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former IAEA Director-General

Tactical Nuclear Weapons

How Will Trump Change Nuclear Weapons Policy?

Policy will become clearer when the Defense Department completes its Nuclear Posture Review by early 2018.


November 2017
By Jon Wolfsthal

President Donald Trump has made a number of sometimes contradictory comments related to nuclear weapons during his political campaign and since his election.

This 2013 photo shows members of the 91st Missile Wing’s missile maintenance teams at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. performing maintenance tasks at a launch facility for a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).  Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Kristoffer Kaubisch/DVIDSHe said he would be the “last to use” nuclear weapons,1 yet implied first use when he said North Korean threats “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” should it threaten the United States or its allies.2 As a candidate, he described the U.S. nuclear arsenal as being in “very terrible shape,”3 while on August 9, 2017, after six months in office and no changes to U.S. nuclear forces, he tweeted that the nuclear arsenal “is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

Most recently, Trump denied an NBC News report that he told his national security advisers during a July meeting that he wanted what would amount to a tenfold increase in the number of U.S. nuclear weapons, returning to Cold War levels.4 “I want modernization and I want total rehabilitation” so the current arsenal is “in tip-top shape,”5 he told reporters October 11 at the White House, suggesting he will continue or accelerate the nuclear stockpile management program begun during the previous administration.

All that has created some uncertainty about how U.S. nuclear policies will change with a new administration led by a president who took office without experience in foreign policy or strategic thinking, let alone the complexities of nuclear weapons and deterrence. How his views and the changing strategic environment may alter the direction of U.S. nuclear policy will become clearer when the Department of Defense completes its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), expected late this year or in early 2018.

Posture reviews have been completed by three presidents since 1994 and have proven to be consequential documents. Much of the work and details behind the policies are classified, although it is expected that an unclassified NPR Report will be made public, affecting how the United States, its president, and its nuclear capabilities are seen by allies and adversaries alike. More importantly, the review establishes a guide for decisions that underpin the management, maintenance, and modernization of the nuclear arsenal and influences how Congress views and funds the nuclear forces.

Context Matters

One critical element of past nuclear posture reviews and likely this one as well is context. The first, completed under President Bill Clinton, was needed to define the purpose and possible role of nuclear weapons in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. The resulting “lead but hedge” strategy provided a continuing rationale for nuclear weapons and sought to preserve capabilities against a future Russian threat.

The George W. Bush administration was seized with the challenge of addressing proliferation by countries such as North Korea and Iran and focused on the inability of the United States to hold deep underground targets at risk. This led to the pursuit of new nuclear capabilities, such as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, that implied use as a battlefield weapon, not just a deterrent against attack on the United States or its allies. When combined with the global war on terrorism and the reliance on using U.S. military forces for regime change, the Bush administration was seen as much more reliant on nuclear weapons than the actual policy record reflects.

2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report: Key Elements

Nuclear Proliferation and Nuclear Terrorism

The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) Report prioritized measures to strengthen nonproliferation efforts and to accelerate the securing of nuclear materials worldwide.
“As a critical element of our effort to move toward a world free of nuclear weapons, the United States will lead expanded international efforts to rebuild and strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation regime—and for the first time, the 2010 NPR places this priority atop the U.S. nuclear agenda,” the report stated.

The Fundamental Role of Nuclear Weapons

The report stated that “the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons, which will continue as long as nuclear weapons exist, is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners.”

In the case of non-nuclear-weapon states, the Obama administration committed to strengthening negative security assurances. That is, the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against such states that are party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and in compliance with nuclear nonproliferation obligations, the report said. The United States will only consider the use of nuclear weapons in “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.”

The United States will continue to strengthen conventional capabilities and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks. The United States is “not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that the ‘sole purpose’ of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the United States and our allies and partners, but will work to establish conditions under which such a policy could be safely adopted,” the report stated.

Strategic Deterrence and Stability

The U.S. nuclear triad will be maintained under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The report states that the treaty does not constrain U.S. missile defenses and allows the United States to pursue conventional global strike systems. All U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles having multiple warheads will be restructured to having a single warhead each to increase stability. The United States will pursue post-New START arms control with Russia that addresses not only strategic weapons, but also nonstrategic and nondeployed nuclear weapons, the report said.

Regional Deterrence and Reassurance of Allies

Nuclear forces will “play an essential role in deterring potential adversaries and reassuring allies and partners around the world,” the report said. The United States will retain the capability to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on tactical fighter-bombers and heavy bombers. The administration is pursuing a comprehensive approach to broaden regional security architectures, including through missile defenses and improved conventional forces, the report said.

No ‘New’ Nuclear Warheads or Explosive Testing

The United States will modernize its nuclear weapons infrastructure and sustain the science, technology, and engineering base. The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities, the report said. The United States will not resume nuclear testing and will seek ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

President Barack Obama came into office at a time when the United States was seen internationally as a threat to the global nonproliferation and disarmament regime it had helped over decades to create and support. The previous administration’s false weapons of mass destruction (WMD) justification for the invasion of Iraq, Bush’s pursuit of the earth-penetrating warhead and a series of new “reliable replacement warheads” and that adminstration’s broader pursuit of regime change as a nonproliferation tool had reduced the credibility of the United States as a nonproliferation leader and a responsible nuclear-weapon state. This perception was part of the context for Obama’s NPR. He and his national security team saw restoring U.S. leadership of the global nonproliferation and disarmament effort as critical to addressing two dominant threats: nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.

Historians will establish whether this emphasis was well placed, but there is no question about the motivation of the Obama team. The president’s Prague speech in 2009 set the frame that was filled in by the NPR Report, released in 2010.6 The speech sought to balance the U.S. recommitment to eventually achieving the peace and security of a “world without nuclear weapons”—a U.S. goal dating back to the creation of such weapons—with the need to maintain at present a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal for the security of the United States and that of its treaty allies.

Furthermore, it directly recognized that the objectives of nonproliferation and preventing nuclear terrorism need to influence how the United States manages its nuclear arsenal. First and foremost in the minds of decision-makers was the pressing nuclear challenge of Iran, and the U.S. recommitment to disarmament was key to convincing states to apply the pressure on Iran needed to negotiate a nuclear agreement and avert a new war in the Middle East.

