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former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Arms Control Today

Understanding the Dispute Over New START

April 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Although not unexpected, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to unilaterally suspend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in February has dealt another serious blow to the only treaty still restricting the size of the U.S.-Russian strategic nuclear arsenals and to hopes for future nuclear arms control.

A Soviet inspector examines a U.S. BGM-109G Tomahawk ground-launched cruise missile before its destruction in 1988. Over the years, such inspections have helped build confidence on both sides, but now President Vladimir Putin has suspended inspections of Russia’s nuclear-related facilities. (Photo by Jose Lopez/U.S. Department of Defense)“It is no longer possible to maintain business as usual with the United States and the West in general—both as a matter of principle and regarding arms control, which is inseparable from the geopolitical, military, and strategic reality,” stated the Russian Foreign Ministry on Feb. 21.

The successful negotiation of a new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control arrangement to succeed New START has faced tough odds for years, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Since the war began, the potential for future arms control has further dimmed, and the threat to existing arms control has markedly increased.

Putin’s announcement, in a speech on Feb. 21, was the latest in a series of worrisome developments, particularly in the last year.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration paused the bilateral strategic stability dialogue, a long-established official venue in which the two sides have discussed various topics, including arms control. (See ACT, March 2022.)

Moscow and Washington continued to communicate about resuming New START on-site inspections, which were paused in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But on Aug. 8, Russia cut off that discussion, informing the United States that it would prohibit inspections of its nuclear weapons-related facilities after the United States sent notification of plans to conduct an inspection. (See ACT, September 2022.)

The Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), the treaty’s implementing body, scheduled a session for the first time in a year, for November 2022 in Egypt, during which the two states would discuss the inspections issue, among other concerns. At the last minute, Russian officials called off the meeting under orders from the highest “political level,” according to Russian officials.

Then came February: The United States announced its assessment that Russia has failed to comply with New START on Feb. 8, and less than two weeks later, Putin declared Russia’s suspension of the treaty, a move for which the treaty contains no provision. (See ACT, March 2023.) Before Putin delivered his Feb. 21 speech, the Biden administration had anticipated that he might announce Russia’s complete withdrawal from New START, according to The Guardian.

With New START, Russia’s stated concerns include its years-long charge that the United States did not modify or convert 56 Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and 41 B-52H Stratofortress bombers from nuclear to conventional roles, in order to fall within the treaty’s limits, in a treaty-approved way that Russia could confirm.

“The United States is in material breach” of New START, asserted the Russian Foreign Ministry in February.

Moscow also argued that the “anti-Russian” sanctions and restrictions imposed by Washington and its allies and partners over the war in Ukraine obstructed Russian inspectors from securing the necessary visas and travel arrangements to visit U.S. nuclear weapons facilities subject to the treaty, thus giving Washington “obvious unilateral advantages.”

In addition, Russia has taken issue with U.S. requests to conduct inspections of Russian facilities subject to New START. Such requests sound “insane” and “openly cynical,” given that Ukraine has attempted to strike those same facilities “with the United States’ obvious military-technical, information, and intelligence assistance,” the Kremlin alleged.

Russia has used its war on Ukraine as an excuse to upend cooperation on critical international security agreements, including suspending inspections of nuclear-related facilities under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. In this image, a Ukrainian tank team is fighting Russian forces in the Donbas region of Ukraine. (Photo by Laurel Chor/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)Putin also demanded in February that there must be “a clear idea” for taking the French and UK nuclear arsenals into account before arms control talks could resume. Russia has long argued for France and the United Kingdom to participate in post-New START arms control endeavors.

Putin’s paramount grievance is that “the United States and NATO are openly saying that their goal is to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia” within the context of the war in Ukraine. In the Kremlin’s view, arms control cannot be separated from such “geopolitical and military-strategic realities.”

Heather Williams of the Center for International and Strategic Studies summed up the situation in a Feb. 21 tweet: “The fate of New START is really about Ukraine. Russia likely (unsuccessfully) attempted to use New START as leverage against the [United States] to cease its support for Ukraine.”

The United States has disputed each Russian claim and expressed its own concerns with Russia’s behavior toward arms control matters.

The U.S. State Department has asserted repeatedly over the years that the United States has held exhibitions for the converted Trident launchers and B-52s and that Russia can examine those converted items as the treaty allows. As for inspections, the Biden administration has emphasized that “Russian inspectors have the necessary visas, Russian treaty-designated airplanes have viable air routes to transport inspectors to the United States, [and] inspectors can also use commercial air travel.”

In its February report on the treaty, the State Department outlined two main issues with Russian New START noncompliance. Washington argued that Moscow misused a treaty provision for its exemption of facilities from on-site inspections and violated another provision by failing to reschedule the cancelled BCC meeting within the required 45 days after the original requested date.

The lack of inspections “poses a threat to the U.S. ability to adequately verify Russian compliance with the treaty limit on deployed warheads,” the department concluded.

