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– President Joe Biden
June 2, 2022
The United States and the Americas

New START in Limbo Ahead of U.S. Election


November 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia each dismissed last-minute proposals involving a short-term extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), leaving the fate of the sole remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement undetermined on the eve of the U.S. presidential election.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets reporters at the State Department on Oct. 19. Two days later he reaffirmed the U.S. position that New START "is not a good deal for the United States." (Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)The down-to-the-wire diplomacy appeared to narrow the large gap between the two sides on prolonging the treaty, but no resolution was found, and the failure to close a deal raised questions about whether Russia ever intended to strike a deal with the Trump administration so close to the election or whether the Trump administration ever intended to extend New START. Administration officials have repeatedly criticized the treaty and waited more than three years to begin serious arms control talks with Russia.

It remains to be seen if the Trump administration and Russia will seek to continue negotiations later this year regardless of the election result. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said that if he is elected president in November, he will pursue the treaty’s extension without conditions.

New START, which is slated to expire on Feb. 5, 2021, permits an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree.

After several months of talks, Washington and Moscow in mid-October exchanged dueling offers pairing a one-year extension of New START with an undefined one-year freeze on the numbers of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in an Oct. 20 statement that Russia offers to extend New START for one year and “undertake a political commitment to ‘freeze’ for the above-mentioned period the number of nuclear warheads that each side possesses.”

But the statement said that the offer “may be implemented only and exclusively on the premise that ‘freezing’ of warheads will not be accompanied by any additional demands on the part of the United States.”

The foreign ministry added that the “time gained” by the New START extension “could be used to conduct comprehensive bilateral negotiations on the future nuclear and missile arms control that must address all factors affecting strategic stability.”

Russia had previously called for extending New START by five years without conditions and balked at a warhead-level freeze.

The foreign ministry statement followed direction from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 16 to seek to extend New START “unconditionally for at least a year.” Putin made no specific mention of a freeze on all warhead levels.

U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien responded to Putin’s proposal on Twitter later that day, describing it as a “non-starter.” He claimed that Russia had appeared willing to accept a U.S. offer to extend New START and freeze all warhead levels in tandem after he met with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva on Oct. 2.

It is not clear whether Russia had agreed in principle to such a two-part deal or whether Russia further amended its position between Putin’s Oct. 16 comments and the Oct. 20 foreign ministry statement.

Regardless, the Trump administration praised Russia’s willingness to agree to a short-term extension of New START and a freeze and said that although a deal was close, more work needed to be done to seal it.

“President [Donald] Trump has made clear that the New START Treaty by itself is not a good deal for the United States or our friends or allies,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Oct. 21. He criticized the treaty for failing to capture Russia’s large and, according to the Defense Department, growing arsenal of up to 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear warheads.

“What we’ve proposed to extend that agreement would be historic,” Pompeo said. “But we need to make sure that U.S. and Russian negotiators get together just as soon as possible to continue to make progress to finalize a verifiable agreement.”

O'Brien expressed optimism at an Oct. 28 Hudson Institute event that “if we can get through the verification issues, I think we're going to be able to get to a deal.” “We'll see how that plays out over the next couple of days and weeks,” he said.

If a deal is secured, the administration said it plans to use the ensuing year to translate it into a formal treaty that would also include China.

But Russia rejected the U.S. demand for verification of a freeze and said that such details should be deferred for future negotiations.

“We have the feeling that they [the United States] need verification for the verification's sake,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Russian news outlet Interfax on Oct. 22.

“It may be considered that we’ve made two concessions,” Ryabkov said, referring to Russia’s willingness to agree to a one-year extension of New START and a one-year warhead-level freeze. “Let them make concessions to meet us halfway: let them drop their monitoring demand.”

In a separate interview with Kommersant, Ryabkov said “that the degree of our differences is rather significant” and that he did not see “reasons for strong optimism” that New START would be extended.

He warned that “[r]ejecting this condition will immediately destroy the possibility of reaching the agreement” and that Russia would be willing to allow New START to expire if the United States continued to make unrealistic demands.

The warning appeared to be a response to repeated suggestions by Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, that Russia is desperate to extend New START and that Washington would raise the price to extend the treaty if Russia failed to meet U.S. demands.

Ryabkov told reporters on Oct. 27 that Washington and Moscow still “are exchanging documents behind closed doors” and that “Russia is open to continuing the dialogue."

The Trump administration’s October offer of a short-term extension of New START and a freeze marked another shift in the U.S. negotiating position in arms control talks with Russia.

In August, the administration conditioned U.S. consideration of a short-term extension of New START on Russia agreeing to a politically binding framework deal that would verifiably cover all nuclear warheads, make changes to the New START verification regime, and be structured to include China in the future. (See ACT, September 2020.) The administration had earlier insisted that China immediately participate in trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia, which Beijing rejected. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

Key details about the U.S. freeze proposal have yet to be clarified by the Trump administration.

According to an Oct. 20 report in The Wall Street Journal, a senior administration official said the United States wants both sides to declare the total number of warheads deployed on delivery systems of all ranges and kept in storage.

To verify that neither side was exceeding the declared number of warheads, the official said Washington wanted monitors to be stationed outside U.S. and Russian warhead production facilities. The official added that such a portal monitoring system, which has featured in past arms control agreements, did not need to be in place immediately but that Russia needed to agree to technical talks on how to eventually implement such an approach.

But Russian officials have called the adoption of such a system a nonstarter, at least in the near term.

In the past, the United States and Russia agreed to politically binding arms control and risk reduction measures without stringent verification protocols.

If Trump is not reelected and does not make a deal with Russia before Inauguration Day, a President Joe Biden would have 16 days before the treaty expires in which to pursue an extension. It is not clear whether he would continue to push for a freeze on all U.S. and Russian warheads.

Billingslea said in an Oct. 20 interview that a potential Biden administration would have to “rethink” its support for an unconditional extension of New START.

According to Billingslea, Trump, “by signaling his intention to pursue this historic approach and with the Russians now agreeing in principle, that now sets the floor for future arms control discussions.”

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

 

Despite pre-U.S. election maneuvering, prospects for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty remain slim.

New START Deal to Wait for Biden


December 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The Trump administration and Russia signaled a willingness in November to reach a deal involving an extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and a freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads following the U.S. presidential election, but the two sides remained at odds about the specific terms of such a deal.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting in Italy in February. On Nov. 12, he said that the question of extending New START would need to wait for the U.S. presidential election to be resolved.  (Photo: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)As a result, the fate of the treaty likely rests on Russia and the incoming Biden administration resolving the issue. President-elect Joe Biden has expressed support for the treaty’s extension. According to a Nov. 25 Reuters article, there is continued debate among Biden's advisers over how long the extension should be. The treaty allows for an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to it.

After taking office, Biden would have just 16 days to seal an extension before the treaty expires on Feb. 5, 2021.

“The Russian Federation is certainly making a calculation based upon whether they want to lock into agreement with an extension now or wait until after Jan. 20 to see if there is a better offer that they can possibly acquire,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on Nov. 9. “I think that’s still a little bit of a gamble, perhaps less so than it might have been two weeks ago.”