The Trump administration is now developing its nuclear policy and must wrestle with new challenges. Because of the president’s statements and unorthodox behavior, the context for this administration is already negative and likely to get worse. Bombastic and inflammatory statements by Trump toward North Korea and his decision not to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, cement a public view that the administration is willing to take greater risks than its predecessors with nuclear weapons and potential nuclear conflicts.

Thus, the Trump NPR is being produced in an environment where the president is seen as less responsible and cautious with nuclear threats than any president since Ronald Reagan in his first term.

Key NPR Questions

Key to any posture review is a set of questions from which answers help to justify a set of programs, either new or carried over from past work. Central to any review are two key and interrelated questions: Why does the United States need nuclear weapons, and under what circumstances would the president consider using them to protect U.S. interests?

The answers have been remarkably similar from president to president, and it is reasonable to anticipate that the Trump NPR will come out in a similar place. As the Obama NPR Report states, “The fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons, which will continue as long as nuclear weapons exist, is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners.”7 It goes on to state that the “United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.”

It would be a remarkable break with long-standing U.S. policy were the Trump vision for the possible use of nuclear weapons to diverge from this concept, but the ways in which a president pursues these goals can and has been quite different. The Trump team likely will seek more robust language to bolster the perceived willingness of the United States to use nuclear weapons. The president seems less concerned about how such statements may undermine U.S. nonproliferation policies and global standing and thus likely to put more weight on the need for stronger statements justifying the potential use of nuclear weapons and their continued development and possession.

The review is expected to move away from the Obama administration’s approach in a number of ways but to retain some continuity as well. Although it is impossible at this point to predict the precise tone or language, some issues are expected to emerge.

New Nuclear Weapons

President Donald Trump speaks to members of the National Security Council before a meeting at the Pentagon on July 20. Trump subsequently denied an NBC News report that, during the meeting, he said he wanted to return U.S. nuclear forces to Cold War-era numbers.  (Photo credit: Sgt. Amber Smith/DVIDS)U.S. nuclear weapons were designed in the 1970s and built in the 1980s and 1990s. Almost all are undergoing or will soon undergo what are known as life extension programs (LEPs). Congress has provided funding for these programs, and initial Trump budgets have shown strong support for these as well. Some of these LEPs involve minor updates and refurbishment, and some are complete renovations of existing weapons inside old containers. All result in weapons that are safe and reliable and can be expected to remain so for many decades.

Yet, there are growing concerns among some in the policy and technical communities that the age of U.S. weapons impose an excessive cost and has strategic implications. The worry is that, as these weapons age, Russia or some other adversary may see them as less reliable and that perception will make U.S. defense commitments to allies more difficult to fulfill. If this is the case, producing new weapons would provide a greater deterrent effect vis-á-vis Russia and others and be more reassuring to allies.

There is no evidence to back up this argument, but it also cannot be disproven. Since the United States conducted its last underground nuclear test explosion in 1992, the U.S. national laboratories have certified that their science-based stewardship programs have been able to ensure that U.S. nuclear weapons remain safe, secure, and effective. At the same time, the laboratories responsible for designing and maintaining nuclear weapons have struggled to attract and retain the necessary experts, often competing with Silicon Valley, and have argued that enabling scientists to design new weapons or at least conduct new weapons research would be helpful to maintaining a range of nuclear capacities.

These arguments have been around for a long time, ever since the end of the Cold War. Under Obama, because there was not a need to pursue the development of new weapons to ensure the nuclear deterrent, technical interest in some quarters to design and develop new weapons was not seen as a priority. Unbound by such considerations, as evidenced by Trump’s statements that if there is to be an arms race, let there be an arms race,8 the new NPR may authorize the laboratories to undertake design work on new weapons, possibly even for new missions.

Smaller Nuclear Weapons

For U.S. deterrent and nuclear reassurance statements to be credible, allies and potential adversaries must believe that the United States is prepared to use its nuclear weapons to deny an adversary the objective it seeks or to raise the costs of achieving that objective to the point where it is unappealing.

Some experts and analysts, including some now in the Trump administration, have maintained that because most but not all U.S. nuclear warheads are quite large by nuclear standards—some 10 to 20 times the size of the weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—they are too large for any threatened use to be credible. Under that argument, an adversary could convince itself that the United States will be self-deterred from using nuclear weapons because of the collateral damage to civilians and the environment.

If that is seen as a problem, the solution proposed by some is U.S. development of smaller, more usable nuclear weapons.9 Options include development of a new tactical nuclear weapon or modifications to existing strategic weapons that would produce a much smaller detonation than they were originally designed to produce. The prospect that Trump would support the development of such weapons is uncertain, but may be included at least as an aspiration in the NPR.

To be clear, there is no evidence from direct engagement with U.S. allies or countries such as Russia or China that proves or even strongly indicates that the size of U.S. nuclear weapons is seen as undermining U.S. deterrence or reassurance commitments. For the most part, this is a debate inside the U.S. nuclear security and military community that worries that a president might be self-deterred from using nuclear weapons for fear of collateral damage or other legal or moral considerations. It remains to be seen if the Trump NPR will seek such weapons, perhaps using such justification. It is not evident that there is a self-deterrent problem with the U.S. nuclear arsenal that requires a nuclear solution along these lines. Moreover, any such move is likely to replay the alarm during the 2000s that the president is eager to have and possibly employ nuclear weapons, a perception that would weaken strategic stability and undermine U.S. nonproliferation efforts.

Nuclear Modernization

All indications are that modernizing U.S. nuclear forces remains the Pentagon’s top priority for the NPR. The United States is in early stages of research and development of replacements for its current nuclear arsenal. Most of the delivery systems—land-based missiles, ballistic missile submarines, and long-range aircraft—are nearing the end of their lifecycles.

Under Obama, it was decided that the United States would pursue replacements for all three legs of the nuclear triad while investing resources to ensure that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and its laboratories, which maintain and monitor U.S. nuclear weapons, have what they need to keep U.S. weapons safe, secure, and effective. As these programs took shape, it became clear that the cost associated with a full-scale modernization of all three legs at the same time was a fiscal challenge, and a debate began about how to cover the costs along with the other demands associated with conventional military modernization.

Clearly, the costs associated with the nuclear modernization program are skyrocketing. An original outside estimate that the programs might cost $1 trillion over 30 years now appears to significantly underestimate the costs. The true costs could be 50 to 100 percent higher once all associated cost increases and programs are included. There is no way these programs will be sustainable if buying them means the U.S. military cannot also afford new fighter aircraft, surface ships, and advanced conventional capabilities needed to support broad U.S. defense requirements.

