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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore,
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
U.S. Nuclear Weapons

REMARKS: Gorging at the Nuclear Buffet Table

Senator Van Hollen argues against unrestrained nuclear weapon spending.


May 2019
By Sen. Chris Van Hollen

Before I ever thought of running for elected office, I interacted a lot with folks at the Arms Control Association and in the arms control community back in the 1980s. I grew up in a Foreign Service family in many places around the world, but one of the things that I remember most and that had a great impact on me was when I read Jonathan Schell’s New Yorker series, “The Fate of the Earth,” that described what would happen to the planet after a nuclear war. That, among other things, led me to concentrate in graduate school on international security matters, and I went to work on Capitol Hill in the mid-1980s as the legislative assistant for defense policy and arms control to former Maryland Senator Mac Matthias, who was a liberal, moderate Republican of the civil rights era.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) argues against unrestrained nuclear weapon spending during his remarks at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting.  (Photo: Allen Harris/Arms Control Association)Part of my portfolio was NATO, and I worked on the ratification of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty back in the day. Then the Berlin Wall came down. The Cold War ended. It was great news for the world; it was great news for the country. It ushered in a period of relative stability, including on arms control agreements, the most recent one being the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

But now, we gather here at another urgent moment. It has been important work all along, but we are in an urgent moment now. Because with the Trump administration, all signs indicate that we’re jettisoning, we’re abandoning what has been a bipartisan tradition of recognizing that we need to modernize our nuclear forces, we need to modernize our triad, we need to make sure its survivable and resilient, but that we should do it within the framework of an arms control architecture that leads to predictability, stability, and transparency. That has been an important formula even as relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, now Russia, have gone up and down. We have still maintained that conversation, we have still maintained that structure, and that structure has helped keep the peace.

Now with this new administration, with [National Security Advisor] John Bolton in the White House, we are in a very different world. He has not found a nuclear arms agreement or, as far as I can tell, any multilateral agreement or international agreement that he likes.

But when it comes to arms control, despite his being a foe, he has never explained how an unconstrained nuclear arms race would actually make us any safer. He can never answer that argument. He just tells us what he doesn’t like, but he doesn’t tell us what is better, that would make us more stable.

That’s where we are right now. The tearing up of the INF Treaty was an early indication of where this administration is going.

I want to be really clear. The Russians violated the agreement, and there is a consensus in NATO that they violated the agreement. We can’t just stand idly by.

But there is a big gulf between standing idly by and being the first to initiate tearing up the agreement. There is a whole area of engaging in the act of diplomacy and enforcement and looking for every other alternative first. That, this administration has not done.

The notion that we should therefore just proceed with developing not just one, but multiple noncompliant INF missiles makes no sense. We already have a robust capability when it comes to responding to anything in the European theater. We already have dual-capable bombers with gravity bombs, we have air-launched cruise missiles, we have a range of weapons that already serve as a deterrent. So, just building more for the sake of building more doesn’t do us any good, and it creates more instabilities.

In addition, I don’t buy the argument that we need to have an intermediate-range missile on Guam with the purpose of holding the Chinese in check. There are lots of things we need to be doing in that region, but I don’t think a missile on Guam does the job. As you know, our other allies, Japan and South Korea, have made it very clear they won’t deploy this kind of missile.

There is really no good argument for rushing to tear up the agreement. Obviously, it has created a lot of anxiety among our European allies. I was at the Munich Conference when Prime Minister Angela Merkel spoke. She was very upset at the way this had all rolled out and with the result. Now, our NATO allies are putting a game face on. You saw the secretary-general here addressing the U.S. Congress, but NATO would have preferred to see a very different outcome.

Of course, what is happening on INF leads to an even more worrisome situation with respect to New START. Because if you get rid of INF and New START, you’re in a world where there are no enforceable, written, agreed-on limits on our nuclear forces. So, that is why a group of us wrote to President Trump urging the administration to get going on a discussion to extend the New START agreement.

Russia has complied with the New START agreement. And as we modernize our nuclear forces, which we need to do to maintain our own deterrent, it is a much better world to do that where we have predictability and stability knowing what the Russian strategic forces are and what limits they’re under. This is in addition to the important transparency and inspection regime that the treaty brings. You get rid of New START, you get rid of INF, you are potentially flying entirely blind unless both sides voluntarily agree to comply, but that is not guaranteed. That is a big, big issue.

The other issue I want to focus on has to do with the overall nuclear posture that this administration is pursuing when it comes to nuclear weapons. I think we all agree that we need to modernize our nuclear forces, but we don’t need to add on every single, conceivable new capability.

It’s like showing up at a buffet and, instead of having a balanced meal, you say, “I will just gorge on every single capability that is out there.” When you only need a balanced meal to do the job, you don’t need to eat everything at the nuclear buffet table, including offensive and defensive weapons.

Unlike a dinner buffet where it’s “all you can eat at a fixed price,” the nuclear buffet table requires you to pay for everything. With the current spending plan, that is right now estimated to be $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years by the Congressional Budget Office. If you add on all the other capabilities this administration apparently wants to add on, you’re talking about an even bigger price tag.

So, in addition to having a big price tag, you’re also talking about building additional capabilities that are not only unnecessary, but can be very destabilizing. That is especially true when it comes to the administration considering two new capabilities with submarine-launched ballistic missiles, putting a low-yield warhead on some, as well as resuscitating the nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile.

I think that if you look at the direction we’re going, it is very worrisome from a price tag perspective when we have so many other national requirements and priorities. But also, we are going to be spending taxpayer money on something that actually makes us less, not more, safe by lowering the threshold of use of nuclear weapons. Therefore, we’re increasing the risks of an all-out
nuclear war.