Biegun said that stumbling blocks include how to define a nuclear warhead under a freeze and the U.S. demand that a freeze be verified. Nevertheless, he said, “as far as this administration is concerned, we’re prepared to go forward with an agreement.”

The following day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reiterated that Russia stands prepared to extend New START and agree to a freeze on all warheads for one year so long as the United States puts forward no additional conditions, particularly with respect to verification of the freeze. But he remained pessimistic that a deal would be reached.

“As of today, as it was before U.S. election, we don’t see a basis to reach such an agreement. There’s nothing new in [the] U.S. position,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Nov. 12 that he has seen “rather fidgety comments from Washington” regarding the fate of New START. “Considering the current commotion in the United States caused by the ongoing vote recount, lawsuits, and other perturbations, we cannot expect any coherent proposals from either [U.S. President Donald] Trump’s people or Joe Biden’s team,” said Lavrov. “So, we will wait until the dust settles.”

In October, the United States proposed a politically binding one-year extension of New START and a one-year freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warhead levels. Russia, which had previously called for a five-year extension of New START as allowed by the treaty, proposed a one-year extension and the concept of a warhead freeze, but rejected any verification of the freeze, in particular portal monitoring, at this time. (See ACT, October 2020.)

Lavrov said that as part of the warhead freeze, the Trump administration is demanding that Russia “recount” the warheads “and check which category these warheads belong to and immediately establish control over the facilities producing these warheads.”

“We have already been in a situation when American inspectors sat outside the checkpoints of our military plants
in the 1990s,” Lavrov added. “There is no coming back to this system.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to aggressively call on China to join arms control talks with the United States and Russia.

The administration had earlier insisted that China immediately participate in trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia, but Beijing repeatedly rejected the demand. The Trump administration later dropped it as a condition for considering an extension of New START. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

“China has stubbornly refused to date to participate in those discussions, but as we approach the review conference of the [nuclear]Nonproliferation Treaty next year, I believe pressure will continue to grow on China to enter those discussions,” Biegun said.

At the EU Consortium on Nonproliferation and Disarmament Conference on Nov. 12, Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, echoed Biegun.

“It is becoming obvious to everyone that Beijing is not taking seriously its responsibility as a nuclear power to engage in meaningful arms control negotiations, and it continues to shun arms control negotiations with us on effective measures to prevent a new nuclear arms race spiral,” he said.

Fu Cong, director-general of the Department of Arms Control in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, replied to Ford by saying that Beijing has communicated with Washington by phone, email, and letters.

Fu also said that he had talked directly with Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. special envoy for arms control. “We even had a phone conversation, even though that conversation was not very pleasant,” he said.

He emphasized China’s view that “the immediate priority now is to urge the United States to respond as soon as possible to Russia’s call for the unconditional extension of the New START.” When asked if China would join trilateral arms control discussions if the United States and Russia agree to reduce their nuclear arsenals, Fu replied, “I would say that is a big ‘if’—if the U.S. agrees to reduce.”

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

Despite signs of flexibility in talks on extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a deal appears unlikely before the Trump administration is replaced.

Process Changes Offered as Arms Sales Rise


November 2020
By Jeff Abramson

Democratic U.S. lawmakers are considering new measures to increase congressional oversight of U.S. arms exports, notifications of which are reaching record highs in 2020. So far this year, the State Department has formally sent to Congress more than $100 billion in potential arms sales via the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program to 30 countries plus Taiwan. This total is easily the highest of the Trump administration, and the second highest over more than the past two decades.

A U.S. F-35 aircraft takes off in Nevada in May. A sale of F-35s to the United Arab Emirates is the most controversial of record high levels of potential U.S. weapons exports.  (Photo: Bryan Guthrie/U.S. Air Force)Many additional billions in arms sales also appear to be close to formal notification, which starts a clock during which both chambers of Congress can pass resolutions of disapproval to bar sales agreements. Last year, the Trump administration bypassed the notification clock, leading to multiple efforts from lawmakers to reassert congressional authority into the process, which the president ultimately vetoed. The legislators were particularly concerned over planned weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The most controversial of the as-yet-unofficial deals again involves Abu Dhabi, consisting of an F-35 sale worth billions of dollars. On Oct. 20, Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would require presidential certifications that Israel’s qualitative military edge would not be threatened before F-35s could be sold to other countries in the Middle East. Earlier in the month, Menendez and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent 16 questions to the administration asking about national security concerns regarding such sales.

Some analysts have speculated that the proposed sale is a benefit to the UAE for its signature of the Abraham Accords in September to normalize relations with Israel. Despite official denials of such a link, the senators wrote that “the administration’s attempt to move at breakneck speed so close to this announcement would give the appearance that it was.” Shortly after the accords were announced, rumors also circulated of many additional sales for countries in the Middle East, with media speculating on new deals for Israel and Qatar.

Fighter aircraft sales account for the greatest share of official export notifications this year, with the long-anticipated potential sale of more than 100 F-35s to Japan, valued at more than $23 billion, the single-highest proposed transfer. Sales of advanced aircraft to Finland and Switzerland added another roughly $40 billion to the 2020 FMS annual total. Those notifications, made as part of international competitive bids, included two separate packages for each country, only one of which will be accepted, if at all, by Helsinki and Bern.

In April, separate packages valued at $1.5 billion and $450 million were presented to Congress as part of a competition to provide attack helicopters to the Philippines. On June 10, 19 members of Congress, led by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing human rights concerns about arms sales to the Philippines and other countries, including Egypt, Hungary, India, and the UAE. (See ACT, June 2020.)

In February, Omar introduced what is one of a growing number of legislative proposals that would change how the United States factors human rights into arms trade decisions. Her bill titled “Stop Arming Human Rights Abusers Act” would establish human rights and international humanitarian law-based triggers, the violation of which lead to prohibitions on arms sales.

In September, Menendez with Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced a bill titled “Safeguarding Human Rights in Arms Exports (SAFEGUARD) Act of 2020,” which would elevate human rights considerations in arms trade. It would require that certain weapons be sold under the FMS program, rather than the Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) program that generally has less public transparency and accounts for a growing share of U.S. arms sales. It would also remove minimum dollar-value thresholds on congressional notifications to certain countries.

 

 

Many of these proposed changes would address issues recently raised by the State Department Office of Inspector General. In an August report examining last year’s emergency arms sales, the office found many of the weapons were being sold via the DCS program and that more than $11.2 billion in approved transfers between January 2017 and late 2019 were below the threshold for congressional notification. (See ACT, September 2020.)

Also in September, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced a bill titled “Values in Arms Export Act of 2020,” which would make human rights and international humanitarian law requirements more explicit in arms agreements, create prohibitions based on violations and list Saudi Arabia and the UAE as countries of concerns, establish an independent oversight board, and make it easier for Congress to raise resolutions of disapproval.

Another approach, thus far primarily discussed publicly among the policy community, is to “flip the script” so that Congress must proactively approve select arms sales. The concept, based in part on legislation proposed in 1986 by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), would mark a major shift because Congress would no longer need to have a veto-proof majority to block a sale.

 

Record-high U.S. arms export plans are spurring Democrats to boost congressional oversight.