Thus, one issue the NPR needs to address is the intersection of policy requirements and budget resources. It would be the height of irresponsibility for the administration to call for continuing or expanding nuclear programs without explaining how these costs will be covered. Many options to adjust the pace and composition of future nuclear forces exist and need to be evaluated. These include delaying some programs, such as the new Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent designed to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, while possibly eliminating others. One prime candidate for elimination is the nuclear long-range standoff cruise missile.10 The NPR likely will not end or slow down these programs. In fact, it is possible the NPR will seek to accelerate their development. Yet, it will be critical that the NPR and Defense Department explain the costs of these programs and how they will be funded in a constrained budget environment.

Negative Security Assurances and Sole Purpose

The Obama administration took as a starting point in its review the concept that the United States should continue its tradition of only assigning to nuclear weapons the minimum roles necessary to ensure U.S. security and that of allies. The more that the role of nuclear weapons is reduced, the more credible U.S. strategy becomes and the greater the ability to achieve good security and nonproliferation outcomes.

Second Lt. Chris Davis, 321st Missile Squadron deputy missile combat crew commander, and 1st Lt. Paul Lee, 321st Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander, simulate key turns of the Minuteman III weapon system during a Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman test inside the launch control center at a missile alert facility in  the 90th Missile Wing's missile complex in Nebraska, April 11, 2017.  (Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano/DVIDS)Past administrations considered nuclear weapons suitable for all manner of security and military threats from terrorism to cyberspace. Obama and his national security team, however, narrowed the scope. To do so, the Obama team put real money, effort, and priority behind enhancing the non-nuclear options for dealing with military requirements. The NPR Report states, “The United States will continue to strengthen conventional capabilities and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks, with the objective of making deterrence of nuclear attack on the United States or our allies and partners the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons.”11

They took the view that to have and retain political and moral leadership in the effort to confront Iran’s nuclear program, it was important to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons to the lowest level consistent with national security requirements. This was not seen as a favor to any other country or constituency, but rather to ensure that the United States was acting consistently with a desire to reduce the risks of nuclear use and to support the global nonproliferation and disarmament system.

These policies focus on two groups of states: those with nuclear weapons and those without nuclear weapons. For those countries with nuclear weapons, the NPR Report stopped short of declaring deterrence as the “sole purpose,” as arms control and disarmament advocates sought.

[T]here remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or [chemical or biological weapons] attack against the United States or its allies and partners. The United States is therefore not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons, but will work to establish conditions under which such a policy could be safely adopted.12

Trump has not tipped his hand about when and against whom he might consider using nuclear weapons, although he has threatened North Korea with either a U.S. first-strike or nuclear retaliation if it strikes the United States, its territories (Guam), South Korea, or Japan. He also said during the campaign that he would not rule anything out, including the first use of nuclear weapons in Europe and elsewhere.13

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Energy Secretary Steven Chu hold a news briefing on the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review at the Pentagon April 6, 2010.  (Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)To be sure, many of these issues are influenced by Russia’s stated willingness to use nuclear weapons to escalate its way out of a failing conventional conflict. Russian defense strategists have discussed scenarios in which Moscow launches early, limited first use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe to offset NATO’s conventional weapons superiority and force NATO to back off to avoid the even greater destruction of a full nuclear war.14

U.S. General Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee in March that “our adversaries started to articulate a doctrine of escalation to deescalate, and we have to account for in our nuclear doctrine what that means…as we look at an adversary that expresses in their rhetoric a willingness to use nuclear weapons.”15 Selva is one of the key officials involved in shaping the NPR.

For states that do not possess nuclear weapons and are in full compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations, the Obama NPR was very clear. There are no military requirements for the United States to threaten the use of nuclear weapons against any state that does not have nuclear weapons, and threats to do so are arguably less than credible. The NPR Report set out parameters for providing negative security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

[T]he United States affirms that any state eligible for the assurance that uses [chemical or biological weapons] against the United States or its allies and partners would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response—and that any individuals responsible for the attack, whether national leaders or military commanders, would be held fully accountable. Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat.

In the case of countries not covered by this assurance—states that possess nuclear weapons and states not in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations—there remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or [chemical or biological weapons] attack against the United States or its allies and partners.16

Outlook

Having worked to build and maintain the taboo on nuclear use for 70-plus years, the United States has every reason to seek its maintenance. The NPR Report language in this context will be critical, as will be the underlying policy choices. It remains unclear, however, how the NPR will balance traditional U.S. restraint when it comes to nuclear policies and the president’s own thinking and his strong desire to distinguish himself from Obama’s policies on all issues.

In the end, Trump will have to determine, drawing on input from his cabinet and national security team, any changes in nuclear weapons policy and how to frame those decisions in communicating to audiences at home and abroad. Some issues are ripe for support from both the left and the right in Congress, such as modernizing existing nuclear forces and ensuring the national laboratories have the skills and resources needed to monitor and keep the weapons safe, secure, and reliable.

Others, including pursuit of new nuclear weapons or broadening the conditions under which the president might use nuclear weapons, threatens to make nuclear policy yet another partisan battleground to the detriment of U.S. security policy and nonproliferation aspirations.

 

ENDNOTES

1 “Campaign Flashback: Trump’s 2016 Nuclear Weapons Stance,” NBC News, October 6, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/video/campaign-flashback-trump-s-2016-nuclear-weapons-stance-1064516163692.

2 Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Trump Before a Briefing on the Opioid Crisis,” August 8, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/08/08/remarks-president-trump-briefing-opioid-crisis.

3 David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman, “Transcript: Donald Trump on NATO, Turkey’s Coup Attempt and the World,” The New York Times, July 21, 2016.

4 Peter Baker and Cecilia Kang, “Trump Threatens NBC Over Nuclear Weapons Report,” The New York Times, October 11, 2017.

5 Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada Before Bilateral Meeting,” October 11, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/10/11/remarks-president-trump-and-prime-minister-trudeau-canada-bilateral.

6 Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Barack Obama in Prague As Delivered,” April 5, 2009, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-barack-obama-prague-delivered.

7 U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf (hereinafter NPR Report).

8 “President-Elect Trump Calls for Nuclear Arms Race, Stunning Experts,” NBC News, December 23, 2016, https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/president-elect-trump-calls-for-nuclear-arms-race-stunning-experts-840644675837.

