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December 2010
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NATO Revises Nuclear Policy

Oliver Meier

NATO last month adopted a new Strategic Concept and a Summit Declaration that outline the alliance’s future nuclear policy and establish two new processes to discuss deterrence and arms control.

The two documents, issued at the alliance’s Nov. 19-20 summit in Lisbon, were the result of intense bargaining. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was in charge of writing the new Strategic Concept. According to diplomatic sources, he shared several drafts with capitals and Brussels-based NATO ambassadors in the seven weeks prior to the summit. By contrast, much of the declaration was drafted among NATO ambassadors in Brussels, the sources said.

In a Nov. 22 interview, a senior U.S. official described the endgame of summit preparations as tense, with final versions of the two texts being finalized at 3 a.m. on Nov. 19. “Discussions went to the very brink,” he said. “One ally held language on NATO’s nuclear policy, on missile defense, and on NATO-Russia relations hostage until the very end of discussions,” he explained, clearly alluding to France, which he described as “inconsistent and phobic to any kind of nuclear language.” Other diplomats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also described France as being uncooperative and hard-nosed on key nuclear policy issues.

In a Nov. 24 interview, a French diplomat defended the French position. “France did link missile defense, NATO’s nuclear posture, and NATO-Russia relations because these issues are interrelated,” he said. “Our position reflects the fact that there are real connections between these topics. It was not an attempt to complicate agreement ahead of the Lisbon summit.”

The Future of Nuclear Sharing

In the new concept, titled “Active Engagement, Modern Defence,” NATO for the first time commits itself to “create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons,” but cautions that this goal must be pursued “in accordance with the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in a way that promotes international stability, and is based on the principle of undiminished security for all.” The 28 NATO members agree that “as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance.”

Under NATO nuclear sharing arrangements, the United States is believed to deploy an estimated 200 tactical weapons in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Pilots from these countries prepare to deliver these weapons in times of war, although the nuclear strike mission of the Turkish air force has probably expired. (See ACT, June 2010.) A German initiative in October 2009 to advocate withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe triggered a lively and unprecedented debate about NATO nuclear policy. (See ACT, December 2009.)

In the new concept, NATO members pledge to “ensure the broadest possible participation of Allies in collective defence planning on nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces, and in command, control and consultation arrangements.”

Rasmussen, at a Nov. 20 press conference, described the “essence of that passage” as reflecting “the fact that we attach strong importance to the principle of solidarity also when it comes to our nuclear policies. So what we have decided is that, at the end of the day, of course, any decision is a national decision, but we have also decided to move together, to consult with each other.”

The U.S. official said the language on nuclear sharing “was very carefully drafted.” He maintained that it does not preclude future changes in NATO’s nuclear posture. “It applies very nicely to a situation where a country suggests that it is no longer possible for it to participate in nuclear sharing for domestic reasons,” he argued. “The questions allies need to ask [are]: What kind of participation in nuclear sharing is politically acceptable? Is participation by one country enough? Is it sufficient if two countries participate?”

Several other diplomats, however, said the new concept strongly commits NATO to nuclear sharing and therefore will make it difficult to reach a consensus on a possible withdrawal of the remaining U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe in the foreseeable future. The French diplomat agreed. “It is a reaffirmation of the importance of nuclear sharing, but also reaffirms that participation in the Nuclear Planning Group remains a national decision,” he said.

France, which had left NATO’s integrated military structure in 1966, returned in April last year, but it does not participate in the Nuclear Planning Group. Paris wants its nuclear deterrent to remain independent of the alliance.

Debates About Deterrence

Ahead of the summit, some NATO members expected the alliance to change its current nuclear first-use policy to bring its declaratory policy in line with U.S. policy.

The Obama administration has restricted the circumstances under which the United States might be prepared to use nuclear weapons. The April “Nuclear Posture Review Report” declares that “the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” (See ACT, May 2010.)

In a November policy paper on NATO nuclear policies, Peter Gottwald, the federal commissioner for disarmament and arms control at the German Federal Foreign Office, pointed to the new U.S. nuclear doctrine and maintained that “[n]ow it is NATO’s turn to adapt its strategy.” Gottwald argued that “classic nuclear deterrence is poorly suited, or even completely useless” to counter new threats such as terrorism or proliferation and that advanced conventional capabilities and missile defense imply a reduced salience of nuclear weapons. Gottwald reasoned that “it is time to draw the appropriate conclusions.”

The new concept remains ambiguous about NATO’s declaratory policy. It concludes that NATO has reduced “reliance on nuclear weapons in NATO strategy,” but confirms that the alliance will continue to have at its disposal “the full range of capabilities necessary to deter and defend against any threat to the safety and security of our populations.” It states that NATO will maintain “an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces.” The strategic nuclear forces of the alliance, “particularly those of the United States,” are described as the “supreme guarantee” of the security of allies, while the British and French nuclear forces are said to have a “deterrent role of their own,” which contributes to “the overall deterrence and security of the Allies.”

The new concept echoes similar language from the previous Strategic Concept, adopted in 1999, by stating that “the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote.”

An earlier draft of the new concept apparently had contained even more explicit language on NATO’s declaratory policy, emphasizing that NATO would remain a nuclear alliance to deter any attack or coercion against it. According to the diplomatic sources, that language was dropped because allies were unable to agree on it.

The French diplomat said, “From our perspective, NATO’s nuclear strategy has not been changed at the Lisbon summit. For reasons of brevity, some elements of NATO’s declaratory policy that were part of the 1999 concept were not repeated in the new Strategic Concept. But as long as there is no explicit statement that NATO’s policy has changed, the old policy remains in place.”

NATO’s declaratory policy is expected to be one issue on the agenda of a “comprehensive review” of NATO’s deterrence posture agreed in Lisbon. The U.S. official predicted that NATO “will not see movement until we get to the comprehensive review. Declaratory policy will definitely be included under the comprehensive review,” he said.

According to the Summit Declaration, the review will address NATO’s “overall posture in deterring and defending against the full range of threats to the Alliance.” Essential elements “would include the range of NATO’s strategic capabilities required, including NATO’s nuclear posture, and missile defence and other means of strategic deterrence and defence.”

Several diplomats argued that, despite the broad mandate, the review will focus on NATO’s nuclear posture. “The comprehensive review is the nuclear posture review by another name,” the U.S. official said. “The other issues included under that review—missile defense and conventional deterrence—simply got tacked on in the end. This is just window dressing,” he said.

The French diplomat disagreed. “Certainly, the comprehensive review will be broader than a nuclear posture review,” he said.

According the Summit Declaration, the review “should be undertaken by all Allies” under the auspices of the North Atlantic Council, which is the principal political decision-making body within NATO.

The U.S. official said, “[I]t is not clear who exactly will be conducting the review, but I expect it to take place between political and military experts.” It is going to be a different type of body from the Nuclear Planning Group and the High Level Group, he predicted, “because if we just stick with the same institutions, we would not have any changes” in NATO’s nuclear posture.

The Nuclear Planning Group takes decisions on the alliance’s nuclear policy; the High Level Group is the senior advisory body to that group.

The declaration limits the scope of the review by saying that it “only applies to nuclear weapons assigned to NATO.” The French diplomat said the language “implies that French nuclear doctrine and French nuclear forces will clearly remain outside the scope of the review.” But the diplomat said that “France is ready to discuss all issues on the agenda of the comprehensive review.” He conceded that “insofar as discussions within the [Nuclear Planning Group] impact the alliance posture as a whole, they cannot be isolated from the broader posture review.”

Several diplomats said that passage provides France, which opposed the idea of a NATO nuclear posture review, with the opportunity to “opt out” of discussions on nuclear issues. “It offers France the best of both worlds,” one diplomat said, because Paris could influence NATO’s overall nuclear posture while avoiding discussions on its own nuclear doctrine or forces. Asked about French participation in the comprehensive review, the U.S. official remarked sarcastically, “That will be the fun bit.”

He said that “the agreement on the comprehensive review was at the heart of the debate about the relationship between missile defense and nuclear deterrence” between France and Germany.

Germany argues that agreement on a European missile defense system under NATO auspices paves the way for a reduction of reliance on nuclear weapons. By contrast, France maintains that nuclear deterrence and missile defense are “complementary.” (See ACT, October 2010.)

Although the Summit Declaration itself does not give an end date for the review, several diplomats said they expect a report to be delivered by mid-2011, but were skeptical whether it would recommend any far-reaching changes on NATO’s nuclear weapons posture.

NATO’s Role in Arms Control

Several officials and diplomats argued that NATO members in Lisbon did not establish Russian reciprocity as a direct and explicit precondition for future changes of NATO’s nuclear posture. One diplomat said that there now exists some “constructive ambiguity,” but most conceded that the summit outcome creates a de facto linkage between changes in NATO’s nuclear posture and an agreement with Russia on the reduction of its stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons.

Russia is believed to have around 2,000 operational tactical nuclear weapons and thousands more in various states of readiness.

The new concept states that “any further steps” to reduce nuclear weapons in Europe “must take into account the disparity with the greater Russian stockpiles of short-range nuclear weapons.” It also states that, “in any future reductions, [NATO’s] aim should be to seek Russian agreement to increase transparency on its nuclear weapons in Europe and relocate these weapons away from the territory of NATO members.”

The U.S. official said the language “falls well short of where we could have been” and explained that the linkage to Russia was a sticking point until the very end of the negotiations. “But the statement does not mean that we can’t do anything until the disparities between the stockpiles are resolved,” he argued. The greater number of Russian tactical nuclear weapons “is just one element that has to be factored in when NATO decides on its future nuclear posture,” he said.

Paris also does not necessarily link changes in NATO’s nuclear posture to Russian measures. “Certainly, there is an element of reciprocity here because we need Russian movement on transparency, but it remains to be seen how this can best be achieved. It should be discussed within the review,” the French diplomat said.

The Summit Declaration lists “the overall disparity in short-range nuclear weapons” as one issue that NATO wants to be discussed in the NATO-Russia Council, but the topic is not mentioned in the NATO-Russia Council Joint Statement adopted in Lisbon.

The new concept reflects a greater NATO ambition on arms control more generally by stating that NATO members want to continue to play their part “in reinforcing arms control and in promoting disarmament of both conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction, as well as non-proliferation efforts.”

Toward this end, allies agreed to set up a new arms control committee, under the auspices of the North Atlantic Council, in the face of what several sources described as strong French objections.

The Summit Declaration says the role of the committee is “to provide advice on [weapons of mass destruction] control and disarmament in the context of the [comprehensive review], taking into account the role of the High Level Task Force (HLTF).” The HLTF is a consultative and advisory body that brings together government experts to give advice on conventional arms control issues. There are different views on how the work of the HLTF will be affected by the new committee.

Several diplomats said the committee mandate is a “mixed bag,” as one of them put it, and that it remains to be decided what specific issues will be discussed there. Some sources suggested that it may continue some of the work being done in other NATO committees, including such issues as threat assessments or preparation of arms control meetings. Others argued that it will be free to develop its own agenda, including on such issues as tactical nuclear weapons and conventional arms control.

In a Nov. 23 interview, a senior official from a western European NATO country said he views the summit outcome on nuclear policy as representing a good balance. “Looking ahead, the big gain from Lisbon is that we now have the structure to discuss nuclear issues, we have nuclear issues on the agenda, and we have to review the issue from time to time in the arms control committee,” he said. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has said he wants to make disarmament a “trademark” of the alliance. On the Foreign Office’s Web site, he praised the agreement on a stronger role for NATO in arms control as historic. “This is the most disarmament NATO has ever had,” he said.

The French diplomat took a different view. “We have argued and continue to believe that NATO is not the best place to discuss arms control and disarmament issues,” he said. “We can live with the agreement on the arms control committee, but we are skeptical whether tangible results can be achieved in this forum.”

Jean Asselborn, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, told the Financial Times Germany Nov. 21 that he views Westerwelle’s initiative for disarmament as a “failure” because NATO has “not stated clearly whether and how it wants to reduce nuclear weapons in Europe.” He said Germany also failed because the Strategic Concept does not contain any linkage “between missile defense and nuclear weapons.”

Asselborn, with his counterparts from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway, in February wrote a letter to Rasmussen urging him to initiate a comprehensive review of NATO nuclear policies. (See ACT, March 2010.)

NATO allies in Lisbon also welcomed “the conclusion” of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and stated that they “look forward to its early ratification and entry into force” (see page 43). NATO summit documents do not mention the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), despite the fact that all NATO allies, with the exception of the United States, have ratified the accord. Several diplomats described NATO’s support for these two key nuclear arms control treaties as lukewarm, but said that the Obama administration, which is seeking Senate approval of New START and has pledged to pursue CTBT ratification aggressively, did not push for stronger language. They said they were under the impression that Washington feared this might be interpreted by congressional Republicans as “meddling in domestic affairs” by U.S. allies. The U.S. official had a more mundane explanation. He said the near-deadlock toward the end of the negotiations caused so much resentment that, “in the end, people just refrained from adding another topic to the agenda.”


