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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

U.S. Nuclear Weapons

U.S. Nuclear Modernization Programs

August 2018

Contact: Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: August 2018

Contents

Cost Overview

The United States maintains an arsenal of about 1,650 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and Strategic Bombers and some 180 tactical nuclear weapons at bomber bases in five European countries.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published a major report in October 2017 that estimates the nuclear weapons spending plans President Donald Trump inherited from his predecessor will cost taxpayers $1.2 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars between fiscal years 2017 and 2046. This amounts to about 6 percent of all spending on national defense anticipated for that period, as of President Barack Obama’s final budget request to Congress in February 2016. When the effects of inflation are included, the 30-year cost would approach $1.7 trillion, according to a projection by the Arms Control Association.

The CBO estimate captures spending on the triad of nuclear delivery systems and command and control systems at the Defense Department and on nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure at the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Nearly every element of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is slated to be upgraded over the next 20 years. Most of these efforts are in the early stages, and a few others have yet to begin.

Other nuclear-armed states, notably Russia and China, are upgrading their arsenals and have tested, produced, and deployed more brand new systems than the United States over the past decade. But the U.S. military has upgraded and refurbished nearly all of its existing strategic and tactical delivery systems and the warheads they carry to last well beyond their originally planned service life and is now in the early stages of replacing many of these aging systems with new systems. Though decades old, these modernized forces are more capable than the originals and the new systems will include additional capability upgrades. The current and planned U.S. financial investment in nuclear forces is unrivaled by any other nuclear power.

Gen. Paul Selva, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee in March 2017 that while Russia and China continue to modernize their nuclear forces, "we [the United States] do have a qualitative advantage." 

The Trump administration, as outlined in its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) released on Feb. 2, 2018, intends to continue the modernization plan laid out by the Obama administration, and also develop several new nuclear weapons capabilities that will add to the price tag for nuclear forces, including the near-term development of a low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and the longer-term development of new nuclear submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM).

The NPR acknowledges that the upgrade costs are “substantial” but claims that nuclear weapons will consume no more than 6.4 percent of the defense budget. This projection does not include the cost of the new capabilities proposed in the review nor the major costs that must be borne by NNSA to upgrade nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure.

The CBO estimates that annual spending on nuclear weapons will peak at about $50 billion during the late 2020s and early 2030s. During this period, nuclear weapons would consume about 8 percent of total national defense spending and 15 percent of the Defense Department’s acquisition costs. The CBO estimate includes the full cost to sustain and upgrade long-range strategic bombers.

White House and Pentagon officials and defense budget watchers have expressed concern that the current triad modernization plans may not be executable in the absence of significant and sustained increases to overall military spending in the coming 15-20 years, in large part due to the fact that nuclear costs are scheduled to rise and overlap with a large "bow wave" in projected spending on conventional weapon system modernization programs, as well as rising personnel and readiness costs.

Former head of U.S. Strategic Command Gen. Robert Kehler said in November 2017 that he is "skeptical that we are capable of remaining committed to a long-term project like this [nuclear modernization] without basically messing with it and screwing it up."

The 2011 Budget Control Act puts in place caps on military spending through 2021. According to the CBO, in the long-term an aging population, rising health care costs, and the rising interest on the national debt will constrain the amount of funding available for discretionary spending, including defense spending, if tax revenues do not increase significantly. However, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 increased the FY 2018 cap for national defense spending by $80 billion to $269 billion and increased the FY 2019 cap by $85 billion to $647 billion. Regardless, pressure on the defense budget and the implicit trade-offs within that budget are likely to persist into the 2020s and 2030s. 

For FY 2019 President Trump requested $11 billion to fund NNSA's nuclear weapons activities. This represents a massive 19 percent increase over the FY 2017 appropriation and reflects the direction in the NPR to significantly expand the agency’s work to prepare the United States to develop, test, and deploy new nuclear weapons and to increase the size of the nuclear stockpile. According to former deputy NNSA administrator Madelyn Creedon, “The biggest challenge laid out in the 2018 report is the new assignment for the NNSA.”

A U.S. Government Accountability Office report issued last year, warned that the “NNSA’s plans to modernize its nuclear weapons do not align with its budget, raising affordability concerns.” And former agency administrator Frank Klotz said in a Jan. 23 interview just two days after leaving office that the agency is “working pretty much at full capacity.”

Nuclear Modernization Snapshot

The overall nuclear modernization effort includes: 

  • Modernized Strategic Delivery Systems: Existing U.S. nuclear delivery systems are undergoing continual modernization, including complete rebuilds of the Minuteman III ICBM and Trident II SLBM. The service lives of the Navy’s 14 Trident Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines are being extended. Additionally, a new submarine, the Columbia class, which will replace the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, is undergoing development and is expected to cost about $128 billion to develop, according to the Defense Department. The B-2 strategic bomber, a relatively new system, is being upgraded, as is the B-52H bomber. The Air Force is also planning a new strategic bomber, the B-21, and a new nuclear-capable cruise missile, known as the Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO) to replace the existing Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM).
  • Refurbished Nuclear Warheads: The U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads and bombs is continually refurbished through NNSA’s Life Extension Program (LEP). Existing warheads are certified annually to be safe and reliable. The NNSA is currently pursuing a controversial and expensive plan to consolidate the existing number of nuclear warhead types from 10 down to 5, although this program has been delayed. Known as the "3+2" strategy, the five LEPs associated with this approach are estimated to cost over $60 billion.
  • Modernized Production Complex: The nuclear weapons production complex is being modernized as well, with new facilities planned and funded. For example, the FY 2019 NNSA budget request includes $703 million for the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The total construction cost for UPF is estimated at $6.5 – 7.5 billion, according to an independent study conducted by the Corps of Engineers, although some estimates put the price tag at $11 billion. NNSA has pledged to complete construction by 2025 for $6.5 billion.
  • Command and Control Systems: The Defense Department maintains command, control, communications, and early-warning systems that allow operators to communicate with nuclear forces, issue commands that control their use, and detect or rule out incoming attacks. The department plans to spend $40.5 billion on these activities between FY 2017 and FY 2026. This estimate is probably understated as the Pentagon is still developing its plan for modernizing these systems. In addition, the 2018 NPR calls for placing greater attention and focus on sustaining and upgrading command and control capabilities. 
  • Nuclear Force Improvement Program: In the wake of revelations of professional and ethical lapses and poor morale in the U.S. nuclear force, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in November 2014 steps the department is taking to address the numerous setbacks. These include changing the conduct of inspections to reduce the burden on airmen and sailors, eliminating micromanagement of nuclear personnel seen as overtaxed by excessive bureaucratic and administrative requirements, and elevating the head of Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the Air Force’s nuclear forces, from a three- to a four-star rank.

Nuclear Modernization Overview

The following is a status update of existing programs to enhance the nuclear stockpile and modernize the delivery systems that make up each element of the U.S. nuclear triad:

1. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) 

The United States Air Force currently deploys about 400 Minuteman III ICBMs (as of February 5, 2018) located at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; and Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. U.S. nuclear-armed ICBMs are on high alert, meaning the missiles can be fired within minutes of a presidential decision to do so. Under the New START treaty, the United States maintains 50 extra missile silos in a "warm" reserve status.

Today's Minuteman weapon system is the product of almost 40 years of continuous enhancement. The Pentagon has spent over $7 billion over the past 15 years on life extension efforts to keep the ICBMs safe, secure and reliable through 2030. This modernization program has resulted in an essentially "new" missile, expanded targeting options, and improved accuracy and survivability. 

Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent

The Air Force is planning to replace the Minuteman III missile, its supporting launch control facilities, and command and control infrastructure. The Air Force intends to purchase over 600 missiles, 400 of which would be operationally deployed through 2070. The remaining missiles would be used for test flights and as spares. The replacement program is known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). The service is seeking to make significant capability upgrades as part of the recapitalization program. The Pentagon in August 2016 set the estimated acquisition cost of the program at $85 billion and the total life-cycle cost at $238 billion (in then-year dollars). The $85 billion estimate is at the lower-end of an independent Pentagon cost-estimate that put the acquisition price tag as high as $140 billion.

For FY 2019, the Trump administration requested $345 million for the program, a 60 percent increase over 2018.  On Aug. 21, 2017, the Air Force awarded contracts to both Boeing Company and Northrop Grumman to continue development and begin design of the new ICBM system.

W78 and W87 Warheads

The Air Force has also upgraded the Minuteman’s nuclear warheads by partially replacing older W78 warheads with newer and more powerful W87 warheads, formerly deployed on the now-retired MX Peacekeeper ICBMs. The W87 entered the U.S. stockpile in 1986, making it one of the newest warheads in the arsenal with the most modern safety and security features, including insensitive high explosive and a fire-resistant pit design, which can help to minimize the possibility of plutonium dispersal in the event of an accident. Under a 2004 LEP, the W87 warhead was refurbished to extend its service life past 2025.

NNSA has proposed a joint LEP to field a common, refurbished warhead to replace the W78 and W88 (see SLBMs, below). Congress approved NNSA's 2014 proposal to delay production of this warhead by five years from 2025 to 2030. However, the 2018 NPR proposes to accelerate the program by one year and the FY 2019 budget request would provide $53 million for the project.

2. Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) and Submarines

The United States Navy deploys, as of February 2018, 203 Trident II D5 SLBMs on 12 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) based out of Bangor, Washington (7 boats) and Kings Bay, Georgia (5 boats). The Ohio-class submarines have a service life of 42 years — two twenty-year cycles with a two-year mid-life nuclear refueling. The total fleet includes 14 boats but due to the refueling process, only 12 SSBNs are operational at any given time. Four to five submarines are believed to be "on station" in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans ready to fire their missiles at targets at any given time.

The Ohio-class SSBNs were first deployed in 1981, and will reach the end of their services at a rate of approximately one boat per year between 2027 and 2040. The Navy plans to replace each retiring boat, starting in 2031, with a new class of ballistic missile submarine, now referred to as the Columbia class. The Navy originally planned to begin using the replacement boats in 2029, but in 2012 the Pentagon announced a two-year delay to the replacement program. This pushed back completion of the first new submarine to 2031.

Taking into account the delay, the Navy now plans to purchase the first Columbia class submarine in 2021, the second in 2024, and one per year between 2026 and 2035. The first vessel is scheduled to become operational in 2031. As a result, the Navy will field 10 ballistic missile submarines between 2030 and 2040. 

In its FY 2019 request, the Navy asked for $3.7 billion for the Columbia class program — a 97 percent increase over 2018, making it the second-most expensive program in the 2019 Pentagon budget request, next to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Navy ultimately wants 12 boats, and in 2017 estimated the cost to develop and buy the submarines to be $128 billion in then-year dollars at the total life-cycle cost to be $267 billion. However, a report on the Columbia class program published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in December 2017 warned that the program is not adequately funded to address program risks and that the acquisition cost is likely to exceed $128 billion.

Under New START, each Ohio-class submarine serves as a launch platform for up to 20 SLBMs loaded with up to eight warheads each, or 240 total SLBMs. The Columbia class will carry up to 16 SLBMs, for a maximum of 192 deployed SLBMs when the fleet is fully converted to the new boats in 2040.

Trident II D5 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles

First deployed in 1990, the force of Trident II D5 missiles has been successfully tested over 160 times since design completion in 1989 and is continuously evaluated. (By contrast, Russia's newest SLBM, the Bulava, has failed in roughly half its flight tests.) The Trident II D5 LEP is underway to modernize key components, notably the electronics, and extend the life of the missile until 2042. In 2008, 12 life-extended variants of the D5 were purchased; 24 D5s were produced each year through 2012 for a total of 108 missiles at a total cost of $15 billion. The first modified D5s were deployed in 2013. The Navy’s FY 2019 budget request includes a proposed $1.23 billion to fund the Trident II LEP. 

The Pentagon has yet to establish replacement program of record for the Trident II (D5), development of which is likely to begin in the 2020s.

W76 and W88 Warheads

The D5 SLBMs are armed with approximately 768 W76 and 384 W88 warheads. In 2009, NNSA began delivery of the W76-1, a refurbished version of the W76 that extends its service life for an additional 30 years. NNSA plans to complete the $4 billion production of up to 2,000 W76-1 warheads by 2019. NNSA requested $114 million for the W76 life extension program for FY 2019, down from $222 million the year before. 

The W88 entered the stockpile in 1989, making it the newest warhead in the arsenal. The W88 was the last U.S. warhead produced before the Rocky Flats Plants - which made plutonium "pits" - was shut down in 1989. NNSA re-established pit production capacity at Los Alamos National Laboratory with the first "certifiable" pit in 2003, and new production resumed in 2007. A new plutonium research and pit production facility, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), was planned for Los Alamos, but was put on hold for budget reasons in 2012. 

With the rebuilt Trident D5 missile in service to 2042, the W76-1's life extended to 2040-50, the relatively new W88 in service, and a new class of SSBNs lasting into the 2070s, the U.S. Navy’s Trident Fleet will be kept robust and modern deep into the 21st century.

3. Strategic Bombers

The United States Air Force currently maintains 13 deployed B-2 Spirit bombers at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and 36 deployed B-52H bombers at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, that can be equipped for nuclear missions as of September 2017.  

Projected spending on nuclear weapons modernization programs could account for as much as 19% of estimated Pentagon modernization spending over the next 15 years, according to a recent analysis of 120 planned major Defense Department acquisition programs. (Source: Todd Harrison, CSIS)

B-52H Bomber

The B-52H fleet, first deployed in 1961, has an on-going modification program, beginning in 1989, incorporating updates to the global positioning system, updating the weapons capabilities to accommodate a full array of advanced weapons developed after the procurement of the B-52H, and modifying the heavy stores adapter beams to allow the B-52H to carry up to 2,000 pound munitions and a total of 70,000 pounds of mixed ordnance armaments. In FY 2011 the Air Force added to its modernization efforts for the B-52H, receiving funding for the Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) program, which updates the B-52 computer infrastructure. The upgrade is projected to cost a total of $1.1 billion.

The B-52H is expected to remain in service until 2040. 

B-2 Bomber

The Air Force continually modernizes the B-2 fleet, which first became operational in 1997 and is expected to last through 2058.

Ongoing B-2 modifications include an incremental three-part program to update the Extremely High Frequency Satellite Communications and Computer Upgrade program (EHF SATCOM). Increment 1 will upgrade the B-2’s flight management computers. Increment 2 provides more secure and survivable strategic communications by integrating the Family of Beyond-Line-of-Sight Terminals with the low observable antenna. Increment 3 connects the B-2 with the Global Information Grid. The Air Force also began procuring components for a Radar Modernization Program (RMP) in FY 2009. The RMP includes replacing the original radar antenna and upgrading radar avionics.

The Air Force announced in February 2018 that "once sufficient B-21 aircraft are operational, the B-1s and B-2s will be incrementally retired."

B-21 Bomber

The Air Force is planning to purchase at least 100 new, dual-capable long-range penetrating bombers that will replace the B-1 and B-52 bombers. Known as the B-21, the Pentagon estimates the average procurement unit cost per aircraft will be between $546 million and $606 million (in Fy 2016 dollars). Fielding is slated to begin in the mid- 2020s. The Trump administration requested $2.3 billion for the program in FY2019. The Air Force plans to spend $38.5 billion between FY 2017 and FY 2026 on research and development for the new bomber (in then-year dollars). The Air Force has refused to release the value of the contract awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp. in October 2015 to begin developing the B-21 program and the estimated total cost of the program, citing classification concerns.

The CBO estimates the B-21 program will cost $97 billion (in FY 2017 constant dollars).