9 Bryan Bender, “Trump Review Leans Toward Proposing Mini-Nuke,” Politico, September 9, 2017, http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/09/trump-reviews-mini-nuke-242513.

10 Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who has described himself as undecided about the long-range standoff weapons system, said a decision “will come out of” the NPR. See Kingston Reif, “Air Force Nuclear Programs Advance,” Arms Control Today, October 2017, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2017-10/news/air-force-nuclear-programs-advance.

11 NPR Report, p. ix.

12 Ibid., p. viii.

13 “Donald Trump Won’t Take Nuclear Weapons Off the Table,” Hardball With Chris Matthews, March 30, 2016, http://www.msnbc.com/hardball/watch/donald-trump-won-t-take-nukes-off-the-table-655471171934.

14 Anya Loukianova Fink, “The Evolving Russian Concept of Strategic Deterrence: Risks and Responses,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2017, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2017-07/features/evolving-russian-concept-strategic-deterrence-risks-responses.

15 Rebecca Kheel, “Pentagon Starts Review of Nuclear Posture Ordered by Trump,” The Hill, April 17, 2017, http://thehill.com/policy/defense/329137-pentagon-official-starts-nuclear-posture-review.

16 NPR Report, p. 16.


Jon Wolfsthal served as a special assistant to the president and senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council in the Obama administration from 2014 to 2017. He is now senior adviser to Global Zero and director of the Nuclear Crisis Group. He is also a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Posted: November 1, 2017

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Russia

October 2017

Updated: October 2017

Under New START, Russia has reduced its total number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,561, delivered by 501 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. It is required to reduce this total to 1,550 warheads by 2018. Russia’s entire nuclear arsenal is estimated to comprise 7,000 warheads, including approximately 2,510 that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation has declined since 2013, though some bilateral efforts to secure nuclear material still continue. The number of Russian entities under U.S. nonproliferation sanctions has increased since 2014, which marks the start of a decline in U.S.-Russian relations. Beginning in June 2014, the State Department has alleged that Russia produced and tested a missile in violation of the 1987 INF Treaty, and Russia has responded with its own allegations of U.S. violations. Russia completed destruction of its chemical weapons, as obligated by the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2017. It is party to the Biological Weapons Convention, but the United States maintained as recently as 2016 that it cannot be certain that Russia is complying with the treaty.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Nuclear Doctrine
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • New START
  • Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Syrian Chemical Weapons
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1970

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

2000

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1983

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

---

2008

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1975

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

2007

Back to Top

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Not a member, but Russia claims to adhere to the group’s rules and control list

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signed in 2000, entered into force in 2007

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Co-founder with the United States

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

Russia has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states

Back to Top

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

According to the September 2017 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) data exchange, Russia has 1,561 strategic warheads deployed on 501 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and strategic bombers. Under New START, Russia is required to reduce its deployed treaty accountable warheads to 1,550 by 2018. As of 2017, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that Russia possesses a nuclear arsenal consisting of a total of 7,000 warheads, including approximately 700 strategic warheads in reserve, roughly 2,000 tactical warheads, and approximately 2,510 warheads that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement.

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • As of 2016, Russia’s estimated 316 ICBMs, which carry approximately 1,076 warheads, include the:
    • RS-12M - three variants: ninety RS-12M (Topol [SS-25 Sickle]), eighteen mobile RS-12M1 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]), and sixty silo RS-12M2 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]); each carries a single 800 kt warhead, 10,500-11,000 km range.
    • RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) - mobile and silo versions, 70 mobile missiles and 12 silo missiles, each carries four 100kt MIRV warheads, 10,500 km range.
    • RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) – 20 missiles, each carries six 400 kt multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), 10,000 km range.
    • RS-20V (SS-18 Satan) – 46 missiles, each carries ten 500-800 kt MIRV warheads, 10,200-16,000 km range.
    • RS-26 Rubezh - development in progress. A successful May 2012 test displayed an operational range of 5,800 km. It is unknown whether the Rubezh will carry a single warhead or MIRVs.
    • RS-28 (SS-30 Sarmat) - dubbed the “Son of Satan” or “Satan 2”, Russia is currently developing the RS-28 to replace the RS-20V by the end of the decade, with deployment expected to occur in the early 2020s. It is reportedly being developed by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau, also known as the State Rocket Center (SRC) Makayev. The Sarmat is expected to be equipped with 10 MIRVs, though some sources list an exaggerated 15 MIRVs.
    • Barguzin - Russian defense officials have indicated that a rail-based version of the SS-27 Mod 2 (intended to revive and upstage the former Soviet nuclear trains), called the Barguzin, is in the early stages of design development. Russia successfully completed an ejection test in November 2016 and expects to that nuclear trains will enter into service between 2018 and 2020 and that they will remain in service until 2040.  
  • All of Russia’s ICBMs were developed and entered service from the 1980’s to the 1990’s with the exception of the RS-24 which entered service in 2010 and RS-26 and Rs-28 which are still under development.
  • While the number of Russian ICBMs is set to fall below 300 by the early 2020s, Russia is currently modernizing its land-based missiles and plans to increase the share of missiles equipped with multiple warheads.  

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • Russia is capable of delivering up to 768 warheads through 6 Delta IV submarines, 3 Delta III submarines (only two of which were operational as of 2016—the other was undergoing overhaul), and 3 of the new Borey-class submarines (Russia is developing five upgraded Borey-A class submarines to be delivered by the mid-2020s to replace aging Delta III and IV submarines).
    • Delta IV - part of Russia’s Northern Fleet, armed with 16 RSM-54 Sineva (SS-N-23 Skiff) missiles, reportedly upgraded to carry the new R-29RMU2 Layner missiles (a modified Sineva missile).The Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau was contracted to develop the R-29RMU2.
    • Delta III - part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, armed with 16 RSM-50 Volna (SS-N-18 Stingray) missiles.
    • Borey class and Borey-A class –armed with 16 RSM-56 Bulava missiles.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM):

  • Russia’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles include the RSM-50, RSM-54, RSM-56, and reportedly the R-29RMU2.
    • RSM-50 - deployed in 1978, equipped with three 50kt MIRVs, 6,500-8,000 km range, inventory includes 32 deployed RSM-50 missiles with 96 warheads.
    • RSM-54 - deployed in 2007, equipped with four 100 kt MIRVs, 8,300 km range, inventory includes 96 deployed RSM-54 missiles with 384 warheads.
    • RSM-56 (Bulava) - deployed in 2014, equipped with six 100 kt MIRVs, 8,000+ km range, inventory includes 48 deployed RSM-56 missiles with 288 warheads. Since its inaugural test in 2004, the Bulava missile has a long record of failed launches, the most recent being in 2016.  
    • R-29RMU2- several sources claim it entered service in 2014, some have speculated that the missile can be equipped with up to 10 warheads, however, other estimates put the number at 4 warheads.

