The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia is set to expire in February 2021. Although the two nations could extend the treaty by up to five years (and there is bipartisan congressional support for such a step), the future of New START remains uncertain, in part because the Trump administration wants to include China in any future arms control deal. Integrating China further into international nuclear arms control efforts is a worthy goal, but extending New START should not hinge on China’s participation. Given China’s relatively minimalist...
Thanks for writing to your Senators and Representative urging their engagement on extending the New START agreement with Russia by cosponsoring the "Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces" bills in the House and the Senate.
These bills are a step in the right direction if we are to prevent a new destabilizing nuclear arms race with Russia.
More Senators and Representatives need to hear from us on this.
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Subject: Send a letter: Tell Congress to Extend the New START Agreement
I have just written a letter to my members of Congress in support of the Arms Control Association’s campaign urging them to support an extension of New START, a crucial nuclear disarmament agreement between the United States and Russia.
In early August, President Trump officially withdrew the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which since it was signed in 1987, has led to the elimination of nearly 3,000 nuclear-armed missiles from our respective arsenals and helped to end the Cold War.
Now, New START is the only piece of arms control limiting the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles. Under this treaty, the United States and Russia are each confined to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 bombers and missiles.
New START is set to expire in February 2021, but Presidents Trump and Putin can choose to extend it by five years.
However, National Security Advisor John Bolton has long been critical of the treaty, and he recently said that, although a final decision has not yet been made, an extension is “unlikely.”
A growing number of key Republican and Democratic members of Congress are voicing their support for the treaty and its extension. There are bills in each the House and the Senate—both named, “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces”—that express support for extending New START until 2026.
Will you join me by writing to your members of Congress today and urging them to support these pieces of legislation?
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P.S. If you can help us with a small donation, this campaign will spread even further. Or better yet, become a card-carrying member of the Arms Control Association and receive 10 issues of Arms Control Today to keep abreast of this and other arms control challenges. Join here.
With the Aug. 2 termination of the INF Treaty, the New START agreement is now the only treaty putting limits on the world’s two largest nuclear weapons arsenals—and it too is in jeopardy.
New START, or the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, is set to expire in 2021, although the U.S. and Russian presidents can extend it—and its irreplaceable verification and monitoring system—for up to five years if they choose.
But given the Trump administration’s demonstrated antipathy toward important arms control treaties, it may be up to Congress to save it.
A growing number of Republican and Democratic members of Congress are voicing their support for the treaty and its extension. For instance:
In the House, Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas) introduced the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (H.R. 2529) bill, which expresses the Sense of Congress that the United States should seek to extend the New START Treaty so long as Russia remains in compliance.
In the Senate, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced a companion bill, also named the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (S. 2394). This bill expresses the Sense of Congress that the United States should seek to extend New START and requires that Congress receive certain reports and briefings related to the treaty’s expiration.
Instead of working toward an extension of New START, the Trump administration is busy arguing that China and Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons must be covered in the treaty as well.
Pursuing talks with other nuclear-armed states, like China, and limits on all types of nuclear weapons is an admirable objective, but such a negotiation would be complex and time-consuming.
The first step should, therefore, be a five-year extension of New START which would provide a foundation for a more ambitious successor agreement.
Use the form below to urge your senators and representative to support these bills.
We need your members of Congress to support these efforts to make sure that the limits on Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal—which help keep us from engaging in an expensive and dangerous arms race—remain in force.
Authored by Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos on August 8, 2019
U.S. Withdraws from INF Treaty; Missile Tests to Begin This Month On Aug. 2, 2019, the United States formally withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, prompting harsh reactions from Russia and China and concerns about the beginning of a new, more dangerous phase of global military competition. This treaty , signed in 1987, led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The United States accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing,...
The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, negotiated and signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was one of the most far-reaching and successful nuclear arms reduction agreements in history.
The treaty led to the verifiable elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet missiles based in Europe. It helped bring an end to the Cold War nuclear arms race and paved the way for agreements to slash bloated strategic nuclear arsenals and withdraw thousands of tactical nuclear weapons from forward-deployed areas.
The pact served as an important check on some of the most destabilizing types of nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia could deploy. INF-class missiles, whether nuclear-armed or conventionally armed, are destabilizing because they can strike targets deep inside Russia and in Western Europe with little or no warning. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis.
Despite its success, the treaty has faced problems. A dispute over Russian compliance has festered since 2014, when the United States first alleged a Russian treaty violation, and has worsened since 2017 when Russia began deploying a ground-launched cruise missile, the 9M729, capable of traveling in the treaty’s prohibited 500-5,500 kilometer range.
The Trump administration developed a response strategy in 2017 designed to put pressure on Russia to address the U.S. charges, but in October 2018, President Trump abruptly shifted tactics and announced the United States would leave the agreement.
