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"[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
The United States and the Americas

U.S., UK Pledge Nuclear Submarines for Australia


October 2021
By Julia Masterson

Australia could become the first non-nuclear-weapon state to field a nuclear-powered submarine as part of a new trilateral security partnership with the United States and United Kingdom known as AUKUS. The initiative was unveiled at a joint virtual press conference held Sept. 15.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shakes hands with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as the latter arrives at the Pentagon on September 22. The meeting took place a week after the two countries and the United Kingdom announced the  AUKUS security pact to help Australia develop and deploy nuclear-powered submarines and pursue other military cooperation.  (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) All three nations emphasized that Australia will not acquire nuclear weapons and that they will uphold their commitment to global nonproliferation standards. Even so, the decision by the United States and the UK to equip Australia with nuclear submarines has heightened proliferation concerns because the U.S. and UK submarines are powered by on-board reactors fueled with highly enriched uranium (HEU).

The objective of the new trilateral alliance is to ensure “peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific [region] over the long term,” U.S. President Joe Biden said during the joint appearance unveiling the initiative alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on video monitors.

“We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it will evolve because the future of each of our nations, and indeed the world, depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific, enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead,” Biden added.

The United States has shared nuclear submarine propulsion technology only with the UK, a product of a series of Cold War agreements aimed to counter Soviet influence in Europe.

The UK Royal Navy operates three nuclear-powered submarine systems: the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarine and the Astute- and Trafalgar-class attack submarines. Johnson said the AUKUS partnership will provide “a new opportunity to reinforce Britain’s place at the leading edge of science and technology, strengthening our national expertise.”

Morrison said that Australia will work with Washington and London over the next 18 months “to seek to determine the best way forward to achieve” a conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarine fleet. He also said that the submarines will be constructed “in Australia in close cooperation” with the UK and the United States. The submarines will reportedly be finished in time to be fielded in the 2040s. Early reports suggest Australia may lease U.S. or UK nuclear-powered submarines in the meantime, but the details remain unclear.

At a press conference in Canberra on Sept. 16, Morrison noted that “[n]ext-generation nuclear-powered submarines will use reactors that do not need refueling during the life of the boat. A civil nuclear power capability here in Australia is not required to pursue this new capability.”

A senior Biden administration official appeared to confirm on Sept. 20 that the vessels will be powered with HEU, as UK and U.S. submarines are, when they commented on Australia’s fitness for “stewardship of the HEU.” It remains unclear who would supply Australia with the fissile material necessary to fuel the submarines or whether the nuclear-powered submarines might be provided through a leasing arrangement.

Another unknown is whether the submarine design will be based on existing U.S. or UK attack submarines or an entirely new design. One of the reasons that Australia may lease U.S. or UK vessels in the near term is to “provide opportunities for us to train our sailors, [to] provide the skills and knowledge in terms of how we operate,” Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton told reporters Sept. 19, suggesting the new submarines may share a similar design.

The AUKUS initiative is not limited to the new submarine project. It will also facilitate the sharing of information in a number of technological areas, including artificial intelligence, underwater systems, and quantum, cyber-, and long-range strike capabilities. Morrison said Australia will also enhance its long-range strike capabilities through the purchase of Tomahawk cruise missiles and extended range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles.

The three leaders were careful not to attribute the new trilateral security initiative as a response to concerns about expanding Chinese military capabilities. In February, as part of a growing U.S. emphasis on prioritizing competition with Beijing, Biden announced a new Defense Department task force charged with assessing U.S. military strategy toward China.

Nevertheless, Chinese officials were quick to condemn the AUKUS initiative. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Sept. 16 that “the nuclear submarine cooperation between the U.S., UK, and Australia has seriously undermined regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race and undermined international nonproliferation efforts.”

China also expressed concerns about the proliferation risks posed by the initiative. Lijian warned that “the international community, including Australia’s neighboring countries, has full reason to question whether Australia is serious about fulfilling its nuclear nonproliferation commitments.”

Australian, UK, and U.S. officials have endeavored to assure the international community that the initiative does not pose a heightened proliferation risk. A senior Biden administration official said on Sept. 15 that “Australia, again, does not seek and will not seek nuclear weapons. This is about nuclear-powered submarines.” But they noted the novelty of the circumstance, adding, “[T]his is frankly an exception to our policy in many respects.”

Aidan Liddle, the UK ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, told Arms Control Today in an email Sept. 21 that “[a]ll three parties involved are absolutely committed to the [nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] and have a long track record of working to uphold and strengthen the global counter-proliferation regime.”

“We have spoken to the [International Atomic Energy Agency] Director[-]General about this, and we will keep in close touch with the IAEA as we investigate the safeguards implications of the programme during the next phase of work,” said Liddle. He added, “[W]e will ensure that we are fulfilling our international obligations and giving absolute confidence that no HEU will be diverted for weapons purposes.”

Most nonproliferation experts, however, say the concern is not necessarily with Australia’s intentions but the precedent that the nuclear-powered submarine-sharing scheme would set. Although Australia’s new submarines would be conventionally armed, they clearly would be deployed for military use and will reportedly utilize HEU, which can also be used for nuclear weapons.

Washington has reached nuclear cooperation agreements for the exchange and transfer of civil nuclear material, equipment, and technology for peaceful purposes with many non-nuclear-weapon states. But military-relevant naval nuclear technology transfers are not covered under these agreements, including the U.S.-Australian agreement for nuclear cooperation that was signed in 2010.

In a Sept. 21 letter to the editor published in The New York Times, Rose Gottemoeller, former U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, criticized the proposal to share HEU-fueled submarines with Australia. The proposal, she wrote, “has blown apart 60 years of U.S. policy” designed to minimize HEU use. “Such uranium makes nuclear bombs, and we never wanted it in the hands of nonnuclear-weapon states, no matter how squeaky clean,” she said.