Strategic Bombers

  • The Russian Air Force currently operates a total of 60-70 long-range bombers: approximately 25 Tu-95 MS6 (Bear-H6) long-range bombers, 30 Tu-95 MS16 (Bear-H16) long-range bombers, and 13 Tu-160 (Blackjack) supersonic long-range bombers.
  • All three aircraft are categorized as strategic heavy bombers and are limited by the New START Treaty. Only 50 of the bombers are believed to be deployed with an estimated carrying capacity of 616 cruise missiles and an unspecified number of gravity bombs.
  • The estimated 68 strategic bombers do not all regularly carry nuclear payloads but have the capacity to deliver up to 786 cruise missiles in total.
  • The specific carry capacity of each bomber is as follows: 
    • Tu-95 MS6 - capable of carrying 6 nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles. An estimated 84 AS-15A missiles are deployed as of 2017.
    • Tu-95 MS16 - capable of carrying up to 16 nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles. An estimated 400 AS-15A missiles are deployed as of 2017.
    • Tu-160 – capable of carrying up to 12 Kh-55 (AS-15B) cruise missiles or 12 Kh-15 (AS-16) short range attack missiles. An estimated 132 AS-15B missiles are deployed as of 2017.
    • All three bombers can be equipped with gravity bombs.
  • The Russian Air Force also operates a multipurpose medium-range supersonic bomber, the Tu-22M, which is considered a tactical nuclear delivery platform for various types of cruise missiles and is not limited by New START.
  • Russia has begun studying designs for a next-generation of strategic bombers meant to replace the entire fleet of Tu-95’s, Tu-160’s, and Tu-22M’s. The new bomber program is expected to develop a prototype by the early 2020’s.

Nuclear Doctrine

Under Russia’s standing Military Doctrine, most recently updated in December 2014, “The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, as well as in response to aggression against the Russian Federation that utilizes conventional weapons that threatens the very existence of the state.”

NATO and U.S. officials have expressed concern over Russian nuclear doctrine, particularly as it pertains to the limited use of nuclear weapons. Defense Department officials have said that Russian doctrine includes a so-called “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, which envisions the limited first use of nuclear weapons to attempt to end a large-scale conventional conflict on terms favorable to Russia. However, some experts have called into question whether “escalate to de-escalate” is part of Russian doctrine. 

Fissile Material

Russia has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material (highly enriched uranium [HEU] and plutonium) for weapons purposes.

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • The Kremlin announced a halt to HEU production for weapons in 1989 and the cessation of plutonium production for weapons in 1994.
  • At the end of 2015, Russia’s HEU stockpile was estimated at 679 metric tons, with a margin of error of 120 metric tons (making it, absent the margin of error, the largest HEU stockpile). Approximately 20 metric tons are designated for civilian use, the second largest stockpile of civilian HEU after the United States.
  • Russia concluded a joint program in 2013, the U.S.-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement, in which Moscow downblended 500 metric tons of its excess weapons grade HEU into a reactor fuel unsuitable for bombs that it then sold to the United States as light water reactor fuel.
  • A second U.S. funded program, the Material Conversion and Consolidation project (MCC), blended down 16.8 metric tons of HEU by the end of 2014.

Plutonium

  • In April 2010, Russia closed its last plutonium production facility, although it has not discounted a return to producing separated plutonium for fast-breeder reactors in the future.
  • The weapon-grade plutonium stockpile is, as of 2016, estimated at 181 metric tons, with an 8 metric ton margin of error.
    • The weapons-grade stockpile is estimated at 128 ± 8 metric tons.
    • 53 metric tons are declared for civilian use.
  • Russia committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess plutonium under a 2000 agreement with the United States entitled the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA).
    • The project was delayed for several years, but in April 2010 the two nations signed a protocol that amended and updated the 2000 agreement, with the goal of beginning disposition in 2018.
    • However, in October 2016, Russia, citing the U.S. failure to meet its obligations under the agreement, suspended its implementation of the deal and conditioned the resumption of implementation on the lifting of all U.S. sanctions against Russia and a restructuring of NATO’s forces. Russia contends that U.S. plans to abandon the conversion of plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in favor of a cheaper and faster downblending method does not meet the terms of the deal because this alternative method would not change the composition of the plutonium from weapons-grade to reactor-grade.  

Proliferation Record

  • The United States and independent analysts have long cited Russia as a key supplier of nuclear and missile-related goods and technology to a variety of countries, including states of proliferation concern such as Iran and Syria.
    • In response, the United States has often levied sanctions on Russian entities believed to be involved in such proliferation activities.
    • Beginning in the mid-2000s, the number and frequency of Russian entities placed under U.S. proliferation sanctions declined, possibly as a result of an increasing Russian commitment to controlling sensitive exports; however, that number has greatly increased since 2014.
  • Russia remains a source of illicit sensitive technology pertaining to missile proliferation.
  • The vast former Soviet biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons complexes, including their former scientists, have also been seen as a potential source of arms, materials, and knowledge for other regimes or non-state actors.
    • The United States and other countries have pursued programs dedicated to mitigating this potential threat by helping Russia and other Soviet states secure or destroy facilities, materials, and weapon systems, and gainfully employ former scientists in non-arms related work.
    • However, there has been a significant decline in U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation since 2013, despite continued cooperation in cleaning out weapon-grade material from third countries such as Poland in 2016.
  • After suspending the PMDA, Russia likewise suspended its participation in a 2013 cooperative agreement on nuclear and energy related research and terminated a third agreement from 2010 on exploring options for converting research reactors from weapons-usable fuel.

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Biological Weapons

  • The Soviet Union maintained an extensive offensive germ weapons program, including research into plague, anthrax, smallpox, tularemia, glanders, and hemorrhagic fever.
  • The United States has repeatedly voiced concern over the status of Russia’s inherited Soviet germ warfare program. However, in 2011, Russia maintained that it is in compliance with the BWC.
  • Nonetheless, the State Department in April 2016 maintained that Russia’s annual BWC confidence-building measures submissions since 1992 have “not satisfactorily documented whether this program [the inherited Soviet offensive biological research and development program] was completely destroyed or diverted to peaceful purposes in accordance with Article II of the BWC.” 
  • The lack of transparency surrounding this program prevents the U.S. from reaching more concrete conclusions.