NATO last month adopted a new Strategic Concept and a Summit Declaration that outline the alliance’s future nuclear policy and establish two new processes to discuss deterrence and arms control.

The two documents, issued at the alliance’s Nov. 19-20 summit in Lisbon, were the result of intense bargaining. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was in charge of writing the new Strategic Concept. According to diplomatic sources, he shared several drafts with capitals and Brussels-based NATO ambassadors in the seven weeks prior to the summit. By contrast, much of the declaration was drafted among NATO ambassadors in Brussels, the sources said.


News Briefs

Alleged Arms Dealer Viktor Bout Extradited

Jeff Abramson

After more than two years in Thai custody, Russian alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout was extradited to the United States and appeared Nov. 17 in a Manhattan federal court.

Although believed to have supplied arms to conflict zones around the world, Bout faces charges related only to an alleged 2008 effort to equip the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which the U.S. government has classified as a terrorist organization.

At a Nov. 17 press briefing, U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara outlined the case against Bout, derived from a Thai-U.S. sting operation in March 2008 in which Bout and associate Andrew Smulian offered to equip U.S. agents pretending to be FARC members with an “arsenal that would be the envy of some small countries,” according to Bharara. (See ACT, April 2008.)

At Bout’s arraignment later that day, he pleaded not guilty; the trial date has not been set.

If convicted on all charges, including conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, use and acquire anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization, Bout would face a minimum sentence of 25 years and maximum of life imprisonment. At the briefing, Bharara revealed that Smulian had already admitted to the allegations and that evidence from conspirators would be part of the case against Bout, who has maintained his innocence since the 2008 arrest.

Russia called the extradition illegal, but U.S. Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley said Nov. 16 he did not expect the case to upset U.S.-Russian relations.

Russian officials had pressed the Thai government to release Bout while U.S. officials argued for his extradition. When the extradition occurred Nov. 16, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying, “There is no doubt that the illegal extradition of Viktor Bout is a consequence of the unprecedented political pressure exerted by the United States on the government and judicial authorities in Thailand.” By Nov. 18, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statements had moderated. Russian news service RIA Novosti quoted him as saying, “We will not act as Bout’s advocates and do not claim that he did not commit any illegal offences. That we do not know, and no one will know, until justice is done…. We want to see justice prevail, nothing more.”


Material Secured From Kazakhstani Reactor

Daniel Horner

An international effort led by the United States and Kazakhstan has removed material containing 10 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and three metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium from a fast-breeder reactor in Kazakhstan, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said in a Nov. 18 press release and a follow-up e-mail to Arms Control Today.

The plutonium and HEU are contained in 300 metric tons of spent fuel shipped from the BN-350 reactor on the Caspian Sea to a secure storage facility more than 3,000 kilometers away in eastern Kazakhstan, the NNSA said. The material, transported in 12 shipments over the past year, contains enough plutonium and HEU for 775 nuclear weapons, the NNSA said.

In 1997, Kazakhstan and the United States signed an agreement that established a joint program for the long-term, secure storage of the BN-350 fuel. The reactor stopped weapons material production in the 1980s and was completely shut down in 1999.

The United Kingdom and the International Atomic Energy Agency played key roles in the fuel shipments, which were completed ahead of schedule, the NNSA said.


Parties to Cluster Munitions Pact Adopt Plan

Farrah Zughni

The first meeting of states-parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in Vientiane, Laos, concluded Nov. 12 with the adoption of a 66-point proposal outlining concrete steps for implementing the treaty. The Vientiane declaration and action plan calls on participating states to condemn the use of cluster munitions, accelerate stockpile destruction, and expand support for victims.

In her Nov. 9 address to the Vientiane meeting, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro described the effort as “an important step towards peace, multilateral co-operation, and humanitarian disarmament.”

To date, 108 countries have signed and 48 have ratified the CCM, which entered into force Aug. 1. At least seven countries that have ratified or signed the pact have destroyed their stockpiles, and an additional 11 have initiated this process since the treaty was opened for signature in 2008.

However, 47 states currently known to have cluster munitions stockpiles, including China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Russia, have not signed the CCM. The United States, which holds one of the world’s largest stockpiles and continues to allow the export of treaty-banned weapons, is not a party to the treaty and did not attend the Laos meeting.

Lebanon, which on Nov. 5 became the 46th country to ratify the convention, will host the second states-parties meeting, slated for September 2011. Like this year’s host country, Lebanon continues to suffer annual casualties from significant numbers of cluster munitions left on its territory that failed to explode as intended during previous conflicts.


Nobel Laureates Call for Nuclear Disarmament

Eric Auner

Declaring that the use of nuclear weapons “must be regarded as a crime against humanity” and that “[t]he threats posed by nuclear weapons did not disappear with the ending of the Cold War,” a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners on Nov. 14 called for elimination of the weapons and for a treaty banning their use.

“Nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented, but they can and must be outlawed, just as chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions have been declared illegal,” said the group’s statement, which was issued at the end of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Hiroshima.

The declaration “welcome[d]” the signing of the U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and called on key countries, including the United States, to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) so that it can enter into force.

Tibor Tóth, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, the organization responsible for overseeing the treaty’s verification as well as “promoting [its] universality,” addressed the summit Nov. 13. The CTBT “can be a rallying point on the road to the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Several peace prize winners, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk, endorsed the statement.


The Nuclear Freeze and Its Impact

LawrenceS. Wittner

Thirty years ago, Randall Forsberg, a young defense and disarmament researcher, launched the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign. Designed to stop the drift toward nuclear war through a U.S.-Soviet agreement to stop the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons, the freeze campaign escalated into a mass movement that swept across the United States. It attracted the support of nearly all peace groups, as well as that of mainstream religious, professional, and labor organizations.

In addition, the freeze concept secured the backing of most of the general public and was made part of the Democratic Party’s presidential campaign platform. By the early 1990s, despite fierce opposition from the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the freeze campaign, bolstered by the activities of nuclear disarmament groups at home and abroad, had succeeded in securing its objectives and in building a grassroots, long-term disarmament organization in the United States.


As a keen supporter of peace and nuclear disarmament, Forsberg had been giving talks to peace groups since 1975. Convinced that they needed greater unity of action and attainable goals, she suggested in mid-1979 that they coalesce behind two objectives: a nuclear freeze and a nonintervention regime. Both, she believed, would “fundamentally change the nature of government policies.” In December, when addressing the annual meeting of Mobilization for Survival, a major anti-nuclear organization of that era, she scrapped the nonintervention idea and focused instead on the nuclear freeze. Actually, Mobilization for Survival and the major groups backing it—the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC), and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR)—were already promoting a U.S. moratorium on nuclear weapons production and deployment. Therefore, as Forsberg recalled, she told the assemblage that if peace activists turned this unilateral moratorium into a bilateral one, “the great majority of the American people would completely agree with you. And you could change the world!”[1]

Forsberg’s speech served as a catalyst for a new movement. Enthusiastic about her idea, peace group leaders urged her to draw up a formal proposal. In late December 1979, Forsberg began drafting the “Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race.” Circulated widely among leading peace activists, the “Call” emphasized that the freeze would retain the existing nuclear parity between the United States and the Soviet Union, thereby halting the arms race and opening the way for deep reductions in or elimination of nuclear weapons in the future. In April 1980, having secured adequate feedback and individual endorsements, the AFSC, CALC, FOR, and Forsberg’s own Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies published the “Call” and began seeking endorsements from other peace groups. Meanwhile, Forsberg and peace activist George Sommaripa drew up a strategic plan designed to run from 1980 to 1984. The plan proposed that, after securing the support of peace organizations, the movement proceed to obtain the backing of major interest groups, mount a widespread public education campaign to convert Middle America, and, finally, inject the issue into electoral politics.[2]

The Movement Advances

Thereafter, the freeze campaign surged forward. To the dismay of movement leaders, enthusiasts jumped the gun by placing a freeze resolution on the November 1980 election ballot in western Massachusetts. Determined not to lose this first test of strength, Randy Kehler, Frances Crowe, and other local activists swung into action, and the freeze emerged victorious in 59 of the 62 towns that voted on it. In March 1981, the first national conference of the freeze movement convened at the Center for Peace Studies at GeorgetownUniversity. Thanks to Forsberg’s efforts to keep the movement respectable, this conclave, although led by pacifists and other longtime critics of military priorities, produced a strategy and movement designed to appeal to the political mainstream. Admittedly, Kehler, chosen as the first freeze coordinator, was hardly an average American, for he had been a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and a longtime peace activist. Yet, he was also a clean-cut, articulate, consensus-building individual, anxious to keep the movement on a mainstream course. In addition, the organizers deliberately rejected the offers of East Coast peace groups to house the freeze and instead established its headquarters in St. Louis, deep in the country’s heartland.

For the most part, early movement efforts focused on popularizing the idea of the freeze on the local level. Activists distributed vast quantities of literature about the nuclear arms race and brought freeze resolutions before organizations with which they were affiliated, as well as before town meetings, city councils, and state legislatures. They gathered signatures on freeze petitions locally as part of a nationwide campaign and placed freeze referenda on the ballot in cities, counties, and states throughout the country. Although these activities were time consuming and labor intensive, they meshed nicely with the efforts of other groups, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and Physicians for Social Responsibility, to alert the public to the dangers of nuclear war. In general, freeze activism was stronger in northern and western states than in the more conservative South. Nevertheless, by mid-1982 it had taken root in three-quarters of the nation’s congressional districts.

These efforts helped produce a widespread display of resistance by Americans to the nuclear arms race. In March 1982, 159 out of 180 Vermont town meetings voted to back a nuclear weapons freeze by the U.S. and Soviet governments. On June 12, an anti-nuclear demonstration in New York City around the theme “Freeze the Arms Race—Fund Human Needs” produced the largest political rally up to that point in American life, with nearly a million participants. When the freeze campaign delivered its petitions to the U.S. and Soviet missions to the United Nations, they contained the signatures of more than 2,300,000 Americans. Moreover, that fall, when freeze referenda appeared on the ballot in 10 states, the District of Columbia, and 37 cities and counties around the nation, voters delivered a victory to the freeze campaign in nine of the states and in all but three localities. Covering about one-third of the U.S. electorate, this was the largest referendum on a single issue in U.S. history.[3]

Opinion surveys confirmed the vast popularity of the freeze campaign. Five polls taken during 1983 found an average of 72 percent support for and 20 percent opposition to the freeze—results that were virtually unchanged from six polls taken in 1982.[4] Writing in October 1983, Patrick Caddell, one of the nation’s leading political pollsters, called the freeze campaign “the most significant citizens’ movement of the last century…. In sheer numbers the freeze movement is awesome; there exists no comparable national cause or combination of causes, left or right, that can match…the legions that have been activated.”[5]

Organizational endorsements of the freeze provide yet another indication of the movement’s strength. With the exception of fundamentalist denominations, all major U.S. religious bodies expressed their support for the freeze, including the National Council of Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the United Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, and the Synagogue Council of America.[6] Indeed, hundreds of national organizations—many of which had never before taken a stand on national defense issues—came out in favor of the freeze. They included the American Association of School Administrators, the American Association of University Women, the American Nurses Association, the American Pediatric Society, the American Public Health Association, Friends of the Earth, the National Council of La Raza, the National Education Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the Young Women’s Christian Association. Although the labor movement had been rather hawkish during the Cold War, 25 national labor unions backed the freeze, as did the AFL-CIO.[7] Furthermore, by November 1983, the freeze had been endorsed by more than 370 city councils, 71 county councils, and by one or both houses of 23 state legislatures.[8] In 1984 it became part of the Democratic Party’s presidential campaign platform.