On Feb. 2, 2019, the Trump administration formally announced that the United States would immediately suspend implementation of the INF Treaty and would withdraw in six months if Russia did not return to compliance by eliminating its 9M729 missile.
On Aug. 2, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Russia was still in “material breach of the treaty” and announced the United States had formally withdrawn from the INF Treaty.
According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that the Russians possess four battalions of 9M729 missiles (including one test battalion). The missiles are “nuclear-capable,” according to the Director of National Intelligence, but they are probably conventionally armed.
Without the INF Treaty, the potential for a new intermediate-range missile arms race in Europe and beyond becomes increasingly real. Furthermore, in the treaty’s absence, the only legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals come from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in February 2021 unless Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend it by up to five years.
Reactions to the U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty
Following the U.S. withdrawal announcement Aug. 2, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated, “The denunciation of the INF Treaty confirms that the U.S. has embarked on destroying all international agreements that do not suit them for one reason or another.”
A few days later, Aug. 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that Moscow will mirror the development of any missiles that the United States makes. “Until the Russian army deploys these weapons, Russia will reliably offset the threats…by relying on the means that we already have,” he said. Putin also ordered “the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Foreign Intelligence Service to monitor in the most thorough manner future steps taken by the United States.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said in a statement: “A situation whereby the United States fully abides by the treaty, and Russia does not, is not sustainable.”
At the same time, some European countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany have expressed regret over the termination of the treaty and concerns about potential new U.S. missile deployments.
On Aug. 2, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the end of the INF Treaty meant that Europe was “losing part of its security.” Maas also told Germany’s Spiegel Online Jan. 11, 2019: “We cannot allow the result to be a renewed arms race. European security will not be improved by deploying more nuclear-armed, medium-range missiles. I believe that is the wrong answer.”
Also Aug. 2, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that NATO “will respond in a measured and responsible way and continue to ensure credible deterrence and defence.” Stoltenberg suggested that NATO will increase readiness exercises programs; increase intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and bolster air and missile defenses and conventional capabilities in response to the termination of the INF Treaty.
According to press reports, the NATO response strategy may involve more flights over Europe by U.S. warplanes capable of carrying nuclear warheads, more military training, and the repositioning of U.S. sea-based missiles.
What Missiles Could Each Side Now Deploy in the Absence of the INF Treaty?
With the treaty’s termination, each side is now free to develop, flight test, and possibly deploy previously banned INF-range systems in Europe and in Asia.
President Putin stated Dec. 18 that in the event of U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, Russia would be “forced to take additional measures to strengthen [its] security.” He further warned that Russia could easily conduct research to put air- and sea-launched cruise missile systems “on the ground, if need be.” This could involve additional numbers of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile on mobile launchers, as well as its Kaliber sea-based cruise missile system.
Even before the Aug. 2 termination date, the Trump administration was seeking to develop new conventionally armed cruise and ballistic missiles to “counter” Russia’s 9M729 missile. The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, for example, required “a program of record to develop a conventional road-mobile [ground-launched cruise missile] system with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometers,” including research and development activities.
Last year, Congress approved a Defense Department request for $48 million in fiscal year 2019 for research and development on concepts and options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the INF Treaty.
Earlier this year, the Defense Department requested nearly $100 million for fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would violate the range limits of the treaty.
One new missile program of interest to the Pentagon is a ground-launched variant of the Air Force’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile or the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-based cruise missile. On Aug. 19, the Department of Defense announced it conducted "a flight test of a conventionally-configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California. The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight." The missile was reportedly launched from a Mk. 41 mobile launcher.
Another option under consideration is a new intermediate-range ballistic missile designed to strike targets in China. The day after the formal U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty, newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that he was in favor of deploying conventional ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia “sooner rather than later,” but “those things tend to take longer than you expect.”
China’s reaction has been negative. “If the U.S. deploys missiles in this part of the world, China will be forced to take countermeasures,” said Fu Cong, director-general of the arms control department at China's foreign ministry, speaking to reporters Aug. 6. “I urge our neighbors to exercise prudence and not to allow the U.S. deployment of intermediate-range missiles on their territory.”
Alternative Risk Reduction Strategies in the Absence of the INF Treaty
Any new U.S. intermediate-range missile deployments would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. They are also militarily unnecessary to defend NATO allies or U.S. allies in Asia given that existing air- and sea-based weapons systems can already hold key Russian and Chinese targets at risk.
Any U.S. moves to actually deploy these weapons are likely to prompt Russian and Chinese countermoves and vice-versa. The result could be a dangerous and costly new U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese missile competition.
Therefore, the U.S. Congress can and should step forward to block funding for U.S. weapons systems that could provoke a new missile race—and provide the time needed to put in place effective arms control solutions.
In January 2019, 11 U.S. senators reintroduced the “Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019,” which would prohibit funding for the procurement, flight-testing, or deployment of a U.S. ground-launched or ballistic missile—with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers—until the Trump administration provides a report that meets seven specific conditions. These include identifying a U.S. ally formally willing to host such a system and, in the case of a European country, demanding that all NATO countries agree to that ally hosting the system.
