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Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
December 2016
Edition Date: 
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Cover Image: 

Trump Reassures South Korea on Security

December 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

South Korean President Park Guen-hye reported that she received an assurance from President-elect Donald Trump that the United States will be “steadfast and strong” in its security alliance with South Korea. 

Park said in a Nov. 10 statement that she spoke with Trump the day after his election and raised the issue of North Korean nuclear weapons advances as the “greatest threat” that both nations face. “We are with you all the way, and we will not waver,” he said, according to the South Korean account of the 10-minute phone conversation. 

South Korean sailors wave South Korean and U.S. flags as the aircraft carrier USS George Washington arrives in Busan for a port visit on July 11, 2014. (Photo credit: Mass Comm. Spec. 1st Class Frank L. Andrews/U.S. Navy)North Korea has violated UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting nuclear and ballistic missile tests over two dozen times this year through November. Experts advise that North Korea will need to be a priority for the new administration, as Pyongyang continues to advance its ballistic missile capabilities and expand its stockpile of fissile material for nuclear weapons. 

North Korea conducted two underground nuclear test explosions this year, and a number of experts and officials from South Korea and the United States assess that Pyongyang could fit a nuclear warhead on a medium-range ballistic missile. (See ACT, October 2016; January/February 2016.)

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, told a group of South Korean officials on Nov. 18 that North Korea would be a top priority for the Trump administration. 

Trump has yet to give details on how he will approach North Korea. On the campaign trail in June, he suggested he would be willing to personally negotiate with leader Kim Jong Un over North Korea’s nuclear program. A few months earlier on a CBS news broadcast, Trump called Kim a “bad dude” and said that he would increase economic pressure on China “to make that guy disappear in one form or another.” 

 Trump’s assurance to Park that the United States will be steadfast and strong in its security alliance with Seoul marks a shift in his thinking during the campaign. At various times, Trump raised the prospect of removing U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula, saying South Korea was not paying enough of the costs for U.S. troops stationed there, and suggested that South Korea and Japan may need to develop their own nuclear weapons rather than relying on the United States for security.

South Korea currently pays about half of the costs of housing more than 28,000 U.S. troops on the peninsula, but Trump has argued that Seoul should pay a greater share of the expense. 

The United States used to keep nuclear weapons in South Korea, but removed them in 1991. South Korea and Japan are protected by U.S. nuclear weapons as part of Washington’s extended deterrence.

Pyongyang has remained relatively silent on Trump’s election, although a week after the voting, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) implied that Park was using the U.S. election and the “Trump emergency system” to divert attention from the scandal surrounding her own presidency. 

Protesters are calling on Park to resign after information came to light that she allowed a friend to edit speeches and access sensitive information. 

A report submitted by South Korea’s unification ministry on Nov. 14 said that Seoul will continue its policy of sanctions and pressure on North Korea during the Trump administration. 

 The Obama administration’s policy included increasing pressure on North Korea through sanctions and engaging in talks with North Korea only after Pyongyang takes steps toward denuclearization. 

KCNA issued a release on Nov. 8 that characterized the Obama administration as a “total failure” and stated that President Barack Obama’s plan to “stifle” North Korea pushed Pyongyang to “bolster its nuclear force.”

South Korean President Park Guen-hye reported that she received an assurance from President-elect Donald Trump that the United States will be “steadfast and strong” in its security alliance with South Korea. 

Japan Signs Nuclear Accord With India

December 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

India and Japan signed a nuclear cooperation agreement that will allow New Delhi to purchase material and technologies from Japan for its civilian nuclear program. 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed the agreement in Tokyo on Nov. 11 after six years of negotiations. Modi called the accord a “historic step” for India’s “engagement for a clean energy partnership.” 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe shake hands during a joint press conference at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo on November 11. (Photo credit: Franck Robichon/AFP/Getty Images)The deal will help New Delhi realize its ambitious plans to expand its civilian nuclear power program. According to the World Nuclear Association, India currently has 21 operating nuclear power reactors, six units under construction, and plans for more than 20 additional reactors. 