The reason we have arms control agreements to begin with is the idea that when you start building all these new capabilities, it inevitably touches off an action-reaction cycle. Whether you are doing offensive weapons only or defensive ones too, you are bound to create a new arms race. That is expensive and destabilizing, and it risks nuclear confrontation and war, which obviously means the end of life on Earth as we know it.

In our office, we are very focused on this. We are going to be teaming up with Senator Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.) and others on the Appropriations Committee to try to zero out the funding for these low-yield warheads. They are unnecessary. Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is pursuing a similar approach.

Now that we have a majority in the House that share that view, we will see how all this works out. We need to make sure that we don’t get into this conversation, which we seem to be with the Trump administration, about how you can actually think about winning a nuclear war or prevailing in a nuclear war. We all know that there is no winning a nuclear war, and we need to make sure we never go in that direction.

So, I will just close with the statement that was jointly made by Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Geneva, 30 years ago: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Let us dedicate ourselves to making sure that remains the case, that nobody thinks they can win a nuclear war. Because that will be, as Jonathan Schell described, the end of the earth.


Excerpted from remarks delivered by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) to the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting on April 15 in Washington. Elected to the Senate in 2016, Van Hollen previously represented Maryland’s Eighth District in the House of Representatives.

 

U.S.-Russian Experts, Fmr. Officials Urge New START Extension, Renewed U.S.-Russian Strategic Dialogue

In the latest in a series of expert conferences and dialogues in Moscow and Washington, a group of distinguished U.S. and Russian experts released a public statement calling on U.S. and Russian officials to get back to the arms control negotiating table, with the first order of business being agreement on a five-year extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), as allowed for in Article XIV of the treaty, and talks designed to head-off new arms competition in the wake of the likely termination of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The April 10...

An Interview with Rep. Brad Sherman: Strengthen Oversight of U.S. Nuclear Trade

Representative Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) discusses congressional oversight of U.S. nuclear commerce and his concerns about providing U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.


April 2019

In a March 7 interview with Arms Control Today, U.S. Representative Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, describes his efforts to bolster congressional oversight of U.S. civil nuclear cooperation with other nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, to ensure that sensitive nuclear technologies and nuclear materials are not diverted for weapons programs.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) speaks to constituents at a 2016 town hall meeting. He has introduced legislation to increase congressional oversight of U.S. nuclear technology transfers. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)First elected to the House in 1996, Sherman became chairman of the subcommittee in January 2019. It oversees the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements that must be negotiated before a foreign country can receive U.S. nuclear technology. These agreements are called “123 agreements” after the section of the Atomic Energy Act that mandates adherence to several nonproliferation criteria to enable fast-track congressional review. Some technology recipients, such as Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates, have exceeded these criteria by agreeing to the so-called gold standard of 123 agreements, in which they have pledged to abstain from enriching uranium or separating plutonium and to adopt an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

By law, 123 agreements take effect 90 days after they are submitted to Congress unless it objects. In light of growing concerns about Saudi Arabia’s interest in dual-use nuclear technology and statements by senior Saudi officials that they may consider developing nuclear weapons if Iran does, Sherman has introduced legislation that would require Congress to approve any Saudi 123 agreement.

Arms Control Today: What is the appropriate role for Congress in overseeing U.S. nuclear commerce?

Sherman: You mention the word “commerce.” It appears in Article I of the Constitution, which establishes the Congress and empowers it to regulate commerce with foreign nations. We
have seen a process over the last 60
years of power being vested in the executive branch that would have appalled the founders.

The proper role is twofold: First, for Congress to make it plain that when a country has a nuclear energy program and does not have a 123 agreement with the United States, the United States will treat it like North Korea and Iran, which are both hostile powers that pursued nuclear programs without 123 agreements with the United States. The second thing is that a 123 agreement needs to be approved by Congress, and where we are concerned about proliferation, Congress should always insist that a nation receiving U.S. nuclear technology adopt the gold standard with an additional protocol [to its IAEA safeguards agreement].

ACT: Are you concerned about Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its possible interest in making its own nuclear fuel? How should this affect the U.S. approach to negotiating a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Riyadh?

Sherman: First, we have to question the economics of Saudi Arabia having a nuclear program to generate electricity when it’s a country that has so much natural gas. The economics would say the last place that you would put a nuclear plant to generate electricity, the last place in the world, would be in a place like Saudi Arabia, which has lots of sun for solar [power] and lots of natural gas.

Workers extract gold from Saudi Arabia's al-Amar mine. Saudi Arabia is currently assessing "uranium resources that can be used to produce nuclear fuel for future national power reactors and for uranium international market," according to the nation's nuclear agency. (Photo: Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images)Second, Saudi Arabia has broadly hinted that it wants to keep up with the Joneses, or in this case the ayatollahs, when it comes to a nuclear program. We know that the Iranian program is not merely for electricity, and Saudi Arabia wants to be just like the Iranians. So, I think they’ve told us why they want to have a nuclear program: they want to master the fuel cycle, they want to position themselves so that they can develop a nuclear weapon. And if there’s a government that you can’t trust with a bone saw, you shouldn’t trust it with nuclear weapons. We don’t need more nuclear powers in the world. We certainly don’t need any more in the Middle East.

Even if they’re going to have nuclear power generation, they don’t need to control the whole fuel cycle. You know, I eat sandwiches, but I don’t slaughter the cows, I just buy what I eat. So, we have to ask, Why do they want to have reprocessing? Why do they want to
have enrichment?

Also, we have to ask if Saudi Arabia wants to have a peaceful nuclear program, why isn’t it interested in an additional protocol? What does it have to hide?

ACT: What is your sense of the status of the negotiations between the United States and Saudi Arabia at this stage, and has the administration been keeping Congress apprised of the talks?