Esper Envisions ‘Killer Robot’ Navy


November 2020
By Michael T. Klare

The U.S. Navy of the future will be comprised of as many unmanned, robotic ships as of conventional vessels with human crews, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced in an Oct. 6 address. Outlining his vision in a presentation of “Battle Force 2046,” the Navy’s projected fleet of a quarter-century from now, he said the naval lineup will consist of about 500 combat ships, of which up to 240 will be unmanned surface and subsurface vessels.

The prototype autonomous ship Sea Hunter is moored at Pearl Harbor in 2018. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently announced a long-term vision for the Navy deploying a 500-ship fleet, nearly half of which could be autonomous ships. (Photo: Nathan Laird/U.S. Navy)These robot ships “will perform a wide range of missions, from resupply to surveillance, to mine-laying and missile strikes,” said Esper at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. They will do so, moreover, “at an affordable cost in terms both of sailors and dollars.”

Traditionally, U.S. aircraft carriers and their accompanying ensemble of cruisers and destroyers manned by large crews and fliers have symbolized U.S. military might, but such large capital ships have become increasingly costly to build and operate. Furthermore, in this new era of great-power competition and tension, carrier-centric flotillas are becoming dangerously vulnerable to enemy anti-ship missiles. To address these challenges, the Navy envisions a force comprised of small numbers of large manned vessels accompanied by large numbers of small unmanned ships. Such a fleet, it is argued, will be far less costly than one composed exclusively of manned vessels and a fleet that can be deployed in highly contested areas with less concern about the loss of any individual ship.

To make this dream possible, the Navy plans to invest billions of dollars in the development and procurement of three types of unmanned warships: a Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel (MUSV), a Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV), and an Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vessel (XLUUV). The MUSV is intended as a combat-ready variant of the Sea Hunter prototype first put to sea in 2016. The LUSV, thought to be a militarized version of a commercial oil rig servicing vessel, is being developed by the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office. The XLUUV, derived from the Echo Voyager diesel-electric submersible, is being built by Boeing. In its budget request for fiscal year 2021, the Defense Department requested $580 million for development work on all three systems. It expects to spend $4.2 billion over the next five years to complete development work and begin procurement of combat-ready vessels.

The Navy hopes to save money in this mammoth undertaking by using commercial technology when designing the hulls and propulsion systems for these new types of warships. But it still faces a mammoth challenge in equipping the ships with automated command-and-control systems, which would allow them to operate autonomously for long periods of time and carry out complex military functions with little or no human oversight.

The artificial intelligence systems needed to make this possible have yet to be perfected, and many analysts worry that, in a highly contested environment with extensive electronic jamming, such ships could “go rogue” and initiate combat operations that have not been authorized by human commanders, with unforeseen but dangerous consequences. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Autonomous ships could someday compose half of the U.S. Navy, raising concerns over adequate human oversight.

U.S., Russia Hit Impasse on New START


October 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

As the clock winds down on the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control treaty, the United States and Russia remain locked in a stalemate with numerous obstacles blocking the path to prolonging the agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration will only contemplate a short-term extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) if Russia agrees to a framework for a new trilateral treaty that verifiably covers all nuclear warheads, includes those of China in the future, and makes changes to the painstakingly negotiated New START verification regime.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov arrives for nuclear talks with U.S. officials in Vienna on June 22. The discussions yielded little progress, and more recently he said "there are no grounds for any kind of deal in the form proposed." (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)Moscow, which supports an unconditional five-year extension of the treaty, has called the U.S. proposal “absolutely unrealistic.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that “there are no grounds for any kind of deal in the form proposed” by Washington in a Sept. 21 interview with Kommersant. New START permits an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree.

The U.S. approach raises several questions, such as whether the Trump administration is actually interested in extending New START at all, what the United States would be willing to put on the negotiating table in exchange for concessions from Russia, and why the administration believes that withholding an extension of the treaty provides the United States leverage in negotiations.

With Russia showing little sign of agreeing to the framework, the Trump administration will soon face the choice of whether to extend the treaty as is or set it on a path to expiration in February, which could trigger a costly arms race.

The Trump administration has also suggested that, if Russia does not agree to framework prior to the U.S. presidential election in November, Washington will tack on additional conditions for New START extension. What those conditions would be are unknown.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said that if he is elected president in November and New START has not been extended, he will pursue the treaty’s extension and “use that as a foundation for new arms control arrangements,” according to his campaign website.

Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, told Kommersant on Sept. 21 that if Russia does not agree to the Trump administration’s framework, the United States will not extend New START. Billingslea also threatened that the United States would increase the deployed strategic arsenal "immediately after the expiration of the treaty in February."

The U.S. insistence on the framework and refusal to extend New START without unilateral concessions by Moscow has prompted some skeptics to wonder whether the Trump administration is attempting to set Russia and China up to take the blame for an expiration of the treaty.

U.S. officials said that, with four months until New START expires on Feb. 5, 2021, sufficient time remains for Russia to agree to the U.S. offer before a decision must be made on an extension. Yet even if Russia were open to discussions with the United States on its demands, negotiating the specifics of a framework could take weeks if not months.

In addition, according to officials from the Russian Foreign Ministry, Moscow might need months to process a “technical extension” of the treaty.

Billingslea has claimed that the United States has significant leverage because Russia is desperate for an extension of the treaty. But Russia has said that it desires an extension of the treaty only as much as the United States and will not pursue an extension at any cost.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in July that, if the Trump administration does not agree to extend New START, “we will not insist.”

Extending the treaty for a period of less than five years, as the Trump administration is contemplating, also poses risks. Negotiations on arms control treaties are difficult and time consuming. A new agreement along the lines proposed by the Trump administration could take years.

Billingslea has declined to say how long an extension the administration has proposed, telling Kommersant that it “depends on how flexible the Russian leadership will be.”

Moreover, assuming Moscow would even agree to multiple short-term extensions totaling less than five years, preparing and posturing for such extensions could distract from the broader talks the administration says it seeks.

Although any framework agreement is likely to require mutual concessions from Washington and Moscow, the Trump administration refuses to detail what it would be willing to put on the negotiating table, besides a short-term extension of New START, in order to secure Russia’s agreement.

Russia has long said that it prioritizes the inclusion of U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom in arms control discussions. In addition, Moscow seeks to capture other factors it deems essential to maintaining strategic stability, such as missile defense, ground-based short- and intermediate-range missiles, space weapons, and hypersonic weapons.

Billingslea, however, has dismissed the idea of including limits on U.S. missile defenses, involving France and the UK in multilateral talks, and removing U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.

The Trump administration also has yet to describe what it would be willing to do in order to bring China to the table. Billingslea told CNN on Sept. 18 that Russia could persuade China to join talks, although Moscow has previously refused to do so.

“It’s [Russian President] Vladimir Putin,” he said. “He’s got all kinds of leverage. If they really wanted to help, they could.”

China has repeatedly declined to join trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia. The only way that Beijing would join, said Fu Cong, director-general of the Chinese Department of Arms Control and Disarmament, in July, was if the United States decreased its nuclear arsenal to the size of China’s. (See ACT, September 2020.) The United States has an estimated 6,000 nuclear weapons, including retired warheads; China’s arsenal numbers in the low 200s, according to a U.S. Defense Department report in September.