In July, the House of Representatives narrowly approved an amendment introduced by Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020. The amendment prohibits funding for missile systems noncompliant with the INF Treaty unless the Trump administration demonstrates that it exhausted all potential strategic and diplomatic alternatives to withdrawing from the treaty and unless the Secretary of Defense meets certain conditions.
In addition, with the end of the INF Treaty now official, it is critical that President Trump, President Putin, and NATO leaders explore more seriously some arms control arrangements to prevent a destabilizing new missile race:
One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that no alliance members will field any missiles in Europe that would have been banned by the INF Treaty so long as Russia does not field once-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove its 50 or so 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia.
The United States and Russian presidents could agree to this “no-first INF missile deployment plan” through an executive agreement that would be verified through national technical means of intelligence. Russia could be expected to insist upon additional confidence-building measures to ensure that the United States would not place offensive missiles in the Mk 41 missile-interceptor launchers now deployed in Romania as part of the Aegis Ashore system and, soon, in Poland. (Russian officials have long complained to their U.S. counterparts about the missile-defense batteries’ dual capabilities.)
This approach would also mean forgoing President Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, conventionally armed cruise missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no military need for such a system.
Another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As a recent United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research study explains, the sophisticated verification procedures and technologies already in place under New START can be applied with almost no modification to verify the absence of nuclear warheads deployed on shorter-range missiles. Such an approach would require additional declarations and inspections of any ground-launched, INF Treaty-range systems. To be of lasting value, such a framework would require that Moscow and Washington agree to extend New START by five years.
A third variation would be for Russia and NATO to commit reciprocally to each other—ideally including a means of verifying the commitment—that neither will deploy land-based, intermediate-range ballistic missiles or nuclear-armed cruise missiles (of any range) capable of striking each other’s territory.
INF Termination Is Bad. Failure to Extend New START Would Be Worse.
With the collapse of the INF Treaty, the only remaining agreement regulating the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles is New START. Signed in 2010, this treaty limits the two sides’ long-range missiles and bombers and caps the warheads they carry to no more than 1,550 each. It is due to expire Feb. 5, 2021, unless Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend it for up to five years, as allowed for in the treaty text.
Key Republican and Democratic senators, former U.S. military commanders, and U.S. NATO allies are on the record in support of the treaty’s extension, which can be accomplished without further Senate or Duma approval.
In addition, the NDAA for fiscal year 2020 includes bipartisan efforts to preserve New START. The House bill includes legislation proposed by Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), for the administration to extend New START and require reports from the secretaries of state and defense plus the director of national intelligence on the possible consequences of the treaty’s lapse. For its part, the Senate version of the NDAA does not include an provision calling for the extension of the treaty, though in May, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution calling for the administration to consider an extension of New START and begin discussions with Russia. On Aug. 1, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) also introduced legislation calling for an extension of New START until 2026.
Unfortunately, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton may be trying to sabotage this treaty. Since arriving at the White House in April, he has been slow-rolling an interagency review on whether to extend New START and refusing to take up Putin’s offer to begin extension talks. In June, Bolton also said in an interview with The Washington Free Beacon that “there’s no decision, but I think it’s unlikely” that the administration will move to extend the treaty. In late July, he further said that the treaty “was flawed from the beginning” and that, “while no decision has been made,” the administration needs “to focus on something better.”
Extension talks should begin now in order to resolve outstanding implementation concerns that could delay the treaty’s extension.
Without New START, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. Both countries would then be in violation of their Article VI nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation 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.”
Without the INF Treaty and without serious talks and new proposals from Washington and Moscow, Congress as well as other nations will need to step forward with creative and pragmatic solutions that create the conditions necessary in order to ensure that the world’s two largest nuclear actors meet their legal obligations to end the arms race and advance progress on nuclear disarmament.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant
Without the INF Treaty—or new proposals from Washington and Moscow—creative and pragmatic solutions are needed to advance progress on nuclear disarmament.
Statement from Daryl G. Kimball, executive director
For Immediate Release: August 2, 2019
Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 104
“The loss of the landmark INF Treaty, which helped end the Cold War nuclear arms race, is a blow to international peace and security. Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty is unacceptable and merits a strong response. But President Trump’s decision to terminate the treaty will not eliminate Russia’s noncompliant 9M729 missiles — and is a mistake.
“Worst of all, blowing up the INF Treaty with no substitute arms control plan in place could open the door to a dangerous new era of unconstrained military competition with Russia.
“INF-class missiles, whether nuclear-armed or conventionally-armed, are destabilizing because they can strike targets deep inside Russia and in Western Europe with little or no warning. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis.
“It is now critical that President Trump, President Putin, and NATO leaders explore more seriously some arms control options to avoid a new Euromissile race.