Sherman: Many times, the executive branch has honored in the breach its obligation to keep Congress informed. It isn’t shocking that this administration is even less faithful to such requirements than other administrations. That’s why we need a statute that says, “Negotiate what you’re going to negotiate, show it to us, and we’ll vote it up or down.”

ACT: Could rigorous U.S. nonproliferation standards drive Saudi Arabia to other suppliers?

Sherman: First, it’s not clear what the United States would get as far as jobs even if this program went forward. It looks like it would simply be a matter of licensing U.S. technology to South Korea. So, the upside to the United States is modest.

Second, if Saudi Arabia wants to go full speed ahead—without a 123 agreement, without an additional protocol, without the gold standard—if it wants to imitate Iran, then we have to duplicate for Riyadh what we’ve given to Tehran, which has not been good for the Iranian economy. If they want to act like Iran, we have to treat them like they’re acting like Iran.

Saudi Arabia has to understand that its entire relationship with the United States is at stake. It can’t say, “We’ve got oil, we’ve got money, we’re going to have a giant nuclear weapons program, and there’s nothing you can do to stop us.” No. If they want to act like Iran, fine. We can play that game stronger with Saudi Arabia than we did with Iran, and by the way, it was pretty strong with Iran.

ACT: If the Trump administration presents Congress with a Saudi Arabian 123 agreement with inadequate nonproliferation safeguards, what steps could Congress take to condition any approval of the agreement?

Sherman: Congress is in a weak legal position. We have abrogated and punted to the point where the president at least believes that he can build a wall with funds that we appropriated for other purposes.

So that’s why I have introduced legislation with Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Representative Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) to increase congressional oversight over any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia. The president could veto this bill that has bipartisan support, but he would be vetoing a bill that has Rubio and Sherman as its chief proponents, and there’s no other legislation with such a broad coalition.

If the president submits a bad 123 agreement, Congress could pass resolutions of disapproval, they could be passed by both houses, but he could veto those. We have a lot of Republican support for the idea that we do not want a Saudi nuclear weapons program, there’s a good possibility that a veto could be overridden.

ACT: What other steps can you take if your oversight bill does not succeed?

Sherman: In part, we would continue to focus on public awareness. Even if no statute is enacted, presidents tend not to do things that the bulk of the interested public thinks are just plain wrong. I don’t need a poll to tell me that Americans do not want Saudi Arabia to have nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

Also, if Saudi Arabia pursues its nuclear ambitions without a 123 agreement, we would move to limit or prevent any future arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is now treated like an ally, but it can’t act like Iran and be an ally of the United States.

ACT: What are the implications of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s interim staff report on the White House push for nuclear commerce with Saudi Arabia?

Sherman: It just illustrates that there are many reasons why the administration might make a mistake, and it would be a mistake to green-light an inadequately safeguarded nuclear program in Saudi Arabia.

You have two possible corrupting influences on the decision-making processes. One relates to the IP3 firm with [former National Security Advisor Michael] Flynn. The other influence is with [senior adviser to the president Jared] Kushner, Brookfield Asset Management, and its involvement with [the Kushner family-owned building at] 666 5th Avenue, and Brookfield’s involvement with the Westinghouse nuclear company. Again, we have to understand that Westinghouse has technology that can be licensed. That doesn’t mean there are any jobs in this for the United States. Well, perhaps a few jobs for lawyers.

ACT: In the past, you have co-sponsored legislation to require 123 agreements to meet the gold standard in order to qualify for fast-track approval. Why is such a reform necessary?

Sherman: The discussion of Saudi Arabia is not the last time that we are going to be concerned about a country developing nuclear weapons while claiming that its focus is the generation of electricity, so Congress needs to be involved and evaluate any agreement that doesn’t meet the gold standard. Today, congressional involvement is too limited and the standards in the Atomic Energy Act are too minimal. So, we need to ensure that if an administration wants a fast track, it must negotiate a 123 agreement that includes the gold standard and an additional protocol.

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, March 20, 2019

U.S. Plans Flight Tests of INF-Treaty Range Missiles Defense Department officials told a group of reporters March 13 that the Pentagon is planning to test two types of conventional missiles currently prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by the end of this year. The announcement comes just over a month after the Trump administration announced Feb. 2 that it would withdraw from the treaty Aug. 2 unless Russia returns to compliance with the agreement. The first missile, a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of roughly 1,000 km (600 miles), will likely be...

TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress No Funding for U.S. INF Missiles in Europe

Body: 


The INF Treaty prohibited all U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The official figures above show missiles deployed November 1, 1987, shortly before the INF Treaty was signed. The treaty also required destruction of 430 U.S. missiles and 979 Soviet missiles which were in storage or otherwise not deployed. The treaty prevented the planned deployment of an additional 208 GLCMs in the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. The Pershing IAs, under joint U.S.-German control, were not formally covered by the INF Treaty but were also to be eliminated by U.S. and West German agreement. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty led to the verifiable elimination of over 2,500 Soviet and U.S. missiles based in Europe and helped bring an end to the Cold War.

But now, the United States and Russia are on course to withdraw from the INF Treaty in six months over a long-running dispute over Russian compliance with the treaty.

Termination of the INF Treaty opens the door for Russia and the United States to develop and deploy more and new types of ground-launched intermediate-range missiles–a move that would increase the risks of a destabilizing new missile race.

You can help stop this!

A group of leading U.S. Senators has re-introduced the "Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019," which would prohibit funding for the procurement, flight-testing, or deployment of a U.S. ground-launched or ballistic missile until the Trump Administration meets seven specific conditions, including identifying a U.S. ally formally willing to host such a system, and in the case of a European country, have it be the outcome of a NATO-wide decision.

This bill is a step in the right direction. New U.S. ground-launched cruise deployments in Europe or elsewhere would cost billions of dollars, take years to complete, and are militarily unnecessary to defend NATO allies because existing weapons systems can already hold key Russian targets at risk.