India is able to engage in nuclear commerce because it received a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008. The waiver allows New Delhi to purchase nuclear technology from NSG members, such as Japan, for peaceful uses despite not having ratified the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and having placed only some of its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. (See ACT, October 2008.

Abe said that the deal sets up a “legal framework to assure that India acts responsibly.”

The nuclear material and technology purchased by India under the deal with Japan will be subject to IAEA safeguards. India and the IAEA reached an agreement in 2009 for a limited number of its nuclear facilities to be placed under safeguards.

Under the agreement with Japan, India is also permitted to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and enrich uranium, although not to weapons-grade levels, and it is required to account for all of the nuclear material transferred under the agreement. 

Opponents of the deal have argued that India can exploit these provisions to produce fissile material for its nuclear weapons program. In a Nov. 11 statement, Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist for Greenpeace, said that there is “no effective separation between India’s nuclear energy program and its weapons program” and that the agreement will “support further nuclear weapons proliferation in Asia.” 

Abe has defended the agreement as “in line with Japan’s position to promote nonproliferation.” The agreement contains clauses that allow Tokyo to nullify the agreement and require New Delhi to return any materials or technologies purchased from Japan if India conducts a nuclear test. Prior to the return of materials, the two countries would jointly assess the safety considerations of halting work at any facility and conduct a security assessment to determine if India’s actions were prompted by a “changed security environment.” 

India conducted nuclear explosive tests in 1974 and 1998 and has declared a nuclear testing moratorium unilaterally since then. New Delhi has not signed or ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. 

Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said on Nov. 11 that provisions of the deal are “broadly” in line with nuclear cooperation agreements India has signed. India agreements with several other countries, including France, Russia, and the United States.

India and Japan signed a nuclear cooperation agreement that will allow New Delhi to purchase material and technologies from Japan for its civilian nuclear program. 

India Stays Silent on First Nuclear Sub

December 2016

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

India has quietly put into active service its first ballistic missile submarine in August, according to news reports. If so, India will have taken the last necessary step to possess a nuclear triad, the ability to launch nuclear weapons from air, land, and sea. 

The Indian government neither confirmed nor denied reports of the commissioning of the INS Arihant, a nuclear-powered submarine capable of launching ballistic missiles. It can be equipped with 12 750-kilometer-range K-15 missiles or four 3,500-kilometer-range K-4 missiles. A K-4 missile launched from the northern Indian Ocean could reach China and Pakistan. The K-15 has been operational since July 2012, but the K-4 is estimated to require further testing before deployment. 

An Indian Kalvari-class attack submarine is escorted by tugboats in Mumbai on October 29, 2015. Recently, India is believed to have put its first Arihant-class ballistic missile submarine into active service. (Photo credit: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s submarine program began in 1984. The Arihant is the first of three ballistic missile submarines to be developed under the Advanced Technology Vessel program; the second, the INS Aridhaman, is scheduled to be delivered in 2018. India began development of the Arihant in 2009 and started testing it in December 2014. Sea trials were completed in February. In a March 19 interview with Arms Control Today, an Indian official claimed that the submarine would be ready to be commissioned at any time in the following month. (See ACT, April 2016.)

But the Indian government has made no announcement about commissioning the Arihant. The defense ministry did not confirm or deny that the submarine had been commissioned in August, reported The Diplomat on Oct. 19. When asked about the Arihant, the ministry and the Indian navy refused to comment on the grounds that the submarine program is a strategic and classified project, according to an Oct. 18 Times of India article. “There will soon be an opportunity to talk about it,” Vice Admiral GS Pabby stated in response to questions about the submarine at an Oct. 18 event, reported Hindu Business Line.

Several members of India’s defense community welcomed the news reports that the Arihant had begun active duty, citing the gap between India’s submarine fleet and those of other nuclear powers. As of 2015, India possesses 15 submarines while rival China has more than 50 conventional submarines and four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. 