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Chemical Weapons

  • Upon entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on Dec. 5, 1997, Russia declared that it possessed approximately 40,000 metric tons of chemical agents, the largest amount in the world at the time. A dispute lingers over whether Russia has fully declared all of its chemical weapons-related facilities and past production.
  • On September 27, 2017, the OPCW announced that Russia had completed the destruction of its full chemical weapons arsenal.
  • The State Department stated in 2016 that it “cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention: for declaration of its CWPFs [chemical weapons production facilities]; its CW development facilities; or its CW stockpiles.”

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
The 1987 INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union requires the United States and Russia to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union destroying a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

However, in July 2014 the U.S. State Department officially assessed Russia to be in violation of the agreement citing Russian production and testing of an illegal ground-launched cruise missile. The State Department reiterated this conclusion in 2015 and 2016.

For its part, Russia has raised concerns about U.S. compliance with the treaty. 

New START
In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor to the original START accord. The new treaty, known as New START, entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011 and requires that both sides reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 ICMBs, SLBMs, and bombers by 2018. In addition, the treaty contains rigorous monitoring and verification provisions to ensure compliance with the agreement.

Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
In February 2013, President Obama announced that the United States intended to engage with Russia to further reduce deployed strategic warheads by one-third below the New START limit to around 1,100 to 1,000 deployed warheads. However, there has been little progress toward achieving such reductions due to the deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s insistence that other issues, such as limits on U.S. missile defenses, be part of negotiations on further reductions.

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
Established in 1979 as a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum by the international community, Russia has been a regular and active participant in the CD. Russia, along with China, has attached significant priority in the CD to negotiating an agreement on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). However, the United States and other countries have opposed this initiative. In keeping with its official stance in support of a ban on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, Russia submitted a draft program of work to the CD in March 2016 calling for the establishment of a working group to recommend “effective measures to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices.” In 2016, Russia also proposed that the CD should negotiate a new convention, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Chemical Terrorism, in order to fill several gaps it claims exist in the CWC.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The Russian government has signed and ratified protocols stating its intent to respect and not threaten the use of nuclear weapons against states-parties to the Latin America and South Pacific nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. In 2011 Russia signed and ratified Protocol I and II for the African zone. In 2014, it ratified the protocols for the Central Asian zone but has yet to ratify the protocols for the Southeast Asian zone.

Nuclear Security Summits
Russian participation in Nuclear Security Summits includes the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC, the 2012 NSS in Seoul, and the 2014 NSS in The Hague. Russia did not participate in the most recent NSS, held in Washington, DC in 2016. The Russian boycott of the 2016 NSS came amid continued souring of U.S.-Russian relations. At the time, Moscow declared, “We do not see added value coming out of these meetings.”

Syrian Chemical Weapons
In September 2013, in the aftermath of the large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, Russia reached an agreement with the United States to account, inspect, control, and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. By July 2014, Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile had been successfully removed from the country and flagged for destruction following a broad multilateral operation. However, concerns have been raised about the accuracy of Syria’s declaration.

In September 2014 the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that chlorine gas was being used in Syria. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Mar. 6, 2015 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria. Russia has officially supported the UN resolution but maintained that only the OPCW can determine violations of the CWC and that it did not accept the use of sanctions under Chapter VII of the charter against Syria without confirming the use of chemical weapons. In August 2016, the third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was released, finding that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks.  

In April 2017, another chemical weapon attack was carried out in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun where Syrian government warplanes were accused of spreading a nerve agent via bombs, killing dozens. U.S. President Donald Trump responded by immediately blaming the regime of Bashar Assad and launching 59 Tomahawk missiles targeting the airfield that had allegedly launched the attack. Russia stood by the Assad regime, claiming that the airstrike had hit an opposition depot housing chemical weapons. 

(For a detailed timeline on Syrian chemical weapons, see our fact sheet here.)

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Russia took part in the negotiation of the July 2015 JCPOA, which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the accord "will favorably affect the general situation in the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf." Russia backed the JCPOA on the grounds of supporting nonproliferation especially since its borders fall well within the range of Iranian ballistic missiles. Furthermore, Russia stands to accrue significant economic gains in Iran with the lifting of nonproliferation sanctions. For example, in 2016 Russia concluded the delivery of an S-300 air defense missile system worth $800 million to Iran in a deal that had been suspended since 2010. In response to threats arising from the Trump administration to discontinue the JCPOA, Vladimir Voronkov, Russia’s ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, stated in January 2017 that it is “necessary to do everything possible to avoid damage” to the nuclear deal.

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Posted: October 3, 2017

The Lisbon Protocol At a Glance

March 2014

Contact: Kingston ReifDirector of Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: March 2014

A pervasive fear surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union was the uncertain fate of its nuclear arsenal. In addition to Russia, the emerging states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited a significant number of nuclear weapons, raising concerns that the Soviet Union would leave four nuclear weapon successor states instead of just one. Aside from increasing the number of governments with their finger on the proverbial nuclear button, the circumstances simultaneously raised concerns that those weapons might be more vulnerable to possible sale or theft. The Lisbon Protocol, concluded on May 23, 1992, sought to alleviate those fears by committing the three non-Russian former Soviet states to return their nuclear weapons to Russia. In spite of a series of political disputes that raised some concerns about implementation of the protocol, all Soviet nuclear weapons were eventually transferred to Russia by the end of 1996.

When the Soviet Union officially dissolved in December 1991, the newly-independent states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited more than 3,000 strategic nuclear weapons (those capable of striking the continental United States), as well as at least 3,000 tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons. In 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union announced the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives to substantially reduce their respective tactical nuclear weapons arsenals. All dispersed Soviet tactical weapons were reportedly back on Russian soil by the end of 1992, but the strategic weapons posed a larger problem.

The United States and Russia reached a solution to this complex problem by engaging Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine in a series of talks that led to the Lisbon Protocol. That agreement made all five states party to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which required Washington and Moscow to each cut their deployed strategic nuclear forces from approximately 10,000 warheads apiece to down below 6,000 warheads on no more than 1,600 ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), and long-range bombers. The protocol signaled the intentions of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to forswear nuclear arms and accede to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear-weapon states, a commitment that all three fulfilled and continue to abide by today.