Air-Launched Cruise Missile and Long-Range Standoff Cruise Missile

The B-52H carries the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), first deployed in 1981. Each ALCM carries a W80-1 warhead, first produced in 1982. The Air Force retained roughly 570 nuclear-capable ALCMs as of the spring of 2015. Roughly 200 of these missiles are believed to be deployed at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota with the W80-1 nuclear warhead. 

Some reports indicate that the reliability of the ALCM could be in jeopardy due to aging components which are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.

The Air Force is developing the long-range standoff cruise missile (LRSO) to replace the existing ALCM. The new missile will be compatible with the B-2 and B-52H bombers, as well as the planned B-21. The first missile is slated to be produced in 2026. The LRSO would carry the refurbished W80-4 warhead.

The current Air Force procurement plan for the LRSO calls for about 1,000 new nuclear-capable missiles, roughly double the size of the existing fleet of ALCMs. According to the service, the planned purchase of 1,000 missiles includes far more missiles than it plans to arm and deploy with nuclear warheads. For FY 2019, NNSA requested $654 million for the W80-4, making it the second-most expensive nuclear warhead, next to the B61-12. In addition,  the Air Force requested $615 million for development of the LRSO missile.

The Pentagon projects the cost to acquire the new missile fleet at about $11 billion (in then-year dollars) and the cost to operate and sustain the missile fleet over its expected life at over $6 billion (in constant FY 2016 dollars). The Energy Department projects the cost of the life extension program for the ALCM warhead to be between $8 billion and $11.6 billion (in then-year dollars).

B61 and B83 Warheads

The B-2 carries the B61 and B83 strategic gravity bombs. The B61 has several mods, 3, 4, 7, 10, and 11. B61-3 and B61-4 are non-strategic weapons deployed in Europe for NATO aircraft as part of America’s extended nuclear commitment.

The B61-7 and B61-11 are strategic weapons deployed on the B-2 bomber. An LEP recently extended the life of the B61-7 for an additional 20 years by refurbishing the bomb’s secondary stage (canned subassembly) and replacing the associated seals, foam supports, cables and connectors, washers, o-rings, and limited life components. The ongoing B61 LEP would combine mods 3, 4, and 7 into a single bomb, the B61 mod 12. The B61-12 is slated to begin production in 2020 and will refurbish the bomb  with new firing, arming, and safety components, updated radar components, permissive action link components and equipment, modified power supplies, thermal batteries, join test assemblies, weapon trainers, and test and handling gear.  The LEP will also modify the B61 for compatibility with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The LEP will extend the life of the B61s for 20-30 years.

An updated assessment of the B61 life extension program (LEP) performed by the NNSA in 2016 put the direct cost of the program at $7.6 billion, an increase of $200 million over the agency’s estimate of $7.4 billion provided in its fiscal year 2017 budget materials. The NNSA’s independent Office of Cost Estimating and Program Evaluation, however, told the GAO that its assessment of the program projects a total cost of approximately $10 billion and a two-year delay to the agency’s estimated March 2020 first production-unit date. NNSA requested $794 million for the B61 LEP in FY 2019. 

The upgraded B61 will be equipped with a new tail-kit guidance assembly that will make the bomb more accurate and allow it to have a lower yield than some of the existing variants. The new tail kit is being developed by the Air Force and is estimated to cost $1.3 billion.

The B83 was first produced in 1983, making it one of the newer weapons in the stockpile and the only remaining megaton-class weapon in the stockpile. The B83 has the most modern safety and security features, including insensitive high explosive and a fire-resistant pit. 

The Obama administration stated that the B83 would be retired once confidence in the B61 mod 12 is projected to be achieved in the mid 2020s. However, the Trump NPR reverses this decision and calls for retaining the B83 until a suitable replacement is found.

US NUCLEAR MODERNIZATION PROGRAMS

Department of Defense Programs

System

Modernization Plan

Costs

Length of Deployment

Additional Information

Minuteman III ICBM

Modernization and Replacement Program

$7 billion

through 2030 

Modernizes the propellant, guidance systems, propulsion system, targeting system, reentry vehicles and continues work on the rocket motors

New ICBM (GBSD)

Replace the Minuteman III missile and associated launch control and command and control facilities

$85-$140 billion (DoD estimate; FY 2017-2046)

2080s

Air Force plans to purchase over 600 new ICBMs

B-2 Bomber

Modernization Program

$9.5 billion (FY 2000-2014)

2050s

Improves radar and high frequency satellite communications capabilities for nuclear command and control

B-52H Bomber

On-going modifications

 

2040s

Incorporates global positioning systems, updates computers and modernizes heavy stores adapter beams, and a full array of advance weapons

Long Range Strike Bomber (B-21)

Research and development phase

$38.5 billion (FY 2017-2026)

2080s

The exact specifications of the new bomber are classified

Long Range Standoff Cruise Missile (LRSO)

Replacement for the ALCM

$20 billion (estimated; includes cost of W80-4 warhead refurbishment)

2060s

Air Force plans to procure ~1,000 LRSOs

Columbia Class SSBN (SSBN(X))

New ballistic missile submarine

$128 billion (2016 Navy acquisition estimate)

2031 - 2080s

Navy plans to purchase 12 new submarines to replace the existing 14 Ohio-class submarines

Trident II D5 SLBM LEP

Modernization and life extension

$6 billion (FY 2019-2023

2042

 

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Posted: August 13, 2018

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: The United States

August 2018

Updated: August 2018

According to the Federation of the American Scientists, as of February 2018, the United States possesses 4,000 stockpiled strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads and an additional 2,550 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, for a total of 6,550 nuclear warheads. On Feb. 2, 2018, the Trump administration released its Nuclear Posture Review, detailing the size and role of U.S. nuclear forces for this administration. The United States has destroyed about 91% of its chemical weapons arsenal as of 2017 and is due to complete destruction by 2023. It is party to the Biological Weapons Convention and has destroyed its biological weapons arsenal, although Russia alleges that U.S. biodefense research violates the BWC.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Ballistic Missile Defense Systems
  • Nuclear Doctrine
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • New START
  • Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
  • Civilian Nuclear Trade with India & the 123 Agreement
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Syrian Chemical Weapons
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1970

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

- - -

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1982

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

- - -

2015

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1975

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

2015

Back to Top

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signed in 1998, entered into force January, 2009.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Co-founder with Russia

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Founder

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

The United States has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states.

Back to Top

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

According to the Federation of the American Scientists, as of February 2018, the United States possesses 4,000 stockpiled strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads and an additional 2,550 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, for a total arsenal of 6,550 warheads. Under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the United States can deploy no more than 1,550 treaty accountable strategic warheads until February 2021 when the treaty expires. According to the February 2018 New START data exchange, the United States deploys 1,350 strategic nuclear warheads on 652 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. However, these numbers may be artificially low due to a temporary fluctuation in deployed and non-deployed weapons at the time of the exchange. The United States also deploys an additional 150 tactical (non-strategic) nuclear warheads based in Europe. While the United States and Russia maintain similarly sized total arsenals, the United States possesses a much larger number of strategic warheads and delivery systems while Russia possesses a much larger number of non-strategic (or tactical) nuclear warheads.

The United States has conducted 1,030 total nuclear tests, far more than any other nuclear-armed state. The United States is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons against another country, dropping two bombs (one apiece) on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Delivery Systems

(For a detailed overview of current and planned U.S. nuclear modernization programs, see our fact sheet here.)

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  •  As of February 2018, the United States Air Force deploys 400 LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBMs.
    • The Minuteman III has a range of over 6,000 miles (9,650-13,000 km).
    • Each missile is equipped with either one 300 kt W87 warhead or one 335 kt W78 warhead.
  • Under New START, the United States reduced the number of deployed ICBMs from 450 to 400. 50 excess silos have not been destroyed but have been kept in a “warm” operational status and can be loaded with missiles relatively quickly if necessary.
  • In 2015, the United States concluded a multibillion dollar, decade-long modernization program that will extend the service life of the Minuteman III to beyond 2030.  
  • The U.S. Air Force is also developing a new ICBM, known as the ground-based strategic deterrent, which is intended to replace the Minuteman III between 2028 and 2035.

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

Ohio-class submarines

  • The U.S. Navy operates 14 Ohio-class SSBNs submarines, two of which are undergoing overhaul of their nuclear reactors at any given time. The remaining 12 are available for deployment. However, since some operational SSBNs also undergo minor repairs at any given time the actual number of SSBNs at sea usually numbers at around 10.
  • 7 submarines are based out of Bangor, Washington and 5 submarines are based out of Kings Bay, Georgia.
  • The submarines originally had 24 missile tubes for Trident II D5 SLBMs, but under New START, the Navy deactivated 4 tubes on each submarine, finishing this process in 2017.
  • The Ohio-class submarines have a life-span of 42 years.

Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile

  • The Trident II D5 was first deployed in 1990 and has an operational range of 7,400-12,000 km.
  • The Trident II D5 missile can hold up to eight warheads (but usually holds an average of four to five) and carries 3 variants:
    • the W88—a 475 kt Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) warhead.
    • the W76-0—a 100 kt MIRV warhead.
    • the W76-1—a 100 kt MIRV warhead.
  • To comply with New START, the Navy will not deploy more than 240 missiles. As of February 2018, 203 submarine-launched ballistic missiles were deployed. 
  • An ongoing life extension program is expected to keep the Trident II D5 in service until  2042.
  • The Trident II D5 is the only MIRV’ed strategic missile remaining in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Bombers

  • As of February 2018, the Air Force deploys 36 nuclear-capable B-52H Stratofortress bombers and 13 nuclear-capable B-2A Spirit bombers.
  • The Air Force plans to deploy no more than 60 nuclear-capable strategic bombers under New START.
  • An estimated 980 nuclear warheads are assigned to the strategic bombers, but only about 300 are typically deployed at bomber bases.
    • B-52H Stratofortress bombers: dual-capable; can carry 20 AGM-86B cruise missiles. The AGM-86B has a range of 2,500 km and is equipped with a 5-150 kt W80-1 warhead
    • B-2A Spirit bombers: dual capable; can carry 16 B61-7, B61-11, or B83-1 gravity bombs.
  • The United States also maintains several fighter-aircraft that serve in a dual-capable role. The F-15E and F-16C have been the cornerstone of this aspect of nuclear deterrence, carrying the B61 gravity bomb. The new stealth F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, will replace the F-16 as the U.S. Air Force’s primary nuclear capable fighter-aircraft.

Nuclear Doctrine

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), released on Feb. 2, 2018, details the Trump administration’s approach to the size and role of U.S. nuclear forces. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, in a Feb. 2, 2018 press briefing, claimed that the 2018 NPR “reaffirms that the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear policy is deterrence.” Critics of the document argue that the NPR reverses previous policy to reduce the role and number of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Declaratory Policy

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” For more on declaratory policy, see: Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances.

Negative Security Assurance

The NPR also includes a negative security assurance that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapons states that are “party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and are in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.” It caveats its negative security assurance by retaining “the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies and U.S. capabilities to counter that threat.” For more on negative security assurances, see: U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

Ballistic Missile Defense Systems

The United States develops and deploys several ballistic missile defense systems around the world. To learn more, see: "U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance." 

Fissile Material

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • The United States has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material for weapons purposes. It stopped production of HEU in 1992.
  • In March 2016, the United States announced the declassification of its national inventory of highly enriched uranium (HEU), as of September 30, 2013.
  • The United States halted the production of HEU for weapons in 1964 and ceased plutonium separation for weapons in 1992.
  • Estimates from 2016 place the U.S. HEU stockpile at around 600 metric tons, including 253 metric tons of military HEU and 264 metric tons of fresh and spent naval HEU.
  • According to the 2015 Global Fissile Material Report, the United States has about 40 metric tons of HEU remaining to be downblended of the 187 metric tons it declared as excess to defense requirements and has committed to dispose.

Plutonium

  • The United States ended production of separated plutonium in 1988.
  • At the end of 2014, U.S. military plutonium stockpiles amounted to a total of 87.6 declared metric tons (49.3 metric tons of which are declared as excess military plutonium).
  • In October 2016, citing U.S. failure to meet its obligations under the agreement, Russia suspended its own implementation of the deal. Russia refuses to resume the agreement’s implementation until U.S. sanctions against Russia are lifted and NATO forces in Europe are reorganized along lines favorable to Russia. Russia contends that U.S. plans to abandon the conversion of plutonium into MOX fuel in favor of a cheaper and faster downblending method does not meet the terms of the deal because doing so would fail to change the composition of the plutonium from weapons grade to reactor grade. 
  • The United States possesses no separated civilian plutonium but at the end of 2014, an estimated 625 metric tons of plutonium were contained in spent fuel stored at civilian reactor sites.
  • Under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), finalized with Russia in 2000, the United States committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium beginning in 2018. The agreement was amended in 2010 to change the agreed disposition methods in which Russia abandoned using mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in light-water reactors in favor or irradiating plutonium in its fast-neutron reactors. The amendment also expressed renewed U.S. commitment to provide $400 million towards the Russian disposition program. Russia suspended cooperation with the agreement in November 2016.

 Proliferation Record

  • A close relationship exists between U.S. and British nuclear weapons programs. The United States supplies the United Kingdom with the Trident II D5 SLBM.
  • Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey all host U.S. tactical nuclear gravity bombs as part of NATO nuclear sharing agreements. The estimated 180 weapons remain under U.S. custody during peacetime, but some may be released to U.S. allies for delivery in times of war.
  • Beginning with President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 “Atoms for Peace” initiative, the United States has engaged in extensive worldwide trading and exchanging of fissile materials and technical information for nuclear science research and the peaceful use of nuclear technology. In 1954, an amendment to the Atomic Energy Act allowed bilateral nuclear agreements with U.S. allies to proceed, with the intent of exporting only low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel; however, this soon expanded to include HEU.
  • Under the “Atoms for Peace” program a number of former, aspiring, and current nuclear weapon-states such as South Africa, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Israel all received, directly or indirectly, training and technology transfers utilized in their nuclear weapons programs. For example, in 1967, the United States supplied Iran with a 5 megawatt nuclear research reactor along with HEU fuel. Iran admitted to using the reactor in the early 1990s for the production of small amounts of Polonium-210, a radioactive substance capable of starting a chain reaction inside a nuclear weapon.
  • Since the end of the Cold War the United States has tried to mitigate the adverse effects of the “Atoms for Peace” initiative and returned exported HEU and plutonium to the United States.

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Biological Weapons

  • In the early 1970s, the United States destroyed its entire stockpile of biological weapons, which had been developed between 1943 and 1969.
  • In 2001, the Bush administration opposed and killed an effort dating back to 1995 to augment the Biological Weapons Convention with a legally binding verification protocol. U.S. officials said the protocol would be too burdensome on legitimate governments and private biodefense programs, while at the same time failing to deter cheaters.
  • According to a 2016 State Department report, “In December 2015 at the annual Meeting of States Parties to the BWC, the delegation of the Russian Federation asserted that the United States had knowingly transferred live anthrax spores to a foreign country for use in open-air testing, and that this constituted a ‘grave violation’ of Articles III and IV of the BWC [Biological Weapons Convention].”
  • The United States maintains that these transfers were a blunder. The report also notes that, “All U.S. activities during the reporting period were consistent with the obligations set forth in the BWC. The United States continues to work toward enhancing transparency of biological defense work using the BWC confidence building measures.”

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Chemical Weapons

  • Behind Russia, the United States has declared the second-largest stockpile of chemical agents.
  • As of Oct. 31, 2017, the United States had destroyed 25,154 metric tons, or about 91 percent, of its declared Category 1 chemical weapons stockpile. The United States has completed destruction of all its Category 2 and 3 chemical weapons. 
  • The United States received several extensions on its initial deadline for chemical weapons destruction under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and it now due to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal by 2023.
  • Destruction of the United States’ largest remaining stockpile of chemical weapons began in March of 2015 at Colorado’s Pueblo Chemical Depot. Upon completion, the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Kentucky will have the last remaining chemical agent stockpile in the United States.

