"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
May 2011
Edition Date: 
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
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China Releases Defense White Paper

Peter Crail and Nik Gebben

China formally released its seventh defense white paper March 30, providing an overview of China’s military strategy, its security threats, and its arms control policies.

During a press briefing that day on the release of the report, entitled “China’s National Defense in 2010,” Chinese military officials highlighted the document as part of Beijing’s efforts at greater military openness. However, it is unclear if the document addresses U.S. concerns about China’s lack of military transparency. An April 5 Congressional Research Service memorandum says that the white paper “did not provide a picture to assess whether China poses a threat [to the United States], because the White Paper is heavy on intentions rather than details on military capabilities.”

For example, the report does not mention China’s development of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) capability, believed to be geared toward countering U.S. aircraft carriers. An annual Pentagon report on China’s military released last year said that “when integrated with appropriate command and control systems,” China’s ASBM capability “is intended to provide the [Chinese military] the capability to attack ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean.”

Much of the white paper’s discussion of China’s strategic nuclear forces and arms control efforts reiterates the policies described in previous versions. Beijing repeated its pledge not to use nuclear weapons first in any conflict and described its adherence to multilateral nonproliferation agreements.

It expanded its criticism of what it calls “the global missile defense program.” Apparently referring to U.S. missile defense cooperation efforts, it said that “China holds that no state should deploy overseas missile defense systems that have strategic missile defense capabilities or potential, or engage in any such international collaboration.”


China formally released its seventh defense white paper March 30, providing an overview of China’s military strategy, its security threats, and its arms control policies.

Thailand Accused of Cluster Munitions Use

Xiaodon Liang

The Cambodian government and two nongovernmental organizations have accused the Thai military of using cluster munitions against Cambodian forces in clashes that began on Feb. 4 over disputed territory near the Preah Vihear temple. The incident is the first reported use of such weapons since the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) came into force in August 2010. Neither Cambodia nor Thailand is a party to the CCM.

In a Feb. 14 speech at the United Nations, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said two soldiers were killed and eight injured by Thai cluster munitions.

The Cluster Munition Coalition and Norwegian People’s Aid have conducted on-site investigations and concluded that Thai forces fired dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM). The coalition says the Thai ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva confirmed this finding in an April 5 private meeting.

In an April 8 press release, the Thai government admitted using DPICM, but said they were not cluster munitions and that the coalition had “misrepresented” the conversation by categorizing them that way. The Bangkok Post, citing an army source, reported that the Thai military has suspended use of the artillery and shells involved in the February incident.

The coalition stated in an e-mail that DPICM are “without any doubt” a type of cluster munition. The CCM defines a cluster munition as a “conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms,” with certain specified exceptions. An October 2004 report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Defense listed DPICM, including artillery shells containing M42 and M46 submunitions, as cluster munitions. Submunitions of those types were found near Preah Vihear.

In the April 8 press release, Thailand said it used the DPICM “in self-defense” to respond to Cambodia’s use of “multiple-rocket launcher systems, which struck at targets indiscriminately.”

Fighting along the Thai-Cambodian border began again on April 22, and the Cambodian government has since made unverified accusations that “poisonous gas” was fired by Thai artillery.


The Cambodian government and two nongovernmental organizations have accused the Thai military of using cluster munitions against Cambodian forces in clashes that began on Feb. 4 over disputed territory near the Preah Vihear temple.

The Missile Gap Myth and Its Progeny

Greg Thielmann

Public misperceptions in 1959 and 1960 that the Soviet Union had opened up a dangerous and growing lead over the United States in the deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) had fateful consequences beyond influencing an exceedingly close presidential election. What was then labeled “the missile gap” also helped establish patterns in the nuclear arms race that persisted throughout the Cold War and beyond.

For the U.S. public, the missile gap burst forth spectacularly toward the end of the 1950s as a result of two developments in 1957. The first was the successful flight test of the Soviet SS-6 ICBM in August and the Soviet Union’s launch several weeks later of the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik, by the same rocket type. Both launches represented Soviet technological achievements not yet matched by the United States. Sputnik, visible in the night sky over the United States, was the more dramatic symbol of Soviet progress, but the ICBM test that preceded it had the more ominous and immediate security implications.

The second development was the secret completion in November and public discussion shortly thereafter of a presidentially commissioned review of U.S. nuclear policies by an outside and predominantly civilian committee, chaired by Horace Rowan Gaither. The Gaither Report, as it was called, warned that the Soviet Union could have a “significant” ICBM capability by the end of 1959, making the Strategic Air Command’s bomber fleet vulnerable to surprise attack “during a period of lessened world tension.” [1] Although classified top secret, some of the report’s conclusions, including its alarmist view of Soviet ICBM capabilities, were leaked to the press.

The shock of being bested in space by the United States’ superpower rival and the prediction by an independent, blue-ribbon commission of future Soviet strategic advances set the stage for the appearance of the missile gap. A sense of alarm spread, along with a narrative that the Eisenhower administration had been complacent in the face of an acute military threat. Influenced by a combination of inadequate information and partisan political motives, Democratic politicians cultivated the notion that the aging incumbent had been asleep at the switch and that a new team was needed to reinvigorate government and restore U.S. nuclear superiority.

In one sense, the Gaither Report’s findings and the January 1959 joint Senate hearings on missile and space activities merely led to a necessary and overdue adjustment in the U.S. psyche as a new and unpleasant reality of the nuclear age sank in: The United States had become profoundly vulnerable to foreign attack. However, the press and politicians outside the White House made little effort to discuss root causes or to put the report in perspective. Press characterizations were even less restrained than the language of the report itself. For example, The Washington Post provided its influential readership this description of the report’s contents: “[The report] pictures the Nation moving in frightening course to the status of a second-class power. It shows an America exposed to an almost immediate threat from the missile-bristling Soviet Union. It finds America’s long-term prospect one of cataclysmic peril in the face of rocketing Soviet military might.”[2]

Hyping Sputnik and the Gaither Report was very much in the political interests of Democratic contenders for the presidency in 1960. Judging from what is now known about the missile numbers, Senator John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) consistently mischaracterized the strategic trend lines. For example, in an October 1960 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, the Democratic nominee said, “The Soviet Union made the great breakthrough in space and in missiles, and, therefore, they are going to be ahead of us in those very decisive weapons of war in the early 1960s.”[3]

In other cases, Kennedy could gain advantage merely by describing the new reality objectively because of its unpleasant shock value to the U.S. public, which was only beginning to absorb the full implications of living in the nuclear age. Thus, he could say without hyperbole in his Senate floor remarks of February 29, 1960, “For the first time since the War of 1812, foreign enemy forces potentially had become a direct and unmistakable threat to the continental United States, to our homes and to our people.”[4]

The fault in Kennedy’s argument was not so much the inaccurate characterization of the Soviet missile numbers, for the intelligence community had provided him with estimates it later revised downward on the basis of subsequent intelligence collection and analysis. A more serious flaw was that he implied that a new administration somehow could alter the fundamental reality of U.S. nuclear vulnerability, which was not the case. Moreover, his focus on simple side-by-side numerical comparisons was misplaced; the more important question was whether the U.S. ability to threaten devastating nuclear retaliation was really in jeopardy.

Congressional hearings provided an ideal platform for amplifying the general theme that the United States was falling behind in the missile race and that numerical inferiority in nuclear missiles would be a game-changer. During January 1959 hearings, Sen. Stuart Symington (D-Mo.), who was also to be a candidate in the following year’s Democratic presidential primary, pounced on Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy’s stated unwillingness “to try to match the Soviets missile for missile”: “Then as I understand it your position is that we are voluntarily passing over to the Russians production superiority in the ICBM missile field because we believe that our capacity to retaliate with other weapons is sufficient to permit them that advantage despite the great damage that we know we would suffer if they instigated an attack?”[5]

CIA projections of Soviet ICBM numbers had been falling from initial estimates in late 1957 of 100 by 1960. By early 1960, the CIA was predicting 36 by the end of the year, based on an “orderly” production rate, reaching 100 by mid-1961. The Air Force intelligence estimate for 1960, which was 500 in late 1957, remained higher than that of the CIA throughout this period.[6] The first Soviet ICBM actually went on “combat duty” in January 1960,[7] and only two had been deployed by the end of the year.[8] The first U.S. ICBM, the Atlas D, had achieved operational capability in September 1959.[9]

Soon after the Kennedy administration took office, the missile gap started officially to evanesce. In a February 1961 press backgrounder on U.S. defense programs, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara admitted that there were “no signs of a Soviet crash effort to build ICBMs” and concluded that “there is no missile gap today.”[10] By the end of 1961, it was clear and acknowledged officially that the United States, not the Soviet Union, held the lead in ICBMs and in most other categories of nuclear weapons as well.

It now is well established that the number of deployed U.S. ICBMs was never lower than the number of deployed Soviet ICBMs during the period of the alleged missile gap. Instead, it was the United States that enjoyed an early lead in ICBMs and maintained it until 1968.[11]

It is impossible to know how much a more accurate U.S. assessment of the strategic balance in 1960 would have altered history. With the benefit of half a century’s hindsight, however, it is worth reflecting on the factors contributing to this monumental error and on the ways the public can be alert in avoiding serious threat inflation in the future.

Possible Versus Probable

During the missile gap debate, as with many threat debates since, there was confusion about the numbers being compared. For the most part, the missile gap misperception grew from an “apples and oranges” comparison. The intelligence community projected how many missiles the Soviets could deploy in the future, not how many they would be likely to deploy. This number was only an estimate, less certain than the number planned for U.S. forces over the same time frame. Moreover, the projection for Soviet forces represented a worst-case estimate.

Only in January 1960 did the Department of Defense introduce into its estimates the notion of a probable rather than a possible outcome. In House Appropriations Committee hearings, Defense Secretary Thomas Gates emphasized the change: “Heretofore we have been giving you intelligence figures that dealt with theoretical Soviet capability. This is the first time that we have an intelligence estimate that says, ‘This is what the Soviet Union probably will do.’”[12] Even so, the growing potential gap forecast for the early 1960s described a circumstance in which all Soviet missile production resources would be focused on maximizing the number of deployed ICBMs. As it turned out, Moscow switched its focus to developing a newer type of ICBM, the SS-7, contributing to a slower rise in ICBM numbers. It also diverted significant resources from ICBMs into the production of SS-4 medium-range and SS-5 intermediate-range ballistic missiles. These shorter-range missiles could not reach the United States while based in the Soviet Union. Indeed, the later Soviet decision to base SS-4s in Cuba secretly was made in part to redress the overall strategic imbalance that Moscow accurately perceived as the Kennedy administration came into office.

The next decades of the Cold War featured many instances of U.S. actions premised on the worst-case interpretation of future Soviet force deployments. However prudent the inclusion of such estimates in executive branch strategic planning efforts, they regularly were interpreted by congressional overseers and the public at large as predictions of what was likely to happen. Throughout the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, the United States overestimated Soviet anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capabilities. Fears in the 1960s that the strategic missile defense system protecting Moscow was the harbinger of a nationwide network turned out to be unfounded. The Reagan-era depictions of Soviet progress in developing exotic directed-energy weapons proved greatly exaggerated.[13]

The virulent impact of worst-case analysis continued into the post-Cold War era. The Rumsfeld Commission’s 1998 report on the foreign ballistic missile threat concluded that several emerging missile states could develop and deploy ICBMs within five years. The 1999 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the ballistic missile threat was less alarmist than Rumsfeld’s report and included “most likely” as well as “could” projections, but it still gave pride of place to the worst case, as evidenced in the first two bullets of the NIE’s Iran section:

• “Iran could test an ICBM that could deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload to many parts of the United States in the latter half of the next decade, using Russian technology and assistance.”