“One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that none of them will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not field treaty-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove its 50 or so 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia.
“This would also mean forgoing Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, INF Treaty-prohibited missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no need for such a system.
“The loss of the INF Treaty makes extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) all the more important.
“With less than two years to go before New START expires, Washington and Moscow need to begin working immediately to reach agreement to extend the treaty by five years. Despite their strained relations, it is in their mutual interest to maintain verifiable caps on their enormous strategic nuclear stockpiles.
“Without New START, which limits each side to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly five decades.
“Extending New START would provide a necessary foundation and additional time for any follow-on deal with Russia that addresses other issues of mutual concern, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons, intermediate-range weapons, and understandings on the location and capabilities of missile defense systems and advanced conventional-strike weapons that each country is developing.
“A treaty extension could also help put pressure on China to provide more information about its nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles. China also might be more likely to agree to freeze the overall size of its nuclear arsenal or agree to limit a certain class of weapons, such as nuclear-armed cruise missiles, so long as the United States and Russia continue to make progress to reduce their far larger and more capable arsenals.
“In the absence of the INF Treaty, we need more responsible arms control leadership on the part of all sides.”
Russia, China, Arms Control, and the Value of New START
Testimony of the Honorable Thomas Countryman,
Board Chairman, Arms Control Association, and
Former Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment
July 25, 2019
For more than fifty years, every U.S. President has proposed and pursued negotiations with Moscow as a means to regulate destabilizing nuclear arms competition and reduce the risk of the United States and its allies being destroyed in a nuclear war. They sought and concluded a series of treaties, with strong bipartisan support, that have made America and the world much safer.
The current Administration appears to be veering away from this tradition, to the detriment of our national security.
In November, the Trump administration announced, without a coherent military or diplomatic “plan B,” to terminate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in response to Russia’s testing and deployment of the non-compliant, ground-launched 9M729 missile.
The administration has not presented a viable diplomatic plan that might persuade Russia to remove its 9M729s and instead it is pursuing development and testing of U.S. ground-launched, INF-range missiles, which are not militarily necessary to counter the 9M729 and would if deployed, likely divide NATO, and lead Russia to increase the number and type of intermediate-range missiles aimed against NATO targets. Congress would be wise to withhold its support for a new Euromissile race.
Worse yet, Trump’s national security team has dithered for more than a year on beginning talks with Russia to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) before it expires in February 2021. In an interview published June 18, National Security Advisor John Bolton said of New START extension, “[T]here's no decision, but I think it's unlikely.”
Instead, Bolton has suggested the President wants to bring China into trilateral negotiations with Russia on a new agreement to limit nuclear weapons not covered by New START.
Pursuing talks with other nuclear-armed states and trying to limit all types of nuclear weapons is an admirable objective, which I support in principle. But such a negotiation would be complex and time-consuming. There is no realistic chance a new agreement along these lines could be finalized before New START expires.
It would be national security malpractice to discard New START in the hopes of negotiating a more comprehensive, ambitious nuclear arms control agreement with Russia and China to say nothing about getting it ratified and into force.
As the Chairman and the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs have suggested, the first step should be a five-year extension of New START, which would provide a foundation for a more ambitious successor agreement.
Without the INF Treaty and without New START, there would be no legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly half a century.
New START verifiably caps the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons at 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems for each side; if those ceilings expires, Russia and the United States could upload hundreds of additional nuclear warheads to their long-range delivery systems. In fact, Russia, with its heavy missiles and several open missile production lines, could rapidly upload more additional warheads than the United States could). Each side would also have far less insight into the other’s nuclear deployment and modernization plans. As a result, our already difficult and uneasy nuclear relationship with Russia would become even more complicated, the risks of renewed nuclear competition would grow, and our efforts to mitigate nuclear risks in other corners of the globe would become more difficult.
The Value of Nuclear Arms Control
Previous Presidents, since Dwight Eisenhower, have recognized the value of effective nuclear arms control. They understood that:
Talking to an adversary, whether a superpower like the Soviet Union or a lesser challenger such as Iran, is not a sign of weakness, but a hardheaded and realistic means to reduce threats posed to the United States.
Treaties provide rules of the road that enable the United States to pursue more effectively its economic and security interests. They constrain other nations’ ability to act against our interests more than they constrain U.S. freedom of action.
Arms control agreements are not a concession made by the United States, or a favor done to another nation, but an essential component of, and contribution to, our national security.
In a world in which the U.S. claims global leadership, Washington must take the lead bilaterally and multilaterally, proposing initiatives that greatly reduce the risk that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) spread or are used.
The pursuit of reductions of nuclear stockpiles and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons is both a moral obligation, and since approval by the U.S. Senate of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1969, it is a legal obligation as well, one that can and must be pursued regardless of the ups and downs of great-power relations.
