"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
Arms Control Today

Doubts Raised About North Korea Missile Test

April 2022
By Carol Giacomo

What North Korea claimed was a highly successful test of its newest, most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) may be exaggerated or made up, according to news reports.

In this photo taken in Pyongyang on March 25, students of the Pyongyang Jang Chol Gu University of Commerce watch footage of the previous day's launch of a North Korea missile. (Photo by Kim Won Jin/AFP via Getty Images)North Korean state media initially described the test on March 24 as an “unprecedented miracle” launch of the country’s Hwasong-17 ICBM, which experts believe is designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads. The missile’s altitude was clocked at 3,852 miles, with Japan and South Korea confirming that the launch flew higher and longer than any previous North Korean test.

The news raised tensions between North Korea and the United States, which is immersed in helping Ukraine defend against a Russian invasion. “This launch is a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region,” spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a March 24 statement.

“The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions,” she said.

But on March 28, U.S. and South Korean officials were reviewing these findings after independent analysts using satellite imagery, weather forecasts, and state media footage raised questions about North Korea’s claims, according to The Washington Post.

Colin Zwirko, a senior analyst at the North Korea monitoring website NK News, who first revealed the discrepancies, wrote that “North Korea’s version of events is misleading at best, and possibly a complete fabrication of a successful Hwasong-17 test at worst.”

He reported that new data raises the possibility that North Korea is trying to “pass off a Hwasong-17 test launch that ended in failure in skies over Pyongyang on March 16 as the missile launched on March 24. That would mean that North Korea is hiding video and details of the long-range missile it fired on March 24,” which landed 150 kilometers off the Japanese coast.

The suspected ballistic missile that was tested on March 16 appeared to have exploded in midair. North Korea released no details about that launch.

South Korean officials who have looked at the data now also believe that the missile launched on March 24 may be different from the Hwasong-17. The Washington Post quoted an anonymous U.S. official as saying the missile appeared to be a modified version of the older, smaller Hwasong-15, which was the last ICBM tested by North Korea, in 2017.

But Japanese officials stood by their initial assessment, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno saying on March 28 that “the government believes that the missile fired was a new ICBM-class ballistic missile, and there is no change in our analysis at this time.”

What is undeniable is that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un remains determined to keep advancing his country’s nuclear program and field a nuclear weapon on an ICBM that can hit the United States.

In 2018, Kim unilaterally declared a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests. At the time, he was engaged in diplomatic initiatives with the United States and South Korea.

U.S. President Joe Biden has expressed a willingness to engage with North Korea, but pushed to tighten sanctions on Pyongyang and has not sought to woo Kim as his predecessor did.

Analysts say Kim is feeling ignored as the United States is consumed with the Russian war in Ukraine and deeply involved in competing with and deterring China.

North Korea has conducted 13 ballistic missile launches this year, including two launches that were also of ICBM systems, according to U.S. officials.

What North Korea claimed was a successful test of its newest, most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile may be exaggerated.

Congress Cuts Funds for Layered Defense System

April 2022
By John Bedard

Congress has shot down the Pentagon’s request for funding in the fiscal year 2022 defense appropriations bill to develop a layered homeland missile defense system.

MDA has hit a milestone for integrating the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, shown, with the Patriot air and missile defense system, firing an advanced Patriot missile from THAAD. (Photo by Lockheed Martin via Getty Images)The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) aims to adapt the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Aegis missile defense systems, both designed to defeat short- and intermediate-range missiles, in order to bolster the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. The GMD system, based in California and Alaska, is designed to respond to intercontinental ballistic missile threats.

But in the appropriations bill signed into law by President Joe Biden in March, funding for this new layered system was axed due to a “lack of requirement,” lawmakers wrote in an explanatory statement. The appropriations bill matched the authorization bill passed in December in subtracting both the $99 million MDA request for adapting Aegis missiles to the GMD system and the $65 million request to demonstrate the THAAD system’s ability to take out long-range threats. The GMD program’s research and development budget for this effort also was decreased by $10 million. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

In addition, the appropriations bill deleted $42 million from the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) program, reducing it to $884 million. The Pentagon plans to supplement the existing 44 GMD interceptors with 20 NGI missiles beginning no later than 2028, bringing the fleet total to 64.

Although the R&D budget for the THAAD program was decreased by 23 percent to $213 million, the law boosted THAAD procurement funds by $129 million, for a total price tag of $381 million, in order to purchase an additional 14 interceptors for the system. The R&D cut in the THAAD program was related specifically to the layered homeland defense system; the boost in procurement will underwrite the use of THAAD missiles in other circumstances.

Two weeks before the signing of the spending bill, the MDA test-fired its most sophisticated version of the Patriot missile from a THAAD system in New Mexico. The launch of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement on Feb. 24 marked the final step toward integrating two battle systems that can provide “critical multi-tier missile defense capability,” according to Lockheed Martin in a statement to Defense News.

Overall, Congress gave the MDA $1.4 billion more than requested for fiscal year 2022, bringing its budget to $10.3 billion.

Meanwhile, the MDA’s Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor program received an appropriation of $269 million, including $110 million for launching two satellites in 2023. At the same time, the law boosted the development budget of the Space Development Agency (SDA) by $550 million in order to speed plans for the National Defense Space Architecture Tracking Layer, which means the launch of satellites in low-earth orbit capable of identifying and tracking threats such as hypersonic weapons will take place in 2025 instead of 2027.

In the explanatory statement accompanying the legislation, lawmakers acknowledged that the space sensor system launch strategy is “inconsistent” with previous MDA plans of launching such payloads into orbit aboard SDA satellites.

Congress criticized the MDA and SDA for “a lack of coordination and cooperation” and wasting taxpayer dollars by each launching their own satellites.

Congress rejected the Pentagon’s request for funding in the 2022 defense appropriations bill.

Colombia, Qatar Named Non-NATO Allies

April 2022

The United States is adding Colombia and Qatar to a list of 19 countries designated as major non-NATO allies, enabling privileges that can facilitate military training and weapons transfers. President Joe Biden announced his intention to designate Qatar during a Jan. 31 meeting at the White House with its emir, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, saying, “I think it’s long overdue.”

U.S. President Joe Biden meets Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, at the White House on January 31. Biden announced that he was adding the Gulf state to the list of major non-NATO allies. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)Qatar is home to the al-Udeid air base, where the U.S. Central Command is headquartered. Qatar has contributed more than $8 billion to develop the base since 2003 and is the second-largest buyer of U.S. weapons, including the F-15 fighter jet, under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, with $26 billion in active cases, according to the U.S. State Department. The designation became official on March 10, making Qatar the third such ally in the Persian Gulf region, along with Bahrain and Kuwait.

That same day, Biden announced his intention to designate Colombia during a meeting with that country’s president, Iván Duque. Biden said Colombia “is the keystone to our shared efforts to build a hemisphere that is prosperous, secure, and democratic.” When the designation is finalized, Colombia would join Argentina and Brazil as the only Latin American countries with major non-NATO ally status. Such designations can become official 30 days after the president notifies Congress of his decision.

Colombia, Qatar Named Non-NATO Allies

Declaration Expected on Explosive Weapons

April 2022

As Russia’s targeting of civilians and civilian areas in Ukraine draws widespread international condemnation, a years-long multilateral effort to address the harm caused by using explosive weapons in populated areas is nearing conclusion.

Countries involved in the effort, led by Ireland, will convene in Geneva on April 6–8 to debate a declaration stating that “armed forces adopt and implement a range of policies and practices to avoid civilian harm, including by restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

Using the word “avoid” to describe the military practices that adherents to the nonbinding declaration would pledge is expected to be a key point. In response to a 2021 draft, the United States recommended replacing “avoid” with “mitigate” and argued that proposed restrictions would exceed what is required under international humanitarian law.

Washington also expressed concern about stigmatizing explosive weapons because they “may be needed to protect civilians during armed conflict.” The UN Secretary-General, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and others have instead argued that an avoidance policy is warranted.

ICRC President Peter Maurer said on Jan. 27, “There is an urgent need for a change of mindset and that belligerents put the protection of civilians back at the center of their policy and practices.”

