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former IAEA Director-General

Tactical Nuclear Weapons

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Agreements at a Glance

June 2017

Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: February 2019

Over the past four decades, American and Soviet/Russian leaders have used a progression of bilateral agreements and other measures to limit and reduce their substantial nuclear warhead and strategic missile and bomber arsenals. The following is a brief summary.

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements

SALT I

Begun in November 1969, by May 1972, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) had produced both the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which limited strategic missile defenses to 200 (later 100) interceptors each, and the Interim Agreement, an executive agreement that capped U.S. and Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) forces. Under the Interim Agreement, both sides pledged not to construct new ICBM silos, not to increase the size of existing ICBM silos “significantly,” and capped the number of SLBM launch tubes and SLBM-carrying submarines. The agreement ignored strategic bombers and did not address warhead numbers, leaving both sides free to enlarge their forces by deploying multiple warheads (MIRVs) onto their ICBMs and SLBMs and increasing their bomber-based forces. The agreement limited the United States to 1,054 ICBM silos and 656 SLBM launch tubes. The Soviet Union was limited to 1,607 ICBM silos and 740 SLBM launch tubes. In June 2002, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM treaty.

SALT II

In November 1972, Washington and Moscow agreed to pursue a follow-on treaty to SALT I. SALT II, signed in June 1979, limited U.S. and Soviet ICBM, SLBM, and strategic bomber-based nuclear forces to 2,250 delivery vehicles (defined as an ICBM silo, a SLBM launch tube, or a heavy bomber) and placed a variety of other restrictions on deployed strategic nuclear forces. The agreement would have required the Soviets to reduce their forces by roughly 270 delivery vehicles, but U.S. forces were below the limits and could actually have been increased. However, President Jimmy Carter asked the Senate not to consider SALT II for its advice and consent after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, and the treaty was not taken up again. Both Washington and Moscow subsequently pledged to adhere to the agreement’s terms despite its failure to enter into force. However, on May 26, 1986, President Ronald Reagan said that future decisions on strategic nuclear forces would be based on the threat posed by Soviet forces and not on "a flawed SALT II Treaty.”

START I

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), first proposed in the early 1980s by President Ronald Reagan and finally signed in July 1991, required the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,600 delivery vehicles, carrying no more than 6,000 warheads as counted using the agreement’s rules. The agreement required the destruction of excess delivery vehicles which was verified using an intrusive verification regime that involved on-site inspections, the regular exchange of information, including telemetry, and the use of national technical means (i.e., satellites). The agreement’s entry into force was delayed for several years because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuing efforts to denuclearize Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus by returning their nuclear weapons to Russia and making them parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and START I agreements. START I reductions were completed in December 2001 and the treaty expired on Dec. 5, 2009.

START II

In June 1992, Presidents George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin agreed to pursue a follow-on accord to START I. START II, signed in January 1993, called for reducing deployed strategic arsenals to 3,000-3,500 warheads and banned the deployment of destabilizing multiple-warhead land-based missiles. START II would have counted warheads in roughly the same fashion as START I and, also like its predecessor, would have required the destruction of delivery vehicles but not warheads. The agreement's original implementation deadline was January 2003, ten years after signature, but a 1997 protocol moved this deadline to December 2007 because of the extended delay in ratification. Both the Senate and the Duma approved START II, but the treaty did not take effect because the Senate did not ratify the 1997 protocol and several ABM Treaty amendments, whose passage the Duma established as a condition for START II’s entry into force. START II was effectively shelved as a result of the 2002 U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty.

START III Framework

In March 1997, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed to a framework for START III negotiations that included a reduction in deployed strategic warheads to 2,000-2,500. Significantly, in addition to requiring the destruction of delivery vehicles, START III negotiations were to address “the destruction of strategic nuclear warheads…to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions including prevention of a rapid increase in the number of warheads.” Negotiations were supposed to begin after START II entered into force, which never happened.

SORT (Moscow Treaty)

On May 24, 2002, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow Treaty) under which the United States and Russia reduced their strategic arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each. The warhead limit took effect and expired on the same day, Dec. 31, 2012. Although the two sides did not agree on specific counting rules, the Bush administration asserted that the United States would reduce only warheads deployed on strategic delivery vehicles in active service, i.e., “operationally deployed” warheads, and would not count warheads removed from service and placed in storage or warheads on delivery vehicles undergoing overhaul or repair. The agreement’s limits are similar to those envisioned for START III, but the treaty did not require the destruction of delivery vehicles, as START I and II did, or the destruction of warheads, as had been envisioned for START III. The treaty was approved by the Senate and Duma and entered into force on June 1, 2003. SORT was replaced by New START on February 5, 2011.

New START

On April 8, 2010, the United States and Russia signed New START, a legally binding, verifiable agreement that limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 strategic delivery systems (ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers), and limits deployed and nondeployed launchers to 800. The treaty-accountable warhead limit is 30 percent lower than the 2,200 upper limit of SORT, and the delivery vehicle limit is 50 percent lower than the 1,600 allowed in START I. The treaty has a verification regime that combines elements of START I with new elements tailored to New START. Measures under the treaty include on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical means for treaty monitoring. The treaty also provides for the continued exchange of telemetry (missile flight-test data on up to five tests per year) and does not meaningfully limit missile defenses or long-range conventional strike capabilities. The U.S. Senate approved New START on Dec. 22, 2010. The approval process of the Russian parliament (passage by both the State Duma and Federation Council) was completed Jan. 26, 2011. The treaty entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011 and will expire in 2021, though both parties may agree to extend the treaty for a period of up to five years. Both parties met the treaty’s central limits by the Feb. 4, 2018 deadline for implementation.