The implications of India’s acquisition of a ballistic missile submarine are a “mixed bag,” Shane Mason, a research associate in the Stimson Center’s South Asia program told Arms Control Today on Nov. 15. Although such submarines are the most survivable leg of the triad and could enhance deterrence, they may create command and control challenges for India and give Pakistan an incentive to pursue its own sea-based leg of the nuclear triad, Mason said. 

In India, nuclear command and control traditionally has been directed by the political sector, not the military. “The practice of sea-based deterrence will be a new one for India and will upend the country’s tradition of strict civilian control of nuclear forces,” Mason said.

India has quietly put into active service its first ballistic missile submarine in August, according to news reports. 

UN Extends Syria CW Investigation

December 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

In response to the first documented finding that a state-party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) used prohibited chemical weapons, the UN Security Council remained deadlocked last month over sanctioning the Syrian regime due to objections from Russia. However, it extended the mandate of a special investigative team to continue its work for another year.

Separately, a majority of the 41 member states on the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) formally condemned the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, but also stopped short of sanctioning the guilty party.

Virginia Gamba, head of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, briefs the press on October 27 following presentation of the group’s fourth report to the Security Council. (Photo credit: Amanda Voisard/UN)A special UN-OPCW investigative team briefed the Security Council on Oct. 27 on its determination of groups responsible for conducting chemical attacks in Syria. It found Syrian government forces responsible for the use of chlorine, a choking agent, three times during 2014 and 2015, and blamed the Islamic State group in Syria for using sulfur mustard gas, a blistering agent, in August 2015. (See ACT, November 2016.)

Russia’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, disputed the findings of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) as “unconvincing” and argued that no sanctions should be imposed on the Syrian government. Russian-supplied helicopters were found by the investigators to have been used by Syrian army units to drop barrel bombs containing chlorine.

Following a massive sarin gas attack in August 2013 in the suburbs of Damascus, the United States and Russia brokered a plan requiring Syria to join the CWC and allow for the removal and destruction of its large chemical weapons stockpile and associated production and delivery capacity. The Security Council unanimously voted in September 2013 to adopt Resolution 2118 endorsing the U.S.-Russian plan and agreed that the body would impose measures under Chapter VII of its charter if Syria did not comply or if it used or authorized the transfer of chemical agents.

Since the 13-month JIM investigation into subsequent chemical weapons incidents was completed, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have been pushing the Security Council to impose punitive sanctions on the Syrian regime for its continued use of chlorine as a weapon. But Russia, which is allied with the Syrian regime, would likely have vetoed such a measure, according to diplomatic officials who spoke with Arms Control Today.

Instead, the Security Council on Oct. 13 unanimously adopted Resolution 2314 to extend the mandate of the JIM to Nov. 18 to allow time to negotiate a one-year renewal of its mission. 

“We consider this renewal as a necessary step, but only a first step,” French Ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre told Agence France-Presse on Oct. 31. “There are more cases of chemical weapons use in Syria, and so it is absolutely critical that the JIM gets later a one-year mandate to continue its investigation.” 

On Nov. 17, the council voted unanimously to authorize the JIM to continue its investigations for a year. 

“There is credible evidence of many more chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Assad regime,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said in a statement following the vote. “The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime is a clear violation of Syria’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and under Security Council Resolution 2118.”

OPCW Seeks Accountability  

In a resolution adopted Nov. 11, the OPCW Executive Council, meeting in The Hague, called on all parties identified in the JIM reports as culpable to desist immediately, and it authorized additional inspections at sites and facilities in Syria. 

The resolution, which was advanced by Spain, stated that “every actor involved in these chemical weapons attacks should be held accountable” but did not sanction any Syrian government entities involved in the chlorine attacks. U.S. officials told Arms Control Today that a number of countries said the UN Security Council, not the OPCW Executive Council, should be the body that mandates punitive measures when a state is found to be in violation of the chemical weapons ban.

“The United States would have preferred an even stronger statement against those responsible for chemical weapons use in Syria,” according to a State Department official who spoke with Foreign Policy on Nov. 11.