Declaration Expected on Explosive Weapons

Russia Delays UN Space Threats Group

April 2022

Russia has delayed new international efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space after raising numerous procedural objections at the opening session of a UN-led group focused on orbital arms control.

The UN open-ended working group on reducing space threats first met on Feb. 7 in Geneva for a planning session. Its members were due to gather a week later for the formal inaugural session. But diplomats and observers in attendance said Russia raised many procedural concerns, and the opening meeting was postponed, perhaps until May.

The Russian representative said that too little time had passed since the creation of the group on Dec. 24 for diplomats to prepare to engage on the space agenda. He also complained that details about future meetings and the participation of civil society contained in Russia’s version of the working group’s charter differed from what was originally agreed.

Although the delay does not permanently derail efforts to rewrite the laws of war in space, it sets an ominous tone and may signal Moscow’s reluctance to cooperate on hard-hitting questions about its space activities. Earlier in February, Russia told the United Nations its testing of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons is well within the bounds of international law. Moscow has faced criticism from other UN members and space experts about the country’s Nov. 15 ASAT test that scattered 1,500 pieces of debris into low-earth orbit. (See ACT, December 2021.)

The UN General Assembly First Committee created the working group after the United Kingdom led efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space. (See ACT, December 2021.)—JOHN BEDARD

Russia Delays UN Space Threats Group

Putin’s Assault on Ukraine and the Nonproliferation Regime

March 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

President Vladimir Putin has chosen the path of destruction instead of diplomacy. His months-long buildup of a massive Russian invasion force encircling Ukraine and his decision on Feb. 21 to order Russian soldiers into the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk have set in motion a catastrophic war. Putin’s indefensible, premeditated assault on Ukraine will heighten tensions between NATO and Russia, increase the risk of conflict elsewhere in Europe, and undermine prospects for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament—for years to come.

A short-range Iskander missile system flight test. Russian intermediate-range missiles, like the controversial 9M729, are launched from similar platforms. (Photo credit: Russian Defense Ministry.)There are many grievances fueling Putin’s latest and most brazen attempt to reset the post-Cold War European security order through military force. Some are real, such as the effect of NATO’s expansion on the military balance in Europe, and some are imagined. No rationale, however, justifies a violent attack by Russia on one of its neighbors.

In an angry speech announcing his decision to move Russian forces into Ukraine, Putin espoused wild, ethno-racialist, and historically inaccurate claims that Ukraine is not a legitimate state and belongs within a greater Russia. He voiced hyperbolic claims that an independent, westward-leaning Ukraine, which he falsely charged might even build nuclear weapons, is a grave threat to Russia.

Putin’s military adventurism—including Russia’s conflict with Georgia in 2008, its takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, its cyberattacks and political influence games—and his push to modernize Russia’s military have already spurred NATO member states to bolster their military postures. Not surprisingly, Putin’s behavior has led Ukrainians to see Moscow as a threat and seek Western support.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine violates the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States extended security assurances against the threat or use of force against Ukraine’s territory or political independence. In response, Ukraine acceded to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state and gave up the 1,900 nuclear warheads it inherited from the Soviet Union. Ukraine, Russia, and the world were safer as a result. But Putin’s behavior undermines the NPT and reinforces the impression that nuclear-armed states can bully non-nuclear states, thus reducing the incentives for disarmament and making it more difficult to prevent nuclear proliferation.

The vicious cycle of mistrust between Russia and the West in recent years has been exacerbated by the loss—through negligence, noncompliance, or outright withdrawal—of important conventional and nuclear arms control agreements that helped end the Cold War. These guardrails included the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which was designed to prevent major force buildups on the continent; the Open Skies Treaty, which provided transparency about military capabilities and movements; the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was designed to prevent an unconstrained offense-defense arms race; and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which reduced the danger of nuclear war in Europe. As a result, cooperation between the parties has eroded, concerns about military capabilities have grown, and the risk of miscalculation is higher.

With Putin’s deadly war against Ukraine now underway, the United States, Europe, and the international community must maintain a strong and unified response, including more powerful sanctions against key Russian institutions and leaders. The besieged people of Ukraine require urgent assistance from the international community. As it should, the Kyiv government will get defensive military assistance to deter Putin from seizing more, if not all, of its territory.

In the days and weeks ahead, leaders in Moscow, Washington, and Europe must be careful to avoid new and destabilizing military deployments, close encounters between Russian and NATO forces, and the introduction of offensive weapons that undermine common security. For example, the offer from Russia’s client state, Belarus, to host Russian tactical nuclear weapons, if pursued by Putin, would further undermine Russian and European security, and increase the risk of nuclear war.

Although Putin’s regime must suffer international isolation now, U.S. and Russian leaders must eventually seek to resume talks through their stalled strategic security dialogue to defuse broader NATO-Russia tensions and maintain common sense arms control measures to prevent an all-out arms race.

Russia’s December 2021 proposals on security and the Biden administration responses show there is room for negotiations to resolve mutual concerns, including agreements to scale back large military exercises and prevent the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe or western Russia. Washington must test whether Russia is serious about such options.

In the long run, U.S., Russian, and European leaders, and their people, cannot lose sight of the fact that war and the threat of nuclear war are the common enemies. Russia and the West have an interest in striking agreements that further slash bloated strategic nuclear forces, regulate shorter-range “battlefield” nuclear arsenals, and set limits on long-range missile defenses before the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement, New START, expires in early 2026. Otherwise, the next showdown will be even riskier.

President Vladimir Putin has chosen the path of destruction instead of diplomacy.

Russia’s Anti-Satellite Weapons: An Asymmetric Response to U.S. Aerospace Superiority

March 2022
By Jaganath Sankaran

Russia conducted a direct-ascent hit-to-kill anti-satellite (ASAT) test on November 15, 2021, striking a Russian satellite and rendering it into more than 1,500 pieces of orbital debris.1 Reacting to the test, U.S. Space Command commander Army Gen. James Dickinson claimed that Russia is “deploying capabilities to actively deny access to and use of space by the United States and its allies.”2 He further noted that Russia’s counterspace weapons systems undermine strategic stability.

A Soyuz-2 1b rocket booster carrying the Kosmos-2546 military satellite of the Russian Defense Ministry before launch by the Russian Aerospace Forces from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in May 2020. That same year, Russia used other versions of Kosmos satellites in anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests. (Photo by Russian Defense Ministry/TASS via Getty Images)Russian military leaders and analysts argue, however, that their counterspace weapons provide a means to restore strategic stability. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu characterized the test as a routine operation of a “cutting-edge future weapon system” to strengthen Russia’s deterrent and defense against U.S. attempts to attain “comprehensive military advantage” in space.3

Russian leaders believe that a change in the character of warfare has been unfolding over the past three decades. They write that the next generation of warfare will be waged in the aerospace domain with weapons enabled by satellite targeting and navigation.4 For instance, in a 2015 speech, President Vladimir Putin asserted that U.S. and NATO forces possess “high-precision long-range non-nuclear weapons comparable in their effect to nuclear weapons.”5 Russians fear that, in a conflict, these weapons may be used against them in a coordinated strike against their nuclear and conventional forces.

At a 2013 conference attended by several cabinet ministers and members of the Russian Military-Industrial Commission, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin identified five conflict scenarios that Russia could face in the future.6 One of them involved a noncontact war with a technologically advanced adversary, presumably the United States and NATO. In this scenario, the United States would strike the Russian homeland, drawing from its “lightning-fast global strike” weapons using satellite targeting and navigation. Rogozin suggested that such a strike could destroy 80 to 90 percent of Russia’s strategic arsenal, rendering its nuclear deterrent almost useless.