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements
 SALT  I SALT IIINF TreatySTART ISTART IISTART IIISORT

New START

StatusExpiredNever Entered Into ForceIn Force*ExpiredNever Entered Into ForceNever NegotiatedReplaced by New STARTIn Force
Deployed Warhead LimitN/AN/AN/A6,0003,000-3,5002,000-2,5001,700-2,2001,550
Deployed Delivery Vehicle LimitUS: 1,710 ICBMs & SLBMs
USSR: 2,347
2,250Prohibits ground-based missiles of 500-5,500 km range1,600N/AN/AN/A700
Date SignedMay 26, 1972June 18, 1979Dec. 8, 1987July 31, 1991Jan. 3, 1993N/AMay 24, 2002April 8, 2010
Date Ratifed, U.S.Aug. 3, 1972N/AMay 28, 1988Oct. 1, 1992Jan. 26, 1996N/AMarch 6, 2003Dec. 22, 2010
Ratification Vote, U.S.88-2N/A93-693-687-4N/A95-071-26
Date Entered Into ForceOct. 3, 1972N/AJune 1, 1988Dec. 5, 1994N/AN/AJune 1, 2003Feb. 5, 2011
Implementation DeadlineN/AN/AJune 1, 1991Dec. 5, 2001N/AN/AN/AFeb. 5, 2018
Expiration DateOct. 3, 1977N/Aunlimited durationDec. 5, 2009N/AN/AFeb. 5, 2011Feb. 5, 2021**

*On Feb. 2, 2019, both the United States and Russia announced they were suspending their obligations to the treaty.

**New START allows for the option to extend the treaty beyond 2021 for a period of up to five years.

Nonstrategic Nuclear Arms Control Measures

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty

Signed Dec. 8, 1987, the INF Treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to verifiably eliminate all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Distinguished by its unprecedented, intrusive inspection regime, including on-site inspections, the INF Treaty laid the groundwork for verification of the subsequent START I. The INF Treaty entered into force June 1, 1988, and the two sides completed their reductions by June 1, 1991, destroying a total of 2,692 missiles. The agreement was multilateralized after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and current active participants in the agreement include the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are also parties to the agreement but do not participate in treaty meetings or on-site inspections. The ban on intermediate-range missiles is of unlimited duration.

Both the United States and Russia have raised concerns about the other side’s compliance with the INF Treaty. The United States first publicly charged Russia with developing and testing a ground-launched cruise with a range that meets the INF Treaty definition of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km in 2014.

Russia denies that it is breaching the agreement and has raised its own concerns about Washington’s compliance. Moscow is charging that the United States is placing a missile defense launch system in Europe that can also be used to fire cruise missiles, using targets for missile defense tests with similar characteristics to INF Treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles, and is making armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles. On Oct. 20, 2018 President Donald Trump announced his intention to “terminate” the agreement citing Russian noncompliance and concerns about China’s missiles, and on Dec. 4, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Russia in “material breach” of the treaty. The Trump administration provided official notice to the other treaty states-parties on Feb. 2, that it would both suspend its obligations to the treaty and withdraw from the agreement in six months—per the treaty's terms—and "terminate" the agreement. The administration has stated that it may reverse the withdrawal if Russia returns to compliance by eliminating its ground-launched 9M729 missile, which the United States alleges is the noncompliant missile which can fly beyond the 500-kilometer range limit set by the treaty. 

Presidential Nuclear Initiatives 

On Sept. 27, 1991, President George H. W. Bush announced that the United States would remove almost all U.S. tactical (nonstrategic) nuclear forces from deployment so that Russia could undertake similar actions, reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation as the Soviet Union dissolved. Specifically, Bush said the United States would eliminate all its nuclear artillery shells and short-range nuclear ballistic missile warheads and remove all nonstrategic nuclear warheads from surface ships, attack submarines, and land-based naval aircraft. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reciprocated on Oct. 5, pledging to eliminate all nuclear artillery munitions, nuclear warheads for tactical missiles, and nuclear landmines. He also pledged to withdraw all Soviet tactical naval nuclear weapons from deployment. Under these initiatives, the United States and Russia reduced their deployed nonstrategic stockpiles by an estimated 5,000 and 13,000 warheads, respectively. However, significant questions remain about Russian implementation of its pledges, and there is considerable uncertainty about the current state of Russia’s tactical nuclear forces. The Defense Department estimates that Russia possess roughly 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons and the numbers are expanding. The United States maintains several hundred nonstrategic B61 gravity bombs for delivery by short-range fighter aircraft. 