Reagan Administration Reacts

From the standpoint of officials in the Reagan administration, who championed a vast nuclear buildup and talked glibly of fighting and winning a nuclear war, the rise of the nuclear freeze campaign was a disaster. As David Gergen, the White House communications director during those years, recalled, “There was a widespread view in the administration that the freeze was a dagger pointed at the heart of the administration’s defense program.”[9] Queried years later about the freeze campaign, Robert McFarlane, Reagan’s national security adviser, observed, “We took it as a serious movement that could undermine congressional support for the [nuclear] modernization program, and potentially…a serious partisan political threat that could affect the election in `84.”[10]In March 1982, after Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) announced that they would introduce a freeze resolution in Congress, administration officials sharply assailed the idea and met to plan what McFarlane called “a huge effort” to counter the freeze campaign. According to McFarlane, they organized an interdepartmental group that he chaired and that included representatives from the CIA, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the U.S. Information Agency. McFarlane told the members of the group that they and their deputies should fan out across the United States and make public appearances assailing the freeze.[11] Although the administration denied at the time that a government campaign existed to defeat the freeze referenda of 1982, the effort absorbed the energies of numerous officials, including Reagan. In July, he appeared in his home state of California, where he charged that the freeze “would make this country desperately vulnerable to nuclear blackmail.”[12]

That fall, as the freeze grew increasingly likely to emerge victorious at the polls and in Congress, Reagan grew increasingly strident. Addressing a gathering of veterans groups in early October, he insisted that the freeze was “inspired by not the sincere, honest people who want peace, but by some who want the weakening of America and so are manipulating honest people.”[13] On November 11, he told a press conference that “foreign agents” had helped “instigate” the freeze campaign. There was “plenty of evidence” for this, the president declared, although he did not produce any. Challenged on his allegations, Reagan said that he had leaned heavily for his freeze information on two Reader’s Digest articles and cited a report by the House Intelligence Committee.[14] However, the committee chairman, Representative Edward Boland (D-Mass.), declared that according to FBI and CIA officials, there was “no evidence that the Soviets direct, manage, or manipulate the nuclear freeze movement”—a contention confirmed when a declassified version of the FBI report was released in March 1983.[15] Reagan stubbornly continued to insist that “the originating organization” for the freeze was the Communist-dominated World Peace Council and that the first person to propose it was Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.[16]


Superficially, the Reagan administration managed to hold the line against the freeze campaign and other critics of its nuclear policies. Although the administration failed in its diligent efforts to prevent passage of almost all the state and local freeze referenda in the fall of 1982 and to prevent passage of a freeze resolution in the House of Representatives in the spring of 1983, it did manage to defeat a similar resolution in the Senate, where Republicans had a majority. Furthermore, despite adoption of the freeze proposal by the Democrats in 1984, Reagan won re-election that year and then saw to it that a bilateral freeze with the Soviet Union was never negotiated. In addition, with the freeze campaign’s momentum blunted by these actions, as well as by a rapid falloff in coverage by the media after 1983, the movement dwindled and dropped out of sight in the late 1980s.

Nevertheless, the nuclear freeze campaign was considerably more successful than it appeared. Under enormous political pressure, the Reagan administration dramatically reversed its rhetoric. In April 1982, shortly after the freeze resolution was introduced in Congress, Reagan began declaring publicly and repeatedly that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” He added, on the first occasion that, “[t]o those who protest against nuclear war, I can only say: ‘I’m with you.’”[17] Increasingly rattled, Reagan, who had opposed every nuclear arms control and disarmament agreement negotiated by his Democratic and Republican predecessors, also began reversing his nuclear policies. In the fall of 1983, as anti-nuclear protests swept across the United States and Western Europe, he told his startled secretary of state, George Shultz, “If things get hotter and hotter and arms control remains an issue, maybe I should go see [Soviet leader Yuri] Andropov and propose eliminating all nuclear weapons.”[18] Although Shultz and other members of the administration were horrified by this turnabout, Reagan persisted with it and eagerly searched for a Soviet negotiating partner.

Starting in March 1985, he found one in Mikhail Gorbachev. With Gorbachev in power, the way was open for significant arms control and disarmament agreements. Gorbachev was not only a true believer in nuclear disarmament, but a movement convert. The Soviet leader’s “New Thinking,” as his advisers noted, was powerfully affected by the Western nuclear disarmament movement. Gorbachev himself declared, “The new thinking took into account and absorbed the conclusions and demands of…the public and the scientific community, of the movements of physicians, scientists, and ecologists, and of various antiwar organizations.”[19] Meeting frequently with leaders of the Western peace and disarmament movement, including leaders of the freeze campaign, Gorbachev followed their advice by agreeing to the removal of medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe, removing short-range nuclear missiles from Eastern Europe, negotiating major reductions in strategic weapons, and unilaterally halting Soviet nuclear testing.[20]

The result was an important victory for freeze activists and other anti-nuclear campaigners. Boxed in by the movement and Gorbachev, Reagan and his successor, George H.W. Bush, were drawn into the most substantial burst of nuclear arms control and disarmament ventures in history. By the early 1990s, the United States and the Soviet Union had ceased the testing, development, and deployment of nuclear weapons and had reduced their nuclear arsenals. Bush even called on Forsberg to serve as a consultant to his administration on nuclear policy. Yet, the freeze campaign did not evaporate. In 1987 it merged with the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy to become Peace Action, the largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization in the United States. Today, Peace Action remains the largest organization of this kind and continues to mobilize public support for nuclear disarmament.

The success of the freeze movement and its anti-nuclear counterparts of the era provides an important lesson for our own time. If substantial popular pressure can be stirred up by advocates of arms control and disarmament, government officials can be convinced to change their nuclear policies.

Lawrence S. Wittner is a professor of history emeritus at the State University of New York at Albany. His latest book is Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement (2009).


1. Randall Forsberg, interview with author, Cambridge, MA, July 7, 1999.

2. Ibid.; Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (NWFC), “Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race,” 1980, Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri, St. Louis, MO.

3. Voters approved the freeze referendum in Wisconsin in September 1982 and, in November, passed it in eight out of another nine states where it was on the ballot. Robert Kleidman, Organizing for Peace: Neutrality, the Test Ban, and the Freeze (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1993), p. 154; John Herbers, “Widespread Vote Urges Nuclear Freeze,” The New York Times, November 4, 1982.

4. William Schneider, “Peace and Strength: American Public Opinion on National Security,” in The Public and Atlantic Defense, ed. Gregory Flynn and Hans Rattinger (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld, 1985), pp. 347-348.

5. Patrick H. Caddell, “The State of American Politics,” October 25, 1983, Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri, St. Louis, MO.

6. L. Bruce van Voorst, “The Churches and Nuclear Deterrence,” Foreign Affairs, No. 61 (Spring 1983), pp. 827-852.

7. Gene Carroll to union leaders, letter, February 25, 1985, Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri, St. Louis, MO; Harry Bernstein, “AFL-CIO Calls for Freeze on Nuclear Arms,” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1983.

8. NWFC, “Citizens Lobby for a U.S.-Soviet Nuclear Weapons Freeze,” 1984, Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri, St. Louis, MO.

9. Jeffrey W. Knopf, Domestic Society and International Cooperation: The Impact of Protest on U.S. Arms Control Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 224

10. Robert McFarlane, interview with author, Washington, DC, July 21, 1999.

11. Ibid.

12. Mary McGrory, “Reagan Spokesmen Attack on California Nuclear Issue,” The Washington Post, November 2, 1982.

13. “President Says Foes of U.S. Have Duped Arms Freeze Group,” The New York Times, October 5, 1982.

14. Leslie Maitland, “Sources Are Cited for Charge of Soviet Tie to Arms Freeze,” The New York Times, November 13, 1982.

15. Joanne Omang, “Reagan Again Says Soviet Union Influences Anti-Nuclear Groups,” The Washington Post, December 11, 1982; Leslie Maitland, “F.B.I. Rules Out Russian Control of Freeze Drive,” The New York Times, March 26, 1983.

16. Judith Miller, “President Says Freeze Proponents May Unwittingly Aid the Russians,” The New York Times, December 11, 1982.

17. Radio Address to the Nation on Nuclear Weapons, April 17, 1982, in Public Papers of the Presidents: Ronald Reagan: January 1 to July 2, 1982 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983), pp. 487-488.

18. George P. Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993), p. 372.

19. “The Gorbachev Interview,” The Washington Post, May 22, 1988.

20. Lawrence S. Wittner, Toward Nuclear Abolition: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1971 to the Present (Stanford, CA: StanfordUniversity Press, 2003), pp. 370-377, 384-404.


Verification on the Road to Zero: Issues for Nuclear Warhead Dismantlement

James Fuller

In many respects, the “verification” associated with reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons until now has been for practice. The size of the total arsenals that remained provided a powerful hedge against the imperfections of confidence-building measures. Warheads themselves have been addressed only in the margins; delivery systems have been the preferred treaty-limited items.

It remains to be seen if policymakers of both countries continue to skirt the technical issues necessary to confirm irreversible deep reductions in the numbers of warheads, reductions focused on a vision of “global zero” (worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons) that if co-opted by one party or the other could dangerously affect the balance of power.

Very good progress has been made over the years in identifying and solving the technical problems associated with verifying actual warhead reductions. Policy can change almost overnight, and speculation about verification measures is relatively easy. Establishing acceptable verification measures requires painstaking, protracted effort; it can take years of unilateral and cooperative technical study for weapons experts to demonstrate the efficacy of this or that approach to solve a particular verification problem. In spite of some contentious debates, technical specialists in the United States and elsewhere have reached a stage that is close to a common understanding of the major problems and how many may be solved. It is probably fair to say that there is not a good consensus, at least in the United States, on the most effective and secure path forward to complete this work. Enough has been accomplished technically, however, that a rigorous approach to confirm nuclear warhead dismantlements can be offered.

Future deep reductions in nuclear-weapon-state stockpiles will likely require confirmation of warhead dismantlements in order to maintain deterrence parity and to help assure irreversibility. In this article, verification is defined as the process of confirming an agreed-to treaty declaration or process. This term is different from transparency, which is more appropriately associated with confidence building.[1] For deeper stockpile reductions where balance-of-power issues associated with disparate numbers and types of warheads become a more significant concern, a transparency paradigm will not be adequate. Verification can include cooperative monitoring and inspections, intelligence community assessments based on national technical means, and political judgments based on additional factors. In this context, this article discusses approaches for rigorous on-site cooperative monitoring and inspections of nuclear warheads and warhead components.

A key element of the analysis that follows is to view the problem from a perspective of minimizing the need to divulge state secrets: classified information about warheads and their stewardship. The going-in approach should be to try to minimize the need for arcane technical debates about sharing specific items of sensitive data and other information and to avoid fundamental, perhaps more subjective, and more protracted differences of opinion regarding security issues.

A Body of Work

Experimental efforts and technical studies to help understand the implications of directly monitoring warheads under some hypothetical future treaty regime began in earnest in the United States shortly before the breakup of the Soviet Union, although one study dates back to the 1960s. Additionally, situations under some U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction and test limitation treaties have necessitated devising technical and procedural solutions involving warhead monitoring. These studies and the specific monitoring situations still constitute a valuable body of work today, as policymakers and technical specialists try to devise effective elements of a viable warhead dismantlement verification regime.[2]

Two of the earliest studies pointed to the need, if monitoring warheads themselves, of intrusive on-site inspections.[3] At the end of the Cold War, there seemed to be a belief in some arms control circles that U.S. national technical means were adequate and that government officials therefore were dragging their feet in verifiably reducing stockpiles. This unrealistic belief was dispelled early on by the second of the two studies, known as the Robinson Committee report. Certain severe, fundamental limitations of physics are unavoidable. JASON, a prominent U.S. government advisory group, was consulted as an independent peer reviewer of the Robinson Committee report. It confirmed the basic findings and offered some new monitoring ideas, including the use of one-way cryptographic transforms (simply put, special mathematical functions that cannot be reversed using a cryptographic key to reproduce the original plain text) to make enumerated lists of, thereby having a verifiable count of, deployed nuclear weapons systems.[4] This is an important area for further study. It has never received the attention and rigor it deserves, even though its utility was supported in a much more recent report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC).[5]

Another outcome of the Robinson Committee report was the establishment of a warhead dismantlement verification research and development program in what is now known as the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Efforts began here in the early 1990s on such issues as the protection of nuclear weapons design information when making authenticatable high-resolution gamma spectrometric measurements, as well as research suggested by nongovernmental organizations to develop nuclear archaeological techniques (the use of measured radioisotope information to assess nuclear processes and records) to verify baseline fissile material production declarations. Additionally, investigations into the possibility of using non-nuclear, inherently nonclassified warhead signature techniques were initiated.[6]

Examples of some key cooperative monitoring precedents set by the United States and Russia directly involving warheads include the Joint Verification Experiment in association with the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (first demonstration of a technological information barrier to protect classified warhead design details); portal perimeter neutron measurements on Russian SS-25 missiles in support of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (first use of radiation detection equipment); Re-entry Vehicle On-Site Inspection (RVOSI) under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) (random nuclear weapons inspection system accounting and re-entry vehicle observation); and the establishment of confidence about the weapons origin of fissile materials stored in the Mayak Fissile Materials Storage Facility.

U.S. national laboratories also worked on developing very high-security unique identifiers. Although this effort was not focused on warhead issues directly, it was undertaken in response to a need to verify nuclear delivery system numbers declarations under START.

