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"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
The United States and the Americas

U.S. Open Skies Aircraft Destined for Scrapyard


May 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The U.S. Air Force plans to send the two Boeing OC-135B aircraft used for overflight missions under the 1992 Open Skies Treaty to the scrapyard in Arizona in May or June, sparking concern that the Biden administration may not return the United States to the accord.

The United States' decision to junk two Boeing OC-135B planes used for overflight missions under the 1992 Open Skies Treaty could mean the country's participation in the confidence-building agreement is over. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)The Air Force will also dispose of the suite of cameras, called sensors, on the planes after spending $41.5 million in fiscal year 2020 to replace the wet-film cameras with new digital sensors for both aircraft. The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget request did not include any request for overflight funding.

The Trump administration withdrew the United States from the treaty in November 2020, a move that President Joe Biden had condemned as illustrative of President Donald Trump’s “short-sighted policy of going it alone and abandoning American leadership.” At the time of withdrawal, a senior U.S. official said that the Pentagon had begun to liquidate the equipment. (See ACT, November 2020.)

The Biden administration has “determined they’re not going to do Open Skies anymore,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told the Omaha World Herald, which first reported on the fate of the aircraft on April 3. “It treats it as matter-of-fact that we’re out of the treaty,” he said, adding, “I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is.”

But a spokesperson for the National Security Council told The Wall Street Journal on April 5 that the administration’s decision on U.S. participation in the accord “is separate from previously scheduled activities relating to aging equipment.”

Instead of flying its own equipment, the United States could resume participation in the treaty by working with allies who are states-parties on joint missions and using their aircraft for overflights.

The Biden administration has not officially announced its position on a possible return to the treaty.

“No decision has been made on the future of U.S. participation” in the treaty, a State Department spokesperson told Arms Control Today on April 12. “The United States is actively reviewing matters related to the treaty and consulting with our allies and partners.”

“Russia’s continuing noncompliance with the treaty is one of several pertinent factors. As this process continues, we encourage Russia to take steps to come back into compliance with the agreement,” the spokesperson added.

Defense News reported on April 7 that the State Department sent a diplomatic note to allies and partners on March 31 expressing concern that “agreeing to rejoin a treaty that Russia continues to violate would send the wrong message to Russia and undermine our position on the broader arms control agenda.”

“While we recognize that Russia’s Open Skies violations are not of the same magnitude as its material breach of the 1987 INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty, they are part of a pattern of Russian disregard for international commitments—in arms control and beyond—that raises questions about Russia’s readiness to participate cooperatively in a confidence-building regime,” the note read according to Defense News.

But the note reportedly also said that the administration believes “there are circumstances in which we return to” the treaty “or include some of” the treaty’s “confidence-building measures under other cooperative security efforts.”

The Biden administration did not detail its concerns about Russian noncompliance in the diplomatic note but, in the annual State Department compliance report released April 15, echoed two assertions made by the Trump administration when it withdrew from the accord. The report cited concerns that Russia was violating the agreement because it has limited the distance for observation flights over the Kaliningrad region to no more than 500 kilometers and it has prohibited missions over Russia from flying within a 10-kilometer corridor along its border with the conflicted Georgian border regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also claimed that Moscow used overflights to gather intelligence on crucial U.S. infrastructure, although another Trump administration official simultaneously argued that the treaty relies on outdated technology and aircraft. (See ACT, July/August 2020.) Russia has denounced the claims as “far-fetched” and argued that Washington has created “barriers” to the implementation of the treaty.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on April 8 that Russia does not have “any idea whether the Americans will return to the treaty or not, but we hope that this matter will be sorted out soon.”

In December 2020, Russia sought written guarantees from the remaining states-parties that they would neither transfer information obtained under the treaty to the United States nor prohibit flights over U.S. bases in Europe, but multiple states-parties dismissed Moscow’s request. The following month, Russia began domestic procedures for withdrawing from the treaty and said it plans to conclude those procedures by the end of May. (See ACT, March 2021.) After officially notifying states-parties, Moscow could withdraw in six months’ time, as stipulated by the treaty.

But Russia has said that it would reconsider its move to withdraw from the accord if the United States returned to the agreement. Lavrov commented on April 8 that Moscow would “respond constructively and reconsider” its plan to withdraw if Washington decided to rejoin the treaty but that Russia “cannot wait indefinitely.”

Kommersant, a Russian newspaper, reported on March 27 that Moscow rejected the first request, which came from France, for an overflight following the U.S. withdrawal, out of concern that the information gathered would be shared with Washington. The official reason attributed the rejection to restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. Two sources told the newspaper that Moscow has maintained the possibility of not accepting overflights at all and not conducting any treaty flights itself until the Biden administration determines whether to return to the accord.

Signed in 1992 and entering into force in 2002, the treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. Treaty proponents say such information sharing promotes stability.

The decision to scrap the planes has raised concerns that President Joe Biden may not return the United States to a treaty that his predecessor had repudiated.