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities  

New START
In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor agreement to the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) accord. The 2010 agreement, known as New START, commenced on Feb. 5, 2011. It requires that both sides reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 ICMBs, SLMBs, and bombers by Feb. 5, 2018 and both sides met the limits by the deadline. In addition, it contains rigorous monitoring and verification provisions to ensure compliance with the agreement. President Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned the value of New START, calling it a “one-sided” agreement.

Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
In February 2013, President Obama announced that the United States intended to engage with Russia to further reduce deployed strategic warheads by one-third below the New START limit to around 1,100 to 1,000 deployed warheads. However, there has been little progress toward achieving such reductions due to the deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s insistence that other issues, such as limits on U.S. missile defenses, be part of negotiations on further reductions.

Civilian Nuclear Trade with India & the 123 Agreement
In July 2005, the United States signed a controversial agreement with India to repeal most U.S. and multilateral civilian nuclear trade restrictions on India. In 2006, Congress amended its own domestic legislation to allow nuclear trade with India to proceed. The two governments later concluded a “123 Agreement,” which was approved by Congress and signed into law in October 2008. In September 2008, India received a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The United States has pushed for India to become a member of the NSG, but in January 2017, China and other countries blocked India's membership bid on the grounds that India has not yet signed the NPT.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The United States has ratified a protocol to the Latin America and the Caribbean Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) treaty pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the contracting parties. The U.S. has declined to ratify similar additional protocols to any of the remaining NWFZ treaties for Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. 

Nuclear Security Summits
In April 2010, the United States hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC. Participants included 47 countries, 38 of which were represented at the head of state or head of government level, and the heads of the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the European Union. At the summit, the participants unanimously adopted the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in the next four years. The United States also attended the NSS in Seoul, South Korea, on March 26-27, 2012 and the third NSS on Mar. 24-25, 2014. Washington hosted a fourth summit in the Spring of 2016 where attendees developed action plans for five global organizations to continue the work of the summits.

Syrian Chemical Weapons
In September 2013, in the aftermath of the large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, United States reached an agreement with Russia to account, inspect, control, and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. Before the deal was reached, the United States was planning to use airstrikes to punish the perpetrators of the attack, which the United States blamed on the Syrian government. By July 2014, Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile had been successfully removed from the country and flagged for destruction following a broad multilateral operation. However, the United States has raised concerns about the accuracy of Syria’s declaration.

In September 2014, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that chlorine gas was being used in Syria. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Mar. 6, 2015 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to suggest that the Assad regime was the likely perpetrator of the chlorine gas attacks; Russia, however, was hesitant to assign blame. In August 2016, the third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was released, finding that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks.

In April 2017, another chemical weapon attack was carried out in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun where Syrian government warplanes were accused of spreading a nerve agent via bombs, killing dozens. U.S. President Donald Trump responded by immediately blaming the regime of Bashar Assad and launching 59 Tomahawk missiles targeting the airfield that had allegedly launched the. Following the launches, Trump stated that “It is in this vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” As a justification for the U.S. response, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that “If you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.”   

(For a detailed timeline on Syrian chemical weapons, see our fact sheet here.)

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
Under the Obama administration the United States played the central role in the brokering of the July 2015 JCPOA, better known as the “Iran deal,” which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Congress in September 2015 debated a resolution that would have blocked implementation of the accord, but it failed to receive enough votes to pass the Senate. In January 2016, financial and oil sanctions on Iran were lifted along with the release of $100 billion worth of frozen Iranian assets after international inspectors confirmed that Iran had rolled back large sections of its nuclear program. In an effort to preserve the deal before leaving office, the Obama administration worked to fend off additional sanctions and encouraged American companies to conduct business in Iran.

On May 8, President Trump violated the JCPOA by committing to re-impose sanctions on Iran that were lifted by the agreement. After President Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the deal, the other parties to the agreement decided to continue to implement their obligations.

Conference on Disarmament (CD)

The Conference on Disarmament was established in 1979 as a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum by the international community. At the 65-member CD, the United States has expressed support for continuing discussions on the CD's core issues: nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT), prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), and negative security assurances. The United States has been a prominent supporter of a proposed FMCT.

In March 1995, the CD took up The Shannon Mandate which established an ad hoc committee directed to negotiate an FMCT by the end of the 1995 session. A lack of consensus over verification provisions, as well as desires to hold parallel negotiations on outer space arms control issues, prevented negotiations from getting underway. Later, in May 2006, the United States introduced a draft FMCT along with a draft mandate for its negotiations. However, following an impasse in negotiations on a FMCT in 2010, the United States (and others) signaled its desire to look at alternative approaches outside the CD and called for negotiations to be moved to the United Nations General Assembly where the agreement could be endorsed by a majority vote. However, the United States no longer makes comments to this effect.

 The United States does not support negotiations on PAROS, deeming it unnecessary because there are no weapons yet deployed in outer space. China and Russia continue to articulate a desire to hold parallel negotiations, a point which has further stalled efforts to begin FMCT negotiations.

 

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Posted: August 13, 2018

Can Trump and Putin Head Off a New Nuclear Arms Race?

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Trump and Putin have an important opportunity to put the brakes on a new, potentially more dangerous, arms race.

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Volume 10, Issue 8, August 8, 2018

The much-anticipated July 16 summit meeting in Helsinki between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin did not go well for the United States. In a news conference following the two-hour, one-on-one tête-à-tête between the two leaders, Trump, unfortunately, failed to condemn Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and said he believed Putin’s denial of involvement to be “extremely strong and powerful.”

Nor does it appear that the meeting has resulted in any tangible breakthrough toward the goal of improving the strained U.S.-Russian relationship. This includes the most important area in which U.S. and Russian security interests continue to align: reducing the risk of catastrophic nuclear war and curbing a qualitative nuclear arms race that threatens to become a quantitative arms race.

The United States is poised to spend more than $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years on maintaining and upgrading its nuclear delivery systems (bombers, land-based missiles, and submarines) and their associated warheads and supporting infrastructure. The Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review spells out – with more frightening specificity than before – the circumstances under which use of American nuclear weapons will be considered and proposes two new, “more usable” types of low-yield nuclear weapons.

Russia is also replacing and upgrading its bloated nuclear arsenal. Worse yet, Russia is in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and Putin has boasted of new, Strangelovian weapons, including nuclear-armed hypersonic glide vehicles, globe-circling nuclear-powered cruise missiles and very long-range nuclear torpedoes for use against American port cities.

Neither the planning nor the boasting needs to become our reality. Indeed, Trump told reporters at the White House in March that he wanted to meet with Putin in large part “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control” and has characterized the costly nuclear upgrade programs being pursued by each side as “a very, very bad policy.”

In Helsinki, Putin presented the Trump administration with several proposals “to work together further to interact on the disarmament agenda, military, and technical cooperation.” These included: beginning discussions about an extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which verifiably limits U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear forces and expires in early 2021; reaffirming commitment to the INF Treaty; resuming dialogue on Russian concerns about U.S. missile defense plans and joint efforts to eliminate missile threats; and measures to prevent dangerous military incidents. Russia also proposed to resume “strategic stability” talks as a forum to discuss the above and related issues.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet at the 2017 G-20 Hamburg Summit, July 2017 (Source: Kremlin.ru)

Following the summit, Trump stated that “[p]erhaps the most important issue we discussed at our meeting...was the reduction of nuclear weapons throughout the world.”

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee July 25 that no specific agreements were reached on nuclear arms control in Helsinki and the administration doesn’t yet have a position on whether to extend New START. U.S. officials have said that Washington has been seeking to resume the strategic stability talks, but the two sides have not agreed upon a date.

As the United States and Russia work to build on the dialogue that began in Helsinki and prepare for a possible second summit meeting between Trump and Putin, there are four relatively simple decisions the two leaders could make that could reduce nuclear risks and lay a more positive foundation for further steps not just in nuclear arms control, but in the still thornier disputes that divide the two powers.

Immediately Extend New START

Like the larger relationship, the U.S.-Russian arms control architecture is under significant strain. New START remains one of the few bright spots in the relationship. Ratified in 2011, the Treaty limits the number of deployed strategic warheads to a maximum of 1,550 on each side, a target each met earlier this year, and which is far below the tens of thousands we pointed at each other during the Cold War. The Treaty imposes important bounds on strategic nuclear competition as long as it is in force.

Although it expires in February 2021, the treaty can be extended by up to five years by agreement by the two Presidents, without requiring further action by the Congress or the Duma. If New START is not extended, then in 2021 there will be no legally-binding limits on the world’s two largest strategic arsenals for the first time since 1972. Unconstrained U.S.-Russian nuclear competition - in both numbers and technology - could spark an arms race as dangerous as that of the 1950s and 1960s and add scores of billions in additional costs to an already unrealistic U.S. nuclear upgrade plan.

For his part, Putin has repeatedly voiced interest in extending the treaty. This seems due in part to the fact that if the New START limit on deployed strategic warheads (1,550 each) were to expire, the United States would have a significant “upload” potential by virtue of its higher number of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles.

The most recent New START data exchange shows that the United States has 652 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers, while Russia has 527. Russia appears to be seeking a similar upload capability. This means that in the absence of New START, each side could quickly increase the number of warheads deployed on these systems.

In his first call with Putin after inauguration day, Trump reportedly described New START as another flawed deal negotiated by his predecessor, like the Iran deal that he recently upended. Before joining the Trump administration as National Security Advisor, John Bolton also castigated the agreement. The administration is currently conducting a review of the pros and cons of extending the treaty.

But a decision to extend the Treaty can be packaged so that it is a personal victory for President Trump, rather than an extension of an Obama achievement. Extension until February 2026, would preserve its significant security advantages – not only the numerical limits, which aid U.S. military planning, but also the mutual transparency provided by the treaty’s verification measures (including data exchanges, notifications, and inspections).

An extension would also buy more time for the two sides to discuss other stabilizing measures while improving the bilateral political atmosphere. It would provide a venue to discuss and possibly limit several of the new systems under development by Russia (the treaty allows for the limitation of new strategic arms developed after the treaty entered into force) and lay the base for talks to further reduce each side’s nuclear stockpiles.

Moreover, while many observers are rightly concerned about what Trump might give away in diplomacy with Putin, extending New START could help create a positive atmosphere for reducing tensions in the U.S.-Russian relationship without making an unwise or impractical concession to Moscow. Key Senate Democrats have called for an extension of the treaty so long as Russia remains in compliance with it.

Resolve the INF Treaty Compliance Dispute

The INF Treaty made a major contribution to European and global security by verifiably eliminating all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

However, the treaty is now at risk, with the United States charging that Russia has deployed an illegal ground-launched cruise missile – the 9M729. Moscow, for its part, alleges, far less credibly, that Washington may be violating the treaty too. Its major gripe is that the U.S. is deploying missile defense systems in Europe that could be used to launch offensive missiles.

Russia’s flagrant violation of the treaty, as well as other key agreements such as the Chemical Weapons Convention, is unacceptable and requires a firm U.S. response, including enhancements to U.S. and NATO conventional military preparedness if the violation persists.

Complicating matters further, the Trump administration is pursuing a response to Russia’s violation that includes the development of our own treaty-prohibited missile. Some in Congress are also suggesting that we respond to Russia’s violations by declaring the agreement null and void if Russia doesn’t immediately return to compliance. Both moves play directly into Moscow’s propaganda interests.

Efforts to address the reciprocal accusations through the treaty’s dispute mechanism – the Special Verification Commission – have done little to resolve either side’s concerns. This is the moment when Trump and Putin need to provide a political impetus to those stalled expert discussions. The problems are technically complex, but they can be resolved.

Independent U.S. and Russian experts who are familiar with the nature of the Russian INF violation agree that in order to break the impasse, both sides need to acknowledge the concerns of the other side. They argue that Washington and Moscow should agree to reciprocal site visits by experts to examine the missiles and the deployment sites in dispute. If the 9M729 missile is determined to have a range that exceeds 500 km, Russia could modify the missile to ensure it no longer violates the treaty or, ideally, halt production and eliminate any such missiles in its possession.

For its part, the United States could modify its missile defense launchers to clearly distinguish them from the launchers used to fire offensive missiles from U.S. warships or agree to transparency measures that give Russia confidence the launchers don’t contain offensive missiles. Such an arrangement would address the concerns of both sides and restore compliance with the treaty without Russia having to acknowledge its original violation of the treaty.

Resume the Dialogue on Strategic Stability

Russian-American consultations on strategic stability are neither a luxury nor “business as usual.” They provide a means for each side to express concerns about new technologies and capabilities that may disrupt the tenuous balance of nuclear terror that has held – with a good deal of luck – for more than 60 years. This dialogue provides the forum at which military officials can make agreements that reduce the risk of a non-nuclear conflict. It also provides the ‘circuit breaking’ signal mechanisms that can prevent an incident from escalating from conventional to nuclear combat.

As Bernard Brodie noted in 1946 at the onset of the nuclear age, the chief job of the military is now not to win wars, but to avert them. A strategic stability dialogue serves the function of enhancing understanding and avoiding misperceptions between two military establishments with world-killing power that can be unleashed within minutes of an order to do so.

There is much of concern to discuss through the strategic stability format as first envisioned by the Obama administration. In addition to the development of new nuclear weapons and the erosion of key arms control guardrails, technological change and advances in conventional weapons are raising concerns about new escalation dangers. Both sides are developing hypersonic missiles, new missile defense capabilities, offensive cyber weapons, and anti-satellite and counterspace weapons.

U.S. efforts to convene such a bilateral dialogue have led only to intermittent meetings in the last five years, with no hard results. The United States and Russia held a round of strategic stability talks in September in Helsinki, but Russia pulled out of the second round of talks slated to take place in March in Vienna.

The Nuclear Posture Review did not offer any proposals to advance U.S.-Russian arms control or address these growing challenges to strategic stability more broadly. But with Trump’s State Department team finally in place, it’s time for the two leaders to commit to an intensified dialogue to reduce the immediate risk and to lay the basis for eventually achieving a less threatening nuclear posture on both sides. To succeed such a dialogue must include topics which the United States has always been reluctant to put on the agenda, such as ballistic missile defense and the development of rapid-strike conventional weapons.

Making Avoiding Nuclear War Great Again

When Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for a summit meeting in 1985 in Geneva, they issued a joint statement that was both self-evident and reassuring: “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” It set the right tone for the resumption of nuclear arms reduction negotiations that would eventually yield dramatic results in the years that followed.

In itself, such a statement from Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at their next meeting would not immediately reduce bloated U.S. and Russian arsenals or eliminate the launch-under-attack nuclear doctrines that still could lead us to a civilization-ending conflict. But it would demonstrate to a world on edge about Moscow and Washington’s nuclear bluster that those who fashion themselves as world leaders recognize their most basic responsibilities to humanity.

For decades, U.S. leadership has limited the spread of nuclear weapons, drastically reduced the global inventory of these weapons, brought about a halt to all nuclear testing by all but one state (North Korea), and sustained a strong taboo against nuclear weapons use.

But today—five decades after the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons was negotiated—the global nuclear order is under increasing strain due to the North Korean threat, stalled progress on global disarmament, rising tensions between several nuclear-armed states, and global technological advances that are putting new pressures on nuclear stability.

Trump and Putin have an important opportunity to put the brakes on a new, potentially more dangerous, arms race. Important steps in that direction would come from extending New START, preserving the INF Treaty while resolving compliance disputes, and resuming discussion of the strategic stability agenda, from which both sides and the broader world community will benefit.