The Biden administration has also stated that the war in Ukraine does not excuse Russia from adhering to New START and that Russia’s suspension of New START will not deter U.S., allied, or partner support for Ukraine. “In fact, Moscow’s decision and its continuing nuclear threats only reinforce how important standing behind Ukraine remains,” stressed Mallory Stewart, assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, on Feb. 27.

Despite the suspension, Russia says that it will continue to comply with the treaty’s central limits and to send notifications of launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and sea-launched ballistic missiles under an ongoing 1988 U.S.-Soviet agreement.

“Whatever insulation there was between arms control and U.S.-Russian relations is gone,” tweeted Andrey Baklitskiy in February. New START “is suspended because relations are bad, it’s a political decision.”

Russia’s attempts to knock New START off-kilter have ramifications not only for the last treaty still standing that caps U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals but also for future potential arms control arrangements after the treaty’s expiration in 2026.

“Russia has…[made] it more difficult to negotiate the next arms control treaty,” wrote Sarah Bidgood of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies on Feb. 21. “It’s easier to build upon the foundation of a functional treaty than it is to try to construct something on a structure that is crumbling.”

Without any type of arms control arrangement in place, “[a] new nuclear arms race may well ensue, consuming resources Washington would be better off investing in new technological frontiers, further undermining America’s ability to engage China on arms control, and making future military crises with Russia more dangerous,” warned Hanna Notte of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation in a Feb. 22 article for War on the Rocks.

Russia’s decision to unilaterally suspend the 2010 treaty has dealt another blow to the only pact still restricting U.S.-Russian strategic nuclear arsenals. 

World Faults Russia’s New START Suspension

April 2023
By Shannon Bugos

U.S. President Joe Biden described Russia’s suspension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in February as “a big mistake” while the international community criticized the Kremlin for its “reckless” and “irresponsible” decision.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses a press conference on the sidelines of the Group of 20 foreign ministers' meeting in New Delhi on March 2.  (Photo by Arun Sankar/AFP via Getty Images)“We’re less safe when we walk away from arms control agreements that are very much in both parties’ interest and the world’s interest,” Biden said on Feb. 22. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Washington remains “ready to talk about strategic arms limitations at any time with Russia, irrespective of anything else going on in the world or in our relationship.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the unilateral suspension of New START on Feb. 21, although the treaty text does not contain a provision allowing for a suspension. (See ACT, March 2023.) The Russian legislation formalizing Putin’s decision, signed into law on Feb. 28, stipulates that only the president can decide if Moscow will return to the agreement.

Since Putin’s announcement, the Pentagon has stated multiple times that it continues to see no indication of changes in the Russian strategic forces posture nor any reason for the United States to change its posture. Washington also confirmed on March 28 that Moscow has ceased data exchanges and notifications and that the United States will now withhold disaggregated data on its nuclear arsenal but continue to provide more general public information and notifications.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged the dire consequences of Russia’s move on Feb. 21, saying that, “with today’s decision on New START, [the] full arms control architecture has been dismantled.”

As a close ally of Russia, China has refrained from directly criticizing Putin’s decision, but still expressed support for the accord. “China notes the differences on compliance between the two countries and hopes the two sides can properly resolve the differences through constructive dialogue and consultation to ensure the treaty’s sound implementation,” said the Chinese Foreign Ministry in a Feb. 22 statement.

Some members of the U.S. Congress have called for Washington to respond to Moscow’s suspension of the treaty by preparing to increase the numbers of deployed U.S. nuclear weapons.

The Biden administration should “accelerate planning in the event Russia breaches New START caps,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) on Feb. 21. “All options must be on the table, including deploying additional nuclear forces and increasing the readiness of our nuclear triad,” he said. “We must also accelerate efforts to modernize our nuclear systems.”

Other lawmakers, noting Russia’s reckless decision, maintained that Russia should return to full compliance as soon as possible.

“The United States and Russia, even throughout some of the most dangerous periods of the Cold War, have consistently placed limits on nuclear weapons in order to increase transparency and predictability and decrease the chances of accidental escalation,” stated Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.). “By suspending its participation in this treaty, Russia is effectively leaving its strategic nuclear arsenal unchecked and unverified.”

Blinken met briefly with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Group of 20 (G-20) foreign ministers meeting on March 1–2 in India, marking their first in-person conversation since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. “I urged Russia to reverse its irresponsible decision and return to implementing” New START, Blinken said.

A majority of G-20 states again criticized Russia’s behavior in the meeting’s outcome document, which included two articles from the G-20 leaders’ declaration in November 2022. One of those articles demanded Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine, and the other condemned any threats of nuclear weapons use. (See ACT, December 2022.)

Russian objections over those two articles derailed the official adoption of the leaders’ declaration last year. In March, China joined Russia in refusing to agree to those articles in this year’s final document.

U.S. President Joe Biden described Russia’s suspension of the 2010 treaty as “a big mistake” while the international community called the Kremlin move “reckless” and “irresponsible.” 