• “Irancould pursue a Taepo Dong-type ICBM and could test a Taepo Dong-1 or Taepo Dong-2-type ICBM, possibly with North Korean assistance, in the next few years.”[14]

Iran did not test either Taepo Dong system “in the next few years” and still has not tested an ICBM although “the latter half of the next decade” has come and gone. Furthermore, 13 years after the Rumsfeld Commission’s clarion call, no additional state has acquired ICBMs. Each of these predictions played a role in justifying a massive U.S. strategic missile defense effort and U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. The financial costs have far exceeded $100 billion, and the opportunity costs for reducing strategic offensive arms have been considerable.[15]

Source Bias

When estimates provide a range of possibilities—entirely reasonable from an analytical standpoint—the highest (or lowest) numbers in the range can be emphasized for political reasons. Postmortems on the missile gap myth note that Air Force projections of future Soviet ICBM levels were consistently higher than those of the other services and that Kennedy “chose to believe the Air Force numbers rather than the information he received from Eisenhower administration officials in both open and closed hearings.”[16] It is difficult to reach definitive conclusions about the motives of the Air Force or of the Democratic presidential candidates who relied on Air Force estimates. Nevertheless, the Air Force derived institutional benefits from rendering inflated Soviet missile threat estimates, and the Democrats derived political benefits from relying on them. The synergism between these two fueled the public perception of a gap, which turned out to be bogus.

It is the nature of the intelligence assessment process that those rendering the expert judgments are often the commercial or bureaucratic entities that benefit from the most alarming projections being accepted as reality. To obtain the “best” technical assessments of foreign missile defense capabilities, the government often hires firms that could be the recipients of contracts to develop offensive countermeasures or to establish a parallel program of U.S. defensive interceptors. Technical assessments of foreign submarine capabilities logically might be performed by the makers of U.S. sonars or torpedoes. This does not mean these projections should be dismissed or that good alternative sources are available, but it does mean that source bias needs to be considered.

An additional source bias in the case of the missile gap and in many subsequent threat assessments is so obvious that it often is overlooked. Potential enemies usually have an incentive to exaggerate their capabilities. After the launch of Sputnik, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev bragged that his country’s factories “were turning out missiles like sausages” and greatly exaggerated the size and operational capabilities of the Soviet ICBM force.[17] Asked at the time by his son why he was doing so, he explained that “the number of missiles we had wasn’t so important.… The important thing was that Americans believed in our power.”[18] That potential U.S. opponents from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to Ali Khamenei’s Iran want to exaggerate their capabilities is logical, but the U.S. bias in considering such governments’ claims is to assume they are masking hidden capabilities.

Misunderstanding the Numbers

President Dwight Eisenhower commissioned the Gaither Report because he wanted a second opinion on options for improving early warning of a Soviet attack and, in the event of such an attack, reducing the vulnerability of the civilian population. Eisenhower and two consecutive defense secretaries in the latter half of his second term displayed a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the nuclear balance of terror than many of his critics who raised the alarm of an impending missile gap. U-2 reconnaissance flights over Russia were collecting information that undermined some of the worst-case projections. U.S. programs to build and deploy ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles were well underway. However, the president and other senior officials failed in effectively conveying the strategic realities of the nuclear age to the public. “Their attempts to dismiss the Sputnik launch as a ‘scientific bauble,’ intended to be reassuring, were seen in many quarters as an indication of presidential complacency (or worse).”[19] Eisenhower’s unwillingness to divulge the U-2 information “led to the impression that his reassurances were based on nothing at all.”[20] When Eisenhower’s defense secretaries sought to explain to Congress that missile-for-missile comparisons alone conveyed a misleading impression about the U.S.-Soviet balance, they were interpreted as admissions that the U.S. administration “had conceded a crucial strategic advantage to its adversary.”[21]

The tendency for politicians to simplify the complicated logic of nuclear issues for partisan purposes did not end with the disappearance of the original missile gap. At the very time when the U.S. lead in strategic warheads was widening dramatically as a result of accuracy improvements and the equipping of ICBMs with multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles, an opposite impression was being conveyed by arms control critics. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.), one of his party’s leading voices on defense issues, compared the size of U.S. and Russian ICBMs to the linemen of two competing football teams, implying that missile size was the only important metric of capability. As the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) yielded progress in capping the growth of strategic arsenals, SALT opponents made effective use of desktop ICBM models displaying U.S. (white) missile types and much larger Soviet (black) missile types side by side. The not-so-subtle message was that SALT had failed to prevent a new and ominous missile gap from arising. The impact was visceral; intellectual explanations of the significance of superior U.S. accuracy and warhead numbers and the invulnerability of U.S. ballistic missile submarines often fell on deaf ears.


It is tempting to dismiss the missile gap as a quaint artifact from an earlier time, an interesting historical example of the negative effect election politics can have on assessing threats. However, it also should be recognized as a phenomenon that has arisen repeatedly since the “cataclysmic peril” of the first missile gap quickly evaporated 50 years ago. During the three remaining decades of the Cold War, the United States often sought to close strategic gaps that the Soviet Union was perceived to be opening, only to discover much later that Moscow had been struggling mightily merely to catch up with the technological advances and superior resources of the United States. The rise and fall of the missile gap myth is a cautionary tale, which should continue to inform efforts to achieve more realistic and sober appraisals of the threats faced today.

Greg Thielmann is a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association, where he directs the Realistic Threat Assessments and Responses Project. He previously served as a senior professional staffer on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and was a U.S. Foreign Service officer for 25 years.


1. Office of Defense Mobilization, Executive Office of the President, “Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age,” November 7, 1957. For a highly regarded analysis of the report, see David L. Snead, The Gaither Committee, Eisenhower, and the Cold War (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1999).

2. Chalmers Roberts, “Enormous Arms Outlay Is Held Vital to Survival,” The Washington Post, December 20, 1957, p. 1.

3. Senate Commerce Communications Subcommittee, Freedom of Communications, 87th Cong., 1st sess., 1961, S. Rep. 994, pt. 3, p. 250.

4. John Kennedy, Congressional Record, 86th Congress, 2nd sess. (February 29, 1960): S3801.

5. Senate Armed Services Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee and Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, Joint Hearings on Missile and Space Activities, 86th Congress, 1st sess., 1959, p. 53.

6. Jeffrey T. Richelson, “U.S. Intelligence and Soviet Star Wars,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 1986, pp. 12-13.

7. Pavel Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Forces (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), p. 182.

8. Robert S. Norris and Thomas B. Cochran, “Nuclear Weapons Databook: U.S.-USSR/Russian Strategic Offensive Nuclear Forces 1945-1996,” January 1997, p. 18.

9. Norman Polmar and Robert S. Norris, The U.S. Nuclear Arsenal: A History of Weapons and Delivery Systems Since 1945 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2009), p. 166.

10. Desmond Ball, Politics and Force Levels: The Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1980) (quoting articles in The Wall Street Journal on February 9, 1961, and The Washington Post on February 7, 1961).

11. Norris and Cochran, “Nuclear Weapons Databook,” p. 18.

12. Edgar M. Bottome, The Missile Gap: A Study of the Formulation of Military and Political Policy (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1971), p. 120 (quoting testimony by Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates before the House Appropriations Committee in January 1960).

13. David E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 294.

14. National Intelligence Council, “National Intelligence Estimate: Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015,” September 1999 (unclassified summary) (emphasis in original).

15. See Greg Thielmann, “Strategic Missile Defense: A Threat to Future Strategic Arms Reductions,” ACA Threat Assessment Brief, January 26, 2011, pp. 3-4, www.armscontrol.org/system/files/TAB_StrategicMissileDefense_ThreattoFutureNuclearArmsReduction_2.pdf.

16. Daniel Horner, “Kennedy and the Missile Gap” (paper, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Medford, Massachusetts, May 29, 1987), p. 33.

17. Richard Ned Lebow, “Was Khrushchev Bluffing in Cuba?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 1988, pp. 41-42.

18. Sergei N. Khrushchev, Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower (University Park, PA: PennsylvaniaStateUniversity Press, 2000), p. 315.

19. Horner, “Kennedy and the Missile Gap,” p. 2.

20. Ibid., p. 3.

21. Ibid.


The misperceived "missile gap" became a significant issue during the period between the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the U.S. presidential election of 1960. The story of how it arose and then quickly disappeared 50 years ago carries relevant lessons for assessing military threats today.

A World Without Nuclear Weapons Is a Joint Enterprise

James Goodby

With the entry into force of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between Russia and the United States, the time has come to widen the conversations about eliminating nuclear weapons to include other nuclear-armed states and states with advanced civil nuclear programs. Their support for creating the necessary conditions for achieving a world without nuclear weapons is essential in practice as well as in principle.

Russia and the United States have urgent unfinished business: reductions in the number of nuclear weapons beyond those scheduled in New START, including warheads associated with short-range delivery systems. Yet, talks limited to Russia and the United States alone cannot succeed in creating conditions conducive to achieving a world without nuclear weapons. The U.S. Senate, in its resolution of ratification for New START, “calls upon the other nuclear weapon states to give careful and early consideration to corresponding reductions of their own nuclear arsenals.” That is good advice.

The nuclear weapons programs of other countries are major barriers to sustained Russian-U.S. reductions in nuclear weap­onry and can encourage further proliferation in the absence of solid signs of commitment to the goals of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). These programs are cited again and again in critical commentary on the feasibility and even desirability of the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. If other states that possess nuclear weapons were to join in a reduction and elimination program, even with small initial steps, the effect on Russia and the United States would be catalytic. It would energize their efforts to move toward deep reductions and ultimately the elimination of nuclear weapons. It also would help with nonproliferation efforts around the world.

A Relic of the Cold War

Historically, the involvement of other nuclear-armed states in nuclear reductions negotiations has not been a high priority for the United States. The focus has been on U.S. negotiations with Russia because those two countries account for about 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. The involvement of other states has been seen as an obstacle in an already complex, bilateral U.S.-Russian negotiation. Furthermore, expanding the roster of countries in the negotiations has been seen as complicating U.S. relations with its allies, France and the United Kingdom. These arguments are now relics of Cold War circumstances.

Four years ago, an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal revolutionized thinking in the United States and elsewhere about the future of nuclear weapons. George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn wrote that “reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and practical measures toward achieving that goal would be, and would be perceived as, a bold initiative consistent with America’s moral heritage.”[1] They warned that the world is at a tipping point in its capacity to avoid nuclear catastrophe. The article identified several “agreed and urgent steps” that should be taken to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. Even before listing those steps, the authors called “first and foremost” for “intensive work with leaders of the countries in possession of nuclear weapons to turn the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a joint enterprise.”

During his first year in office, President Barack Obama accepted the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and the step-by-step method of achieving it. On September 24, 2009, he presided over a summit meeting of the UN Security Council on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament. In Resolution 1887, the council resolved “to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons” and called on parties to the NPT “to undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear arms reductions and disarmament.”

The United States and Russia acted together to comply with that mandate. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed New START on April 8, 2010. On December 22, 2010, the Senate gave its assent to ratification of the treaty. The Russian legislature followed suit on January 26, 2011. On February 5, 2011, New START entered into force with the exchange of instruments of ratification between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Roles for All States

The Security Council resolution did not exclude other nuclear-armed countries when it called for an undertaking by NPT parties to pursue negotiations relating to nuclear arms reduction and disarmament. No state was excused from the task of helping to create the conditions necessary for a world without nuclear weapons. The purpose was not to urge Russia and the United States to reduce their nuclear arsenals while other states looked on. In fact, the resolution called “for further progress on all aspects of disarmament to enhance global security.”

In a 2010 essay published by the AmericanAcademy of Arts and Sciences, Scott Sagan quite correctly pointed out that all parties to the NPT have a “shared responsibility” for disarmament and nonproliferation. Indeed, the treaty’s Article VI states that “[e]ach of the Parties to the Treaty”—not just the nuclear-weapon states—“undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”[2]

One of the first things that states can do is promote enhanced transparency. The final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference welcomed “efforts towards the development of nuclear disarmament verification capabilities that will be required to provide assurance of compliance with nuclear disarmament agreements for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” It noted the cooperation between Norway, a non-nuclear-weapon state, and the United Kingdom on establishing a system for verifying the dismantlement of nuclear warheads.

Transparency is a crucial part of moving toward a nuclear-weapon-free world. The five countries that the NPT recognizes as nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—held a meeting addressing that issue in London in 2009 and are expected to meet again in Paris later this year. Transparency, however, is a global requirement. Exchanges of data on nuclear programs and on holdings of fissile materials by all countries could be conducted on a regional basis, or they could be managed through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on a global basis. If the nuclear-armed states entered into an agreement not to use fissile material to build more nuclear weapons, an exchange of data would be an essential part of the verification process. Furthermore, Sidney Drell and Christopher Stubbs have suggested that the Open Skies Treaty has provided a successful framework for addressing verification challenges and that its membership should be expanded and its suite of sensors modernized. This could be an important feature of transparency programs related to production of fissile material.[3]

Agreed and Urgent Steps

These kinds of transparency and confidence-building measures might be necessary precursors to other, more concrete advances toward a nuclear-weapon-free world because reductions of weapons stockpiles likely would not be the first step that the owners of smaller nuclear arsenals would take. They would need to build more mutual confidence than currently exists and gain experience in working together. A wide array of cooperative actions is available to nuclear-armed states and to states with advanced civil nuclear programs. Many of these actions could be pursued without delay. They would block further nuclear proliferation, an essential element in the effort to eliminate the nuclear threat.

Entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was one of the “urgent” steps suggested in the Wall Street Journal op-ed. It would be a powerful nonproliferation tool. Adherence by all states to an IAEA additional protocol, a step that would promote international confidence that a country was not pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program, is another practical and realizable step. Several practical steps taken by individual states were identified in the documents emerging from the 47-state Washington nuclear security summit in April 2010. The work plan that emerged from the summit committed the countries to support the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, UN Security Council Resolution 1540, and several IAEA initiatives. The experience of working together to tighten controls over nuclear materials is in itself a confidence-building measure.

Important early progress could be accomplished by a declaration among countries that have advanced civil or military nuclear programs that “fissile materials removed from nuclear weapons being eliminated and excess to national security require­ments will not be used to manufacture nuclear weapons; no newly pro­duced fissile materials will be used in nuclear weapons; and fissile mater­ials from or within civil nuclear programs will not be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.”

This language appears in a declaration issued by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1995.[4] Early agree­ment on these points by all states with advanced nuclear programs would be a signal that they are determined to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. A coalition of states acting in this fashion would accelerate agreement by Russia and the United States on deeper cuts in their nuclear arsenals.

Discussions about a treaty with a similar intent that would be applicable evenhandedly to all countries have been under way in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, the UN forum for multilateral arms control negotiations, for several years. No serious negotiations have ever occurred, and the prospect for change in that situation is bleak. Nonetheless, these talks should continue. A binding and verifiable treaty should be negotiated, if possible, but the declaration described above would be much more than a stopgap measure. It would have value as a bridge to a vigorous joint enterprise to eliminate nuclear weapons.

Building a Coalition

International cooperation on sensitive nuclear issues should become easier if all nuclear-armed states visibly decided to opt out of nuclear weapons programs and states with advanced civil or military nuclear programs endorsed the CTBT and the declaration to disavow use of fissile material in future production of nuclear weapons. Russian and U.S. leadership will be required in measures such as these, but regional initiatives obviously must come from states in those regions. The other permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, and the United Kingdom—will have to assume leadership roles in a nonproliferation coalition if the global enterprise is to become a reality. However, this work should not be limited to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Some of the measures are complex and therefore would require some time to negotiate; the relevant countries should start discussions now. Just beginning such talks would be a symbol of their intent and would tend to establish a nonproliferation coalition. These more complex measures include:

Settlement of regional disputes. Global agreements on nuclear weapons will not be sufficient in areas of the world where conflicts between regional powers have been deep-seated and intractable. A resolution of these differences will take a long time and will be multifaceted. One initial action could be regional negotiations on military confidence-building measures such as those that were negotiated as part of the Helsinki process in Europe. Restraints on conventional military operations could be negotiated, followed by protocols affecting weapons of mass destruction to augment existing global agreements, such as the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). These might entail “adversarial” inspections between rival states. Israel has supported the concept of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. This procedure is probably the best way to deal with such weapons in that region; reliance only on global agreements is not likely to be sufficient. A final stage in this progression from regional first steps would be agreements not to permit nuclear weapons, built locally or elsewhere, within the borders of a treaty-defined region. In such cases, rules regarding permissible nuclear activities might be applied, consistent with rules worked out in broader international negotiations.

Multilateralizing uranium-enrichment programs.[5] An international norm that sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle should be subject to multinational ownership, providing opportunities to invest and participate in the management of such facilities while protecting the technology involved, could reduce incentives for states to acquire their own national facilities. All plans for new commercial enrichment facilities should be based on the presumption that the facilities will be owned multinationally and their operations safeguarded by the IAEA. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) should give preference to such facilities when considerations about selling enrichment equipment and technology emerge. Selling enrichment technology is a rare event, but it would become even rarer if the NSG agreed on this approach. Existing commercial facilities or those under construction that are not already owned multinationally should be encouraged to convert to multinational ownership, with their operations safeguarded by the IAEA.

International interim storage sites for spent nuclear fuel. The storage of spent fuel in cooling pools adjacent to the reactors in which the fuel was used is a common practice, in the United States and elsewhere. Events following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan showed the hazards that are inherent in this practice. Developing and funding a program for storing spent fuel in dry casks is a necessity. The back end of the nuclear fuel cycle has attracted considerable attention in the United States, partly because the Obama administration set aside plans to send U.S. utilities’ spent fuel to the YuccaMountain repository in Nevada. “Cradle-to-grave” fuel services that would provide for leasing and take-back arrangements currently are seen as an attractive option in Washington although the United States has been reluctant to serve as a site for returned spent fuel. Regional, interim spent-fuel centers make a great deal of sense. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher, in a presentation at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in January 2010, discussed the idea, pointing out that spent fuel could be stored at reactor sites while it was cooling and then be moved to an international interim-storage facility to await a decision on ultimate disposition.[6] (As the recent Japanese experience shows, at-reactor storage must be carefully planned; the location of reactors and associated spent-fuel cooling ponds is a critical issue.)

The idea of an interim storage facility should be pursued with a greater sense of urgency in light of the dangers shown in the case of Fukushima Daiichi. Moreover, in connection with turning the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a joint enterprise, an effort to create regional interim-storage facilities deserves a high priority. It would contribute to nonproliferation objectives by providing international safeguards for material that can be turned into weapons. Also, it visibly would strengthen the practice of shared responsibility.

Unilateral or parallel reductions or freezes in nuclear weapons stockpiles. New START provides a treaty basis for reductions in the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States. France and the United Kingdom have unilaterally reduced their nuclear weapons stockpiles. A freeze at present levels on the part of China, India, and Pakistan would be a welcome contribution by those countries to the joint enterprise. In contrast, a buildup of nuclear weapons by those states would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the United States and Russia to move beyond New START. A good beginning in providing reassurance on this score would be the suggestion above for a joint statement regarding nonuse of fissile material for weapons modeled after the 1995 Clinton-Yeltsin declaration.

Continued work with Iran to block that country’s development of a nuclear weapons capability and with North Korea to freeze and then roll back its nuclear weapons program will be essential. In fact, a failure to accomplish that level of cooperation with new or nascent nuclear-weapon states almost certainly will doom the whole nonproliferation project.

Required Conditions

At some relatively early point in a joint enterprise to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons, future Russian-U.S. reductions would become part of a multilateral framework. No longer would Russia and the United States proceed with nuclear reductions in the absence of some kind of limits on the nuclear forces of other countries. This is not the place to discuss the many models of multilateral nuclear arms reductions. Such models are not valid predictors of actual reductions, but they do provide a framework for examining key security issues that countries will face as they approach and enter the end state, i.e., no assembled nuclear weapons. Among the issues that the nuclear-armed states and the countries with advanced civilian nuclear programs could usefully discuss at an early date is the conditions that should be met before nuclear weapons are completely eliminated. This exercise should help them realize that the goal is a difficult one to reach, but by no means is it a fantasy. It should help to validate the goal and strengthen the commitment to proceed, step by step, to a world without nuclear weapons, and it should help them design the kinds of practical safeguards they would want to have in any program intended to eliminate nuclear weapons.

At this point, it appears that four key conditions will need to be met during the course of reducing nuclear arsenals:

Procedures for challenge inspections to search for concealed warheads should have been established and satisfactorily exercised. U.S.-Russian agreements following New START are to deal with nondeployed warheads. Methods for monitoring declared nondeployed warheads have been studied for many years. These include the use of chain-of-custody techniques, such as tags and seals and perimeter and portal monitoring. Searching for concealed warheads is a different matter, and procedures akin to those used by the IAEA under its additional protocol or in the CTBT or CWC would come into play. This would require short-notice visits to suspect sites and some kind of managed inspections with agreed types of instrumentation.

As Sidney Drell and Raymond Jeanloz point out, “[I]t is not feasible to sustain a concealed stockpile of effective and reliable nuclear weapons by passive means.”[7] Activities conducted by a state that tried to conceal a viable cache of nuclear weapons would be a tip-off to the likely location of undeclared concealed warheads. Such activities would justify a request for an on-site inspection on short notice. Effective operation for some years of a monitoring system that included short-notice visits on demand would be one condition for proceeding to eliminate all assembled weapons.

Warheads scheduled for elimination should have been dismantled under conditions that would assure that their actual dismantling can be confirmed, with the nuclear components placed in secure and monitored storage, pending final disposition. The United States and Russia have discussed the mechanics of doing this at least twice, once bilaterally and later with the participation of the IAEA.[8] Techniques have been proposed that would protect especially sensitive design information while confirming that the nuclear components of a weapon were inside a container queuing up for dismantling. The Nunn-Lugar program, adopted by the U.S. Congress under the leadership of Senators Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Nunn (D-Ga.), provides funding and expertise to promote nonproliferation activities, originally in the states of the former Soviet Union. Under this program, the United States supported Russia in the construction of storage facilities for dismantled warheads. The irreversibility of dismantling would be assured by U.S. and Russian inspectors at storage sites in each country. IAEA involvement also might be useful. Methods that have been developed by the United States and Russia might not be directly transferred in every detail to other states. In each country that has started the process of eliminating nuclear weapons, however, arrangements very similar to the U.S.-Russian ones should have been put in place before agreement to complete the elimination process.

Delivery vehicles scheduled for elimination should have been verifiably destroyed and procedures should be in place to confirm that dual-use systems—those capable of delivering conventional or nuclear warheads—have not been armed with nuclear warheads. This condition is necessary to assure that countries cannot break out rapidly from an agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons. It is an essential element of the preceding two conditions. Techniques for eliminating delivery vehicles such as bombers and ballistic and cruise missiles have been applied in the original START and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and will be applied in New START.

The complication presented by the use of conventional high-explosive warheads with delivery vehicles typically associated with nuclear weapons has been resolved until now by counting all such delivery vehicles as nuclear armed. That will not be appropriate as nuclear weapons are reduced to zero and a relatively large number of delivery vehicles are equipped with conventional warheads. A procedure wherein all nuclear-capable delivery vehicles are inspected to confirm the absence of nuclear weapons will be required. Previous agreements also have banned nuclear weapons storage sites within specified distances of missile sites. Some variation on this arrangement also will be necessary, as well as new cooperative measures designed to facilitate detection of illicit movement of nuclear warheads.

Compliance mechanisms should have been established to enforce nuclear agreements. Commissions designed to discuss and, if possible, resolve questions that arise in the process of implementing arms reduction treaties have been organized as integral parts of U.S.-Soviet/Russian nuclear reduction agreements; a similar commission is part of New START. Those consultative instruments are essential to the management of treaty compliance and probably would be adopted by other countries that have been engaged in bilateral adversarial relationships. As nuclear weapons reductions become a multilateral enterprise, bilateral or regional oversight of implementation will have to be supplemented by international arrangements by entities such as the IAEA or the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, established in December 1999 and terminated in June 2007, to monitor Iraq’s compliance with UN Security Council resolutions calling for elimination of all Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Creating a strengthened international capacity to enforce treaty compliance will be a daunting challenge, but it is one of the conditions that should have been met before countries get rid of the last of their nuclear weapons. There generally will be ambiguities about specific issues of compliance. For that reason, the basic requirements of a verification system are the capacity to present credible, preferably ironclad, evidence regarding any violations of a treaty. That means that an enforcement organization must have the technical expertise, the international legitimacy, and the freedom of access that will permit it to convincingly tell the public what it has discovered. Armed with that evidence, the UN Security Council, if necessary, can authorize actions under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. If one of the permanent members of the council is involved, other nuclear-weapon states can take actions to reconstitute nuclear arsenals that they had dismantled. This form of nuclear deterrence is likely to be the enforcement mechanism for many, perhaps most, cases of potential violations.

