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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
July/August 2016
Edition Date: 
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Cover Image: 

Pentagon Completes Missile Defense Study

July/August 2016

By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department announced in May that it completed a draft study of three possible locations in the eastern United States for a new ballistic missile defense interceptor site, but said it still has no plans to actually build such a site.

The draft environmental impact statement, which was posted on the website of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) on May 31, said that the Defense Department “does not propose and has not made a decision to deploy or construct an additional interceptor site.”

“Any deployment decision would be based on the analysis of the ballistic missile threat to the U.S., system performance and operational effectiveness, site constructability, affordability, and potential environmental impacts,” the study said. 

The program to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California.

Pentagon officials have repeatedly stated that the estimated $3-4 billion price tag of a third interceptor site would be better spent to upgrade the existing GMD system.

The draft environmental study narrowed an initial list of 457 Defense Department-owned locations throughout the continental United States down to three potential candidate locations. 

The three sites are Fort Drum in New York, Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio, and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan. 

For each site, the study assessed the impact of factors such as hazardous materials and hazardous waste management, health and safety, socioeconomics, water quality, and environmental justice.

The draft environmental impact statement took approximately 18 months to complete. The Defense Department held several meetings in June for the public to gain additional information and comment on the draft. Based on this input and input from other government agencies, the department will issue a final version of the statement later this year. 

In the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required the Defense Department to conduct a study to evaluate at least three possible new long-range interceptor sites that could augment the GMD system, including at least two on the East Coast. 

The fiscal year 2016 defense authorization bill requires the Pentagon to designate a preferred location for a third site within a month of the completion of the draft environmental impact study. (See ACT, November 2015.)

Leah Garton, deputy director of public affairs at the MDA, told Arms Control Today in a June 28 email that the Defense Department does not plan to name a preferred location until it completes the final environmental impact statement. 

This will allow the MDA “to consider comments” on the draft environmental impact statement “from the public and regulatory agencies,” she added.

The Defense Department announced in May that it completed a draft study of three possible locations in the eastern United States for a new ballistic missile defense interceptor site...

Air Force Clarifies New ICBM Plans

July/August 2016

By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Air Force is not planning to pursue a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that would have the capability to be deployed on mobile launchers, according to service officials.

In a May email exchange with Arms Control Today, Maj. Robert Leese, an Air Force spokesperson, said the service is pursuing a replacement missile that is “silo-based.”

“[I]f a mobile ICBM is pursued, it would require different design elements than what is being asked for” in the current replacement program, he added.

Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, told reporters in a June 1 meeting at the Pentagon that “right now we are not looking” at a mobile Minuteman III follow-on.

Arms Control Today reported in April that the service planned to seek a replacement for the existing silo-based Minuteman III ICBM system that could be shifted to a mobile platform in the future. (See ACT, April 2016.) The replacement is known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).

In response to questions regarding whether the Air Force intended to pursue mobile-capable missiles, Leese said in a March 7 email that the GBSD design “will provide the option for alternative modes of operation in the future.”

Pentagon officials have in the past endorsed the concept of building a replacement for the Minuteman III that could be put on a mobile launcher. 

In a September 2014 speech in Washington, Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said, “[What] we want to be able to do is develop a system that would give us an option later on to go back and revisit what is the right basing mode.”

“Certainly with the system we have today, you can’t do that,” he added. 

InsideDefense.com reported on April 15 that the Air Force planned to explore additional mobile command-and-control centers for the GBSD system to enhance its survivability.

Minuteman III missiles are dispersed in hardened silos to protect against attack and connected to an underground launch control center through a system of hardened cables. In the event communication between the missiles and launch control center is lost, specially configured E-6B airborne launch control center aircraft automatically assume command and control of the isolated missile or missiles.

The current Air Force proposal for replacing the Minuteman III calls for procuring 642 replacement missiles and rebuilding the existing missile infrastructure, including command and control, at an estimated acquisition cost of $62.3 billion over the next 30 years. (See ACT, July/August 2015.)

The U.S. Air Force is not planning to pursue a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that would have the capability to be deployed on mobile launchers, according to service officials.