Dueling Views on AI, Autonomous Weapons

April 2023
By Michael Klare

The international debate over controlling artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous weapons systems, often called “killer robots” by critics, is heating up, with the contending approaches generally falling into two camps.

In February, Bonnie Jenkins, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, outlined a U.S. proposal on the responsible military use of AI and autonomous weapons systems. She is pictured here during a session of the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)One approach, favored by the United States, the United Kingdom, and many of their allies, calls for the adoption of voluntary codes of conduct to govern the military use of AI and autonomous systems in warfare. Another approach, advocated by Austria, most Latin American countries, and members of the Non-Aligned Movement, supports the adoption of a legally binding, international ban on autonomous weapons or a set of restrictions on their deployment and use.

These contending views were brought into sharp focus at three recent international meetings that considered proposals for regulating the military use of AI and autonomous weapons systems.

The first meeting, held in Belén, Costa Rica, on Feb. 23–24, was attended by government officials from nearly every country in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as officials from the United States and 12 other countries. Also present was strong representation from civil society organizations, including the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

After hearing from government officials and civil society representatives about the risks posed by the deployment of autonomous weapons systems, the Latin American officials adopted a statement, entitled the Belén Communiqué, calling for further international efforts “to promote the urgent negotiation of an international legally-binding instrument with prohibitions and regulations with regard to autonomy in weapons systems.”

The meeting had scarcely concluded when the next gathering, the Responsible AI in the Military Domain summit, was convened in The Hague. Held on Feb. 15–16 and sponsored by South Korea and the Netherlands, the event favored an alternative approach. Rather than advocate for a ban on the military use of AI and autonomous weapons systems, summit participants, including the United States, called for voluntary measures allowing for their use in a safe, responsible manner.

This approach was outlined in a keynote address by Bonnie Jenkins, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and disarmament. She argued that the utilization of AI by the military could have positive outcomes in aiding combat operations and enhancing compliance with international humanitarian law. But she acknowledged that because its use also poses a risk of malfunction and unintended consequences, it must be subject to rigorous controls and oversight.

“AI capabilities will increase accuracy and precision in the use of force, which will also help strengthen implementation of international humanitarian law’s protections for civilians,” Jenkins said. “But we must do this safely and responsibly.”

Underscoring this view, Jenkins released a U.S.-crafted “political declaration” on the responsible military use of AI and autonomous weapons systems. Drawing on guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Defense in revised directive 3000.09, “Autonomy in Weapons Systems” (see ACT, March 2023), the declaration calls on states to employ AI and autonomous systems in a safe and principled manner.

“[The] military use of AI can and should be ethical, responsible, and enhance international security,” the declaration affirms. To advance this outcome, states are urged to adopt best practices in the design, development, testing, and fielding of AI-enabled systems, including measures to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law and to “minimize unintended bias in military AI capabilities.” Such endeavors are entirely voluntary and subject to domestic laws alone, where they exist, the declaration states.

The competing approaches were given an extensive airing at a meeting of the group of governmental experts (GGE) convened under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva on March 6–10.

For several years, the GGE has been considering proposals for an additional protocol to the CCW that would prohibit or strictly regulate the deployment of autonomous weapons systems. As the GGE operates by consensus and some states-parties to the CCW, including Russia and the United States, oppose such a measure, the group has been unable to forward a draft protocol to the full CCW membership. Nevertheless, GGE meetings have provided an important forum for proponents of contending approaches to articulate and defend their positions, and the March meeting was no exception.

The United States, joined by Australia, Canada, Japan, and the UK, submitted a draft proposal that draws heavily on the political declaration released by Jenkins. It asserts that the use of autonomous weapons systems should be deemed lawful as long as the states using them have taken effective measures to ensure that their use will not result in violations of international humanitarian law. If employed in such a manner, the joint proposal states, “these technologies could be used to improve the protection of civilians.”

An entirely different approach was put forward in papers submitted by Austria, Pakistan, member states of the Non-Aligned Movement, and representatives of civil society. These participants disputed the notion that autonomous weapons systems can be employed in accordance with humanitarian law and prove useful in protecting civilians. They said such systems pose an inescapable risk of causing battlefield calamities and harming civilians unnecessarily.

For states that adhere to this view, nothing is acceptable short of a complete ban on autonomous weapons systems or a set of binding regulations that would severely circumscribe their use. As noted in the Austrian paper, autonomous weapons systems that are not under effective human control at all times and that “select and engage persons as targets in a manner that violates the dignity and worth of the human person” must be considered unacceptable and must be prohibited.

Given the wide gap between these two contending approaches, it is unlikely that a common strategy will be devised at the next GGE meeting, scheduled for Geneva in May, and so no draft proposal for a legally binding ban or set of regulatory controls on autonomous weapons systems is likely to be submitted to the CCW state-parties when they next meet.