U.S. Still Seeks Major UAE Arms Sale


May 2021
By Jeff Abramson

Last month, the Biden administration indicated that it will seek to complete more than $20 billion in controversial arms sales to the United Arab Emirates initiated at the end of the Trump administration. A number of Democrats in Congress expressed concern and sought to put restrictions on the potential deals, even though terms remain uncertain and any delivery would be years in the future.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft is among the high performance weapons that the Biden administration plans to sell the United Arab Emirates as part of a controversial package of arms sales totaling $20 billion or more. (Photo: U.S. Navy)The sales include up to 50 F-35 aircraft valued at $10.4 billion, up to 18 MQ-9B armed drones worth $3 billion, and a $10 billion package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions, as well as a revision to a 2018 notification for $490 million in additional Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. With votes falling nearly entirely along party lines, the Senate narrowly failed to approve resolutions of disapproval for the F-35 and drone sales in December. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

Media reported that the Trump administration then signed letters of offer and acceptance on some of the deals the morning of President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Typically, after such letters are executed, additional contract negotiations occur before weapons are built and delivered, often years later, which means it will be left to the Biden administration to implement the deals.

A State Department spokesperson told Arms Control Today in an email on April 16 that it “continue[s] reviewing details and consulting with [UAE] officials to ensure we have developed mutual understandings with respect to [UAE] obligations before, during, and after delivery.” The official wrote that the administration will reinforce with the UAE that “U.S.-origin defense equipment must be adequately secured and used in a manner that respects human rights and fully complies with the laws of armed conflict.”

The spokesperson also indicated that “delivery dates on these sales, if eventually implemented, will be several years in the future.”

In January and February, the Biden administration announced a review of Trump-era arms sales. It said it was communicating with the UAE, while also indicating it had suspended certain “offensive” arms sales to Saudi Arabia as part of an effort to address the conflict in Yemen, which Biden called “a war which has created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.” (See ACT, March 2021.) The UAE claims it is no longer active in the war there. Timothy Lenderking, the U.S. special envoy for Yemen, told a congressional hearing April 21 that the UAE retains influence in the country and remains a key member of the Saudi-led coalition.

On April 16, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the Secure F-35 Exports Act, a lightly amended version of a 2020 bill that focused on the advanced fighter jets. The legislation would provide a vehicle for highlighting a range of concerns about the UAE’s use of U.S. military equipment, including the Persian Gulf state’s close relations with China and Russia and how its acquisition of the F-35 could affect Israel’s ability to maintain a qualitative military edge in the region.

For example, if enacted into law, the bill would require certification that any country in the region receiving F-35s, aside from Israel, has not transferred weapons to militias fighting U.S. interests. The provision would only date back to the time of signing the letter of offer and acceptance, but is particularly relevant to the UAE, which has been found to have transferred weapons to Libya in contravention of a UN arms embargo.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said in an April 14 statement that he and others remained concerned and that he still has “many questions” about the UAE deal. On April 21, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) said: “The Emiratis already have a record of illegally transferring weapons to Salafist militias in Yemen, and Congress, frankly, has not received sufficient assurances that such transfers will not happen again.”

Congress can pass legislation placing new conditions on or blocking weapons sales at any time until they are delivered, although the most visible activity typically occurs in the first 30 days after members are officially notified of potential sales.

Many human rights and civil society groups reacted negatively to the news that the administration was proceeding with the UAE deal. Justin Russell, principal director of the New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs, whose organization on April 14 filed an amended version of its lawsuit seeking to block the sales, said, “We had hoped that the Biden administration would have put the mitigation of the humanitarian crises in Libya and Yemen above starting what could be an arms race in this sensitive region of the world. We had hoped for better things out of the Biden administration...and now those hopes have been dashed.”

 

But some Democrats in Congress have expressed concern and sought to put restrictions on the potential deals, which could total more than $20 billion.

U.S. Lodges Arms Control, Nonproliferation Concerns


May 2021
By Shannon Bugos and Julia Masterson

Russia, China, and Iran are failing to fully comply with treaties related to nuclear and chemical weapons, the U.S. State Department said in a report released April 15.

Russia last conducted a full-scale nuclear test blast at its former test site on the island of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Sea in 1990. In 1991, Moscow declared a nuclear test moratorium. The U.K.’s last nuclear test was conducted in 1991; the United States halted nuclear testing in 1992; France and China suspended nuclear testing in 1996, the year the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty opened for signature. All five states have signed the CTBT. Of the five, only France has formally closed its test site. (Photo: NASA) This marks the first publication of the annual compliance report under the Biden administration, although it covers activities during 2020, under the Trump administration.

In particular, the State Department said that Russia has continued to undertake activities that are inconsistent with the “zero yield” standard regarding nuclear testing, established through negotiations on the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits all nuclear test explosions regardless of yield.

“Russia has conducted nuclear weapons experiments that have created nuclear yield and are not consistent with the U.S. ‘zero-yield’ standard,” the report stated, reaffirming a finding reflected in previous reports. It added that “Russia’s development of new warhead designs and overall stockpile management efforts have been enhanced by its approach to nuclear weapons-related experiments.”

Critical further details about the Biden administration’s understanding of the Russian program were not revealed in the public report but presumably are spelled out in the classified annex.
The State Department added that its concerns were suspended for activities occurring in 2020 “because Russia’s activities may have been curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The report once again called attention to possible nuclear testing activities by China, but the comments did not include the same information or allegations listed in reports from the Trump administration.