Your Senators need to hear from you.

Country Resources:

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Agreements at a Glance

June 2017

Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: February 2019

Over the past four decades, American and Soviet/Russian leaders have used a progression of bilateral agreements and other measures to limit and reduce their substantial nuclear warhead and strategic missile and bomber arsenals. The following is a brief summary.

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements

SALT I

Begun in November 1969, by May 1972, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) had produced both the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which limited strategic missile defenses to 200 (later 100) interceptors each, and the Interim Agreement, an executive agreement that capped U.S. and Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) forces. Under the Interim Agreement, both sides pledged not to construct new ICBM silos, not to increase the size of existing ICBM silos “significantly,” and capped the number of SLBM launch tubes and SLBM-carrying submarines. The agreement ignored strategic bombers and did not address warhead numbers, leaving both sides free to enlarge their forces by deploying multiple warheads (MIRVs) onto their ICBMs and SLBMs and increasing their bomber-based forces. The agreement limited the United States to 1,054 ICBM silos and 656 SLBM launch tubes. The Soviet Union was limited to 1,607 ICBM silos and 740 SLBM launch tubes. In June 2002, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM treaty.

SALT II

In November 1972, Washington and Moscow agreed to pursue a follow-on treaty to SALT I. SALT II, signed in June 1979, limited U.S. and Soviet ICBM, SLBM, and strategic bomber-based nuclear forces to 2,250 delivery vehicles (defined as an ICBM silo, a SLBM launch tube, or a heavy bomber) and placed a variety of other restrictions on deployed strategic nuclear forces. The agreement would have required the Soviets to reduce their forces by roughly 270 delivery vehicles, but U.S. forces were below the limits and could actually have been increased. However, President Jimmy Carter asked the Senate not to consider SALT II for its advice and consent after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, and the treaty was not taken up again. Both Washington and Moscow subsequently pledged to adhere to the agreement’s terms despite its failure to enter into force. However, on May 26, 1986, President Ronald Reagan said that future decisions on strategic nuclear forces would be based on the threat posed by Soviet forces and not on "a flawed SALT II Treaty.”

START I

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), first proposed in the early 1980s by President Ronald Reagan and finally signed in July 1991, required the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,600 delivery vehicles, carrying no more than 6,000 warheads as counted using the agreement’s rules. The agreement required the destruction of excess delivery vehicles which was verified using an intrusive verification regime that involved on-site inspections, the regular exchange of information, including telemetry, and the use of national technical means (i.e., satellites). The agreement’s entry into force was delayed for several years because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuing efforts to denuclearize Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus by returning their nuclear weapons to Russia and making them parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and START I agreements. START I reductions were completed in December 2001 and the treaty expired on Dec. 5, 2009.

START II

In June 1992, Presidents George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin agreed to pursue a follow-on accord to START I. START II, signed in January 1993, called for reducing deployed strategic arsenals to 3,000-3,500 warheads and banned the deployment of destabilizing multiple-warhead land-based missiles. START II would have counted warheads in roughly the same fashion as START I and, also like its predecessor, would have required the destruction of delivery vehicles but not warheads. The agreement's original implementation deadline was January 2003, ten years after signature, but a 1997 protocol moved this deadline to December 2007 because of the extended delay in ratification. Both the Senate and the Duma approved START II, but the treaty did not take effect because the Senate did not ratify the 1997 protocol and several ABM Treaty amendments, whose passage the Duma established as a condition for START II’s entry into force. START II was effectively shelved as a result of the 2002 U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty.

START III Framework

In March 1997, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed to a framework for START III negotiations that included a reduction in deployed strategic warheads to 2,000-2,500. Significantly, in addition to requiring the destruction of delivery vehicles, START III negotiations were to address “the destruction of strategic nuclear warheads…to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions including prevention of a rapid increase in the number of warheads.” Negotiations were supposed to begin after START II entered into force, which never happened.

SORT (Moscow Treaty)

On May 24, 2002, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow Treaty) under which the United States and Russia reduced their strategic arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each. The warhead limit took effect and expired on the same day, Dec. 31, 2012. Although the two sides did not agree on specific counting rules, the Bush administration asserted that the United States would reduce only warheads deployed on strategic delivery vehicles in active service, i.e., “operationally deployed” warheads, and would not count warheads removed from service and placed in storage or warheads on delivery vehicles undergoing overhaul or repair. The agreement’s limits are similar to those envisioned for START III, but the treaty did not require the destruction of delivery vehicles, as START I and II did, or the destruction of warheads, as had been envisioned for START III. The treaty was approved by the Senate and Duma and entered into force on June 1, 2003. SORT was replaced by New START on February 5, 2011.

New START

On April 8, 2010, the United States and Russia signed New START, a legally binding, verifiable agreement that limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 strategic delivery systems (ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers), and limits deployed and nondeployed launchers to 800. The treaty-accountable warhead limit is 30 percent lower than the 2,200 upper limit of SORT, and the delivery vehicle limit is 50 percent lower than the 1,600 allowed in START I. The treaty has a verification regime that combines elements of START I with new elements tailored to New START. Measures under the treaty include on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical means for treaty monitoring. The treaty also provides for the continued exchange of telemetry (missile flight-test data on up to five tests per year) and does not meaningfully limit missile defenses or long-range conventional strike capabilities. The U.S. Senate approved New START on Dec. 22, 2010. The approval process of the Russian parliament (passage by both the State Duma and Federation Council) was completed Jan. 26, 2011. The treaty entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011 and will expire in 2021, though both parties may agree to extend the treaty for a period of up to five years. Both parties met the treaty’s central limits by the Feb. 4, 2018 deadline for implementation.