THOMAS M. COUNTRYMAN, former acting under secretary of state for arms control and international security and chairman of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association; KINGSTON A. REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy; DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director

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Posted: August 8, 2018

ACA Board Chair on Pathways to a Nuclear Weapon Free World

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Remarks by Thomas Countryman to the International Symposium for Peace in Nagasaki, Japan

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Pathways to a Nuclear Weapon Free World

Remarks by Thomas Countryman
Chairman of the Arms Control Association
to the International Symposium for Peace 
Nagasaki, Japan
July 28, 2018

Introduction

Panelists discuss working toward sustainable peace at the International Symposium for Peace “The Road to Nuclear Weapons Abolition” held on July 28 in Nagasaki. (Photo: Kengo Hiyoshi/Asahi Shimbun)Let me thank the organizers of today’s conference for bringing me again to Japan. In my current focus outside the government of the United States, continuing to push for real progress on nonproliferation and arms control measures, it's always a special pleasure to come to Japan. The Japanese role in leading the international diplomatic challenge to create the highest standards in arms control and nonproliferation is unparalleled. Not only as a partner of the United States but in its own leadership role, Japan has done much to create the modern nonproliferation regime that has greatly reduced but not yet eliminated the threat that weapons of mass destruction pose to all of us.

It is especially moving to be here in Nagasaki. Visiting the memorial yesterday, a sacred place, brought back to me what President Abraham Lincoln said at the site of the bloodiest battle America ever witnessed: that those who have fallen on this site “have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract”. I sensed on this spot what no book can convey: the enormous challenge and the risk that humanity continues to face in the presence of 15,000 nuclear weapons in this world. Here I want to commend the very special role the hibakusha have played in preserving vital lessons for the memory of humanity. For 70 years, they have spread the simple truth that a human being is not just a statistic. They will touch future generations long after their own has passed from this world. I wish that every American and every world leader would have the opportunity to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki as I have.

Current Challenges

It is much easier to talk about the challenges to nuclear disarmament than it is to describe a simple path to a world free of nuclear weapons. So let me dwell first on the current challenges that we face.

First, the two major nuclear powers, the United States and the Russian Federation, have passed a turning point in their nuclear doctrines and nuclear arsenals. After about 40 years of a steady decrease in the size and diversity of their nuclear arsenals and the mission that each assigned to their nuclear weapons, both Washington and Moscow have turned a corner towards expanding the size and variety of arsenals and the circumstances for their use.

U.S. 2018 Nuclear Posture Review

The U.S. administration’s Nuclear Posture Review from this February is not a radical change from the previous nuclear posture but it is a significant change in direction. In calling for the development of new low-yield nuclear weapons, the United States is thinking more actively and – in my view - making more thinkable the use of low-yield nuclear weapons in the context of a conventional conflict. As so many have pointed out, there is no such thing as a limited nuclear war once that threshold has been crossed. “A nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon," George Shultz, who served as President Ronald Reagan's top diplomat, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in January. "You use a small one, then you go to a bigger one. I think nuclear weapons are nuclear weapons and we need to draw the line there."

Secondly, the Nuclear Posture Review describes with more specificity than before circumstances under which the United States would consider the use of nuclear weapons to encompass not only first use by an opponent but also a response to a devastating attack by cyber or other means. Just two years ago, the Obama administration considered carefully the possibility of proclaiming a no-first-use doctrine for U.S. nuclear weapons. That U.S. policy has now shifted towards a broader definition of possible first use is of deep concern to me.

Finally, I am most disappointed in the Nuclear Posture Review in that it effectively renounces the traditional leadership that the U.S has exercised on non-proliferation and arms control issues. It makes no mention of America’s binding legal obligation under Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to pursue a reduction in arsenals. It makes no new proposals for how the U.S. will move forward in negotiations with Russia and others. And it defers any meaningful action until security conditions in the world have improved. This retreat from global leadership, whether in arms control, in climate policy or in free trade agreements is unworthy of a nation that claims to be a superpower.

Russia

As concerned as I am about the direction of U.S. policy, I am even more concerned about the continuing development by Russia of new weapons and new delivery methods. Russia seems driven by an exaggerated fear, in fact, a paranoia, about the future capabilities of U.S. missile defense. I call these fears exaggerated because I believe that missile defense can never provide an impenetrable shield. Russia is building not only new generations of ICBMs but even more dangerous weapons systems that seem to step out of the pages of a science fiction comic book, including a nuclear torpedo of unlimited range and a nuclear-powered cruise missile. Russia seems intent on probing the boundaries of existing arms control agreements, particularly the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty which laid the basis for the next 25 years of successful arms limitations. Even more than the uninformed statements by the U.S. president, the rhetoric of the Russian president - increasingly defining Russia’s national power as a function of its nuclear arsenal - erodes both the prospect of future arms control and the moral taboo against initiating the use of nuclear weapons. The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is due to expire in 2021 and although President Putin has raised the prospect of extending the treaty, President Trump has so far rebuffed such proposals.

Joint Comprehensive Program Of Action

In the shorter term, I am especially concerned about the U.S. decision to withdraw from, that is to violate, the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action with Iran. This agreement is unprecedented, both in its inspection and verification requirements, and it prevented the risk of a tenth state breaking into the nuclear weapons club. I do not believe that Iranian development of a nuclear weapon is imminent but I am deeply concerned about the follow-on effects of this decision, that is the undermining of U.S. credibility and commitment to any agreement, the creation of a serious dispute between the U.S. and its best allies in Europe and Asia, the erosion of the international rules-based order and a resurgent radicalism in Iran.

North Korea

I am less pessimistic but still deeply concerned about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. President Trump did the right thing, trading in violent rhetoric for an opportunity for dialogue. There are dozens of reasons to distrust North Korea’s approach to negotiations and to doubt the capability of the Trump administration to negotiate a meaningful, verifiable denuclearization of North Korea. But the pursuit of negotiation is far preferable to simply sleepwalking towards war, as we seemed to be doing a year ago.

Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)

The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty remains central to our shared global ambition to prevent the development of new nuclear weapons and to reduce existing arsenals. On the surface, the deliberations at NPT conferences often seem utterly divorced from the real world. In fact, all the concerns I’ve just listed have a real effect on the degree of consensus you can reach among NPT parties and on the commitment that other parties show to the treaty.

For the 2020 Review Conference, I can foresee the worst but I am determined to work for the best. The RevCon can easily be upset either by the U.S. and Russia sniping at each other or by the continued inability of the states in the Middle East to sit down together and begin the process of discussing a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the Middle East. But the most severe threat to the unity of states-parties is the growing frustration of non-nuclear weapon states with the pace of nuclear disarmament. Seeing no new U.S.-Russian agreements since 2010 and the new threatening developments in Washington and Moscow that I’ve already described, the majority of the world’s non-nuclear weapon states have made clear that they will demand more urgent progress in 2020.

Moving Towards a Nuclear Weapon Free World

So what can we do to move towards a world free from nuclear weapons?

Near-Term Steps

There are a number of steps that the United States and Russia could take right now that would change the current trajectory. First and most simply, to hear President Trump and President Putin repeat what Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan said in 1985 - that a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought - would be of value, would provide some reassurance that these two leaders understand their responsibilities to humanity. Secondly, the United States and Russia need to extend New START. Third, they need to make a political decision to work harder on resolving the dispute about compliance with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty. And fourth there needs to be a more regular dialogue between Moscow and Washington on both the military and political level, to pursue risk reduction measures that would prevent a conventional conflict from escalating to a nuclear one and to explore other steps that would allow each to maintain security at a lower level of armament. Finally, the United States should reassert the leadership it showed after 2010 when it led an intensive dialogue among the P5 nuclear-weapon states to give the world greater transparency, to reduce nuclear risks, and to lay the groundwork for future multilateral arms control.

It’s not easy to get either Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin to do something that reminds them of Mikhail Gorbachev or Barack Obama. In fact, it’s not easy to get them to do something unless you can convince them that it was their own brilliant idea. But it is an obligation of the rest of the world to continue to press for this. I know from my own experience with bilateral diplomacy that meetings with either Russian or American leaders always have an agenda filled with urgent items and that concerns about long-term items such as arms control simply fall out of the conversation. It is crucial that not only Japanese leaders but all world leaders press both Presidents to take serious action.

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Beyond Moscow and Washington, what can non-nuclear weapon states do for themselves to move us towards a nuclear-weapon-free world? Many non-nuclear weapon states have sought to answer that question by negotiating a new treaty banning nuclear weapons, adopted last July.

The drafting of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons last year was historic. Some would like to see it as simply an expression of frustration on the part of the non-nuclear weapon states. It’s a lot more than that. It is a strong moral and ethical statement. And more than that, it is something tangible, something that can be touched by the hibakusha and the citizens of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It is a statement of reality that the risk of nuclear war is not born only by the nuclear-weapon states but by the entire world. And it is intended to serve as an impulse for further action globally on nuclear disarmament. I’m well aware of its limitations. The TPNW will not by itself immediately eliminate any nuclear weapons. And it does not provide a pathway for Washington and Moscow to overcome their current impasse.

I don’t see the discussion between advocates and skeptics of the TPNW as being an argument about practicalities or about whether this treaty can work. It is - or it should be - a respectful discussion about deterrence. Nations that face no immediate military threat tend to underestimate the importance that military alliances and military deterrence play for those states that do face actual military threats. Similarly, those states whether in Europe or in Asia that feel reassurance under the nuclear umbrella of the United States tend not to appreciate how strongly concerned other states are about the disastrous humanitarian effects that a nuclear war would cause.

What is needed now is a multi-sided discussion on a topic that is easy to define and extremely difficult to resolve: how to guarantee the security of the world and of each nation without resort to nuclear deterrence. This is a discussion that has to bring together not only the idealists and social activists who helped to bring about the TPNW but also the security experts and military leaders who have the responsibility of providing for their nations’ security. It has to bring together not only nuclear-weapon states but those who are allies of nuclear-weapon states and those who feel themselves to be far from any military threat. Given my own experience with the ineffectiveness of the United Nations as a place to discuss such difficult issues, I think it has to start smaller than a conference of 190 countries.

UN Secretary-General’s Disarmament Agenda

Washington and Moscow are not going to lead this discussion. What can the rest of the world do? The UN Secretary General has laid out a comprehensive blueprint on what needs to be done on disarmament issues to provide genuine security for our citizens. I love the document. I’d like to focus in particular on what he says about nuclear disarmament.

He calls on the United States and Russia to resolve INF compliance concerns, extend New START and pursue additional reductions. He encourages all states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to negotiate a fissile material cutoff treaty, establish a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, pursue nuclear risk reduction measures, and develop nuclear disarmament verification standards and techniques. He warned that the international community is moving backward on disarmament. “Let us all work together to bring new urgency to achieve the universal goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world,” he said while unveiling his agenda at the University of Geneva in late May.

So how do we take forward an idea on which not only everyone in this room but most of the world is united upon?

Joint Enterprise

Now is the time to convene a high-level summit approach to help overcome the impasse on nuclear disarmament. Leaders from a core group of states can invite their counterparts - 20 to 30 heads of states of nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon countries - to join a one or two day summit on steps to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. This could be a starting point for ongoing regular disarmament discussions at the expert and ministerial level. As the former foreign minister Kishida argued, this dialogue must be based both on a clear understanding of the devastating impact of nuclear weapon use and an objective assessment of the security concerns of states.

This is not a new idea. Four of the best American thinkers on such issues - George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn - have been arguing for several years for a Joint Enterprise, a new multilateral effort that would take concrete, practical steps to create the conditions that would make possible genuine nuclear disarmament. As outlined by the “four horsemen,” a Joint Enterprise summit would be supplemented by a joint communique from all participating states and national commitments to work towards disarmament. Unfortunately, the leadership of such an effort will not come from either Washington or Moscow. When the long-time ‘leader of the free world’ is deliberately stepping away from leadership, the other democratic nations of the world must take up the challenge. It’s up to Japan, to Germany, to Canada, to other nations that still believe in multilateralism to get this effort started.

Discussion of the conditions that would help achieve a nuclear weapons-free world must become as common among world leaders as discussions about tariffs or immigration. The constant raising of this topic is the responsibility of Presidents and Prime Ministers, and it is the duty of citizens of all nations to remind their leaders of this responsibility.

It is written in Pirkei Avot, a well-known Jewish text, that “you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Here in Nagasaki, we say again that all of us – elected leaders, civil society organizations, and ordinary citizens – “we will not desist from this duty.”

Thank you and God bless you!

 

 

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Posted: July 28, 2018

New Nuclear Option Faces Budget Uncertainty

The Trump administration envisions a small number of low-yield nuclear warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.


April 2018
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report calls for the near-term deployment of a small number of low-yield nuclear warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), but the administration has yet to find the money needed to do that.

The Defense Department’s budget request for fiscal year 2019, released on Feb. 12, includes $22.6 million for developing the missile variant. The department plans to spend a total of $48.5 million on the effort over the next five years, according to budget documents obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry swears in Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration on February 22. She told a Senate committee March 14 that the administration is looking at options for funding planned low-yield nuclear warheads. (Photo: NNSA)But the proposed budget for the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which maintains nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure, did not include the funds needed to modify SLBM warheads. The administration plans to modify a small number of 100-kiloton W76-1 SLBM warheads to detonate at a less powerful yield by removing the weapon’s uranium secondary core. The W76 is currently undergoing a $4 billion life extension program that is slated for completion next year.

NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 14 that the agency is “working closely” with the Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon to identify the necessary funding options. The Pentagon and NNSA say the modification can be completed quickly, perhaps as soon as the end of 2019.

U.S. law requires that the energy secretary specifically request congressional authorization and appropriations to develop a new or modified nuclear warhead. Although the NNSA did not seek funds for the modification in its original budget request, the agency could make a supplemental request later this year or ask Congress for permission to reprogram funds from other activities.

The NPR report also calls for the development of a nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) that could be available for fielding within the next decade. The fiscal year 2019 budget request includes $1 million to begin an analysis of the performance requirements and costs to pursue that capability.

The United States deployed SLCMs during the Cold War, but President George H.W. Bush removed them from attack submarines and surface ships in the early 1990s. President Barack Obama ordered the retirement of the aging warhead for the missile in the report for the 2010 NPR. (See ACT, May 2010.)

The Trump administration NPR report calls for the development of the two additional low-yield nuclear capabilities primarily to counter Russia’s alleged willingness to use or threaten to use tactical nuclear weapons on a limited basis to stave off defeat in a conventional conflict or crisis, a strategy known as “escalate to de-escalate.” (See ACT, March 2018.) Russia possesses a larger and more diverse arsenal of such weapons than the United States.

According to the report, the development of the two options “is not intended to enable, nor does it enable, ‘nuclear war-fighting.’” Rather, expanding U.S. tailored response options will “raise the nuclear threshold and help ensure that potential adversaries perceive no possible advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear weapons employment less likely,” according to the report. Critics maintain that the report misconstrues Russian nuclear doctrine and that additional low-yield options are unnecessary.

The Trump administration is also pursuing research and development on and concepts and options for conventional ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) The fiscal year 2019 budget documents do not specify how much money the Pentagon proposes to spend on this work.

In total, the Defense Department is requesting $24 billion for nuclear forces, an increase of $5 billion from the fiscal year 2018 request. This includes $11 billion for nuclear force sustainment and operations; $7 billion for upgrade programs such as the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine replacement, B-21 “Raider” heavy bomber, and the long-range standoff weapon; and $6 billion for nuclear command, control, and communications. The NPR report acknowledges that the cost to sustain and upgrade the arsenal is “substantial,” but claims the projected bill is affordable and will consume no more than 6.4 percent of the Pentagon budget.

This proposed spending does not include the additional costs that must be borne by the NNSA to upgrade nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure. The administration requested $11 billion for the NNSA nuclear weapons account in fiscal year 2019.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated last fall that the plans President Donald Trump inherited from Obama to maintain and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years would cost $1.2 trillion. (See ACT, December 2017.) The figure does not include the effects of inflation.