A stalemate on the issue gives autonomous weapons developers time to hone new technologies and commercialize them. It also could lead to a dual approach to controlling such devices, with some states adopting voluntary rules and others pursuing the adoption of a legally binding measure outside the CCW process. One possible venue for the latter option is the UN General Assembly, where a majority vote, rather than a consensus decision, would be required for passage.

The international debate over controlling artificial intelligence and autonomous weapons systems is dividing into two camps. 

North Korea Might Conduct Nuclear Test, U.S. Says

April 2023
By Luke Caggiano

Preparations might be underway for North Korea’s first nuclear test since 2017, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in their annual threat assessment.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) and his daughter are seen on television in South Korea (R) attending a military parade showcasing nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles in Pyongyang in February. U.S. intelligence reports increasing signs that Pyongyang may test a nuclear weapon. (Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images)North Korea “probably is preparing to test a nuclear device to further its stated military modernization goals to facilitate ‘tactical nuclear operations,’” stated the report, which was released March 8 and identifies major U.S. national security threats over the next 12 months. The assessment suggests that North Korea may be moving closer toward conducting its first nuclear test in more than five years, as previous assessments stated that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “may be considering” a nuclear test.

The 2017 nuclear test was Pyongyang’s largest. (See ACT, October 2017.) Two months later, North Korea tested what it called its “most powerful” intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15, which is capable of striking the United States. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

In March 2023, missile tests, including one involving the Hwasong-17, were conducted in response to U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

The U.S. intelligence community said that Kim remains committed to increasing his country’s nuclear weapons capabilities and that the arsenal serves “as a centerpiece of [Kim’s] national security structure.”

In addition to North Korea, China, Iran, and Russia are expanding their nuclear capabilities and worsening the long-standing threat from weapons of mass destruction, according to the report.

“[G]reat powers, rising regional powers, as well as an evolving array of non-state actors, will vie for dominance in the global order, as well as compete to set the emerging conditions and the rules that will shape that order for decades to come,” it stated.

China is believed to be “reorienting its nuclear posture for strategic rivalry with the United States because its leaders have concluded that their current capabilities are insufficient,” the report said. Beijing has maintained an estimated arsenal of 200–350 warheads over the past several decades, but China’s arsenal now likely exceeds 400 warheads and could grow to 700 by 2027 and 1,000 by 2030. (See ACT, December 2021.)

Bilateral tensions, U.S. nuclear modernization efforts, and China’s advancing conventional capabilities have increased Beijing’s worries of a U.S. nuclear first strike, the intelligence community concluded. Potential arms control with China remains a distant prospect because “Beijing is not interested in agreements that restrict its plans and will not agree to negotiations that lock in U.S. or Russian advantages.”

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned multiple times that Moscow stands ready to use nuclear weapons to defend the state. Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine over the past year has significantly depleted Russian ground and air-based conventional forces, leaving Russia “less capable of posing a conventional military threat to European security.” This major depletion of conventional forces indicates that, as a result, Russia will increasingly rely on its nuclear arsenal.

China and Russia are “seeking to ensure strategic stability with the United States through the growth and development of a range of weapons capabilities, including nontraditional weapons intended to defeat or evade U.S. missile defenses,” assesses the report. For instance, Beijing and Moscow have developed and deployed hypersonic weapons systems with conventional and nuclear capabilities. (See ACT, March 2023.)

In addition, Iran’s accelerated expansion of its nuclear program; its refusal to comply with agreed limits under the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; and its “research and development activities that would bring it closer to producing the fissile material for completing a nuclear device following a decision to do so” constitute major threats to the United States.

The assessment expands on previous intelligence regarding Iran’s intentions to obtain new conventional systems, including “advanced fighter aircraft, trainer aircraft, helicopters, air defense systems, para-naval patrol ships, and main battle tanks” while it works on “improving the accuracy, lethality, and reliability of its missiles.”

On March 11, Iranian state media announced that Iran had “reached a deal to buy advanced Su-35 fighter planes from Russia,” Reuters reported.

The intelligence assessment also determines that China is working to field a military capability “designed to deter U.S. intervention in a…crisis” involving Taiwan by 2027, while looking to establish potential military bases in Equatorial Guinea, Cambodia, and the United Arab Emirates. The report notes that China has developed a range of ground-based counterspace systems such as “electronic warfare systems, directed energy weapons, and [anti-satellite] missiles intended to disrupt, damage, and destroy target satellites.”

Preparations for a nuclear test by North Korea might be underway for the first time since 2017, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in their annual threat assessment. 

North Korea Tests Missiles in Response to Military Exercises

April 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea responded to U.S.-South Korean military exercises in March by conducting several missile launches, including of a new sea-launched cruise missile.

A South Korean K1A1 tank fires during a live fire drill at a military training field in Pocheon on March 22, as part of the 10-day-long Freedom Shield joint military exercises with the United States, the allies’ largest in five years. North Korea responded to the exercises with repeated missile launches. (Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images)The 11-day U.S.-South Korean exercise, known as Freedom Shield, began on March 13. One objective of the exercise is to ensure readiness to respond to the threat posed by North Korean nuclear and missile programs.