As recently as May 2021, the UK and United States declared that they wanted to “reinvigorate” efforts to minimize the use of HEU, according to the official statement laying out the goals for the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction. (See ACT, June 2021.) Reducing the production and use of HEU “enjoys broad support but requires more solid political support,” the statement said.

Senior Biden administration officials have called the decision concerning Australia “a one-off,” implying that similar arrangements would not be made with other U.S. allies.

Despite support for the new initiative among the three capitals, the AUKUS partnership risks undermining U.S. and UK relations with allies, particularly France. Australia signed on to the nuclear submarine acquisition scheme after abandoning a $66 billion deal with France for the construction of 12 conventionally powered submarines. Negotiations to establish the AUKUS initiative took place in secret for six months, and the French were not privy to those discussions.

In her Sept. 21 letter to the editor, Gottemoeller criticized the submarine deal’s lack of “strategic imagination” and noted that “what we needed was a three-cornered billiard shot—pivot to Asia, yes, but keep our European allies on board.”

“I suggest bringing the French to the table,” Gottemoeller, who was also NATO’s deputy secretary-general from 2016 until 2019, concluded. The French utilize low-enriched fuel for their naval propulsion, which, if shared with Australia, would pose a dramatically lower proliferation risk than HEU, she wrote.

Following the AUKUS announcement, Paris recalled its ambassadors from the United States and Australia. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drain and Defense Minister Florence Parley said in a joint statement that “the American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret.”

Paris also cancelled a French-UK defense minister’s summit scheduled for the week of Sept. 20.

The controversial deal is designed to counter a more assertive China but many worry it could also weaken nonproliferation norms.

Missile Defense Review Begins


October 2021
By Kingston Reif

The Biden administration has kicked off a review of U.S. missile defense policy, according to the Defense Department.

This intercontinental ballistic missile was the target for a test of the U.S. ballistic missile defense system from the U.S. Army's Reagan test site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands on May 2017. (Photo by U.S. Department of Defense)The review comes as the United States pursues new programs to defend the homeland against limited long-range ballistic missile attacks and Russia continues to insist that new arms control talks address U.S. missile defenses.

“The Missile Defense Review is currently underway,” Lt. Col. Uriah Orland, a Defense Department spokesman, told Arms Control Today on Aug. 13. “The review started in late June, and it will be finalized in conjunction with the National Defense Strategy early next year.”

The Trump administration’s review, published in January 2019, proposed a significant expansion of the role and scope of U.S. missile defenses. (See ACT, March 2019.) But it did not result in any immediate changes to U.S. defense deployments.

As a senator during the George W. Bush administration, Biden raised concerns about the administration’s disdain for the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and plans to accelerate the fielding of an initial capability to defend the United States against long-range ballistic missile attacks.

“Are we really prepared to raise the starting gun in a new arms race in a potentially dangerous world?” he said in a speech on Sept. 10, 2001. “Because make no mistake about it, folks, if we deploy a missile defense system that is being contemplated, we could do just that.”

But Biden was largely silent on his views on missile defense during the 2020 presidential campaign.

His administration’s first budget request, released in May, would continue the Trump administration’s plans for missile defense. (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

The most significant early decision made by the Biden administration on missile defense was to continue with plans to build a new interceptor to counter long-range ballistic missile attacks. (See ACT, June 2021.)

The missile, known as the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI), emerged during the Trump administration after the Pentagon in 2019 cancelled the program to design an upgraded kill vehicle, the Redesigned Kill Vehicle, for the already existing 44 interceptors that are part of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system.

An independent Defense Department cost estimate published in April put the estimated cost of the interceptor at $18 billion over its lifetime.

The department plans to supplement the existing 44 ground-based interceptors with 20 NGIs beginning not later than 2028 to bring the fleet total to 64. In the meantime, the Biden administration’s budget request would continue to fund a service life extension program for the existing interceptors to keep them viable until the NGI is fielded.

Although the Missile Defense Review is certain to endorse development of the NGI, it remains to be seen whether the administration will bless, beyond this year, plans to supplement U.S. homeland missile defenses by modifying existing systems to defend against longer-range threats.

The Missile Defense Agency is in the early stages of developing a layered homeland missile defense approach to adapt the Aegis missile defense system and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, designed to defeat short- and intermediate-range missiles, to intercept limited intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threats.

Congress has been skeptical of the plans, and the Government Accountability Office has raised technical concerns.

The Pentagon conducted a successful first intercept test of the Aegis Standard Missile-3 Block IIA missile against an ICBM target last November. (See ACT, December 2020.) Among the decisions the Biden administration will need to make is whether to pursue more such tests of the interceptor.

Other key programmatic issues likely to be considered in the review include the future of U.S. efforts to build a defense against hypersonic glide vehicles and cruise missiles and how best to augment the defense of Guam.

The Missile Defense Review will also address several policy issues, including the role of missile defenses in U.S. security policy and how to deal with defenses in arms control talks.

Traditionally, the United States has pursued long-range missile defenses to defend against a possible limited nuclear ICBM attack from North Korea or, in the future, Iran and relied on nuclear deterrence to defend against the larger, more sophisticated Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals.

The Trump administration’s review endorsed this declaratory approach, although President Donald Trump said the goal of U.S. missile defenses is to “ensure we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States—anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”

Whether to accept negotiated limits on U.S. missile defenses is likely to be among the most contentious issues considered in the review and as part of broader policy development conversations within the administration about arms control diplomacy with Russia and possibly China.

Since the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002, long-standing U.S. policy has been to reject negotiated constraints on the development and deployment of U.S. missile defenses.

Amid the resumption of a strategic stability dialogue with Russia, the administration has expressed its desire to bring additional types of Russian nuclear weapons into the arms control process, namely so-called tactical nuclear warheads, and bring China into the arms control process for the first time. (See ACT, September 2021.) But it has not commented on whether it would be open to discussing missile defense in formal arms control talks and, if so, to what extent.