Trump, Congress Bulk Up Ballistic Missile Defense

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request includes large funding increases for theater and strategic ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems relative to the administration’s first budget submission in May 2017. Missile defense programs accounted for $12 billion of the 2019 request, including $9.9 billion for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

Although the proposed request for the agency is up from the fiscal year 2018 request of $7.9 billion, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill last month that provides $11.5 billion, a increase of $3.6 billion above the original budget submission. President Donald Trump signed the bill on March 23.

To thwart intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the fiscal year 2019 request proposes $2.1 billion for expanding and modernizing the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. This includes construction of an additional missile field in Fort Greely, Alaska, bringing the total number of ground-based interceptors to 64. The budget request would cover 14 of the expected 20 new ground-based interceptors, as well as design and testing of the so-called Redesigned Kill Vehicle and Multi-Object Kill Vehicle intended to increase the number of kill vehicles atop each long-range intercepter.

For midcourse defense against less than ICBM-range missiles, the request allocates more funding to the Aegis Afloat ship-based ballistic missile defense system. The largest line item is $6 billion for three new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, a 50 percent increase from fiscal year 2018. Procurement for software packages and missiles decreased slightly from $2.1 billion in fiscal year 2018 to $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2019. These funds will be used to procure 43 Aegis software packages and 125 interceptor missiles, most of which are the Standard Missile-3 Block IB variant. Forty-three of the missiles are to be completed by 2020.

The envisioned spending on terminal-phase defense remained about the same, including $1.1 billion each for 82 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors and 240 Patriot Advanced Capability Missile Segment Enhancement interceptors. The fiscal year 2019 request provides for the acquisition of enough interceptors to operate seven THAAD batteries and 15 Patriot battalions worldwide.

On Feb. 16, the MDA provided Congress with a $1.6 billion wish list of 16 unfunded projects not included in the budget request. The top priority on the list is a $73 million space-based Missile Defense Tracking System to track ICBMs in their midcourse phase of flight.—RYAN FEDASIUK

Posted: April 1, 2018

The Wrong Choice for National Security Advisor

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Press release on the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor

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For Immediate Release: March 23, 2018

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

(Washington, D.C.)—The United States already faces an array of complex and dangerous foreign policy challenges that require pragmatic decision and sober diplomatic engagement with American allies and foes alike.

With the choice of John Bolton as his National Security Advisor, President Donald Trump has chosen someone with a record of a hostile attitude toward multilateral security and arms control agreements and effective international institutions designed to advance U.S. national security and international peace and security.

Bolton's extreme views could tilt the malleable Mr. Trump in the wrong direction on critical decisions affecting the future of the Iran nuclear deal, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and the strained U.S. relationship with Russia, among other issues.

Bolton is a nonproliferation hawk, but he has a disturbing and bellicose record of choosing confrontation rather than dialogue, politicizing intelligence to fit his worldview, and aggressively undermining treaties and negotiations designed to reduce weapons-related security threats. 

  • Bolton has long advocated for bombing Iran instead of pursuing negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear program and he has called on the United States to abrogate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is working to verifiably block Iran’s pathways to the bomb. 
  • In the early 2000s, Bolton was among those in the George W. Bush administration who opposed further dialogue with North Korea which allowed North Korea to advance its nuclear program and test nuclear weapons. More recently, has argued that the United States should launch a “preventive attack” on North Korea, which would result in a catastrophic war. His approach runs counter to Mr. Trump’s own stated policy of using sanctions pressure and diplomatic engagement, including a summit with Kim Jong-un, to halt and reverse North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
  • Bolton has repeatedly criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, which is one of the few bright spots in the troubled U.S.-Russia relationship and continues to enjoy strong support from the U.S. military. Last year Bolton called the treaty “an execrable deal.”
  • While undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during the George W. Bush administration, Bolton cherry-picked the findings of intelligence community assessments of that country’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities, and was a key player in making the Bush administration’s flawed case for the war in Iraq—a war that Donald Trump has correctly ridiculed as a catastrophic American foreign policy blunder.

If Bolton succeeds in imposing his worldview on Donald Trump’s improvisational and impulsive foreign policy approach, we could be entering in a period of crisis and confrontation.

In particular, if Bolton convinces Trump to unilaterally violate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May when the U.S. is due to renew sanctions waivers, it would not only open the door to the re-emergence of Iran as a nuclear weapons proliferation risk, but it would undermine President Trump’s very tentative diplomatic opening with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In the next year or so, Trump will need to decide whether or not to engage in talks with Russia about extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is due to expire in 2021. Without the treaty, there would be no verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

We can ill-afford two nuclear proliferation crises, as well as abandoning a key brake on the growing risks of renewed U.S. and Russian nuclear competition and arms racing. 

Congress will need to play a stronger role to guard against further chaos and confusion in U.S. foreign policy, prevent the White House from blundering into unwise and catastrophic military conflicts, and to halt further degradation of the credibility of the United States as a responsible global leader.

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Posted: March 23, 2018

The Future of the ICBM Force: Should the Least Valuable Leg of the Triad Be Replaced?

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Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan to overhaul the nation’s nuclear arsenal is the replacement program for the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, the land-based leg of the nuclear triad that also includes submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and heavy bombers.

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March 2018
By Ryan Snyder
Former Visiting Research Fellow at the Arms Control Association

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Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan to overhaul the nation’s nuclear arsenal is the replacement program for the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, the land-based leg of the nuclear triad that also includes submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and heavy bombers. The current deployed fleet of 400 silo-based Minuteman III ICBMs are distributed across three bases touching five states and are expected to be removed from service by the U.S. Air Force in the mid-2030s.1 A follow-on ICBM system–known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD)–is scheduled to replace the Minuteman IIIs (and their supporting infrastructure) on a one-for-one basis between 2028 and 2035.2 Many have questioned the need for this program, including former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who has argued for eliminating all ICBMs.3

The latest independent Pentagon acquisition cost estimate to design and build the ICBM replacement ranges from $85 to over $140 billion (in then-year dollars),4 while the cost to operate and sustain the weapons system over its expected 50-year service life is projected at roughly $150 billion.5 This ICBM recapitalization cost is but one piece of a larger plan to sustain and upgrade the nuclear arsenal over the next thirty years, with the total price tag projected to exceed $1.2 trillion (in 2017 dollars).6 Separate modernization programs planned for U.S. conventional forces will require additional outlays. These upgrades will necessitate either a significant and prolonged increase in defense spending, which is unlikely to be forthcoming, or a reallocation of resources within the defense budget.7 Hard choices will likely be required among competing programs.

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review published in February endorses replacing and upgrading the current Minuteman III force with the GBSD program. It will be up to Congress to assess the program’s cost-effectiveness and evaluate alternatives. This paper will examine this issue in several stages: first, by considering whether ICBMs are needed to hedge against threats to the strategic submarines; second, by discussing their possible benefits and risks as a warhead “sponge”; third, by examining whether ICBMs possess necessary capabilities absent from other legs of the triad; and last, by considering the stability implications of developing a new ICBM with enhanced capabilities. Finally, the paper evaluates alternative options to the costly GBSD program of record.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The deterrent value of the ICBM force is small and diminishing.
  • Without ICBMs, the current absence of any foreseeable threat to the U.S. strategic submarines assures that no adversary can preempt massive retaliation by the United States.
  • ICBMs should not be considered an acceptable hedge against possible future threats to the
  • strategic submarines.
  • ICBMs provide no unique nuclear strike capabilities not already provided by other legs of the strategic triad.
  • The enhanced capabilities planned for the GBSD are either unnecessary or may adversely affect strategic stability.
  • Consequently, the United States should consider eliminating its land-based missiles or abandoning or scaling back the planned GBSD program.

Are ICBMs needed to hedge against foreseeable SSBN vulnerabilities?

A central, if not the central, rationale for maintaining the ICBMs rests upon fears of vulnerability in the strategic nuclear submarine (SSBN) force.8 If the SSBNs are unable to withstand threats to their survivability and deliver nuclear weapons to the homeland of an adversary, it is argued, then the ICBMs provide a backup to carry out that mission. Absent any such threats, maintaining the ICBMs for the purpose of deterring nuclear attacks is more difficult to justify.

Concerns that technology may one day render SSBNs vulnerable have existed since nuclear weapons were first placed on submarines during the Cold War. And while U.S. SSBN vulnerability was last studied in the public domain several years ago, no prior scholarship has revealed any doubt about the survivability of the sea-based leg of the triad. Among these previous studies includes one 1983 paper by Richard Garwin that suggested the extraordinary demands of holding an SSBN in trail by passive acoustics9 would not threaten the force, and in any case, that countermeasures would very likely deter the attempt.10 Garwin further concluded that short-range sensors would be required by the “hundreds of thousands” to make the SSBN force vulnerable to attack.11 A different study claimed that countermeasures are even easier to deploy against attempts to acquire an active acoustic trail and that such threats are easily neutralized.12

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 2:10 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time Wednesday, August 2, 2017, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Photo: Ian Dudley/U.S. Air Force)Another study from 1994 by Eugene Miasnikov relied on the fundamental physics of sound propagation in the ocean to calculate the maximum range at which Russian strategic submarines could be detected. Miasnikov found that the ranges were so short that not only were covert trailing threats using passive acoustics implausible, but that the increasing silence of submarines in both the United States and Russia risked causing accidental collisions.13 This suggests that unintended mishaps have been the greater threat to SSBN survivability than from any capability intended to hold them at risk.

In addition, no nonacoustic means of detection has been found to present a survivability threat. All indications suggest that every possible nonacoustic signal–with the possible exception of subsurface water motions detected on the ocean surface by synthetic-aperture radar–can be attenuated if SSBNs patrol at greater ocean depths or if certain operational procedures or other countermeasures are implemented.14

Of course the possible detection of a U.S. SSBN is an insufficient basis upon which to judge their vulnerability. Once detected, an SSBN would need to be localized to within the range and accuracy of the weapon used to destroy it, and then successfully trailed while other U.S. SSBNs at sea were detected, localized, and trailed with acceptable confidence. Only after concluding that this circumstance may arise within a considered period could the survivability of the sea-based leg be brought into question.

Recent advancements in technology, however, have raised questions about possible future vulnerabilities. In particular, improved acoustic sensors, lasers, signal processing advancements, and unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV) have been mentioned as possible threats to the ability of submarines to remain concealed.15 Despite this concern and the need for an up-to-date review of fundamental survivability prospects in the public domain, no analysis has yet challenged the conclusions of the studies cited above.

Any review of SSBN survivability should consider whether these technological advancements neutralize the survivability gains made by the modernization and deployment of increasingly quiet submarines over the past few decades. What’s more, the U.S. Navy is planning to replace the existing fleet of 14 Ohio-class submarines with 12 new Columbia-class submarines that will use new technologies related to stealth to ensure the new boats will remain serviceable through the 2080s.

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738) dives before test firing an unarmed Trident II D5 missile off the coast of Florida, August 31, 2016. (Photo: John Kowalski/U.S. Navy)Factors that should be evaluated include: What is the maximum range at which any technology can detect an SSBN? If further localization to bring the target SSBN within range of a weapon to destroy it is necessary, what would be required? How do UUVs and advanced computer processing capabilities affect the challenge of trailing SSBNs? If any evolving technology adversely affects SSBN survivability, are there any countermeasures that could prevent an adversary from identifying real SSBNs? Even if the U.S. government has not developed countermeasures for certain detection technologies, how would an adversary reach this conclusion if possible countermeasures could be imagined? Could the U.S. government develop the necessary countermeasures? What confidence would an adversary then need before convincing itself that detecting and destroying U.S. SSBNs is possible before a second strike response from the United States?

It is important to note that one Ohio-class SSBN is armed with roughly 100 warheads–each with a yield of 100 kilotons (kt)–and carries 500 times more explosive energy than did the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki at the end of World War II.16 This is almost certainly an underestimate given that some deployed warheads on SSBNs have yields of 455 kt.17 If a single survivable SSBN only had a single 100 kt nuclear warhead uploaded onto each of its 20 Trident II D5 SLBMs, the total explosive energy would be equivalent to 100 Nagasaki bombs. Without ICBMs, each of these SSBNs at sea, both SSBN bases at Kings Bay, Georgia, and Bangor, Washington, and all nuclear-capable heavy bombers would need to be destroyed by an adversary before either a bomber or SSBN could retaliate with nuclear weapons in a second strike.18

Moreover, the long-acknowledged vulnerability of the ICBMs19 make them an unsuitable hedge against any threat to the SSBNs. To provide a useful backup, the ICBMs must be launched under attack, and possibly even on warning of an attack.20 This is unattractive because to prevent their destruction by Russia (and perhaps China in the future) a decision to launch would need to be made in only a few minutes, if not less, after detection and before knowing whether the attack is a false alarm. The deterrent value of this launch posture then rests upon the United States demonstrating commitment to it and hoping that an adversary believes it. While an argument could be made that the prospect of launching ICBMs under attack enhances deterrence, convincing U.S. adversaries that Washington would risk starting an accidental nuclear war to defend the life of the United States–when no adversary is capable of preempting massive U.S. retaliation–should be considered unacceptable.

If concerns exist about SSBN vulnerability, consideration should be given to developing a mobile or another more survivable ICBM basing mode with plans to deploy it quickly if any threat to the SSBNs arises. Mobile missiles would probably force an attacker to barrage a deployment area with nuclear weapons and deceptive basing modes would proliferate an attacker’s aim points, but both would provide a more survivable SSBN backup. Due to drastically higher costs and land constraints, however, alternatives to the fixed silo-based ICBMs appear politically infeasible; indeed, the current GBSD program plans to retain silo-basing. In any case, given expected SSBN invulnerability, threats to a more survivable ICBM are more likely to materialize first.

No rationale based upon fears of SSBN vulnerability therefore exists for spending a large sum of money to replace the ICBM force, and vulnerable silo-based ICBMs with a launch under attack option should not be considered an acceptable hedge against possible future SSBN threats.

Limitations of the ICBM “sponge” rationale

During his January 2017 confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee to become Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis stated that the deterrent value of the ICBMs is derived from the notion “that they are so buried out in the central U.S. that any enemy that wants to take us on is going to have to commit two, three, four weapons to make certain they take each one out. In other words, the ICBM force provides a cost-imposing strategy on an adversary.”21

This is a common justification for retaining a large and distributed ICBM force given the unlikely prospect of an adversary successfully destroying 400 targets. If an adversary also accepts Mattis’s premise, the large number of ICBMs could provide meaningful deterrence. Even if an adversary imagined it was possible to destroy all 400, their need to use a significant fraction of their arsenal to do so would then limit the number of warheads remaining to target U.S. cities. This is known as the warhead “sink” or “sponge” rationale for retaining the ICBM force.

Yet this reasoning has significant limitations, beginning with how improving missile accuracy will make the ICBM force less of a warhead “sponge” in the future. Today the probability of destroying a Minuteman III missile silo with a single Russian warhead could exceed 98 percent given advancements in inertial guidance that could be aided with a Global Positioning System (GPS) and maneuverable reentry vehicles (MaRVs) to improve accuracy.22 While this may be an overstatement now, it should not be expected to remain one.

From the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) level of 1,550 warheads, a successful 1:1 attack on each of the 400 U.S. ICBMs would leave Russia with 1150 strategic nuclear warheads free to target U.S. command and control and civilian population centers. Even if two Russian warheads were needed to destroy each Minuteman III silo with the desired probability, 750 warheads would still remain–more than enough to destroy American society.