“China’s possible preparation to operate its Lop Nur test site year-round and lack of transparency on its nuclear testing activities” has informed those concerns, the State Department said.

In the 2020 compliance report, the State Department cited the “use of explosive containment chambers and extensive excavation activities” and interference with “the flow of data from the monitoring stations.” The latter assertion has been disputed by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. (See ACT, May 2020.)

In 2019, the Trump administration determined that China "probably carried out multiple nuclear weapon-related tests or experiments in 2018" but this year's report did not repeat that allegation. (See ACT, October 2019.) China signed the CTBT in 1996, but has not ratified the treaty.

The United States and Russia also signed the CTBT in 1996. Moscow ratified the treaty in 2000, but Washington has never done so.

In addition, the report expressed concerns that Russia is in violation of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty because it has limited the distance for observation flights over the Kaliningrad region to no more than 500 kilometers and it has prohibited missions over Russia from flying within 10 kilometers of its border with the conflicted Georgian border regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The report acknowledged a February 2020 overflight by the United States, Estonia, and Lithuania that traveled 505 kilometers, but said “Russia made clear in 2020 that it had not yet changed its standing policy” regarding the restriction.

The report noted that the United States is no longer a state-party to the treaty after the Trump administration withdrew in November 2020. (See ACT, December 2020.) As such, the treaty will not be included in the report going forward unless Washington decides to rejoin.

As for the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which the United States and Russia extended in February until 2026, the State Department certified Russian compliance with that pact despite some unspecified “implementation-related questions.”

On April 21, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denounced the report, saying that its “lack of any conclusive evidence, its dissemination of blatantly false accusations, and suppression of Washington’s own imperfect compliance with arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament agreements relegate it to the category of information noise.”

The report asserted that the United States “continued to be in compliance with all of its obligations under arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament agreements,” highlighting only its concerns with the compliance of other countries.

In the area of nonproliferation, the State Department cited issues of noncompliance by North Korea with its obligations under Articles II and III of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 and proceeded to develop a sophisticated nuclear and ballistic missile program. Even so, according to the report, “the denuclearization of North Korea remains the overriding U.S. objective, and the United States remains committed to diplomatic negotiations with North Korea toward that goal.”

On Iran, the State Department addressed the ongoing IAEA investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities and the completeness of its safeguards declaration to the agency. Although that investigation pertains to Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear activities, the State Department said that “any intentional failure by Iran to declare nuclear material would constitute a clear violation of Iran’s NPT-mandated comprehensive safeguards agreement and would constitute a violation of Article III of the NPT itself.”

The State Department also referenced Iran’s breaches of compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and acknowledged that “Iran most likely pursued this phased approach [in violating the accord] in an effort to generate negotiating leverage with the United States and European participants in the JCPOA.” Iran began violating the agreement in 2019, one year after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord and reimposed a maximum-pressure sanctions campaign against Iran.

The report did not mention ongoing efforts between Iran and the United States to restore compliance and preserve the agreement.

Russia, China, and Iran are failing to fully comply with treaties related to nuclear and chemical weapons, according to a State Department report.

Pentagon Reviews Nuclear Budget


April 2021
By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department has begun an initial review of aspects of the costly U.S. plan to upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal amid continued support from military leaders for the modernization program and debate in Congress about the need for and affordability of the effort.

The Defense Department has begun an initial review of aspects of the costly U.S. plan to upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal amid debate in Congress about the need for and affordability of the effort. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)In a Feb. 17 memo, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks directed the director of the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) to lead a set of reviews “on a very small number of issues with direct impact on [fiscal year] 2022 and of critical importance” to President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Among those issues is a review of lower-yield nuclear weapons and select command, control, and communications topics.

Although the exact scope of the review of the nuclear enterprise is unclear, the language in Hicks’ memo suggests the review is confined to an assessment of the Trump administration’s proposal to develop and field a new low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead variant, known as the W76-2, and a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile. (See ACT, March 2018.)

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

The Biden administration is planning to release the defense budget on May 3. Multiple press reports indicate that the topline for national defense is likely to remain roughly the same level as the $741 billion appropriations for the current fiscal year.

The Hicks-directed review and likelihood of a flat defense budget comes as the ambition and price tag of the U.S. program to maintain and replace the U.S. nuclear triad and its associated warheads and supporting infrastructure grew significantly under the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget request of $44.5 billion for the arsenal was a 19 percent increase over the previous year. Over the next several decades, spending is likely to top $1.5 trillion.

Administration officials have indicated that the budget review will be followed by a more comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear policy, but it remains to be seen when such a review will commence and what form it will take.

Austin said in response to advance questions prior to his confirmation hearing on Jan. 19 that “[i]n keeping with past practice for incoming Administrations, I would anticipate that President-elect Biden will direct the interagency to conduct a thorough set of strategic reviews, including of U.S. nuclear posture.”

Similarly, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a group of Japanese reporters on March 17 that the Biden administration is “going to undertake something called the Nuclear Posture Review” and “that I think will begin in the weeks ahead.”