Billingslea claims that the verification regime put into place by New START suffers from significant loopholes and deficiencies, such as the absence of sufficient exchanges of missile telemetry and the limited frequency of on-site inspection.

The U.S. military, however, places great value on the treaty’s inspections and has not indicated that such flaws exist. Vice Adm. David Kriete, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in July 2019 that “those verification procedures that the U.S. gets to execute all the time provide great insight into Russia’s capabilities, numbers, and all kinds of things associated with their nuclear weapons.” If those procedures disappeared, he said, then “we would have to go look for other ways to fill in the gaps.”

Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for New START, also emphasized the importance of New START’s verification setup, saying that it used what worked in previous treaties and discarded those elements that previously encountered issues with implementation. “In the end,” she said in May, “the United States got what it wanted in the New START verification regime: streamlined inspection procedures at a sufficient level of detail to be effectively implemented.”

Although the Trump administration has expressed its willingness to let New START expire, members of Congress continue their calls for the treaty’s five-year extension.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) sent a Sept. 8 letter to Trump calling for the United States to extend New START.

According to an internal State Department report for Congress obtained by Foreign Policy in September, U.S. allies are “concerned about the potential repercussions to the international security environment should New START expire before its full term.”

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have continued a pause on inspections under New START and a postponement of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), which oversees implementation of the treaty.

“The United States is studying how and when to resume inspections and the BCC while mitigating the risk of COVID-19 to all U.S. and Russian personnel,” a State Department spokesperson told Arms Control Today. “The United States continues to implement and abide by” New START.

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

 

U.S. demands for new nuclear restrictions appear to foreshadow the demise of the last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty.

U.S. Aims to Add INF-Range Missiles


October 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States is moving quickly to develop and deploy missiles formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to Trump administration officials, but questions remain about what missiles the military might develop and where they would be based.

A U.S. Navy Tomahawk cruise missile launches during a 2018 exercise. A senior Army official said his service was considering deploying a land-based version of the missile, a weapon that would have been prohibited by the INF Treaty.  (Photo: William Collins/U.S. Navy)“Now that we are out of the INF Treaty, the department is making rapid progress to field ground-launched missiles,” said Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist on Sept. 10 at the Defense News Conference.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea in August told Nikkei Asian Review, a Japanese news outlet, that the United States aims to talk with its allies in Asia about where to base such missiles.

The Trump administration wants to “engage in talks with our friends and allies in Asia over the immediate threat that the Chinese nuclear buildup poses, not just to the United States but to them, and the kinds of capabilities that we will need to defend the alliance in the future,” said Billingslea on Aug. 15.

Billingslea specifically highlighted the ground-launched variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile that the United States tested shortly after withdrawing from the INF Treaty in August 2019. (See ACT, September 2019.) Washington also tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile in December 2019. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The cruise missile is “exactly the kind of defensive capability that countries such as Japan will want and will need for the future,” said Billingslea.

Meanwhile, Defense News reported on Sept. 2 that the U.S. Army is planning to develop a ground-launched missile prototype with a range between 500 and 2,000 kilometers. The Army aims to begin fielding the prototype by 2023.

General Joseph Martin, vice chief of staff of the Army, said on Aug. 21 that the Army is “looking at land-based, land-launched Tomahawk missiles and SM-6s, which are in the Navy’s inventory.”

The new missile would join other ground-launched missiles already under development by the Army with a range formally prohibited by the treaty, including the Precision Strike Missile and the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon.

“What we want to do is provide arrows in the quiver… options to our combatant commanders that present multiple dilemmas to our competitors,” Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, the head of the Army’s development of long-range fires, told Breaking Defense, on Sept. 8. “That’s how we deter.”

The Marine Corps fiscal year 2021 budget request released in February included funds to purchase Tomahawk missiles, ostensibly for use as a ground-launched capability. (See ACT, June 2020.)

In October 2019, Taro Kono, Japan’s defense minister, downplayed the idea of Tokyo hosting INF-range missiles from the United States, saying that the two countries “have not been discussing any of it.” (See ACT, December 2019.) Australia and South Korea have also poured cold water on the prospect.

Both China and Russia responded to Billingslea’s remarks, saying they will respond if the United States deploys new ground-launched missiles.

“China firmly opposes U.S. plan to deploy land-based medium-range missiles in the Asia Pacific,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian Aug. 21. “If the U.S. is bent on going down the wrong path, China is compelled to take necessary countermeasures to firmly safeguard its security interests.”

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Aug. 20 that, “Undoubtedly, the deployment of new American missile systems in the region would provoke a dangerous new round of the arms race.” Such a move by Washington “would call for compensatory response measures,” she added.

Meanwhile, Billingslea rejected the idea of a moratorium on deploying missiles that were once banned by the INF Treaty, a proposal made by Russian President Vladimir Putin after the U.S. withdrawal.

“I really wouldn’t spend a lot of time thinking about or worrying about an INF moratorium because, simply put, that’s not going to happen,” said Billingslea during a June 24 press briefing.

NATO officially rejected the proposal in September 2019. France and Italy have acknowledged the moratorium proposal as an opportunity for dialogue.

Signed in 1987, the INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

The Pentagon is continuing to develop options for deploying missiles that were once banned by the INF Treaty.

Pentagon Warns of Chinese Nuclear Development


October 2020
By Julia Masterson and Shannon Bugos

A new U.S. Defense Department assessment of China’s military power found that China continues to expand its nuclear capabilities, but the report seems to provide a less alarmist view of Beijing’s nuclear weapons policy and plans than some Trump administration officials have suggested.

Chinese military vehicles display DF-26 ballistic missiles during a 2015 parade in Beijing. The missiles would be the most likely to field a low-yield nuclear warhead, should China develop one, according to Pentagon assessments. (Photo: Andy Wong/Getty Images)According to the Pentagon’s 2020 report to Congress assessing China’s military capabilities, Beijing is estimated to possess a total nuclear warhead stockpile “in the low 200s.” The September report says that Beijing will likely “at least double its warhead stockpile,” which affirms an earlier department estimate, and that it will do so without new fissile material production.

The report, which covers Chinese security and military developments through 2019, marks the first time the U.S. government has provided a public estimate of China’s nuclear arsenal. U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley assessed in May 2019 that China had an arsenal of warheads in the “low couple of hundreds,” but did not provide a specific estimate at that time.

The Pentagon’s estimate of China’s stockpile of nuclear warheads is lower than previously held expert assessments of China’s nuclear capabilities. Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists estimated that China had 290 nuclear warheads in 2019, but the Pentagon’s assessment likely does not include warheads for weapons that have yet to become operational or for dormant bomber weapons, Kristensen and Korda said in a Sept. 1 article.

China has consistently shied away from disclosing the exact size of its nuclear stockpile or corroborating any estimates of its capabilities.

The report also describes China’s pursuit of nuclear-capable, land- and air-based missiles and a potential shift in its nuclear policy doctrine. Although Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, has claimed that China is in the midst of a “secretive crash nuclear buildup,” the Pentagon’s assessment does not appear to substantiate the envoy’s statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticized the Pentagon’s assessment and called the report “a deliberate distortion of China’s strategic intentions.”