There can be no winners in a nuclear war. Mutual assured destruction is not a theory, or a philosophy; it is a reality. Since the time the Soviet Union achieved reliable intercontinental ballistic missiles in the 1960s, neither the United States nor Russia can launch a nuclear attack on the other’s homeland without the near-certain destruction of its own homeland. Arms control agreements, and associated stability mechanisms, serve to reduce the risk that a cycle of assured destruction will begin.
As a consequence of American diplomatic leadership and the support of Congress, a series of bilateral agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia verifiably capped, and later, helped lead to significant cuts in the two superpowers arsenals by more than 85% from their Cold War peaks. The total destructive power of those weapons has been reduced from the equivalent of over a million Hiroshima-size bombs to the somewhat less insane equivalent of 80,000 such weapons. One of those agreements, the INF Treaty, verifiably eliminated an entire class of destabilizing missiles that threatened European security and increased the risk of superpower miscalculation.
The United States helped lead the way to the negotiation and conclusion of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits any nuclear test explosion, no matter what the yield. Although the CTBT has not formally entered into force due to the failure of eight key states to ratify, the treaty has been signed by 184 nations including all of the P-5 states, has established a global monitoring network that is operating 24/7 to help detect and deter clandestine testing, and created a global norm against nuclear testing. Today no state is actively engaged in nuclear testing.
U.S.-led efforts to reduce the role and the number of nuclear weapons, to end nuclear testing, combined with political pledges from the United States and the other nuclear-armed states to take further disarmament steps, have helped to solidify international support for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and paved the way for its indefinite extension in 1995.
Many of these positive trends have been reversed and others are at risk. This is due in part of a deficit of American leadership and the growing body of thought in the Administration and Congress today, which believes
The U.S. should not discuss vital national security issues, or consider compromise, with adversaries such as Russia and Iran until they have fully met U.S. demands in all fields.
International treaties are inherently disadvantageous to the United States, as they constrain the freedom of action of the world’s leading military and economic power.
That because arms control agreements involve a degree of compromise, they grant unwarranted concessions to opponents.
Such agreements are of no value if they do not solve EVERY problem between the parties, an all-or-nothing approach exemplified by the U.S. decision to withdraw from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
In the Cold War fallacy that there is a way to win a nuclear war, that a numerical or technical advantage can give the United States a dominance of power that would spare our country from destruction in a nuclear exchange. Sadly, no U.S. official today is able to repeat the obvious fact that motivated Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev to declare: “A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.”
Over the last two years, this line of thinking is evident in the Administration’s retreat from global leadership, its embrace of authoritarian leaders, its weakening partnership with democratic allies. its withdrawal from international agreements, and its inability to make any new and meaningful agreements. The Administration has weakened restraints on Iran’s ability to enrich uranium. It has refused to reconsider ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or otherwise reinforce the de facto nuclear testing moratorium, which has preserved America’s important technical advantage in the nuclear field.
Now, as the termination date for the INF Treaty approaches and the expiration date for New START looms on the near horizon, the administration has failed to put forward a serious plan for constraining Russia’s nuclear arsenal. There is a serious risk that without extension of New START and without mutual restraints on INF missile systems after the end of the treaty, the conditions for an expensive, risky and destabilizing nuclear weapons race will emerge, similar to - but riskier and more expensive than - the arms race we ran in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the absence of responsible steps to prevent a dangerous new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race, Congress can and should be ready to point the way forward.
The INF Treaty
The INF Treaty was a signature foreign policy achievement of President Reagan. It was unprecedented in requiring the destruction of nuclear warheads and delivery systems, resulting in the elimination of 2692 Soviet and U.S. missiles. It established the principle of on-site inspection, a concept still central today to effective agreements and to our understanding of Russian systems. It resolved a dangerous split within the NATO Alliance and reduced a genuine threat to our Allies and to peace in Europe. It was central to establishing the opportunity for genuine cooperation between Washington and Moscow.
The Russian military was never happy about Gorbachev’s ‘surrender’ in signing the INF Treaty, and has developed a cruise missile in violation of the range prescribed by the treaty. I think it unlikely that the Russian Defense Ministry consulted with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the legality of this action. Deployment of the 9M729 has proven to be of double benefit to Russia, apart from the marginal utility of a new means to threaten NATO territory. Moscow is pleased to continue a long-running debate about the actual range of the 9M729, because it distracts from a less comfortable topic: the several dozen European cities and sites now within range of the new system. The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty will free the Russian military to plan new generations of missiles aimed at Russia’s neighbors, (both NATO and non-NATO), all while plausibly blaming the United States for the treaty’s demise.
Barring a diplomatic miracle, U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty will become effective August 2, and it is ‘justifiable’ as a response to Russia’s violation. But ‘justifiable’ is not the same as ‘smart,’ or even well-considered.