Progress should have been made in addressing and resolving regional disputes that threaten to trigger military actions. One of the merits of making the elimination of nuclear weapons a truly international enterprise is that it shines a spotlight on “frozen conflicts,” disputes that have festered for so long that they have become accepted as inevitable. Such disputes will have to be addressed and at least ameliorated, if not completely resolved, if global progress in the elimination of nuclear weapons is to be anything more than a lovely dream. Russia and the United States are very unlikely to consider reducing their stocks of nuclear weapons to the 500 level, one of the targets often cited, while Pakistan continues to build nuclear warheads as has been alleged recently. Other countries that might be contemplating increasing their inventories should consider the impact on the global holdings of nuclear weapons and the potential for accelerated proliferation of national nuclear weapons programs. If a resolution of nuclear issues in Iran and North Korea cannot be found, the world certainly will tip toward the expectation, almost certainly a correct one, that the NPT no longer will be a serious factor in international relations.

The regional disputes in the Near East, South Asia, and Northeast Asia have profound implications for any effort to save and extend the nonproliferation regime that has been in place since the 1970s. The news on those fronts is not so bad. Recently, India and Pakistan tentatively agreed to renew talks. The vague outlines of a possible settlement in the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia more broadly have been discernible for many years. Recent democratic revolutions in the Near East have unsettled that region, but they point toward a focus on internal reform rather than external adventures.

Summing Up

The days when the interests of two superpowers dominated the world’s strategic nuclear agenda are over. The days when the five NPT nuclear-weapon states had a decisive voice in global nuclear weapons issues are fading fast. As Russian and U.S. nuclear forces are reduced, other countries’ nuclear arsenals will loom larger in security calculations. Regional conflicts also generate their own sets of impulses that affect nuclear decisions. The political dynamics of Asia and Europe are different today than during the Cold War. Eliminating the threat posed by nuclear weapons requires that many states actively participate in negotiations to reduce all nuclear weapons pro­grams anywhere in the world.

The level of nuclear forces that Moscow and Washington may try to reach in the next phase could be achieved without the participation of other nuclear-armed states. Russia and the United States still will have by far the greatest numbers of nuclear weapons in their arsenals even after additional reductions. In practice, however, unless there is a widely and, preferably, universally shared commitment to progressively eliminate all nuclear weapons, the momentum necessary to sustain further Russian-U.S. negoti­ations will be lost.

The recognized nuclear-weapon states and the countries possessing advanced civil or military nuclear programs should join together to begin the process necessary to create conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons. These conditions can be identified and discussed even now, and implementing the first steps will provide the necessary real-world experience to fulfill those conditions and achieve the vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world. A number of near- and midterm measures are available and could be implemented in short order. Others are more difficult, but beginning to talk about them as a joint enterprise would be very important symbolically.

James Goodby is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at StanfordUniversity and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He was involved in the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the negotiation of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, military transparency measures in Europe, and cooperative threat reduction. He is the author or editor of several books on international security. This article draws from his chapter in SIPRI Yearbook 2010: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security.


1. See 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.

2. Scott D. Sagan, “Shared Responsibilities for Nuclear Disarmament,” Daedalus, Vol. 138, No. 4 (Fall 2009), pp. 157-168.

3. Sidney Drell and Christopher Stubbs, “Realizing the Potential of Open Skies” (unpublished) (copy on file with the author).

4. American Presidency Project, “Joint Statement on the Transparency and Irreversibility of the Process of Reducing Nuclear Weapons,” Moscow, May 10, 1995, www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=51341.

5. For a fuller discussion of this concept, see James Goodby and Geoffrey Forden, “Proceedings of MIT’s Workshop on Internationalizing Uranium Enrichment Facilities: Executive Summary,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, October 20-21, 2008, http://web.mit.edu/stgs/pdfs/SummaryUpdatedMarch2009.pdf. For other papers associated with the workshop, see http://web.mit.edu/stgs/WorkshopOct2008.html.

6. Ellen Tauscher, “Addressing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Internationalizing Enrichment Services and Solving the Problem of Spent Fuel Storage,” Stanford, CA, January 19, 2010, www.state.gov/t/us/136426.htm.

7. Sidney Drell and Raymond Jeanloz, “Nuclear Deterrence After Zero,” in Deterrence: Its Past and Future, ed. George Shultz, Sidney Drell, and James Goodby (Stanford, CA: Hoover Press, 2011), ch. 3.

8. For a discussion of the former, see Harold Feiveson, ed., The Nuclear Turning Point (Washington, DC: Brookings Press, 1999).


Conversations about eliminating nuclear weapons should be expanded to include countries beyond Russia and the United States. Talks limited to those two states cannot create the conditions that would lead to a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Nuclear Reductions After New START: Obstacles and Opportunities

Anatoly Diakov, Eugene Miasnikov, and Timur Kadyshev

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) entered into force in February. U.S. and Russian policymakers have indicated that they are preparing for talks on further reductions. At the same time, it is becoming more obvious that the list of issues to be discussed includes more than just strategic offensive arms.

In March 29 remarks prepared for a nuclear policy conference in Washington, U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon said the next agreement “should include both non-deployed and nonstrategic nuclear weapons.”[1] The New START resolution of advice and consent approved by the U.S. Senate includes a requirement that the administration seek to initiate negotiations with Russia on an agreement that “would address the disparity between the tactical nuclear weapons stockpiles of the Russian Federation and of the United States and would secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.”[2]

Russian official statements have indicated a willingness to discuss tactical nuclear weapons, but only in conjunction with other issues. With regard to tactical weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “We are ready to discuss this very complex topic in the framework of a comprehensive approach to strategic stability.” He also called for “coordinated effort” on missile defense.[3]

The ratification statement of the Russian State Duma says that

questions concerning potential reductions and limitations of non-strategic nuclear arms must be considered in a complex of other problems of arms control, including deployment of a ballistic missile defense system, plans for creation and deployment of strategic delivery vehicles armed with non-nuclear weapons, [and] a risk of space militarization, as well as existing quantitative and qualitative disparity in conventional arms, on the basis of necessity to maintain strategic stability and strict observance of a principle of equal and indivisible security for all.[4]

This article attempts to analyze the critical factors for making deeper bilateral, verifiable nuclear reductions possible, as well as the ways to resolve related problems. In the view of the authors, the most important issues are ballistic missile defenses, nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and conventional strategic arms.

Ballistic missile defenses are the key issue. On one hand, reducing the gap in the two sides’ attitudes toward missile defense would promote resolution of the two other issues. On the other hand, a lack of progress on missile defense will block dialogue on tactical weapons and conventional strategic arms as well as on further reductions of strategic nuclear arms.

Ballistic Missile Defense

The Russian expert community generally agrees that missile defenses affect strategic stability. Ballistic missile defenses undermine an adversary’s deterrent capability, giving the adversary incentives to build up offensive nuclear arsenals to compensate. Moreover, because missile defenses work much better against a limited attack, they create a dynamic in which a pre-emptive all-out strike would be an obvious choice for both sides in a crisis situation.

The Russian military is concerned about U.S. plans for the development of a global missile defense system. These concerns are based partly on the known capabilities of existing and planned deployments of U.S. missile defense elements, but even more on the perspective of the further development and augmentation of these elements. The Obama administration’s approach to the development of missile defenses provides for deployment by 2020 of a system capable of intercepting intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).[5] U.S. sources admit that the new system will be more effective in countering individual long-range ballistic missiles. According to official Russian views, if such a system is developed, then enhancing it to the point that it would pose a threat to Russia’s deterrence capability would be just a matter of time.

This was the real reason for Russia’s insistence on keeping the statement on the existing interrelationship between strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms in the preamble to New START. Nevertheless, the two parties understand the text of the preamble differently. The Senate’s ratification resolution states that the preamble does not limit the U.S. missile defense deployment plans. In contrast, the Russian law on ratification of this treaty stresses the importance of the preamble and explicitly stipulates the right to withdraw from the treaty in the event of U.S. (or other countries’) deployment of missile defenses that are capable of significantly decreasing the effectiveness of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.

Understanding that disagreement on missile defenses can not only block further reductions of nuclear arms, but also destroy New START, the Obama administration invited Russia to participate in the development of NATO’s missile defense system, which would be capable of defending all alliance members. During the November 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon, NATO countries reached an agreement to build such a system. Russia agreed to discuss possible cooperation.

What kind of cooperation is possible? Would it help remove Russia’s concerns about missile defenses, as the Obama administration seems to intend?

From Russia’s point of view, the goal of such cooperation must be to build a joint missile defense system, in which each party would have its own zone of responsibility.[6] The parties would participate in the project on equal terms by jointly designing the architecture of the system, its configuration, and working principles. Each party would cover its own sector of responsibility—for Russia, its territory and neighboring states to the south, and for NATO, its southern flank—so that ground-based sensors are not directed toward the interior of the defended area. Therefore, each party would rely on the other in a matter of national security—a situation that requires trust and confidence between close allies rather than the kind of partnership currently existing between Russia and NATO.

The goal of Russia’s offer to build a sectoral missile defense system is to avoid deployment in Europe of missile defenses capable of neutralizing Russia’s strategic capability. It also expresses Russia’s readiness to make a commitment to building a working system capable of defending against intermediate- and long-range missiles. At the same time, the most that Russia can offer now and in foreseeable future for such a system is ground-based early-warning radars; detection, tracking, and identification systems; and relevant technologies. This is clearly not sufficient for building its part of sectoral missile defenses.

Because the United States and NATO intend to build a system of their own based on a phased approach and offer to Russia only the option of jointly investigating the possibility of linking existing and planned systems, their response was quite predictable: Russia’s offer goes beyond what they are ready to accept. Judging by statements of U.S. officials, the planned NATO missile defense system apparently will represent the U.S. system supplemented and extended by missile defense elements of European NATO member states. A similar role evidently is intended for Russia. By “cooperation,” the United States apparently means integration of Russian elements (existing and prospective ones) into the U.S. system.[7] However, the phased approach pursued by the Obama administration is still under development, while the joint NATO system is even further from deployment. As for the Russian role in joint missile defense, the United States and its NATO allies have not reached a common understanding so far. In any case, the parties agreed that the issue will be studied by technical experts, who will prepare a comprehensive joint analysis of the future framework for missile defense cooperation. The progress of this analysis will be assessed at the June 2011 meeting of Russian and NATO defense ministers in Brussels.[8]

If a NATO missile defense system is created, equipment for missile launch detection, tracking, and interception will be deployed in Europe. At the same time, taking into account the growing gap between Russian and U.S. capabilities in high-tech weapons, a realistic scenario to consider would be that Russian participation in such a system is limited to sensors. This system, designed to cope with individual missile launches, would not be capable of affecting Russia’s strategic deterrence capability. However, the Russian military is concerned that the U.S.-NATO missile defense system will be improved significantly and that the improvement, combined with the reduction in Russian nuclear forces, will significantly weaken Russia’s nuclear deterrent capability.[9]

Thus, the approaches of the parties to the missile defense problem are radically different, making the problem difficult to solve in the near future. However, it is possible and essential to undertake steps that would help to reduce the acuteness of the problem gradually.

First of all, it is necessary to renew the confidence-building measures and efforts to develop cooperation in missile defenses that were declared several times during the last 10 years. An important step in this direction would be the joint work on assessment of capabilities of third countries in the area of missile defenses in order to develop a common understanding of emerging threats. In particular, implementation of the Joint Data Exchange Center (JDEC) for the exchange of data from early-warning systems and notifications of missile launches agreed in 2000 or even of two centers (in Moscow and Brussels), as was proposed by President Vladimir Putin during his meeting with President George W. Bush in 2007, would facilitate that. Using these centers, the parties could exchange data on missile launches by third countries. In the future, JDECs and detection and analyses elements linked with them could form the basis of a common information subsystem of the joint missile defense systems that also would include independent command and control and interception systems.

Certain steps already are being taken. The United States proposed possible cooperation with Moscow that could include exchanging launch information, setting up a joint data-fusion center, allowing greater transparency with respect to NATO’s missile defense plans and exercises, and conducting a joint analysis to determine areas of future cooperation.[10] The joint data-fusion center would allow Russian and NATO officers to have simultaneous access to missile launch data from sensors in NATO countries and Russia, giving both sides a full, real-time picture of potential threats. These centers would combine data from fixed and mobile radar sites, as well as from satellites.[11]

These steps, if implemented, could alleviate Russian concerns about U.S.-NATO missile defenses in Europe, help develop a common view on potential threats, and serve as a basis for further, closer cooperation on missile defenses and possibly other areas.