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements
 SALT  I SALT IIINF TreatySTART ISTART IISTART IIISORT

New START

StatusExpiredNever Entered Into ForceIn Force*ExpiredNever Entered Into ForceNever NegotiatedReplaced by New STARTIn Force
Deployed Warhead LimitN/AN/AN/A6,0003,000-3,5002,000-2,5001,700-2,2001,550
Deployed Delivery Vehicle LimitUS: 1,710 ICBMs & SLBMs
USSR: 2,347
2,250Prohibits ground-based missiles of 500-5,500 km range1,600N/AN/AN/A700
Date SignedMay 26, 1972June 18, 1979Dec. 8, 1987July 31, 1991Jan. 3, 1993N/AMay 24, 2002April 8, 2010
Date Ratifed, U.S.Aug. 3, 1972N/AMay 28, 1988Oct. 1, 1992Jan. 26, 1996N/AMarch 6, 2003Dec. 22, 2010
Ratification Vote, U.S.88-2N/A93-693-687-4N/A95-071-26
Date Entered Into ForceOct. 3, 1972N/AJune 1, 1988Dec. 5, 1994N/AN/AJune 1, 2003Feb. 5, 2011
Implementation DeadlineN/AN/AJune 1, 1991Dec. 5, 2001N/AN/AN/AFeb. 5, 2018
Expiration DateOct. 3, 1977N/Aunlimited durationDec. 5, 2009N/AN/AFeb. 5, 2011Feb. 5, 2021**

*On Feb. 2, 2019, both the United States and Russia announced they were suspending their obligations to the treaty.

**New START allows for the option to extend the treaty beyond 2021 for a period of up to five years.

Nonstrategic Nuclear Arms Control Measures

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty

Signed Dec. 8, 1987, the INF Treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to verifiably eliminate all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Distinguished by its unprecedented, intrusive inspection regime, including on-site inspections, the INF Treaty laid the groundwork for verification of the subsequent START I. The INF Treaty entered into force June 1, 1988, and the two sides completed their reductions by June 1, 1991, destroying a total of 2,692 missiles. The agreement was multilateralized after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and current active participants in the agreement include the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are also parties to the agreement but do not participate in treaty meetings or on-site inspections. The ban on intermediate-range missiles is of unlimited duration.

Both the United States and Russia have raised concerns about the other side’s compliance with the INF Treaty. The United States first publicly charged Russia with developing and testing a ground-launched cruise with a range that meets the INF Treaty definition of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km in 2014.

Russia denies that it is breaching the agreement and has raised its own concerns about Washington’s compliance. Moscow is charging that the United States is placing a missile defense launch system in Europe that can also be used to fire cruise missiles, using targets for missile defense tests with similar characteristics to INF Treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles, and is making armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles. On Oct. 20, 2018 President Donald Trump announced his intention to “terminate” the agreement citing Russian noncompliance and concerns about China’s missiles, and on Dec. 4, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Russia in “material breach” of the treaty. The Trump administration provided official notice to the other treaty states-parties on Feb. 2, that it would both suspend its obligations to the treaty and withdraw from the agreement in six months—per the treaty's terms—and "terminate" the agreement. The administration has stated that it may reverse the withdrawal if Russia returns to compliance by eliminating its ground-launched 9M729 missile, which the United States alleges is the noncompliant missile which can fly beyond the 500-kilometer range limit set by the treaty. 

Presidential Nuclear Initiatives 

On Sept. 27, 1991, President George H. W. Bush announced that the United States would remove almost all U.S. tactical (nonstrategic) nuclear forces from deployment so that Russia could undertake similar actions, reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation as the Soviet Union dissolved. Specifically, Bush said the United States would eliminate all its nuclear artillery shells and short-range nuclear ballistic missile warheads and remove all nonstrategic nuclear warheads from surface ships, attack submarines, and land-based naval aircraft. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reciprocated on Oct. 5, pledging to eliminate all nuclear artillery munitions, nuclear warheads for tactical missiles, and nuclear landmines. He also pledged to withdraw all Soviet tactical naval nuclear weapons from deployment. Under these initiatives, the United States and Russia reduced their deployed nonstrategic stockpiles by an estimated 5,000 and 13,000 warheads, respectively. However, significant questions remain about Russian implementation of its pledges, and there is considerable uncertainty about the current state of Russia’s tactical nuclear forces. The Defense Department estimates that Russia possess roughly 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons and the numbers are expanding. The United States maintains several hundred nonstrategic B61 gravity bombs for delivery by short-range fighter aircraft. 

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Country Resources:

‘Nothing Endangers the Planet More Than Nuclear Weapons’

Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the prospective chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, discusses his policy priorities, the limits of military spending, and the peril of a new nuclear arms race.


December 2018

With the shift in control of the U.S. House of Representatives next month following the November midterm elections, Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is in line to become chairman of the Armed Services Committee. In that powerful post, he will give Democrats renewed influence over key defense-related developments and bring renewed scrutiny of key programs, including nuclear weapons procurement and policies.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, questions witnesses during a defense budget hearing April 12. Smith is in line to become committee chairman in January, when control of the House of Representatives flips to the Democrats. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)In an interview with Arms Control Today, Smith said he plans to question the need and affordability of elements of the Trump administration’s approach toward nuclear weapons and press for greater diplomatic engagement to avert an accelerating arms race with Russia and China. He opposes U.S. plans for two new, low-yield nuclear capabilities, envisioned as a counter to Russia, that he said will do little to enhance nuclear deterrence and make the country safer. A better course, he says, includes undertaking renewed efforts with Russia to maintain the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) beyond its February 2021 expiration date. This transcript has been edited for length
and clarity.

What are the top two or three steps you think should be taken to enhance oversight of the administration's approach toward nuclear weapons?

