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Nuclear Modernization Talk at BASIC Panel

Linton Brooks and I discussed nuclear modernization at a November 13 panel organized by BASIC.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

BASIC invited me to discuss nuclear weapons modernization with Linton Brooks at a Strategic Dialogue panel held at the Capitol Hill Club on November 13, 2012. We’re still waiting for the official transcript, but BASIC has a rough recording and my prepared remarks are available here. [Update: all material, including transcript with questions/answers, is available from BASIC].

In my talk, I argued that the Obama administration’s nuclear arms control profile is at risk of being overshadowed by extensive nuclear weapons modernization plans, and that the approach must be adjusted to ensure that efforts to reduce the numbers and role of nuclear weapons and put and end to Cold War thinking are clearly visible as being the priority of U.S. nuclear policy.

The administration has nearly completed a strategic review of nuclear targeting and alert requirements to identify additional reductions of nuclear forces. Release of the findings was delayed by the election, but the administration now needs to use the review to reinvigorate the nuclear arms reduction agenda that has slowed with the slow implementation of the modest New START Treaty and the disappointing “nuclear status quo” decision of the NATO Chicago Summit.

DOD: Strategic Stability Not Threatened Even by Greater Russian Nuclear Forces

Russia’s nuclear forces, even if carrying out a surprise disarming first strike against the United States with significantly more warheads than allowed under the New START Treaty limit, would have “little to no effects” on the US the ability to retaliate with a significant second strike, according to the Department of Defense.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

A Department of Defense (DOD) report on Russian nuclear forces, conducted in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence and sent to Congress in May 2012, concludes that even the most worst-case scenario of a Russian surprise disarming first strike against the United States would have “little to no effect” on the U.S. ability to retaliate with a devastating strike against Russia.

I know, even thinking about scenarios such as this sounds like an echo from the Cold War, but the Obama administration has actually come under attack from some for considering further reductions of U.S. nuclear forces when Russia and others are modernizing their forces. The point would be, presumably, that reducing while others are modernizing would somehow give them an advantage over the United States.

But the DOD report concludes that Russia “would not be able to achieve a militarily significant advantage by any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces, even in a cheating or breakout scenario under the New START Treaty” (emphasis added).

The conclusions are important because the report come after Vladimir Putin earlier this year announced plans to produce “over 400” new nuclear missiles during the next decade. Putin’s plan follows the Obama administration’s plan to spend more than $200 billion over the next decade to modernize U.S. strategic forces and weapons factories.

The conclusions may also hint at some of the findings of the Obama administration’s ongoing (but delayed and secret) review of U.S. nuclear targeting policy. Continue Reading →

Second Batch of New START Data Released

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. State Department today released the full (unclassified) aggregate data for U.S. strategic nuclear forces as counted under the New START treaty. The data shows only very modest reductions of deployed strategic nuclear weapons over the past six months.

The full U.S. aggregate data follows the joint and much more limited overall U.S. and Russian aggregate numbers released in March 2012. Under the previous START treaty, the United States used to make Russian data available, but accepted Russia’s demand during the New START negotiations to no longer release their data.

The joint aggregate data and the full U.S. aggregate data are released at different times and not all information is made reality available on the Internet. Therefore, a full compilation of the data is made available here.

Continue Reading →

NATO’s Nuclear Groundhog Day?

At the Chicago Summit NATO will once again reaffirm nuclear status quo in Europe

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Does NATO have a hard time waking up from its nuclear past? It would seem so.

Similar to the movie Groundhog Day where a reporter played by Bill Murray wakes up to relive the same day over and over again, the NATO alliance is about to reaffirm – once again – nuclear status quo in Europe.

The reaffirmation will come on 20-21 May when 28 countries participating in the NATO Summit in Chicago are expected to approve a study that concludes that the alliance’s existing nuclear force posture “currently meets the criteria for an effective deterrence and defense posture.” [Update May 20, 2011: Turns out I was right. Here is the official document.]

In other words, NATO will not order a reduction of its nuclear arsenal but reaffirm a deployment of nearly 200 U.S. non-strategic nuclear bombs in Europe that were left behind by arms reductions two decades ago. Continue Reading →

New Report: US and Russian Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

A new report describes U.S. and Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons

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By Hans M. Kristensen

A new report estimates that Russia and the United States combined have a total of roughly 2,800 nuclear warheads assigned to their non-strategic nuclear forces. Several thousands more have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement.

The report comes shortly before the NATO Summit in Chicago on 20-21 May, where the alliance is expected to approve the conclusions of a year-long Deterrence and Defense Posture Review that will, among other things, determine the “appropriate mix” of nuclear and non-nuclear forces in Europe. It marks the 20-year anniversary of the Presidential Unilateral Initiatives in the early 1990s that resulted in sweeping reductions of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Twenty years later, the new report Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons estimates that U.S. and Russian non-strategic nuclear forces are deployed at nearly 100 bases across Russia, Europe and the United States. The nuclear warheads assigned to these forces are in central storage, except nearly 200 bombs that the U.S. Air Force forward-deploys in almost 90 underground vaults inside aircraft shelters at six bases in five European countries.