Russia, meanwhile, wants to focus on developing “a new security equation” that addresses all nuclear and non-nuclear, offensive and defensive weapons that affect strategic stability. That would include U.S. missile defense systems.

 

Among other issues, the Biden administration’s review will consider whether missile defense should be part of arms control negotiations with Russia.

Biden Administration Begins Nuclear Posture Review


September 2021
By Kingston Reif

The Biden administration has formally begun a review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy against the backdrop of several competing pressures. These include President Joe Biden’s desire to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy and put the emphasis on a more holistic and integrated view of deterrence, concerns about increasingly aggressive Russian and Chinese nuclear behavior, the growing cost of the U.S. nuclear modernization program, and divisions in Congress about the future of U.S. nuclear policy.

As a candidate, President Joe Biden said the United States does not need new nuclear weapons. Whether he plans to act on that rhetoric will be reflected in the Nuclear Posture Review, which is intended to examine the size, role, and capability of the country's nuclear arsenal. (Photo by U.S. Air Force)“The Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] is currently underway,” Lt. Col. Uriah Orland, a Defense Department spokesman, told Arms Control Today on Aug. 13. “The review started in early July, and it will be finalized in conjunction with the National Defense Strategy early next year.”

The review will be the fifth since the end of the Cold War. The Trump administration’s review, conducted from 2017 to 2018, sought to expand the role and capability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal amid what the administration believed was a deteriorating nuclear threat environment. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Biden criticized his predecessor’s nuclear weapons policies during the presidential campaign. He told the Council for a Livable World in responses to a 2019 candidate questionnaire that the United States “does not need new nuclear weapons” and that his “administration will work to maintain a strong, credible deterrent while reducing our reliance and excessive expenditure on nuclear weapons.”

Biden also expressed his belief that “the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be deterring—and, if necessary, retaliating against—a nuclear attack” against the United States and its allies.

The 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, released by the White House in March, stated that the administration would seek to “re-establish [its] credibility as a leader in arms control” and “take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in [U.S.] national security strategy.”

But it remains to be seen whether Biden will order any adjustments to the policies and programs he inherited. The administration’s first budget request, released in May, would continue the expensive and controversial nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization efforts pursued by the Trump administration pending the outcome of the Nuclear Posture Review. (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

In June, Melissa Dalton, the acting assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities, told the House Armed Services Committee that the NPR “will consider and assess U.S. strategy, posture, and policy adjustments and consider program execution risk—all with a goal of maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent, ensuring strategic stability, and reducing risks of mistake and miscalculation in crisis and conflict.”

“This process will be informed by the 21st century security and fiscal environment,” she added.

Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, told the 2021 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in June that the administration seeks “to make sure that the [NPR] does not stand on its own in its own silo…but is rather integrated into the analysis” of the National Defense Strategy.

It is unclear if the conclusions of the NPR will be published in a stand-alone report, as has been the case for past reviews.

“We will determine whether to integrate the findings into the [National Defense Strategy] or publish a stand-alone review,” Orland told Arms Control Today.

The commencement of the NPR comes as the Biden administration, like the Trump administration, has expressed growing concern about the nuclear behavior of Russia and China. The two countries are modernizing their arsenals and developing new weapons capabilities and, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, are projected to increase the size of their nuclear warhead stockpiles over the next decade.

“We are witnessing a strategic breakout by China,” Adm. Charles Richard, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, said at the Space & Missile Defense Symposium in Alabama on Aug. 12.

“The explosive growth and modernization of its nuclear and conventional forces can only be what I describe as breathtaking,” he added.

In addition to a more challenging international security environment, the administration must also confront the rapidly rising price tag of the U.S. nuclear sustainment and modernization effort, which has jumped to a projected $634 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. (See ACT, June 2021.)

Kahl said the administration has “concerns about the cost and scheduling issues” presented by the modernization program, but expressed confidence that “we can deliver the current modernization plan on cost and on schedule.”

He also noted that given that the NPR may not be complete until early 2022, after the release the fiscal year 2023 budget request next February, certain decisions about force structure and modernization will be accelerated during the review process to inform the next budget submission.

Meanwhile, members of Congress continue to debate whether the administration should use the review to adjust U.S. nuclear policy.

In a July 21 letter, the co-chairs of the bicameral Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group—Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.)—and 18 other lawmakers urged Biden to “reject a 21st century arms race and make bold decisions to lead us towards a future where nuclear weapons no longer threaten all humanity.” The U.S. should forgo new nuclear weapons, they said.

Similarly, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) advised the president in a letter on Aug. 9 “to ensure the nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable, affordable, and…balanced across the full spectrum of integrated deterrence.”

As part of the review, Smith also called on Biden “to take a hard look at whether every ongoing and planned [modernization] effort is necessary” in light of concerns about “affordability and executability.”

Republicans, on the other hand, have continued to urge the administration to plow full steam ahead with current policies and consider whether increases to the arsenal may be necessary given the threat posed by Russia and China.

“We have known that China has been undergoing a crash nuclear buildup for some time, and now it has been laid bare for all the world to see,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said on July 27 in response to reports that China is building new silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“We need to have a serious discussion about what it truly means to have to deter two near-peer nuclear adversaries at the same time,” he noted. “It is abundantly clear that we must also rapidly modernize our nuclear infrastructure and bring our deterrent into the 21st century.”

 

The exercise will influence the future role, size and capabilities of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

U.S., Russia Expected to Continue Stability Talks


September 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia are expected to continue talks in September in an attempt to make progress on nuclear arms control before the last remaining agreement limiting the two countries’ nuclear arsenals expires in less than five years.