It is really a matter of taking another look at the Nuclear Posture Review [NPR]. What we want to do is to drill down, firstly, on the costs. Exactly what is this going to cost us, and how does that balance out against our other national security needs, and then, what's the strategy behind this? Why do we need so many nuclear weapons? Ultimately, what I want to do is see a shift to a deterrence strategy. I think the oversight will come to having an explanation for why do you think we need this many delivery platforms? Why do we need the triad? Why do we need over 4,000 nuclear weapons? I think that is the discussion that most members of Congress have not been privy to, and having seen it myself, I don't buy the explanations, and I don't think it is the correct course.

A key element of the Trump administration's NPR report was the call to develop two new, low-yield nuclear capabilities for the sea-based leg of the triad—in the near term, a low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead option and, in the longer term, a new sea-launched cruise missile. Would these enhance deterrence, or could they lower the nuclear threshold and increase the risk of miscalculation?

I think it lowers the nuclear threshold and increases the risk of miscalculation. I think it increases the risk that people will see nuclear weapons as simply another weapon in their arsenal of conflict, and when you start talking about low-yield nuclear weapons, you contemplate uses other than for deterrence.

Now, the argument that the administration will make is, well, if Russia has low-yield nuclear weapons, we have to counterbalance it. My view is that we have to say that there is no such thing as an acceptable use of a nuclear weapon and that we will counter it with whatever nuclear weapons we have. When you go the low-yield route, you increase the number of weapons, you increase the risk for people thinking that they can use them in a tactical way. They do not enhance our ability to deter our adversaries, so I'm opposed to low-yield nuclear weapons. I think that speeds up an arms race that is very, very dangerous.

Do you know whether the U.S. intelligence community has concluded, as the NPR report claims, that Russia or China might believe the United States would be self-deterred from using current weapons in response to, say, limited Russian or Chinese nuclear use?

It's just speculation. I have not seen any in-depth study on that question. This is why the other big part, of course, is to maintain an open dialogue with our fellow nuclear powers China and Russia. It is our responsibility as global powers to make sure that nuclear weapons are never used, and we need to have consistent dialogue on how to avoid that.

Whatever other differences we might have, I want to see a consistent dialogue on nuclear weapons. It is something that President Ronald Reagan understood. He was obviously for peace through strength. He wanted to build up a strong military, but he was also instrumental in negotiating arms reduction treaties where nuclear weapons were concerned, precisely because he understood the risk that nuclear weapons pose.

The Congressional Budget Office projected last year that the Obama administration's plans to sustain and upgrade the nuclear arsenal would cost $1.2 trillion without adjusting for inflation. The Trump administration's proposals would add to the cost. Do you believe that is realistic and affordable?

I do not. I think that is the biggest challenge that we face within our national security budget. Every single branch says it doesn’t have enough, that we need more, and yet we don't have the money to do that. We need to reconfigure a national security strategy that would better reflect both our resources and our true national security needs.

Nuclear weapons are a great example of where we could save money and still maintain our national security interests. A deterrent strategy is what's going to help us the most, and we could do that for a heck of a lot less money than is currently being spent. We could meet our needs from a national security standpoint with a lot fewer nuclear weapons. The path we're going down now is certainly unsustainable from a fiscal standpoint, and it doesn't make us safer.

You noted we can get the deterrence we need with fewer nuclear weapons. What might be the options to maintain the nuclear arsenal that would be more cost effective while still providing for a strong deterrent?

Build fewer of them. We can calculate what we need the weapons for in order to deter our adversaries, and there's a compelling argument to be made that a submarine-based nuclear weapons approach alone gives us an adequate deterrent. But we can certainly simply build fewer weapons to meet our national security needs. It's not really that complicated.

I know you're familiar with the plan to develop a new fleet of nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missiles, known as the long-range standoff [LRSO] system, that the Air Force says is needed to ensure that the air leg of the nuclear triad can continue to penetrate the most advanced air defenses well into the future. Critics argue that retaining such cruise missiles is redundant, given current plans to build the stealth B-21 long-range bomber and upgraded nuclear B61 gravity bomb. Do air-launched cruise missiles bring a unique contribution to the U.S. nuclear deterrent?

I don't think they're worth the money in terms of what they get us, and I would agree with the arguments that our new air-launch plans more than cover the need and, heck, our submarines cover the need as well, in terms of being able to reach these targets. So, no, I don't see the need for the LRSO.

Earlier this year, you said that the United States does not need as many intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as the Air Force plans to build. The service is planning to replace the existing Minuteman III ICBM system of about 400 deployed missiles with missiles that are part of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent system. The program is very early in its development, and there is significant uncertainty about the cost, which is estimated at between $85 billion and $150 billion, counting inflation. What options should be considered to reduce the cost?

Build fewer of them. Again, this isn't terribly complicated. You look at the total number of nuclear warheads that we have and how many we truly need for our national security. In the studies I've seen, we are planning on winding up with 4,000 warheads by the end of this nuclear modernization when, in fact, 1,000 would be more than sufficient. You could also make an argument that we do not even need the ICBM component of the triad in order to meet our needs for deterrence with nuclear weapons. But certainly, it's a very compelling argument that we could get by building fewer of them.

So, do you think the Pentagon should more seriously consider further extending the life of a smaller number of existing Minuteman III ICBMs as a cheaper, near-term alternative to the plan for an entirely new ICBM system?

That I would have to examine to figure out the viability of extending the life of our existing nuclear weapons. If that's possible as a cheaper alternative, I think it's certainly something we should consider, but I would have to hear more arguments about that. But no matter how you get there, if you build fewer of them, you save more money.

The Trump administration's NPR expands the circumstances under which the United States would consider the first use of nuclear weapons, including in response to non-nuclear attacks on critical infrastructure or on nuclear command, control, and communications and early-warning capabilities. You introduced legislation last year that would make it U.S. policy not to use nuclear weapons first. Why adopt a no-first-use policy?