Take Nuclear First Use Off the Table

By Daryl G. Kimball

The Cold War standoff that gave rise to tens of thousands of nuclear weapons ended a quarter century ago, and U.S. and Russian deployed arsenals have been slashed through verifiable arms control agreements.

Unfortunately, the risks of nuclear weapons use are still far too high, in part because the policies developed to justify their possession and potential use remain largely the same.

President Obama in 2009 at Hradčany Square Prague, Czech Republic (Photo: White House)Early in his presidency, President Barack Obama made clear that he sought “to put an end to Cold War thinking” and pledged to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.”

On June 6, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes pledged that the president “will continue to review whether there are additional steps that can be taken to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our own strategies and to reduce the risk of inadvertent use.”

One very important step would be for Obama to declare that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Such a decision could unwind dangerous Cold War-era thinking and greatly strengthen U.S. and global security.

Limiting the circumstances under which the United States would use nuclear weapons was a goal laid out by the “Nuclear Posture Review Report” in 2010, which said the United States should pursue the objective of making deterrence against a nuclear attack the “sole purpose” of the nuclear arsenal.

Nevertheless, current policy still leaves several dangerous and destabilizing nuclear weapons-use options on the table, including the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict to pre-empt a real or suspected nuclear attack, to counter the possible use of chemical or biological weapons, or to halt a massive conventional military threat against U.S. forces or allies.

Today, the United States and Russia still deploy thousands of nuclear warheads on hundreds of bombers, missiles, and submarines. Current U.S. strategy requires that there are enough nuclear forces available to destroy nearly 1,000 enemy targets, many in urban areas, and that these weapons can be launched within minutes of a decision to do so.

Maintaining such a capability plays a large role in compelling Russia—and may soon help to lead China—to field a sizable portion of their nuclear forces in a launch-under-attack mode in order to avoid a disarming nuclear strike. This, in turn, increases the chance that nuclear weapons might be used or dispersed by U.S. adversaries in a crisis.

As Obama correctly said in 2008, the requirement for prompt launch is “a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Such policies increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation.”

By adopting a no-first-use policy, the United States could positively influence the nuclear doctrines of other nuclear-armed states, particularly in Asia. Such a shift in U.S. declaratory policy could also alleviate concerns that U.S. ballistic missile defenses might be used to negate the retaliatory potential of China and Russia following a pre-emptive U.S. nuclear attack against their strategic forces.

Shifting to a no-first-use policy would not, in any way, undermine the U.S. ability to deter nuclear attack by another state. It is well established that U.S. nuclear forces and command-and-control systems could withstand even a massive attack, and given the size, accuracy, and diversity of U.S. forces, the remaining nuclear force would be more than sufficient to deliver a devastating blow to any nuclear aggressor.

Given the overwhelming U.S. conventional military edge, there is no plausible circumstance that could justify—legally, morally, or militarily—the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat. U.S. nuclear weapons are useless in deterring or responding to nuclear terrorism or to a potential chemical, biological, or cyberattack by state or nonstate actors.

A no-first-use policy would not undermine confidence in U.S. defense commitments to key allies. Even if there were to be a conventional military conflict with a nuclear-armed state, such as Russia in the Baltic Sea region or elsewhere, the employment of nuclear weapons would be counterproductive because it would trigger an uncontrollable and potentially suicidal escalation of nuclear weapons use. As a result, the threat of nuclear weapons first-use to counter non-nuclear attacks lacks credibility.

In remarks delivered in Hiroshima May 27, Obama declared that “among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.” Yes, we must.

A U.S. no-first-use policy would reduce the risk of nuclear catastrophe, improve the prospects for further Russian nuclear cuts, and draw China into the nuclear risk reduction process. It would put a spotlight on the dangerous nuclear doctrines of Pakistan and North Korea, where the risk of nuclear weapons use is perhaps most severe, and challenge them to reconsider the first-use option.

By encouraging a new norm against first-use of nuclear weapons, Obama could help ensure, for this generation and those to come, that nuclear weapons are never used again.

A U.S. no-nuclear-first-use policy would reduce the risk of nuclear catastrophe, improve the prospects for further Russian nuclear cuts, and draw China into the nuclear risk reduction process.

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