Flags representing Russia and the United States. Strategic stability talks between these nuclear powers will substantially determine the future of arms control. (Photo by Vladimir Gerdo\TASS via Getty Images)U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to relaunch a bilateral strategic stability dialogue during their June summit, and delegations representing Washington and Moscow held their first meeting in Geneva on July 28. (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

During the “professional and substantive” talks in Geneva, “the U.S. delegation discussed U.S. policy priorities and the current security environment, national perceptions of threats to strategic stability, prospects for new nuclear arms control, and the format for future strategic stability dialogue sessions,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Biden pronounced himself “hopeful” in brief comments to journalists on July 30 when asked about his views on how the talks went and the prospects for success.

The Russians have not been much more forthcoming. In a statement on July 28, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the two countries held “a comprehensive discussion of the sides’ approaches to maintaining strategic stability, the prospects for arms control, and measures to reduce risks.”

“We have significant differences on key issues,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said after the talks concluded, but “there are also points of convergence, and we intend to capitalize on them.”

Following the dialogue, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on an Aug. 11 call “to support transparency and risk-reduction efforts,” according to a Pentagon statement.

In the weeks ahead of the July meeting, multiple Russian officials called for the dialogue to focus first on conducting “a joint review of each other’s security concerns,” given the differing priorities on strategic stability.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman led the U.S. delegation in a first round of the U.S.-Russia stability talks in Geneva in July with the Russian delegation, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. The two sides are expected to meet again this month. (Photo by Vladimir Gerdo\TASS via Getty Images)The U.S. delegation was led by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Bonnie Jenkins, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. The U.S. team included officials from the National Security Council and the Defense, Energy, and State departments. Ryabkov led the Russian delegation.

This was the first round of U.S.-Russian strategic stability talks since Biden took office and the two countries extended the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) until 2026. (See ACT, March 2021.) The Trump administration held multiple rounds of the dialogue between September 2017 and August 2020, but failed to agree on extending New START, which was scheduled to expire in February 2021.

A key goal of the dialogue is to “lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures,” according to the joint U.S.-Russian presidential statement from the June 16 summit in Geneva. Biden told reporters afterward that he expected results relatively quickly. “We’ll find out within the next six months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters,” he said.

The two countries have agreed to meet again formally in September and to meet informally before then “with the aim of determining topics for expert working groups at the second plenary,” Price said. But so far, no specific dates have been announced.

“This focused approach has been used repeatedly in strategic stability consultations in the past,” commented Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, on July 29. “It has proven to be effective in situations where the parties need to discuss a wide range of issues and not superficially.”

The number of working groups and their topics remain to be decided. Last year, the two countries formed three strategic stability working groups on nuclear warheads and doctrine, verification, and space systems. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters after the dialogue that, in addition to arms control, the two sides touched on issues related to space and the strategic implications of artificial intelligence and cyberspace policy, which suggests possible subject matters for the groups. Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for New START, told Defense One that some topics could be missile defense, new and emerging technologies such as hypersonic glide vehicles, and the framework for a successor agreement to New START.

As for the different priorities, the Biden administration has expressed a desire to address Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons and new nuclear delivery systems, as well as to bring China into the arms control process.

Beijing repeatedly rejected calls by the Trump administration to join trilateral talks with Washington and Moscow, but expressed a willingness to engage in arms control discussions in other settings, such as a meeting with the five nuclear-weapon states or in a bilateral dialogue.

Russia, meanwhile, wants to focus on developing “a new security equation” that addresses all nuclear and nonnuclear, offensive and defensive weapons that affect strategic stability. That would include U.S. missile defense systems, which Washington has long resisted putting on the table.

The State Department official noted that the Russian delegation brought up U.S. missile defenses during the dialogue and that the U.S. delegation responded by arguing that those defense systems are meant to counter threats from Iran and North Korea rather than Russia.

Moscow has suggested including France and the United Kingdom, as well as China, in arms control discussions. It has also continued to propose a moratorium on the deployment of ground-launched missiles that would have been prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (See ACT, November 2020.)

Although separate from any formal negotiations on an arms control agreement or arrangement to follow New START, the strategic stability dialogue and its corresponding working groups could help establish the foundation for those formal talks in the future.

New START, signed in 2010, caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads
and 700 deployed delivery vehicles and heavy bombers each. Ryabkov noted on June 25 that the two countries are working on restarting the inspections conducted under the treaty, which have been paused since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but “there are no agreements yet.”

 

Neither side has said much about where the process stands.

Pentagon Raises Concerns About NNSA Budget


September 2021
By Kingston Reif

The Nuclear Weapons Council, which coordinates planning for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, certified in July that the Energy Department’s fiscal year 2022 budget request is adequate to sustain and modernize the country’s nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is among those who agree with the Pentagon's Nuclear Weapons Council in arguing for more spending on nuclear weapons. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)But the council also warned that the request “injects risk into the longer-term schedule required to ensure modernization of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.”

The certification letter to Congress, which is required annually by law, raises further questions about the affordability and executability of the modernization plans of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) as the Biden administration begins its Nuclear Posture Review, a comprehensive assessment of U.S. nuclear strategy and capabilities.

The letter said the proposed 2022 funding level “contains minimally sufficient immediate investment to ensure a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent.” It added that members of the council “express unanimous and grave concern that accepting increased programmatic risk” within the nuclear weapons activities of the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department, “will further increase operational risk at a time when [the Energy and Defense departments] are executing the nuclear modernization program of record.”

The administration is requesting about $15.5 billion for nuclear weapons activities at the NNSA in 2022, an increase of $139 million above the 2021 level appropriated by Congress, but a decrease of about $460 million from the Trump projection of $15.9 billion for 2022. (See ACT, July/August 2021.) The request did not continue any projected spending levels beyond 2022.

The council cautioned in its letter that “additional growth beyond a two percent assumed inflation rate in the [NNSA] budget may be necessary to fully fund and successfully execute modernization of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.”