 

Estimated Warheads in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine in 1991

 

 

Strategic Warheads

Tactical Warheads

Belarus

100

725

Kazakhstan

1,410

Uncertain

Ukraine

1,900

2,275

Sources: Robert S. Norris, “The Soviet Nuclear Archipelago,” Arms Control Today, January/February 1992, p. 24 and Joseph Cirincione, et al., Deadly Arsenals, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005, p. 366.

 

Basic Timeline and Provisions:

  • July 31, 1991: The United States and the Soviet Union sign START.
  • Dec. 31, 1991: The Soviet Union officially dissolves, delaying entry into force of START.
  • May 23, 1992: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the United States sign the Lisbon Protocol.
    • Under the protocol, all five states become parties to START.
    • Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine promise to accede to the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states “in the shortest time possible.”
  • July 2, 1992: Kazakhstan ratifies START.
  • Oct. 1, 1992: The U.S. Senate ratifies START.
  • Nov. 4, 1992: The Russian State Duma refuses to exchange START instruments of ratification until Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan accede to the NPT.
  • Feb. 4, 1993: Belarus ratifies START.
  • July 22, 1993: Belarus submits its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.
  • January 14, 1994: The Trilateral Statement is signed by Presidents Clinton, Yeltsin, and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine, allowing Ukraine to observe the transfer of weapons from its territory to Russia and the dismantlement of certain systems. It also commits Russia to send some of the uranium extracted from the returned warheads back to Ukraine for fuel.
  • Feb. 14, 1994: Kazakhstan submits its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.
  • Dec. 5, 1994: Ukraine submits its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.
    • The five START parties exchange instruments of ratification for START, which enters into force.
  • April 24, 1995: Kazakhstan transfers its last strategic weapon to Russia.
  • June 1996: Ukraine transfers its last strategic weapon to Russia.
  • November 1996: Belarus transfers its last strategic weapon to Russia, marking completion of Lisbon Protocol obligations.

Ratification and Implementation:

Belarus:

When the Soviet Union dissolved, the newly-established Republic of Belarus found itself in possession of roughly 800 total nuclear weapons deployed within its borders. Although Russia retained the warhead arming and launch codes, many worried that Belarus might attempt to take control of the weapons. Moreover, President Alexander Lukashenko twice threatened to retain some weapons if NATO deployed nuclear weapons of its own in Poland. However, when a constitutional crisis erupted in November 1996, Lukashenko was finally compelled to finalize the transfers.

Minsk signed the Lisbon Protocol on May 23, 1992, ratified it on Feb. 4, 1993, and deposited its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state on July 22, 1993. By November 1996 all nuclear warheads in Belarus had been transferred to Russia.

Kazakhstan:

After gaining independence, Kazakhstan with extensive U.S. technical and financial assistance disposed of the strategic nuclear weapons that it inherited from the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan’s 1,410 strategic warheads were deployed on several different systems, including SS-18 ICBMs and cruise missiles carried by Bear-H bombers.

Kazakhstan’s parliament ratified START on July 2, 1992. All tactical nuclear weapons had been withdrawn to Russia by January 1992. The parliament approved accession to the NPT on Dec. 13, 1993, and deposited the state’s NPT instrument of ratification on Feb. 14, 1994. The last of the Kazakh-based strategic nuclear weapons were transferred to Russia by April 24, 1995.

Ukraine:

When the Soviet Union dissolved, Ukraine became the third-largest nuclear weapons power in the world behind the United States and Russia. Ukraine’s 1,900 strategic warheads were distributed among ICBMs, strategic bombers, and air-launched cruise and air-to-surface missiles. Although President Leonid Kravchuk signed the Lisbon Protocol on May 23, 1992, Ukraine’s process of disarmament was filled with political obstacles. Many Ukrainian officials viewed Russia as a threat and argued that they should keep nuclear weapons in order to deter any possible encroachment from their eastern neighbor. Although the government never gained operational control over the weapons, it declared “administrative control” in June 1992, and, in 1993, claimed ownership of the warheads, citing the potential of the plutonium and highly enriched uranium they contained for creating peaceful energy.

A resolution passed by the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, on Nov. 18, 1993, attached conditions to its ratification of START that Russia and the United States deemed unacceptable. Those stated that Ukraine would only dismantle 36% of its delivery vehicles and 42% of its warheads; all others would remain under Ukrainian custody. Moreover, the resolution made those reductions contingent upon assurances from Russia and the United States to never use nuclear weapons against Ukraine (referred to as “security assurances”), along with foreign aid to pay for dismantlement.

In response, the Clinton and Yeltsin administrations intensified negotiations with Kyiv, eventually producing the Trilateral Statement, which was signed on Jan. 14, 1994. This agreement placated Ukrainian concerns by allowing Ukraine to cooperate in the transfer of the weapons to Russia, which would take place over a maximum period of seven years. The agreement further called for the transferred warheads to be dismantled and the highly enriched uranium they contained to be downblended into low-enriched uranium. Some of that material would then be transferred back to Ukraine for use as nuclear reactor fuel. Meanwhile, the United States would give Ukraine economic and technical aid to cover its dismantlement costs. Finally, the United States and Russia responded to Ukraine’s security concerns by agreeing to provide security assurances upon its NPT accession.

In turn, the Rada ratified START, implicitly endorsing the Trilateral Statement. However, it did not submit its instrument of accession to the NPT until Dec. 5, 1994, when Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States provided security assurances to Ukraine. That decision by the Rada met the final condition for Russia’s ratification of START, and subsequently brought that treaty into force. For more information, see Ukraine, Nucelar Weapons and Security Assurances at a Glance.

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Posted: July 25, 2017

Banning the Bomb—A Blog of the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Talks

Alicia Sanders-Zakre will be tweeting and blogging throughout the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Talks at the United Nations. Follow her real-time updates at twitter.com/azakre . Second Negotiating Session: June 15-July 7, 2017 UN Adopts Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons July 7, 2017 Today by a vote of 122-1 with 1 abstention, states adopted a historic treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons at the United Nations in New York. The Netherlands voted against the treaty and Singapore abstained. Before adopting the treaty, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez declared that “after many decades, we have managed to...

