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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Kingston Reif

U.S. Selects Missiles for INF-Range Capability


January/February 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The U.S. Army announced on Nov. 6 its selection of two missiles to serve as the basis for initial development of a conventional, ground-launched, midrange missile capability. Both missiles would have been prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, from which the United States withdrew in August 2019. (See ACT, September 2020.)

Sailors aboard the USS Barry prepare to fire a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile during a September 2020 exercise. The U.S. Army is considering using a variant of the missile as a land-based weapon that would have been banned by the INF Treaty.  (Photo: Samuel Hardgrove/U.S. Navy)Lockheed Martin won a sole source contract worth $339 million to design, develop, and deliver the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) prototype to be fielded in fiscal year 2023.

“Following a broad review of joint service technologies potentially applicable to MRC, the Army has selected variants of the Navy [Standard Missile-6 (SM-6)] and Tomahawk missiles to be part of the initial prototype,” said the statement from the U.S. Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.

The SM-6 was developed as a missile defense interceptor and first deployed in 2013. The Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile has been in service since the 1980s, although some variants, such as those carrying a nuclear payload, have been retired.

“The MRC supports one of the Army’s chief roles in multi-domain operations: to use strategic fires to penetrate and disintegrate enemy layered defense systems, creating windows of opportunity for exploitation by the joint force,” the office said.

The Army told Breaking Defense that it does not plan to modify either of the Navy missiles. By selecting variants of the two missiles, the Army would be able to purchase the latest models: the SM-6 Block IB, estimated to complete development in 2024, and the Tomahawk Block Va, known as the Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST), which began production in 2020.

Since the demise of the INF Treaty last year, the Trump administration has been vocal about quickly developing and deploying a ground-launched, intermediate-range missile capability to counter Russia and China in particular. (See ACT, October 2020.) But where such missiles might be based remains unclear, as countries, including Australia, Japan, and South Korea, have downplayed the possibility of hosting them. (See ACT, September 2020.)

Signed in 1987, the now defunct INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

The U.S. Army has identified two Navy missiles to serve as the basis for a new land-based system that would have violated the INF Treaty.

Fate of New START Hinges on Biden

Fate of New START Hinges on Biden With less than two months remaining until the last agreement limiting the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals expires, Russia has reiterated its offer to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ). Though President-elect Joe Biden has said that he will seek to extend the agreement, the incoming administration has yet to decide on the length of an extension to seek. “Russia is in favor of extending this treaty for five years without additional conditions,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov Nov. 30. In his annual...

U.S. Completes Open Skies Treaty Withdrawal


December 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States formally withdrew from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty on Nov. 22 despite domestic and international pressure to remain party to the accord, including from President-elect Joe Biden and numerous U.S. allies.

The United States has used OC-135 aircraft to conduct overflights as part of the Open Skies Treaty. The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty may trigger plans to dispose of the aircraft. (Photo: Perry Aston/U.S. Air Force)“Today, pursuant to earlier notice provided, the United States withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies is now effective,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a tweet. “America is more secure because of it, as Russia remains in noncompliance with its obligations.”

In May, Pompeo issued the six-month notice of withdrawal as required by the treaty, citing concerns over Russian compliance with and implementation of the treaty as grounds for the U.S. withdrawal. (See ACT, June 2020.)

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations that it has violated the treaty and said in a Nov. 22 statement that all options remain on the table regarding its continued participation. The statement followed Nov. 12 remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in which he outlined in stark terms the circumstances in which Moscow might remain party to the treaty.

“If they [the remaining states-parties] want to keep the treaty in force, and if we choose to remain part of it, we will require our partners to legally confirm in writing that, first, they will not prohibit flights over any part of their territory regardless of whether U.S. bases are located there or not,” he said.

He added that the parties must also “strongly commit not to transmit data on flights over Russia to the United States.”

Under the treaty, all imagery collected from overflights is made available to any of the states-parties. During the treaty’s fourth review conference in October, Russia prioritized the provisions of the pact that restrict the distribution of treaty data to states-parties only. (See ACT, November 2020.)

A senior U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal that the United States is already moving to dispose of the two Boeing OC-135B aircraft used for treaty overflight missions.

“We’ve started liquidating the equipment,” the official said. The planes “are really old and cost-prohibitive for us to maintain. We don’t have a use for them anymore.”