“China’s strategic intentions are transparent and consistent,” she said Sept. 2.

The report states that China is in the process of further developing its land-based missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.

Beijing’s fixed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) arsenal consists of 100 missiles, including some equipped with multiple independently targetable reentryvehicles (MIRVs) to carry more than one warhead. The Pentagon assesses that China’s development of new ICBMs and advanced MIRV capabilities will strengthen its nuclear deterrent and necessitate increased nuclear warhead production.

Within the next five years, according to the Pentagon’s report, China aims to deploy close to 200 warheads on its land-based ICBMs, which can threaten the United States.

China will also expand its current inventory of more than 200 DF-26 ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic missiles that are capable of delivering nuclear and conventional warheads to the Pacific and Asian regions.

The Defense Department highlights speculation by Chinese strategists that Beijing may need a low-yield nuclear weapon to “increase the deterrence value of China’s nuclear force without defining specific nuclear yield values.” The report suggests that the DF-26 would be the most likely missile to carry a low-yield warhead due to its capacity to deliver precision strikes. China is not currently known to field any low-yield nuclear weapons.

China aims to diversify its nuclear triad by developing a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile, says the report. During the October 2019 military parade, China revealed the H-6N as a long-range strategic bomber, which would be capable of carrying such a missile.

China’s nuclear policy doctrine, meanwhile, prioritizes the maintenance of a nuclear force so as to survive a first strike and soundly retaliate. Beijing has long held a no-first-use stance, but the Pentagon cites ambiguity with the conditions under which this policy would not hold. Some officers in the People’s Liberation Army have suggested that China should reserve the right to strike should the survival of its nuclear forces or regime be threatened, although no official statement on this front has been made.

Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters on Sept. 14 that he sees “China developing a stack of capabilities that would be inconsistent with a no-first-use policy.” But Caitlin Talmadge of the Brookings Institution noted in a Sept. 16 tweet that even if China is not moving away from a no-first-use policy, “survivability improvements to Chinese nuclear forces are likely to intensify competition with [the United States.]”

China stated in a 2019 defense white paper that it maintains a minimum nuclear deterrent, but the Pentagon report says that Beijing has placed its nuclear forces on a path to exceed the size of such a deterrent, making its posture “more consistent” with a limited deterrent, which Chinese armed forces have described as a level between a minimum and maximum deterrent.

Furthermore, as part of its nuclear policy, China has “almost certainly” kept the majority of its nuclear forces on a peacetime status, with launchers, missiles, and warheads separated. The Defense Department report claims, however, that Beijing is seeking to keep a portion of its forces on a launch-on-warning posture, which would require mating missiles and warheads. As evidence, the report cites exercises by the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force that include “assigning a missile battalion to be ready to launch and rotating to standby positions as much as monthly for unspecified periods of time.” It also mentions an investment in silo-based forces and an improvement in early-warning capabilities and command and control, but this evidence is unclear and circumstantial, according to Kristensen and Korda.

Following the report’s release, Billingslea reiterated his insistence that China has a crash nuclear buildup program. Beijing needs to “come clean” about this program, he said in a Sept. 4 tweet, and “sit down for in-person talks, as so many nations have urged.”

Billingslea has led the Trump administration’s push to bring China into trilateral arms control talks with Russia, but China has so far rejected the U.S. effort, pointing to the difference in size of its nuclear arsenal as compared to those of the United States and Russia.

Although the report puts China’s nuclear warhead arsenal in the low 200s, the United States and Russia are each believed to have about 6,000 total nuclear warheads, including retired nuclear warheads awaiting dismantlement. Even if Beijing expands its nuclear arsenal as predicted by the Defense Department, it would still be far below that of the United States or Russia.

“We urge the United States to abandon the outdated Cold-War mentality and zero-game mindset,” said Hua on Sept. 2, and to “do more things that are conducive to the China-U.S. military-to-military relations.”

In the report, the Pentagon also estimates that China has achieved parity with or potentially exceeded the United States in its deployment of ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCM). Where China currently fields more than 1,250 land-based GLBMs and GLCMs, the United States only fields one, a short-range, conventional GLBM. This gap in capabilities demonstrates the steps that Beijing has taken over the past 20 years to “strengthen and modernize the [People’s Liberation Army] in nearly every
aspect,” the report says.

Beijing seeks to boast a “world-class” military by the end of 2049, according to the report.

China has not defined what it means by its ambition for such a military, but the report says that “it is likely that China will aim to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to—or in some cases superior to—the U.S. military, or that of any other great power that China views as a threat to its sovereignty, security, and development interests.”

 

Report Highlights Chinese Interest in New Technologies

One of the recurring themes of the Pentagon’s 2020 report on military developments in China is the strong emphasis being placed on the utilization of emerging technologies, especially artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous weapons systems, quantum computing and encryption, and hypersonics by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

According to the report, Chinese leaders, from President Xi Jinping on down, recognize that advanced weaponry and command-and-control (C2) systems will play a decisive role in future great-power conflicts, and so Chinese forces must endeavor to match U.S. capabilities in this regard and, if possible, overtake them.

“China seeks to become a leader in key technologies with military potential, such as AI, autonomous systems, advanced computing, quantum information sciences, biotechnology, and advanced materials and manufacturing,” the report says. “China’s implementation of AI and a quantum communication network demonstrates the speed and scale with which it intends to deploy certain emerging technologies.”

The weaponization of AI is said to play an especially critical role in Chinese military planning, given that future wars are expected to unfold at extremely high speeds and to entail simultaneous operations in air, sea, ground, space, and cyber domains. As described by Chinese strategists, future operations increasingly will be “intelligentized,” meaning heavily reliant on AI-powered systems to track enemy movements, assess battlefield conditions, and guide PLA operations, all at machine speed.

“Victory in future warfare, according to PLA strategists, will depend upon which side can more quickly and effectively observe, orient, decide, and act in an increasingly dynamic operating environment,” the report says. “As a result, China is pursuing new technologies like AI to support future military capabilities, such as autonomous command and control (C2) systems, more sophisticated and predictive operational planning, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) fusion.”

As part of this effort, the PLA is said to be placing particular emphasis on the development of autonomous weapons and automated C2 systems. Without providing details, the report claims that significant progress has been made in the development of unmanned surface vessels and unmanned tanks, as wells as “armed swarming drones” using AI “to perform autonomous guidance, target acquisition, and attack execution.”

China is also assessed to be making progress in the development of advanced C2 systems that will use AI “to collect, fuse, and transmit big data for more effective battlespace management and to generate optimal courses of action” by commanders in the field. Such initiatives would appear to parallel similar endeavors in the United States, such as the Pentagon’s Joint All-Domain Command-and-Control (JADC2) system. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Among other emerging technologies highlighted in the Pentagon report, considerable stress is placed on Chinese progress in the development of hypersonic missiles. Such weapons, which can fly faster than five times the speed of sound, are said to play an important role in the PLA’s plans for defense against U.S. forces in a future Pacific-wide conflict. However, few details
are provided on Chinese gains in this area, except to note that the Xingkong-2 (Starry Sky-2) hypersonic glide vehicle was successfully tested in August 2018. —MICHAEL T. KLARE

An annual Defense Department report appears to undermine Trump administration assessments
of China’s nuclear ambitions.