At about the same time as START ratification in 1994, unprecedented nuclear security cooperation between U.S. and Russian technical specialists took place, beginning with joint implementation of nuclear material protection, control, and accounting programs, as well as cooperative research and development on reciprocal inspections. The latter effort resulted in a good common understanding of the concept of attribute measurements associated with warheads and their nuclear components.[7] Both of these programs evolved into broader U.S.-Russian lab-to-lab efforts. U.S.-sponsored cooperative research into warhead monitoring with Russian weapons specialists eventually became part of the more formal government-to-government Warhead Safety and Security Exchange (WSSX) agreement that continued for several years. This work included reciprocal mock inspections of real classified nuclear warhead items using very intrusive radiation detection equipment (RDE) that employed advanced information barrier features.

Around the time of the March 1997 summit of President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Helsinki, where an agreement was reached to begin negotiations that would “include measures relating to the transparency of strategic nuclear warheads…and to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions,”[8] the U.S. Energy Department formed a Dismantlement Study Group to explore the relevant issues. With regard to developing a warhead dismantlement monitoring regime, this group concluded that nine salient activities could be used. The list included not only the obvious items (declarations, radiation signature measurements, warhead chain of custody), but also activities that would be unlikely ever to be approved, such as direct observation.[9] This list of activities was constructed without regard to the level of sensitivity of the information that might be compromised by the conduct of the activity.

In concert with this study, most of which was conducted on a classified basis, a warhead radiation signature measurement campaign was completed at the U.S. Pantex facility using a large number of nuclear warheads to help understand the promise and limitations of radiation signature measurements. After a peer review committee chose the measurement teams that would be invited to participate, based on presentations of their proposed technical approaches, more than 30 complete warheads and warhead nuclear components were examined. From these efforts, the general results of which were briefed to Russian specialists with whom the United States was collaborating under the WSSX program a few years later, U.S. researchers learned that effective discrimination by type of warheads, pits, and secondaries (the thermonuclear stage physically separate from the primary) is possible. In particular, the radiation signatures of different warhead types were clearly distinguishable (five types examined); the signatures of different secondary types were distinguished, but only limited data were available (two types examined); and the signatures of different pit types were easily distinguished except for two very similar all-plutonium pits (seven types examined).

The researchers also learned that individual (serial number) identification of items such as those examined is a very difficult problem due to the very close tolerances employed when constructing warheads of the same type. One team provided evidence that such distinctions may be possible using information on minor isotopes (constituents other than uranium-235 or plutonium-239). Study of a larger population of components will be necessary to determine definitively the utility of minor isotopes.

As part of this effort, U.S. RDE specialists learned that, with limitation, active interrogation using neutron sources of full warheads was feasible and approvable from a safety perspective. Also, based on the efficacy and speed of a system developed by Sandia National Laboratories that incorporated a library of U.S. warhead reference spectra, the power of a gamma-ray template approach to such measurements became obvious.

Fundamental Issues

The practical experience from such work, combined with the analyses in multiple studies, suggests a number of underlying issues that need to be addressed in pursuing rigorous warhead-reduction verification processes.

Defining “nuclear warhead.” A nuclear weapon, in very simple terms, consists of a nuclear warhead plus its delivery system. “Warhead” and “weapon” often are used interchangeably in nuclear arms control and nonproliferation discussions and writings, but to be specific, the focus here is on nuclear warheads, which are taken to be synonymous with “nuclear explosive devices.”

Beyond these distinctions, according to the 2005 CISAC study, “nuclear warhead” has not been defined with much precision in any existing treaties.[10] Nuclear warhead information is often so sensitive that it cannot be discussed either in open forums or, at this time, between specialists from different nuclear-weapon states. In the more extensive work from which this paper is drawn, prepared in the context of “going to zero,” the definition proposed is “any compact configuration containing a significant amount of fissile material.” This is based on the fact that, in a world in which warheads had nearly been eliminated, the discovery of any such object would be cause for concern. Also, this simple definition lends itself quite well to unclassified attribute-type confirmatory measurements if and when nuclear weapons are indeed ever eliminated.

In the context of a world in which hundreds of warheads still exist and in which cheating could seriously affect the balance of power between countries, such a simple definition is probably not adequate. Cooperating governments likely would need to know more about the warheads being eliminated so that there is parity in deterrence during deep drawdown. Arguably, if the provenance of the items declared to be warheads during this period can be confirmed through cooperative and private (national technical means) methods, there is no real need for any nuclear-design-type definition. However, the need for and methods of independent authentication by inspection of an item having inadequate (unconfirmable) provenance are issues that have received very little attention and thus need focused study.

One preliminary idea for this phase would be to define a nuclear warhead as “any compact configuration containing a significant amount of fissile material that is declared to be a nuclear warhead.” Thus, the design of any such item would be protected because this is an unclassified fact about warheads. The design of all other undeclared and therefore suspicious items, with few exceptions, would not be. For additional sensitive nonwarhead items that could not be thoroughly inspected, confirmation that they were not warheads should be possible through attribute measurements. However, the fundamental premise here is that the inspected party would have no important incentive to claim it had more warheads than it actually did. Once declared to be a warhead, the provenance of these items by class would be monitored to the degree possible and they would be contained and surveilled through the whole of the dismantlement and materials disposition process.

Determining baseline inventories. Assuming that items presented as nuclear warheads can be confirmed as such using a very basic definition or one that includes additional differentiating features, accurately and confidently determining the absolute number of nuclear warheads possessed at any given time by any nuclear-weapon state or states suspected of proliferating is arguably the most significant challenge to overcome. Nuclear warheads are relatively small items having signatures that can be shielded from observation. The fissile material to make them is in great abundance already, with more being made all the time as a legitimate by-product of peaceful nuclear energy production, and there is often considerable imprecision in the amount and fate of historical material produced by owner-states. With the construction of viable nuclear explosive devices being truly limited only by the acquisition of fissile material, complete confirmation of the overall number of warheads at the beginning of any reduction regime will likely be extremely difficult.

Ways have been and continue to be studied that could, in a cooperative environment, help reduce the uncertainty of fissile material inventories. Certainly production and retirement records could be made available for thorough inspection and for consistency checks with known operations and declarations. Nuclear archaeology procedures could be used in principle as a more independent check of the records. Devising new nuclear archaeology procedures for elements of the nuclear warhead production cycle other than those already demonstrated for graphite reactor histories would be very helpful in this regard.[11]

Some would argue that because of the supposed impossibility of truly confirming baseline inventories, the whole endeavor of going to zero is quixotic. Accurately verifying the numbers of warheads dismantled certainly can help reduce the margin of error and, when combined with all other technical measures and improved political cooperation, may help make the remaining uncertainties in baseline determinations less of an issue.

Need to develop inspection tools fully. While many types and variations of devices have been demonstrated for use in directly monitoring nuclear warhead dismantlement and a significant body of work exists, very few of these have ever been taken beyond the prototype stage. Very few have ever been subjected to rigorous independent peer review similar to that undertaken for potential START verification technologies or to the extensive vulnerability analyses required. Even fewer have ever been subjected to the certification process by any of the countries that have been working together. Many technical issues have been overcome, but many still remain. Thus, the vast majority of the monitoring devices remain unproven. Until they are proven, there will be a reluctance to base treaties and other formal warhead reduction agreements on them. This will slow progress. However, it is safe to say that specialists in Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are on the same track and the technology problems that need to be overcome are fairly well defined, so much so that it is possible to envision a plausible dismantlement verification process and offer several specific areas for further work.

Protecting state secrets. Addressing the issue of protecting nuclear weapons information is complicated by several factors. The breadth of classified information associated with the nuclear arsenal of any nuclear-weapon state is extremely wide and varies from state to state. Moreover, there are disagreements on how far governments should go in being secretive about nuclear weapons matters.

The protection of nuclear weapons information by individual governments can be both a hindrance and an aid to worldwide elimination. It is a hindrance because it greatly reduces the ability of technical specialists and negotiators to solve verification problems more quickly, but the protection of weapons design information is necessary to minimize the ability of others to develop illicit arsenals. The acknowledged need for such protection is the basis for Article I of nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.[12] If the means to solve the technical issues of warhead dismantlement verification could be found without requiring the compromise of sensitive information, policymakers and security specialists likely would find them more acceptable, and the verification process could move forward with fewer objections.

Studies on technical methods to protect classified information during hypothetical nuclear warhead inspection measurements are well advanced in the United States and Russia, and the remaining problems are well defined. The technology and procedures that must be integrated wholly into any warhead item inspection system for these purposes is most often labeled the information barrier.

Late in 1998, the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy established a joint Information Barrier Working Group (IBWG). The task of this group was to devise optimal approaches to protect classified nuclear weapons design information when utilizing radiation signature monitoring methods. The impetus for the work at that time was the Mayak storage facility, START-type agreements, and the Trilateral Initiative, a multiyear effort ending in 2002 by the United States, Russia, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to develop IAEA monitoring methods for classified forms of nuclear weapons material. The group began its efforts by defining the fundamental functional requirements of an information barrier: The host must be assured that its classified warhead design information is protected from disclosure to the monitoring party, and the monitoring party must be confident that the integrated inspection system measures, processes, and presents the radiation signature-based measurement conclusion in an accurate and reproducible manner.[13]

The IBWG was able to enumerate 10 critical design elements defining information barriers. These included the concept of “host supply,” a term that refers to the last “private,” or secretive, possession of any equipment to be used to measure host country warhead characteristics, most likely during the process of certifying the monitoring equipment. Such equipment would have been jointly and cooperatively developed and manufactured and then jointly secured once put into service. The design criteria also included the necessity to confirm, i.e., authenticate, that no one had tampered with the host-supplied equipment and software and that it had functioned as advertised.

The major unresolved issue associated with information barriers is that of authentication. Authentication in an information-barrier context refers to the process of assurance of the inspectorate that the measurement system works as advertised and does not contain any hidden feature that would allow the inspected party to alter the results surreptitiously during an inspection. This is the specific area that demands considerably more attention if a truly useful radiation-based measurement system is ever to be successfully developed for use on nuclear warheads, their nuclear components, and associated sensitive nuclear materials. It would be a breakthrough for someone to demonstrate a viable, independently peer reviewed warhead measurement system authentication process.

Finally, because of the highly technical issues involved in making accurate and reliable warhead measurements and inspections, heads of state eventually may need to establish national authentication authorities to advise them about the trustworthiness of the associated information as they move to draw down arsenals to very low levels or to eliminate them completely. Additionally, if host weapon-state monitoring equipment certification authorities rule the day and require that any instrumentation used by an inspectorate on host warheads be supplied by the host (must have been in its private possession prior to use) and must remain in the host country once used, then the problem of authentication becomes an even more critical issue.

The Verification Process

Given the state of development of cooperative monitoring technology, the solutions suggested here are intended to be useful by illustrating positive possibilities and listing some of the additional problems that need to be solved. The basis for many of these suggestions is the intensive work performed early after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. However, those efforts waned under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. A revitalization of these activities is critical to support deep reduction and going-to-zero monitoring. The need for simplicity in design and function of verification technology cannot be overemphasized. Also, the methods and associated implementation procedures need to be more aggressively reviewed for spoofing vulnerabilities, for example, ways to make measuring equipment provide the wrong answer or furtive ways to counterfeit unique identifiers.

Warhead authentication. Any massive drawdown resulting in deep reductions and potentially leading to a complete elimination of nuclear weapons will take significant time. During this time, knowing when and how many warheads of a particular type are being eliminated will be critical.

Attribute-type measurements have not been shown to be adequate for differentiation among warhead types. This will almost assuredly require the use of detailed signature templates, such as a highly resolved gamma-ray emission energy spectrum measurement, as was successfully demonstrated during the Pantex measurement campaign described above. The problem then quickly reduces to authenticating and securing template reference signatures for use with gamma-ray spectroscopic systems or more sophisticated technologies. (A reference signature is a signature data set taken directly from an item that has been independently authenticated as being what it has been declared to be.) Another requirement for a reference signature is that the data themselves can be authenticated at a later time as having never been altered. Such reference signatures would exist on nonvolatile computer storage media and would be compared with data taken during an inspection at some later time.

To obtain reference radiation signatures for specific types of warheads that are still deployed as part of weapons systems, using the extensive information from an enhanced version of START or New START RVOSI and supplemented by national technical means, the inspectorate would begin by selecting multiple items at random. Inspectors would witness the removal of the warheads from the delivery vehicle(s) and their placement inside individual containers specially designed to help secure and minimize spectral signature deviations. The same type of container would be used to protect all the other items declared to be of the same type and slated for elimination.