Russian military experts also propose the following possible areas of cooperation in missile defenses:

• Renewal of joint computer tests of theater missile defenses, expanding their scope beyond theater missile defense to practical tests of real missile defense systems at test ranges

• Use of Russian test ranges and related infrastructure, as well as experience in the design of target detection and identification systems (and in some other areas) for development of interception systems

• Use of Russian space-launch capabilities, including converted ICBMs, for putting in orbit U.S. space tracking and surveillance system satellites[12]

Along with military cooperation, the parties should undertake joint diplomatic efforts on the limitation and elimination of missile threats within the framework of international regimes, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime, and by working directly with countries that could pose a threat.

Confidence-building measures in missile defense could include the search for points of common understanding, which is being conducted within the NATO-Russia Council and in Russian-U.S. dialogue. Work on missile defense projects that may not be ambitious but are mutually profitable, such as the examples listed above, could reduce existing tensions significantly and open even wider possibilities for cooperation.

Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons

One may find different definitions in the literature describing the class of nonstrategic nuclear weapons—tactical, substrategic, or short-range nuclear weapons. In this paper, the term “nonstrategic nuclear weapons” refers to U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons associated with delivery systems that are not covered by New START.

Although nonstrategic weapons are not covered by arms control agreements, the unilateral and reciprocal initiatives adopted by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, led to a significant reduction of U.S. and Russian nonstrategic stockpiles. Because these initiatives are not legally binding, however, each party carried out the reductions on a voluntary basis, without applying bilateral transparency and verification measures.

The United States and Russia have never declared their holdings of nonstrategic weapons. According to estimates of nongovernmental experts, the United States currently has about 500 such weapons in its active arsenal, of which about 200 are deployed on the territories of U.S. allies in Europe.[13] During the Cold War, the principal mission of U.S. nuclear weapons stationed in Europe was providing nuclear assurance for European allies and extended nuclear deterrence against the threat from the superior conventional forces of the Soviet Union and its allies. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, this mission of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe has lost its significance. As a result, a number of European countries (Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway) attempted to raise the issue of withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe.[14] However, this initiative has not received adequate support; in accordance with the new Strategic Concept approved by NATO at its Lisbon summit, the alliance remains nuclear, and U.S. nuclear weapons continue to be stationed in Europe.[15]

According to Russian officials, the number of Russian nonstrategic weapons currently is less than 25 percent of what it was in 1991.[16] Unofficial estimates of Russia’s nonstrategic arsenal vary from 2,000 to 5,000, but the most reliable sources agree that Russia currently has about 2,000 such weapons in its active stockpile. According to official information, all Russian nonstrategic weapons were removed from their delivery vehicles and placed at central storage facilities located within Russian national territory so that adequate measures to ensure their safety and security are implemented.[17]

The principal U.S. interest in negotiations on nonstrategic weapons is linked to Russia’s numerical superiority in this area.[18] Such a disparity is also worrisome for U.S. allies in Europe. In view of this disparity, even before the conclusion of New START, several official U.S. documents stated that the United States needs to pursue significant numerical reductions of Russian nonstrategic weapons.[19] Some nongovernmental experts and official representatives of certain states expressed concerns with regard to the safety of these weapons and tried to exploit such concerns by referring to the possibility that nonstrategic weapons will be stolen and will fall into terrorists’ hands. This scenario is used to strengthen the argument for adding these weapons to the agenda for negotiations, but such allegations are groundless.

Although the new Russian military doctrine, adopted on February 5, 2010, does not provide any specific information on missions and roles for nonstrategic weapons, many Russian experts believe that Russia has increased its reliance on nuclear weapons, especially nonstrategic ones, because of its geostrategic and economic situation. Russia has to take into account that its territory is within the range of nuclear weapons of other nuclear-weapon states located along its perimeter. The expansion of NATO, the approach of its military structure toward Russian borders, and the technological and numerical superiority of the alliance in conventional forces also are noted.[20] In this context, the Russian political and military leadership is inclined to consider nonstrategic weapons as a means to compensate for the weakness of Russian conventional forces, a tool that plays a vital role in ensuring national security.

Russia’s current approach to establishing control over nonstrategic nuclear weapons is shaped by several factors. First, U.S. nuclear arms deployed in Europe are considered by Moscow as strategic because they have the potential to threaten Russian strategic assets. NATO’s eastward expansion exacerbates the concerns generated by this point of view. For this reason, Moscow considers consolidation of nonstrategic nuclear weapons within national territories to be a precondition for any discussions on the issue of these weapons.[21] This precondition is equivalent to requiring the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe.

Second, in Moscow’s view, the roles and missions of nonstrategic nuclear weapons make it impossible to consider them in isolation from other types of arms, including conventional arms. Moscow insists that possible further steps with respect to nonstrategic nuclear weapons, including development of transparency measures, can be taken only in the context of the general military-strategic situation and the factors that directly affect the maintenance of the balance of power in the world, including the nuclear weapons capabilities of other states.

Third, Moscow reasonably believes that Washington is unlikely to abandon the principle of parity in possible future negotiations on these types of nuclear weapons. Therefore, the U.S. side will likely insist on equal numbers of nonstrategic weapons for the two sides.

Given these factors, and the recent NATO decision to preserve U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, Moscow has no motivation to start negotiations on nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

There is a belief in the nongovernmental community that including nondeployed strategic weapons on the agenda of negotiations could induce Russia to enter negotiations on nonstrategic weapons.[22] The United States has more than 2,000 nondeployed strategic weapons, many more than Russia has. In the past, the inventory of U.S. nondeployed weapons was regarded by Russian experts as giving the United States the capability for a rapid buildup of its strategic forces and thus a significant advantage. However, bringing nondeployed strategic weapons into negotiations may not be attractive enough for Russia to agree to negotiations on nonstrategic nuclear weapons for political and technical reasons. Among the political reasons, the most important are NATO’s unwillingness to discuss the Russian proposal for creating a new security system in Europe and the alliance’s recent decision to continue basing U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe.

Technical reasons are linked to the fact that establishing control over nonstrategic nuclear weapons as well as nondeployed strategic weapons means application of transparency and verifications measures over nuclear warheads themselves. However, the United States and Russia have no experience yet in warhead monitoring. Moreover, the development and use of an inspection mechanism for nuclear warheads is prevented by the fact that their design, manufacturing, and maintenance are among the most tightly guarded secrets in any nuclear-weapon state. In addition, asymmetries in the Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons production infrastructures and the sensitivity of questions regarding transportation and storage of nuclear weapons should be taken into account. For these reasons, development and implementation of control and verification measures with regard to nuclear warheads is an extremely difficult task from a technical point of view. Its solution will require significant efforts of experts in both countries and can be achieved only if a sufficient level of mutual confidence between the states is established.

Therefore, taking the foregoing into consideration, attempts to include nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Russian-U.S./NATO negotiations do not look promising. Under such circumstances, coordinated unilateral initiatives with regard to nuclear weapons seem preferable, although such initiatives would not be legally binding. First of all, such unilateral initiatives could be aimed at the introduction and development of transparency measures in Russia, the United States, and NATO.

Transparency measures could be implemented in two phases. First, arsenals of U.S. and Russian nondeployed nuclear weapons could be divided into two categories. The first category would include nuclear weapons assigned to deployed delivery systems but placed at storage sites as a hedge (active arsenal). The second category would include nuclear weapons with expired lifetimes and slated for disassembly and disposal.

In the first stage of implementing transparency measures, Russia, the United States, and NATO could voluntarily

• share information about the total number of nondeployed nuclear weapons eliminated since 1992;

• share information about the number of nuclear weapons associated with different types of delivery systems that were completely eliminated in accordance with the unilateral commitments in 1991 (e.g., land mines and artillery shells);

• share information annually on the total number of nuclear weapons in the first category (active arsenal) and on the locations at which the weapons are stored, with each side undertaking commitments that weapons of this category will stay only in declared storage sites; and

• declare that they have no plans to transfer weapons from the second (to-be-eliminated) category to the first category.

This exchange of information could be implemented confidentially, in accordance with the national legislation of each side.

Another initiative that could greatly facilitate progress on establishing a verification regime over nonstrategic nuclear weapons would be unilateral commitments by Russia and the United States not to research, develop, and manufacture new types of such weapons.

In the second stage, the sides could

• exchange information on the number of nondeployed nuclear weapons associated with each type of delivery system;

• permit visits to the facilities where weapons of the first category are stored, the purpose being to confirm that the number of weapons stored does not exceed the declared number;

• provide evidence of elimination of weapons of the second category; and

• permit visits to weapons storage facilities of the second category on completion of weapons elimination procedures.

The implementation of the second phase will require an agreement on the protection of sensitive information provided by the sides, for example, location of storage facilities.

In parallel with the implementation of the above initiatives, Russian and U.S. experts jointly could develop technical means and procedures for nuclear weapons verification. It should be noted that Russian and U.S. specialists already have carried out a joint effort in the mid-1990s aimed at developing verification methods for monitoring nuclear warhead inventories and eliminating them while protecting sensitive information. It had been assumed that the sides would have verification means and procedures at their disposal if Russia and the United States could agree to negotiate monitoring of nondeployed nuclear weapons.

Strategic Conventional Arms

Over the last several years, the Russian side has suggested more than once that further steps in U.S. and Russian nuclear arms reductions cannot be made without taking into account existing U.S. programs to develop strategic systems armed with non-nuclear weapons.[23] Russian officials also emphasized the existence of a strong link between the Pentagon’s prompt global-strike concept, which serves as a framework for development of strategic non-nuclear arms, and ballistic missile defense programs.[24] Linked together, these developments are seen in Russia as a threat to the survivability of its future strategic forces.

Over the last few years, these types of risks have been accentuated in documents reflecting views of the Russian military-political leadership. Both “The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation Until 2020” and “The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation,” adopted in 2009 and 2010, respectively, list deployment of strategic conventional precision-guided weapons systems as one of the main risks for Russia, along with the development and deployment of strategic missile defense and the militarization of space.

The views on the U.S. side regarding strategic conventional arms fundamentally differ from the Russian views. The U.S. side gives a high priority to development of conventional systems with strategic range as well as ballistic missile defenses, while objecting to any limitation in these areas.

Although the Russian military industry was given the task of developing precision-guided munitions, the relevant budget allocations are not comparable to those assigned to U.S. development programs. Therefore, the existing gap between the United States and Russia will only widen in the future. For this reason, development of strategic conventional arms likely will be one of the major obstacles on the way to deep reductions of nuclear weapons.

The Russian side insisted that the issue of strategic conventional arms become a topic of the New START negotiations. The treaty contains the following measures:

• Numerical limits on ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), ICBM and SLBM launchers, and deployed warheads on conventional ICBMs and SLBMs

• Transparency measures with respect to strategic delivery systems equipped for conventional armaments if similar systems equipped for nuclear armaments exist (ICBMs, ballistic missile submarines, heavy bombers)

• Limited transparency measures with respect to strategic delivery systems equipped for conventional armaments if similar systems equipped for nuclear armaments have been eliminated or converted to systems equipped for conventional armaments (cruise-missile submarines, heavy bombers)[25]

One should underscore that New START limits strategic conventional arms to a much lesser extent than did the original START, which expired in 2009. Moreover, the new treaty does not prohibit development of some types of strategic arms that were banned by the previous treaty.

In spite of the agreement reached, the problem of strategic conventional arms may become a sticking point even for implementation of New START. When the Obama administration submitted New START to Congress, it made clear that it does not contain any constraints on testing, development, and deployment of current or planned prompt global-strike systems. Perhaps to reinforce this argument, the Department of Defense has decided not to develop systems for conventional prompt global-strike missions based on traditional ballistic missiles and instead to explore boost-glide concepts that have a nonballistic flight trajectory.[26] According to the article-by-article analysis of New START by the U.S. Department of State, it is the view of the U.S. side that not all new kinds of weapons systems of strategic range would be new kinds of strategic offensive arms subject to New START. Specifically, the Obama administration stated that it would not consider future strategic-range non-nuclear systems that do not otherwise meet the definitions of the treaty to be new kinds of strategic offensive arms for purposes of the treaty.[27] A similar understanding was expressed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s and full Senate’s resolutions of advice and consent to ratification.[28]

The Russian side adheres to an entirely different interpretation. The federal law on New START ratification states that all strategic offensive arms, including new types of offensive arms with strategic range, are subject to the treaty provisions.