Air Force Awards New ICBM Contract


October 2020
By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Air Force last month awarded a $13.3 billion development contract to the Northrop Grumman Corp. to build a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) amid continuing concern about the sole-source nature of the contract and the need for a new missile.

U.S. Air Force officers prepare for a 2010 flight test of a Minuteman III ICBM at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Air Force has awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman Corp. to begin development of a replacement for the missile. (Photo: Andrew Lee/U.S. Air Force)In a Sept. 8 press release announcing the award for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), the Air Force said the contract “advances the nation’s ability to maintain a robust, flexible, tailorable and responsive strategic nuclear deterrent.”

“The increased accuracy, extended range and improved reliability” of the new missile, the release said, “will provide the United States a broader array of options to address unforeseen contingencies, giving us the edge necessary to compete and win against any adversary.”

The announcement of the award was anti-climactic given that Northrop has not had any competition for the contractsince last summer.

After narrowing the search to two competitors in 2017, the Boeing Co. said last year that it would not bid on the contract, leaving Northrop as the only remaining contender. (See ACT, September 2019.) Boeing subsequently proposed to team up with Northrop, but Northrop refused. (See ACT, October 2019.)

There is no precedent for the absence of competition for a development contract the size of the GBSD program, which has prompted concern from some lawmakers.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) accused the Air Force last October of being “way too close to the contractors that they are working with.”

“This is really, really bad because competition is a good thing,” he said.

The Pentagon, however, has asserted that the GBSD program remains on track. Adm. Charles Richard, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, praised the program in remarks to reporters on Sept. 14 as “a pathfinder.”

“I am fully confident in the Air Force’s ability to deliver the requirements and capabilities that I ask for on time, in the budget that they say that they’re going to need,” he said.

The Defense Department is planning to replace the existing Minuteman III ICBM, its supporting launch control facilities, and command-and-control infrastructure. The plan is to purchase 666 new missiles, 400 of which would be operationally deployed into the 2070s.

The Air Force initially estimated the cost of the GBSD program at $62 billion after inflation, but in August 2016, the Pentagon set the estimated acquisition cost of the program at $85 billion. Bloomberg reported on Oct. 1 that the Pentagon has updated the estimated cost of the program to between $93.1 billion and $95.8 billion.

This does not include the cost for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to build a new warhead for the missile. Known as the W87-1, the warhead is projected to cost $12.4 billion.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget request included $1.5 billion for research and development for the GBSD program and $541 million to continue the design of the W87-1 warhead. (See ACT, March 2020.)

A report published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in September warned that “[i]t is not clear that NNSA will be able to produce sufficient numbers of pits, the fissile cores of the primary, to meet the W87-1 warhead’s planned production schedule.”

The GAO also said that the NNSA “has not yet developed documented risk mitigation plans to address the risk of insufficient pits to sustain W87-1 production.”

The Defense Department argues that a new ICBM is necessary because the fleet of 400 deployed Minuteman IIIs is aging into obsolescence. The Pentagon also argues that a new missile is essential to maintain the current force of 400 deployed ICBMs and defeat advancing adversary missile defenses.

A 2014 Air Force analysis, however, did not determine that extending the life of the Minuteman III is infeasible. Instead, the study found that the price to build a new missile system would be roughly the same as the cost to maintain the currently deployed Minuteman III.

The service arrived at this conclusion by comparing the total life-cycle cost of the two options through 2075 based on the current requirement to deploy at least 400 missiles for the entire 50-year service life of the new missile system.

Critics of the GBSD program claim that if the requirements for 450 missiles, a 50-year service life, and new capabilities are relaxed, then it is possible to extend the life of the Minuteman III for a period of time beyond 2030 and at less cost than the current approach.

“There is plenty of argument that we can extend the life of the existing ICBMs if we rely on fewer,” Smith said last October.

The Congressional Budget Office projected in 2017 that $17.5 billion in fiscal year 2017 dollars could be saved through 2046 by delaying development of a new ICBM by 20 years and instead extending the life of the Minuteman IIIs by buying new engines and new guidance systems for the missiles. (See ACT, December 2017.)

The fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and defense appropriations legislation passed by both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House this summer supported the Pentagon’s funding request for the GBSD program.

The legislation also supported the NNSA request for the W87-1 warhead.

The House-passed version of the NDAA, however, raises concerns about the complexity and cost of the GBSD program. The bill requires a report on the Air Force’s “planning in the event of a delay to full operating of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program of at least four years” and options to mitigate “risks to obsolesce of the Minuteman III weapon systems.”

The Trump administration is pressing to replace U.S. ICBMs.

Nations Rebuff U.S. on Iran


September 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

UN Security Council members dismissed the Trump administration’s August attempt to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran, saying that the United States has no standing to do so after Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal that capped Iran’s nuclear activities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2019. Zarif recently criticized U.S. efforts to snap back UN sanctions that have eased as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. (Photo: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)Iran threatened to take action if the Trump administration attempted to snap back UN sanctions, but Tehran might refrain from doing so after a number of council members, including the remaining parties to the nuclear deal, rejected the U.S. move as illegal.

On Aug. 20, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified UN Security Council President Dian Triansyah Djani of Indonesia that the United States was demanding all UN sanctions on Iran be reimposed under a mechanism in the Security Council resolution that supports implementation of the nuclear deal.

Resolution 2231, passed unanimously by the council in July 2015, endorses the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and modifies UN sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo that is set to expire in October. It contains a provision that allows participants in the nuclear deal to snap back sanctions on Iran within 30 days if Tehran is not meeting its obligations under the agreement. The provision is written in such a way that the snapback cannot be vetoed.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an Aug. 20 letter to Djani that “the reckless and unlawful U.S. position disregards well-established rules of international law,” requesting that Djani “refrain from receiving and circulating the inadmissible U.S. notification” on snapback.

The Trump administration notified the Security Council of its intent to snap back sanctions after a U.S. resolution extending the arms embargo on Iran failed to pass the council on Aug. 14. Only the Dominican Republic voted with the United States. Russia and China voted against the resolution. The remaining 11 members abstained, including JCPOA participants France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, who have traditionally supported the United States in security matters.

Pompeo said the council’s failure to pass the resolution is “inexcusable,” whereas Zarif described the vote as “miserable failure of U.S. diplomatic malpractice.”

Pompeo said in an Aug. 20 press briefing that triggering the snapback of UN sanctions is now necessary because the United States will “never allow” Iran to freely buy and sell conventional weapons. He said the United States is confident that the sanctions will come back into effect in 30 days and that “we’re going to do everything we can to enforce them.”

Pompeo cited Iran’s violations of the accord as the rationale for the snapback.

Iran announced in May 2019 that it would “reduce compliance” with its obligations under the JCPOA in response to the U.S. withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions in May 2018.

Iran’s breaches have been well documented by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the European parties to the JCPOA triggered the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism to try and address them in January. However, the remaining parties to the nuclear deal argued that the United States does not have standing to reimpose UN sanctions using Resolution 2231.