The warhead itself should be uniquely identified before being inserted into the container, using a very high security intrinsic tag or applied tag. This container would be sealed with another high-security mechanism such as an active, cryptographically protected electronic seal. Then, using a device such as a gamma-ray spectroscopic measurement system, a radiation signature reference would be acquired, protected by an information barrier, for the particular type of warhead. Each of these initial signatures would be checked for consistency with the others using unclassified statistical fitting algorithms. These containerized items would be set aside for the purpose of reaffirming the reference signature template. They would most certainly have to remain on the soil of the inspected country, but they would be subject to highly secure continuous monitoring by both parties. The reference template itself would be stored on a nonvolatile memory device or devices and include a robust cryptographic tag for repeated authentication. The measurement systems used on a host country’s classified items very likely would need to remain on host soil as well and be secured in a manner very similar to that used for the templates.

Cases involving warhead or component types that already have been removed completely from deployment are a special challenge. When the RVOSI authentication approach breaks down in such cases, the inspecting country would have to judge for itself if it had enough independent information for verification, perhaps through more-extensive confirmatory declarations. If not, there would need to be a determination if the overall verification regime would be weakened by not having any provenance for these particular items. It might be acceptable to record a reference signature template using random selections from a population of these warheads and then simply declare them as a new, perhaps unknown type. This new type could be given an arbitrary class designation and thereafter still completely tracked through dismantlement and final disposition.

Use of a template approach is very difficult if the spectral variations due to manufacturing variations or any other comparison differences could be great enough to yield no-match conditions repeatedly. It might prove impossible for an inspectorate and a host to cooperate to solve legitimate inspection problems without discussing these spectral variations in sufficient detail because it would involve sharing classified information. Further study of template-matching approaches is therefore needed. How are the signature matching limits set? How are no-match conditions rectified with the inspectorate? Many such conditions would be understood by the host knowing the classified spectral data, but could not be shared because they might reveal a warhead design feature.

Warhead counting and continuity of knowledge. For nuclear warheads that are declared excess or that may be kept in a ready reserve at a known location or for unclassified, partially sanitized nuclear objects or raw materials in storage awaiting final disposition, such as those at the Mayak storage facility, maintaining an accurate item inventory is a straightforward process drawing from international safeguards containment and surveillance approaches. So too would be the occasional reauthentication of randomly selected items or raw-material batches to validate the technology and procedures used. To reduce the risk of diversion effectively to zero, it continues to be very important for all parties to understand the vulnerabilities of the unique identification devices and high-security seals used and the surveillance technology employed.

For an airtight inventory that includes warheads that remain part of the deployed deterrent at undeclared locations, the problem is somewhat more difficult. Certainly the delivery system attribution approaches agreed under START and New START are a good place to begin. For these, individual deployed weapons systems at declared locations that have been selected at random by the inspecting party are made available by the inspected party. The items declared to be warheads are observed to validate that the declared numbers are accurate. Such procedures are quite intrusive but accepted in the United States and Russia, which have many years of experience in implementing them. By adding high-security unique identification of warheads during such RVOSI procedures and employing random sampling against a numbered list of items, indicating their type and including an encrypted location, much greater confidence in the initial quantity declaration would result.

During an RVOSI, by comparing the encrypted result of the one-way transform against the inventory list, the presence of specific items on the numbered list would be confirmed and the authenticity of the total count validated. The observed warheads would be tagged using a suitable, very high security method, and the unencrypted identifier would be added to the appropriate item on the list. In the future, when the warhead entered the dismantlement process and the chain of custody was established, the tag would be reread and the identity confirmed. Such lists would need to be updated periodically. The inspectorate might find that certain unique identifiers are associated with newly encrypted locations at which another random RVOSI might occur and the tag might be reconfirmed.

Accounting for undeclared warheads at undeclared locations is basically the same, seemingly intractable problem of confirming baseline inventories. There is no ready good technical solution given the ease with which such items could be hidden. As noted previously, national technical means have been judged unreliable in this situation. Other policy accommodations would have to offset this issue. Such accommodations might be difficult to envision today, but as insight and trust build during deep reductions, the day may come when they are possible, assuming the continued will of all parties to make deep reductions in and even eliminate their stockpiles. Creating a new and robust paradigm of a strong international enforcement against cheating may be the best solution to this problem although the political difficulty in doing so should not be understated.

Verifying Dismantlement

The actual physical dismantlement of a warhead probably would be the least difficult process to verify. In the United States, a warhead is considered fully dismantled once the high explosive has been removed from the fissionable material configuration from which the warhead is constructed.[14] This step is the result of other, earlier steps that also contribute to the dismantlement. The end result for a two-stage thermonuclear warhead is the separation and individual containerization of several items, including two nuclear components—the pit and the canned subassembly. For an implosion-assembly-type warhead, just a pit remains. The items are placed in storage for eventual disposition or reuse.

Arguably, the best approach to monitored dismantlement in any of the nuclear-weapon states is to build or have built by an international organization a special new, above-ground dismantlement facility of a design that is acceptable to the other weapon states and to all involved in monitoring or having a stake in monitoring.

The only warheads located at the special facility would be those destined for monitored dismantlement. It probably would be less intrusive and more conducive to maintaining the continuity of knowledge required to assure irreversibility if the separated nuclear components remained in storage at the special facility until just before their final disposition. In this way, the collateral security concerns with other defense and security operations would be significantly reduced, and the design of the facility could include features that enhance verification instead of impede it. Such a facility, given the level of assurance that is necessary, should have a completely nonsensitive design, except perhaps for the protective security features, that could be shared with all involved, and the site should be permanently staffed and monitored from the beginning of construction. Additional assurance would be provided that no hidden features were included that could be used to spoof the monitoring process. The site should be located away from allowed military or commercial operations and thus designed to maximize the effectiveness of additional monitoring by national technical means.

All items and personnel entering and leaving the site would be subjected to stringent portal perimeter monitoring inspections, consistent at a minimum with the manner in which nuclear weapons and warhead components are secured and protected in the United States today. Items brought to the special facility for dismantlement, having been reauthenticated on-site against a signature template and inventoried using unique identifier technology, would be taken by the host without any inspectors to the actual cell or bay for disassembly. Once the physical disassembly was accomplished, the disassembly cell could be swept by the inspectorate to make sure it was empty. Template measurements employing information barrier technology and procedures would be made on the containers declared to hold the nuclear components, and the containers would be sealed by the inspectorate. Other agreed, more intrusive inspections, including visual examinations, would be made on the non-nuclear weapons components. For any of these non-nuclear components that are “sight-sensitive,” potentially divulging sensitive information just from their unaltered appearance, provisions for their conversion to a nonsensitive form (e.g., shredding or chopping) would be included within the disassembly facility in a manner exactly analogous to current nuclear warhead retirements and dismantlements used today in the United States.


Applying the technical and procedural approaches discussed here, it is reasonable to conclude that confirmation of the dismantlement of declared nuclear warhead stockpiles is quite feasible. There is a very good body of experience and international research from which to draw. Although some technical issues remain, with some additional work they can be solved. There needs to be a robust, parallel, but independent effort of peer review and vulnerability assessment. Cooperation among weapon-state specialists should increase. Further involvement of non-weapon-state stakeholders would be very helpful. This additional work and involvement will hasten the day when the vision of going to zero is clarified.

James Fuller is an affiliate professor at the HenryM.JacksonSchool of International Studies at the University of Washington and a fellow of the American Physical Society. He previously was director of defense nuclear nonproliferation programs at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. This article draws from his chapter in Cultivating Confidence: Verification, Monitoring and Enforcement for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons (2010). He wishes to acknowledge the support of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.


1. James F. Morgan, “Transparency and Verification Options: An Initial Analysis of Approaches for Monitoring Warhead Dismantlement,” in Proceedings of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management 38th Annual Meeting, July 1997.

2. For a more detailed chronology, see Corey Hinderstein, ed., Cultivating Confidence: Verification, Monitoring and Enforcement for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons (Washington, DC: Hoover Institution Press, 2010), pp. 126-132.

3. U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, “Final Report—Field Test 34: Demonstrated Destruction of Nuclear Weapons,” January 1969, www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/cloudgap/index.html (declassified March 30, 1999); Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), “A Reprint of the Executive Summary of the October 1991 Report to Congress: Verification of Nuclear Warhead Dismantlement and Special Nuclear Material Control,” PNNL-18034, November 2008, www.pnl.gov/main/publications/external/technical_reports/PNNL-18034.pdf.

4. JASON, “Verification Technology: Unclassified Version,” JSR-89-100A, October 1990, p. 84, www.fas.org/irp/agency/dod/jason/verif.pdf.

5. Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), Monitoring Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Explosive Materials (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005), pp. 92-94.

6. Office of Nonproliferation Research and Engineering (ONRE), U.S. Department of Energy, “Technology R&D for Arms Control,” NNSA/NN/ACNT-SP01, Spring 2001; Steve Fetter, “Nuclear Archaeology: Verifying Declarations of Fissile-Material Production,” Science and Global Security, No. 3 (1993), pp. 237-259; T.W. Wood et al., “Feasibility of Isotopic Measurements: Graphite Isotopic Ratio Method,” PNNL-13488, April 2001.

7. In verification, there is an important distinction between measuring warhead attributes and templates. Warhead attributes are parameters openly known to be associated with these items, whose precise values very likely would be classified, but for which numerical limits can be set without revealing sensitive information. Examples include the presence of plutonium-239 and/or uranium-235; the form of the nuclear material (metal rather than oxide); configuration (symmetric configuration rather than rubble); mass of the nuclear material (greater than a certain number of kilograms); isotopics of the fissile material (consistent with that used in a warhead [e.g., a plutonium-240/plutonium-239 mass ratio of less than 0.10]; age of the nuclear material (consistency with the age of the warhead or warhead component provenance); and presence of high explosive. In contrast, a (radiation) template commonly consists of a scan between wide limits of a gamma-radiation energy spectrum. Such a spectrum will be uniquely indicative not only of the nuclear source material present, but also of its form and the configuration in which it resides, including that of any container. A template might be recorded in the time domain both for nuclear singles and multiples and even in some cases from non-nuclear signals such as Fourier-transformed data from acoustic vibrations. Such spectra often form a unique “fingerprint” of a specific object or type of object. Gamma-ray energy spectra are known to be very revealing of sensitive design information, however, and would be considered classified information by any host country. See ONRE, “Technology R&D for Arms Control.”

8. “Joint Statement on Parameters of Future Nuclear Reductions,” 1997, www.nti.org/db/nisprofs/fulltext/treaties/abm/abm_heje.htm (White House text on Helsinki summit of Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin).

9. See Morgan, “Transparency and Verification Options.” In summary, the nine activities included declarations of dismantlement schedules, warheads, and components resulting from the dismantlement process; spot checks of the weapons receipt and storage areas and component storage areas to confirm declarations, including the use of radiation signatures of the weapons and components; remote monitoring of the weapons receipt and storage areas and component storage areas; radiation signature measurements of warheads and components following dismantlement; chain of custody of warheads and components; portal perimeter continuous monitoring to inspect every item that passes in and out of a segregated portion of the dismantlement area; sweeping or sanitizing a disassembly bay or dismantlement cell periodically before and after dismantlement; remote monitoring or direct observation of the dismantlement process; and monitoring of the disposition of the non-nuclear components of the warhead, such as the high explosive and warhead electronics, after dismantlement.

10. See CISAC, Monitoring Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Explosive Materials, p. 89.

11. See Wood et al., “Feasibility of Isotopic Measurements.”

12. Article I states: “Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.”

13. Joint Department of Energy-Department of Defense Information Barrier Working Group, “The Functional Requirements and Basis for Information Barriers,” PNNL-13285, May 1999, p. 11, http://authentication.pnl.gov/papers/IB-13285.pdf.

14. See Morgan, “Transparency and Verification Options.”


Britain Leads the Way to Global Zero

Harold Smith and Raymond Jeanloz

The United Kingdom, not the United States or Russia, is leading the way along a path to a possible world without nuclear weapons. The British not only are reducing the number of nuclear weapons, but in so doing are making an implicit statement, through the resultant force posture, about the kind of deterrence that nuclear weapons provide. Can and should the superpowers follow the same path?

In October, Prime Minister David Cameron presented to Parliament the government’s “Strategic Defence and Security Review” (SDSR)[1] which stated explicitly that the number of nuclear weapons in the British arsenal would be reduced to 180, of which 120 would be operational. Furthermore, the United Kingdom will maintain only one type of weapon, and that weapon can be launched only by ballistic missiles carried aboard four Vanguard-class nuclear submarines.[2] As such, a majority of those weapons may be considered invulnerable. Further, they can be launched at the discretion of the leadership at any time against any target of choice. They are not “use or lose.” They need not be on high alert. It all sounds like progress toward a world with far fewer, if not zero, nuclear weapons.