The question of applicability of the provisions of New START to any new kind of strategic-range offensive arms should be resolved within the framework of the Bilateral Consultative Commission prior to the deployment of such new kinds of arms. Existing differences could be resolved, provided that the sides demonstrate openness and a readiness to build mutual confidence. In particular, transparency in the U.S. programs for development of strategic non-nuclear arms and restraint in the deployment of these weapons would help to alleviate Russian concerns.

Negotiations on limiting strategic non-nuclear arms, which seem possible only within the framework of a wider bilateral dialogue on further nuclear arms reductions, could be an additional mechanism for overcoming disagreements. Although the current U.S. administration’s hands are tied by the Senate resolution, which prohibits making the prompt global-strike programs a bargaining chip in future negotiations, it seems that a bilateral discussion of this issue is necessary.

At the same time, one should acknowledge that Moscow has not yet articulated unambiguously what kind of arms, along with conventional ICBMs and SLBMs, it regards as strategic conventional arms. Its position on the question of whether other existing conventional offensive arms (heavy bombers and long-range air- and sea-launched cruise missiles) also should fall into this category is not defined yet. Some Russian military experts consider these types of arms to be a substantial destabilizing factor because of their covertness and capability to reach targets relatively quickly.

It also is unclear whether Russia would insist that some other destabilizing conventional high-precision arms not covered by arms control measures be a subject of the discussions. In particular, should there be limits on basing tactical strike aircraft on territories of new NATO members? Because they are armed with high-precision weapons and have a short flight time, such aircraft could be seen as a potential threat to Russian strategic forces. Moreover, one cannot rule out the possibility that Russia will propose limiting patrol areas of submarines carrying long-range sea-launched cruise missiles in order to prevent potential deployment of significant numbers of U.S. submarines close to Russian territory. Such a measure also could help in resolving some other problems that Russia has raised in the past—banning covert anti-submarine activity in strategic submarine deployment areas and preventing collisions of nuclear submarines.

Because such problems can only be solved in a context of a broader bilateral dialogue on further nuclear reductions, progress in this direction also depends on Russia’s readiness to discuss the issues of most interest to the United States, in particular, the issue of nonstrategic nuclear arms reduction.


U.S.-Russian cooperation on the search for complex solutions to the problems identified above can be possible only if each side takes into account the other’s security concerns. If such concerns are taken into consideration and the two sides succeed in resolving the issues discussed above, one may be able to speak about the development of more confident relations between the United States and Russia and about the appearance of conditions for further reduction of their nuclear arsenals. The suggested approach also could help to move the two countries away from relations framed by a model of mutual assured destruction, which continues to prevail in the U.S.-Russian dialogue in spite of frequently repeated declarations that the Cold War has ended and the sides have reset their relations.

Anatoly Diakov is director of the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, where Eugene Miasnikov is a senior research associate and Timur Kadyshev is a senior research scientist.


1. Donilon said, “A priority will be to address Russian tactical nuclear weapons. We will work with our NATO allies to shape an approach to reduce the role and number of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, as Russia takes reciprocal measures to reduce its nonstrategic forces and relocates its nonstrategic forces away from NATO’s borders.” With regard to verification of nondeployed and tactical warheads, he said, “We are ready to begin discussions soon with Russia on transparency and confidence-building measures that could provide the basis for creative verification measures in the next round of U.S.-Russia nuclear arms reductions.” Tom Donilon, “The Prague Agenda: The Road Ahead,” Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, Washington, D.C., March 29, 2011.

2. Treaty With Russia on Measures for Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (Treaty Doc. 111–5), 111th Cong., 2d sess., Congressional Record, Vol. 156, No. 173 (December 22, 2010): S10982 (hereinafter New START ratification resolution).

3. David Rising, “U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Treaty Goes Into Effect,” Associated Press, February 6, 2011.

4. “On the attitude of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the RF on questions of reductions and limitations of strategic offensive arms,” January 25, 2011, http://ntc.duma.gov.ru/duma_na/asozd/asozd_text.php?nm=4764-5%20%C3%C4&dt=2011 (text of the statement to the resolution of the State Duma concerning the ratification of New START) (in Russian). Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are by the authors.

5. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Fact Sheet on U.S. Missile Defense Policy: A ‘Phased, Adaptive Approach’ for Missile Defense in Europe,” September 17, 2009.

6. Viktor Yesin, “Will the European Missile Defense Project Be Implemented?” Voenno-Promyshlennyj Kurier, January 19, 2011 (in Russian).

7. Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, Keynote speech at the Transatlantic Missile Defense Conference, October 12, 2010.

8. NATO-Russia Council, Joint statement at the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, Lisbon, November 20, 2010.

9. Vasiliy Lata and Vladimir Maltsev, “Missile Defenses: Artificial Deadlock or Window of Opportunities in NATO-Russia Relations,” Indeks Bezopasnosti, N1 (96), Vol. 17 (Spring 2011), pp. 113-122 (in Russian).

10. Robert Gates, Speech at Kuznetzov Naval Academy, St. Petersburg, March 21, 2011.

11. Adam Entous, “U.S. Proposes Defense Deal With Russia,” The Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2011.

12. See, in particular, Viktor Yesin, “Will the European Missile Defense Project Be Implemented?” Voenno-Promyshlennyj Kurier, January 19, 2011 (in Russian); Vladimir Dvorkin, “Either There Will Be a Joint Missile Defense, or…” Voenno-Promyshlennyj Kurier, February 19, 2011 (in Russian).

13. Hans M. Kristensen, “Russian Tactical Nuclear Weapons,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, March 25, 2009.

14. David de Sola, “WikiLeaks: Heated Debate in Germany Over Nuclear Weapons on Its Soil,” CNN.com, December 1, 2010.

15. Oliver Meier, “NATO Revises Nuclear Policy,” Arms Control Today, December 2010.

16. Sergey Lavrov, “The New START Treaty in a Matrix of Global Security: The Political Dimension,” Mezhdunarodnyaa Zhizn’, N 7 (July 2010)(in Russian).

17. “Statement of the Delegation of the Russian Federation at the First Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2005 NPT Review Conference Under Article VI of the Treaty,” New York, April 11, 2002, www.ploughshares.ca/abolish/NPTReports/Russia02-2.pdf.

18. Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, “America’s Strategic Posture,” May 2009.

19. U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010; New START ratification resolution.

20. “Gen. Nikolay Makarov: Russia’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons - A Factor Deterring Enormous Amount of Arms Accumulated in Europe,” ITAR-TASS, December 10, 2008 (in Russian); Alexei Arbatov, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Problems and Solutions,” Voenno-Promyshlennyj Kurier, N 17 (333) (May 5, 2010), www.vpk-news.ru/17-333/geopolitics/takticheskoe-jadernoe-oruzhie-problemy-i-reshenija (in Russian).

21. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Information and Press Department, “Remarks and Response to Questions by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Press Conference on 2010 Foreign Policy Outcomes,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, January 13, 2011.

22. Steven Pifer, “After New START: What Next?” Arms Control Today, December 2010.

23. See, in particular, Dmitry Medvedev, Speech at Helsinki University, Helsinki, April 20, 2009, http://archive.kremlin.ru/eng/speeches/2009/04/20/1919_type82912type82914type84779_215323.shtml; Dmitry Medvedev, Address to the 64th session of the UN General Assembly, New York, September 24, 2009, http://archive.kremlin.ru/eng/speeches/2009/09/24/1638_type82914_221817.shtml.

24. A.I. Antonov, Speaking notes from the NATO-Russia Council meeting, Brussels, October 17, 2007, www.nato-russia-council.info/htm/EN/news_33.shtml.

25. Eugene Miasnikov, “Strategic Conventional Arms: Problems and Solutions,” Indeks Bezopasnosti, N 1 (96), Vol. 17 (2011), pp. 123-130, http://pircenter.org/data/publications/sirus1-11/Analysis-Miasnikov.pdf (in Russian).

26. Tom Collina, “U.S. Alters Non-Nuclear Prompt Strike Plan,” Arms Control Today, April 2011.

27. Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, U.S. State Department, “Article-by-Article Analysis of New START Treaty Documents,” May 5, 2010, art. V.

28. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Treaty With Russia on Measures for Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the New START Treaty), 111th Cong., 2nd sess., 2010, Exec. Rep. 6, 92-93; New START ratification resolution.


Key issues for the next round of U.S.-Russian arms reductions are ballistic missile defenses, nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and strategic conventional weapons. To reach agreement, each side must recognize the other’s security concerns.


Pursuing the Prague Agenda: An Interview With White House Coordinator Gary Samore

Interviewed by Peter Crail, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Gary Samore is White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction terrorism. Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, he was vice president for studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. During the Clinton administration, he served as special assistant to the president and senior director for nonproliferation and export controls.

Arms Control Today spoke with Samore in his office April 7. Among the topics covered in the interview were the current impasse in talks with Iran on its nuclear program, the modernization and expansion of nuclear weapons programs in Asia, and the U.S. approach to talks with Russia on missile defense and tactical nuclear weapons.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: It has now been two years since President Barack Obama’s April 2009 Prague speech, in which he outlined his vision for addressing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. A central part of that vision was the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [New START] with Russia, which entered into force earlier this year.

But New START still leaves both sides with very substantial numbers of nuclear weapons. The president has declared his intention to seek further bilateral nuclear reductions involving deployed and nondeployed, strategic and tactical warheads, and national security adviser Tom Donilon recently said, “We are ready to begin discussions soon with Russia on transparency and confidence-building measures that could provide the basis for creative verification measures in the next round.”

What factors will help determine how much further each side is prepared to trim its remaining arsenals? What types of verification, transparency, and confidence-building measures would help provide the basis for further reductions?

Samore: Well, let me speak on the U.S. side because I can’t really talk about how the Russians make their decisions—but I can speculate. As far as we’re concerned, we’ll need to do a strategic review of what our force requirements are and then, based on that, the president will have options available for additional reductions. That review is ongoing. It’s likely to take quite a bit of time because we’ve reached the level in our forces where further reductions will raise questions about whether we retain the triad or whether we go to a system that only is a dyad. Those are important considerations. Reductions below the level that we have now are going to require some more fundamental questions about force structure.

Once we have that review in place, then we’ll be able to actually start a real negotiation with the Russians in terms of providing them with a position. On the verification and the transparency piece, we believe that the next treaty or the next agreement should include nondeployed systems, which have never been monitored or limited under arms control agreements. We believe that tactical nuclear weapons should be included in the overall ceiling. One approach to take, which is our inclination at this point, is to have a single ceiling that would include both deployed and nondeployed, strategic and nonstrategic [weapons]. And then, both sides, given the different force structures we have, would have some freedom to mix under that total ceiling. But in order to make that kind of an approach work, you would have to have inspections that we’ve never had before, and that would include inspections of nuclear weapons storage facilities.

I think you would need to have some kind of a mechanism to account for nuclear weapons that are destroyed because we have a huge backlog of nuclear weapons that are waiting to be destroyed, and the Russians will want to know how to account for those because, in theory, they could be reused. So, to me, the next treaty or agreement is going to require a very different set of verification and transparency measures, and up to now, both sides have been reluctant to agree. Frankly, the Russians are much more cautious than we are when it comes to verification, so we’re going to have to overcome serious hurdles if we’re going to get down into an agreement that gets at the nondeployed forces.

ACT: Is it accurate to say the rationale for the majority of U.S. nuclear forces is Russia’s nuclear force?

Samore: If you look at the NPR [2010 “Nuclear Posture Review Report”], you’ll see the rationale for our nuclear force structure.

ACT: Does the administration foresee further U.S. nuclear reductions if Russia’s deployed nuclear force shrinks below the 1,550-warhead level allowed by New START?

Samore: As the NPR says, at this point it makes sense for there to be some parity between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, so we don’t rule out taking steps on our own. In the absence of a formal agreement or treaty, there may be parallel steps that both sides could take or even unilateral steps that the U.S. could take. But those are not—decisions haven’t been made yet. Right now we have the New START treaty to implement, which gives us seven years to [come] down to the levels that are identified there. Whether we do things in addition to that or that would supersede that, that would depend very much on the discussions that we have with the Russians.

ACT: During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama said, “Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment’s notice...increases the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation” and pledged to “address this dangerous situation.”