The President’s decision was taken without the benefit of senior-level interagency discussion, and without any plan to counter effectively the slight military advantage that Russia might gain by its deployment. That meant that the U.S. diplomatic strategy on the INF Treaty essentially amounted to the expression of “hope” that Russia will “change course” and return to compliance, which is of course not serious strategy.
The decision to terminate the treaty, combined with the possibility of new U.S. ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe, is risky and unwise. It opens the door to a new phase of destabilizing INF-range missile competition with Russia.
The Administration has yet to answer repeated Congressional calls for information on its decision to withdraw from the treaty or a strategy for a post-treaty world. The Pentagon’s FY 2020 budget request for new INF-range missiles lacks key details about the types of missiles DoD plans to develop or justification of the need for such missiles.
The United States should ensure that Russia gains no military advantage from its violation of the INF Treaty. Given that the United States and NATO forces currently can hold hundreds of key Russian military targets at risk using their existing array of sea-, land-, and air-based conventional strike weapons and missiles, new U.S. intermediate-range missiles are militarily unnecessary. If additional military measures are required, such as air- and sea-launched cruise missiles and cruise missile defenses, these can be pursued without the provocative and escalatory deployment of new ground-based missiles.
In addition, new missiles would have to be deployed on the territory of allies neighboring Russia or China to have military value. No ally has yet said it would be willing to serve this function. Any such deployment in Europe would require unanimous approval by NATO members, which cannot be assumed.
These missiles, whether nuclear- or conventionally-armed, American or Russian, would be able to strike targets deep inside Russia and in western Europe. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis. Any nuclear attack on Russia involving U.S. intermediate-range, nuclear-armed missiles based in Europe could provoke a massive Russian nuclear counterstrike on Europe and on the U.S. homeland.
This leaves open the question: what happens next and what can be done to mitigate the risks?
The Trump administration is clearly seeking to deploy new, intermediate-range missiles in Europe, to counter Russia's nuclear-capable, but very likely conventionally-armed, 9M729 ground-launched cruise missiles that have been deployed so far.
Rather than spur Russia to deploy more 9M729s that put our allies at risk, a new and more serious NATO commitment to arms control is needed to protect Europe and the United States.
One option would be for NATO to declare as a bloc that no alliance members will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not deploy treaty-prohibited systems where they could hit NATO territory.
This would require Russia to dismantle or move at least some currently deployed 9M929 missiles. As the United States and Russia dispute the range of that missile, they could simply agree to bar deployments west of the Ural Mountains, or beyond. The U.S. and Russian presidents could agree to this “no-first INF missile deployment plan” through an executive agreement that would be verified through national technical means of intelligence, monitoring mechanisms available through the Open Skies Treaty and Vienna Document, and as necessary, new on-site inspection arrangements.
Another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement, perhaps as part of a New START follow-on, that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As a recent United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research study explains, the sophisticated verification procedures and technologies already in place under New START can be applied with almost no modification to verify the absence of nuclear warheads deployed on shorter-range missiles.
Such an approach would require additional declarations and inspections of any ground-launched INF Treaty-range systems. To be of lasting value, such a framework would require that Moscow and Washington agree to extend New START.
The Future of New START
The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty brought the deployed arsenals of the United States and Russian Federation to their lowest level since the 1960s. It built upon previously agreed systems of notification, verification and inspection. To date, the two sides have exchanged over 10,000 notifications of movement of delivery systems and have conducted dozens of on-site verification inspections on each other’s territory.
As a result, the United States has a significantly clearer picture of Russian strategic capabilities than it could attain by national intelligence means alone. There have been no credible allegations of Russian violations of the agreement and, despite some questionable Russian concerns about verifying the conversion of U.S. strategic nuclear systems to conventional roles, the United States also continues to fully implement the treaty.
In one of my last meetings before leaving the State Department in 2017, I suggested to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov that Russia should seek early in the new Administration to extend the treaty, before any big thinkers in either Washington or Moscow got the brilliant idea that extension could become a bargaining chip. Although he agreed with that concern, what we both feared has occurred: a myth has taken hold in this city that Russia ‘needs’ New START more than the United States needs it, and that it can be “leveraged” to gain something more from Moscow.
Taking all these factors into account, the most important step that the two sides could take would be to take advantage of the option, as described in Article XIV, to extend the Treaty by five years to 2026.
To do so, it is important that the two sides promptly begin consultations on key issues raised by each side. Russia has raised concerns about the verification of the permitted procedures to convert some U.S. nuclear weapons delivery systems to conventional roles. The United States has understandably suggested that new Russian strategic nuclear weapons systems, including the Status-6 nuclear-armed, long-range torpedo and the proposed nuclear-propelled, long-range cruise missile, should be accounted for under New START. If both sides are willing to engage in a professional dialogue relatively soon, using the mechanism contained in the treaty, the Bilateral Consultative Commission, these issues can be addressed in a mutually agreed manner either before or soon after a decision to extend New START is taken.