An Air Force official told Defense News on Nov. 24 that a final decision on the disposition of the aircraft has not yet been made.

Congress appropriated $41.5 million in fiscal year 2020 to continue modernizing the aircraft, and the Air Force was planning to seek $76 million in fiscal year 2021 to replace the planes. But the Defense Department halted the funding earlier this year. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Following the U.S. withdrawal, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. William Keating (D-Mass.) issued a Nov. 23 statement maintaining that the Trump administration broke the law when it neglected to notify Congress 120 days before issuing an intent to withdraw from the treaty as required by the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“President Trump is attempting to burn down our critical institutions on his way out the door,” they wrote. “In doing so, he not only jeopardized U.S. national security, but he blatantly ignored and deliberately broke the law.”

In a Dec. 20, 2019 statement issued alongside his signature of the fiscal year 2020 authorization bill, Trump argued that the NDAA provision on the treaty raised constitutional concerns.

“I reiterate the longstanding understanding of the executive branch that these types of provisions encompass only actions for which such advance certification or notification is feasible and consistent with the president’s exclusive constitutional authorities as commander in chief and as the sole representative of the nation in foreign affairs,” the president said.

President-elect Joe Biden has expressed support for the treaty and condemned the administration’s decision to withdraw. But he has stopped short of committing to try to reenter the agreement when he takes office in January or arguing the United States still remains a state-party because the withdrawal was done in violation of the law.

If Biden did want to resume U.S. participation in the treaty, it is unclear whether and how he could do so.

In a statement to Arms Control Today, Monica Matoush, a Democratic spokesperson for the House Armed Services Committee, did not address whether Biden should attempt to rejoin the agreement.

“The importance of alliances and confidence-building measures to support strategic stability in Europe in the face of Russian aggression must be a priority for the next administration, despite efforts over the past four years to undermine these relationships and dismantle agreements that uphold transatlantic stability,” she said.

Peter Jones, a former Canadian representative to the Open Skies Treaty negotiations, proposed on Nov. 12 that the remaining states-parties pause the treaty at one minute to midnight on Nov. 21 in order to prevent the Trump administration from withdrawing from the treaty and buy time for a new Biden administration to rescind the withdrawal.

“In effect, they would be ignoring the Trump deadline until the Biden administration was sworn in and could rescind the withdrawal,” he wrote. Although the proposal was reportedly discussed in Vienna, it did not come to fruition.

Signed in 1992 and entering into force in 2002, the treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.

The U.S. withdrawal raises questions about the treaty’s future.

New START in Limbo Ahead of U.S. Election


November 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia each dismissed last-minute proposals involving a short-term extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), leaving the fate of the sole remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement undetermined on the eve of the U.S. presidential election.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets reporters at the State Department on Oct. 19. Two days later he reaffirmed the U.S. position that New START "is not a good deal for the United States." (Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)The down-to-the-wire diplomacy appeared to narrow the large gap between the two sides on prolonging the treaty, but no resolution was found, and the failure to close a deal raised questions about whether Russia ever intended to strike a deal with the Trump administration so close to the election or whether the Trump administration ever intended to extend New START. Administration officials have repeatedly criticized the treaty and waited more than three years to begin serious arms control talks with Russia.

It remains to be seen if the Trump administration and Russia will seek to continue negotiations later this year regardless of the election result. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said that if he is elected president in November, he will pursue the treaty’s extension without conditions.

New START, which is slated to expire on Feb. 5, 2021, permits an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree.

After several months of talks, Washington and Moscow in mid-October exchanged dueling offers pairing a one-year extension of New START with an undefined one-year freeze on the numbers of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in an Oct. 20 statement that Russia offers to extend New START for one year and “undertake a political commitment to ‘freeze’ for the above-mentioned period the number of nuclear warheads that each side possesses.”

But the statement said that the offer “may be implemented only and exclusively on the premise that ‘freezing’ of warheads will not be accompanied by any additional demands on the part of the United States.”

The foreign ministry added that the “time gained” by the New START extension “could be used to conduct comprehensive bilateral negotiations on the future nuclear and missile arms control that must address all factors affecting strategic stability.”

Russia had previously called for extending New START by five years without conditions and balked at a warhead-level freeze.

The foreign ministry statement followed direction from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 16 to seek to extend New START “unconditionally for at least a year.” Putin made no specific mention of a freeze on all warhead levels.