These scenarios reflect a worst-case analysis that may not match reality. As Vladimir Dvorkin, a former Russian military officer with deep involvement in Russian nuclear policies, has noted, “[I]t seems rather fantastical to suggest that the Pentagon could be planning a disarming conventional strike against Russia’s strategic nuclear forces: such a measure would not only prove absolutely useless, but would trigger a devastating retaliatory nuclear strike.”7 Dvorkin suggests Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missile silos are hardened to withstand any such strikes, its mobile launchers are difficult to target, and its ballistic missile submarines can be dispersed quickly and are protected by naval forces.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) has said Russian ASAT tests reflect a "cutting-edge future weapon system" designed to offset U.S. attempts to gain "comprehensive military advantage" in space. (Photo by Vadim Savitsky/TASS via Getty Images)Yet, these fears permeate the Russian debate on the aerospace capabilities of U.S. and NATO forces. Russian military exercises are now designed to “repel a massive” aerospace strike by hypersonic weapons, short- and medium-range cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles with highly mobile anti-air and anti-space units.8 Russian planning also includes ASAT weapons to target the critical satellite systems that enable these modern aerospace weapons.9

Dissuading Russian ASAT weapons development and testing will require a concerted effort at arms control. In December 2021, the United Nations voted to establish an open-ended working group to prevent an arms race in space.10 The UN forum may offer a chance to establish norms on space and foster a debate on the linkages between space security and other national security considerations. Likewise, the Biden administration seems inclined to pursue a ban on debris-generating ASAT tests.11 Securing multilateral support for such a ban, however, will require engagement and support from the Russians and Chinese. Such engagement will have to incorporate a discussion on the role of advanced aerospace weaponry, address their perceived vulnerabilities to these weapons, and develop ways to limit them.

Russian Anti-Satellite Weapons

The ASAT test in November is the latest in a series of such actions by Russia. The missile used in the test, Nudol, has been tested several times in the past without a hit-to-kill mission. At the 2021 Reagan National Defense Forum, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) noted that Russia had attempted to test its ground-launched ASAT missile “several times in recent years and failed, so it was predictable that they would keep trying until they scored a hit.”12 The latest hit-to-kill demonstration indicates that Russia may have perfected its ASAT missile.

In 2014, the Russian Olymp-K satellite demonstrated co-orbital ASAT capabilities in the geostationary orbit where several critical military command-and-control satellites operate.13 Additionally, Russia has fielded ground-based lasers and a range of satellite-jamming systems to deny and degrade the capacity of weapons that rely on satellited-enabled information. These weapons are detailed in Russian military literature as a vital mechanism to eliminate Russian vulnerabilities to Western precision weapons.

Russia has also tested co-orbital ASAT systems that target satellites beyond low-earth orbit. In October 2017, three Russian satellites—Kosmos-2519, Kosmos-2521, and Kosmos-2523—conducted high-velocity orbital maneuvers. In January 2020, two Russian satellites, Kosmos-2542 and Kosmos-2543, performed coordinated, close-approach orbital maneuvers in the vicinity of a U.S. military reconnaissance satellite, the KH-11. Six months later, in July 2020, the Kosmos-2543 satellite fired a high-velocity projectile into outer space. Such a projectile could act as a potent ASAT weapon. U.S. Space Force commander Gen. John Raymond has described the orbital experiments performed by these satellites as “Russian nesting doll” satellites and claimed they “exhibited characteristics of a weapon system.”14

A Russian Perspective on Future Wars

Russian military scholars examining U.S. and NATO military campaigns note that high-precision aerospace weapons supported by satellite-enabled data have become indispensable to the U.S. way of war.

Igor Morozov, head of operations at the Russian Space Force, has written that, “[d]uring the Second World War, to destroy such a target as a large railway bridge, it was required to make 4,500 sorties and drop 9,000 bombs. In Vietnam, the destruction of a similar target was achieved with 190 bombs and 95 sorties. In the war against Yugoslavia, the same mission was solved by [one to three] cruise missiles fired from a submarine.”15 Similarly, Russian analysts point out that the ratio of standoff long-distance cruise missiles to aircraft-launched precision weapons has steadily increased “from 1:10 in Operation Desert Storm to 1:1.5 in Operation Desert Fox to 1:1 in Operation Allied Force to 1.8:1 in Operation Enduring Freedom.”16

Russian military literature is replete with discussions about how these high-precision aerospace weapons are changing the nature of warfare. Russians argue that, in past wars, the main burden of any confrontation rested on ground forces tasked to breach the enemy’s forward defense and enter the adversary’s territory to occupy it. Future wars, they argue, will not be conducted using the massing of armed troops. Instead, their opening salvo will involve massive air missile strikes at targets throughout the adversary’s territory. The 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 1999 NATO campaign in Yugoslavia are showcased as evidence.

Russian military commentators studying the Gulf War point out it was the first time in the history of modern warfare that a formidable army of half a million troops was unable to override the aerospace operations mounted by U.S. and allied forces.17 Moreover, Russian writings note that, by the time the Iraqi army encountered U.S. ground forces, it had been decimated by the weeks of air and missile strikes made possible by satellite-enabled targeting and navigation.18

Similarly, Russian military commentators conclude that Yugoslavia’s disintegration was achieved at the end of the months-long aerospace campaign without a significant force-on-force conflict. Even more concerning for the Russian analysts was that the military intervention was executed without endorsement by the UN Security Council, setting a dangerous precedent for the West’s arbitrary use of force against sovereign states and possibly Russia itself.19

Russian military analysts use these conflicts as a template to write regularly about a future war in which a massive air missile strike campaign could be mounted against Russia. First, they believe that U.S. conventional hypersonic weapons, developed under the Prompt Global Strike program, would start an aerospace assault against crucial Russian government command-and-control posts and mobile and stationary launchers of nuclear-armed missiles.20 Next, U.S. missile defenses would further degrade Russia’s retaliatory potential.21 These would be followed up quickly with electronic warfare to suppress Russian air and space defense forces. Then, large numbers of standoff high-precision weapons such as cruise missiles, heavy-strike unmanned aerial vehicles, and other strike forces will be used to destroy military facilities and troops, in addition to Russian government administration centers, economic assets, power and energy supply systems, and critical communication nodes.22 Finally, the standoff strikes would coincide with an information warfare campaign to collapse the prevailing political order.23

Some Russian commentators question the viability of such massive attacks against a significant nuclear power using high-speed, high-precision weaponry as “science fiction.”24 One analyst writes that the danger of an attack on Russia with many cruise missiles is improbable and points out that assembling the formations required for such a strike requires lengthy preparations that cannot be done secretly during a crisis.25

Notwithstanding these assessments, most Russian analysts display a severe fear of U.S. and allied technological superiority. Although these fears may reflect an extreme worst-case scenario, many Russian military analysts share them. Therefore, they argue, the dependence of U.S. and NATO forces on space-based assets is a vulnerability of which Russia cannot fail to take advantage in a crisis. Russian military commentators claim ASAT and other counterspace weapons will deter aggression and offer war-fighting advantages if deterrence fails.26

A Russian rocket topped with Kosmos-2543 and Kosmos-2542 satellites is shown as it was erected in November 2019. The following year, Russia deployed both satellites to perform coordinated, close-approach orbital maneuvers in the vicinity of a U.S. military reconnaissance satellite, the KH-11. (Photo by Russian Defense Ministry)These Russian motivations pose profound challenges to pursuing lasting space arms control measures. Several proposed nonbinding behavioral norms may stall the testing of ASAT weapons for the near term. For instance, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks recently argued for a global ban on ASAT tests that create debris.27 These norms can be diplomatically pursued through multilateral dialogues, including at the UN. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated a U.S. desire to develop informal norms to standardize acceptable behavior in space operations. In a speech at the UN Conference on Disarmament, he said the United States wants to engage in “developing standards and norms of responsible behavior in outer space.”28 He further noted, “[W]e should be reducing tensions in outer space, not making them worse.”29

Such diplomatic engagements would provide the United States and its NATO allies with some transparency into Russia’s ASAT and counterspace programs and motivations. Similarly, Russia would gain transparency into U.S. and NATO programs and concerns. Diplomatic engagements can also help communicate redlines and establish a shared understanding of pathways that could lead to conflict escalation in space.30

In the end, however, there are limits to what dialogue and voluntary behavioral norms can accomplish. Without mutual restrictions on aerospace weapons and combat operations, Russians will continue to argue that U.S. and NATO forces retain a significant war-fighting superiority that can be offset only with counterspace systems. Addressing Russia’s perceived vulnerabilities to modern aerospace campaigns will require deeper engagement and structured arms control, possibly with an instrument similar to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Such binding agreements are a difficult proposition in the prevailing geopolitical environment, but they are essential to achieve comprehensive space security and strategic stability.