The day before the exercise started, North Korea launched two cruise missiles from a submarine for the first time. North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described the missiles as “strategic” systems and said they demonstrate how the “nuclear war deterrent” operates in “diverse spaces.”

Nine days later, North Korea launched multiple cruise missiles as the United States and South Korea conducted large-scale, live-fire exercises as part of Freedom Shield. North Korea suggested that these weapons systems are designed to carry nuclear warheads and can deliver a payload up to about 2,000 kilometers. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed that the military detected and tracked the missile flights.

Unlike ballistic missiles, which fly on a standard trajectory, cruise missiles can be maneuvered in flight and fly at lower altitudes, making them more difficult to track and intercept.

North Korea also launched the Hwasong-17, the largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in its arsenal that it has tested, and several short-range ballistic missiles.

The ICBM was launched on March 16 and was intended to “strike fear” into North Korea’s enemies, according to a KCNA statement. The Hwasong-17 is capable of reaching the entire continental United States.

The ICBM launch preceded a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in Tokyo where they discussed the North Korean threat to the region and strengthening security ties between their countries.

North Korea is prohibited from launching ballistic missiles under UN Security Council resolutions, but recently has not faced any repercussions from the Security Council for violating those provisions. During a Security Council meeting on March 20, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield accused Russia and China of obstructing efforts at the Security Council to condemn North Korean missile activities. She said Russia’s and China’s actions were encouraging North Korea to “launch ballistic missiles with impunity.”

The head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. John Aquilino, also criticized China for failing to do more to respond to the growing North Korean missile threat. He said during a March 16 speech in Singapore that it would be “helpful” for China to “dissuade” North Korea from further missile tests. He said Pyongyang’s tests are destabilizing, unpredictable, and “not slowing down.”

The same day the submarine-launched cruise missiles were tested, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un addressed a meeting of top military leaders and said Pyongyang must respond “powerfully” to the joint exercises. According to the KCNA, the military leaders discussed “important practical steps for making more effective, powerful and offensive use of the war deterrent.”

On March 18–19, North Korea conducted exercises that included what the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper described as a “tactical drill” to improve the country’s “war deterrence and nuclear counterattack capability.” The drill was carried out under the “tense situation” created by the deployment of U.S. strategic assets in the region and U.S.-South Korean exercises, which the news release described as a sign that the two countries are readying to invade North Korea.

The release said the North Korean exercises included “a drill for launching [a] tactical ballistic missile tipped with a mock nuclear warhead” and demonstrated that North Korea’s nuclear systems are “fast, strict, highly reliable and safe.”

In recent speeches, Kim emphasized the importance of North Korea’s tactical nuclear weapons and the importance of developing that capability in order to repel an invasion if deterrence fails.

The mayor of Seoul, Oh Se-hoon, addressed the threat posed by North Korea’s advancing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities in a March 13 interview with Reuters. He said North Korea “has nearly succeeded in miniaturizing and lightening tactical nuclear weapons.” Given these capabilities, South Korea “has come to a point where it is difficult to convince people with the logic that we should refrain from developing nuclear weapons and stick to the cause of denuclearization," he said.

Oh added that there “may be some initial resistance from the international community” at first but the idea of South Korea developing nuclear weapons “will gain more support eventually.”

South Korea has walked back comments from Yoon in January suggesting that South Korea may need to develop its own nuclear weapons. (See ACT, March 2023.)

North Korea responded to U.S.-South Korean military exercises by conducting several missile launches, including a new sea-launched cruise missile.  

New U.S. Arms Policy Boosts Human Rights Focus

April 2023
By Jeff Abramson

The Biden administration announced a long-anticipated policy that more fully emphasizes human rights concerns among a list of priorities for U.S. engagement in the international arms trade.

U.S. Marines conduct post-flight inspections on an AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. A Biden administration decision to approve the sale of a version of the helicopter to Nigeria has been controversial because of the country’s human rights record. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jered T. Stone)Administration officials did not explicitly identify how the new policy would impact controversial arms sales to specific countries, such as Israel or Nigeria, but it pointed to Ukraine as a model for the types of partners it seeks.

Known as the conventional arms transfer policy, this presidential directive is not binding in itself, but instead “establishes the executive branch’s priorities and rationale for adjudicating the export of conventional arms,” according to National Security Memorandum-18 released Feb. 23.

In a section dedicated to human rights, the policy states that the United States will not transfer arms when it assesses that it is “more likely than not” that they will be used to commit an array of human rights abuses. It also indicates that a recipient’s previous actions will be considered in making that judgment and that future developments can lead to reassessment and possible cessation of weapons transfers.

The new policy replaces the 2018 Trump administration policy and earlier versions that applied a more difficult standard to meet for denying an arms transfer request, requiring government officials to prove they had “actual knowledge” that weapons would be misused. Some critics also had faulted the Trump policy for not explicitly acknowledging past or future behavior in arms transfer decisions. (See ACT, January/February 2021; May 2018.)