The NPR report calls for the evaluation of options that could increase the president’s decision-making time regarding the use of nuclear weapons in times of crisis. News reports suggest new presidential guidance will be formulated that may address this matter.

What specific steps are under consideration that could reduce the potential risks of accident or miscalculation due to so-called prompt launch posture?

Samore: You’ll notice that in Tom Donilon’s [March 29] speech [at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace], when he talks about the strategic review, he mentions that alert postures will be one of the factors that will be addressed in that review. We’re expecting that options will be presented to the president that will look at the implications of changing the alert status and postures and what impact that would have on force size and structure.

ACT: Russian leaders continue to express concern about the more advanced U.S. missile interceptors planned for the later phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach.

Could you update us on the status of the ongoing U.S.-Russian talks on missile defense cooperation and describe the types of missile defense cooperation that these discussions might produce? For example, would it focus on joint early-warning data sharing, an agreement not to target defensive systems against the other side’s strategic offensive systems, or something else?

Samore: We’ve had very senior-level discussions recently with the Russians on missile defense cooperation including Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates’ discussions when he was in Moscow. President Obama and [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev have discussed the issue in their regular phone conversations. We’re certainly engaging with the Russians at a very senior level to try to find ways to cooperate on missile defense in a way that provides assurance to them, because our missile defense system really isn’t intended to threaten their nuclear deterrent, as well as improving our capacity and their capacity to defend against emerging threats from countries like Iran.

Certainly one of the areas we’re looking at is sharing data in terms of early warning. Again that’s something that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech as an area where we think it would actually serve both sides if we could work together and where the Russians have something to bring to the table because they have radar capacity that would be useful for us in terms of defense of Europe and the United States. So that’s certainly one aspect of cooperation that we’re discussing.

ACT: When do you hope to see some kind of agreement concluded?

Samore: I would be rash to predict when an agreement will be concluded. But it’s something that Presidents Obama and Medvedev have identified as the top strategic priority right now, because we think that’s an area where there’s room for progress.

ACT: The administration has expressed interest in engaging Russia in talks on tactical nuclear weapons. National security adviser Donilon recently has suggested that “increas[ing] transparency on a reciprocal basis concerning the numbers, locations, and types of nonstrategic forces in Europe” could be a useful starting point. Could you give us more details about what you have in mind?

Samore: I think we have to recognize that there’s a disparity between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to tactical nuclear weapons in terms of numbers and in terms of mission. From the Russian standpoint, they have many more tactical nuclear weapons, and they claim they believe they need them to counter NATO’s conventional superiority. So one way to begin to get into a process that will lead to reductions on a reciprocal basis is to have a better understanding of both sides’ numbers, doctrine, storage facilities, and so forth, and that’s something we would be prepared to exchange with the Russians on a confidential basis. Whether the Russians are willing to go down that road, I can’t tell you; but what we have in mind is at least starting with an exchange of information as a way to try to get a better understanding of each side’s position and hopefully that would lead—as I said, we think tactical nuclear weapons could be included in the next overall agreement. But another approach would be to take parallel actions in advance of there being a new treaty or agreement, something else that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech.

ACT: Regarding the remaining U.S. tactical nuclear stockpile in Europe, which is part of the ongoing NATO deterrence review, are the remaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Europe necessary for the defense of the alliance?

Samore: The primary mission or the primary value of tactical nuclear weapons is symbolic and political because whatever military mission they serve could of course also be accomplished through the use of systems that are not tactical systems based in Europe.

ACT: Under what circumstances might NATO consider their consolidation or withdrawal?

Samore: What Tom Donilon talked about in his speech is [steps taken] on a reciprocal basis with Russian actions. That is a principle that all the NATO allies have agreed on. If Russia took reciprocal actions, we would be prepared to take actions. But there’s no agreement in NATO to take unilateral actions as concerns U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

ACT: A general question relating to all of these issues on the U.S.-Russian agenda: How would you characterize the nature of the conversations at this point? These are taking place at the cabinet level, and these are discussions. At what point do you expect that there might be more formal work occurring on any one of these or all of these issues?

Samore: If you’re talking about a formal arms control negotiation, neither side is ready to do that. We’re not prepared to do that yet because we haven’t completed our internal reviews, so we wouldn’t know what position to take. The Russians have indicated publicly that they’re not prepared to consider additional reductions until their concerns about missile defense and weapons in space and a number of other things have been addressed. At this point, I don’t anticipate we would begin formal arms control negotiations anytime soon. That’s why we’re emphasizing the need to have discussions about things like verification, transparency, and so forth; that’s a precursor to having a formal arms control negotiation.

ACT: In the Prague speech, the president pledged to pursue U.S. ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT]. Mr. Donilon recently reaffirmed that the administration will engage with senators on that treaty.

How does the CTBT contribute to U.S. nonproliferation efforts, and do you expect ratification would lead the handful of other states that have not yet done so to reconsider the treaty?

Samore: I think the best argument we can make for the CTBT is that it serves U.S. national security interests by giving us one tool to help constrain the nuclear buildup in Asia. I do believe that if the U.S. ratified the CTBT, it’s likely that China, India, and Pakistan would all ratify the CTBT and that would create a legal and political barrier to a resumption of nuclear testing. I think the risk of a resumption of nuclear testing is greatest in Asia. Obviously, North Korea could test at any time, but among Pakistan, India, and China, those are the countries that are building up their forces, modernizing their forces, and where testing might make sense in terms of those programs. So, to the extent that we can put in place the CTBT and to the extent that that will constrain options in Asia, it will help to tamp down the one part of the world where there is a nuclear buildup taking place.

ACT: On Iran, the United States, particularly with its P5+1 partners,[1] was pursuing a dual-track strategy. We saw from the [January 21-22] meeting in Istanbul, there were no real gains, no progress made on outstanding issues. U.S. officials have said since then that the door is still open but that they’re also looking at tightening the implementation of existing sanctions. How would you characterize the P5+1 diplomatic strategy and options going forward?

Samore: You described it very well. The P5+1 and [EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] Lady [Catherine] Ashton have said that the door is open to a resumption [of talks]. I’ve seen no indication that the Iranians are interested and no indication that they’re prepared to come to the table with any serious intent, so we’re very much focusing on the pressure track of the dual-track strategy. We’ve continued to take actions, and you will see in coming weeks and months that, with our allies, we’ll continue to try to increase pressure on Iran in order to persuade its government that the best way to avoid those pressures is to come to the bargaining table and be serious about trying to come up with a diplomatic solution. But at this particular moment, there’s no active diplomacy.

ACT: As you are well aware, Iran has asserted that progress with the P5+1 depends on other states recognizing what it claims is its right to enrich uranium.

Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton recently told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Iran could possibly enrich uranium at some point in the future under very strict conditions and “having responded to the international community’s concerns and irreversibly shut down its nuclear weapons program.” Can you give us some sense of what those strict conditions might be and how the United States intends to ensure that Iran takes those necessary steps?

Samore: I think the key to Iran resuming its full nuclear—peaceful nuclear—activities is to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions that require them to suspend all enrichment- and [spent fuel] reprocessing-related activities and to fully cooperate with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to address concerns about their past and present nuclear activities, especially in the area of weaponization. So, the first step, if Iran wants to restore confidence and if Iran wants to lift sanctions, is to comply with the Security Council resolutions. What Secretary Clinton said has made explicit what has always been implicit in our policy, going back to the Bush administration, that if Iran were to satisfy the UN Security Council that its nuclear intentions were peaceful, then we would have no objection to Iran engaging in the full suite of peaceful nuclear activities. Up to this point, Iran has not been able to persuade anybody, frankly, that its nuclear intentions are peaceful. That’s why the Security Council continues to demand full suspension as the initial step they can take.

ACT: Turning to North Korea, recently Mr. Donilon said that, in order for the six-party talks [involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States] to resume, “North Korea first needs to engage with the South and address issues surrounding its military provocation and then take significant and irreversible steps toward the goal of denuclearization. Those steps must include monitored suspension of their newly declared uranium-enrichment program.”

What steps can the United States and its partners in the region take to achieve these objectives, and what risk is there, in the meantime, that North Korea might continue to build on its nuclear and missile capabilities?

Samore: Very much like the case of Iran, we have applied pressures to North Korea, both in the form of UN Security Council resolutions and in actions we and our allies, especially South Korea and Japan, have taken to try to persuade North Korea to take the steps we consider necessary to resume a diplomatic process. I think we’ve begun to see the North Koreans, at least right now, looking for a way to resume the six-party talks. We’ll continue to do that, and as Tom Donilon said, for us it’s very important that we not go back to the old way of doing business where the North Koreans get benefits in return for just talking. What we want to see are concrete actions. As Tom said, getting the North Koreans to suspend their enrichment program is an important step.

ACT: On the fissile material cutoff treaty [FMCT], U.S. officials, including yourself, Clinton, and Donilon, have said that “our patience is not infinite” and that if the stalemate continues in the CD [Conference on Disarmament], the United States would seek other options. What is the United States doing now to break the deadlock in the CD? In the absence of agreement on a work program, what “other options” are you considering to halt the further production of nuclear bomb material?

Samore: We’re continuing in the CD as we have since President Obama’s Prague speech to argue that we’re prepared to begin negotiations on a verifiable FMCT. In fact, all countries at the CD agreed to such a work plan. Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to block a consensus on carrying out that work plan, and at this point, it appears unlikely to me that the CD will be able to come up with a compromise to begin FMCT negotiations. We’re going to start consulting. We will start consulting and have started to consult with allies and partners on whether there’s an alternative venue for the Conference on Disarmament. There are a couple of different ideas out there in play and we’re open-minded. The important thing for us is to get the negotiation started. So, we’re talking to the key countries, including countries that would be directly affected by an FMCT, as well as the technology holders.

It seems to me that is a group that we would want as much as possible to be included in such a process. Recognizing that the Pakistanis are probably not going to be willing to participate, but nonetheless if the CD is not going to be able to get started in terms of negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty, it’s important that we find some other way to do that, even if it means bypassing the CD, because these negotiations are not going to be quick and easy. There are a lot of pretty fundamental disagreements or differences of point of view, for example, whether existing stocks should be included and how the verification would be carried out. This is going to be a very lengthy, difficult, complicated negotiation, and the longer we wait to get started, the longer it will be before a treaty can actually be achieved.

ACT: You say such consultations should involve “technology holders.” By “technology holders,” do you mean those countries that have enrichment and reprocessing technology?

Samore: Yes. It would be good to include the Japanese, the Germans, Brazil, South Africa—countries that have developed enrichment and reprocessing for peaceful purposes. It seems to me they have something to bring to the negotiations, and to the extent that any verification regime would have some elements that would be in addition to the existing IAEA safeguards, it would directly affect countries that have [enrichment and reprocessing] facilities that are already under safeguards.

ACT: In the meantime, Pakistan and India are the two countries, North Korea aside, that are believed to be continuing fissile material production for weapons. What steps can the United States and the international community pursue prior to a negotiation on an FMCT to address the risks posed by the continued accumulation of fissile material in South Asia?

Samore: I think it’s very unlikely that either India or Pakistan is prepared at this moment to stop its nuclear buildup. Both countries, for their own reasons, just like China for its own reasons, seem intent on further developing their capabilities. In the near term, I don’t think there is any sort of [regional] arms control arrangement, whether it’s by one of those countries or by two or three of them, that could deal with this buildup. That’s why we think the FMCT and the CTBT provide international instruments for trying to get at that concern. Certainly in the case of South Asia, it’s very important, I think, to minimize as much as possible incidents that could lead to military tension and conflict between India and Pakistan because, in my view, the risk of a conflict escalating to a nuclear war is probably higher in South Asia than in anywhere else in the world. We’ve obviously worked very hard to encourage India and Pakistan to resume their composite dialogue, worked very hard to try to convince the Pakistani government to take action against groups in their country that might be carrying out terrorist actions against India. So to me, the focus in the near term has to be on confidence building to reduce the risk of war. In the long term, to the extent that we can get these international instruments in place, like the CTBT and the FMCT, that’s a way to constrain the nuclear buildup.

ACT: There have been reports in recent months suggesting that Pakistan’s fissile material production rate has been accelerating. Is this the case? Has India also increased its rate of fissile material production since the approval [by the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group of a policy of resuming nuclear exports to India] in 2008?

