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Obama Administration Decision Weakens New START Implementation

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At the same time the Air Force is destroying 50 silos at Malmstrom AFB (above) and another 50 at F.E Warren AFB emptied by the Bush administration, the Obama administration has decided to retain 50 silos scheduled to be emptied under the New START treaty.

By Hans M. Kristensen

After four years of internal deliberations, the U.S. Air Force has decided to empty 50 Minuteman III ICBMs from 50 of the nation’s 450 ICBM silos. Instead of destroying the empty silos, however, they will be kept “warm” to allow reloading the missiles in the future if necessary.

The decision to retain the silos rather than destroy them is in sharp contrast to the destruction of 100 empty silos currently underway at Malmstrom AFB and F.E. Warren AFB. Those silos were emptied of Minuteman and MX ICBMs in 2005-2008 by the Bush administration and are scheduled to be destroyed by 2016.  Continue Reading →

New START Data Show Russian Increase, US Decrease Of Deployed Warheads

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The latest aggregate data released by the US State Department for the New START treaty show that Russia has increased its counted deployed strategic nuclear forces over the past six months.

The data show that Russia increased its deployed launchers by 25 from 473 to 498, and the warheads attributed to those launchers increased by 112 from 1,400 to 1,512 compared with the previous count in September 2013.

During the same period, the United States decreased its number of deployed launchers by 31 from 809 to 778, and the warheads attributed to those launchers decreased by 103 from 1,688 to 1,585.

The increase of the Russian count does not indicate that its in increasing its strategic nuclear forces but reflects fluctuations in the number of launchers and their attributed warheads at the time of the count. At the time of the previous data release in September 2013, the United States appeared to have increased its forces. But that was also an anomaly reflecting temporary fluctuations in the deployed force.

Both countries are slowly reducing their strategic nuclear weapons to meet the New START treaty limit by 2018 of no more than 1,550 strategic warheads on 700 deployed launchers. Russia has been below the treaty warhead limit since 2012 and was below the launcher limit even before the treaty was signed. The United States has yet to reduce below the treaty limit.

Since the treaty was signed in 2010, the United States has reduced its counted strategic forces by 104 deployed launchers and 215 warheads; Russia has reduced its counted force by 23 launchers and  25 warheads. The reductions are modest compared with the two countries total inventories of nuclear warheads: Approximately 4,650 stockpiled warheads for the United States (with another 2,700 awaiting dismantlement) and 4,300 stockpiled warheads for Russia (with another 3,500 awaiting dismantlement).

Details of the Russian increase and US decrease are yet unclear because neither country reveals the details of the changes at the time of the release of the aggregate data. In about six months, the United States will publish a declassified overview of its forces; Russia does not publish a detailed overview of its strategic forces.

For analysis of the previous New START data, see: http://blogs.fas.org/security/2013/10/newstartsep2013/

Detailed nuclear force overviews are available here: Russia | United States

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

New START Data Shows Russia Reducing, US Increasing Nuclear Forces

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By Hans M. Kristensen

While arms control opponents in Congress have been busy criticizing the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce nuclear forces further, the latest data from the New START Treaty shows that Russia has reduced its deployed strategic nuclear forces while the United States has increased its force over the past six months.

Yes, you read that right. Over the past six months, the U.S. deployed strategic nuclear forces counted under the New START Treaty have increased by 34 warheads and 17 launchers.

It is the first time since the treaty entered into effect in February 2011 that the United States has been increasing its deployed forces during a six-month counting period.

We will have to wait a few months for the full aggregate data set to be declassified to see the details of what has happened. But it probably reflects fluctuations mainly in the number of missiles onboard ballistic missile submarines at the time of the count.   Continue Reading →

B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Triggers Debate in the Netherlands

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In a few years, US Air Force C-17 aircraft will begin airlifting new B61-12 nuclear bombs into six air bases in five NATO countries, including Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands (seen above).

By Hans M. Kristensen

The issue of the improved military capabilities of the new B61-12 nuclear bomb entered the Dutch debate today with a news story on KRO Brandpunt (video here) describing NATO’s approval in 2010 of the military characteristics of the weapon.

Dutch approval to introduce the enhanced bomb later this decade is controversial because the Dutch parliament wants the government to work for a withdrawal of nuclear weapons from the Netherlands and Europe. The Dutch government apparently supports a withdrawal.  Continue Reading →

Dispute Over US Nuke in the Netherlands: Who Pays For An Accident?

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Who pays for a crash of a nuclear weapons airlift from Volkel Air Base?

By Hans M. Kristensen

Only a few years before U.S. nuclear bombs deployed at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands are scheduled to be airlifted back to the United States and replaced with an improved bomb with greater accuracy, the U.S. and Dutch governments are in a dispute over how to deal with the environmental consequences of a potential accident.

The Dutch government wants environmental remediation to be discussed in the Netherlands United States Operational Group (NUSOG), a special bilateral group established in 2003 to discuss matters relating to the U.S. deployment of nuclear weapons in the Netherlands.