Furthermore, a 1986 study calculated that the nuclear blast and radioactive fallout from an attack with two 500 kt warheads exploding over each of the then 1,000 operational U.S. ICBM silos, 100 launch control centers (LCCs), and 16 missile test silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base would cause between 2.4–15.0 million deaths and an additional 4.0–31.8 million casualties.23 While this calculation should be updated, a nuclear attack on 400 ICBMs today could still cause millions of fatalities given the larger populations living downwind of the bases.24

Maintaining the ICBMs for use as a warhead “sponge” requires that Russia direct its warheads at the American homeland in order to target missiles that can destroy their country in the event of a nuclear war. Conversely, Russia would not need to threaten millions of American lives­ in this manner if the ICBMs did not exist. The number of homeland targets used for launching nuclear weapons should therefore be kept as small as possible to limit the number of nuclear warheads an adversary would be required to detonate inside the United States. As nuclear strategist Thomas Schelling wrote in 1987:25

“If we unilaterally dismantled our land-based missiles, we would instantly deprive a large part of the Soviet land-based missile force for its raison d’être. It might look to them as if they had much less to preempt. They actually would not, because the U.S. missiles they might have preempted were redundant in the first place. Looking over a seascape inhabited by U.S. submarines and at bombers likely to be launched on warning, they would see, without the smoke and the ruins, what would have been left over after they preempted. So if we cannot dismantle their land-based missiles by negotiation, we may gain a lot by dismantling their targets instead.”

Schelling went on to add that, “It may be hard to know which it is that the land-based missile forces on both sides would lament most–the loss of their missiles or the loss of their favorite targets.”26

If one still accepts the “sponge” rationale, however, a new GBSD missile is unnecessary because an adversary would still be required to attack life-extended Minuteman III missiles to limit damage. In any case, there is no way to eliminate the capability to target American cities other than by reducing the number of nuclear weapons through arms control.

Yet this analysis of the ICBMs as a warhead “sponge” is incomplete, having thus far only suggested that more American lives would be saved without an adversary needing to target U.S. ICBMs in a nuclear war. But what about the effect of ICBMs on the likelihood of nuclear war itself? Does the ICBM force increase or decrease the chances of a nuclear exchange?

Despite whatever complications may exist for executing a successful first strike on 400 ICBMs, reliance on them to deter attacks is problematic given their vulnerability, and the consequent deterrence value they provide should be considered small. That being said, how would the motivation arise during peacetime to attempt such an attack if the SSBNs–and possibly other survivable means of retaliation by the American military–could not also be destroyed? It is doubtful that ICBM vulnerability in this case invites preemptive attack.

In a severe crisis that involves missile exchanges, major battles, or the loss of some strategic nuclear targets by conventional means, however, an adversary could conclude that escalation to the nuclear level is imminent. And if they decide that it is preferable to be attacked with fewer weapons rather than more,27 attention could turn to the ICBMs and other vulnerable U.S. military targets. This concern is supported by both Russian and U.S. nuclear counterforce doctrines designed to limit damage if nuclear war appears inevitable, with the risk heightened from ever-improving counterforce capabilities against silo-based ICBMs due to missile accuracy improvements worldwide. In this case, nuclear warheads directed against 400 ICBM targets would kill millions of more Americans than if only vulnerable U.S. command and control targets, bomber bases, and SSBN bases were preemptively destroyed.

This appears to be the most likely circumstance in which the ICBM force could be targeted–an escalating conflict that convinces an adversary to do as well as possible. The benefits imagined from destroying more versus fewer targets could then increase the likelihood of an attack. In such a crisis, it may therefore be better to demonstrate more clearly what forces cannot be preempted rather than what can. As Thomas Schelling wrote about the prospect of the United States dismantling its ICBMs: “It looks like a posture quite stable against all the motivations that could lead to an outbreak of unwanted nuclear war.”28

Do ICBMs provide other benefits?

Beyond complicating the execution of a successful first strike, the ICBMs are assumed to offer other benefits. One of these is that of the three triad legs, the ICBMs can be launched most quickly. As a December 2016 report by eight U.S. Senators in the ICBM Coalition claimed, the “ICBMs give the President a timely response option.”29

Yet a 1993 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that Communications, Command, and Control (C3) to SSBNs “is about as prompt and reliable as to ICBM silos, under a range of conditions.”30 The same report also found “no operationally meaningful difference in time to target” between the ICBMs and SLBMs indicating that the ICBMs were not needed for any time-sensitive targets.31

There also exists a presumption that ICBMs either are or should be used for targeting an adversary’s nuclear forces and command and control–known as “counterforce” targeting–to limit damage to the United States. While this is possible, their vulnerability would require a “launch under attack” option to destroy targets of any value. Avoiding this unattractive option leaves doubt about whether any ICBMs would survive an attack, and then the consequent demand that targeting requirements be satisfied without them would be as if the ICBMs did not exist at all.32

In addition, ICBM flight trajectories to plausible targets in China, North Korea, and Iran must pass over Russian territory.33 If Russia interprets a U.S. ICBM launch intended for another state as an attack on them, they may retaliate with a nuclear strike of their own. This possibility should rule out applying any credible deterrence rationale for the ICBM force to these other US adversaries because all could reasonably conclude that retaliation with ICBMs is unlikely if it risks triggering an unwanted nuclear war with Russia. In other words, without other weapons systems to deter nuclear attacks by other adversaries, ICBMs should not be expected to deter.

Without ICBMs, the United States could still deploy an arsenal of 1,150 New START accountable warheads against the following counterforce targets:34

Russia: WMD targets (456 warheads in 2-on-1 attacks against 228 missile silos); leadership command posts (110 warheads); war-supporting industry (136 warheads). At least 80 of these warheads would likely be assigned to destroy targets in the greater Moscow area alone

China: WMD targets (150 warheads in 2-on-1 attacks against 75 missile silos); leadership command posts (33 warheads); war-supporting industry (136 warheads).

North Korea, Iran, Syria: Each country would be covered with (43) warheads.

This plan lays out how U.S. warheads could be directed against the fixed targets of plausible adversaries. The total number could exceed 1,150 because each bomber is only counted as one under New START counting rules. Also neglected here are the very substantial counterforce capabilities of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons and conventional forces. This destructive power is more than sufficient to deter any rational adversary and provides the same counterforce coverage to limit damage to the United States regardless of whether the ICBMs are maintained.35

In sum, any imagined benefits regarding the promptness of ICBMs to deliver nuclear warheads to their assigned targets and counterforce targeting capability are practically nonexistent. The “launch under attack” requirement for using ICBMs in counterforce would also reduce the time the president has to evaluate response options, thereby increasing the risks posed by false warnings or miscommunication in a crisis.

A technological arms race may adversely affect strategic stability

Proponents of the ICBM leg also argue that replacing the Minuteman III with the GBSD should be valued for the capability enhancements to be included on the new missiles. In particular, some claim that new capabilities are necessary for penetrating the future ballistic missile defenses of U.S. adversaries and improving counterforce capabilities.

When asked at a congressional hearing why the new ICBM needed more capability and accuracy, General Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, replied:36

“Potential adversaries are continuing their modernization efforts of their defensive systems to attempt to minimize what our ICBM force can effectively hold at risk. In order to maintain a credible deterrent, the ICBM force must have the performance to overcome these defensive measures.

Improved ICBM capability and accuracy has the benefit of providing ICBM strike planners the weaponeering options of either achieving a higher probability of effect on a given target; using fewer warheads per target while still achieving the desired level of effect and thus allowing more targets covered; or provide opportunities to potentially reduce yield size while still achieving the desired level of effect. These weaponeering options will be critical if changes to the current strategic weapon stockpile would otherwise adversely impact what targets could effectively be held at risk.”

This claim is not convincing. The land-based leg of the triad can utilize a whole repertoire of countermeasures to overpower growing ballistic missile defenses: adding additional warheads on each missile; deploying decoys or radar-reflecting wires (chaff) to complicate warhead detection; jamming adversary radars or leading an attack with a nuclear explosion to blind infrared detectors; or adding thrusters to warheads to enable maneuvers.37 And this is only a small sample of potential options. The claim that new capabilities on the GBSD are necessary to defeat future missile defense deployments therefore requires much greater scrutiny before it can be seriously considered.

An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM shoots out of its silo during an operational test launch February 25, 2012 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.  (U.S. Air Force photo)A more serious implication is what the stated need for this missile may suggest to the world about U.S. motivations. As discussed, ICBMs must be launched under attack to be used in counterforce, but a strong presumption against this risk requires that targeting requirements be satisfied without them. What General Rand’s comments suggest instead is that the United States may wish to improve the first-strike counterforce capabilities on its ICBMs.

Advancing this prospect by equipping U.S. ICBMs with improved accuracy is unnecessary, and together with new low-yield options for its warheads, could be destabilizing. If hypersonic delivery becomes possible with a follow-on ICBM that shortens the warning time of an incoming attack, strategic stability may be further adversely affected. These acquisitions risk driving a technological arms race around the world where a country’s growing awareness that an increasing fraction of its nuclear deterrent may be successfully destroyed–possibly without warning—coupled with that same country’s growing confidence in its own counterforce capabilities against an adversary’s targets may increase the chances that nuclear weapons will be used. These evolving capabilities would only add to crisis stability concerns previously discussed.

Therefore, a new ICBM is unnecessary to defeat ballistic missile defenses and does not require enhanced counterforce capabilities given existing capabilities on other legs of its triad. Regardless of whether other states pursue new technological enhancements for their weapons, similar acquisitions by the United States­ will only drive these destabilizing efforts further.

Options for ICBM force deployment

Given the excessive redundancy, risks, and costs associated with the existing ICBM force, “launch under attack” posture, and replacement plans, the United States should consider several alternative deployment options. The alternatives presented here range from comparatively small ICBM reductions and cost savings to more substantial changes. Each of the following alternatives would still allow for a deployed strategic nuclear force with more than sufficient retaliatory capacity to deter nuclear attacks on the United States or its allies.

  1. Eliminate one squadron (50 missiles and their silos) at each of the three Air Force ICBM bases, reducing the number of deployed ICBMs to 300.38 If the number of SSBNs were also reduced to 10–but 1,550 warheads remained deployed–the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that $40 billion would be saved over the next three decades.39 This force structure would still allow the United States to deploy the 1,550 warheads allowed under New START. With only 150 ICBMs, 8 SSBNs, and 1,000 deployed warheads, $85 billion would be saved over the next three decades.40 (See chart above.)
  2. Reduce the total number of ICBMs and rotate the remaining missiles among the 400 remaining silos. This would preserve the “sink” rationale by requiring an adversary to attack every remaining silo–unless it could confirm which are empty–to ensure destruction of every ICBM. More money could be saved if some of the silos were also eliminated.
  3. Extend the life of the Minuteman III force. A 2014 study from the RAND Corporation found no evidence that long-term sustainment of the Minuteman III missiles, with incremental modernization, could not continue in perpetuity.41 And a recent CSIS report suggested that the life of Minuteman IIIs could be extended beyond 2030 for a period of time while deferring a decision on GBSD.42 If GBSD was deferred for 20 years, CBO estimates that $37 billion could be saved over this period and $17.5 billion over the next thirty years by simply life extending the Minuteman III.43 This would leave open the option for gradually reducing the size of the deployed ICBM force over time, either through unilateral reductions or in conjunction with a nuclear arms reduction agreement.
  4. Eliminate the ICBM force. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that $149 billion could be saved between 2017–2046 if the ICBM force was eliminated immediately, and that $120 billion could be saved over this period if the ICBMs were eliminated at the end of the Minutemen IIIs service life.44 In the unlikely event that future SSBN vulnerabilities arise and it is determined by national decision-makers that a backup to the SSBN force is required, a more survivable ICBM basing option could be developed and deployed. However, it is important to note that this would likely involve a mobile ICBM, which would likely cost more to acquire than the GBSD.

Conclusions

Without a technically valid explanation for how an adversary could imagine it is possible to destroy the U.S. SSBN force, the land-based ICBMs are redundant for deterring nuclear attacks on the United States. Their location and vulnerability also hold at risk millions of American lives that no adversary would be required to threaten if the ICBMs did not exist. And because they require a “launch under attack” alert posture to be survivable, should be considered an unacceptable backup to SSBN vulnerability. ICBMs are also unnecessary for time-sensitive targets and counterforce targeting requirements must be satisfied without them in the event of a nuclear war.

Perhaps most importantly, ICBM vulnerability may attract a preemptive nuclear attack in an escalating conflict that U.S. opponents believe will inevitably escalate to the nuclear level or that threatens their lives, regimes, or other vital interests. These motivations are consistent with both U.S. and Russian nuclear counterforce doctrines which posit that it is better to be attacked with fewer weapons rather than more. Growing confidence in counterforce capabilities against fixed silo-based ICBMs only heighten this risk.

Lastly, a new ICBM with enhanced capabilities officially supported for the purpose of penetrating the modernizing missile defense systems of U.S. opponents and improving counterforce kill probabilities is unnecessary and potentially destabilizing. The range of countermeasures that can overwhelm missile defense systems are extensive and already accessible for inclusion on current weapons, and steps that indicate the United States may be motivated to develop disarming first-strike capabilities could accelerate a technological arms race that increases the chances of nuclear use.

The public debate over the new Nuclear Posture Review and start of the GBSD program provide an opportunity to reevaluate the least valuable leg of the U.S. nuclear triad. Given the confluence of growing budget pressures, unnecessary risks, and diminishing benefits of maintaining the ICBMs outlined here, U.S. interests would best be served by deciding to significantly reduce or eliminate them.

ENDNOTES

1 Lauren Caston, et. al., “The Future of the U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Force,” RAND Corporation, 2014. http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG1210.html

2 Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2017,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Volume 73, 2017, pp. 48–57. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00963402.2016.1264213

3 William J. Perry, “Why It’s Safe to Scrap the ICBMs,” New York Times, September 30, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/30/opinion/why-its-safe-to-scrap-americas-icbms.html

4 Kingston Reif, “New ICBM Replacement Costs Revealed,” Arms Control Today, March 2017. https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2017-03/news/new-icbm-replacement-cost-revealed

5 Kingston Reif, “Price Tag Rising for Planned ICBMs,” Arms Control Today, October 2016. https://www.armscontrol.org/ACT/2016_10/News/Price-Tag-Rising-for-Planned-ICBMs

6 “Approaches to Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017–2046,” U.S. Congressional Budget Office, October 2017, p. 2. https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/reports/53211-nuclearforces.pdf

7 Unless it is revised or replaced, the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which includes caps on military spending through the end of the decade, will force a significant scaling back of the Trump administration’s defense budget proposal over the next five years. An aging population, increased interest payments on the national debt, and projected increases in healthcare costs will only add to pressures for assigning priorities in defense spending after the BCA expires.

8 The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) stated that while the strategic nuclear submarines (SSBNs) were the most survivable leg of the triad, all three legs must be maintained as a hedge against potential future technical problems or vulnerabilities.

9 Passive acoustics relies upon detecting the sound emitted by submarines, whereas active acoustics involves the generation of sound and detecting its reflection from them.

10 Richard Garwin, “Will Strategic Submarines Be Vulnerable?” International Security, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Fall 1983), pp. 52–67.

11 Ibid., p. 66.

12 Donald C. Daniel, Anti-Submarine Warfare and Superpower Strategic Stability, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press), 1986, p. 23.

13 Eugene Miasnikov, “Can Russian Strategic Submarine Survive at Sea? The Fundamental Limits of Passive Acoustics,” Science & Global Security, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1994), pp. 213–251.

14 Tom Stefanick, Strategic Antisubmarine Warfare and Naval Strategy, Institute for Defense & Disarmament Studies, (Lexington and Toronto: Lexington Books), 1987.