In order to reduce the risk of us stumbling into a nuclear war. There are a lot of threats, there are a lot of weapons systems out there. Nothing endangers the planet more than nuclear weapons. If you introduce them, you cannot predict what your adversaries are going to counter with, and an all-out nuclear war is the likely result, with the complete destruction of the planet.

President Donald Trump signs the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 at Fort Drum, New York, on August 13. Rep. Adam Smith says the House Armed Services Committee, under Democratic control, will undertake renewed scrutiny of key defense programs, including nuclear-weapons procurement and policies.  (Photo: Sgt. Thomas Scaggs/U.S. Army)Look, war in general causes an enormous amount of suffering, but nuclear war is the greatest danger to the future of the planet. Introducing nuclear weapons first is an unacceptable escalation of any conflict that we could possibly envision. We have conventional means of responding, and we have a variety of different means of preventing getting into that war in the first place. I don't think it makes sense to have first use of nuclear weapons on the table as an option.

What would you say to critics who believe that a no-first-use policy could undermine deterrence
and unsettle our allies?

I think our allies are more unsettled by the possibility that we might introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict, as they are a lot closer to the nuclear powers in the world than we are. I think our allies would like to see us have a no-first-use policy, and, look, there are a whole lot of other things we need to do to deter our adversaries. I just don't think that nuclear weapons should be a part of that equation.

President Donald Trump announced his plan to have the United States withdraw from the INF Treaty. You have strongly criticized that and expressed concern about not being briefed or consulted. Do you think that the United States and Russia have exhausted all diplomatic options to resolve the compliance dispute?

I do not, and my biggest concern is we have not included our NATO allies in this discussion. I think we should pursue diplomatic efforts to try to preserve the INF Treaty. I think it is an important treaty, and I think we are abandoning it prematurely.

Does the United States need to field intermediate-range missiles in Europe or East Asia, and what would be the benefits and risks of doing so?

I don't think that we need to. I think we have other deterrent capabilities. The risk is an arms race. The risk is that Russia would greatly expand its arsenal of these types of weapons. I think the treaty made sense when we signed it. It still makes sense now.

If the INF Treaty collapses, the only remaining bilateral U.S.-Russian arms control agreement would be New START, which expires in 2021 but can be extended by up to five years through agreement by both parties. The administration has said that it does not yet have a position on whether to take up Russia’s offer to begin extension talks. What would be the impact of a U.S. withdrawal from or failure to extend New START?

An escalating arms race which gets us in dangerous territory. I think it would be problematic if we let that treaty expire.

The Obama administration had determined that the United States could reduce the size of its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to a third below the New START limits of 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems. Should the United States seek to engage Russia on further reductions, including on Russian concerns about U.S. missile defenses?

Yes. I think we would benefit from greater dialogue with Russia. It's actually something that I do agree with the president on. I don't agree necessarily agree with the way he's handled it, but as two of the greatest military powers, I think the whole world would benefit from us having more robust discussions and negotiations with the Russians on all of these issues.

As part of its effort to win Republican support in the Senate for New START in 2010, the Obama administration pledged to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in September that congressional support for nuclear modernization ought to be tied to maintaining an arms control process that limits and seeks to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. Do you agree?

As I said, negotiating with Russia to reduce military might in an equal way helps reduce the risk of conflict and the risk of escalation. We've got a long history of this, starting with President Richard Nixon in the 1970s. But as we looked at the build-up of our military strictly on the nuclear side, it made sense to negotiate a sensible limit on what weapons we would develop and that continues to be the case. Now that Russia is rebuilding and rearming and is much more in conflict with the United States, I think it makes sense that we have these discussions.

The administration is conducting a major review of U.S. missile defense policy. Some Trump administration officials have suggested that the review should augment the role of missile defense in countering Russia and China, not just the limited threats posed by Iran and North Korea, and they have urged the development of interceptors in space. Do you believe that such steps would be wise?

We need to have a dialogue with the Russians and Chinese about this. We don't want either side to get to the point where it thinks that it can win a war with an acceptable level of loss and therefore stumble into that war. Certainly, missile defense is part of what concerns the Russians, and their reaction has been toward wanting to build more weapons. We need to be able to defend ourselves, but I think we need to have an open dialogue with the Russians about an arms control approach that gives us a more secure world.

There have been efforts off and on to engage with Russia in a strategic stability dialogue. There was a strategic stability dialogue meeting last fall, but since then, a follow-up has not been scheduled despite the fact, as we understand it, that the Defense and State departments want to have it and the Russians want to have it. Is this something that the secretary of state and secretary of defense should be directly involved in, rather than relying on Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting occasionally on the margins of other meetings?

Yes, I think there needs to be robust engagement across all those fronts. I think the secretary of state and secretary of defense need to be involved. I think President Putin and President Trump need to be involved. I think a regular negotiation on the subject would be very, very helpful. So, yes, I think that is the right approach. We just need to follow through on it and do it.

Congress Increases ICBM Funding

Congress Increases ICBM Funding


Congress has provided $168 million more than the Trump administration’s budget request over the past two years to keep the development of the Air Force’s new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system ahead of schedule. Lawmakers approved the transfer earlier this year of $100 million in unspent fiscal year 2018 Pentagon funds to the program known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). In addition, the final fiscal year 2019 defense appropriations bill provided $69 million above the initial request of $345 million for the program. (See ACT, November 2018.)