The weapons activities request for 2022 is the first decrease from a prior-year request since fiscal year 2013 and from a prior-year projection since fiscal year 2016, albeit from a much larger baseline. Last year, Congress provided approximately $15.4 billion, a mammoth increase of $2.9 billion above the fiscal year 2020 appropriation. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

Overall, spending on NNSA weapons activities grew by nearly 70 percent during the Trump administration. The agency revealed last December that the projected 25-year cost of its warhead and infrastructure sustainment and modernization plans rose from $392 billion to $505 billion between 2019 and 2020. (See ACT, April 2021.)

In a July 27 statement publicizing the council’s letter, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking members on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, said they agreed with the council’s warnings.

“It’s irresponsible that this White House…put forward a budget that puts our nation in such a dangerous position,” they said.

But House Armed Service Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said the growth in the NNSA budget in recent years demands greater oversight.

The NNSA “has had an increasing number of requirements levied upon it, not only by [the Defense Department], but also Congress,” Smith wrote in an Aug. 9 letter to President Joe Biden.

“In nearly every instance, NNSA programs have seen massive cost increases, schedule delays, and cancellations of billion-dollar programs,” he said. “This must end.”

“As we near the budgetary heights of the ‘nuclear modernization mountain’ we can ill afford further delays and cost overruns,” Smith added.

A Pentagon council that oversees the U.S. nuclear stockpile raises new doubts about the affordability of the nuclear modernization plans, terms funding for fiscal year 2022 “minimally sufficient.”

New Cruise Missile Cost Rises


September 2021
By Kingston Reif

The projected cost of the U.S. Air Force’s program to build a new fleet of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) has risen to between $14.2 billion and $16.2 billion as the service begins the main development phase for the weapons.

An AGM-86B air-launched cruise missile, shown here during a 2014 training exercise after being released from a B-52H Stratofortress over the Utah Test and Training Range. (Photo by U.S, Air Force)The updated cost projection is an increase of 30–50 percent from the Air Force’s earlier estimate of $10.8 billion for the program, known as the long-range standoff (LRSO) weapon, in 2016. (See ACT, September 2016.) Both the new and previous estimates include the impact of inflation.

Bloomberg was the first to report on the updated cost estimate for the LRSO system. The cause of the projected increase is unclear.

The latest projection does not include the upgraded warhead for the missile, dubbed the W80-4, which is expected to cost an additional $11 billion.

The new missile estimates were prepared by the Air Force and the Pentagon’s independent cost-estimating office ahead of the program’s Milestone B decision, a landmark for major Pentagon acquisition programs because it is considered the program’s official start.

Following the Milestone B decision, the Air Force in July awarded a $2 billion development contract to the Raytheon Co. for the program.

In a press release announcing the LRSO award, the Air Force wrote, “Raytheon provided the best overall value to the warfighter and taxpayers based on the selection process’ evaluation factors.”

The award of the contract to Raytheon did not come as a surprise.

The service had already decided in April 2020 to continue developing the missile with Raytheon as the sole contractor, citing the company’s superior design. (See ACT, May 2020.)

In August 2017, the Air Force awarded Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp. each a $900 million contract to proceed with development of the LRSO system. (See ACT, October 2017.) The contracts were intended to cover a 54-month period of development after which the Air Force would choose one of the contractors to complete development and begin production.

The Air Force later in 2020 decided to accelerate the Milestone B decision for the program to the spring of 2021, about nine months earlier than planned.

The Biden administration supported the acceleration of the program in its first budget request. The Pentagon is asking for $609 million for the LRSO program in fiscal year 2022, an increase of $250 million more than the Trump administration was planning to seek. (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

It is not clear whether the unplanned increase reflects the growth in the projected acquisition cost for the program, the acceleration of certain program activities, or both.

Current Air Force plans call for the procurement of about 1,000 new nuclear-capable missiles to replace the current fleet of AGM-86B missiles that have been operational since 1986. The service says a new ALCM is needed because the existing missiles are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and are losing their ability to penetrate sophisticated air defenses. The new missile will be compatible with the B-52H and planned B-21 bombers.

The new missile will be dubbed the AGM-181 when it becomes operational.

The cost projection for a new long-range standoff weapon has increased 30–50 percent from the U.S. Air Force’s earlier estimate.

Key Arms Control Officials Confirmed


September 2021
By Shannon Bugos and Julia Masterson

The Biden administration made progress over the past two months in filling key arms control and national security posts within several departments.

Bonnie Jenkins, a former Arms Control Association board member with decades of experience as an arms control and nonproliferation expert, is the new undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. She is among the unusually high number of women named to national security positions by President Joe Biden. (Photo by U.S. Mission-Geneva)Bonnie Jenkins was sworn in on July 25 as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Just three days later, she led the U.S. delegation, alongside Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, in a round of the U.S.-Russian strategic stability dialogue in Geneva.

“I am committed to reduce the risk of nuclear war by effective arms control, limit Russian and [Chinese] nuclear expansion, strengthen biosecurity, and pursue accountability for the use of chemical weapons,” Jenkins posted on Twitter following her swearing-in ceremony.

The Senate confirmed Jenkins on July 21 by a vote of 52–48. Biden nominated her for the post in March. (See ACT, April 2021.)

Jenkins, a former board member of the Arms Control Association and former coordinator for threat reduction programs at the State Department under President Barack Obama, will oversee bilateral talks with Russia on strategic stability and nuclear arms control, as well as guide U.S. strategy for the upcoming 10th review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

In addition, Biden nominated Mallory Stewart on July 2 to become assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, a position that reports to Jenkins. Stewart currently serves as a special assistant to the president and senior director for arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation on the National Security Council. She previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for emerging security challenges and defense policy during Obama’s second term.