Such nuclear restraint did not occur in the United Kingdom without significant debate within the Labour government, within the newly elected Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and in the public arena. One suspects that such a debate would be even more forceful in the United States and in Russia, at least within the Kremlin, if the two superpowers chose to follow the British lead.

The decision to base its nuclear deterrent solely on new Vanguard submarines was first announced by the Labour government in December 2006 and modified by the present government with the publication of the SDSR, which is unlikely to change the deployment scheme, notwithstanding the search for “alternatives,” i.e., cruise missiles, by the Liberal Democrats. So far, the British are sticking to their guns, although there will be fewer guns.

The declaratory policy that accompanies the announced deployment states that the United Kingdom will be prepared to maintain its nuclear deterrent into the indefinite future, but remains committed to a world without nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the document says that the United Kingdom will not use its nuclear weapons against those parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that continue to forswear nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom promises to contribute to deterrence by NATO, although this will be from afar; the British withdrew their tactical nuclear weapons during the Clinton administration. The SDSR describes this policy as “deliberately ambiguous about precisely when, how, and at what scale we would contemplate their use.”[3] Nevertheless, the size of the “scale” clearly has changed, and with that change comes a reduction in ambiguity, which in turn offers some insight into a world with far fewer nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Doctrine With Small Arsenals

At such low numbers, the British arsenal, no matter how accurate the weapons may be, cannot necessarily be counted on to destroy the military capability of all nuclear powers that might threaten the United Kingdom. The technology and operational skill required to harden silos and command centers or move these military targets in unpredictable ways or place nuclear-armed aircraft on dispersed bases or even on airborne alert are well known and can be implemented at reasonable expense and, in some cases, on short notice. The five established nuclear-weapon states have already done so, and the rising nuclear powers can proceed to do so at whatever pace they feel the situation requires. Furthermore, if ballistic missile defense can be successfully developed and deployed to protect military targets, even more retaliatory capability would survive an attack from an arsenal as small as the one described in the SDSR. Even a pre-emptive first strike by the United Kingdom from such an arsenal against an enemy, protected as noted, would leave enough surviving enemy capability to destroy tens of British population centers in retaliation. In short, it would be folly for the United Kingdom to launch a pre-emptive attack against military targets, and it would be impossible to do so in a retaliatory mode.

One presumes, therefore, that the British have forsaken military targets and will achieve deterrence by threatening, explicitly or implicitly, to destroy the enemy’s cities, industrial centers, and communications. In the parlance of the Cold War, the British arsenal is countervalue, not counterforce.[4] It is nuclear deterrence in its starkest form; there is no sense of a presumed victory by virtue of quickly destroying an enemy’s nuclear arsenal before that opponent can strike back.

It would appear that all the nuclear powers will have to follow the United Kingdom if or as they move toward a world without nuclear weapons. Small, invulnerable, non-time-sensitive arsenals deployed far from areas of contention and with a high degree of transparency under a countervalue strategy are probably as safe as a world with significantly fewer remaining nuclear weapons can be, and they certainly seem safer than a world with thousands of nuclear weapons ready to be launched on a moment’s notice against military targets. The shift from military to civilian targeting, which seems barbaric, thus may be a feature of the path to “global zero” along with the phased, verified elimination of nuclear weapons.[5]

None of these conclusions would change if the United Kingdom decided to deploy its warheads on cruise missiles, as advocated by the Liberal Democrats. Admittedly, funding could be reduced, but the security of the warheads would be less; targeting flexibility would be compromised by the reduced range of the cruise missiles; vulnerability to in-flight destruction would increase; and transparency of deployment would be less. Nonetheless, fiscal realities can become paramount, and the deployment scheme might change. However, the need to threaten cities will remain as long as the arsenal remains small, which is a necessary part of fiscal reality in the first place.

Obstacles Along the Path

What seems straightforward for the United Kingdom is far more challenging for Russia and the United States. First of all, both countries have enormous arsenals fully capable of destroying vast numbers of military targets. It will not be easy for the large nuclear bureaucracies of the two superpowers that have decades of counterforce planning and targeting to shift easily to a countervalue strategy. Witness the recent U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, which lauds reduced arsenals but keeps the missiles on high alert.[6]

Tactical nuclear weapons, which the British have forsworn, are designed for use against military targets on the battlefield and remain a problem for the superpowers. During the Cold War, NATO deployed U.S. and British nuclear weapons along the East-West German border to stop a feared advance by the Red Army. Those days are gone, but the belief and the American weapons remain,[7] although under increasing debate, particularly within those NATO countries where the weapons are based.[8] Possibly within a few years, U.S. tactical nuclear weapons will no longer be a roadblock along the path that the British have delineated.

With or without the presence in Europe of these U.S. weapons, it will be far more difficult for Russia to follow the British lead and eliminate its own tactical nuclear weapons. To its south, Russia sees a resurgent China armed by the large and powerful People’s Liberation Army at the same time that the Red Army is a shadow of its former self.

The superpowers are not necessarily alone, however, in their reluctance to eliminate such tactical weapons. Along the Indian-Pakistani border, each country fears invasion by the other and has presumably built a nuclear arsenal for tactical defense in the event of attack across the border and for strategic deterrence if the attack proves to be more than an incursion. The same could be said for North Korea. In the Middle East, Israel is threatened by attack from all quarters, and Iran is well aware of discussions of a military response to its nuclear program. All may decide that tactical weapons are a necessary part of their nuclear arsenals.

China and France, whose arsenals are somewhat larger than the United Kingdom’s but far less than those of the United States and Russia, may have rejected a counterforce doctrine already. Although it is easier for the United States to discuss nuclear strategy with France than with China, the variety of weapons and basing options for those weapons by both countries complicates any attempt to discern their ultimate doctrines. Presumably, both nations have some of their nuclear weapons deployed for quick attack or counterattack on military targets. Ambiguity, not the transparency demonstrated by the British, is the guiding characteristic.

Can the United States follow the British lead? Technically, it may have no choice. Counterforce doctrine always may have been a fiction, implemented to soften the image of threatening to destroy millions of people by claiming that only military targets would be attacked. Demographic trends, however, suggest that the difference in carnage between the two doctrines becomes less with each advancing year. The past decades’ increases in world population and in urbanization imply that attacks on military facilities would likely result in massive casualties; the distinction between target and collateral damage are becoming more blurred than ever.

Furthermore, technology and economics have combined to make it easier to place key military targets beyond the reach of nuclear weapons. It is easier and cheaper to bury such targets ever deeper than it is to build the nuclear weapons that could destroy them. Only the cities remain truly vulnerable.

Finally, the most worrisome enemy of the United States is not any other country, whether it possesses nuclear weapons or not. It is the extranational terrorists, who claim that they will not hesitate to detonate on U.S. soil as many nuclear weapons as they can obtain.[9] Suicidal terrorists will not be deterred by nuclear weapons, whether strategic or tactical, or whether deployed in a counterforce or countervalue mode. They simply want the weapon, and the more of those that are deployed for military targeting on or near potential battlefields, as opposed to submarines, the better from the terrorist’s point of view. The British understand this, but whether the other nuclear powers do remains to be seen.

Major decisions such as the size and deployment of nuclear weapons are only partially influenced by military, technical, or bureaucratic considerations. There is always a political side. To oversimplify only slightly, a willingness by the United States to admit that it will destroy cities, as opposed to military targets such as missile silos in remote areas, would be met with horror on the left, where humanitarian virtues are extolled, and with disbelief on the right, where military capability is never to be forsworn. One can easily imagine the speeches, editorials, and blog posts that would follow an official announcement of such a shift in nuclear doctrine or even public awareness of an unannounced shift.

If such an announcement were deemed politically acceptable, as seems to be the case in the United Kingdom, negotiations between the United States and Russia on truly large reductions in their arsenals would challenge King Solomon. The Russians plausibly will insist that they retain their tactical nuclear weapons for purposes of defense, and the Americans just as plausibly will not agree to any reductions that violate reasonable parity with the Russians.

Compromise on these issues may not be easy, but the elimination of U.S. tactical weapons on the basis that the Russians have already removed theirs from Europe, although politically difficult, would be a major step in the direction of global zero. The Russians have long made it known that they resent the lack of reciprocity by the United States in removing nuclear weapons from European countries. It is perhaps unlikely that responding favorably to this criticism will lead to elimination of all superpower tactical nuclear weapons, but doing so could well set the stage for serious discussion of one of the major obstacles on the path to global zero.

Next Steps

If other countries are to follow the British lead, the next step must be a search by the superpowers for agreement to reduce their arsenals and to deploy them as the United Kingdom has proposed. If they can agree, the implementation of an agreement is not as difficult as might be supposed. There is already ample experience, even trust, between Russians and Americans on the inspection and mutual verification of submarine-based warheads. Submarines are large, few in number, and return periodically to known ports. Mutually acceptable inspection and verification should be feasible.

The difficulty will not be in verifying a prescribed, submarine-based arsenal, but rather in ensuring that there are no significant numbers of hidden weapons. However, this is exactly the problem that the world will have to face if and when the goals of global zero seem to be within reach. There is no better way to approach the problem of hidden and forbidden weapons in a world where, supposedly, there are none, than for the superpowers, while maintaining small, effective, and verifiable arsenals, to seek ways to convince themselves that there are no hidden weapons. If Russia and the United States can find a way to a bilateral agreement along these lines, a major step will have been taken on the path to global zero. Conversely, if the superpowers cannot ensure themselves that the opposing power has no hidden nuclear weapons, when a few hundred remain operational aboard submarines, there is little hope that they will agree to a world where they have no nuclear weapons at their disposal.

What works for the British, and for which they are to be commended, may not be acceptable to the other nuclear powers. George Shultz and his co-authors never said that the path to global zero would be either short or easy.[10] Although many initial and useful steps have been suggested and some have been implemented, there are difficult turns in the road ahead. One of them is the realization that the remaining weapons will be deployed not against remote military targets, but against those targets that the enemy holds most dear. It would not be a pretty world, but it could be a much better one.

Harold Smith, who was assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs in the Clinton administration, is a distinguished scholar in residence at the Institute for Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He is chair of the Federation of American Scientists. Raymond Jeanloz is a professor of astronomy and earth and planetary science at the university. He chairs the National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control.


1. “Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review,” Cm 7948, October 2010, www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_191634.pdf (hereinafter “Strategic Defence and Security Review”).

2. The government intends to study the possibility of reducing the number of boats to three. A decision will be made in 2016. The first boat will not go to sea until 2028.

3. “Strategic Defence and Security Review,” p. 37.

4. For a brief description of counterforce versus countervalue, see www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-weapons/history/cold-war/strategy/strategy-countervalue-force.htm#.

5. For a presentation of other and earlier milestones, see Sidney Drell, “Working Toward a World Without Nuclear Weapons,” Physics Today, July 2010.

6. U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010.

7. The Strategic Defence and Security Review maintains that the United Kingdom will continue to meet its nuclear commitment to NATO by assigning warheads and missiles from its strategic arsenal, not from weapons located within Europe. “Strategic Defence and Security Review,” p. 37.

8. Oliver Meier, “NATO Struggles to Define New Nuclear Doctrine,” Arms Control Today, September 2010.

9. Matthew Bunn, “Securing the Bomb 2010: Securing All Nuclear Materials in Four Years,” April 2010, p. 13, www.nti.org/e_research/Securing_The_Bomb_2010.pdf.

10. George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15.


After New START: What Next?

Steven Pifer

Assuming the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is ratified and enters into force, the question will be, “What next?” Speaking in Prague in April 2009, President Barack Obama called for reducing the role and number of nuclear weapons and articulated the goal of a world free of nuclear arms, albeit only when certain conditions are met. He and his Russian counterpart, President Dmitry Medvedev, have agreed to a step-by-step process for reducing nuclear weapons.

The political climate in the United States has changed greatly since the spring of 2009, and Senate Republicans raised a number of concerns about New START during ratification hearings. Those concerns and the new political dynamic following the November 2010 midterm elections would need to be taken into account in any future strategic arms reduction negotiation.

Nevertheless, assuming that the New START Treaty is ratified, something presumably will follow. The next negotiation, however, will be a longer, more complex process than the one that produced New START. The United States and Russia will need to address a number of issues: How much further are they prepared to go in reducing deployed strategic warheads? Will they agree to parallel cuts in New START’s limits on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and nuclear-capable heavy bombers?

When signing New START this past April, Obama stated, “[G]oing forward, we hope to pursue discussions with Russia on reducing both our strategic and tactical weapons, including nondeployed weapons.”[1] This opens the possibility that, for the first time, negotiations might cover all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads. This would entail new challenges for the negotiators.