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the new policy. In a statement on Feb. 27, he said that it “represents a meaningful step forward in ensuring the United States does not contribute to human rights abuses through its arms exports.”

During a March 9 event hosted by the Stimson Center, administration officials did not specify which countries might no longer receive arms under the new policy. But Mira Resnick, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for regional security, pointed to a decision by the Biden administration in 2021 to suspend specific deliveries to Saudi Arabia because it was “more likely than not that those precision-guided munitions would contribute to unacceptable civilian harm.” (See ACT, March 2021.)

The policy also places a new emphasis on security sector governance. Resnick pointed to Ukraine’s improvements in anti-diversion and anti-corruption policies since Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and the eastern region of Ukraine as critical in enabling Washington now to transfer billions of dollars in weapons systems and other support so Ukraine can defend itself against renewed Russian aggression.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern about the new approach politicizing what had been “an effective policy” under the Trump administration. In a statement Feb. 24, they also said that the U.S. defense industry “is struggling to meet the demand for weapons our country and allies need.”

Like the conventional arms transfer policies of most previous administrations, the Biden policy does not explicitly rank priorities. It does include among its objectives to strengthen the “manufacturing and defense industrial base and ensure resiliency in global supply chains.” Resnick cited exploring new ways to provide “competitive financing” as an example of this. She indicated that one way to support U.S. industry could be to allow countries to pay over time, as some other countries do, rather than in advance as is current U.S. practice.

In 2021, an administration official indicated that the new policy would be used to review “the proper relationship of the United States” to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which had been signed during the Obama administration but rejected during the Trump administration. (See ACT, October 2021.) Resnick said the administration was still determining its “proper position” on the ATT. She added that the United States was the world’s largest arms exporter and would “continue its global leadership” on “opposing the irresponsible and illicit transfer of conventional arms.”


The Biden administration announced a policy that more fully emphasizes human rights among a list of priorities for U.S. engagement in the international arms trade.  

Russian Jet Strikes U.S. Drone Over Black Sea

April 2023

The United States accused Russia of unprofessional and unsafe behavior after a Russian Su-27 fighter jet struck the propeller of an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance drone, causing U.S. forces to bring down the system in international waters in the Black Sea.

A photo captured from a video shows a U.S. drone being harassed by a Russian Su-27 fighter jet over the Black Sea on March 14. (Photo by U.S. European Command/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)The March 14 incident marked the first time that the two military forces came into direct physical contact since Russia launched its full-scale war on Ukraine in February 2022.

A day later, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, announced that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu regarding the “unprofessional, dangerous, and reckless behavior” of the Russian air force. Austin “emphasized that the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows,” Ryder said.

The call was the first between Austin and Shoigu since October. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley also spoke with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the Associated Press reported.

According to an unclassified video released by the U.S. Defense Department, two Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 Reaper drone. News reports quoted a U.S. Air Force official as saying the Russian jets executed 19 close-in passes before one of the jets collided with the drone’s rear propeller.

Moscow alleged that the U.S. drone had no transponders and violated the airspace zone Moscow had established for its temporary use for the war in Ukraine. The United States warned of unintended escalation.

“[T]he Russian fighters [that] scrambled to identify the intruder did not use on-board weapons and did not come into contact” with the drone, said Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States. “The unacceptable actions of the United States military in the close proximity to our borders are cause for concern.”

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, claimed on March 15 that the incident was “another confirmation” of direct participation of the United States in the war in Ukraine, according to RIA Novosti.

He suggested that Russia was planning to retrieve the remains of the drone. “I don’t know if we can recover them or not, but we will certainly have to do that, and we will deal with it,” Patrushev said on Russian television.—GABRIELA IVELIZ ROSA HERNÁNDEZ

Russian Jet Strikes U.S. Drone Over Black Sea

Turkey, Hungary Ratify Finland’s NATO Bid

April 2023

The Turkish and Hungarian parliaments ratified Finland’s application for NATO membership, clearing the last obstacle to the Nordic country’s bid and expanding the alliance border with Russia.

Turkey, the last holdout, approved Finland’s membership by a unanimous vote of 276 on March 30, three days after the Hungarian Parliament ratified the application by a 182–6 vote. Turkey and Hungary frustrated NATO for months by repeatedly postponing action.

Finland’s ascension to NATO would add one of Western Europe’s most potent wartime militaries to the alliance as well as intelligence and border-surveillance abilities, The New York Times reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said that his government would ratify Finland’s application before the Turkish election on May 14, making way for Finland to join the alliance without Sweden.

“With Finland’s membership, NATO will become stronger,” Erdoğan told a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Ankara on March 17.

Niinistö, addressing Sweden’s NATO bid, said, “I have a feeling that Finnish membership is not complete without Sweden…. I would like to see [at the NATO summit in July] in Vilnius that we will need the alliance of 32 members.”