But the United States has refused, arguing that NUSOG is the wrong forum to discuss the issue and that environmental remediation is covered by the standard Status of Forces Agreement from 1951.

The disagreement at one point got so heated that a Dutch officials threatened that his government might have to consider reviewing US Air Force nuclear overflight rights of the Netherlands if the United States continue to block the issue from being discussed within the NUSOG.

The dispute was uncovered by the Brandpunt Reporter of the TV station KRO (see video and also this report), who discovered  three secret documents previously released by WikiLeaks (document 1, document 2, and document 3).

The documents not only describe the Dutch government’s attempts to discuss – and U.S. efforts to block – the issue within NUSOG, but also confirm what is officially secret but everyone knows: that the United States stores nuclear weapons at Volkel Air Base.  Continue Reading →

MSNBC On Nuclear Weapons Reduction Efforts

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By Hans M. Kristensen

MSNBC used FAS data on the world nuke arsenals in an interview with Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione about how deteriorating US-Russian relations might affect efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals.

The updated weapons estimates on the FAS web site are here.

Detailed profiles of each nuclear weapon state are published as Nuclear Notebooks in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Support our work to produce high-quality estimates of world nuclear forces: Donate here.

 

Russian Missile Test Creates Confusion and Opposition in Washington

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The recent test-launch of a modified Russian ballistic missile has nuclear arms reduction opponents up in arms with claims that Russia is fielding a new missile in violation of arms control agreements and that the United States therefore should not pursue further reductions of nuclear forces.

The fact that the Russian name of the modified missile – Rubezh – sounds a little like rubbish is a coincidence, but it fits some of the complaints pretty well.

Although many of the facts are missing – what the missile is and what the U.S. Intelligence Community has concluded – public information and statements indicate that the missile is a modified RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) with intercontinental range.

Whatever the missile is, it is certainly no reason for why the United States should not seek to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear forces further. On the contrary, the continued modernization of nuclear weapons underscores why it is important that the United States continues its push for reducing the numbers and role of nuclear weapons.  Continue Reading →

New Nuclear Weapons Employment Guidance Puts Obama’s Fingerprint on Nuclear Weapons Policy and Strategy

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By Hans M. Kristensen

President Barack Obama’s Berlin speech failed to capture the nuclear disarmament spirit of the Prague speech four years ago. And no wonder. Back then Obama had to contrast with the Bush administration’s nuclear policies. This time Obama had to upstage his own record.

The only real nuclear weapons news that was included in the Berlin speech was a decision previously reported by the Center for Public Integrity that the administration is pursuing an “up to a one-third reduction” in deployed nuclear weapons established under New START.

Instead, the real nuclear news of the day were the results of the Obama administration’s long-awaited new guidance on nuclear weapons employment policy that was explained in a White House fact sheet and a more in-depth report to Congress.

From a nuclear arms control perspective, the new guidance is a mixed bag.

One the one hand, the guidance directs pursuit of additional reductions in deployed strategic warheads and less reliance on preparing for a surprise nuclear attack. On the other hand, the guidance reaffirms a commitment to core Cold War posture characteristics such as counterforce targeting, retaining a triad of strategic nuclear forces, and retaining non-strategic nuclear weapons forward deployed in Europe.  Continue Reading →

SIPRI Yearbook 2013 Published

sipri2013By Hans M. Kristensen

The Swedish International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) today published the 2013 issue of the SIPRI Yearbook. I’m coauthor of the chapter on worldwide nuclear weapons arsenals.

The yearbook is translated into Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Ukrainian, providing a unique source of nuclear weapons information to regions where such information is either not available or only to English-speaking readers.

In addition to the annual SIPRI Yearbook, bimonthly updates of individual nuclear weapon states are published as Nuclear Notebooks in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Moreover, an online table of world nuclear forces is provided on the FAS web site. The table is updated as new information becomes available.

Finally, occasional issue reports are published on the FAS Strategic Security Blog.

This publication was made possible by grants from the New-Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

PREPCOM Nuclear Weapons De-Alerting Briefing

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Greetings from Geneva! I’m at the Palais des Nations for the second Preparatory Committee (PREPCOM) meeting for the 2015 Review Conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). I was invited by the Swiss and New Zealand UN Missions to brief our report Reducing Alert Rates of Nuclear Weapons.

With me on the panel was Richard Garwin, an FAS board member who for more than five decades has advised U.S. governments on nuclear weapons and other issues, and Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister and now Chancellor of the Australian National University.

The panel was co-chaired by Ambassador H.E. Dell Higgie, the head of the New Zealand UN Mission and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Conference on Disarmament, and Ambassador Benno Laggner, the head of the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s Division for Security Policy and Ambassador for Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. Switzerland and New Zealand have for several years spearheaded efforts in the United Nations to reduce the alert level of nuclear weapons.

I wrote the de-alerting report together with Matthew McKinzie who directs the nuclear program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Click to download my briefing slides (7.6 MB) and prepared remarks.