The GBSD program is slated to replace the current force of 400 deployed Minuteman III missiles and their supporting infrastructure and remain in service through the 2070s. The Air Force in August 2017 selected Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. to proceed with the development program. (See ACT, October 2017.) There is significant uncertainty about the projected acquisition cost of the new missile system, raising questions about affordability. An independent Pentagon cost estimate conducted in 2016 put the GBSD program’s price tag at between $85 billion and $150 billion, including the effects of inflation, well above the Air Force’s initial estimate of $62 billion. Pentagon officials ultimately approved the $85 billion figure as the initial official cost of the program. (See ACT, March 2017.) The Air Force had planned to produce an updated cost estimate by the end of 2018. The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment on whether the service has done so.—KINGSTON REIF

Congress Funds Low-Yield Nuclear Warhead

Trump signs defense-related spending bills.


November 2018
By Kingston Reif

Congress voted to fund a Trump administration proposal to develop of a small number of low-yield nuclear warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) despite strong opposition from Democrats.

The Trump administration wants a new low-yield nuclear warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which critics warn could lower the threshold for nuclear use. Above, the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Tennessee returns to its homeport at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., following a routine patrol mission. (Photo: U.S. Navy)The disapproval of Democratic lawmakers, particularly in the House, presages a contentious fight over whether to deploy the weapon if Democrats retake that chamber in the midterm elections.

Congress approved $87.5 million for the warhead as part of the fiscal year 2019 energy and water and defense appropriations bills. President Donald Trump signed both bills into law as part of two larger appropriations packages on Sept. 21 and Sept. 28, respectively.

Fiscal year 2019 began on Oct. 1. Before this year, Congress had not passed more than one appropriations bill before the start of the fiscal year since 2007.

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report released in February called for the development of two additional low-yield nuclear capabilities primarily to counter Russia’s alleged willingness to use or threat 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.

In addition to the low-yield SLBM warhead, the administration wants to develop a nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) that could be available for fielding within the next decade.

According to the NPR 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 fiscal year 2019 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within the Energy Department, included $65 million for modification of a small number of 100-kiloton W76-1 SLBM warheads so that they detonate at a less powerful yield. The Defense Department requested $22.6 million for developing the low-yield variant. (See ACT, April 2018.) The department plans to spend a total of $48.5 million on the effort over the next five years.

Congress provided $1 million in fiscal year 2019, the same as the budget request, to begin an analysis of the performance requirements and costs to pursue development of the new SLCM.

Democrats in the Senate and House offered several amendments to this year’s national defense authorization bill and energy and water and defense appropriations bills that would have curtailed funding for and required more information from the Trump administration about the low-yield warhead.

For example, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in May offered an amendment to the energy and water bill in the Senate appropriations committee that would have eliminated the $65 million requested by the NNSA for the low-yield SLBM warhead. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 12–19. Three Democratic senators joined every Republican in opposing the amendment.

In June, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) offered an amendment to the energy and water bill on the House floor that also would have eliminated the NNSA request for the low-yield warhead. The amendment failed by a vote of 177–241, with all but 15 Democrats supporting the amendment.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee who would become chairman if the Democrats win back the House, has been one of the most vocal congressional critics of the low-yield warhead and the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons policy more broadly.

“I think that the Republican Party and the [Pentagon’s] Nuclear Posture Review contemplates a lot more nuclear weapons than I and most Democrats think we need,” Smith said at a conference in Virginia in September.

“We also think the idea of low-yield nuclear weapons are extremely problematic going forward, and when we look at the larger budget picture, that is not the best place to spend the money,” he added.

The defense appropriations law supports and, in several cases, increases funding above the Trump administration’s proposed budget request for programs to sustain and rebuild nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and their supporting infrastructure.

The law provides a $200 million increase above the budget request of $3.7 billion for the program to build a fleet of 12 new ballistic missile submarines. The law also funds an additional $50 million above the budget request of $615 million for the long-range standoff weapon program to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile, and $69 million above the request of $345 million for the program to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile with a missile system called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent.

The energy and water law provides $11.1 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the NNSA, an increase of about $90 million above the budget request and $500 million more than last year’s appropriation.

On missile defense, Congress approved $11.3 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, an increase of $1.4 billion from the budget request of $9.9 billion. The additional funds include $126 million for enhanced discrimination capabilities, $85 million to support using lasers to intercept missiles in their boost phase, and $46 million for hypersonic missile defense efforts.

The defense law does not include funding to begin developing a space-based ballistic missile defense interceptor layer. The fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Defense Department to pursue such a layer regardless of whether the long-delayed missile defense review recommends such an action. (See ACT, September 2018.)

The reasons for the delay in the completion of the review, originally expected to be released in February, are unclear.

The defense law provides $617 million more than the budget request to support and accelerate offensive and defensive hypersonic research and prototyping efforts to maintain U.S. technology superiority and ability to fight and win a possible future war with Russia and China. The speed, flight altitude, and maneuverability of such weapons result in less warning time than in the case of higher-flying ballistic missiles and make them much more difficult to target with missile defenses. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

Congress also approved the Pentagon’s budget request of $48 million for 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 Treaty. Trump announced in October that he plans to withdraw the United States from the treaty due to Russia’s violation and to counter China, which is not a party to the agreement.

The energy and water law includes $1.4 billion for core NNSA fissile material security and nonproliferation efforts, an increase of about $150 million from the budget request. The additional funding supports stepped-up efforts to secure and eliminate radiological materials that could be used in a so-called dirty bomb and to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium to produce molybdenum-99, a medical isotope.

 

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: The United States

October 2018

Updated: October 2018

According to the Federation of the American Scientists, as of March 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 90.6% of its chemical weapons arsenal as of 2017 and is due to complete destruction by September 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

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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.

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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 September 2018 New START data exchange, the United States deploys 1,398 strategic nuclear warheads on 659 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 2017, the United States had destroyed about 25,154 metric tons, or about 90.6 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 September 2023.
  • Destruction of the United States’ largest remaining stockpile of chemical weapons began in 2016 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 ICBMs, 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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