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Country Resources:

Posted: February 1, 2019

Putin Sets Hypersonic Deployment Plan

Putin Sets Hypersonic Deployment Plan

 

Russia’s Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle was successfully tested Dec. 26 in the presence of President Vladimir Putin and will be deployed during 2019, according a Kremlin statement. Putin noted the Avangard system, built to carry a nuclear warhead, will be “impervious to current and future” air and missile defenses of a “potential enemy,” a response to long-standing Russian concern that U.S. missile defense systems in combination with U.S. nuclear forces enable Washington to threaten Moscow’s retaliatory nuclear capability. The latest test is the third reported success out of six reported tests of the Yu-71 configuration since 2013. According to reports, the first two Avangard launchers will be deployed on two SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missiles based at Dombarovsky in 2019, and a total of 12 are expected to be deployed there by the end of 2027. A hypersonic glide vehicle, which travels at speeds of 5,000 to 25,000 kilometers per hour, can change its trajectory during flight and fly at varying altitudes.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Posted: January 8, 2019

Indian Submarine Completes First Patrol

The INS Arihant gives India a nuclear triad.


December 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in November that the country’s first ballistic missile submarine completed its inaugural “deterrence patrol.”

An undated photo shows India testing a submarine-launched ballistic missile system. The missile was launched from a location in the Bay of Bengal, from a depth of 50 meters. The nuclear-capable system was developed to be deployed on INS Arihant.  (Photo: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)Modi described the deployment of the INS Arihant on Nov. 5 as an “open warning for the country’s enemies” and a response to “those who indulge in nuclear blackmail.” Modi did not specifically mention Pakistan, but his message was likely directed at Islamabad.

Modi’s description of the sub’s activities could mean that the submarine was armed with nuclear-tipped submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). It is unclear how long the patrol lasted.

The Arihant is India’s first domestically built, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. It was commissioned in 2016 and began sea trials at that time. (See ACT, April 2016.) The lapse between sea trials and the submarine’s first patrol is believed to have been caused by extensive damage after a hatch was left open in 2017, flooding the submarine.

The Arihant can carry 12 K-15 SLBMs, which have an estimated range of 750 kilometers. The K-15 has been tested multiple times, including in August 2018. In the future, the submarine could carry four K-4 SLBMs. The K-4 is still under development and has an estimated range of about 3,500 kilometers. The longer-range missile is likely designed with China in mind, while the shorter-range K-15 puts Pakistan in range.

The Arihant deployment completes India’s nuclear triad, that is, the ability to deliver nuclear weapons from land-, air-, and sea-based systems. It also enhances India’s second-strike capability, although India, with only one deployed submarine, will not be able to conduct continuous deterrent patrols at this time.

A second ballistic missile submarine was reportedly finished in December 2017, and an additional two submarines are under construction. India plans to build four to six nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines. These subsequent submarines are larger than the Arihant and could hold up to eight K-4 ballistic missiles.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Nov. 8 that the Arihant’s patrol “marks the first actual deployment of ready-to-fire nuclear warheads in South Asia” and is a “matter of concern” for states in the region and the international community.

Indian and Pakistani nuclear warheads are largely believed to be de-mated, or stored separately from delivery systems. On a submarine, however, de-mating is not feasible, and the warheads are stored paired with the ballistic missiles.

Mohammad Faisal, a spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, said that “no one should doubt Pakistan’s resolve and capability to meet the challenge” posed by India’s recent developments.

Pakistan is currently developing a sea-launched cruise missile, the Babur-3, likely for use with its diesel submarines. Pakistan tested the Babur-3, which has an estimated range of about 450 kilometers, from a submerged barge in 2017 and 2018. Pakistani officials said the move was prompted by India’s decision to develop SLBMs.

Posted: December 1, 2018

Trump’s Counterproductive Decision to “Terminate” the INF Treaty

Sections:

Description: 

Under the influence of his new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, Trump announced Saturday at a campaign rally that he will “terminate” a key nuclear arms control agreement that helped end the Cold War race–the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in response to a long-running dispute over Russian noncompliance with the treaty. Here's why that's counterproductive.

Body: 

Volume 10, Issue 9, October 21, 2018

Under the influence of his new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, Trump announced Saturday at a campaign rally that he will “terminate” a key nuclear arms control agreement that helped end the Cold War race–the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in response to a long-running dispute over Russian noncompliance with the treaty. 
 
The decision represents a shift in the administration’s INF response strategy  which was announced in January and before Bolton joined the administration.
 
Trump’s move to blow-up the INF Treaty is unnecessary and self-defeating wrong turn that could lead to an unconstrained and dangerous nuclear arms competition with Russia.
 
The breakdown of the agreement and uncertain future of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) creates the most serious nuclear arms control crisis in decades.
 
The Russian Foreign Ministry said today that the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty is “unacceptable” and “dangerous.” Russia continues to assert that there is no basis for the U.S. claim that Russia has violated the treaty, but the Russian Foreign Ministry said “there is still room for dialogue."
 
Bolton meets Monday in Moscow with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov.
 
The INF Treaty Still Matters 

The INF Treaty, which was negotiated by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 km (300 to 3,500 miles).
 
The treaty successfully eliminated an entire class of destabilizing nuclear weapons that were deployed in Europe and helped bring an end to the spiraling Cold War arms race. It has been a cornerstone of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control architecture. And as NATO defense ministers said earlier this month, the INF Treaty “has been crucial to Euro-Atlantic security.”
 