Some military officials are counseling the new administration to consider a broader strategic deterrence review that evaluates nuclear, space, cyber, and missile defense issues as a unified whole.

Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Air Force Association in late February that strategic deterrence is not “just about nuclear posture…not about missile defense, not just about space…. [I]t’s about all those things together that provide our overall strategic capability and our ability to strategically deter our adversaries.”

Austin and Hicks said at their confirmation hearings that they support the continued maintenance of a nuclear triad and highlighted modernization of the triad as a top priority. They did not commit to continuing the status quo on every modernization program, most notably the program to build a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system, and instead said they would closely review the current plans before making any recommendations.

But top Pentagon military leaders are continuing to express strong support for the modernization effort.

Adm. Charles Richard, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters on Jan. 5 that the purpose of a new nuclear policy review should be “[v]alidation, that we like the strategy that we have.”

Richard added that it is no longer possible to extend the life of the existing Minuteman III ICBM, an alternative advocated by critics of the new missile plan. (See ACT, October 2020.)

“It is getting past the point of…not [being] cost effective to life-extend Minuteman III,” he said. “You’re quickly getting to the point you can’t do it at all.”

Meanwhile, supporters and opponents of the current modernization plans in Congress continued to debate the merits of the plans ahead of the release of the Biden administration’s first budget request. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking members on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, respectively, wrote in February that Biden “must prioritize long-overdue investments in the nuclear triad, or risk permanently losing our most effective means for deterring existential military threats.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) responded in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on March 5 by arguing that the United States has more nuclear weapons than it needs for its security and questioning whether the current modernization plans “are really necessary to have a deterrent.”

Other Democrats have been more supportive of continuing forward with the status quo. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) told Bloomberg in a Feb. 23 interview that bipartisan support for modernizing the nuclear triad is “very strong.” He added that “we need a replacement” for the Minuteman III.

Under evaluation are lower-yield nuclear weapons, and select command, control and communications.

U.S. Nuclear Warhead Costs Surge


April 2021
By Kingston Reif

The projected long-term cost to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure has skyrocketed to unprecedented heights, according to the Energy Department’s latest Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, published last December.

U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missiles carry the W76-1 nuclear warhead. According to the National Nuclear Security Administration, the W76-1 Life Extension Program extends the originally designed warhead service life of 20 years to 60 years. NNSA completed refurbished warhead production in December 2018. (Photo: Getty Images)Prepared annually by the department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the report highlights the growing scope of the NNSA modernization plans and the fiscal challenge they will pose to the Biden administration.

The fiscal year 2021 version projects $505 billion in spending, after inflation, on NNSA efforts related to sustaining and modernizing the nuclear warhead stockpile over the next 25 years. This is an increase of $113 billion, or 29 percent, from the 2020 version of the plan. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The document states that the NNSA “considers this program to be affordable,” but does not provide a detailed explanation of why the agency believes that to be the case or why the cost of the 2021 plan is so much higher than the previous version.

According to an analysis published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in July 2020, a “reevaluation of the funding needed to meet existing requirements, rather than costs associated with new requirements, was the main factor contributing to the large increase in proposed funding in [the Energy Department’s] fiscal year 2021 budget justification.”

The Trump administration in February 2020 requested $15.6 billion for NNSA nuclear weapons activities account in fiscal year 2021, an increase of $3.1 billion, or 25 percent, above the fiscal year 2020 appropriation and $2.8 billion above the projection for 2021 in the fiscal year 2020 budget request. (See ACT, March 2020.)

An NNSA spokesperson told Arms Control Today in December that “[b]arring unexpected new requirements or additional major programs of record, [the] NNSA’s weapons activities portfolio growth will reach a steady-state period beginning in fiscal year 2021.”

“As new program of record activities begin, previous programs of record will be closing out, and the projected budget trend through fiscal year 2045 will see similar year-to-year increases that account for inflation,” the spokesperson added.

Under the Trump administration, the budget for the NNSA’s nuclear sustainment and modernization program grew well higher than the rate of inflation. The budget for this program has increased by more than 65 percent over the past four years.

The ambition of the agency’s modernization program is unlike anything seen since the Cold War. Allison Bawden, a director at the GAO, told Congress in March 2020 that the federal spending watchdog is “concerned about the long-term affordability of the plans.”

The agency has consistently underestimated the cost and schedule risks of major warhead life extension programs and infrastructure recapitalization projects.

The stockpile plan projects the cost to build a newly designed submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead proposed by the Trump administration, dubbed the W93, at $11.8–18.2 billion. The high degree of cost uncertainty reflects the fact that the proposed warhead is still in the early development phase.

The plan also reveals that, in addition to the W93, the agency is planning to eventually replace the existing W76 and W88 SLBM warheads with new warheads.

Existing plans call for a 29 percent increase in funds to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear warheads.

Biden Fills Key Arms Control Posts


April 2021
By Shannon Bugos and Julia Masterson

President Joe Biden continues efforts to fill key positions across his administration that will influence the future of arms control, support nonproliferation objectives, and determine the trajectory of the U.S. nuclear weapons budget, including modernization programs.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III greets Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 9.  (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders)Biden tapped long-time aide and confidante Antony Blinken to serve as his foreign policy point man. Blinken began his tenure as secretary of state Jan. 26, and the department has since contributed to the official extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia.