In an Aug. 20 letter to Djani, the three European participants in the JCPOA—France, Germany, and the UK, known as the E3—said they do not consider the U.S. notification effective because the United States “ceased to be a JCPOA participant in 2018.”

They argued that the U.S. notification is “incapable of having legal effect” and that any outcome from the U.S. request to snap back “would also be devoid of any legal effect.”

Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the United Nations, said on Aug. 20 that Russia “will challenge” the Trump administration because the United States does not have “the legal right or the reason” to initiate snapback.

An Aug. 20 statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the United States has “no legal ground” to reimpose sanctions, and therefore China does not consider the snapback to have been invoked. The move is “nothing but a political show,” it said.

The Trump administration argues that it is entitled to snap back because the United States is still listed as a JCPOA participant in the text of Resolution 2231 even though the United States is no longer party to the nuclear deal.

When U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, however, he said that the United States is no longer a participant. Then-National Security Advisor John Bolton also dismissed a snapback as an option, noting that the United States is no longer in the JCPOA. He reiterated his opposition to a snapback in a Wall Street Journal commentary on Aug. 16, saying that “[i]t’s too cute by half to say we’re in the nuclear deal for purposes we want but not for those we don’t.”

In May, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised a “crushing” response if the arms embargo is extended. Iran views the lifting of the arms embargo as one of the few remaining benefits of staying in the JCPOA.

Yet, at an Aug. 20 press conference, Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iranian ambassador to the UN, appeared to downplay the likelihood of Iran responding by taking further action on its nuclear program. Although he said Iran has legal options on the table to respond to a snapback, he noted that the United States is isolated within the Security Council on this issue and expressed confidence that the U.S. request for reimposition will be rejected.

The E3 did express “serious concerns about the implications for regional security” when the arms embargo expired and said they are ready to work with the Security Council to address those concerns. The E3 sought a compromise solution to the arms embargo issue, but Brian Hook, U.S. special representative for Iran, appeared to rebuff those efforts in June, saying the U.S. position was that the embargo needed to be extended indefinitely.

Pompeo accused the E3 of choosing to “side with ayatollahs” in his Aug. 20 remarks and said their actions “endanger” people in the region and their own citizens.

Trump also turned down a proposal from Russian President Vladimir Putin for a virtual heads-of-state meeting to “in order to outline steps that can prevent confrontation” at the UN and to “facilitate the emergence of reliable mechanisms in the Persian Gulf region for enduring security and confidence building.”

Bloomberg revealed in August that Iran informed the IAEA of its intention to install three cascades of advanced centrifuges at its underground fuel-enrichment facility at the same location.

A July 21 report from the IAEA seen by the Arms Control Association stated that the three cascades in question were being moved from the pilot plant at Natanz. Iran has installed and is operating advanced machines in violation of JCPOA limits, but given that these machines were already enriching uranium, the move does not appear likely to increase the proliferation risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

 

U.S. Names New Special Representative for Iran

Elliott Abrams will take over as U.S. special representative for Iran following the departure of Brian Hook, who will be leaving the State Department soon, according to an Aug. 6 statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Appointed to the position more than two years ago, Hook has “achieved historic results countering the Iranian regime,” Pompeo said, setting in motion “a range of new strategies that advanced the national security interests of the United States.” Hook played a prominent role in pushing the U.S. maximum pressure campaign against Iran, which has not led to new negotiations with Tehran, the stated aim of the policy.

Abrams currently serves as special representative for Venezuela, a role he will retain in addition to his responsibilities on Iran. Abrams served as deputy national security advisor during the George W. Bush administration and worked at the State Department during the Reagan administration. While at the State Department in the 1980s, he became embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandal, which involved a secret attempt to sell arms to Iran, which was subject to an embargo, and divert funds from the sale to Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

In 1991, Abrams pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. He was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

Seyyed Mousavi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, tweeted on Aug. 7 that there is “no difference” between Hook and Abrams regarding U.S. policy toward Iran.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The United States found nearly no support in its efforts to sanction Iran.

U.S. Modifies Arms Control Aims with Russia


September 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The Trump administration has softened its demand that China immediately participate in trilateral nuclear arms control talks with the United States and Russia and says it is now seeking an interim step: a politically binding framework with Moscow that covers all nuclear warheads, establishes a verification regime suitable to that task, and could include China in the future.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and U.S. President Donald Trump speak at the 2019 G20 summit in Japan. U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien recently said "we'd love to have Putin" come to the White House to sign a nuclear arms control accord, but the lead U.S. arms control negotiator said the two nations "remain far apart on a number of key issues." (Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)Still, the administration continues to oppose an unconditional five-year extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and wants Moscow’s support for limiting all types of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads and strengthening the New START verification regime as a condition for prolonging the treaty.

Russia supports an unconditional extension and says that it will not agree to any changes to New START.

The impasse continues to cast an ominous shadow over the future of the last remaining arms control agreement limiting the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals five months before it is slated to expire.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea said on Aug. 18, following a round of talks in Vienna with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, “that New START is a deeply flawed deal negotiated under the Obama-Biden administration, and it has significant verification deficiencies.”

According to Billingslea, these deficiencies include the absence of sufficient exchanges of missile telemetry and the limited frequency of on-site inspections.

He said that he would recommend that President Donald Trump consider extending the treaty only “if we can fix” the flaws “and if we can address all warheads, and if we do so in a way that is extensible to China.”

“[I]f Russia would like to see that treaty extended, then it’s really on them to come back to us,” he added, citing a mandate from Trump. “The ball is now in Russia’s court.”

New START expires next February but can be extended by up to five years if the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to do so. The treaty caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

Billingslea met with Ryabkov in Vienna from Aug. 17–18. A July 23 call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and as working group discussions between U.S. and Russian technical experts later that month, paved the way for the August meeting, according to Billingslea.

The working groups met in Vienna from July 28–30 to discuss issues such as nuclear doctrine, unconstrained nuclear warheads, transparency, and verification.

Trump said on July 30 that the United States is in “formal negotiations with Russia on arms control.” Although the U.S.-Russia discussions this summer have marked the most sustained period of dialogue on arms control issues since the Trump administration took office, they would be more accurately described as the continuation of a longer standing, less concrete dialogue on strategic security.

National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien suggested on Aug. 16 that Putin could visit the White House to seal a new bilateral arms control understanding. “We’d love to have Putin come here to sign a terrific arms control deal that protects Americans and protects Russians.”

Billingslea, however, said that the two sides “remain far apart on a number of key issues.”

Ryabkov told the Russian news agency Interfax following his meeting with Billingslea that “any additions” to New START “would be impossible both for political and procedural reasons.”

He added that Russia would not support an “extension at any cost.”

“If the U.S. embellishes its possible…decision in favor of extension with all sorts of preconditions and burdens this work with all possible additional requirements, then I think the problem of extending the treaty won’t be that easy to resolve,” he said.

When Billingslea and Ryabkov last met on June 22 in Vienna, the United States pressured China to join, but Beijing declined and remains strongly opposed to trilateral talks with the United States and Russia. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

China’s unalterable opposition appears to have convinced the administration that the only hope for progress lies in bilateral engagement with Russia, at least at the outset.