Without the INF Treaty, we will likely see the return of Cold War-style tensions over U.S. and Russian deployments of intermediate-range missiles in Europe and elsewhere.  

Russian Noncompliance

The INF Treaty, while very successful, has been at risk for some time. In 2014, Washington charged that Moscow had tested a weapon, which it later identified as the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile, at a range beyond the limit set by the treaty. In 2017, the Pentagon declared that Moscow had begun deploying the weapon. 

Russia denies that it has violated the treaty and asked the United States to divulge the technical details behind the charge. Moscow has expressed its own concerns about U.S. compliance with the pact, notably that U.S. missile defense interceptor platforms deployed in eastern Europe could be used for offense purposes that would violate the treaty.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue have been limited and to date unsuccessful. Since Trump took office, U.S. and Russian officials have met only twice to try to resolve the compliance dispute. 

Clearly, neither side has exhausted the diplomatic options that could resolve their concerns. 

U.S. Withdrawal Would Be An “Own Goal.” 

Trump claims that the United States is pulling out to show Russia that it will not tolerate Russia’s alleged violation of the treaty. “We’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” Trump said. 

Trump may want to sound tough, but the reality is that withdrawing from the treaty weakens U.S. and allied security and does not provide the United States any military advantage in Europe or elsewhere.

  • U.S. withdrawal does nothing to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty and it distracts from the fact that it was Russia’s actions that precipitated the INF Treaty crisis. 
  • U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty opens the door for Russia to produce and deploy the missile of concern, the 9M729, in greater numbers without any constraints.
  • There is no military need for the United States to develop, as Trump has proposed, a new and costly INF Treaty-noncompliant missile. The United States can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten the same Russian targets that ground-launched missiles that are prohibited by INF Treaty would. 
  • NATO does not support a new INF Treaty-range missile in Europe and no country has offered to host it. Attempting to force the alliance to accept a new, potentially nuclear missile would divide the alliance in ways that would delight the Kremlin.

Even without the INF Treaty in force, the U.S. Congress and NATO governments should reject Trump’s push to develop a new U.S. ground-based INF Treaty-range missile in Europe (or elsewhere), and instead focus on maintaining conventional military preparedness to deter adversaries without violating the treaty.

Does the United States Need Ground-launched, INF Treaty-Range Missiles to Counter China?

No. In 2011, long before any Russian INF compliance concerns surfaced, John Bolton proposed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Washington should to withdraw from the treaty in order to counter China, which is not party to the treaty. In his Oct. 20 remarks on withdrawing from the treaty, Trump also pointed to China as a reason for abandoning the INF Treaty.

When asked at a congressional hearing in July 2017 about whether withdrawal from the INF Treaty could be useful because it would allow the U.S. to develop new ground-based systems to hit targets in China, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva said that such a move was unnecessary because the United States can already hold those targets at risk with treaty-compliant air- and sea-based assets.

In his remarks Saturday, Trump suggested he might support a ban on INF Treaty-range missiles if "Russia comes to us and China comes to us” ... "and let’s none of us develop those weapons.” Russia did approach the United States in 2007 and jointly proposed in a UN General Assembly resolution multilateralizing the INF Treaty. The idea of “multilateralizing INF has been around for more than a decade, but neither Russia nor Washington have devoted serious effort into the concept and China is highly unlikely to join an agreement that would eliminate the bulk of its missile arsenal.

Trump’s INF Treaty decision is a debacle. But without New START it will be even worse 

If the INF Treaty collapses, as appears likely, the only remaining treaty regulating the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles will be New START. New START is due to expire in 2021 unless Trump and Putin agree to extend it by five years as allowed for in Article XIV of the agreement.

Unfortunately, Bolton may try to sabotage that treaty too. Since he arrived at the White House in May, he has been slow-rolling an interagency review on whether to extend New START and refusing to take up Putin’s offer to begin talks on its extension. 

Key Republican and Democratic Senators are on record in support of New START extension, which can be accomplished without further Senate or Duma approval.

Instead, one option Bolton is talking about is a “Moscow Treaty" approach that would dispense with New START and its rigorous inspection system on warheads and missiles to ensure compliance. This option would simply set limits on deployed warheads only and without any verification—an approach Moscow is very unlikely to accept because it could give the United States a significant breakout advantage.

The current crisis makes it all the more important to get a serious U.S.-Russian arms control dialogue back on track. 

Trump and Putin should agree to relaunch their stalled strategic stability dialogue and commit to reaching an early agreement to extend New START by five years to 2026 – which is essential if the two sides are to meet their legal commitment under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty "to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament …."

If they fail to extend New START, an even more dangerous phase in U.S.-Russian relations is just over the horizon.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, and KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

Country Resources:

Posted: October 21, 2018

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Russia

October 2018

Updated: October 2018

As of early 2018, Russia’s entire nuclear arsenal is estimated to comprise 6,850 warheads, including approximately 2,500 that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. As of the September 2018 New START data exchange, Russia had 1,420 strategic deployed warheads and 517 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. 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

As of 2018, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that Russia possesses a nuclear arsenal consisting of a total of 6,850 warheads, including approximately 920 strategic warheads in storage, roughly 1,830 tactical warheads, and approximately 2,500 warheads that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. Under New START, Russia can deploy no more than 1,550 treaty accountable warheads until February 2021 when the treaty expires. As of September 2018, Russia deploys 1,420 strategic warheads on 517 strategic delivery systems.