Stewart’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has yet to be scheduled.

Also among the Obama administration alumni tapped to join the Biden team is Laura Holgate, who was nominated July 27 to be the U.S. representative to the Vienna office of the United Nations and to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Holgate previously served as U.S. ambassador to the IAEA from July 2016 until January 2017.

At the Pentagon, Biden nominated Sasha Baker as deputy undersecretary of defense for policy and Deborah Rosenblum as assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense. Baker is now the White House’s senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council and served as deputy chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ash Carter during the Obama administration. She was nominated Aug. 10, and her confirmation hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Rosenblum, an executive vice president at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a nongovernmental organization, previously held multiple senior positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Following her nomination April 27, she was confirmed by a voice vote of the Senate on July 29, and Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said on Aug. 10 that the department recently welcomed her to its ranks.

With a bipartisan vote of 79–16, the Senate confirmed Jill Hruby on July 22 as undersecretary of energy for nuclear security and administrator at the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency at the Energy Department. Biden nominated Hruby, a former director of Sandia National Laboratories, in April.

Hruby will “lead our efforts to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent and protect our national security,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm following Hruby’s confirmation. “She is a brilliant leader, a model public servant, and an inspiration to engineers and rising stars everywhere.”

Frank Rose was sworn in Aug. 2 as NNSA principal deputy administrator. Rose, nominated in April, previously served in Obama’s State Department as assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance and deputy assistant secretary for space and defense policy.

Biden also announced on Aug. 4 his nomination of Corey Hinderstein as deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the Energy Department. She previously served as senior coordinator for nuclear security and nonproliferation policy affairs in that office and currently is the NTI vice president of international fuel-cycle strategies.

“If confirmed, she would lead our nonproliferation work and help keep our nation and our world safe from nuclear threats,” Granholm said about Hinderstein’s nomination.

 

Bonnie Jenkins, the new undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, is among the officials recently confirmed by the Senate.

Lawsuit Targets Arms Flows to Mexico


September 2021
By Jeff Abramson

The Mexican government took a novel approach to curtailing illegal gun trafficking into its country by filing suit against U.S. gun manufacturers and distributors in a Massachusetts federal district court.

In the unusual lawsuit filed in August, Mexico alleged that a number of major firearms manufacturers and wholesalers “design, market, distribute, and sell guns in ways they know routinely arm the drug cartels in Mexico.” It said the named companies sell about 340,000 of an estimated half million guns that illegally flow each year from “Massachusetts and other U.S. states to criminals south of the border.”

The suit draws particular attention to semiautomatic firearms, also known as assault weapons, that can easily be converted to fully automatic versions and are “weapons of choice” for drug cartels. Mexico calls for a range of measures to force the companies to curtail illegal arms flows and is reportedly seeking at least $10 billion in damages, although that amount is not explicitly enumerated in the lawsuit.

The case relies to a large degree on U.S. law, with Mexico arguing that it “does not challenge or question the law, policy, or actions of the United States” but instead “seeks to hold accountable and stop the reckless actions of private companies that foreseeably send their guns into Mexico.” Efforts to hold U.S. firearms manufacturers liable for the misuse of their products are made difficult by the U.S. Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which provides U.S. manufacturers with special immunity from certain liability. Mexico contends that the PLCAA only extends to harm within the United States and does not shield the U.S. manufacturers in this case.

How the Biden administration reacts to this case could be significant. Although the U.S. government is not named in the suit, the administration has called for Congress to repeal the PLCAA and championed a domestic assault weapons ban.

The case also may draw fresh attention to a Trump-era rule change that removed export oversight of semiautomatic assault weapons from the State Department, which administers the U.S. Munitions List, and transferred it to the Commerce Department, which oversees the Commerce Control List. The switch means the process is less transparent because Congress does not receive notifications of potential sales. (See ACT, March 2020.) President Joe Biden promised during his campaign to reverse this change, but his administration has not yet acted.

Notably, the lawsuit does not address the legal trade in firearms between the United States and Mexico, which is conducted through the Mexican military. Firearms ownership in Mexico is tightly regulated by the government, with just one centralized gun store issuing fewer than 50 licenses per year, according to the suit.

But the Mexican military has been implicated in numerous civilian deaths in Mexico, either directly or through the weapons it transfers to police forces. Despite this, the Biden administration notified Congress in July of a potential sale of nearly $5.5 millionworth of Sig Sauer fully automatic rifles to the Mexican navy and marines.

Sig Sauer is not named in the lawsuit, but is one of a number of German companies that arms trade watchers suggest has established production facilities in the United States in order to legally export weapons to Latin American countries under U.S. contracts that would not be approved if the sales had originated in Germany.

 

Other Lawsuits on U.S. Arms Transfers

Across the globe, there is a growing trend of legal challenges to the arms trade, including a number of cases in U.S. courts. The lawsuit filed by Mexico is unique in that the plaintiff is a foreign country and it seeks to address illicit arms trade rather than that approved by the U.S. government, but two other cases, recently filed in U.S. district court in Washington, are aimed at stopping weapons from being transferred from the United States.

Nigeria. In late July, the Indigenous People of Biafra filed a case against the U.S. Defense and State departments seeking a halt to future transfers of Super Tucano aircraft to Nigeria and the return of those already transferred, citing violations of the so-called Leahy Law, which prohibits transfers to military units that have been credibly accused of gross human rights violations. The sale of 12 aircraft was put on hold at the end of the Obama administration, but moved forward by the Trump administration in 2017 (See ACT, September 2017), with the first six aircraft delivered this summer. The case is in the early stages, and it is unclear whether it will be heard. Media reports say that members of Congress, citing human rights concerns, have quietly put holds on the sales of additional attack helicopters after being informally notified of possible sales by the State Department.

