the treaty-making power of the President..." (emphasis added)

This December 2010 formulation does not rule out the option of nuclear reductions in the absence of a formal agreement.

First, an informal U.S.-Russian understanding that each side would reduce its nuclear forces would not be a legally binding agreement and is therefore not an obligation subject to congressional approval. Second, the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have already determined that one-third of the U.S. strategic nuclear warheads now deployed are in excess of military requirements. Thus, such a reduction would not have a militarily significant impact.

Moreover, in an attempt to cast doubt on further negotiated nuclear reductions with Russia, some congressional Republicans also claim that Moscow is not complying with some of its treaty obligations, such as the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. However, recent Pentagon and State Department reports reveal no evidence of Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty. At the same time, Russia is said to be in full compliance with New START.

Giving Russia a Veto

Congress should not restrict the President's options to reduce excess nuclear arsenals in a stable and verifiable way. If the Obama administration were limited to reducing U.S. nuclear forces in a treaty with Russia, this would effectively give Moscow veto power over what must be a U.S. prerogative. While it may be better to reduce in tandem with Russia, there are good reasons to lead by example, as President Bush did in 1991.

For its part, Russia will be hard pressed to maintain New START levels unless it accelerates its own expensive modernization of aging nuclear delivery systems. According to the latest report required by New START, Russia now deploys 1,400 deployed strategic warheads--150 below the New START ceiling and 280 below the U.S. deployed strategic warhead level. Rather than induce Russia to build up, it is in the security and financial interests of both countries to eliminate excess strategic nuclear forces.

The U.S. leadership has already determined that the United States has more nuclear weapons than its needs to deter nuclear attack against the United States and our allies. Given the budget crisis, the administration could redirect funds to higher priority defense needs by reducing excess nuclear forces. Enhancing U.S. security in this way should not have to wait for Russian approval.

Significant budget savings can be achieved even if the United States stays at New START levels. By matching delivery systems more closely with a smaller stockpile of nuclear warheads, the United States could save $59 billion over the next decade, primarily by buying fewer strategic submarines and delaying new long-range bombers.

Further U.S. reductions would also improve the international consensus to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and enhance cooperation to address the threats from North Korea and Iran, and put pressure on other states--including China--to join in the reduction process.

New START already provides a solid framework for verification and monitoring through intrusive inspection and data exchanges. Deeper, mutual reductions in deployed strategic nuclear weapons can be achieved through reciprocal actions made on the basis of the best national interests of each country.

As George Shultz, Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn wrote in March: "A global effort is needed to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, prevent their spread, and ultimately end them as a threat to the world. It will take leadership, creative approaches and thoughtful understanding of the perils of inaction."

The White House needs flexibility to lead and be creative--a one-size-fits-all approach will not cut it. We must not let process and politics get in the way of the substance: reducing nuclear dangers and increasing U.S. security.--TOM Z. COLLINA


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. Daryl G. Kimball is ACA's executive director.


The National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1197) is on the Senate floor, and there may be debate on how much latitude the President should have when seeking to reduce excess U.S. nuclear forces. Some will argue that any future nuclear reductions can only occur via a formal treaty; others will counter that informal approaches should also be an option. There is an obvious, bipartisan answer: Current and future presidents should have as much flexibility as previous presidents, both Republicans and Democrats.

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Disarmament Consensus Eludes UN

Tom Z. Collina

As they complete their annual debate on disarmament and international security, the member states of the United Nations continue to struggle to agree on where to focus their efforts. The next logical step for many, a global ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, has been effectively blocked by Pakistan.

Meanwhile, international support is growing to move directly to the elimination of nuclear weapons, which the declared nuclear powers oppose.

The “ongoing stalemate” of the UN’s disarmament work “remains deeply troubling,” EU representative Andras Kos said in an Oct. 22 statement at the UN. The Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva has not negotiated a disarmament agreement for 16 years, leading CD Secretary-General Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan to say in 2012 that nothing could “mask the stagnation in what should serve the international community as its single standing multilateral disarmament negotiating forum.”

The five recognized nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and their allies continue to support a step-by-step process to nuclear disarmament, with negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) next in line. Others, however, such as members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), have lost confidence in the step-by-step approach and seek instead to jump-start negotiations on nuclear weapons elimination.

In an effort to break the CD gridlock, the UN General Assembly First Committee in 2012 approved a resolution by Canada to establish a group of governmental experts to discuss how to advance negotiations on an FMCT. The group is scheduled to meet for two-week sessions in 2014 and 2015. After that, the group is to submit to the General Assembly in the fall of 2015 a final report with a list of recommendations on how to advance FMCT negotiations and what technical aspects to include in the treaty. Pakistan, the only state to vote against the resolution, said that the experts group “adds no value to the substance of the envisaged treaty” and would “undermine the CD, the sole multilateral negotiating forum.” (See ACT, December 2012.)

The five nuclear-weapon states have met with other nuclear-armed states in so-called P5-plus talks to discuss how to break the stalemate in the CD, but they have consistently expressed their intent to negotiate an FMCT in the CD. (See ACT, October 2011.)

In 1995, Russia, the United States, and many Western states supported opening negotiations on an FMCT, but Pakistan and other NAM members objected. Pakistan expressed concern that a ban on future fissile material production for weapons would lock in an advantage for India, its strategic rival. Pakistan’s position was only hardened by the 2005 U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, which gave New Delhi, but not Islamabad, access to Western nuclear power technology. Neither India nor Pakistan is a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Frustrated by the lack of progress on an FMCT, other states are seeking to build consensus around the elimination of nuclear weapons. As part of this effort, on Sept. 26 the General Assembly held a high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament, intended to promote “collective efforts to move away from the nuclear abyss [that] have remained too modest in ambition and brought only limited success,” as Austrian President Heinz Fischer put it at the meeting. “Nuclear weapons should be stigmatized, banned, and eliminated before they abolish us,” he said.

As a follow-up, on Oct. 14 the NAM member states proposed a resolution calling for negotiations in the CD to eliminate nuclear weapons, another high-level meeting by 2018, and designation of Sept. 26 as the “international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Austria led efforts last fall to create an open-ended working group in Geneva to discuss nuclear disarmament alongside the CD, but with more states involved and without the CD’s requirement for consensus. The group met this spring and summer, producing a report to the UN General Assembly. In response, the CD established its own alternative forum, known as the informal working group, in August. (See ACT, September 2013.)

In addition, outside the UN process there will be a second international meeting on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use in February in Nayarit, Mexico. The first such conference was in Oslo in March. The nuclear-weapon states did not attend the first session and issued a Sept. 26 joint statement regretting that “energy is being directed toward” initiatives such as the high-level meeting and humanitarian consequences campaign instead of the FMCT.

As the step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament loses steam, support is building at the United Nations to move directly to the elimination of nuclear weapons, but finding consensus remains difficult.


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