Last June, U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Turkey’s decision to agree to a trilateral memorandum with Finland and Sweden, under NATO auspices, that was supposed to pave the way for the Nordic nations to join the alliance. Finland and Sweden affirmed their support for Turkey against threats to its national security and insisted that they should join NATO together. (See ACT, November 2022.)

But on Oct. 6, Erdoğan suggested that Finland and Sweden should join the alliance separately and renewed his threat about blocking Swedish accession. Previously, Turkey had accused Sweden and, to a lesser degree, Finland of aiding groups that Turkey identifies as terrorists, namely the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Turkish separatist group, and an armed group in Syria that Turkey perceives as an extension of the PKK.

Sweden’s NATO bid remained up in the air as members of Hungary’s governing party insisted they will wait for Stockholm to clear up lingering disagreements before they go to a vote. Meanwhile, Erdoğan said talks with Sweden would continue but support for its application would depend on the Nordic country taking “solid steps.”—GABRIELA IVELIZ ROSA HERNÁNDEZ

Turkey, Hungary Ratify Finland’s NATO Bid

Russia Refuses Annual Vienna Document Data Exchange

March 2023
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

Russia has reneged on another international commitment by refusing to share data on its military forces with 57 participating states as called for in the Vienna Document, according to a letter obtained by Arms Control Today and a European official.

Foreign ministers representing the 57 participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe discussed regional security challenges created by Russia’s war against Ukraine during its annual meeting in Lodz, Poland, in December. (Photo by Omar Marques/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)The failure to participate in the annual data exchange occurs as Russia is waging an illegal war against Ukraine, suspending its participation in the last treaty limiting Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear weapons and taking other steps to undermine the post-Cold War European security architecture.

Overseen by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Vienna Document is a confidence and security-building mechanism that has allowed the 57 participating states to observe and notify each other about their military exercises and other relevant events to prevent misinterpretation of these activities. It is one the few remaining mechanisms for political and military cooperation in Europe.

Moscow’s decision was first communicated on Jan. 16, 2022, in a letter signed by Konstantin Gavrilov, head of the Russian arms control delegation in Vienna, to Siniša Bencun, the ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the OSCE who at the time also chaired the organization’s Forum for Security and Cooperation.

Gavrilov said that Russia would not provide national information about its armed forces for 2023 as stipulated by Chapter I of the Vienna Document, essentially suspending its participation in the annual exchange that is supposed to be provided each year by Dec. 15.

Russia still has not provided the required data even though the new reporting year has begun, an official from an OSCE participating state told Arms Control Today on condition of anonymity.

In his letter, Gavrilov wrote that the Russian decision “was taken in response to the Czech Republic’s step to suspend the implementation of its commitments under [the Vienna Document] towards Russia and due to Ukraine’s interpretative statement about its refusal to participate in the 2023 [annual information exchange], as well as to send certain routine notifications provided by the Vienna Document.”

“We proceed from the assumption that if the Russian Federation exchanges its national [data] report, it will for sure end up in the hands of the above-mentioned participating states,” he added.

The letter also accused 29 of the participating states, including Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, of not providing certain notifications on time and alleged that the Netherlands excluded Russia from the list of notification recipients. In addition, Russia accused Bulgaria, France, and Poland of not inviting Russian representatives to their military bases.

As of February, 50 participating states provided the required information for 2023, the official from the OSCE participating state said, while Armenia, Mongolia, Poland, and Ukraine, provided information “on delay,” meaning they were late. The remaining two countries, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, have not submitted information for years.

When asked about Russia’s accusations, U.S. State Department spokesperson, Ned Price said in an email on Feb. 28 that, “the United States continues to fully adhere to all of its commitments under the Vienna Document 2011 on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures, including the provision of required notifications and other information to all Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe participating states, among them Russia.”

Price did not specifically address the issue of Russian compliance.

According to Western officials, Russian adherence to the document has long been eroding. As Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu said in August, “the Vienna Document 2011 remains formally in force, but there are no prospects for its practical implementation.”

“In the absence of trust between the parties, the verification mechanism actually becomes a source of intelligence information, which does not meet the spirit of the agreement," he said at the Moscow Conference on International Security.

When Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014, Ukraine requested under Chapter III of the document that the OSCE send unarmed military and civilian personnel to its territory, starting in Odesa, to dispel concerns about military activity. OSCE military assessment personnel were denied entry to Crimea.

In 2021, Ukraine called for a meeting under Chapter III and requested that Russia clarify its military activities as Russian forces were building up near the Ukrainian border. Russia refused to respond to the inquiry and insisted that it had no obligation to do so but accepted a Swiss inspection in the territories of Voronezh and Belgorod.

In early 2022, before launching its full-scale war on Ukraine, Russia announced that it would no longer host visits to verify the data part of the information exchange or inspections of specified areas to observe military activities. It cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason.