The president appointed Jake Sullivan, who served as then-Vice President Biden’s national security advisor, as national security advisor. In the first days and weeks after Inauguration Day, Sullivan worked closely with Blinken on the New START extension, and they have led efforts to fulfill Biden’s campaign commitment to restore Iranian compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Biden has nominated Bonnie Jenkins to fill the key position of undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs in January and sent her nomination to the Senate for consideration on March 15. If confirmed, one of the main tasks ahead for Jenkins, who is a board member of the Arms Control Association and former coordinator for threat reduction programs at the State Department under the Obama administration, will be overseeing bilateral talks with Russia on strategic stability and nuclear arms control, as well as guiding the U.S. strategy for the upcoming 10th review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The bureaus of arms control, verification and compliance and international security and nonproliferation at the State Department report to the undersecretary. The president has yet to make nominations for either assistant secretary position in those bureaus but has filled the deputy assistant secretary positions. In January, Alexandra Bell, former senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, became deputy assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance. Similarly, Anthony Wier, who previously worked at the Friend’s Committee on National Legislation as the lead lobbyist and director on nuclear weapons policy, took up the deputy position at the international security and nonproliferation bureau.

Biden tapped Robert Malley, who was previously president of the International Crisis Group, to serve as the administration’s Iran envoy. The White House also nominated Jung Pak of the Brookings Institution to the role of deputy assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs. Certain key regional State Department positions remain unfilled, including the assistant secretary for east Asian and Pacific affairs, the assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, and others.

Wendy Sherman, who played a leading role in negotiating the JCPOA as undersecretary of state for political affairs during the Obama administration, is Biden’s nominee for the key deputy secretary of state post. Her nomination was reported by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 11. She will be the first female deputy secretary of state if confirmed.

Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed Gen. Lloyd Austin, former commander of U.S. Central Command, as defense secretary Jan. 22 making him the first Black defense secretary. Kathleen Hicks, former senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to serve as deputy secretary of defense Feb. 8.

Due to his former position on the board of Raytheon Technologies, Austin has recused himself from all decisions related to the company. This leaves Hicks to oversee some key nuclear weapons programs involving Raytheon, including the fate of the intercontinental ballistic missile replacement program and the new nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missile.

According to a Feb. 24 report in Politico, Hicks has launched a review of several programs ahead of the Pentagon’s release of its fiscal year 2022 budget request, including the Department’s nuclear weapons-related programs.

Biden tapped Colin Kahl, who served as his national security advisor when he was vice president, to be undersecretary of defense for policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee held his hearing on March 4, but the future of his nomination remains uncertain.

Another key Pentagon post has been filled by Richard Johnson, who was sworn in as deputy assistant secretary of defense for countering weapons of mass destruction in March. During the Obama administration, Johnson served at the State Department working on the Iranian nuclear issue and on the National Security Council (NSC) as director for nonproliferation. In January, Leonor Tomero, former counsel for the House Armed Services Committee, was tapped to serve as deputy assistant director for nuclear and missile defense programs.

Laura Holgate was called on to lead a 60-day strategic planning process for the NSC, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, where she is the vice president for materials risk management. Holgate previously served as the senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction on the NSC during the Obama administration.

In her new role, Holgate will work closely with Mallory Stewart, who joined the NSC as senior director for arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation. Stewart was previously deputy assistant secretary of state for emerging security challenges and defense policy during President Barack Obama’s second term.

Overall, nominations and confirmations for positions in the Biden administration are moving at a pace not unusual as compared to the two previous administrations, during which these Senate-confirmed positions took anywhere from one to six months to be filled once a nomination was put forward.

This set of veteran arms control and nonproliferation officials will lead offices in the State and Defense departments and the White House central to U.S. efforts to address the daunting array of nuclear policy challenges now facing the Biden administration.

Some positions are filled but slow pace of appointments could begin to delay administration decisions on some nuclear policy issues.

U.S. Largest Seller in Flat Arms Market


April 2021
By Jeff Abramson

The United States accounts for an increasing share of global trade in major conventional weapons, according to the annual arms transfer survey by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The SIPRI report reviewed global conventional arms transfers through the end of 2020 and before the arrival of the Biden administration.

Missiles manufactured by Lockheed Martin are displayed during the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, DC, October 13, 2014. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)The volume of exports last year was exceptionally low in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Pieter D. Wezeman, one of the report co-authors, said in a March 15 statement accompanying the report that “[i]t is too early to say whether the period of rapid growth in arms transfers of the past two decades is over.”

SIPRI researchers measured the volume of trade with a trend-indicator value, a metric based on actual deliveries of major military equipment rather than purchasing announcements, and analyzed trends spanning the past decade. It found that the volume of international trade had decreased by 0.5 percent during 2016–2020 compared to five years earlier, but was 12 percent higher compared to 2006–2010.