The resolution, which was supported by 28 states, including France, Germany, the UK, and the United States, according to Reuters, also expressed grave concern that gaps, inconsistencies, and discrepancies in the Syrian government’s initial declaration have not been resolved. Russia, China, Sudan, and Iran voted against the compromise Spanish resolution, Reuters reported, and nine countries abstained. 

The resolution also demanded that the Syrian government comply fully and authorized OPCW inspectors to visit two sites identified in the most recent JIM reports as having been “involved in the weaponization, storage, delivery and use of toxic chemicals as weapons.”

U.S. officials argue that all perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks must be held accountable. “If we want to deter the use of chemical weapons and other types of prohibited weapons in the future, accountability matters,” according to remarks delivered Nov. 16 in Washington by Thomas Countryman, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

The UN Security Council remained deadlocked last month over sanctioning the Syrian regime due to objections from Russia. 

U.S., Russia Discuss INF Disputes

December 2016

By Kingston Reif

The United States and Russia met in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty’s implementation forum last month “to discuss questions relating to compliance with the obligations assumed under” the 1987 agreement, according to a State Department press release. 

The Special Verification Commission meeting, which was called by the United States over alleged Russian treaty violations, took place in Geneva on Nov. 15-16, the State Department said. (See ACT, November 2016.) Last convened 13 years ago, the commission was established by the treaty as the forum to discuss compliance disputes and to “agree upon such measures as may be necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness” of the treaty.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech at a Valdai Discussion Club meeting in Sochi on October 27, during which he said that almost all of Russia's neighbors possessed missiles prohibited by the INF Treaty. (Photo credit: Russian Presidential Executive Office)The United States continues to stand by the assessment, first made publicly in July 2014, that Russia is in violation of its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile having a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

Russia denies that it is breaching the agreement and has countered with its own charges of noncompliance by Washington. It asserts that the United States is placing a missile defense launch system in Europe that can also be used to fire cruise missiles, using missiles with similar characteristics to INF Treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles in missile defense tests, and making armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles.

The United States disputes the Russian charges and maintains it is in compliance with the agreement. 

It is not clear whether the November meeting made progress toward resolving the compliance disputes or whether the parties agreed to meet again. A State Department official told Arms Control Today in a Nov. 17 email that the department had nothing to announce beyond that the meeting took place. The session marked the 30th meeting of the commission since the treaty took effect.

In an Oct. 27 press conference at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that almost all of Russia’s neighbors possess missiles of the range prohibited by the INF Treaty “whereas none of the countries sharing borders with the United States…manufacture such weapons.”

“So, for us” the agreement “is a special test,” Putin said. “But nevertheless, we believe it is necessary to honor this treaty.”

The United States and Russia met in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty’s implementation forum last month to discuss outstanding issues.

CTBTO’s Zerbo Gets Second Term

December 2016

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). (Photo credit: CTBTO)

The member states of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) reappointed Lassina Zerbo as executive secretary for a second four-year term. The CTBTO, established in 1996, supports the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) verification regime and promotes the treaty’s eventual entry into force. To date, 183 states have signed the CTBT, and 166 have ratified it. Eight remaining Annex 2 states, including the United States, must ratify the treaty for it to enter into force. 

In an address to the EU Nonproliferation and Disarmament Conference on Nov. 4, Zerbo noted the high-level conference in June to mark the CTBT’s 20th anniversary. He applauded UN Security Council Resolution 2310, adopted on Sept. 23, which reaffirmed support for the international moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, calling it an “inspiration.” Zerbo acknowledged several challenges to the treaty, such as continued North Korean nuclear testing, the failure of U.S. and China to ratify, and completing and maintaining the international test monitoring system.

The member states of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) reappointed Lassina Zerbo as executive secretary for a second four-year term.

Russia Completes S-300 Delivery to Iran

December 2016

By April Brady

Russia completed delivery of the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran last month, concluding an $800 million deal signed between the two states in 2007, state-run Russian press agency RIA Novosti reported. The S-300 mobile surface-to-air missile system can counter multiple aircraft at a range of 195 kilometers and ballistic missiles at a range of up to 50 kilometers. 