Many recent Western proposals for modernizing the Vienna Document have focused on confidence- and security-building measures as a crisis response tool. Because of the deterioration of the European security architecture, efforts after 2014 were also geared toward the prevention of military incidents between NATO allies and Russia. The latest initiative came just before the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine when Western nations offered arms control ideas to build a common security in Europe.

The West has long been concerned about Russian adherence to the Vienna Document. But Moscow’s decision to further cloak its military activities and conventional forces makes the situation worse by signaling a return to full scale strategic ambiguity as its forces and equipment are spent in Ukraine.

Russia has also increased its defense budget and mobilized its defense industry to support its war in Ukraine. On Dec. 21, Russia announced that it planned to carry out in 2023 its large-scale Zapad exercise, which typically takes place every four years and focuses on the Russian Western Military District and Belarus.

Russia has reneged on another international commitment by refusing to share data on its military forces with 57 participating states as called for in the Vienna Document, according to a letter obtained by Arms Control Today and a European official.

Biden, G-7 Must Deliver on Disarmament at Hiroshima

March 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

In this photo taken on August 6, 2021, the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, as it was known before 1945, and now called the Atomic Bomb Dome, is seen through the cenotaph at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima as the city marks the 76th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack. (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)The May 19–21 gathering creates a crucial opportunity for Biden and his counterparts to recognize the horrors of nuclear war and reaffirm the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons while pledging concrete steps to halt the arms race, guard against nuclear weapons use, and advance nuclear disarmament. Anything less would be a failure of leadership at a time of nuclear peril.

To his credit, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida chose Hiroshima, his home city, as the summit venue “to deepen discussions so that we can release a strong message toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.” In addition to the usual G-7 communique, Japan is proposing a separate joint statement on nuclear matters. Kishida told French President Emmanuel Macron in January that the leaders must “demonstrate a firm commitment to absolutely reject the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

To do so, the G-7 statement should not only reaffirm that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” but also reiterate the powerful Nov. 16 statement by the Group of 20 countries that nuclear weapons use and threats of nuclear use are “inadmissible.” Agreement on such a statement may not be easy because all G-7 states, including host Japan, cling to nuclear deterrence strategies that depend on the threat of nuclear weapons use.

To be credible, the G-7 leaders also should pledge to follow through on their countries’ own, largely unrealized nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Article VI-related disarmament commitments, including to reduce the role, salience, and number of nuclear weapons. NPT obligations and commitments cannot be voided or delayed indefinitely.

In fact, pursuing disarmament is vital to preventing the international security environment from deteriorating further. With the last remaining Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control agreement expiring in 2026, the G-7 must urge the prompt resumption of talks to restore inspections under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and a new nuclear arms control framework.

To more effectively encourage China to exercise nuclear restraint, Biden and the rest of the G-7 should pledge not to support the development of new types of nuclear weapons, including U.S. sea-based nuclear-armed cruise missiles that Biden opposes but some U.S. and Japanese politicians claim are needed to counter China. Biden also should recognize China’s important role in strengthening the fragile nuclear order and invite President Xi Jinping to explore how the two nations can partner to address common nuclear nonproliferation challenges, including North Korea, and disarmament responsibilities.

In response to appeals from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to engage their local communities to understand the reality of nuclear war, Japanese government sources say arrangements are being made for the G-7 leaders to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which U.S. President Barack Obama toured in 2016.

Any U.S. presidential visit to Hiroshima is symbolically and politically important. Serious reflection and engagement with atomic bombing and testing survivors should be a job requirement for the leader of any nuclear-armed state. The G-7 would be smart to acknowledge the harm of the U.S. atomic bombings in 1945, as well as the environmental damage created by the nuclear weapons production and testing activities by all nuclear-weapon states, and to reaffirm their obligation to fully address these devastating impacts.

Biden, who pledged in 2020 to “restore American leadership on arms control and nonproliferation…and work to bring us closer to a world without nuclear weapons,” must provide even bolder leadership. In addition to supporting the strongest possible G-7 statement, joining other leaders at the museum, and laying a wreath in honor of those who perished from the atomic bombings, Biden should make a separate address in Hiroshima or Nagasaki outlining his own vision for a new global nuclear restraint and disarmament dialogue.

Biden could use such a speech to reiterate his invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold serious talks designed to maintain commonsense limits on or, ideally, further reduce Russian and U.S. nuclear stockpiles and to elaborate on why such an approach is essential for U.S., allied, and global security. Biden could remind other nuclear-armed states, particularly China, France, India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, that they need to be part of the solution and urge them to freeze the overall size of their nuclear weapons stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce theirs.

At a time of unprecedented nuclear danger, Japan’s decision to bring G-7 leaders to Hiroshima is an obvious yet bold choice. To be successful, Kishida and Biden must make the Hiroshima summit more than a symbolic backdrop. It must be a catalyst for bold, effective disarmament action to ensure that no country suffers the horrors of nuclear war ever again.

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.


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