United States accounted for 37 percent of exports over the past five years, which is an increase from 32 percent during 2011–2015, with identified exports of major arms to 96 states. Russia and China saw their respective shares of the global arms trade decline. Russia provided 20 percent of global arms, down from 26 percent in the previous period, with declines in transfers to India accounting for the major difference between these two periods. Russia accounted for 13 percent of arms supplied to states in the volatile Middle East region.

China, which is the fifth-largest arms supplier, was responsible for 5.2 percent of global arms transfers in 2016–2020, down slightly from its 5.6 percent share during 2011–2015. Pakistan accounted for more than one-third of the volume of China’s arms exports among Beijing’s 51 clients in the past five years.

SIPRI once again reported that Saudi Arabia continues to be the largest importer of major conventional weaponry, a position it has held for the past several years. The United States accounted for 79 percent of Riyadh’s weapons imports over the past five years, with Washington providing more than half of all weapons that were sold to states in the Middle East during that period. Ongoing policy reviews by the Biden administration concerning arms sales to nations where there are significant human rights concerns, including on multibillion-dollar sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, could affect U.S. arms transfers to these states in the future. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Human rights concerns, as well as arms purchases from Russia, may factor into future U.S. arms sales to other states in the region. Shortly after notifying Congress of a potential $197 million sale of 168 RAM Block 2 ship-defense missiles, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concerns to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry about Cairo’s possible procurement of Su-35 fighter aircraft from Moscow. Blinken has also indicated the Biden administration would make human rights central to U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relations. Egypt was the world's third-largest arms importer over the past five years, according to SIPRI.

In 2019 the United States suspended Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter program over its planned acquisition of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. In December 2020, Washington imposed sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for procuring the systems after Congress required it to do so in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Partly due to the halted F-35 deliveries, as well as increases in its own defense production, Turkey moved from being the world’s sixth-largest arms importer to its 20th largest.

India’s possible acquisition of the Russian S-400 systems is also raising concerns among some U.S. lawmakers. In his March 20 press conference during a visit to counterparts in New Delhi, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he did address concerns about possible Indian acquisition of the S-400 system, but said that “the issue of sanctions is not one that's been discussed” since the weapons had not yet been acquired.

Shortly before the visit, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sent a letter to Austin urging him to address possible CAATSA sanctions should India purchase S-400s, as well as the country’s anti-democratic activities. In the letter, Menendez said, “I strongly encourage you to make clear that in all areas, including security cooperation, the U.S.-India partnership must rest on adherence to democratic values.”

Report finds U.S. accounted for 37 percent of global arms transfers from 2011–2015.

U.S. Advocates for Binding Rules on Behavior in Space


April 2021
By Nicholas Smith Adamopoulos

A U.S. space commander announced in February that officials from the State and Defense departments were in the process of drafting proposed language for a binding resolution regarding responsible behavior in space.​

“We’re going to prepare what we believe will be proposal language that will go to the UN and hopefully result in a binding resolution,” Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt, commander of U.S. Space Command’s combined force space component, told Space News on Feb. 24. The United States is working with Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom on the proposal, she said.

The language is being drafted in response to UN General Assembly Resolution 75/36, which was proposed by the UK and approved in December. The resolution seeks to define responsible behavior in space and produce mechanisms for holding parties accountable for their violations, including for space debris that may result from destruction of objects in space. The United Nations is gathering input from member states until May 3 for inclusion in a report to the General Assembly on the subject.

According to Burt, a successful international agreement would need to define hostile behavior and improve the transparency of future space missions, particularly for dual-use technologies. The United States is not seeking to ban specific weapons, she said.

“The Chinese and the Russians have already put weapons in space. So, I think we’re way past having a conversation about regulating them per se, which is why we focus on norms of behavior,” said Burt.

Moscow and Beijing proposed in 2008 and again in 2014 a draft treaty on the prohibition of weapons in outer space.
The United States has repeatedly refused to engage on the proposal, in part because the Russian-Chinese proposal would not specifically limit terrestrially based anti-satellite (ASAT) systems. (See ACT, May 2020.)

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in outer space, prohibits military activities on celestial bodies, and details legally binding rules governing the peaceful exploration and use of space. That treaty does not address other types of weapons that might be used to destroy space objects, including orbiting satellites.

Over the past year, U.S. Space Command has become increasingly concerned by ASAT weapons tests it asserts were conducted by Russia. Moscow, the command says, held tests in May and December 2020, as well as an alleged test of a different type of space-based weapon in July. (See ACT, May and September 2020.)

In response to UNGA resolution, U.S. plans to forward proposals for a multilateral agreement.

State Reviews Plans for New Tech Bureau


April 2021
By Shannon Bugos

Secretary of State Tony Blinken is in the midst of reviewing the mission and responsibilities of a new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technology at the department that was approved by the Trump administration in January.

The Biden administration vowed to “lead in promoting shared norms and forge new agreements” on emerging technologies and cyberspace.  (Photo: Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images)Blinken “has affirmed his support to expand the department’s capacity to address cyberspace security and emerging technology policy issues,” a State Department spokesperson told Arms Control Today on March 16. “The department is committed to establishing a bureau following a review process that examines its mission, scope of responsibility, and placement.”