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • As of 2018, Russia’s estimated 318 ICBMs, which carry approximately 1,138 warheads, include the:
    • RS-12M (three variants)
      • RS-12M (Topol [SS-25 Sickle])
      • RS-12M1 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]) (mobile)
      • RS-12M2 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]) (silo)
      • Each variant carries a single 800 kt warhead, 10,500-11,000 km range.
    • RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2)
      • Mobile and silo versions.
      • Each carries four 100kt MIRV warheads, 10,500 km range.
    • RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto)
      • Each carries six 400 kt multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), 10,000 km range.
    • RS-20V (SS-18 Satan) 
      • Each carries ten 500-800 kt MIRV warheads, 10,200-16,000 km range.
    • RS-26 Rubezh
    • RS-28 (SS-30 Sarmat)
      • Also known as 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 (rail-based version of SS-27 Mod 2)
      • Russian defense officials have indicated that it is intended to revive and upstage the former Soviet nuclear trains and 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 Delta IV submarines, Delta III submarines and the new Borey-class submarines (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).
    • 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.
      • Russia is developing five upgraded Borey-A class submarines to be delivered by the mid-2020s.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM):

  • Russia’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles include the RSM-50, RSM-54, RSM-56, and reportedly the R-29RMU2 and include a total of 176 missile launchers on all SSBNs.
    • RSM-50 (SS-N-18 M1 Stingray)
      • ​​​​​​​Deployed in 1978.
      • Equipped with three 50kt MIRVs, 6,500-8,000 km range
    • RSM-54 (SS-N-23 M1 Sineva)
      • ​​​​​​​Deployed in 2007.
      • Equipped with four 100 kt MIRVs, 8,300 km range. 
    • RSM-56 (SS-N-32 Bulava)
      • Deployed in 2014.
      • Equipped with six 100 kt MIRVs, 8,000+ km range.
      • 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

  • As of 2018, the Russian Air Force operates 68 long-range bombers which can carry a total of 616 warheads.
    • Tu-95 MS6
      • Capable of carrying nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles. 
    • Tu-95 MS16
      • Capable of carrying nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles.
    • Tu-160
      • Capable of carrying Kh-55 (AS-15B) cruise missiles or 12 Kh-15 (AS-16) short range attack missiles. 
  • All three aircraft are categorized as strategic heavy bombers and are limited by New START. 
  • 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 military doctrine, most recently updated in December 2014, it “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.”

U.S. 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 2016, 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.
  • Its total plutonium stockpile is, as of the end of 2016, estimated at 185.2 metric tons, with an 8 metric ton margin of error.
    • The weapons-grade stockpile is estimated at 128 ± 8 metric tons.
    • 57.2 metric tons of separated reactor-grade plutonium are declared for civilian use.
  • Russia committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess plutonium, beginning in 2018, under a 2000 agreement with the United States entitled the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA).
    • 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 former 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.”
  • The UK accused Russia of assassinating a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, in the UK using the chemical agent Novichok on March 4, 2018.

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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. Both sides met the limits by the Feb. 5, 2018 deadline, and the limits will hold until the treaty's expiration in February 2021. 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)
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. Russia stood by the Assad regime, claiming that the airstrike had hit an opposition depot housing chemical weapons. In November 2017, Russia blocked investigations into identifying who has used chemical weapons in Syria from continuing.

(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. Russia has continued to support the JCPOA following the Trump administration's violation and withdrawal from the deal in May 2018.

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Posted: October 9, 2018

Saudi Arabia Threatens to Seek Nuclear Weapons

Saudi comments complicate U.S. efforts to negotiate and implement a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the kingdom.


June 2018
By Kingston Reif

In the wake U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to terminate the Iran nuclear deal, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNN that “if Iran acquires a nuclear capability, we will do everything we can to do the same.”

The comments echo a similar warning from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March and could complicate U.S. efforts to negotiate and implement a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the kingdom.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis welcomes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman March 22 at the Pentagon. “If Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Prince Mohammed told CBS News on March 15. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Prince Mohammed told CBS News in a March 15 interview.

Saudi Arabia is a non-nuclear-weapon state-party to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits the kingdom from pursuing nuclear weapons development.

Although in the past some Saudi officials and members of the royal family have hinted at matching Iran’s nuclear capability, the recent statements from the Saudi leadership have been far more explicit.

For example, asked by Reuters in January 2016 if Saudi Arabia would seek to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does, al-Jubeir said, “I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect me to answer this question one way or another.”

Saudi Arabia has been one of the few countries to praise Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, which put significant, long-term constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.

“We believe the nuclear deal was flawed,” al-Jubeir told CNN on May 9. “We believe the deal does not deal with Iran's ballistic missile program nor does it deal with Iran's support for terrorism.”

Neither Trump nor any member of his administration has publicly condemned the Saudi threats to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does. Some officials have even suggested the administration might look the other way if Saudi Arabia violated its NPT commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons.