United Arab Emirates. At the end of 2020, the New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs, now joined by others, including individuals harmed by the conflict in Libya, filed a case against the State Department challenging $23 billion in arms sales to the United Arab Emirates, citing violations of the Arms Export Control Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. Following a motion to dismiss by the State Department, the court has yet to rule whether the case will proceed. The Biden administration has indicated it is working to go ahead with the sales in the coming years. (See ACT, May 2021.)

The Mexican government has sued U.S. gun manufacturers and retailers in a Massachusetts federal district court.

U.S., Russia Agree to Strategic Stability Dialogue


July/August 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during their June summit to relaunch a bilateral strategic stability dialogue focused on “ensuring predictability,” reducing the risk of nuclear war, and setting the stage “for future arms control and risk reduction measures.”

During their June 16 summit in Geneva, U.S. President Joe Biden (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to relaunch a strategic stability dialogue aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear war. (Photo by Peter Klaunzer—Pool/Keystone via Getty Images)The announcement marked the first step in what could be a long, contentious process to make progress on nuclear arms control after more than a decade of deadlock and before the last remaining arms control agreement expires in five years between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

In a joint statement released following their June 16 meeting, the two presidents said the strategic stability dialogue their countries planned to initiate would be “integrated,” “deliberate,” and “robust.”

Biden added at a press conference after the summit that the dialogue would “work on a mechanism that can lead to control of new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raise the prospects of accidental war.” Biden did not detail what specific weapons systems he has in mind.

He said that “we’ll find out within the next six months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters.”

The date and location of the dialogue is not set, but will soon be determined by officials at the U.S. State Department and Russian Foreign Ministry, Putin noted during his postsummit press conference.

On June 22, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference that Moscow has proposed as “a first step, a joint review of each other’s security concerns.” The next step, he said, would be to “outline possible ways how to address these concerns,” with the goal being an agreed framework that “will be instrumental for further engagement in actual negotiations on eventual, practical agreements and arrangements.”

A strategic stability dialogue was last held in August 2020 under the Trump administration in the lead-up to the expiration of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in February 2021. (See ACT, September 2020.) But two days before the treaty’s expiration, Biden and Putin agreed to extend New START by five years, until 2026. (See ACT, March 2021.)

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) welcomed the dialogue’s planned resumption. “President Biden made clear his administration understands the critical principle that we have to engage with Russia on arms control issues to ensure a nuclear war never happens,” Menendez said in a June 16 statement.

But Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the committee’s ranking member, expressed his disappointment in the outcome of the summit, stating that “Biden made no efforts to address Russia’s Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty violations.” The United States withdrew from the 1987 INF Treaty in 2019, claiming that Russia had violated the treaty by testing and deploying a banned missile system. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The two presidents in their joint statement reaffirmed the 1985 statement by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Dozens of international nuclear policy experts and former senior government officials encouraged the two presidents to reaffirm the Reagan-Gorbachev principle and announce the resumption of a strategic stability dialogue.

But the United States and Russia appear to have different priorities for the dialogue. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on June 10 that the administration will aim to discuss “the very complex set of nuclear arms issues that face our two countries,” such as what may come after New START, “how…we deal with the fact that the INF Treaty is no more, [and] how…we deal with our concerns about Russia’s new nuclear systems.” Washington has also previously expressed its desire to address Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons and bring China into the arms control process.

Sullivan added that “whether additional elements get added to strategic stability talks in the realm of space or cyber[space] or other areas, that’s something to be determined as we go forward.”

As for Russia, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on June 9 that “anything that affects strategic stability must be discussed during a dialogue,” including “nuclear and non-nuclear and offensive and defensive weapons.” Russia additionally has suggested the inclusion not only of China in arms control but also France and the United Kingdom.

Ryabkov added on June 22 that “[t]he parties may decide to adopt a package of interrelated arrangements and/or agreements that might have a different status if necessary. Moreover, it might be possible to design some elements in a way to make the room for others to join.”

China welcomed the U.S.-Russian decision to launch a strategic dialogue.

“China always actively supports international efforts in nuclear arms control, and will continue to hold discussions on a broad range of issues bearing on strategic stability with relevant parties within such frameworks as the cooperation mechanism of the five nuclear-weapon states, Conference on Disarmament, and the [UN General Assembly] First Committee. We also stand ready to have bilateral dialogue with relevant sides with mutual respect and on an equal footing,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said June 17.

During a round of the strategic stability dialogue in June 2020, the two countries agreed to form three working groups, which met the next month. (See ACT, July/August and September 2020.) A U.S. official at the time said the topics for the working groups were nuclear warheads and doctrine, verification, and space systems.

Whether those groups have continued their work since then is unclear.

The new strategic stability dialogue would be separate from any future negotiations on a potential arms control agreement to follow New START, but it could help set the foundation for those formal follow-on talks.

Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for New START, emphasized in a June 14 Politico op-ed that the goal for the strategic stability dialogue should be “a good discussion rather than a treaty, although over time the two sides may agree to some measures to build mutual understanding, confidence and predictability.”

Regarding future negotiations on a replacement for New START, Gottemoeller urged Biden and Putin to “issue clear, simple guidance about what exactly the new treaty will cover and when it should be completed.”

The summit between Biden and Putin came at the tail end of Biden’s first international trip as president, which also included the NATO leaders’ summit on June 14. In the communiqué released after that summit, the 30 heads of state expressed “their strong support for [New START’s] continued implementation and for early and active dialogue on ways to improve strategic stability. Allies will welcome new strategic talks between the United States and Russia on future arms control measures, taking into account all Allies’ security.”

The bilateral dialogue could be the first step in making progress on arms control after more than a decade of deadlock.

Biden Continues Trump Nuclear Funding


July/August 2021
By Kingston Reif

As the Biden administration prepares to initiate a review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, its first budget request would continue the expensive and controversial nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization efforts it inherited from the Trump administration.