1. Kylie Atwood et al., “US Says It ‘Won’t Tolerate’ Russia’s ‘Reckless and Dangerous’ Anti-Satellite Missile Test,” CNN, November 16, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/15/politics/russia-anti-satellite-weapon-test-scn/index.html.

2. U.S. Space Command Public Affairs Office, “Russian Direct-Ascent Anti-Satellite Missile Test Creates Significant, Long-Lasting Space Debris,” https://www.960cyber.afrc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2844494/russian-direct-ascent-anti-satellite-missile-test-creates-significant-long-last/.

3. “New Russian System Being Tested Hit Old Satellite With ‘Goldsmith’s Precision’- Shoigu,” Tass, November 16, 2021; “Russian Defence Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu Confirms Successful Test of Anti-Satellite System,” Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, November 16, 2021, https://eng.mil.ru/en/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12394066@egNews.

4. “Как Станут Вести Войну в Будущем: По Небу Танки Грохотали” [How will the future war be waged: Tanks rumbled across the sky], MKRU, August 9, 2016, https://www.mk.ru/politics/2016/08/09/kak-stanut-vesti-voynu-vbudushhem.html.

5. “Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club,” President of Russia, October 22, 2015, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/50548.

6. “Пять сценариев войны. Дмитрий Рогозин: Россия Должна Быть Самостоятельной, Либо Ее Не Будет Вовсе [Five War Scenarios. Dmitry Rogozin: Russia Must Be Independent and Strong, or It Won’t Exist at All],” Российская Газета [Rossiyskaya Gazeta], July 3, 2013, https://rg.ru/2013/07/03/rogozin.html; Rogozin Dmitry, “Незвездные Войны: Вице-Премьер Дмитрий Рогозин - о Пяти Сценариях Возможных Войн [Not Star Wars: Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on Five Scenarios of Possible Wars],” Российская Газета [Rossiyskaya Gazeta], July 4, 2013, https://rg.ru/2013/07/04/voyna.html.

7. Vladimir Dvorkin, “Risky Contradictions: Putin’s Stance on Strategic Arms and Missile Defense,” Carnegie Moscow Center, October 2, 2016, https://carnegiemoscow.org/commentary/62719.

8. Anton Lavrov and Roman Krezul, “Воздушный Убой: Силы ПВО На Маневрах Отражали Современные Угрозы” [Aerial slaughter: Air defense forces responded to modern threats during maneuvers], Izvestia, April 6, 2020, https://iz.ru/995981/anton-lavrov-roman-kretcul/vozdushnyi-uboi-sily-pvo-na-manevrakh-otrazhali-sovremennye-ugrozy.

9. U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), “Challenges to Security in Space,” January 2019, p. 24, https://www.dia.mil/Portals/110/Images/News/Military_Powers_Publications/Space_Threat_V14_020119_sm.pdf.

10. Mary Ann Hurtado, “UN Panel Approves Working Group on Space,” Arms Control Today, December 2021, pp. 28–30.

11. Theresa Hitchens, “Biden’s Space Policy Nominee Backs Ban on Destructive ASAT Testing, Pushes Norms,” Breaking Defense, January 13, 2022, https://breakingdefense.com/2022/01/bidens-space-policy-nominee-backs-ban-on-destructive-asat-testing-pushes-norms/.

12. Sandra Erwin, “U.S. Was Not Blindsided by Russia’s Anti-Satellite Test, Say Officials,” Space News, December 5, 2021.

13. Anatoly Zak, “Proton Successfully Returns to Flight Delivering a Secret Olymp Satellite,” RussianSpaceWeb.com, October 19, 2015, http://www.russianspaceweb.com/olymp.html.

14. W.J. Hennigan, “Russian Spacecraft Tailing U.S. Spy Satellite, General Says,” Time, February 10, 2020.

15. Igor Morozov, Baushev Sergey, and Kaminsky Oleg, “Космос и Характер Современных Военных Действий” [Space and the nature of modern military operations], Aerospace Defense, August 11, 2009, http://www.vko.ru/koncepcii/kosmos-i-harakter-sovremennyh-voennyh-deystviy.

16. Maj. Gen. S.V. Kuralenko, “Changing Trends in Armed Struggle in the Early 21st-Century,” Military Thought, Vol. 21, No. 4 (2012): 31.

17. Col. S.G. Chekinov and Lt. Gen. S.A. Bogdanov, “Asymmetrical Actions to Maintain Russia’s Military Security,” Military Thought, Vol. 19, No. 1 (2010): 10.

18. Ibid.

19. Tetekin Vyacheslav, Alexander Gorkov, and Oleg Falichev, “Войска ВКО: Болезни Роста” [VKO troops: Growing pains], Military Industrial Courier, October 7, 2013, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/17720.

20. V.V. Selivanov and Col. Yu.D. Ilyin, “Choosing Priorities in Developing Kinetic Energy Weapons for Military Conflicts,” Military Thought, Vol. 26, No. 4 (2017): 71, 75.

21. “Комментарий Департамента Информации и Печати МИД России в Связи с Новым «Обзором Политики США в Сфере ПРО» - Новости - Министерство Иностранных Дел Российской Федерации” [Commentary by the Department of Information and Press of the Russian Foreign Ministry in connection with the new “Review of US Missile Defense Policy”], Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, January 18, 2019, https://archive.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3479839.

22. Chekinov and Bogdanov, “Asymmetrical Actions to Maintain Russia’s Military Security,” p. 10.

23. “Как Станут Вести Войну в Будущем: По Небу Танки Грохотали” [How will the future war be waged: Tanks rumbled across the sky].”

24. Yaroslav Vyatkin, “«Быстрый Глобальный Удар» в Исполнении России [’Prompt Global Strike’ Russian-Style],” Аргументы Недели [Arguments of the Week], April 16, 2015, https://argumenti.ru/army/n484/396359; Dmitry Akhmerov, Evgeny Akhmerov, and Marat Valeev, “По-Быстрому Не Получится | Могущество неядерных крылатых ракет иллюзорно [It Won’t Work Quickly: The Power of Conventional Cruise Missiles Is Illusory],” Военно-Промышленный Курьер [Military Industrial Courier], October 19, 2015, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/27617.

25. Ibid. See also Yevgeny Miasnikov, “The Counterforce Potential of Precision-Guided Munitions,” in Nuclear Proliferation: New Technologies, Weapons, Treaties, ed. Alexei Arbatov and Vladimir Dvorkin (Moscow: Carnegie Moscow Center, 2009), pp. 97–99.

26. DIA, “Challenges to Security in Space,” p. 24. See also “Генштаб: Особенностью Конфликтов Будущего Станет Применение Роботов и Космических Средств” [General staff: A feature of future conflicts will be the use of robots and apace assets], Tass, March 24, 2018, https://tass.ru/armiya-i-opk/5062463.

27. Theresa Hitchens, “Biden Administration to Propose New Global Norms for Military Space,” Breaking Defense, December 1, 2021, https://breakingdefense.com/2021/12/biden-administration-to-propose-new-global-norms-for-military-space/.

28. U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, “Secretary Blinken: Remarks at the High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament,” February 22, 2021, https://geneva.usmission.gov/2021/02/22/secretary-blinken-cd/.

29. Ibid.

30. Theresa Hitchens and Joan Johnson-Freese, “Toward a New National Security Space Strategy: Time for a Strategic Rebalancing,” Atlantic Council, June 2016, p. 27, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/report/toward-a-new-national-security-space-strategy-time-for-a-strategic-rebalancing-2/.

Jaganath Sankaran is an assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Fearing U.S. dominance in a future war in space, Russia is building and testing anti-satellite weapons.