When asked later that day to comment on al-Jubier’s comment, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “Right now, I don’t know that we have a specific policy announcement on that front, but I can tell you that we are very committed to making sure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons.”

Long-standing, bipartisan U.S. policy has been to actively work against the spread of nuclear weapons to any country, friend or foe.

Saudi Arabia’s unabashed nuclear hedging comes as it continues to negotiate a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, known as a 123 agreement, with the Trump administration. (See ACT, April 2018.) A 123 agreement, named after the section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act that requires it, sets the terms for sharing U.S. nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries.

Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans to generate nuclear power, but currently has no nuclear power plants. The kingdom plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, according to the World Nuclear Association. It has solicited bids for the first two reactors and hopes to sign contracts by the end of this year.

A key issue in the negotiations is whether the United States will insist that Saudi Arabia agree to forgo uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing as part of a 123 agreement. These activities are considered sensitive because they can be used to make fuel for nuclear power reactors and produce nuclear explosive material. To date, Saudi Arabia has resisted a ban and suggested that it seeks to make its own fuel.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said May 24 at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the administration has told the Saudis it wants “a gold standard section 123 agreement from them, which would not permit them to enrich.”

Pompeo’s comments were the first indication that the administration is seeking such an agreement. Other administration officials had refused to say whether the United States was pushing a prohibition on fuel-making activity.

Previously, Energy Secretary Rick Perry had warned lawmakers that if the administration insists on nonproliferation standards Riyadh won’t accept, Russia and China would then win contracts to build reactors in Saudi Arabia and would demand less stringent nonproliferation and security standards than does the United States.

Bipartisan opposition to an agreement that does not block Saudi fuel-making continues to mount. “We need a gold standard, and I’m afraid this administration is already going down the road of, you know, doing something different than that,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told National Journal last month.

Even if the administration does sign a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia soon, Congress could run out of time to consider it this year.

Once the executive branch submits a signed cooperation agreement to Congress, lawmakers have 90 days in continuous session to consider the pact, after which it automatically becomes law unless Congress adopts a joint resolution opposing it. That time period is rapidly closing due to a shortened election-year calendar.

Posted: June 1, 2018

Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances

March 2018

Contact: Kelsey DavenportDirector for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 462-8270; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 462-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

The world’s nuclear-armed states each have declared, to varying degrees of specificity, when and under what circumstances they reserve the option to use their nuclear weapons. Most nuclear-armed states have also declared under what circumstances they rule out the use of nuclear weapons. These “positive” and “negative” nuclear declaratory policies are designed to deter adversaries from military actions and to assure non-nuclear weapon states and allies they will not be subject to a direct nuclear attack on their territory and should be dissuaded from pursuing nuclear weapons themselves.

There is no universal agreement among nuclear weapon states on the first-use of intercontinental ballistic missiles.Today, most nuclear-armed states, including the United States, reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Only two nuclear-armed states (China and India) have declared no-first-use policies, by which they commit themselves to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.

All five of the nuclear-weapon states recognized in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have issued a set of “negative” nuclear security assurances, which were recognized by the UN Security Council in Resolution 984 (1995). These pledges, however, are nonbinding and some nuclear-weapon states reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states under certain circumstances. The following is a more detailed summary of each country’s policies.

United States

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report declared that there are four missions for the U.S. nuclear arsenal: deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks, assurance of allies and partners, achievement of U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, and capacity to hedge against an uncertain future.

The document reiterated that the United States does not maintain a nuclear “no first-use policy” on the grounds that U.S. response options must remain flexible to deter nuclear and non-nuclear attacks. “Non-nuclear capabilities,” according to the report, “can complement but not replace U.S. nuclear capabilities” for the purpose of deterrence. In the event that deterrence were to fail, the report also declared that Washington could use nuclear weapons to end a conflict on the “best achievable terms for the United States.”

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The United States issued assurances not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon-state NPT members in 1978, 1995 and 2010 except in the case of “an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear- weapon State.” In 1997 the United States issued a classified presidential decision directive (PDD) reaffirming these pledges.

The 2018 NPR repeated existing U.S. negative security assurances by stating that Washington “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” However, the report qualified that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by “the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies.” At the February 2 press briefing following the report’s release, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood clarified that this may include cyber capabilities.

For a more details, see U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

China
China issued negative security assurances at the United Nations in 1978 and 1995 and is the only NPT nuclear-weapon state that has declared a no-first-use policy, which it reiterated in February 2018.

At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, Fu Ying, chairperson of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, said that “China is also committed to the principle of non-first-use of nuclear weapons, and no-use of nuclear weapons against any nuclear state [sic] at any circumstances and no-use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-free zones.”

In its April 1995 letter to UN members outlining its negative security assurances, China declared that it “undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.” China consistently reiterates this policy in its defense white papers. The most recent, edited in 2016, stated that “China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, China also called for the negotiation of an international legally binding instrument to prohibit first-use of nuclear weapons and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states and nuclear-weapon free zones.