Trump told reporters on July 30 that “China right now is a much lesser nuclear power…than Russia.” He said that he would focus on arms control talks with Russia and then “go to China together.”

Billingslea said in Vienna that “we’re not going to negotiate another bilateral arms control treaty.”

He added that “the framework that we are articulating” with Russia “will be the framework going forward that China will be expected to join.”

The Trump administration has yet to detail its specific objectives for arms control with China, a fact that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized on July 29. “Let them at least document what they have in mind,” he said.

CBO Weighs Cost of New START Expiration

The U.S. Defense Department could incur modest to staggeringly high costs if the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) expires in February 2021 and the United States increases its arsenal above the treaty limits, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found in an August report.

On the modest end, expanding forces to reach the limits set by the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) would not increase the Pentagon’s cost relative to its current plans, since the New START limits are comparable to the SORT limits.

At the high end, the Pentagon could pay $410 billion to $439 billion as a one-time cost and $24 billion to $28 billion annually in pursuit of a more flexible approach that involves buying more delivery systems.

CBO estimated the cost if the United States increases its deployed strategic nuclear forces to the levels of three previous arms control treaties: the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which capped warheads at 6,000 for each side; the 1993 START II agreement, which sought to limit warheads to 3,000 to 3,500 but was never entered into force; and SORT, which limited warheads to 1,700 to 2,200.

New START limits the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads on 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles. The Trump administration’s plans to sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal are likely to exceed $1.5 trillion over the next several decades after including the impact of inflation.

CBO examined two approaches for expanding U.S. forces to reach each of the three treaty’s levels. The lower-cost and less flexible approach would involve increasing the number of warheads allocated to each missile and bomber and minimize any potential purchase of additional delivery systems. The more flexible yet more expensive approach would purchase more delivery systems to reach the number of desired warheads.

The United States could also take an approach that lies between those two approaches, CBO noted.

CBO said that the projected cost to increase the arsenal could be even higher, as the office’s estimates did not include the cost of producing additional warheads by the Energy Department, any new operating bases or training facilities if needed, or an expansion in delivery system production capability.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, requested the report in September 2019.

The CBO report comes on the heels of a July 30 report by the Government Accountability Office, which found that the Defense Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have not considered how the potential expiration of New START may affect their nuclear modernization plans and spending.

“DOD is basing its plans on the assumption that New START will be extended, and it currently has no plans to change its force structure,” the GAO said in a July 30 report.

“NNSA similarly has not considered the implications of the potential expiration of New START on the assumptions underlying its overall program of record and future-years funding projections as described in the fiscal year 2021 budget justification,” the GAO noted. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Following U.S.-Russian arms control talks in Vienna in mid-August, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, Deputy Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said that the U.S. military is “agnostic” on the question of whether extending New START is in its best interests.

Bussiere added, “We do believe, however, that it does provide increased international security.”—SHANNON BUGOS

Billingslea claimed that many “countries have already called out the Chinese for their failure to negotiate with us in good faith, and that chorus of calls…would accelerate dramatically once we have created an architecture to control all nuclear weapons.”

Fu Cong, China’s director general of the Department of Arms Control and Disarmament, said on July 8 that “it is unrealistic to expect China to join the two countries in a negotiation aimed at nuclear arms reduction” given the differences in the sizes of nuclear arsenals of three countries. The United States and Russia have about 6,000 total nuclear warheads each, China is believed to have about 300.

Fu also accused the United States of using Beijing’s refusal to join trilateral talks as “a ploy to divert world attention and to create a pretext under which they could walk away” from New START.

Fu added “that China stands ready to discuss all issues related to strategic stability and nuclear risk reduction in the framework of P5, i.e. among China, Russia, U.S., UK, and France.”

Russia continues to say that it will not force China to come to the table and that if a multilateral nuclear agreement is to be negotiated then nuclear-armed France and the United Kingdom must be part of it as well.

Although the Trump administration is now willing to negotiate with Russia before bringing China into talks at a later date, it has not specified what a politically binding framework with Russia should contain and what it would be willing to put on the table to incentivize Russia’s agreement.

Billingslea told Axios on Aug. 20 that Russia raised “a range of issues with U.S. capabilities” in Vienna, but that Moscow’s non-nuclear concerns about for example U.S. missile defenses are not on the table as part of a possible framework deal.

Billingslea has offered few clues about how a new agreement should capture U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons that have never before been limited by arms control, such as shorter-range tactical nuclear warheads and warheads held by each country in reserve.

He hinted, however, that the preferred U.S. approach would not necessarily hinge on counting individual unconstrained warheads.

“What we likely will see is a hybrid approach that would maintain limitations on the strategic systems but which would provide for a method of ensuring that the overall inventory of warheads writ large is static,” he said.

 

Committee Advances Billingslea Nomination

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced Marshall Billingslea’s nomination to become undersecretary of state for arms control and international security on July 29. The committee voted in favor of the nomination on a 11–10 party line vote, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) abstaining. The full Senate has yet to schedule a date to consider Billingslea’s nomination.

Billingslea, currently the U.S. special presidential envoy for arms control, sat before the committee on July 21 for his nomination hearing.

In his opening remarks, Billingslea touted his “support for arms control that advances U.S. security, and which is both enforceable and verifiable.”

Billingslea was formerly an adviser to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an ardent opponent of many arms control agreements.

Committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) asked Billingslea for his “thoughts on the fact that” the administration’s arms control efforts are “probably going to be bilateral as opposed to trilateral,” referring to the administration’s desire for a new nuclear arms control agreement with not only Russia but also China.

Billingslea responded that efforts with Russia and China “need to converge in the direction of a trilateral arms control arrangement that brings back many of the most effective verification mechanisms that we once had in the original [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] and which also address the unconstrained warheads that Russia is now building.”

Asked about the Trump administration’s view on extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), due to expire in February 2021, Billingslea said, “We have not arrived at a decision one way or another on extension of the agreement and, if so, for what period of time.”

In addition to New START, Billingslea also faced questions about hypersonic weapons from Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

Billingslea said that some of the new strategic nuclear weapons Russia is developing, such as the hypersonic glide vehicle called Avangard, would be covered under New START. “But other of these weapons, I would not want to say they should be captured because we frankly don’t think these weapons should exist at all,” he said, referring to weapons such as the nuclear-powered cruise missile named Burevestnik.

Billingslea also said the United States would not “restrict” its missile defense options in any arms control negotiations. Moscow has previously said it would only limit its nonstrategic nuclear weapons if Washington were to limit its missile defenses.

Addressing his earlier Pentagon service, when the George W. Bush administration promoted interrogation techniques that Congress later banned as torture, Billingslea said, “I never advocated for any technique that was characterized to me as torture.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) cited Billingslea’s record on torture as a major concern with him potentially taking up the top arms control job at the State Department.

“When I come to ask you in your new position whether you argue for taking human rights into account before approving the export of more bombs to Saudi Arabia to drop on Yemen or whether you advocated for stronger U.S. protections in an arms treaty with Russia, I’m wondering whether we’ll get the truth,” said Menendez.—KINGSTON REIF and SHANNON BUGOS

The Trump administration eases demand for Chinese participation in new arms control talks.

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