Human Augmentation and Nuclear Risk: The Value of a Few Seconds

March 2022
By Marina Favaro and Elke Schwarz

Nearly 30 years ago, the fate of humankind hung in the balance when a Soviet Union early-warning system indicated that a series of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were headed toward Soviet soil. The alert came with a “high reliability” label. At the height of the Cold War, Soviet doctrine prescribed that a report of incoming U.S. missiles would be met with full nuclear retaliation—there would be no time for double checking, let alone for negotiations with the United States.

U.S. soldier tests out a brain-computer interface device as part of a U.S. program to expand the use of technology to augment the performance of military forces. (Photo by U.S. Army)The officer on duty that day, Soviet Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, had a quick decision to make. Reporting the incoming strike flagged by the system would result in a nuclear strike by the Soviet forces; not reporting it could risk making an error that would prove devastating for the Soviet Union. After a moment of consideration, Petrov went with his gut feeling and concluded that the likelihood of a system error was too great to risk a full-scale nuclear war. Indeed, the system had misidentified sunlight reflected from clouds for missiles. The worst had been avoided.

That incident, now a well-known chapter in nuclear weapons history, occurred in 1983, when the pace of weapons technology advancement was comparatively slow, when aspirations to accelerate decision-making through real-time computational technologies were not yet within reach, and when advances in military human enhancement were comparatively limited. The current military-operational context is very different.

Today, renewed great-power competition is being intensified by technological advancements that allow for the real-time relay of information that requires decisions be made within seconds. Human beings are embedded much more intricately into the military technological systems logic, as operator and functional element, in the pursuit of speed and optimization. In order to function within a highly scientific, technologically sophisticated conflict environment, those involved in the action chain, including operators and fighters, are themselves in need of a tune-up.

Indeed, military human enhancement is one of the new frontiers in emerging weapons technology, as advanced militaries across the globe are planning to enhance and augment the capabilities of their war-fighting forces. This development is shifting the parameters of decision-making, including nuclear decision-making. What, for example, might have happened if Petrov had been more intricately woven into the computer system that reported the erroneous satellite signal, perhaps via an implantable neural interface to facilitate speedier human-machine communication for more efficient decision-making? Notwithstanding its operational and strategic importance, human augmentation is not typically discussed in nuclear policy. This oversight needs redress as ministries of defense begin to focus on human enhancement as the “missing part” of the human-machine teaming puzzle.1

Definition and History of Human Augmentation

Human augmentation is a vast field with many linkages to other areas of study. There is no commonly agreed definition, and it is known by many names, which are often used interchangeably. “Augmentation” usually refers to the transformation of capabilities to include a new or additional capability, but “enhancement” refers to the fortification of existing capabilities. Both concepts can be broadly defined as “the application of science and technologies to temporarily or permanently improve human performance.”2 As with all emerging technologies, human enhancement technologies exemplify aspects of continuity and change.

The development of physically and mentally resilient soldiers has a long history, involving techniques and technologies that work toward fortifying the human body and mind with the objective of extending capacities and limiting vulnerabilities in war. Such technological transformations begin with straightforward tools such as a soldier’s armor, the crossbow, the machine gun, the rocket launcher, and a range of natural and synthetic substances with pharmacological effects. Roman and Greek legionnaires strengthened their bodies with leather and bronze and their resolve with wine, beer, rum, and brandy. Opioids and amphetamines have long been used in battle to gain a greater edge in fighting.3 Pain relievers and other synthetic drugs are instrumental in alleviating pain and facilitating healing. Meanwhile, propaganda, systematic training, and enemy dehumanization are used to augment or suppress the war-fighter’s emotions. Human augmentation programs today extend much further into the development of the soldier as fighter, as well as the solider as operator, through various modes of scientific-technological inscriptions, shaping bodies toward greater operational efficiency and effectiveness.

As human and machine become increasingly entwined, the concept of the “super soldier,” where human tissue and technological circuitry fuse for maximum performance, is taking shape. In May 2021, the UK Ministry of Defence and the German Bundeswehr co-published a report that conceptualizes “the person as a platform” and heralds the “coming of the Biotech age.”4 Half a year earlier, China and France published reports indicating their readiness to augment military personnel physically, cognitively, psychologically, and pharmacologically.5,6 In the United States, the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency has been investing in neurotechnology since the 1970s and today is expanding the frontiers of the field, with a focus on neural interface technology.7

Current trends in military human enhancement focus on external enhancements such as augmented reality, exoskeletons, wearables, and biosensors and internal augmentations through pharmacological supplements. Implantable chips for a medical or curative purpose are already on the horizon.8 Directly enhancing human capabilities, however, is only half of the equation. The other half is that human augmentation will become increasingly relevant to security and defense because it is the binding agent between humans and machines.9 Beyond these external and internal enhancements, there is considerable interest in developing technologies that facilitate smoother and more functional teaming between the human and computational systems through so-called neural interface technologies.

The importance of effective integration of humans and machines is widely acknowledged, but has been primarily viewed from a technocentric perspective. Many of the existing solutions are technology focused, such as “building trust into the system” by making artificial intelligence (AI) more transparent, explainable, and reliable. Although this is necessary for cultivating trust in human-machine teams, it does not account for the human element in the teaming equation. Proponents of human augmentation argue that it is the necessary adjustment for a world in which future wars will be won by those who can most effectively integrate the capabilities of personnel and machines at the appropriate time, place, and location.10

As militaries increasingly incorporate automated and autonomous processes into their operations, brain-interface technologies could serve as a crucial element in future human-machine teaming.11 Brain-interface technologies offer methods and systems for providing a direct communication pathway between an enhanced, or wired, brain and an external device.12 In other words, they enable the transfer of data between the human brain and the digital world via a neural implant. This has implications for all spheres of military operations. What might this mean for the future of nuclear decision-making?

Human Augmentation and Nuclear Stability

The United States is a good case study for understanding how human augmentation might intersect with nuclear decision-making, given that it is more transparent about its nuclear decision-making protocols than other states possessing nuclear weapons.

There is a clear sequence of events involved in the short period from considering a nuclear strike to the decision to launch.13 When the president decides that a launch is an option, they convene a brief conference of high-ranking advisers, including members of the military, such as the officer in charge of the war room. Whatever the president decides, the Pentagon must implement. For a strike decision, the next step is to authenticate the order, then the encoded order goes out via an encrypted message. Once the launch message has been received by the submarine and ICBM crews, the sealed authentication system codes are retrieved and compared with the transmitted codes in a further authentication step before launch. The missile launch then is prepared. If launched from a silo, it takes five ICBM crew members to turn their keys simultaneously for a successful launch. This entire process from decision to ICBM launch can be completed within five minutes, 15 minutes if the launch is executed from a submarine. This is already a quick decision process with very little room for mediation, deliberation, or error. With human augmentation, the timelines would be compressed even further.

What is the effect on nuclear decision-making if brain-computer interface technologies tie humans more closely to computers and speed communication? That is one question that needs greater examination in nuclear policy, authors Marina Favaro and Elke Schwarz write. Here, members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron monitor an operational test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. in 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Michael Peterson)To understand the relevance of human augmentation to nuclear decision-making, three scenarios, each positioned at different points in the decision-making process, are illustrative and reflect a military context in which nuclear weapons interact with a brain-computer interface. Such an interface could detect when certain areas of the brain are cognitively activated (e.g., by certain thoughts) and transmit this signal, thereby enabling brain-controlled action or communication. The scenarios focus on the incorporation of a brain-computer interface into nuclear decision-making because of their potential to accelerate communications. The ability of an interface to compress temporal timelines enables us to probe the boundaries of the question “What is the value of a few seconds?”

The first scenario involves the advisory and decision chain. Assuming the above decision chain, the president, upon learning of a potential threat and considering the need to give a nuclear launch command, could shorten the deliberation time frame of their human advisers by transferring data directly to military participants via a brain-computer interface. In addition, the senior military commander could be plugged into an AI system that can compute many possible scenarios and give recommendations through the brain-computer interface in real time.