France
France maintains a policy of calculated ambiguity regarding first-use of nuclear weapons. A 2013 French government defense white paper states that “the use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of legitimate self-defence” and that “[b]eing strictly defensive, nuclear deterrence protects France from any state-led aggression against its vital interests, of whatever origin and in whatever form.”

France issued negative security assurances at the UN in 1987 and 1995. In its 1995 statement to the UN, France pledged not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT “except in the case of invasion or any other attack on France, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, or against its allies or a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a State in alliance or association with a nuclear-weapon State.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, France called for nuclear possessor states to “work resolutely to advance disarmament in all its aspects; in which the doctrines of nuclear powers will restrict the role of nuclear weapons solely to extreme circumstances of self-defence where their vital interests are under threat.”

Russia
According to the December 2014 Russian Military Doctrine Paper published by the Ministry of Defense, Russia reserves the option to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving any weapon of mass destruction, and in response to conventional attacks “when the very existence of the state is under threat.” This phrase suggests a willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in the event of an impending conventional military defeat.

In 1993, Russia moved away from Leonid Brezhnev’s 1982 no-first-use pledge when the Russian Defense Ministry under Boris Yeltsin adopted a new doctrine on nuclear weapons. The new policy ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT but said nothing about use against states possessing nuclear weapons. Since the 1993 shift, many Western analysts have come to believe that Russia pursues an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy—the notion that, in the event of a large-scale conventional conflict, the Kremlin would use or threaten to use low-yield nuclear weapons to coerce an adversary to cease attacks or withdraw. However, other analysts maintain that this is not the case. 

Russia issued unilateral negative security assurances not to attack non-nuclear-weapon states in 1978 and 1995, but stated in 1995 that those pledges would not apply “in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the Russian Federation, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, its allies or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

United Kingdom
In the 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review document, the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with the treaty’s obligations. The United Kingdom appears to leave open the option to use nuclear weapons in response to WMD threats, such as chemical or biological attacks, if such threats emerge. Currently London acknowledged that there is “no direct threat” posed by WMDs to the United Kingdom in the 2015 document, but the government reserves the right to “review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.”

The United Kingdom issued a unilateral negative nuclear security assurance in 1978 and again in 1995. In the 1995 pledge the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. This assurance does not apply, however, to any state acting “in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state” that attacks the United Kingdom, its territories or allies, or any state in breach of its commitments under the NPT.

India
India has a no-first-use doctrine. As the government stated in a draft nuclear doctrine in August 1999, “India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” Although India has adopted a no-first-use policy, some Indian strategists have called the pledge’s validity into question. The credibility of this pledge was weakened in 2009 when Indian Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor suggested that the government should review the pledge in light of the growing threat of Pakistan. In 2010, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon stated that India's nuclear doctrine was “no first use against non-nuclear weapons states.” MIT professor Vipin Narang has also observed that “the force requirements India needs in order to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may allow it to pursue more aggressive strategies—such as escalation dominance or a ‘splendid first strike’—against Pakistan.”

During debate at the Conference on Disarmament in 2014, India’s representative reiterated the government’s no-first-use policy and the policy on nonuse against non-nuclear-weapon states and said that India was “prepared to convert these undertakings into multilateral legal arrangements.”

Israel
Given that Israel has not acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons, it has not made any statements regarding its willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Israel generally abstains from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution that would establish international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would not be used against them, including recently in resolution 72/25 in 2017.

Pakistan
Pakistan has only issued negative nuclear security guarantees to those states that are not armed with nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s position regarding when and whether it would use nuclear weapons in a conflict with another nuclear-armed state, namely India, is far more ambiguous. Pakistani officials have indicated that the circumstances surrounding its no-first-use policy must remain deliberately imprecise, as demarcating clear redlines could allow provocations by the Indian military just below any established threshold for use.

In a 2015 statement, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is one-dimensional, that is it for "stopping Indian aggression before it happens" “not for starting a war.” He also said in 2015 that Pakistan is capable of answering aggression from India due to Islamabad’s development of short-range tactical nuclear weapons. In July 2016, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif suggested Islamabad would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in armed conflict with India.

North Korea
Following its fourth nuclear test in January 2016, Pyongyang declared a policy of no-first-use under the condition that hostile forces do not encroach on its sovereignty. The Jan. 6, 2016 government statement said that North Korea, as a “responsible nuclear weapons state, will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons…as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.”  North Korea has re-affirmed this stance at the May 2016 Worker's Party Congress in Pyongyang and in the 2018 New Year's Address. North Korea, however, routinely threatens to use nuclear weapons against perceived threats, including against the United States and South Korea, a non-nuclear-weapon state.