The State Department first notified Congress in June 2019 of its intent to create the Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies. “In considering the growing national security challenge presented by cyber space and emerging technologies, the Department has determined that its efforts in these areas are not appropriately aligned or resourced,” said the notification document according to a June 4 report by The Hill.

In October 2020, Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said that the State Department’s decision to create the bureau stemmed from “the idea that in addition to the need to ensure that the department is fully staffed and prepared for the ongoing challenges of cyberspace security diplomacy, we also need full-time specialist expertise to address the security challenges presented by rapid developments” in areas of emerging technology. Such areas, he said, include artificial intelligence and machine learning, quantum information science, nanotechnology, biological sciences, hypersonic systems, outer space, additive manufacturing, and directed energy.

But the State Department’s move to create this new bureau met resistance in June 2019 from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who put a hold on the notification to Congress. He argued that the bureau would focus too narrowly on cybersecurity and that its creation would go against “repeated warnings from Congress and outside experts that our approach to cyber issues needs to elevate engagement on economic interests and internet freedoms together with security.”

Nevertheless, on Jan. 7, 2021, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo approved the bureau’s creation. The bureau is critical in efforts to meet “the challenges to U.S. national security presented by China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other cyber and emerging technology competitors and adversaries,” Pompeo said in a statement.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a Jan. 28 report, however, that concluded that, “as of the date of this report,” the State Department had not established the bureau. This report followed one from September 2020, which found that the State Department had not involved other federal agencies in plans to develop the new bureau.

“Without involving other agencies on its reorganization plan, [the State Department] lacks assurance that it will effectively achieve its goals for establishing this bureau, and it increases the risk of negative effects from unnecessary fragmentation, overlap, and duplication of cyber diplomacy efforts,” the GAO found in its Sept. 2020 report.

According to the GAO reports, the State Department plan includes appointing a coordinator and ambassador at large to lead the new bureau, who would report to the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs. The bureau would have a projected budget of $20.8 million and a staff of 80 full-time employees, who would come from the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues and the Office of Emerging Security Challenges within the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden appointed Anne Neuberger, former cybersecurity director at the National Security Agency, to serve as the first deputy national cybersecurity adviser for cyber and emerging technology.

The Biden administration’s interim national security strategy guidance released on March 3 emphasizes the threats posed by emerging technologies, which “remain largely ungoverned by laws or norms designed to center rights and democratic values, foster cooperation, establish guardrails against misuse or malign action, and reduce uncertainty and manage the risk that competition will lead to conflict.” The Biden administration vowed to “lead in promoting shared norms and forge new agreements” on emerging technologies and cyberspace.

New administration seeks to promote shared norms and new agreements on emerging technologies and cyberspace.

U.S., Russia Extend New START for Five Years


March 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

With only two days remaining until its expiration, the United States and Russia officially extended the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for five years, keeping in place the treaty’s verifiable limits on the deployed strategic nuclear arsenals of the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

Then‑Vice President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, March 10, 2011. (Alexey Druzhinin/AFP via Getty Images)The U.S. State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry issued separate statements Feb. 3 announcing that the formal exchange of documents on the extension had been completed. The treaty was set to expire Feb. 5.

Biden administration officials stressed that the extension would buy time and space to pursue follow-on talks on new arms control arrangements.

In a Feb. 3 statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that President Joe Biden “made clear” that the New START extension “is only the beginning of our efforts to address 21st century security challenges. The United States will use the time provided…to pursue with the Russian Federation, in consultation with Congress and U.S. allies and partners, arms control that addresses all of its nuclear weapons.”

“We cannot afford to lose New START’s intrusive inspection and notification tools,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a Jan. 21 statement after news first emerged that the Biden administration would pursue a five-year extension. “Failing to swiftly extend New START would weaken America’s understanding of Russia’s long-range nuclear forces.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry emphasized on Feb. 3 the importance of New START’s extension for maintaining strategic stability. In a statement, the ministry said, “Considering the special responsibilities that Russia and the U.S. carry as the world’s largest nuclear nations, the decision taken is important as it guarantees a necessary level of predictability and transparency in this area, while strictly maintaining a balance of interests.”

The ministry also signaled that Moscow “is ready to do its part” to return the U.S.-Russian dialogue on arms control “back to a more stable trajectory [and] reach new substantial results which would strengthen our national security and global strategic stability.”

Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for the first time Jan. 26 and “discussed both countries’ willingness to extend New START for five years, agreeing to have their teams work urgently to complete the extension,” according to the White House readout of the call.

Although Biden did not need to secure the Senate’s approval for the extension, Russian domestic law required that Putin obtain the consent of the Russian parliament for his decision to extend the treaty. The Kremlin submitted the necessary bill to parliament Jan. 26.

Russian officials had warned that it could take weeks, if not months, for the Russian legislature to act on an extension, but the State Duma and the Federation Council each approved the extension law in less than a day. Putin signed the law Jan. 29, which allowed the two countries to officially seal the extension with an exchange of diplomatic notes Feb. 3.

Russia in recent weeks had reiterated its long-standing support for an unconditional five-year extension of New START, the maximum amount allowed by the treaty. Although Biden had expressed his support for an extension on the 2020 presidential campaign trail, he did not specify how long of an extension he would seek. Some of his advisers were reportedly encouraging a shorter extension. (See ACT, November 2020.)