The upshot of human enhancement in this scenario might be that the military adviser has more data available through the interface, but critically, there is no guarantee of the quality or accuracy of this data. Moreover, with civilian and military advisers partaking in the advisory conference, there is a risk of the same algorithmic bias that is evident in human-machine teaming with AI systems. This refers to the tendency of humans to give uncritical priority to decisions that are ascertained with the help of technology, also called automation bias. This may make an advisory team superfluous and weaken the quality of advice in a critical situation. The mandate to act faster based on technologically derived advice could prevail and shorten the deescalation window.

In the second scenario, involving the executive chain, the launch crew is assumed to be partially or wholly networked through brain-computer interfaces. Perhaps the transmission of the launch codes takes place directly through computational networks, shortening the time between receiving the order, authenticating the codes, and executing the order. The submarine and ICBM crews executing the order by coordinated action are networked to facilitate the launch. In addition to the obvious vulnerabilities that any network inevitably produces, such as information and network security compromises, this would have the consequence of accelerating action. Any errors may be overlooked or not acted on in time. Particularly concerning is the possibility that a given action could rest on flawed initial inputs or skewed calculations, which would greatly increase the risk of unwarranted escalation.

Finally, there is the Petrov example, or the predecision phase. As suggested above, the decision chain does not really begin with the president’s decision to launch but with the input that the president receives from those in the military chain of command. If Petrov, the Russian duty officer whose job was to register apparent enemy missile launches, had been operating with a brain-computer interface in place and received the information transmitted directly to his brain and the brains of other military personnel, would there have been the impetus or indeed the opportunity to question the information from the system? Would he have had enough time to understand the context, draw on his experience, and make a considered judgment; or might he have felt compelled to uncritically execute the recommendations made by the system, which may well be indistinguishable in his mind to his own judgments?

In all three scenarios, the human is less able to exercise important human judgment at critical nuclear flashpoints. Algorithmic bias, increased system fog, lack of overall situational awareness, cognitive overload, and an accelerated action chain are consequences of intricate human-machine teaming through interfaces. This blurring of boundaries could obscure where machine input starts and human judgment ends. It could reduce the scope for cognitive input from the human and increase the extent to which algorithmic decisions prevail without serious oversight. Human experience and foresight based on noncomputational parameters are likely to be bracketed considerably. Is that wise in a nuclear context? As military operations prioritize speed and networked connectivity, slotting the human into a computer interface in the nuclear context may significantly exacerbate nuclear instability.14

Other Major Concerns

Regardless of its impact on nuclear stability, military human enhancement raises a myriad of ethical, legal, political, and other concerns that need to be explored. Among the questions that arise in this context, one involves consent, namely, can soldiers give free and informed consent to these enhancements, especially those that require a surgical procedure or invasive treatment, without pressure from their employer or peers? Will soldiers who consent to these interventions become part of an elite class of super soldiers, and what would be the impact of two classes of soldiers, enhanced and unenhanced, on morale? For how long would soldiers consent to these enhancements? Can an enhanced soldier ever go off duty or retire from service? In other words, when soldiers leave service, are they able to reverse these interventions? If not, what kinds of additional issues could this create for those who leave the service, who already encounter difficulties adjusting to a civilian environment?15 These consent issues are magnified in the many countries that maintain conscription.

In the area of brain-interface technologies, some American leaders worry about falling behind China, which experts say has a more coherent plan for using the technology, including to enhance military forces. (Photo by Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)Second, has the practice of military human enhancement already created an arms race, with states scrambling to out-enhance each other?16 Already locked in an ostensible arms race for dominance in military AI,17 the United States, China, and Russia, among other states with advanced militaries, are all keeping a close eye on who is enhancing their fighting forces and how.18 If human enhancement is the missing link in perfecting human-machine teaming, a race in this arena is perhaps inevitable. Oversights and flaws associated with arms racing then become a cause for concern, especially given that human integrity is on the line.

Third, what kinds of information security concerns does human enhancement create? If service personnel use dual-use computer technologies in the same way as civilians use them, is it possible that this technology could create vulnerabilities and reveal sensitive data?19 Everything that is digitally connected can, in principle, be hacked. What kinds of vulnerabilities will be created by connection of the brain to a computer or by an increased number of networked devices, such as biosensors? How does the mere potential of cyberattacks on wearable or transdermal devices erode trust in the system? How can mass personal data collection and use be done without infringing on privacy?

Finally, who has this technology, and how do they use it? What kinds of interoperability concerns might military human enhancement create between allies? How might an asymmetry between “red” and “blue” forces using this technology impact nuclear stability? On a more philosophical note, if there is an accelerated action chain in a nuclear conflict, can such wars be won?

Averting Nuclear Risk

Notwithstanding the risks that embedding a brain-computer interface into nuclear decision-making could create, some types of enhancements could significantly benefit nuclear stability. It would be alarmist to focus exclusively on the risks created by human augmentation without also highlighting the potential opportunities. Indeed, brain-computer interfaces can provide new ways of accessing vast amounts of information and new ways of communication if human judgment is not sidelined in the process.

One significant opportunity created by military human enhancement relates to minimizing the risk of accidents. Nuclear weapons duty is known to be conducive to serious behavioral problems due to isolation, monotony, and confinement. During emergencies, sleep deprivation and heavy responsibilities may cause inaccuracy in judgment, hostility, or paranoia.20 In a prolonged nuclear alert, missile crews have reported visual hallucinations, balance disturbances, slowed movements, and lack of vigilance. The advantages of biosensors and bioinformatics to identify, predict, and treat such symptoms or at least give operators a break when needed could minimize the likelihood of nuclear war as a result of miscalculation, misunderstanding, or misperception. Indeed, evidence suggests that the world has been lucky, given the number of instances in which nuclear weapons could have been used inadvertently as a result of miscalculation or error.21 Future research should examine historical cases of nuclear near use and determine whether human augmentation could have minimized the likelihood of these disturbingly close calls. Meanwhile, bioinformatics could play a key role in identifying commanders and staff with the right cognitive and adaptive potential for command and control roles.22

There are also indications that biosensors could assist in the detection of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents embedded in smart clothing;23 better identify signs of nuclear activities,24 including weapons development; monitor and respond to radiation, including proposing treatment options in response to nuclear fallout;25 and prevent the illegal transportation and transfer of nuclear materials.26 This is not an exhaustive list; there are certainly other unforeseeable ways in which human augmentation will be relevant to the nuclear order, nuclear disarmament, and nuclear policy.

As is the case with all emerging technologies, there are risks and opportunities related to human augmentation and nuclear decision-making. On the one hand, human augmentation could minimize the risk of accidents and enable better human-machine teaming. On the other hand, there are profound legal, ethical, information security, and personnel-related questions that are overdue for rigorous examination. More research programs should consider how to mitigate the risks associated with human enhancement technologies, while remaining cognizant of their potential benefits. Ultimately, the question is, What is the value of a few additional seconds or minutes in the nuclear decision-making process, and are the trade-offs worthwhile?

Fortunately, the world is still some distance from a future of ubiquitous human augmentation, and the hype that suggests otherwise must be met with skepticism. Even so, human augmentation and nuclear decision-making have long been bedfellows; and the changing nature of war in the 21st century demands that all citizens, not just political and military leaders and technology experts, think deeply about what new risks and opportunities this intersection could unleash.



1. UK Ministry of Defence, “Human Augmentation—The Dawn of a New Paradigm,” May 2021, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/986301/Human_Augmentation_SIP_access2.pdf.

2. Ibid.

3. Norman Ohler, Blitzed (New York: Penguin, 2017).

4. UK Ministry of Defence, “Human Augmentation.”

5. Elsa B. Kania and Wilson VornDick, “China’s Military Biotech Frontier: CRISPR, Military-Civil Fusion, and the New Revolution in Military Affairs,” China Brief, Vol. 19, No. 18 (October 8, 2019), https://jamestown.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Read-the-10-08-2019-CB-Issue-in-PDF2.pdf.

6. Pierre Bourgois, “‘Yes to Iron Man, No to Spiderman!’ A New Framework for the Enhanced Soldier Brought by the Report From the Defense Ethics Committee in France,” IRSEM Strategic Brief, No. 18 (February 24, 2021), https://www.irsem.fr/media/5-publications/breves-strategiques-strategic-briefs/sb-18-bourgois.pdf.