In September 2010, following pressure from the United States and Israel, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suspended the agreement in compliance with a stricter UN arms embargo passed in June of that year. (See ACT, October 2010.)

An Iranian military truck carries parts of the S300 missile system during an annual military parade in Tehran on September 21. (Photo credit: Chavosh Homavandi/AFP/Getty Images)Iran protested the decision, filing a $4 billion lawsuit against Russia’s defense export agency and embarking on the manufacture of its own long-range, mobile air defense system, the Bavar-373, which President Hassan Rouhani unveiled in August. 

After Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 agreed on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to constrain and roll back Iran’s nuclear program in July 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted the ban on weapons sales to Iran and signed a new agreement with Tehran, sending the first shipment of parts in April.

Despite classification of the S-300 system as defensive, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly raised objections with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the transaction, said State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau during a May 10 press briefing. “[W]hile we’re opposed to the sale, it is not a violation” of the Iran nuclear deal or UN Security Council Resolution 2231, she said. That resolution formally endorsed the accord.

Since the conclusion of the S-300 system’s sale, Russian state news services have reported that Iran and Russia plan to negotiate a $10 billion deal to supply arms to Iran, which is expected to include artillery systems, helicopters, planes, and T-90 tanks.

Russia completed delivery of the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran last month, concluding an $800 million deal signed between the two states in 2007.

Nuclear Suppliers Discuss Membership

December 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

Representatives from the 48 member states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) met in Vienna last month to discuss possible common membership criteria for countries that have not joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The meeting on Nov. 11 was the first since the NSG’s June plenary meeting in Seoul, where states considered but did not agree to separate membership bids from India and Pakistan, neither of which is a member of the NPT. (See ACT, July/August 2016.)

South Korean Ambassador Song Young-wan, chair of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, speaks at an event in Vienna on May 6. (Photo credit: Kresimir Nikolic/IAEA)

In 2008, after a long and contentious debate, the group exempted India from the NSG’s long-standing full-scope safeguards requirement for nuclear trade with non-nuclear-weapon states on the basis of political commitments made by India, including a commitment to abide by its unilateral nuclear testing moratorium. 

Earlier this year, Washington and New Delhi launched a diplomatic push for full Indian membership in the NSG. Pakistan submitted a separate membership bid. But at the group’s meeting in June, China and several other states insisted that NPT membership must be one of the key criteria.

At the Nov. 11 meeting, which was convened by the current chair of the NSG, South Korean Ambassador Song Young-wan, the delegates continued to exchange views on the “two-step” process on non-NPT states’ participation begun at their Seoul meeting. 

Since the June plenary, Song, with the assistance of outgoing NSG chair Rafael Mariano Grossi of Argentina, have consulted states on possible criteria for membership. According to senior diplomats involved in the confidential consultations, NSG states have begun to seriously engage on potential options, but the discussion has not yet reached the point at which a consensus decision might be achieved.

Several states involved in the consultations have suggested that signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) should be included as one of the common criteria for NSG membership, according to diplomats who spoke with Arms Control Today

In September, the UN Security Council approved a resolution reaffirming the importance of the CTBT. (See ACT, October 2016.) Last month, India, which has not signed the nuclear test ban accord, concluded a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan that would be terminated if India conducts a nuclear test.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement Nov. 11 saying that “China maintains that any formula worked out should be non-discriminatory and applicable to all non-NPT states; without prejudice to the core value of the NSG and the effectiveness, authority and integrity of the international non-proliferation regime with the NPT as its cornerstone; and without contradicting the customary international law in the field of non-proliferation.”

Representatives from the 48 member states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) met in Vienna last month to discuss possible common membership.

Mr. Trump and the Bomb

December 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

For decades, U.S. presidents from both parties have been confronted with a range of nuclear weapons perils. So far, despite several near misses and close calls, we have avoided catastrophe and limited the spread of nuclear weapons to nine states. But with the election of Donald Trump, the United States and the world move into uncharted and dangerous nuclear territory.

(Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)Beginning Jan. 20, the devastating power of the U.S. nuclear arsenal will be under the control of an impulsive and unpredictable commander-in-chief. During the 2016 campaign, Trump made a number of casual and deeply troubling statements that suggest he has a poor understanding of the unique dangers posed by nuclear weapons and may not be up to the task of managing the risks. 

When asked in January 2016 when he might consider using nuclear weapons, Trump said, “Well, it is an absolute last stance…[but] you want to be unpredictable,” implying that he might engage in dangerous nuclear brinksmanship in a crisis.

Trump said it would be acceptable if Japan or South Korea sought their own nuclear weapons to counter North Korea’s because, he claimed, “it’s going to happen anyway.” Such an attitude contradicts decades of U.S. policy and undermines the global consensus against proliferation.

Trump also pledged to “dismantle” the 2015 agreement between six world powers and Iran, which is verifiably working to block Iran’s pathways to the bomb. If he tries even to “renegotiate” the deal, he would open the door to the rapid reconstitution of Iran’s capabilities, alienate all major U.S. allies, and trigger another disastrous war in the Middle East. If Trump or the Republican-led Congress sabotage the deal, they will own the grave geopolitical consequences.

Unlike President Barack Obama, who came into the White House with a detailed nuclear threat reduction game plan, Trump has no discernable strategy for managing today’s most daunting nuclear challenges.

The most urgent problem is North Korea’s growing nuclear weapons capability. Even with tougher international sanctions, the North’s program will continue to advance, and calls for nuclear weapons in South Korea will grow. With additional nuclear and missile tests, Pyongyang could have an operational arsenal of several dozen nuclear-armed, medium-range ballistic missiles by the end of Trump’s first term.

During the campaign, Trump said he would be willing to talk with North Korea’s leader, but he also suggested the problem could be outsourced to China. In reality, Beijing will not exert what influence it has without clear U.S. support for a renewed and wide-ranging dialogue with Pyongyang.

Shortly after Inauguration Day, Trump should direct a personal representative to communicate the United States’ interest in a deal leading to denuclearization and a formal end to the Korean conflict. As a first step, the parties should agree to a verifiable halt of further North Korean longer-range missile and nuclear tests and fissile material production and a temporary cessation of major U.S. military exercises in the region. This approach does not guarantee success, but maintaining the current policy assures failure.

Trump must also engage with Russian President Vladimir Putin to defuse rising tensions and head off a NATO-Russia confrontation that could lead to nuclear war. To do so, his still-to-be-named team will need to revitalize existing risk reduction and confidence-building mechanisms, ensure that Russia respects international borders, preserve the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, address Russian fears about U.S. missile interceptor capabilities, and develop rules of the road to prevent destabilizing cyberattacks.

The risk of catastrophic miscalculation remains far too high. Until 2021, each side is allowed to deploy 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads, hundreds of which are primed for launch under attack. For a start, Trump and Putin should reaffirm that there can be no winner in a nuclear war and agree to a sustained dialogue on strategic stability. 

If Trump can persuade Congress not to expand costly missile interceptor programs and respects the U.S. nuclear test ban and no-new-nuclear-warhead policies, he may find Russia willing to jointly slash strategic nuclear forces by one-third below the limits of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Such a step would ease tensions and reduce fears of a new nuclear arms race, plus it would reduce the skyrocketing price of nuclear weapons. The current all-of-the-above plan to replace and upgrade the U.S. nuclear triad and supporting infrastructure is projected to cost more than half a trillion dollars over the next 20 years and is unsustainable. By reducing nuclear excess and delaying program schedules, deterrence requirements can be met while saving tens of billions of taxpayer dollars. 

The most serious test of any president is whether and how they reduce global nuclear dangers and avoid miscalculation in a nuclear crisis. To succeed or at least avoid major mistakes, the Trump administration must discard reckless campaign rhetoric and learn how to build on his predecessors' substantial efforts to strengthen the taboo against the spread and use of nuclear weapons.

The Trump administration must discard reckless campaign rhetoric and learn how to build on his predecessor’s substantial nonproliferation record.

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