The Washington Post reported on Jan. 21 that the Biden administration would seek a five-year extension, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the report later that day.

Biden “has long been clear” that the treaty extension “is in the national security interest of the United States, and this extension makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial as it is at this time,” she said.

New START’s extension comes after the Trump administration did not seriously pursue arms control talks with Russia for more than three years and then, in the last six months of 2020, hinged a short-term extension of New START on additional conditions that Moscow repeatedly rejected.

Last October, the two countries exchanged proposals on a one-year extension of New START paired with a one-year freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads. The Trump administration maintained that there was an agreement in principle on this concept, but Russia firmly dismissed any agreement and rejected the Trump administration’s insistence that a freeze be accompanied by detailed definitions of a warhead, a warhead stockpile declaration, and a plan to verify a freeze. (See ACT, November 2020.)

Extending New START for five years “really abandons all the leverage one has with the Russians,” said Marshall Billingslea, the former U.S. special envoy for arms control, in January. Appointed as special envoy in April 2020, Billingslea led the Trump administration’s failed discussions with Russia on New START and arms control.

“We’re aware that the last administration engaged in negotiations on an extension of…New START for months but was unable to come with an agreement,” a senior U.S. official told The Washington Post. “We also understand there have been various proposals exchanged during those negations, but we’ve not seen anything to suggest that at any point an agreement on the terms that have been reported was in place,” the official said.

The Trump administration also had initially insisted on the inclusion of China in trilateral arms control talks as a prerequisite for a New START extension. That demand eventually fell away as Beijing repeatedly refused to join talks. (See ACT, June 2020.)

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Jan. 27 that Beijing welcomes New START’s extension. “It is conducive to upholding global strategic stability and promoting international peace and security, which meets the aspiration of the international community,” he added.

In the Feb. 3 statement, Blinken said that the Biden administration “will also pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal.” Unlike its predecessor, the Biden administration plans to seek bilateral talks with China in parallel with a U.S.-Russian dialogue, rather than trilateral arms control talks.

When dialogue between the United States and Russia might begin remains unclear.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Jan. 29 that the treaty’s extension “is the beginning of the story on what is going to have to be serious, sustained negotiations around a whole set of nuclear challenges and threats that fall outside of the New START agreement, as well as other emerging security challenges.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov struck a similar tone on Jan. 27. “We now have a significant amount of time in order to launch and hold profound bilateral talks on the whole set of issues that influence strategic stability, ensure security of our state for a long period ahead,” he said.

Without extending New START for five years, “this task would have been much more difficult,” Ryabkov argued.

The United States has expressed concern about Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons and new nuclear weapons delivery systems, two of which, the Sarmat and Avangard, Moscow has already said would be covered by New START, as well as China’s advancing nuclear capabilities. For its part, Russia has said that, in future talks, it would like to take into account U.S. missile defenses, hypersonic weapons, missiles formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the inclusion of France and the United Kingdom in arms control measures.

Ryabkov told the RIA Novosti news agency on Jan. 27 that the October proposal involving a warhead freeze “came in a package” with the Trump administration’s proposal to extend New START for one year and has since been canceled under the new Biden administration. “Now there is no reason to return” to the previous proposal, he said. “We will negotiate from a different starting point.”

Meanwhile, U.S. allies and partners welcomed the news that the Biden administration planned to seek a five-year extension of New START and encouraged further dialogue on arms control.

“I have repeatedly stated that we should not end up in a situation where we have no limitation whatsoever on nuclear warheads,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Jan. 22. “NATO allies have made clear that the preservation of New START is of great importance.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Peter Stano, European Commission spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, also said that they applauded the extension of the accord. In addition, France, Germany, and the UK issued statements of support.

In the U.S. Congress, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), who had introduced bipartisan legislation in 2019 calling for the extension of New START, released a statement on Jan. 22 welcoming the Biden administration’s decision.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) also commended the treaty’s extension. “Despite Russia’s wide-ranging malign activities, ensuring limits on and insight into Russia’s nuclear arsenal is unquestionably in the national security interest of the United States,” they wrote.

Most Republican lawmakers, however, criticized the extension decision. They echoed former Trump administration officials in arguing that the treaty was a deeply flawed agreement and that a shorter extension would have enhanced U.S. leverage in follow-on talks with Russia.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said on Jan. 22 that although he agreed with the president’s decision to extend the treaty, he was “concerned with the length of extension given Russia’s continued undertaking of massive modernization and its building of new capabilities that leaves out entire classes of nuclear weapons.”

Also on Jan. 22, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said in a statement that “[h]aving secured the longer extension he desired, President Putin has no incentive to negotiate with the United States and will, as he has done, decline to engage in any further discussions.”

Signed in 2010, New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each. Inspections under the treaty and meetings of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, the implementing body of the treaty, have been suspended since early 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. But Ryabkov commented on Feb. 11 that Washington and Moscow have launched efforts to restart the inspections.

The loss of the only remaining treaty limiting the world’s two largest arsenals is averted as Washington and Moscow pledge to pursue further arms control measures.

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