The report concludes that excessive and outdated secrecy about non-strategic nuclear weapons inventories, characteristics, locations, missions and dismantlements have created unnecessary and counterproductive uncertainty, suspicion and worst-case assumptions that undermine relations between Russia and NATO.

Russia and the United States and NATO can and should increase transparency of their non-strategic nuclear forces by disclosing overall numbers, storage locations, delivery vehicles, and how much of their total inventories have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement.

The report concludes that unilateral reductions have been, by far, the most effective means to reducing the number and role of non-strategic nuclear weapons. Yet now the two sides appear to be holding on to the remaining weapons to have something to bargain with in a future treaty to reduce non-strategic nuclear weapons.

NATO has decided that any further reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe must take into account the larger Russian arsenal, and Russia has announced that it will not discuss reductions in its non-strategic nuclear forces unless the U.S. withdraws its non-strategic nuclear bombs from Europe. Combined, these positions appear to obstruct reductions rather facilitate reductions. Russian reductions should be a goal, not a precondition, for further NATO reductions.

Download the full report here: http://www.fas.org/_docs/Non_Strategic_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf

Slides from briefing at U.S. Senate are here: http://www.fas.org/programs/ssp/nukes/publications1/Brief2012_TacNukes.pdf

See also our Nuclear Notebooks on the total nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States.

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

New Article: French Nuclear Modernization

A new report describes worldwide nuclear weapons modernization efforts

By Hans M. Kristensen

The organization Reaching Critical Will has published a collection of articles about the nuclear weapons modernization programs that are underway in the various nuclear weapons states around the world.

My modest contribution is the chapter on France (pages 27-33).

The report – Assuring Destruction Forever – illustrates that although the Cold War nuclear arms race has ended, a global effort to modernize and improve nuclear weapons is in full swing. For some regions (India-Pakistan and India-China) this effort has elements of an arms race, but for most countries it is about extending and improving a nuclear weapons capability indefinitely.

This should remind us why it is increasingly meaningless to assess nuclear arms control progress in numerical terms by comparing the sizes of today’s arsenals with those of the Cold War. Progress increasingly must be measured in constraint: yes, by reducing arsenals further, but perhaps more importantly by curtailing deployments, operations, missions, life-extensions, modernizations and improvements.

Otherwise, the dynamic efforts to extend and modernize the remaining nuclear arsenals may end up working against the nuclear arms control process. Because life-extension and modernization efforts are accompanied by declarations by the nuclear weapon states and alliances about the continued importance of nuclear weapons to national and international security, there is a risk that they will combine to reaffirm and prolong the nuclear weapons era instead of delegitimizing and shortening it.

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

Nuclear Studies and Republican Disarmers

Despite an outcry from congressional republicans and conservatives against the Obama administration’s plans to reduce nuclear weapons, Republican presidents have been the big disarmers in the post-Cold War era.                                        Click graph for larger version

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By Hans M. Kristensen

A recent report by the Associated Press that the administration is considering deep cuts in U.S. nuclear forces has Congressional Republicans and frequent critics of nuclear reductions up in arms.

The AP report quoted “a former government official and a congressional staffer” saying the administration is studying options for the next round of arms control talk with Russia that envision reducing the number of deployed strategic warheads to 1,000-1,100, 700-800, and 300-400.

Congressional Republicans and right-wing institutions have criticized the administration for preparing reckless unilateral cuts that jeopardize U.S. security.

As it turns out, Republican presidents have been the biggest nuclear reducers in the post-Cold War era. Republican presidents seem to have a thing for 50 percent nuclear reductions. Continue Reading →

Cirincione: Obama’s Turn on Nuclear Weapons

By Hans M. Kristensen

It is worth your time reading Joe Cirincione’s article in Foreign Affairs: Obama’s Turn on Nuclear Weapons.

And I’m not just saying this because Joe is president of the Ploughshares Fund, one of my funders. He does a great job in describing the Obama administration’s ongoing nuclear targeting review and its place in the life of the administration with the myriads of policy issues and special interests that limit the president’s options in fulfilling the nuclear disarmament vision he presented in Prague in 2009.

That vision, as I wrote last week, was not visible in the Pentagon’s preview of it FY2013 defense budget request. It is an oversight that must be fixed. The defense budget must be in sync with U.S. nuclear policy, which now requires concrete steps to reduce the numbers and role of nuclear weapons.

For more background on the targeting review and the strategic nuclear war plan, see:

* Reviewing Nuclear Guidance: Putting Obama’s Words Into Action (November 2011)
* Obama and the Nuclear War Plan (February 2010)

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

Budget Blunder: “No Cuts” in Nuclear Forces

The new defense budget has
“no cuts” in nuclear forces.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

“There are no cuts made in the nuclear force in this budget.” That clear statement was made yesterday by deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter during the Pentagon’s briefing on the defense budget request for Fiscal Year 2013.

We’ll have to see what’s hidden in the budget documents once they are released next month, but the statement is disappointing for anyone who had hopes that the administration’s promises about “concrete steps” to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons and to “put an end to Cold War thinking” would actually be reflected in the new defense budget.

Not so for the FY13 budget. Other than a decision to delay work for two years on the next generation ballistic missile submarine, the Defense Budget Priorities and Choices report released yesterday does not list any nuclear reductions; neither previously announced nor new ones. Continue Reading →