U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien responded to Putin’s proposal on Twitter later that day, describing it as a “non-starter.” He claimed that Russia had appeared willing to accept a U.S. offer to extend New START and freeze all warhead levels in tandem after he met with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva on Oct. 2.

It is not clear whether Russia had agreed in principle to such a two-part deal or whether Russia further amended its position between Putin’s Oct. 16 comments and the Oct. 20 foreign ministry statement.

Regardless, the Trump administration praised Russia’s willingness to agree to a short-term extension of New START and a freeze and said that although a deal was close, more work needed to be done to seal it.

“President [Donald] Trump has made clear that the New START Treaty by itself is not a good deal for the United States or our friends or allies,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Oct. 21. He criticized the treaty for failing to capture Russia’s large and, according to the Defense Department, growing arsenal of up to 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear warheads.

“What we’ve proposed to extend that agreement would be historic,” Pompeo said. “But we need to make sure that U.S. and Russian negotiators get together just as soon as possible to continue to make progress to finalize a verifiable agreement.”

O'Brien expressed optimism at an Oct. 28 Hudson Institute event that “if we can get through the verification issues, I think we're going to be able to get to a deal.” “We'll see how that plays out over the next couple of days and weeks,” he said.

If a deal is secured, the administration said it plans to use the ensuing year to translate it into a formal treaty that would also include China.

But Russia rejected the U.S. demand for verification of a freeze and said that such details should be deferred for future negotiations.

“We have the feeling that they [the United States] need verification for the verification's sake,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Russian news outlet Interfax on Oct. 22.

“It may be considered that we’ve made two concessions,” Ryabkov said, referring to Russia’s willingness to agree to a one-year extension of New START and a one-year warhead-level freeze. “Let them make concessions to meet us halfway: let them drop their monitoring demand.”

In a separate interview with Kommersant, Ryabkov said “that the degree of our differences is rather significant” and that he did not see “reasons for strong optimism” that New START would be extended.

He warned that “[r]ejecting this condition will immediately destroy the possibility of reaching the agreement” and that Russia would be willing to allow New START to expire if the United States continued to make unrealistic demands.

The warning appeared to be a response to repeated suggestions by Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, that Russia is desperate to extend New START and that Washington would raise the price to extend the treaty if Russia failed to meet U.S. demands.

Ryabkov told reporters on Oct. 27 that Washington and Moscow still “are exchanging documents behind closed doors” and that “Russia is open to continuing the dialogue."

The Trump administration’s October offer of a short-term extension of New START and a freeze marked another shift in the U.S. negotiating position in arms control talks with Russia.

In August, the administration conditioned U.S. consideration of a short-term extension of New START on Russia agreeing to a politically binding framework deal that would verifiably cover all nuclear warheads, make changes to the New START verification regime, and be structured to include China in the future. (See ACT, September 2020.) The administration had earlier insisted that China immediately participate in trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia, which Beijing rejected. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

Key details about the U.S. freeze proposal have yet to be clarified by the Trump administration.

According to an Oct. 20 report in The Wall Street Journal, a senior administration official said the United States wants both sides to declare the total number of warheads deployed on delivery systems of all ranges and kept in storage.

To verify that neither side was exceeding the declared number of warheads, the official said Washington wanted monitors to be stationed outside U.S. and Russian warhead production facilities. The official added that such a portal monitoring system, which has featured in past arms control agreements, did not need to be in place immediately but that Russia needed to agree to technical talks on how to eventually implement such an approach.

But Russian officials have called the adoption of such a system a nonstarter, at least in the near term.

In the past, the United States and Russia agreed to politically binding arms control and risk reduction measures without stringent verification protocols.

If Trump is not reelected and does not make a deal with Russia before Inauguration Day, a President Joe Biden would have 16 days before the treaty expires in which to pursue an extension. It is not clear whether he would continue to push for a freeze on all U.S. and Russian warheads.

Billingslea said in an Oct. 20 interview that a potential Biden administration would have to “rethink” its support for an unconditional extension of New START.

According to Billingslea, Trump, “by signaling his intention to pursue this historic approach and with the Russians now agreeing in principle, that now sets the floor for future arms control discussions.”

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

 

Despite pre-U.S. election maneuvering, prospects for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty remain slim.

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