Other issues are bound to arise. The Russians may raise concerns about long-range conventional weapons, which they fear could threaten their strategic forces. Moscow likely will return to the issue of missile defense. Third-country nuclear forces could come up.

Washington probably will take an incremental approach to reductions in the next round rather than seeking a dramatic cut. First of all, it is unlikely that, between now and the start of new negotiations, the Obama administration will conduct a review leading to a radical shift in nuclear doctrine or nuclear force posture; in April 2010, the administration completed a nuclear posture review, which set out guidance for reducing the role of nuclear weapons while maintaining strategic deterrence and stability at lower levels of nuclear forces. Also, the administration has to weigh what is achievable with Moscow, where many appear unenthusiastic about further reductions, and what could be approved by the Senate.

In light of these considerations, this article proposes that, in a negotiation on a New START follow-on agreement, U.S. negotiators seek a limit on all strategic and nonstrategic nuclear warheads, except for those retired and in the queue for dismantlement, of no more than 2,500 with a sublimit of no more than 1,000 deployed strategic warheads. U.S. officials might propose to keep deployed strategic delivery vehicle and launcher limits at New START levels, but should be ready to consider lower numbers.

An agreement along these lines likely would entail a two-tiered verification system. The sides would have strong confidence in their ability to monitor the limits on deployed strategic systems and detect militarily significant violations of those limits, but weaker confidence as to verifying limits on nonstrategic and nondeployed strategic warheads. This would be preferable to having no limits on and no monitoring of Russian tactical nuclear weapons.

This new agreement would address U.S. and Russian nuclear forces only, although any further cuts almost certainly would have to take place in a multilateral context. The new agreement would not constrain missile defenses, which hopefully will become a subject of U.S.-Russian or NATO-Russian cooperation.

New START and Its Impact

New START limits U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces so that seven years after the treaty’s entry into force, each side will not exceed 700 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear-capable heavy bombers; 1,550 warheads on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs and attributed to nuclear-capable heavy bombers; and 800 deployed and nondeployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and deployed and nondeployed nuclear-capable heavy bombers. New START counts the actual number of warheads on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, but counts each nuclear-capable heavy bomber as just one warhead under the 1,550 limit, regardless of capacity or operational load. (Both sides thus will likely deploy somewhat more than 1,550 warheads.)

New START’s verification measures include data exchanges, unique identifiers, notifications, and on-site inspections in addition to reliance on national technical means of verification. The treaty also provides, as a transparency measure, that the sides exchange telemetry on up to five strategic missile launches per year. (Telemetry is the information a missile broadcasts during a flight test to report on its performance.)

U.S. strategic forces had 1,968 deployed warheads as of December 31, 2009.[2] Although the Russians had fewer deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers, they deployed an estimated 2,600 strategic warheads at the beginning of 2010.[3] In implementing New START, the U.S. military intends to take full advantage of the limits, deploying 1,550 warheads on 240 Trident D-5 SLBMs, 400 to 420 Minuteman III ICBMs, and 40 to 60 nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52H bombers; the Pentagon will need to decide between 20 ICBMs or bombers to fit within the 700 limit. The Russians have not described their planned residual strategic forces yet; their original 2009 proposal for New START was for a limit of 500 strategic delivery vehicles.

Deployed Strategic Forces

Assuming an incremental approach to nuclear arms reductions, the Obama administration should consider proposing 1,000 as the deployed strategic warhead limit for the New START follow-on treaty. That would mean a significant cut below New START levels, but should be high enough so that third countries would not need to be included. A limit of 1,000 warheads should suffice to allow the United States to maintain a triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers although it would begin to strain the U.S. ability to do so. For example, were reductions to drive the U.S. Air Force to less than 40 nuclear-capable bombers, it is not clear that a viable bomber leg of the triad could be sustained.

The next agreement should continue to use New START’s “actual load” rule for counting warheads on ICBMs and SLBMs, including conventional warheads on strategic ballistic missiles. The Pentagon has said that any deployment of conventional warheads would be a “niche capability,” suggesting a requirement measured in the tens. Although some analysts, as a matter of principle, oppose any limits in a strategic arms treaty that constrain conventional weapons, in practical terms, a few tens of conventional warheads would not cut deeply into a treaty allowance of 1,000 strategic warheads.

New START attributes each nuclear-capable bomber with one warhead under the 1,550 warhead limit, even though some can carry as many as 16 to 20 air-launched cruise missiles. Negotiators justified that approach by long bomber flight times (eight to 10 hours); aircraft do not pose the same threat of surprise attack as ICBMs or SLBMs, which have flight times of 15 to 30 minutes. In the next negotiation, the sides should consider increasing the number, perhaps to three to four warheads per aircraft, which would maintain the logic of “discounting” while reducing the amount. An alternate approach, which would entail no discount, would count all nuclear weapons stored at heavy bomber bases under the deployed strategic warhead limit. This would require inspection measures at weapons storage facilities that would be very difficult to negotiate. Since neither side’s air force maintains nuclear weapons onboard bombers, a third approach would treat all nuclear weapons for bombers as nondeployed and thus not counted under the 1,000 deployed strategic warhead limit suggested above. Such a rule, however, might prove unacceptable to the Russians and to the U.S. Senate, which could question a counting method that did not count any bomber weapons as deployed.

A new agreement would presumably maintain a limit on deployed strategic delivery vehicles (ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers) and a limit on deployed and nondeployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and heavy bombers. Washington might prefer to keep those limits at the New START levels of 700 for deployed strategic delivery vehicles and 800 for deployed and nondeployed strategic launchers and heavy bombers and to implement further warhead cuts by removing warheads from missiles (“downloading”). This would be consistent with the concept of enhancing stability by maintaining a limited number of warheads on a larger number of launchers.

The Russians, however, will almost certainly press to lower the strategic delivery vehicle limit. As noted above, they originally proposed a cap of 500, and some experts believe that current trend lines have the Russians going to an even lower level. Moscow also may seek a lower strategic delivery vehicle limit as a means to constrain U.S. “upload” capacity, as the United States could not return warheads to missiles that were no longer deployed.

Because a strategic delivery vehicle limit of 500 apparently could accommodate planned Russian strategic forces, any reduction in the limit below 700 would initially fall solely on the U.S. side. Under a limit of 600, the United States might retain a notional triad of 40 heavy bombers, 192 SLBMs (16 SLBMs on each of 12 Trident submarines, with two submarines in long-term maintenance and carrying no SLBMs), and 368 ICBMs. One could conceive of a notional force within a limit of 500, but any limit below the New START level of 700 would force the Pentagon to make painful choices among the three legs of the triad. Whether a limit below 700 would be acceptable should depend on what Russian concessions U.S. negotiators could secure in a new agreement.

Assuming the sides could agree on some level as the limit on deployed strategic delivery vehicles, the related issue of the limit on deployed and nondeployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and nuclear-capable heavy bombers should not prove difficult to resolve.

Nonstrategic Nuclear Warheads

Obama has indicated that the United States will seek to address nonstrategic nuclear warheads. Doing so will pose a very difficult challenge, as the Russians have a large numerical superiority and see those weapons as offsetting what they view as conventional disadvantages vis-à-vis NATO and China. The 2009 report by the congressionally mandated Strategic Posture Commission placed the Russian nonstrategic nuclear inventory at 3,800.[4] The Department of Defense plans to retire its nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missiles, which would leave a nonstrategic arsenal of some 400 B61 gravity bombs, half of them deployed in Europe.[5]

U.S. negotiators might consider several principles for reducing and limiting nonstrategic nuclear warheads. First, limits should focus on warheads only, as neither side would want to constrain dual-use delivery systems whose primary mission is delivery of conventional munitions. Second, an agreement should provide equal limits on U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons. That said, equal limits may still produce an unequal outcome; it is unlikely that the United States would build new tactical nuclear warheads, so any limit above 400 could mean a de facto Russian advantage. Third, limits should be global rather than regional. Within a global limit, U.S. negotiators might consider “keep-out zones” for tactical nuclear weapons (e.g., prohibiting such weapons from being deployed within a certain distance of NATO-Russian borders).

Moreover, any limits that would affect U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe would require consultations within NATO. This may not be easy, as alliance members appear divided over how NATO should deal with those weapons.[6]

Russia has called for returning nuclear weapons to their home countries; Moscow likely would press to make that part of any follow-on agreement that constrained nonstrategic weapons. The United States may find that it has to weigh such an outcome in the context of the other terms of an agreement, in consultation with allies. NATO reaction to a possible withdrawal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons could depend on the reduction that would be achieved in Russian nonstrategic weapons. In addition, the U.S. ability to assure NATO allies that extended deterrence could credibly be provided by U.S.-based strategic forces would be important to NATO member states.

Nondeployed Strategic Warheads

Another issue will be how to treat nondeployed strategic nuclear warheads, i.e., those warheads that are not captured by the limit on strategic delivery warheads. Both countries will want to maintain some number of nondeployed warheads as spares. In addition, the United States has kept nondeployed warheads to hedge against Russian cheating, strategic surprise, or unexpected failure in a U.S. warhead type.

Given that the United States will download some warheads from most if not all of its ICBMs and SLBMs in order to meet the New START warhead limit, U.S. strategic forces will have a significant upload capability. The Russians have expressed concern and may seek to constrain that capability. One way to do so would be to apply a numerical limit on nondeployed strategic warheads.

A limit in the range of 1,000 to 1,500 would result in a reduction in the current number of U.S. nondeployed strategic warheads. The acceptability of that would be affected by factors such as the need to hedge against warhead design failure and the related question of revitalizing the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. The administration proposes to spend more than $80 billion over the next 10 years to modernize the nuclear infrastructure. As the nuclear weapons complex becomes more robust and capable of addressing possible warhead problems, the U.S. military could maintain a lower inventory of nondeployed strategic nuclear warheads.

An alternative but less ambitious approach would not apply a numerical limit to nondeployed strategic warheads, but simply limit them to certain locations, ideally away from ICBM, ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), and heavy bomber bases. The approach also might require data exchanges and updates. The goal would be to facilitate detection of any effort to move nondeployed warheads to ICBM, SSBN, or heavy bomber bases.

A Single Nuclear Warhead Limit?

If the next negotiating round addresses nonstrategic and nondeployed strategic nuclear warheads as well as deployed strategic warheads, the sides might consider negotiating a single limit to cover all nuclear weapons, except for those retired and in the dismantlement queue.[7] There is logic to such an approach. In most cases, a principal difference between a strategic warhead and a nonstrategic or tactical warhead turns on the range of the delivery vehicle rather than on characteristics of the warheads themselves. The B61 bomb, for example, has both a strategic and tactical variant.

One possibility would be to have a single limit on all nuclear warheads with a sublimit on deployed strategic warheads. This would allow the sides the freedom to choose what mix of nonstrategic and nondeployed strategic nuclear weapons they would maintain over and above the limit on deployed strategic warheads. For example, if the sides agreed to an overall limit of 2,500 nuclear warheads with a sublimit of 1,000 deployed strategic warheads, the United States might choose to keep more nondeployed strategic warheads, while Russia kept a larger number of tactical nuclear weapons.

Conventional Weapons

The Russians could raise the issue of long-range, conventionally armed precision-guided weapons, other than conventional warheads on ICBMs and SLBMs, which would be captured by New START, and their impact on the strategic balance. The Russians will closely track U.S. development of systems such as the planned hypersonic glide vehicle, which is boosted to high velocities and then “glides” through the upper atmosphere to its target. U.S. officials have stated that this system would not be captured by New START’s limits. Depending on how it develops, the Russians may seek to limit it in a new agreement. A current focus of Russian concern is the many hundreds of U.S. conventional cruise missiles, which some Russian experts worry could be used to attack Russian strategic forces, including ICBM silos.

The United States will resist limiting conventional weapons, other than conventional warheads on strategic ballistic missiles, in any New START successor. Russian concern about conventional cruise missiles may be overblown. This could be a topic for informal talks between U.S. and Russian military officials. Some transparency about the capabilities of these weapons might assuage Russian concerns and reduce the chance that they could emerge as a problem in the next negotiation.


The monitoring provisions of any new agreement should build on New START. A new agreement thus should provide for a detailed data exchange; notifications; unique identifiers for ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers; and on-site inspections.

U.S. negotiators might revisit some New START measures. For example, would the sides, in the interest of increased transparency, want to add a requirement that the data exchange specify the number of warheads on each deployed ICBM and SLBM? That information is not provided under New START until an inspection team arrives at an ICBM or SSBN base, and then it is provided only for the deployed missiles at that base.

U.S. officials could revisit the telemetry question with the aim of securing access to all telemetry from ICBM and SLBM tests. A New START follow-on treaty would likely be in effect until 2025 or 2030, encompassing the time when the U.S. Air Force begins to test a new ICBM, as opposed to now when only Russia is testing new strategic missiles. That might give U.S. negotiators leverage to persuade the Russians to share telemetry on all tests.