The North, the South, and U.S. Nukes

With the South Korean election just weeks away, Pyongyangs’s recent provocations are making it clear that the new president will need to quickly develop a strategy to address the growing threat of North Korea’s nuclear program. The May 9 election will likely take place amid rapidly escalating tensions, as U.S. President Donald Trump exchanges inflammatory, bellicose comments with the regime of Kim Jong-un. In this environment, South Korea stands to embark on a sensitive recalibration of its policy toward North Korea. While the Trump administration is in the process of finalizing its own North...

Reducing the Risks of U.S.-Russia Nuclear Conflict

The violence in Ukraine and rising tension in the Baltics, combined with concern about Russian nuclear doctrine and posturing, has heightened the risk of nuclear conflict in Europe. As William Perry, former Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton, recently warned , “A new danger has been rising in the past three years and that is the possibility there might be a nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia.” A recent uptick in fighting in Ukraine, last week’s unrest in Belarus and Russia , and increasing concern in Washington and Brussels about the solidity of the NATO...

Congressional hearings reveal “no military requirement” for new low-yield weapons

Witnesses with military, policy and technical expertise all rejected the notion of a “military requirement” for new low-yield weapons in a series of hearings before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees March 8 and March 9. This evident agreement among experts from a range of positions and backgrounds should demonstrate to Congress that there is little credible argument for the additional development of low-yield nuclear weapons, despite language in a December 2016 Defense Science Board report recommending the development of such weapons. The Defense Science Board is an advisory body...

Vote to Begin Treaty Negotiations to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons a Step Forward

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Statement by Arms Control Association's Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball, on the adoption of a resolution by the United Nation's First Committee to begin treaty negotiations on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.

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Statement from Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball

For Immediate Release: October 27, 2016

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 105; and Zia Mian, member of the board of directors & co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, and co-author of Unmaking the Bomb, 609-258-5468.

(Washington, D.C.)—Today, members of the United Nations' disarmament and international security committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution to launch formal negotiations in 2017 on a “legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” 

Acting on recommendations of its First Committee in December 2012, the General Assembly adopted 58 texts related to disarmament. (Photo: UN/Paulo FilgueirasSponsored by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria, and South Africa, the resolution (A/C.1/71/L.41) was approved by a vote of 123 to 38 with 16 abstentions. The United States and other nuclear-armed states voted against the resolution. The proposal will be considered and likely approved by the General Assembly in the coming weeks.

The resolution follows three international conferences in 2013 and 2014 to consider the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use and discussions by an open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament in 2016.

The following is a statement from Executive Director Daryl Kimball, on the initiative:

“Today’s vote marks a new phase in the decades-long struggle to eliminate the threats posed by nuclear weapons. In order to attain a world free of nuclear weapons, it will be necessary, at some point, to establish a legally-binding norm to prohibit such weapons. As such, the pursuit of a treaty banning the development, production, possession and use of nuclear weapons is a key step along the way.

Although the world’s nuclear-armed states will likely boycott the negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban, this unprecedented new process could help to further delegitimize nuclear weapons and strengthen the legal and political norm against their use—a worthy goal.

The strong support for negotiations on a ban treaty needs to be understood as a logical international response to the growing risks and catastrophic consequences of a conflict between nuclear-armed states, the accelerating global technological nuclear arms race, and underwhelming pace of progress by the world’s nine nuclear-armed states on nuclear disarmament in recent years.

The coming ban treaty negotiations are not a substitute for necessary, progressive steps on nuclear disarmament, but they do have the potential to strengthen the taboo against the further development and use of nuclear weapons. In the coming months and years, the non-nuclear-weapon states and nuclear-armed states—particularly the United States, Russia, China, India and Pakistan—can and should do more to overcome old obstacles and animosities to advance disarmament and nuclear risk reduction measures, which are essential if we are to avoid nuclear conflict.”

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Posted: October 27, 2016

Progress on Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation Inadequate to Meet Threats, New Study Finds

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A new study suggests that President Obama, failed to make progress in key nuclear disarmament areas during his second term.

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For Immediate Release: July 15, 2016

Media Contacts: Tony Fleming, communications director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 110; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—President Barack Obama failed to make progress in key nuclear disarmament areas over the course of his second term, but did achieve important steps to improve nuclear materials security and strengthen nonproliferation norms, namely the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to a new study released by the Arms Control Association, which evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states.

The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2013-2016," is the third in a series that measures the performance of 11 key states in 10 universally-recognized nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security categories over the past three years. The study evaluated the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possess nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern.

“The United States is investing enormous resources to maintain and upgrade nuclear weapons delivery systems and warheads and is keeping its deployed nuclear weapons on ‘launch-under-attack’ readiness posture. The lack of U.S. leadership in these areas contributes to the moribund pace of disarmament,” said Elizabeth Philipp, the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Arms Control Association, and a co-author of the report.

“Obama should use his remaining months in office to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategies and mitigate the risks of inadvertent use. Obama could consider declaring that Washington will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report.

“U.S. leadership could spur China and Russia to take positive actions and improve the prospects for further disarmament. Russia’s decision to develop a new missile in violation of its treaty commitments and Moscow’s rebuff of attempts by the United States to negotiate further nuclear reductions is very troublesome, as is the expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal and Beijing’s steps toward increasing the alert levels of its forces,” Philipp added.

“Several states did take significant steps over the past three years to strengthen nuclear security, including action by the United States and Pakistan to ratify key nuclear security treaties,” said Davenport.

“The July 2015 nuclear deal struck between six global powers and Iran was also a significant nonproliferation breakthrough that has significantly reduced Tehran’s nuclear capacity and subjected its activities to more intrusive international monitoring and verification. While the international community must remain vigilant in ensuring that the deal is fully implemented, blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons negates a serious nonproliferation concern and demonstrates the consequences of flouting the international norms and obligations,” Davenport said.

“For the third time, the United Kingdom received the highest grade of all the states assessed, while North Korea remained at the bottom of the list with the lowest overall grades. North Korea’s recent nuclear test and its ballistic missile development require the next U.S. administration to pursue more robust engagement with Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities,” Philipp said.

“Our review of the record indicates that further action must be taken by all 11 states if they are to live up to their international disarmament and nonproliferation responsibilities. By tracking the progress, or lack thereof, of these states over time, we hope this report will serve as a tool to encourage policymakers to increase efforts to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons,” Davenport said.

A country-by-country summary can be viewed here.
The full report card can be downloaded here

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

Posted: July 15, 2016

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