7. U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), “DARPA and the Brain Initiative,” n.d., https://www.darpa.mil/program/our-research/darpa-and-the-brain-initiative (accessed February 13, 2022).

8. Emily Waltz, “How Do Neural Implants Work?” IEEE Spectrum, January 20, 2020, https://spectrum.ieee.org/what-is-neural-implant-neuromodulation-brain-implants-electroceuticals-neuralink-definition-examples.

9. NATO Science & Technology Organization, “Science & Technology Trends 2020–2040: Exploring the S&T Edge,” March 2020, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2020/4/pdf/190422-ST_Tech_Trends_Report_2020-2040.pdf.

10. UK Ministry of Defence, “Human Augmentation.”

11. Anika Binnendijk, Timothy Marler, and Elizabeth M. Bartels, “Brain-Computer Interfaces: U.S. Military Applications and Implications,” RAND Corp., RR-2996-RC, 2020, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR2900/RR2996/RAND_RR2996.pdf.

12. Ibid.

13. Dave Merrill, Nafeesa Syeed, and Brittany Harris, “To Launch a Nuclear Strike, President Trump Would Take These Steps,” Bloomberg, January 20, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/graphics/2016-nuclear-weapon-launch/.

14. Olivier Schmitt, “Wartime Paradigms and the Future of Western Military Power,” International Affairs, Vol. 96, No. 2 (March 2020): 401–418, https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiaa005.

15. Sarah Grand-Clement et al., “Evaluation of the Ex-Service Personnel in the Criminal Justice System Programme,” RAND Corp., RR-A624-1, 2020, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RRA600/RRA624-1/RAND_RRA624-1.pdf.

16. Yusef Paolo Rabiah, “From Bioweapons to Super Soldiers: How the UK Is Joining the Genomic Technology Arms Race,” The Conversation, April 29, 2021, https://theconversation.com/from-bioweapons-to-super-soldiers-how-the-uk-is-joining-the-genomic-technology-arms-race-159889.

17. Richard Walker, “Germany Warns: AI Arms Race Already Underway,” Deutsche Welle, June 7, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/artificial-intelligence-cyber-warfare-drones-future/a-57769444.

18. Thom Poole, “The Myth and Reality of the Super Soldier,” BBC News, February 8, 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-55905354.

19. Alex Hern, “Fitness Tracking App Strava Gives Away Location of Secret US Army Bases,” The Guardian, January 28, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/28/fitness-tracking-app-gives-away-location-of-secret-us-army-bases.

20. A.W. Black, “Psychiatric Illness in Military Aircrew,” Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 54, No. 7 (July 1983): 595-598.

21. Patricia Lewis, Benoît Pelopidas, and Heather Williams, “Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy,” Chatham House, April 28, 2014, https://www.chathamhouse.org/2014/04/too-close-comfort-cases-near-nuclear-use-and-options-policy.

22. UK Ministry of Defence, “Human Augmentation.”

23. Richard Ozanich, “Chem/Bio Wearable Sensors: Current and Future Direction,” Pure and Applied Chemistry, Vol. 90, No. 10 (June 12, 2018), https://doi.org/10.1515/pac-2018-0105.

24. “New Biosensor Could Help Search for Nuclear Activity,” CBRNE Central, February 22, 2017, https://cbrnecentral.com/new-biosensor-could-help-search-for-nuclear-activity/10601/.

25. M. Gray et al., “Implantable Biosensors and Their Contribution to the Future of Precision Medicine,” The Veterinary Journal, Vol. 239 (September 2018), pp. 21–29, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tvjl.2018.07.011.

26. Thamir A.A. Hassan, “Development of Nanosensors in Nuclear Technology,” AIP Conference Proceedings, Vol. 1799, No. 1 (January 6, 2017), https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4972925.

Marina Favaro is a research fellow at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, focusing on the impact of emerging technologies on international stability and human security. Elke Schwarz is a senior lecturer in political theory at Queen Mary University of London, focusing on the political and ethical implications of new technologies.

Brain-interface technologies could greatly augment human capabilities and even create “super soldiers.” If they shorten decision-making time, what is the impact on nuclear stability?

Putin Orders Russian Nuclear Weapons on Higher Alert

March 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Amid a full-scale military assault on Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his country’s nuclear forces to move to the heightened alert status of a “special regime of combat duty,” further escalating a catastrophic war in Europe and upending international stability and nuclear arms control and disarmament.

Damage to the upper floors of a high-rise building in Kyiv on Feb. 26 after it was reported to have been struck by a Russian rocket. (Photo by Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)“Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly economic actions against our country, but leaders of major NATO countries are making aggressive statements about our country,” Putin said on Feb. 27 during a meeting with defense officials. “So, I order to move Russia’s deterrence forces to a special regime of combat duty.”

Belarus, Russia’s client-state, followed up by agreeing to abandon its status as a non-nuclear weapon country and reaffirming its offer to host Russian tactical nuclear weapons on its territory.

Asked at a press conference at the United Nations on Feb. 28 if there is a scenario under which Russia would use nuclear weapons, Russia's UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, replied, "On the use of nuclear weapons, god forbid it." He said Moscow was exercising “a kind of deterrence.”

Although Putin’s decision raised the risk of nuclear weapons confrontation, it was not entirely unexpected given that a few days earlier the Russian leader threatened any country that tries to interfere in Ukraine with consequences “such as you have never seen in your entire history.”

The United States and NATO immediately criticized Moscow’s move, but their response was measured and there was no indication that the status of U.S. and NATO nuclear forces would mirror Russia.

“This is really a pattern that we’ve seen from President Putin through the course of this conflict, which is manufacturing threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Feb. 27. “At no point has Russia been under threat from NATO [or] has Russia been under threat from Ukraine.”

“This is dangerous rhetoric,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said of Putin. “This is a behavior which is irresponsible.”

It was not immediately evident exactly what changes to Russian nuclear forces and command and control systems Putin had demanded. One senior U.S. defense official cautioned that although there is “no reason to doubt the validity of this order [,]…how it’s manifested itself I don’t think is completely clear yet.”

Putin’s move to place Russian nuclear forces on a higher alert occurred in the early days of Moscow’s invasion. During an address on Feb. 24, Putin stated that Russia will undertake “a special military operation” in Ukraine. Soon after, Russian military forces launched deadly missile attacks and invaded the country from southern Belarus, western Russia, and Crimea, a part of Ukraine that Putin occupied in 2014. By Feb. 25, they had reached the capital Kyiv.

“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in response.

A senior U.S. defense official said on Feb. 24 that “this is just an initial phase” of the invasion and the Pentagon believes Moscow has “every intention of basically decapitating the [Ukrainian] government and installing their own method of governance.”

Putin attempted to justify his military operation by repeating longtime grievances, such as NATO’s expansion eastward, and by falsely claiming that Ukraine has plans to build nuclear weapons or obtain them from the United States.

Under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security assurances that there would be no threats or use of force against its territory or political independence. Washington has repeatedly rebutted claims that it would base nuclear weapons in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member state.

The attacks began after Putin signed executive orders on Feb. 21 recognizing the two Russian-controlled Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent and ordering forces into the regions to perform “peacekeeping functions.”

The invasion was preceded by weeks of feverish diplomacy, including an exchange of security proposals that experts believe eventually could be a basis for negotiation. Russia initiated the exchange on Dec. 15 with proposals related to arms control, risk reduction, and transparency. (See ACT, January/February 2022.) The United States and NATO put forward their respective counterproposals on Jan. 26. Russia responded to the U.S. proposals but has yet to comment on NATO’s package.

Among the various competing ideas, those with the most promise related to crafting a new agreement similar to the now-defunct 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, negotiating a follow-on to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), and establishing risk reduction and transparency measures, such as hotlines.

In a Russian security council meeting with Putin on Feb. 21, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there were small “openings” for progress on some of the security proposals. But Moscow has insisted its main priority is blocking the further eastward expansion of NATO. The United States and NATO consider prohibiting Ukraine from joining the alliance a nonstarter, even though such membership is unlikely anytime soon.