Samore: I probably can’t talk to that specifically. All I can do is repeat that there is a nuclear buildup under way in Asia: India, Pakistan, and China all are modernizing and expanding their nuclear forces. We need to figure out a way to, A, manage and, B, try to constrain that as much as we can. The best approach we’ve been able to come up with is one that emphasizes these multilateral international arms control instruments because I don’t see any purely regional approach that will be effective, and I don’t see any approach where any of those three countries would, on their own, decide to stop.

ACT: In an October 2010 presentation, you cited Pakistan as the issue that keeps you up at night. With regard to nuclear proliferation and material security, do you still have those concerns?

Samore: The Pakistani government takes the nuclear security threat very seriously, and they’ve put a lot of resources into trying to make sure that their nuclear facilities and materials and weapons are well secured. There’s no lack of recognition that this is a very important issue, and there’s no lack of incentive on the part of the Pakistani government to maintain control. What I worry about is that, in the context of broader tensions and problems within Pakistani society and polity—and that’s obviously taking place as we look at the sectarian violence and tensions between the government and the military and so forth—I worry that, in that broader context, even the best nuclear security measures might break down. You’re dealing with a country that is under tremendous stress internally and externally, and that’s what makes me worry. They have good programs in place; the question is whether those good programs work in the context where these broader tensions and conflicts are present.

ACT: On the nuclear security summit, we’re about a year away from the second summit to be held in Seoul. What are the United States and South Korea hoping to accomplish at the summit next year? What are the biggest challenges that have to be addressed in order to meet the four-year goal that has been set out?

Samore: I think we’re on track to have a very successful summit. We’ve already been able to secure, remove, [and] eliminate very large quantities of fissile material, and we’ve still got a year to go. So, I think we’ll have an additional track record of success.

We’ve also made a very concerted effort to set up the centers of excellence and training, which is very effective because nuclear security is more than just the material. It also requires, and it is in many ways more important, that the people responsible for securing the material do their job properly. Since the [2010] Washington summit, we’ve signed agreements with a number of countries to either establish or work together in these nuclear security centers, including China, India, Japan, South Korea, and so forth. I think there may be some additional ones that would be announced in Seoul.

Lastly, and this is the one area where I think we have the greatest challenge, how do we translate the work that the summit participants do into the broader international community? I think there is a very good working relationship among the 47 or so countries, and we’ve all agreed on a work plan and will be able to come to Seoul and show that we’ve made very significant progress to carry out the steps in the work plan. But we need a mechanism for including the 150 or so countries that are not actually at the summit, and that means finding a greater role for the UN. I think Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is very interested in being active in this area. I think it means using other international organizations, like the IAEA, and strengthening their nuclear security assistance program.

The summit will show that there has been substantial progress among the countries that participated in the Washington meeting in terms of carrying out the work plan. The challenge for us is to find some way to include those countries that are not actually physically present at the summit because, as a practical matter, we can’t include everybody, and that’s something we’re working on.

ACT: The part about the president’s four-year goal—can you address that? Where do things stand? What are the challenges in order to complete that particular goal of the president?

Samore: We, of course, still have a ways to go before we’ve reached our four-year mark. I think there will be cases where we don’t have access [to] or even knowledge of nuclear material, for example, nuclear material in North Korea. We don’t have a cooperative relationship with the North Koreans, so we won’t be able to say from our own knowledge that that nuclear material has been secured. I think it probably has been, but I have no way to make that judgment. In some cases, we can have direct access, work directly with countries on-site, either to secure, remove, or eliminate nuclear material. In other cases, we won’t have direct access. That’s why we’re trying to work through these indirect mechanisms, like centers of excellence, where we think we can help countries to establish a good security culture and training and equipment and so forth, and then strengthen the international elements, whether it’s the UN or the IAEA or the different conventions. At the end of the four-year period, I can’t tell you exactly where we’ll be, but the Seoul summit is sort of coming up on the halfway mark, and we’ve already been able to show very substantial progress.

ACT: At the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] review conference last year, there was an agreement to hold a conference on a Middle East weapons of mass destruction-free zone. What does the United States hope to achieve through the 2012 conference? Are you looking for states in the region to take certain interim steps that would contribute to the realization of such a zone? Given the nature of the nuclear debate in the region, to what extent will the meeting focus initially on chemical and biological weapons?

Samore: Our view is that it’s important that the meeting, if it takes place in 2012, focus on the broader range of nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic missile [issues]. When we agreed to organize this meeting at the NPT review conference, 2012 seemed like a pretty reasonable timeline for getting something organized. Obviously, since then there have been some extraordinarily dramatic changes in the region; and whether or not we can still make that 2012 meeting is, I think, much less clear. We have to continue to make an effort.

What we would like to do is identify a number of host countries and then see if we could get some, if not consensus, at least strong support from among the countries in the region for a host. That would be an important first step in terms of making the conference more real. But given the disagreements in the region on these issues and given the turmoil and uncertainty in the region, this whole thing is going to be a very challenging enterprise.

ACT: The P5 states[2] plan to meet in Paris later this year to discuss nuclear transparency issues and possible ways to verify additional nuclear arms reductions. What do you hope to achieve at this meeting, and do you expect similar meetings to follow?

Samore: We hope there will be similar meetings. There isn’t any basis on which the five recognized nuclear-weapon states can engage in formal arms control negotiations. There’s no political basis on which you can have a five-way nuclear arms agreement because of the disparity between the U.S. and Russia on one hand and the U.K., France, and China on the other. In place of, or in advance of, there being any kind of formal multilateral arms control process, we’re trying at least to develop some areas of understanding on verification and transparency because if the U.S. and Russia continue to reduce [their nuclear arsenals] in the long term, it would create conditions where, in theory, you could have an arms control negotiation among the five, among states that possess nuclear weapons. If you were to have such a negotiation, there would have to be some kind of verification and transparency arrangement. So these discussions, I think, are useful in that sense, recognizing that the conditions for having formal arms control negotiations among the five just don’t exist.

ACT: Just remind us about the genesis of these meetings. There was an earlier meeting in London...

Samore: It was the British that started the idea, and we were very comfortable with that. Now the French have picked up [on it], and I would hope in the future, although this hasn’t been agreed, you would see similar meetings hosted by the other countries. But we have to recognize that the other countries are very wary of being brought into an arms control process at a time when, from their standpoint, the U.S. and Russia have 10 times more nuclear weapons than they do. I don’t think any country of the five is prepared to agree to any kind of a treaty or agreement that would lock them into a position of having less weapons.

ACT: Has a date been firmly set for the meeting?

Samore: I don’t believe so; you would have to ask the French. I’m not sure there has been complete agreement on there even being a meeting. I think that’s still under discussion. We’re very comfortable with it, and we would hope that all of the others would agree to it as well.

ACT: Is there anything we should have asked that we didn’t? Anything you want to say that we haven’t touched on in our questions up to this point?

Samore: The one thing I would say is that I really do think that President Obama’s approach to this range of issues is that there has to be an integrated approach, and the Prague speech was very deliberately designed so that there were four interlocking elements, and I think we’ve made very good progress on each of those. But to me, the challenge of Iran and North Korea continues to be an area that if we don’t get right, will unravel everything else we’re trying to do. I really do think that unless we’re able to check the programs in North Korea and Iran, there’s a very high likelihood that it will eventually lead to further proliferation. I’m not saying it’s going to happen right away, but if that happens, if we see additional nuclear powers emerge in East Asia and the Middle East, then that completely undermines everything else that we’re trying to do. So, I hope that people appreciate how important it is that we work together to convince Iran and North Korea to comply with their obligations. Otherwise, everything else that we’re doing in the other areas, I think, will probably come to naught.

ACT: That’s a wide-ranging and complex set of challenges. Thanks for giving us an overview on all of these things two years after the Prague speech.

Samore: Sure.


1. P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany.

2. The P5 also are the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states under the NPT.


The White House’s top arms control and nonproliferation official discusses the prospects for future U.S.-Russian agreements on nuclear weapons and missile defense, the administration’s strategy for addressing Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, the nuclear buildup in Asia, and more.


Trimming Nuclear Excess

Daryl G. Kimball

In the 20 years since the end of the Cold War, successive U.S. and Russian presidents have gradually reduced the size and salience of their enormous nuclear stockpiles. Nevertheless, the size of each country’s arsenal far exceeds what might be considered necessary to deter nuclear attack. Both sides can and should go lower.

Even under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), each country is allowed to deploy 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons on 700 missiles and bombers. Thousands of additional warheads are held in reserve. Unless they adjust their thinking, both countries will spend scarce resources to modernize and maintain similar nuclear force levels for 20 to 30 years to come.

This year, as the Obama administration reviews decade-old presidential guidance on nuclear force structure and nuclear employment policy, the president has an unprecedented opportunity to discard outdated targeting assumptions, open the way for deeper reductions of all warhead types, and redirect defense dollars to more pressing needs.

The 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review Report” outlines the national security rationale for reducing the role and number of U.S. nuclear weapons and eliminating outdated Cold War policies. The document asserts that “the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear forces is to deter nuclear attacks against the U.S. and our allies and partners.”

At the same time, the report acknowledges that the United States and Russia "each still retain more nuclear weapons than necessary for stable deterrence." Given that no other country deploys more than 300 strategic warheads and given that China possesses 40 to 50 warheads on intercontinental-range missiles, the United States and Russia could reduce their overall nuclear stockpiles substantially—to 1,000 warheads—while retaining sufficient firepower to deter nuclear attack by any current or potential adversary.

As the 2007 Arms Control Association report “What Are Nuclear Weapons For?” suggests, the United States could move to a smaller force of 500 deployed and 500 nondeployed strategic warheads on a smaller, mainly submarine-based triad within the next few years. A 2010 study by three Air Force analysts in Strategic Studies Quarterly concludes that the United States could "draw down its nuclear arsenal to a relatively small number of survivable, reliable weapons dispersed among missile silos, submarines, and airplanes." They argue that such a force might number only 311 nuclear weapons.

Maintaining and modernizing U.S. strategic forces at current, higher levels is not only unnecessary, but prohibitively expensive. If Congress and the White House are serious about reducing defense expenditures by $400 billion by 2023 to reduce the ballooning federal deficit, they should start by deferring or curtailing the Pentagon’s ambitious plan to upgrade and replace the strategic triad, which is projected to exceed $100 billion over the same period.

The Navy is seeking to begin construction of 12 new ballistic missile submarines—each with 16 to 20 launch tubes—beginning in 2019 to replace the existing 14 Trident boats that currently carry 336 ballistic missiles armed with more than 1,100 thermonuclear bombs. Research and development costs are estimated at $29.4 billion between 2011 and 2020; each new sub would cost an average of $8 billion to build.

Under New START, the Air Force will retain up to 420 single-warhead Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The Pentagon plans to spend $6-7 billion to extend the missiles’ service through 2030 and is seeking funding for research on a follow-on ICBM. The Air Force also will retain 60 nuclear-capable, long-range bombers, including B-2s and B-52s. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants funding for research on a new nuclear-capable heavy bomber, which would carry a new air-launched, nuclear-capable cruise missile. These items would cost billions more.

For its part, Russia will be hard pressed to deploy 1,550 strategic warheads unless it undertakes an expensive ballistic missile modernization effort. Rather than induce Russia to build up, it is in the security and financial interests of both countries to pursue further, parallel reductions in their strategic nuclear forces and to cut the size of their nondeployed reserve stockpiles.

The upcoming nuclear policy review also gives President Barack Obama the chance to eliminate the Cold War practice of keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch within minutes. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said the practice is “outdated” and “increases the risk of catastrophic accident or miscalculation.” Indeed, a reliable and credible U.S. nuclear deterrent does not require the ability to retaliate immediately if U.S. nuclear forces and command and control systems can survive an attack.

Obama can and should make it clear that the United States no longer will develop or exercise plans for rapid launches and will replace such plans with new ones that would allow the president to delay a response to a nuclear attack for days. He should invite Russia to make reciprocal changes to its nuclear posture.

Now is the time for U.S. and Russian leaders to further reduce their costly nuclear arsenals and purge their military strategies of obsolete Cold War thinking.

In the 20 years since the end of the Cold War, successive U.S. and Russian presidents have gradually reduced the size and salience of their enormous nuclear stockpiles. Nevertheless, the size of each country’s arsenal far exceeds what might be considered necessary to deter nuclear attack. Both sides can and should go lower.


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