New START extension is the most significant step this President could take with Russia that would improve national security, lay the basis for progress in other areas of Russian misbehavior, and draw bipartisan (though not unanimous) support.
I want to welcome the initiative of Chairman Engel and ranking member McCaul, the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (H.R. 2529), which would express the Sense of Congress that the United States should seek to extend New START so long as Russia remains in compliance. The bill would also require an intelligence assessment of how the expiration of New START would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and the additional intelligence capabilities the United States would need to compensate for the loss of the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.
We don’t need and cannot afford a new Cold War-style nuclear arms race. Nor do we need to give China a cynical excuse to expand its arsenal, as it will likely do if the United States and Russia discard New START without a replacement agreement and pursue expanded deployment of intermediate-range missiles in the wake of the INF Treaty collapse.
As an insurance policy against increased Russian and U.S. strategic warhead deployments in the absence of New START, Congress could prohibit the use of funds for the purpose of increasing U.S. strategic warhead and delivery vehicles above New START limits, so long as the U.S. intelligence community assesses that Russia remains under the New START limits.
During Senate consideration of the Treaty in 2010, the White House made a strong commitment to sustain the funding necessary to replace and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons delivery systems and for warhead life extensions. Since then, the cost estimates for those programs have grown significantly, and the Trump administration has added a number of new requests that would add new nuclear capabilities to the arsenal.
If this administration – whether through inaction or proactively – forces the end of New START, Congress should not supinely go along with the administration’s plan for spending on new nuclear weapons, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates to be $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years. Instead, Congress should seek more cost-effective program alternatives that can save hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars while still allowing for the deployment of a nuclear force more than sufficient to deter any and all nuclear adversaries.
A Broader Arms Control Agreement?
The Administration has delayed any action on extension of New START and has proposed instead expanding New START to include China as a treaty party, and to set new limits on non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons, which are not covered by New START. When described this way, such an approach may seem to make sense. Involving other nuclear-armed states and all types of nuclear weapons in the disarmament process should be a medium-term goal of any Administration
However, given the antipathy expressed toward New START (and all other treaties) by President Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, it strikes me and many others as a poison pill, a pretext for withdrawing from or allowing New START to expire, rather than to sustain meaningful limits on Russia’s most dangerous nuclear weapons – their strategic arsenal – which is an essential foundation for any new, broader and more ambitious follow-on agreement.
There are several obstacles in the way of a more ambitious trilateral nuclear arms control deal with China and Russia:
First, China has very little incentive to participate. With a nuclear arsenal less than one-tenth the size of America and Russia, it argues that these two sides need to reduce before including China in their discussions. Nor has the United States defined what agreement it would want China to embrace: would it be to commit to the limitations New START imposed on Moscow and Washington? This would mean giving our blessing to a five-fold increase in China’s weapon stockpile, which is hardly in our interest. Or would we agree to reduce American and Russian deployments to the level of China (300+)? That would be a real contribution to reducing the risk of nuclear war, but it is not currently achievable, for both political and security reasons.
Second, Russia counts the French and British nuclear deterrents like the American arsenal, as belonging to a potential adversary. It has suggested that multilateral discussions should include not only Beijing, but also Paris and London. Further, Moscow is not ready at this time to discuss its non-strategic arsenal, particularly if the US is not prepared to discuss issues of greatest concern to Moscow, such as US plans for ballistic missile defense.
Third, the United States would not be ready to discuss reducing its own non-strategic nuclear stockpile before completing consultations with NATO partners, which would inevitably be complex and time-consuming.
Finally, even under ideal conditions, a bilateral negotiation on a single topic takes years. Even if Russia and China were willing to discuss the proposed American agenda, a trilateral discussion of multiple topics would inevitably take considerably longer, even if it were pursued by an Administration committed to the topic and with successful experience in negotiations. This is not such an Administration. Between Mr. Bolton’s long-standing opposition to New START, and the nearly complete absence of experienced officials in the State Department, it is utterly unrealistic to expect such an agreement could be achieved before the scheduled expiration of New START in 19 months.
Beyond New START: Strategic Stability
If New START is not extended, we will find ourselves in 2021 - for the first time in nearly 50 years - with no legal restraints on the American and Russian arsenals. This absence would be a foreboding political signal: if the two main nuclear powers cannot even agree on the urgency of reducing the nuclear threat hanging over them both, what chances will there be for reducing other areas of tension?
As our intelligence leaders have testified, our national technical means alone - even if upgraded at great expense - could not fully substitute for the insight into the Russian arsenal we gain from New START’s notification requirements. In the absence of confidence about the other side’s capabilities, both U.S. and Russian planners will have greater incentive to engage in worst-case scenario planning, driving a spiral of increased spending on destabilizing systems.