Responding to the U.S. proposal on Feb. 17, the Kremlin emphasized that “Russia’s proposal is a package deal and should be considered in its entirety, not item by item.”

In 2014, Putin seized the Crimean Peninsula and deployed forces to eastern Ukraine. By ordering the latest invasion with the goal of toppling the government in Kyiv, Putin likely slashed any near-term prospects for new arms control and disarmament arrangements to follow New START, which expires in 2026.

The massive assault included successfully capturing the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where a nuclear reactor exploded in 1986, contaminating areas in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. “Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated,” tweeted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, just hours before Russian forces took the plant.

Cheryl Rofer, a former nuclear scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, cautioned that, “for those imagining more lurid scenarios, the dangerous material lies deep under the concreted-in reactor in a solid radioactive mass. [It is] hard to reach, and explosions are not effective in dispersing that kind
of material.”

In the lead-up to the assault on Ukraine, Russia held 10 days of military exercises in Belarus, which included sending an estimated 30,000 troops to the country, and followed up by conducting its annual strategic nuclear exercises, dubbed Grom 2022, on Feb. 19, which featured intercontinental ballistic missiles and hypersonic weapons. At the time, U.S. officials estimated that Moscow had deployed approximately 160,000–190,000 troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Biden last spoke with Putin for about an hour on Feb. 12. “The call between the two presidents was professional and substantive,” a senior administration official told reporters afterward. But “there was no fundamental change in the dynamic that has been unfolding now for several weeks.”

Biden had agreed “in principle” to an in-person meeting with Putin, brokered by France, but it was cancelled because of the invasion. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also cancelled a planned meeting with Lavrov on Feb. 24 in Geneva.

France, Germany, and Ukraine attempted to engage Russia in the so-called Normandy format over a potential revival of the 2015 political deal dubbed Minsk II. The four countries first met Jan. 26 in Paris and then Feb. 10 in Berlin, but to no avail.

Other diplomatic engagements have included a special session of the U.S.-Russian strategic stability dialogue on Jan. 10 in Geneva to discuss Moscow’s initial proposals from December. U.S. and Russian officials emphasized that only some of the issues under discussion coincided with the purview of the dialogue, which was previously held in July and September after Biden and Putin revived it in June 2021.

On Feb. 26, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that Washington will not proceed with the dialogue under the current circumstances.

Although the specific effect of the order is unclear, it escalates a catastrophic war and upends international stability and nuclear arms control and disarmament.

Russia, U.S., NATO Security Proposals

March 2022

Prior to Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement in February 2022 that Russia would recognize the two Russian-controlled Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine as independent and his decision to order his military forces into Ukraine, Russia and the United States/NATO exchanged written security and arms control proposals. Russia initiated the exchange in December 2021 with proposals related to arms control, risk reduction, and transparency. The United States and NATO put forward their respective counterproposals in January 2022. The following is a side-by-side summary of the various proposals.

Russian Proposals on Security Guarantees to the United States and NATO, Dec. 15, 2021 U.S. and NATO Responses to Russia, Jan. 26, 2022
Arms Control, Risk Reduction, and Transparency

Parties shall not deploy ground-launched, intermediate- and short-range missiles either outside their national territories or inside their national territories from which the missiles can strike the national territory of the other party.

The United States is prepared to begin discussions on arms control for ground-based intermediate- and short-range missiles and their launchers. NATO calls for Russia to engage with the United States on these discussions.

The United States is prepared to discuss transparency measures to confirm the absence of Tomahawk cruise missiles at Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland, so long as Russia provides reciprocal transparency measures on two ground-launched missile bases of U.S. choosing in Russia.

No similar articles.

The United States proposes to begin discussions immediately on follow-on measures to New START, including on how future arms control would cover all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons (strategic and non-strategic, deployed and non-deployed) and new kinds of nuclear-armed intercontinental-range delivery vehicles. NATO calls for Russia to engage with the United States on these discussions.

NATO calls for all states to recommit to their international arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation obligations and commitments, such as toward the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention. NATO calls for Russia to resume implementation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty.

NATO is ready to consult on ways to reduce threats to space systems and to promote a free and peaceful cyberspace.

Sources: Article 6, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Article 5, Russia Proposal to NATO; Pages 3 and 4, U.S. Response to Russia; Article 9, NATO Response to Russia
Nuclear and Conventional Forces Posture

Parties shall not deploy nuclear weapons outside their national territories and shall destroy all existing infrastructure for deployment of nuclear weapons outside of their national territories.

Parties shall not train military and civilian personnel from non-nuclear countries to use nuclear weapons or conduct exercises that include scenarios involving the use of nuclear weapons.

The United States and NATO are prepared to discuss areas of disagreement between NATO and Russia on U.S. and NATO force posture, including possibly the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, and discuss conventional forces concerns, including enhanced transparency and risk reduction through the Vienna Document.

NATO is prepared to discuss holding reciprocal briefings on Russia's and NATO's nuclear policies.

Sources: Article 7, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Article 4, Russia Proposal to NATO; Page 3, U.S. Response to Russia; Article 9, NATO Response to Russia
NATO-Russia Relations

Parties reaffirm that they do not consider each other as adversaries.

Parties shall not undertake actions, participate in activities, or implement security measures that undermine the security interests of the other party. Parties shall not use the territories of other states to execute an armed attack against the other party.

Parties shall settle all international disputes by peaceful rather than forceful means. Parties shall use fora such as the NATO-Russia Council to address issues or settle problems. Parties shall establish telephone hotlines.

NATO poses no threat to Russia.

NATO believes that tensions and disagreements must be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, rather than through the threat or use of force. NATO calls for Russia's immediate de-escalation around Ukraine. 

NATO supports re-establishing NATO and Russian mutual presence in Moscow and Brussels and establishing a civilian telephone hotline.

Sources: Articles 1 and 3, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Articles 1, 2, and 3, Russia Proposal to NATO; Articles 1, 2, and 7, NATO Response to Russia
NATO Expansion

All NATO member states shall commit to prohibit any further NATO expansion, to include denying the accession of Ukraine. The United States shall not establish military bases in or develop bilateral military cooperation with former USSR states who are not part of NATO. 

The United States and NATO are committed to supporting NATO's open door policy. The United States is willing to discuss reciprocal transparency measures and commitments by both the United States and Russia to not deploy offensive ground-launched missile systems and permanent combat forces in Ukraine.

Sources: Article 4, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Article 6, Russia Proposal to NATO; Pages 1 and 2, U.S. Response to Russia; Article 8, NATO Response to Russia
Military Maneuvers and Exercises 

Parties shall regularly inform each other about military exercises and main provisions of their military doctrines.

Parties shall not deploy armed forces in areas where the deployment could be perceived by the other party as a threat to its national security (except when the deployment is within the national territories of the parties).

Parties shall not fly heavy bombers (whether nuclear or non-nuclear) or deploy surface warships in areas outside national airspace and national territorial waters where they can strike targets in the territory of the other party. 

Parties shall maintain dialogue to prevent dangerous military activities at sea.

NATO calls for Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.

The United States is prepared to discuss confidence building measures regarding ground-based military exercises in Europe (to include modernization of the Vienna Document) and to explore an enhanced exercise notification regime and nuclear risk reduction measures (including strategic nuclear bomber platforms).

The United States and NATO are prepared to explore measures to prevent incidents at sea and in the air (to include discussing enhancements in the Incidents at Sea Agreement and the Vienna Document).

Sources: Article 5, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Articles 2, 3, and 7, Russia Proposal to NATO; Pages 2 and 3, U.S. Response to Russia; Articles 8 and 9, NATO Response to Russia
Reaffirmation of UN Charter

Parties shall ensure that all international organizations or military alliances in which at least one party participates adhere to the principles contained in the United Nations Charter. 

NATO remains committed to the fundamental principles and agreements underpinning European security, including the United Nations Charter.

Sources: Article 2, Russia Proposal to U.S.; Article 8, Russia Proposal to NATO; Article 3, NATO Response to Russia


A chart outlining proposals put forward by the three parties to resolve differences over Ukraine and European security.


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