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Posted: March 16, 2018

March 2018 Books of Note

Sleepwalking to Armageddon: The Threat of Nuclear Annihilation By Helen Caldicott, October 2017
Getting Nuclear Weapons Right: Managing Danger & Avoiding Disaster By Stephen J. Cimbala, December 2017


Sleepwalking to Armageddon: The Threat of Nuclear Annihilation
Helen Caldicott, ed., The New Press, October 2017, 256 pages

Helen Caldicott, a physician and veteran nuclear disarmament campaigner, has assembled a fresh and wide-ranging set of essays from scientists, scholars, journalists, and activists on the threats posed by nuclear weapons. Caldicott, who helped mobilize a generation of doctors on the public health catastrophe of nuclear war, writes that the volume’s purpose is to provide a wake-up call and a prescription for action for a new generation just beginning to recognize that nuclear dangers persist. The short compositions address nuclear weapons and the consequences of their use, the politics of nuclear weapons, and remedies to alleviate the threat. There are vivid essays from authors Seth Baum, Alan Robock, and Lynn Eden on the effects of nuclear weapons use; works from Michael Klare and Julian Borger on global nuclear flashpoints; three contributions from key leaders of the movement to prohibit nuclear weapons; and a thought-provoking essay by Kennette Benedict on the undemocratic nature of nuclear weapons decision-making. Caldicott’s collection would have been stronger if she had included works that focused on nuclear programs beyond those of the United States and Russia or an essay or two on policy options to further reduce their arsenals and those of the world’s other nuclear actors. Still, Caldicott’s book is an important read for anyone who does not believe that people are, indeed, sleepwalking to Armageddon.—DARYL G. KIMBALL


Getting Nuclear Weapons Right: Managing Danger & Avoiding Disaster
Stephen J. Cimbala, Lynne Rienner Publishers, December 2017, 269 pages

Stephen J. Cimbala, a distinguished professor of political science at Penn State Brandywine, provides a comprehensive assessment of nuclear weapons issues. The first chapters ask what kind of international system would be most conducive to stability and find that the preferred system would be a world without nuclear weapons. There are, however, myriad obstacles to getting there. Because nuclear abolition may be unrealistic, many have proposed a minimum-deterrence posture, which Cimbala examines in depth. He then poses a question that engenders a paradoxical answer: How can a nuclear war be controlled or limited? The second half of the book ventures more into practical specifics. Cimbala examines nuclear proliferation and U.S. policy options, determines that it is the responsibility of the United States and Russia to forge the way on nuclear issues, and considers the challenges of bringing China into the nuclear arms reduction process. The final chapters explore further challenges of the 21st century, including those facing NATO and those tied to managing a nuclear crisis in the information age.—KELLY SMITS

Posted: March 1, 2018

Chinese Analysts Urge Nuclear Increase

But there is reason to doubt that the commentary signals a policy shift.


March 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Commentary in an official Chinese military newspaper called on China to strengthen its nuclear deterrent, although Chinese official statements and expert analysis downplay a more assertive nuclear weapons stance.

Two analysts at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Science, which informs China’s Central Military Commission, raised the prospect of an accelerating nuclear weapons program by China. “To enhance China’s strategic counterbalance in the region and maintain China’s status as a great power, and protect national security, China has to beef up and develop a reliable nuclear deterrence capability,” they wrote in PLA Daily, according to a translation by the South China Morning Post.

China displayed the DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missile during a military parade September 3, 2015 in Beijing. The silo-based missile, deployed in 2015, is reported to carry multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles. (Photo: Rolex Dela Pena - Pool /Getty Images)The commentary argued that both the development of new nuclear weapons proposed by the latest U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons modernization programs could create a need for an enhanced deterrent through an expanded Chinese nuclear force.

The PLA Daily “provides an outlet for more extreme views” within the PLA, Catherine Dill, a senior research associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told Arms Control Today in a Feb. 14 email. She noted that opinion pieces may not signal future military plans.

The United States asserted in a recent intelligence assessment and in its latest NPR report that China is already advancing and expanding its nuclear weapons capabilities. China is modernizing its nuclear missiles to “ensure the viability of China’s strategic deterrent by providing a second-strike capability,” according to the U.S. intelligence community’s worldwide threat assessment report, which was presented to Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13.

Twice in November 2017, China tested a DF-17, a medium-range ballistic missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle that could help it evade missile defenses. China continues to develop its submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and may be producing additional nuclear-powered submarines, according to the report.

China is “expanding its already considerable nuclear forces” and pursing “assertive military initiatives,” according to the NPR report. The NPR provides a rationale for the Trump administration’s plans to accelerate U.S. nuclear weapons programs.

But China’s modest nuclear force posture, official Chinese statements, and expert analysis all point to China rejecting an aggressive nuclear expansion. China maintains a small nuclear arsenal compared to those of Russia and the United States. Although a level of secrecy surrounds the Chinese nuclear arsenal, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in July 2017 estimated China has 270 nuclear warheads.

China also holds to a no-first-use policy, whereby it declares that it will only use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack. The Chinese Defense Ministry reaffirmed that it follows this policy as recently as Feb. 4, when it also claimed that it would “resolutely stick to peaceful development and pursue a national defense policy that is defensive in nature.”

Other analysts doubt that China will pursue an arms buildup. Chinese military analyst Zhao Chenming told the South China Morning Post on Jan. 30 that China is too “pragmatic” to spend heavily on an arms race. In a Feb. 9 blog post, Gregory Kulacki, China project manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists, underlined the defensive nature of Chinese nuclear forces, arguing that although China has the ability to engage in an arms race, it is “unlikely to do so.”

“[T]he piece does reflect general unease within China and the PLA about U.S. military plans,” Dill stated, adding that China will likely continue to focus on developing SLBM capabilities, long-range conventional strike systems, and missile defense assets.

Posted: March 1, 2018

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

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