A deep strategic stability dialogue between Washington and Moscow is necessary today to reduce the risk of unintended escalation and will be even more essential tomorrow if New START is allowed to expire. Central to this effort is the intensification of U.S.-Russian military-to-military contacts. The “no-contact” policy dating back to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 was meant to show Moscow there can be no business as usual, but it now works against American security interests, as it prevents the kind of information exchange and relationships that could help prevent an incident from becoming a conflict.
Beyond military channels, it is to be hoped that last week’s meeting between American and Russian diplomats will lead directly to a continuing, intensive strategic stability dialogue that will focus on enhanced understanding of each other’s doctrines and capabilities, less name-calling and more problem-solving.
Russian pursuit of the 9M729 intermediate-range missile, which is banned under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, is unacceptable and merits a strong response. But NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg’s formula, as expressed in a new op-ed published in the German-language Frankfurter Allgemeine , is inadequate. In his July 14 essay, the Secretary-General embraces the Trump administration’s decision to terminate the treaty August 2 without a realistic plan to help resolve the long-running compliance dispute. This move, combined with the possibility of new U.S. ground-...
This report is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime during the period between 2016 and June 2019.
Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition, which covered the 2013–2016 period.
Submitted by Kelsey Davenport on Tue, 2019-07-09 13:19
As of early 2019, Russia’s nuclear arsenal is estimated to comprise 6,490 warheads, including approximately 2,000 that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. As of the March 2019, New START data exchange, Russia had 1,461 strategic deployed warheads and 524 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.
As of early 2019, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that Russia possesses a nuclear arsenal consisting of a total of 6,490 warheads, including approximately 1,070 strategic and 1,820 non-strategic warheads in storage, and approximately 2,000 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 March 2019, Russia had 1,461 strategic deployed warheads and 524 deployed strategic delivery systems.
According to the Pentagon, Russia has an active stockpile of up to 2,000 tactical (non-strategic) nuclear warheads, a much larger number than the United States' 150 tactical nuclear weapons, which are deployed in Europe. The United States and Russia have a comparable number of strategic nuclear weapons.
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)
As of 2019, Russia’s estimated 318 ICBMs, which carry approximately 1,165 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.
Development in progress. A successful May 2012 test displayed an operational range of 5,800 km.
It is unknown whether the Rubezh will carry a single warhead or MIRVs.
Final development and deployment appeared to be postponed until 2027.
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.
Final development and deployment appeared to be postponed until 2027.
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)
Russia is capable of delivering up to 720 warheads through Delta IV submarines, Delta III submarines and the new Borey-class submarines (to replace aging Delta III and IV submarines).
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).
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.
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.
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.
As of 2019, the Russian Air Force operates 68 long-range bombers which can carry a total of 786 warheads.
Capable of carrying nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles.
Capable of carrying nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles.
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.
New Strategic Systems
Russia is also working on the development of a range of new strategic-range weapons:
Avangard, a hypersonic boost-glide warhead, which can be carried by the Sarmat “super-heavy” ICBM
Kinzhal, a hypersonic ballistic missile which can perform evasive maneuvers
Peresvet, a high-energy laser weapon
Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile “of unlimited range”
Poseidon, a nuclear-powered unmanned underwater vehicle “of unlimited range”
Ballistic Missile Defense Systems
Despite Moscow’s fierce criticisms of the U.S. missile defense program, Russia is expanding and upgrading its air and missile defense systems. Russia exports many of these systems abroad. The A-135 ballistic missile defense system has been operational around Moscow since 1995, after replacing the 1970s-era A-35 Galosh system. Russia operates several families of air defense systems, each consisting of multiple variants and upgrades. These include the S-300P, S-300V, and S-400 systems. The S-500 system is in development. More information can be found here.
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.
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.
In 2012, the last weapon-grade plutonium reprocessing plant Zheleznogorsk was shut down.
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.
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.
Under Russia’s military doctrine, most recently updated in December 2014, Russia “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.
Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) has conducted 715 nuclear weapon tests. The first test occurred Aug. 29,1949 and the last test occurred Oct. 24, 1990. Russia was the second country to conduct a nuclear test, after the United States.
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 United States from reaching more concrete conclusions.
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 Sept. 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.
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, 2016, 2017, and 2018. In February 2019, the United States announced its intention to suspend its obligations and withdraw from the treaty in six months if Russia did not return to compliance. At that time, Russia raised concerns about U.S. compliance and announced its intention to suspend its obligations under the treaty, as well. On Aug. 2, the United States formally withdrew from the INF Treaty.
In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor to the original START accord. The new treaty, known as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (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.
Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in extending the treaty by five years as allowed by the agreements provisions, but has raised concerns about U.S. procedures to remove submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and some B-52 bombers from treaty accountability. Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters June 6, 2019, that while Russia has said “a hundred times” that it is ready to extend New START, they are willing to let the treaty lapse if the Trump administration is uninterested in extending 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.”
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. Furthermore, Russia stands to accrue significant economic gains in Iran with the lifting of nuclear 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.
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.)