15 See Bryan Clark, The Emerging Era in Undersea Warfare (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Affairs, 2015); James Holmes, “Sea Changes: The Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 72, No. 4 (July 2016), pp. 228–233; and Bryan Clark, “Undersea Cables and the Future of Submarine Competition,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 72, No. 4 (July 2016), pp. 234–237; Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The New Era of Counterforce,” International Security, Volume 41, Issue 4, (Spring 2017), pp. 9–49.

16 Kristensen and Norris, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2017.”

17 Ibid.

18 The 14 Ohio-class SSBNs operate out of two bases in Bangor, Washington, and Kings Bay, Georgia, with around eight to 10 at sea at any given time and typically five on “hard alert” in patrol areas. The bombers are organized into three bases: Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Assuming only eight SSBNs are at sea, the U.S. nuclear deterrent is then distributed over only 13 targets. See Kristensen and Norris, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2017.”

19 Thomas C. Schelling, “Abolition of Ballistic Missiles,” International Security, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Summer 1987), pp. 179–183.

20 “Launch on warning” is a launch in response to a sensor indication of an attack on the continental United States, while “launch under attack” is a launch after a high-confidence determination of a massive attack. Because “launch under attack” requires more time to reach that higher level of confidence, a decision about whether to launch with this option must be made in a shorter time for ICBMs to survive the incoming attack. The definitions for these launch postures are approximately those provided by the Air Force, as mentioned in Richard L. Garwin, “Launch Under Attack to Redress Minuteman Vulnerability,” International Security, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Winter, 1979-1980), pp. 117–139.

21 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Armed Services, To Conduct a Confirmation Hearing on the Expected Nomination of Mr. James N. Mattis to be Secretary of Defense, 115th Cong., 1st sess., January 12, 2017.

22 If the circular error probable (CEP) of an 800 kt warhead from a Russian ICBM is 200 m, the single-shot kill probability (SSKP) against a U.S. Minuteman III silo is 0.88. If the CEP = 150 m (still a conservative estimate and less accurate than the U.S. Minuteman III), the SSKP is 0.98.

23 William Daugherty, Barbara Levi, and Frank von Hippel, “The Consequences of “Limited Nuclear Attacks on the United States,” International Security, Volume 10, Number 4, Spring 1986, pp. 3–43.

24 This is also likely true because a Russian nuclear attack today on U.S. ICBMs would require the use of warheads with a yield of 800 kt–the most common yield among Russian ICBMs—not the 500 kt modeled in Daugherty, Levi, and von Hippel, “The Consequences of “Limited” Nuclear Attacks on the United States.”

25 Schelling, “Abolition of Ballistic Missiles.”

26 Ibid., pp. 180–181.

27 This danger exists on the U.S. side as well.

28 Ibid., p. 180.

29 Senate ICBM Coalition, “The Enduring Values of America’s ICBMs,” December 2016. https://www.hoeven.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/ICBM Coalition White Paper December 2016 - final.pdf

30 U.S. Governmental Affairs Committee, Evaluation of the U.S. Strategic Triad, S. Hrg. 103-457, (1994). U.S. General Accounting Office, The U.S. Nuclear Triad: GAO’s Evaluation of the Strategic Modernization Program (plus 8 classified volumes), GAO/TPEMD-93-5, (1993). http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO/T-PEMD-93-5

31 Ibid.

32 It deserves mention that the ICBMs receive some support for their potential use as first-strike counterforce weapons. Because one never knows how a nuclear exchange may begin, however, ICBMs cannot be used in counterforce targeting unless the United States is willing to commit to a “launch under attack” posture or the decision arises in a conflict to use them first before any warning of an incoming attack. The psychological effect that the presence of ICBMs may have on an adversary in contributing to nuclear deterrence due to their potential use as first-strike weapons is not necessary given the absence of any technically valid rationale for how an adversary could preempt massive retaliation by the SSBNs. Their presence is more likely to contribute towards convincing an adversary that the United States is about to launch a disarming first-strike–thereby increasing the chances of nuclear use–and as mentioned, their vulnerability only adds to the chance that they will be attacked first in an escalating conflict.

33 “Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission Report: Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure, and Posture,” Global Zero, May 2012 http://www.globalzero.org/files/gz_us_nuclear_policy_commission_report.pdf

34 These numbers were taken from the report “Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission Report: Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture,” Global Zero, 2012, and numbers for Russian and Chinese nuclear missile silos were obtained from Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Russian nuclear forces, 2017,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 73:2, 115–126, and Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Chinese nuclear forces, 2016,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 72:4, 205–211. Three warheads were added to each total in the Global Zero report for warheads covering North Korea, Iran, and Syria to make the total number of warheads add up to 1,150. China may not currently have as many as 75 ICBM silos, but it could have more than this in the future.

35 It deserves mention that there is no meaningful difference in kill probabilities between ICBMs or SLBMs against the strategic targets of U.S. adversaries and that SLBMs are able to reach any target within range of the ICBMs.

36 U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Armed Services, Hearing on National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 and Oversight of Previously Authorized Programs, 114th Cong.,
2nd sess., March 2, 2016.

37 George N. Lewis, Theodore A. Postol, and John Pike, “Why National Missile Defense Won’t Work,” Scientific American, August 1999.

38 Eliminating 50 silos at each of the three ICBM bases reduces the total number of ICBMs to 300 and not 250 because there are currently 50 empty silos that contain no ICBMs. This recommendation assumes that these empty silos were eliminated along with 100 others that contain ICBMs.

39 “Approaches to Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017–2046,” p. 37.

40 Ibid., p. 48.

41 Caston, et. al.,“The Future of the U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Force.”

42 Todd Harrison, “Options for the Ground-Based Leg of the Nuclear Triad,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 2017. https://www.csis.org/analysis/options-ground-based-leg-nuclear-triad

43 “Approaches to Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017–2046,” p. 30.

44 Ibid., p. 37.


Ryan Snyder is a nuclear physicist and was previously a Visiting Research Fellow at the Arms Control Association. He is now a researcher with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research based in Geneva. The views expressed here are those of the author.

 

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Posted: March 19, 2018

U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance

March 2018

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director; (202) 463-8270 x107; Kelsey Davenport, Director of Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102; Kingston ReifDirector of Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review repeats exisiting U.S. negative security assurances by stating that Washington "will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations." Previously, in the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the United States declared that it would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are members in good standing of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Before 2010 successive administrations had maintained a policy of "strategic ambiguity" by refusing to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in response to biological or chemical weapons attacks, even from NPT member states.

Background

The 2018 NPR upholds but adds qualifications to earlier versions of U.S. "negative security assurances" first enunciated in 1978 and reaffirmed in 1995. Most notably, the report stipulates that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by "the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies," including cyber capabilites.

The 1995 formulation left open the option to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that were “in association or alliance with” a nuclear-weapon state—generally understood to be a reference to the Warsaw Pact allies of the Soviet Union. The United States also specified at that time that non-nuclear-weapon states had to be in compliance with the NPT to be eligible for this assurance.

In 1995, UN Security Council Resolution 984 recognized the U.S. assurances and similar ones from Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom. These coordinated assurances were a key part of the multilateral decision to indefinitely extend the NPT that year.

Outside of the NPT context, however, senior U.S. officials maintained "strategic ambiguity" about Washington’s military options in key situations.  For example, just before the U.S. war with Iraq in 1991, former Secretary of State James Baker told Tariq Aziz, Iraq's foreign minister, that if "you use chemical or biological weapons against U.S. forces, the American people will demand vengeance and we have the means to exact it." Baker said that "it is entirely possible and even likely, in my opinion, that Iraq did not use its chemical weapons against our forces because of that warning. Of course, that warning was broad enough to include the use of all types of weapons that American possessed."

Similarly, in April 1996, in reference to a suspected Libyan chemical weapons facility at Tarhunah, then-Secretary of Defense William Perry said that "if some nation were to attack the United States with chemical weapons, then they would have to fear the consequences of a response from any weapon in our inventory."  Perry noted that "in every situation that I have seen so far, nuclear weapons would not be required for response."

The 2001 NPR report maintained the possibility that U.S. nuclear forces could be used against non-nuclear nations. In addition to nuclear-armed China, the 2001 NPR cited five states that at the time did not have nuclear weapons (Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria) as driving "requirements for nuclear strike capabilities."  All five states were at the time suspected of nuclear weapons ambitions and were believed to have biological and/or chemical weapons or programs.  In February 2002, then-State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said it was U.S. policy that "[i]f a weapon of mass destruction is used against the United States or its allies, we will not rule out any specific type of military response."

In September 2002, the classified National Security Presidential Directive 17 was signed, which stated that "the United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force—including potentially nuclear weapons — to the use of WMD against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies." 

Following the release of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review report, President Barack Obama announced on April 6, that the United States was updating its negative security assurance policy to emphasize “the importance of nations meeting their NPT and nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained in an interview broadcast April 11, 2010 on CBS’s Face the Nation, negative security assurances are “not a new thing. The new part of this is saying that we would not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state that attacked us with chemical and biological weapons.”

As for chemical weapons, Gates said April 11 that “[T]ry as we might, we could not find a credible scenario where a chemical weapon could have the kind of consequences that would warrant a nuclear response.”  On biological weapons, the 2010 NPR hedges: “Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat.”

For both scenarios, Gates said April 6 that “[i]f any state eligible for this assurance were to use chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies or partners, it would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response.” And for states that have nuclear weapons or are not in compliance with the NPT all options are on the table—including the use of nuclear weapons first or in response to a non-nuclear attack.

Under the NPT, the five recognized nuclear-weapon states are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Three other states, India, Pakistan, and Israel, possess nuclear weapons but never joined the NPT. 

2018 NPR

Although the 2018 NPR report makes clear that the primary role of U.S. nuclear weapons is to “deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners,” the weapons serve other missions, too, including deterring non-nuclear attacks, assuring U.S. allies and partners, achieving U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, and hedging against future uncertainty. This falls short of a declaration that the “sole purpose” of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack and represents a significant break with past U.S. efforts to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in the world.

The 2018 NPR report does state that the first use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances,” but it defines these circumstances more broadly than previous reports, including in the definition “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” Although the policy does not explicitly define “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood clarified at the February 2 press conference following the report’s release that this could include chemical and biological attacks, large-scale conventional aggression, and cyberattacks. The scenarios provided for in the 2018 NPR report are much broader than the “narrow range of contingencies” laid out in the 2010 report.

The document also breaks from the 2010 report on the role of non-nuclear forces. Whereas the 2010 report called for enhanced non-nuclear capability to maintain deterrence, the 2018 document states that “non-nuclear capabilities can complement but not replace U.S. nuclear capabilities” for the purpose of deterrence. Moreover, if deterrence fails, the 2018 report also declares that Washington may use nuclear weapons to end a conflict on the “best achievable terms for the United States.”

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Posted: March 16, 2018

Remarks to the Maryland House of Delegates Rules Committee on Nuclear Weapons Launch Procedures

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Daryl Kimball offered the following testimony before the Maryland House of Delegates Rules Committee on Monday, March 5, 2018, regarding legislation introduced by Maryland delegates Queen (Montgomery Co.), Gibson (Baltimore City), and Gutierrez (Montgomery Co.).
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By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director
Arms Control Association
March 5, 2018
Annapolis, Maryland

Good afternoon. I want to commend Delegates Queen, Gibson, and Gutierrez for introducing House Joint Resolution 12, which:

… “calls upon Maryland’s Congressional delegation to take all necessary steps to establish a system of checks and balances with regard to the first use of nuclear weapons and to ensure that the President of the United States shall no longer have the sole and unchecked authority to launch nuclear weapons, except in circumstances of retaliation.”

At this very moment, the United States and Russia each deploy massive strategic nuclear arsenals, approximately 1,550 bombs on each side. Each side possesses thousands more nonstrategic warheads and warheads in reserve. These arsenals are far in excess of what it would take to decimate the other and far more that is required to deter a nuclear attack.

Executive Director Daryl Kimball testifies before the Maryland House of Delegates Rules Committee on legislation urging its congressional delegation to support limits on presidential nuclear launch authority. (Photo: Maryland General Assembly)Worse still, each side maintains a significant portion of its land and sea-based missile forces on a prompt launch posture to guard against a “disarming” first strike.

As a result, there are roughly 800 U.S. nuclear warheads – all of which are far more powerful than the weapons that destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 – that can be launched within about 15 minutes of an order by the president and the president alone.

In most scenarios, the president would have just minutes to listen to the list of retaliatory options and decide whether or not to order one of the nuclear strike plans. No cabinet secretary, adviser, or military official has the authority to override the president’s decision. Congress currently has no say in the matter.

Current U.S. nuclear policy also allows for the possible use of nuclear weapons first, or in response to a non-nuclear attack on the U.S. or our allies, such as in a conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Continuing to vest such destructive power in the hands of one person and to maintain a prompt-launch posture is undemocratic, irresponsible, unnecessary and untenable.

Cavalier and reckless statements from President Donald Trump about nuclear weapons use and threatening and boastful comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin about his country’s nuclear retaliatory capabilities underscore the risks of a system that puts the authority to launch nuclear weapons in the hands of these individuals.

Defenders of the status quo argue that altering the current system would deprive the president of the ability to respond quickly in a crisis—including by using nuclear weapons first in response to a non-nuclear attack—and undermine the credibility of deterrence.

Such arguments ignore the fact that throughout the history of the nuclear age, there have been several incidents in which false signals of an attack have prompted U.S. and Russia officials to consider, in the dead of the night and under the pressure of time, launching nuclear weapons in retaliation.

The reality is that this “launch-under-attack” policy is unnecessary because U.S. nuclear forces and command-and-control systems could withstand even a massive attack. 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.

In addition, retaining the option to use nuclear weapons first is unnecessary and risky. Given the overwhelming conventional military edge of the United States and its allies, there is no plausible circumstance that could justify—legally, morally, or militarily—the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat.

As then-Vice President Joe Biden said in public remarks in January 2017: “Given our non-nuclear capabilities and the nature of today’s threats—it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary. Or make sense.”

Congress and the executive branch can and should take a number of steps to reduce these dangers:

  • Requiring that a decision to use nuclear weapons be made by more than one person. This could include the president, vice president, secretaries of state and defense, and perhaps one or more designated members of Congress, such as the speaker of the House or Senate majority leader.
  • Prohibiting the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) have introduced bipartisan legislation the "Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017" that would put this policy into place.
  • Eliminating the requirement to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles under attack, which would increase the time available to consider the possible use of nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack against the United States or its allies.
  • Declaring that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons and that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack. Congressman Adam Smith and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee has introduced H.R. 4415 to establish a “No First Policy” for nuclear weapons.
  • Clarify that only Congress can authorize U.S.-initiated military action against North Korea, which would likely result in a nuclear exchange, and urge the administration to “avoid actions that could contribute to a breakdown in talks, and continue to search for confidence-building measures that are conducive to dialogue,” as state in bipartisan legislation introduced in the House and Senate (H.R. 4837/S. 2016).

Your support for Maryland House Joint Resolution 12 can help push Congress to re-examine and revise nuclear decision making so that fate of millions in not decided by one person in the span of a few minutes.

Since 2001, Daryl G. Kimball has served as the executive director the independent, non-partisan Arms Control Association and publisher of the monthly journal, Arms Control Today. The Association is a national membership organization established in 1971 to provide information and analysis on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and to promote practical policy solutions to address the risks they pose.

Posted: March 5, 2018

A Question of Dollars and Sense: Assessing the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review

The new NPR comes with a high price tag. That is not the only issue.


March 2018
By Madelyn Creedon

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is consistent in many respects with long-standing nuclear policies. Yet, certain elements are deeply troubling.

In terms of consistency, it reiterates that the primary mission of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack; rejects a declaratory no-first-use policy; retains the long-standing policy of ambiguity as to what constitutes U.S. vital interests, although with less ambiguity; seeks to assure allies; and reinforces the U.S commitment to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). These are pillars of U.S. deterrence policy.