The submission has prompted mixed reactions in Congress. Republicans have generally expressed support, but some Democrats said it is inconsistent with the concerns President Joe Biden raised on the campaign trail about the ambition and price tag of the modernization plans, which grew significantly over the past four years.

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report published in May estimated the cost of the Trump administration’s approach at $634 billion from fiscal years 2021 through 2030. (See ACT, June 2021.) That is an increase of $140 billion, or 28 percent, from the CBO’s previous 10-year projection two years ago. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Whether the fiscal year 2022 budget proposal turns out to be a placeholder pending the outcome of the administration’s forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) or a harbinger that Biden intends to stick with the Trump plans remains to be seen.

The administration is requesting $43.2 billion in 2022 for the Defense and Energy departments to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems and warheads and their supporting infrastructure. That includes $27.7 billion for the Pentagon and $15.5 billion for the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The proposed spending on nuclear weapons constitutes about 5.7 percent of the total national defense request of $753 billion.

A direct comparison of the Biden submission to what President Donald Trump requested and Congress largely supported in fiscal year 2021 ($44.5 billion) and what Trump projected to request for 2022 ($45.9 billion) is difficult because the Biden proposal appears to reclassify how spending on nuclear command, control, and communications programs is counted, leading to a lower requested amount.

“The nuclear triad remains the bedrock of our national defense and strategic deterrence,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 10.

The 2022 budget “invests in nuclear modernization efforts, and the department will always seek to balance the best capability with the most cost-effective solution,” he added.

The budget request would notably continue the controversial Trump proposals to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities. (See ACT, March 2018.) It includes $15 million to begin development of a new low-yield nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), nearly $134 million for a new high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead (the W93) and associated aeroshell, $98.5 million for indefinite sustainment of the megaton-class B83-1 gravity bomb, and nearly $1.9 billion to build the capability to expand the production of plutonium pits, or cores, for nuclear warheads to 80 per year.

As with most new administrations, the Biden administration only had time for a quick reexamination of the fiscal year 2022 budget plans bequeathed by its predecessor. But the Pentagon did review some nuclear weapons programs, notably the Trump plans for a new low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead variant, known as the W76-2, and the new nuclear-armed SLCM. (See ACT, April 2021.)

The Navy began fielding the W76-2 in late 2019. (See ACT, March 2020.) The new cruise missile is undergoing an analysis of alternatives to determine possible options for the weapons system.

The future of the new cruise missile appears to be a controversial issue within the Pentagon. Despite the inclusion of funding for it in the budget request, guidance issued by acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker on June 4 called on the service not to fund the weapons system in fiscal year 2023.

The budget request would also sustain plans that began during the Obama administration to replace long-range delivery systems for all three legs of the nuclear triad.

Three of these programs—the long-range standoff missile program for a new fleet of air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), the Columbia-class program for a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines, and the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program for a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)—are slated to receive altogether a nearly 15 percent increase above what the Trump administration was planning to request in 2022.

The proposed growth in spending on nuclear weapons continues to force difficult choices for the Pentagon as to what other priorities must be cut back, especially at a time when military budgets are flat. Overall, the administration is seeking $753 billion for national defense programs in 2022, an increase of 1.7 percent from 2021 but a 0.8 percent decrease from the Trump inflation growth projection for 2022 of $759 billion.

Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, the Navy’s budget director, told reporters on May 28 that the service’s decision to buy one instead of two new destroyers “was absolutely an affordability question, where the goal of the department was to balance the first priority, which was investment in Columbia[-class submarine] recapitalization.”

The administration’s request of about $15.5 billion for nuclear weapons activities at the NNSA is an increase of $139 million above the 2021 level appropriated by Congress, but a decrease of about $460 million from the Trump projection of $15.9 billion for 2022.

The request for NNSA weapons activities is the first decrease from a prior year request since fiscal year 2013 and from a prior year projection since fiscal year 2016, albeit from a much larger baseline. Last year, Congress provided approximately $15.4 billion, a mammoth increase of $2.9 billion above the fiscal year 2020 appropriation. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

In addition to funding the new warhead and facility projects first proposed by Trump, the request also keeps on track programs for the B61-12 gravity bomb, W87-1 ICBM, and W80-4 ALCM warhead upgrade.

The budget request would seem to be inconsistent with statements Biden made during the campaign to adjust Trump’s spending plans.

Biden told the Council for a Livable World in responses to a 2019 candidate questionnaire that the United States “does not need new nuclear weapons” and that his “administration will work to maintain a strong, credible deterrent while reducing our reliance and excessive expenditure on nuclear weapons.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) expressed concern that the budget request “expands almost every nuclear [weapons] program proposed by the previous administration” at a June 9 hearing on the budget request with acting Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young.

Young said that as the administration begins the NPR process, Biden “remains committed to taking steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons.” She added, “So you see a continuation of a program but [it’s] certainly subject to what [the NPR process] will yield out.”

Austin said that process will begin “very shortly,” and other administration officials have indicated it will be closely tied to a larger Pentagon defense strategy review. It remains to be seen, however, whether the review will be a stand-alone review, as past ones have been, or subsumed within an integrated deterrence review that also addresses missile defense, space, and cyberspace issues.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, on June 10 echoed other Republicans when she lauded the request for prioritizing nuclear modernization and keeping the programs to recapitalize the nuclear triad “on track.”

But she and other Republican lawmakers expressed concern about reports that the Navy might cancel the SLCM program prior to the commencement of the NPR process.

“We have serious questions for senior Pentagon leaders on this reported decision and how it was reached,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a joint statement June 9.

Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the memo was “predecisional” and that the fate of the weapons system would be determined by the administration’s review.

Despite concerns voiced on the campaign trail about the ambition and price tag of modernization plans, President Biden sticks with Trump era increases in nuclear weapons funding.

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