If the sides agreed on limits on nonstrategic nuclear warheads or nondeployed strategic nuclear warheads, monitoring those limits would pose daunting challenges, as the task would be to confirm numbers of warheads not associated with (more easily detected) delivery systems. U.S. officials should consider proposing that all nonstrategic and nondeployed strategic warheads be stored at declared centralized storage sites, except during prenotified transfers and perhaps temporary deployments. This would mean that only strategic warheads on ICBMs and SLBMs or located at air bases for nuclear-capable heavy bombers would be deployed or readily deployable.

The consolidation of most if not all nonstrategic and nondeployed strategic warheads at declared central storage sites could provide a monitoring opportunity. A treaty could require the United States and Russia to declare the location of each of their storage sites for nonstrategic and nondeployed strategic warheads—such information likely is already known by the two sides—as well as the number of nuclear weapons stored at each site. There could be an exchange of site diagrams showing the location of weapons storage bunkers, bays, or other chambers at each site, with provisions for on-site inspection. An inspection team arriving at a storage site would be told the number of nuclear weapons in each bunker, bay, or chamber and could then choose one or perhaps more for inspection to confirm the number. The sides would have to work out detailed procedures so that the number of weapons could be confirmed without exposing sensitive design information.

As for weapons outside of the storage sites, neither the U.S. nor Russian military is likely in the near future to be ready to accept an “anytime, anywhere” challenge inspection regime. National technical means might detect indications of nonstrategic nuclear weapons outside of storage areas, which would be a treaty violation unless prenotified, but the odds of detection would not be high.

The result of such monitoring provisions would be a two-tiered verification regime. The sides would have fairly high confidence in their ability to detect militarily significant violations of the limits on deployed strategic systems, including deployed strategic warheads. They would have less confidence in their ability to detect violations of limits on nonstrategic or nondeployed strategic warheads. In the end, accepting such an imperfect regime would provide for some constraints on and some monitoring of Russian tactical nuclear weapons. The experience gained in implementing such monitoring could provide a foundation for developing a more effective verification regime in the future.

Third-Country Nuclear Forces

Whether to include third-country nuclear forces, particularly those of China, France, and the United Kingdom, would depend in large part on the levels agreed for U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. Washington reportedly would like one more round involving only the United States and Russia. That will affect the levels that U.S. negotiators propose, as the Russians are unlikely to agree to reduce too far—they almost certainly would not agree to go to a level below 1,000 deployed strategic warheads—without addressing third-country forces.

If third-country nuclear forces were to be included, there are several options for doing so. One would be to multilateralize the U.S.-Russian negotiations and bring in, initially, China, France, and the United Kingdom. Given differences in nuclear force postures and policies, such a five-sided negotiation would be complex, assuming that third countries agreed to participate at all. An alternative would be for the United States and Russia to negotiate a bilateral nuclear reductions treaty but to condition its implementation on China, France, and the United Kingdom accepting some kind of numerical constraints. A third approach would entail informal consultations with Beijing, London, and Paris in order to gain transparency regarding those states’ nuclear postures and planned future deployments.

Each of these approaches has difficulties. The most straightforward approach for the New START successor negotiation is to aim for an agreement limiting U.S. and Russian forces only. That, however, would likely be the last purely bilateral agreement, as Moscow in all probability would insist on addressing third-country forces in any next step.

Missile Defense

In the New START negotiations, the Russians in the end settled for recording their concern about possible future U.S. missile defense deployments in a nonbinding unilateral statement. That statement essentially said that Moscow might consider withdrawing from the treaty if it believed U.S. missile defenses threatened its strategic deterrent.

The Russians almost certainly would raise missile defense in the next negotiation, as a follow-on treaty could have a duration stretching to 2025 or 2030, well beyond the projected 2020 date for deployment of a U.S. Standard Missile-3 interceptor with capabilities against ICBMs. Although it has been long-standing U.S. policy to seek to defend against limited ballistic missile threats, such as those posed by Iran or North Korea, but not against a large, sophisticated ballistic missile attack, the Russians remain wary of U.S. efforts in the missile defense field.

There is no indication that Washington is prepared to limit missile defenses as part of a strategic arms negotiation. Moreover, the administration undoubtedly understands that securing Senate ratification of any follow-on treaty that contained meaningful limits on missile defense would be difficult if not impossible.

To avoid getting boxed into a situation where the Russians demand constraints on missile defense that would provoke Senate opposition to a new treaty, Washington should press to engage Russia on missile defense cooperation. Genuine U.S.-Russian or NATO-Russian cooperation to defend Europe, including European Russia, against third-country ballistic missiles could be a “game-changer.” Day-to-day missile defense collaboration would increase transparency and promote better understanding; it might help persuade the Russians that U.S./NATO missile defenses were not directed against Russia.

Moving Forward

The next round of formal U.S.-Russian negotiations will not begin until New START enters into force, but Washington and Moscow might conduct consultations now with a view to preparing the way for those negotiations.[8] They could discuss their respective concepts of deterrence and strategic stability and explore where their views converge and the implications for future arms reductions. They might begin to work out a common system for categorizing nuclear weapons and disclose to one another the number of nuclear weapons in their arsenals, perhaps broken down into some basic categories. They might begin discussing concepts for verifying possible future limits on nonstrategic and nondeployed strategic warheads. Such consultations would help the sides prepare the ground for formal negotiations.

Once negotiations got under way, U.S. officials should aim for an agreement covering U.S. and Russian forces only, with four numerical limits: 2,500 nuclear warheads; 1,000 deployed strategic warheads; 700 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear-capable bombers; and 800 deployed and nondeployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and nuclear-capable bombers. Depending on the other terms of the agreement, the United States should be ready to consider reducing the latter two limits to 600 and 700, respectively. The verification measures would build on those in New START. Those would be accompanied by a new albeit imperfect monitoring regime for nonstrategic and nondeployed strategic warheads at declared centralized storage areas.

An agreement along these lines would offer a logical follow-on to New START. Although the reduction in deployed strategic warheads to 1,000 might not be as dramatic as some would hope, it would be in the context of a new, overall limit of 2,500. That would mean a 50 percent cut in U.S. nuclear weapons from current levels and a larger percentage reduction on the Russian side.

Like New START, this agreement would offer important benefits for U.S. national security. It would reduce and limit Russian nuclear forces, provide a monitoring regime that would give important transparency regarding Russian nuclear forces, allow the United States to maintain a robust and effective nuclear deterrent, enhance the U.S. position for pressing to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime, and contribute to a more positive U.S.-Russian relationship. Getting there will not be easy. Given the complexity of the issues, it will require several years of intense negotiations in Geneva and a lot of attention from senior leaders in both capitals.

Steven Pifer is director of the Brookings Arms Control Initiative. For a more extensive discussion of the issues covered in this article, see “The Next Round: The United States and Nuclear Arms Reductions after New START” at www.brookings.edu/articles/2010/12_arms_control_pifer.


1. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Obama and President Medvedev of Russia at New START Treaty Signing Ceremony and Press Conference,” April 8, 2010, www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-obama-and-president-medvedev-russia-new-start-treaty-signing-cere.

2. U.S. Department of State, “Annual Report on the Implementation of the Moscow Treaty 2010,” www.state.gov/documents/organization/141641.pdf.

3. Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “Nuclear Notebook: Russian Nuclear Forces, 2010,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 2010, pp. 74-81.

4. “America’s Strategic Posture: The Final Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States,” 2009, http://media.usip.org/reports/strat_posture_report.pdf.

5. Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “Nuclear Notebook: U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2009,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2009, www.thebulletin.org/files/065002008.pdf.

6. For a discussion of allied views on the U.S. nuclear presence in Europe, see Steven Pifer et al., “U.S. Nuclear and Extended Deterrence: Considerations and Challenges,” Brookings Arms Control Series, No. 3 (May 2010), pp. 19-29, www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2010/06_nuclear_deterrence/06_nuclear_deterrence.pdf.

7. Retired weapons awaiting disassembly could be treated separately by requiring that they be kept at declared storage sites pending elimination, with regular data exchanges.

8. See “Next Steps on U.S.-Russian Nuclear Negotiations and Non-Proliferation,” Brookings/IMEMO paper, n.d., www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2010/10_nonproliferation_albright_talbott/10_nonproliferation_albright_talbott.pdf (recommendations from a meeting of Madeleine Albright, Strobe Talbott, Igor Ivanov, and Alexander Dynkin).



Daryl G. Kimball

President Barack Obama, backed by the U.S. military, bipartisan national security leaders, and America’s NATO allies, has made a strong case for approval of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) before the end of this year. New START would reduce Russia’s still enormous nuclear arsenal, re-establish effective bilateral inspection and monitoring, and further enhance U.S.-Russian cooperation on key issues, including containing Iran's nuclear program and further reducing all types of Russian and U.S. nuclear arms.

As Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has argued, “Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty.”

There is no excuse for inaction. Since it was signed on April 8, the treaty has been thoroughly vetted. The Senate has held more than 20 hearings and briefings; more than 900 questions have been asked and answered. Pushing the treaty’s consideration into 2011 would undermine U.S. nonproliferation leadership and jeopardize relations with Russia at a critical juncture.

Yet, many Republican senators say they need more time to decide. They are led by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), who continues to stall progress on New START in an apparent attempt to secure even more funding for the already well-funded U.S. nuclear weapons production infrastructure.

The administration requested $7 billion for the weapons complex in fiscal year 2011, an amount that is about 10 percent higher than it was in the final year of the Bush administration. Linton Brooks, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) head under President George W. Bush, said in April, “I’d have killed for that budget and that much high-level attention in the administration.”

Then, in May the administration outlined its $80 billion, 10-year plan for the NNSA nuclear weapons complex, which is almost 15 percent higher than current spending levels.

On Aug. 4, Kyl told Reuters he would hold up New START unless appropriations bills passed by Congress for fiscal year 2011 and the president’s budget for fiscal year 2012 reflect the administration’s plan for modernizing the nuclear weapons complex. Acknowledging that it would be difficult to get everything done before the November election, Kyl said the Senate might need a postelection session if it wanted to vote on the treaty this year.

The administration has addressed Kyl’s demands and gone beyond them. So far, Congress has approved the administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget request for NNSA weapons activities. Then, on Nov. 17 the Obama administration delivered revised estimates for funding the nuclear weapons complex over the next decade. The plan now totals a whopping $85 billion, including an additional $4.1 billion in spending for fiscal years 2012-2016, mainly to cover possible cost increases for two new facilities. That would represent a 21 percent rise above the proposed fiscal year 2011 funding level for NNSA weapons activities.

Unfortunately, it seems that Kyl cannot take “yes” for an answer. In a Nov. 27 letter to their fellow Republicans, Kyl and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) complained that it will be several years before the United States would be able to completely remanufacture its nuclear stockpile with new and modernized facilities. They make the absurd claim that further reductions in the active U.S. stockpile are imprudent until and unless such a capability is re-established. Before New START can be considered, they say, the administration should accelerate funding for the new facilities in New Mexico and Corker’s home state of Tennessee.

That contradicts the views of U.S. military leaders and the directors of the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories. They do not believe that the modest reductions called for under New START must wait until the United States can remanufacture hundreds of new warheads as a “hedge” against a resurgent Russia or the highly unlikely possibility that some warheads in the arsenal require a fix through a more extensive life-extension program.

In reality, the current program for refurbishing existing warheads is working extremely well. Obama’s original $80 billion plan for the weapons complex provided more than enough to maintain the existing stockpile over the next decade. If future Congresses believe that funding increases are warranted, they can consider appropriating more money at the appropriate time.

Further attempts by Kyl to delay Senate consideration of New START in order to “earmark” still more funding for the weapons labs is fiscally irresponsible, politically unsustainable, and damaging to U.S. security.

“Waiting until next year would require a new set of hearings and lots more time,” Lugar told Louisville’s Courier-Journal Nov. 28. Such a course, he said, “borders on the irresponsible in terms of national security.”

As Obama noted in his Nov. 20 weekly radio address, “Some things are bigger than politics. Senator Lugar is right, and if the Senate passes this treaty, it will not be an achievement for Democrats or Republicans—it will be a win for America.”


President Barack Obama, backed by the U.S. military, bipartisan national security leaders, and America’s NATO allies, has made a strong case for approval of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) before the end of this year. New START would reduce Russia’s still enormous nuclear arsenal, re-establish effective bilateral inspection and monitoring, and further enhance U.S.-Russian cooperation on key issues, including containing Iran's nuclear program and further reducing all types of Russian and U.S. nuclear arms.


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