Sandia National Labratories technologists Curt Tenorio, left, and Jessie Fowler install instrumentation on a B61-12 nuclear bomb unit for a vibration and shaker-shock test. Sandia has sophisticated tests and computer models to qualify non-nuclear components under its nuclear-weapons stockpile stewardship role. (Photo: Randy Montoya/Sandia Labs)The choices that are troubling include the intention to seek a new low-yield nuclear capability, the rejection of future arms control agreements, and the plan to increase U.S. nuclear weapons production capability. These matters, in particular, deserve close scrutiny by Congress and public debate.

Certainly, the international security environment has been evolving since the Cold War ended and since the previous NPR during the Obama administration. Change was the backdrop for the 2010 NPR and remains the backdrop for the 2018 review, which highlights major nuclear modernization programs by Russia and China, rapid nuclear weapons advances by North Korea, and growing cyberthreats by state and nonstate actors.1

The report on the 2010 NPR concluded that “the threat of global nuclear war has become remote, but the risk of nuclear attack has increased.” This conclusion remains valid. The underlying assumption in the 2018 NPR, however, is that the risk of nuclear attack, although not quantified, has increased, that it is the greatest risk facing the United States, and that the country’s deterrent is not sufficiently robust to counter or deter the increased risk. Alternatively, even if the risk has not increased, the latest NPR report seemingly calls into question whether the U.S. deterrent is sufficiently robust to deter the same level of risk.

Thus, the new report concludes that U.S. nuclear forces must be “supplemented” now. To that end, it calls for the nuclear complex to be positioned to develop new nuclear weapons, possibly resume explosive nuclear testing, increase the size and makeup of the nuclear stockpile, and increase the diversity of the delivery systems. The report argues that without expanding the capabilities of the nuclear enterprise, particularly the ability of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to move beyond its current focus on life-extension programs for warheads, this and future administrations will not be able to tailor deterrence to the changing nature of potential adversaries.

In contrast, the prior NPR report determined that the greatest risks were presented by terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear or radiological capabilities, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons capabilities to states such as North Korea. Based on this conclusion, significant emphasis was placed on addressing these proliferation and terrorism threats, including securing, consolidating, and eliminating highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium that could be used by terrorists in an improvised nuclear device. Although there is no indication that these threats have diminished, they are not given priority in the 2018 NPR report. One can only hope that the language urging funding trade-offs among programs does not include the programs that prevent proliferation and ensure the security of weapons-usable materials.

The 2010 NPR report by no means ignored “the more familiar challenge of ensuring strategic stability with existing nuclear powers—most notably Russia and China.” Although it identified five pillars to address threats across the spectrum, it certainly did not diminish the importance of deterrence, clearly stating that the United States would maintain safe, secure, reliable, and effective nuclear forces. It recognized that nuclear forces continue “to play an essential role in deterring potential adversaries and reassuring allies and partners around the world as long as nuclear weapons exist.”

Realistically, however, the 2010 review also recognized that nuclear deterrence alone was not the answer but rather that a wide spectrum of highly capable U.S. conventional capabilities, including missile defense, in conjunction with nuclear forces would provide the best deterrent for the United States and its allies and partners.

In a bold step, the 2010 NPR report tried to identify and set the conditions for meaningful compliance with the disarmament provision in NPT Article VI, while clearly recognizing that the conditions were not currently suited to achieve those goals and might not be for many years. Since 2010, unfortunately, the global security conditions have become even less conducive to achieving a world without nuclear weapons. The 2010 report, while aspiring to these goals, reflected a growing concern that the world was approaching a nuclear tipping point where more states and more weapons would be the norm.

Although the nuclear deal with Iran has removed that country’s nuclear weapons capability for the time being, North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability has qualitatively and quantitatively improved, China and Russia have embarked on nuclear weapons modernization programs, and the nuclear arsenals of India and Pakistan have grown.

Russia, China, and even North Korea are expanding their conventional and nuclear programs to match or offset the U.S. conventional force advantage. The United States has been very public about Russian deployment of a new nuclear-capable missile system in violation of the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.2 China has continued its assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region, growing and diversifying its conventional capabilities and modernizing its nuclear forces. While remaining small in number, their nuclear forces are becoming increasingly more capable and survivable.

These disturbing trends are unlikely to change in the near term.

Philosophies articulated in the 2010 NPR report, including the need for a strong and credible deterrent, continue in the new report. The prior report reaffirmed long-standing U.S. policy that “[t]he United States will continue to ensure that in the calculations of any potential opponent, the perceived gains of attacking the United States or its allies and partners would be far outweighed by the unacceptable costs of response” and that “any attack on the United States or our allies and partners, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons will be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming.” Similarly, the 2018 NPR report concluded that “the highest nuclear policy and strategy priority is to deter potential adversaries from nuclear attack of any scale.”

Different in Tone and Tenor

Notwithstanding such similarities, the new NPR report is remarkably different in tone and tenor from its predecessor, placing the bulk of the emphasis on the nuclear forces and much less emphasis on nuclear terrorism and nonproliferation. This NPR is consistent with the National Security Strategy’s shift to a new era of great power rivalries.3

Chinese soldiers applaud during a military parade at the Zhurihe training base in China's northern Inner Mongolia region on July 30, 2017. The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review says China’s military modernization “has resulted in an expanded nuclear force, with little to no transparency into its intentions.” (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)Although focused and driven primarily by Russian behavior, China’s growing conventional capabilities, including space and cyber capabilities, also shape the decisions in the 2018 report. In addition to the near-term decision to “supplement” the nuclear forces with a low-yield variant of the W76-1 warhead for ballistic missile submarines, the new report lays out a long-term plan to prepare the United States to develop, test, and deploy new nuclear weapons and to increase the size of the nuclear stockpile. In short, prepare for a new arms race.

This new version of a hedging strategy—being able to address geopolitical and technical uncertainty, a key tenant of the 2010 and previous reports—includes a decision to retain more weapons longer and make new weapons faster.

The United States can hedge in two complementary ways. One is by having a robust nuclear weapon production infrastructure that has the design, engineering, and manufacturing capabilities needed to quickly produce new or additional weapons needed to address changes in the threat environment. Another approach is to retain a significant non-deployed inventory of weapons that can be added to current delivery vehicles to address geopolitical threat or technical failure.

One disturbing aspect of the new approach is the apparent decision to keep the last megaton weapon in the U.S. arsenal, the B83. How long this warhead will be retained is unclear, but one section of the NPR report indicates that it will be retained until replaced.

On the other hand, the report continues previous decisions to maintain the nuclear triad and replace the delivery systems: a new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, a new intercontinental ballistic missile, a new long-range bomber, and a new air-launched cruise missile. A new addition to the ongoing programs is a sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM). Whether the SLCM goes forward is highly dependent on Russia and whether it continues to violate the INF Treaty or returns to compliance.

The new low-yield warhead, although designed to counter Russia’s growing arsenal of novel nonstrategic systems, may prove to be counterproductive. To deploy the new low-yield warhead, the United States, unlike Russia, will sacrifice some of its strategic warheads because nonstrategic nuclear warheads are not counted under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Russia has taken advantage of this fact by substantially increasing its arsenal of nonstrategic weapons, while complying with the limitations on strategic systems. Because the Trident II D5 ballistic missile on U.S. ballistic missile submarines and any warheads on it are counted under New START, the low-yield warhead will be subject to the treaty limits, just like the higher-yield W76-1. In other words, it is a one-for-one trade-off. How many low-yield weapons will be produced is unknown, but having fewer high-yield warheads, such as the W76-1, seems to advantage Russia.

A concept of operations has yet to be explained for the new low-yield weapon. The sea leg of the nuclear triad is the most survivable leg in large part due to the ability of Ohio-class submarines to be invisible in the open ocean. Launching a high-value D5 missile from a ballistic missile submarine will most likely give away its location. China and Russia are expanding their ability to detect a missile launch and will be able to locate a U.S. submarine if it launches a D5 missile. Is having a low-yield warhead worth the risk of exposing the location of a ballistic missile submarine at sea?

Moreover, if the reason to have a low-yield warhead is to respond to Russian first use of a low-yield weapon, rather than sticking to the promise of the 2010 NPR report to use overwhelming force in response to nuclear use, responding with a low-yield warhead also seems to advantage Russia and weaken deterrence. Signaling that a low-yield weapon would be used to respond to low-yield weapon use might persuade Russia to lower the nuclear threshold, thus risking nuclear war-fighting. President Ronald Reagan cautioned against this in 1984 when he said, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used.”

Budget Challenges

Whether there is the political and budgetary will to implement the 2018 NPR report remains to be seen.

The biggest challenge laid out in the 2018 report is the new assignment for the NNSA. The NNSA is well into the process of fixing its aging infrastructure, but has a long way to go. It cannot fund these very expensive, one-of-a-kind nuclear facilities within its existing budget plan. A new state-of-the-art HEU storage facility is complete, and the design of the new uranium processing facility is well along. The NNSA is deciding where to build a new plutonium facility, but needs new funding, and the 1976-era PF-4 plutonium facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory must be replaced at some point. Continuing resolutions in Congress and changing requirements add to the cost and delay schedules.

Air Force General John Hyten, U.S. Strategic Command commander, addresses the 5th Bomb Wing airmen at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., June 6, 2017. "The ICBMs that we have here are the most ready element [of the nuclear triad], the bombers that we have here are the most flexible, the submarine element is the most survivable, and when you put those three together, you come up with a deterrent capability that our adversaries fear and they need to fear those capabilities,” he told the Bismarck Tribune during the visit. “I hope to never have to employ them but they have to be ready all the time.” (Photo: J.T. Armstrong/U.S. Air Force)The NNSA does not have out-year funding to implement the next generation of stockpile stewardship, build new experimental facilities, conduct and diagnose more subcritical experiments at the Nevada National Security Site, expand computational capabilities necessary to maintain the current stockpile, identify and resolve future problems, conduct life extension programs, and support the fight against nuclear terrorism and proliferation.

New capabilities such as the stockpile responsiveness program and other new efforts to challenge the design and manufacturing skills of the nuclear complex will also need new funding. As the 2018 NPR report points out, although there is a new tritium-extraction facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the NNSA needs a new tritium loading facility. Lithium facilities must be constructed or a commercial source identified. In the long term, enrichment capabilities must be built to provide suitable low-enriched uranium fuel to produce tritium. If indeed the 2018 NPR is setting the NNSA on a course to build more weapons and new weapons, the NNSA budget must increase significantly.

Not mentioned at all in the NPR report is the cost, which could run into the low billions, to safely tear down the old buildings, such as building 9212 at the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, as the new buildings become operational. Transporting nuclear weapons, materials, and parts is also a mission not mentioned. Because funding for the new secure trailers for the Secure Transportation Asset program4 has been delayed, the new trailers will not be available until 2024, and the program is understaffed.

The fiscal year 2019 budget that President Donald Trump sent to Congress in February calls for $11 billion for NNSA weapons activities. That would be an increase of about $800 million, or 8 percent, from the fiscal year 2018 request and $1.8 billion more, a 20 percent jump, from the enacted funding for fiscal year 2017. It is not clear how much of those budget requests will be enacted by Congress, nor is it clear necessary increases will be sustained under future administrations.

Historically, neither Congress, the Department of Defense, nor the Office of Management and Budget have shown an inclination to fully fund the NNSA program of record, let alone the new initiatives such as those outlined in the 2018 NPR report. Even though the NNSA budget has increased by 60 percent since 2010, the efforts to address the decades of inattention to the infrastructure have not been fully funded. Similarly, stockpile surveillance work and the extremely successful Stockpile Stewardship Program have been cut back to support the ongoing warhead life extension programs.

The NNSA’s challenge is further complicated by an inability, imposed by Congress, to hire the skilled federal workforce needed to design and oversee implementation of the existing programs. Even though the NNSA’s work has grown significantly over the past five years, Congress continues to impose an arbitrary cap on federal staff at 1,690 employees.

The labs, plants, and the NNSA will need to recruit and train new staff and retain new and existing staff to carry out the life extension programs, maintain a robust Stockpile Stewardship Program, and take on the many new initiatives. Staffing efforts, including for the Secure Transportation Asset program, is further hindered by the year-long security clearance process, and the backlog is growing.

Although the 2018 NPR report puts considerable emphasis on the relatively low cost of nuclear deterrence in the overall defense budget, the NNSA’s entire budget already supports the spectrum of deterrence. There are no trade-offs and no untapped sources of funding.

A significant omission in the NPR report is how the NNSA will get the new funding. History has taught us that having the Defense Department move its money to the NNSA is not the answer. That approach, although well meaning, led to dissent and discord in the Defense Department-NNSA relationship. Only an increase in the overall defense budget, which includes the Defense Department and NNSA, can support the full range of efforts. Even the new low-yield weapon will be expensive, despite assertions in the NPR report that it will be easy, fast, and cheap.

The Defense Department must not neglect its efforts to maintain its nuclear enterprise and the existing delivery systems until the new platforms are fielded. This effort, started under Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, is essential to the long-term well-being of the nuclear enterprise. The well-documented loss of focus on all things nuclear starting with Operation Desert Storm forced the military services to devote resources, attention, and a renewed commitment to sustain the nuclear deterrent and the men and women who support it.

The NPR report includes language supporting this ongoing effort, which has already shown results. “The Service reforms we have accordingly implemented were long overdue, and the Department of Defense remains fully committed to properly supporting the Service members who protect the United States against nuclear threats.”

The 2018 NPR report also expresses strong support for upgrading the nuclear command, control, communications, and early-warning system known as NC3.5 Here again, efforts to revitalize the system have been underway for years, such as new secured protected communications and early-warning satellites, but funding is always a challenge, particularly for the related terminals and ground systems.

Role for Arms Control

Finally, the NPR report argues that “arms control can contribute to U.S., allied, and partner security by helping to manage strategic competition among states. By codifying mutually agreed-upon nuclear postures in a verifiable and enforceable manner, arms control can help establish a useful degree of cooperation and confidence among states. It can foster transparency, understanding, and predictability in adversary relations, thereby reducing the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation.”

New START meets these criteria. Extending New START, whose central limits were achieved on February 5 by Russia and the United States, would further support these goals. Russia has not shown any interest in a new treaty, but it did leave open the door for discussion to extend New START by five years, an option provided in the treaty. Discussions beginning this summer or fall to extend New START would go a long way toward demonstrating that arms control remains important.

Does the Trump administration NPR put an end to the decades-long reduction of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security and military strategy? Does it position the United States for a new nuclear arms race and a return to nuclear weapons testing after a 26-year moratorium? Is there the political and budgetary will to implement this new, more aggressive nuclear force posture and policy and its supporting infrastructure? Does the NPR report present an appropriate approach given an increasingly uncertain and competitive world? These questions need to be addressed as the administration’s newly released fiscal year 2019 budget request is considered by Congress.

ENDNOTES

1 Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review,” February 2018, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF; U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf.

2 Michael R. Gordon, “Russia Has Deployed Missile Barred by Treaty, U.S. General Tells Congress,” The New York Times, March 8, 2017.

3 “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” December 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf.

4 Office of Secure Transportation, National Nuclear Security Administration, “Ten-Year Site Plan FY2012 Through FY2021,” April 2011, https://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/inlinefiles/OST%20TYSP%202012-2021%20053111%20cjs.pdf.

5 U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications: Update on Air Force Oversight Effort and Selected Acquisition Programs,” GAO-17-641R, August 15, 2017.


Madelyn Creedon was the Department of Energy’s principal deputy administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration from 2014 to 2017 and was assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs from 2011 to 2014.

 

Posted: March 1, 2018

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