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Russian Missile Test Creates Confusion and Opposition in Washington


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 →

Radiological Ray Gun: More Buck Rogers Fantasy than Risk to Real People

The June 18th arrest of two men for allegedly plotting to build a bizarre yet potentially deadly radiological device once again highlights the potential nexus of non-state actors with so-called weapons of mass destruction (WMD). However, much like this year’s troika of ricin-laced letters addressed to government facilities (including one to the CIA) and public officials (all three incidents targeted President Obama at his White House address), this most recent plot reveals the historical rarity and non-lethality of non-state actors and their behaviors with radiological weapons and agents. While the potential for catastrophe posed by terrorist use of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons deserves ongoing and serious attention, recent events remind us how public apprehension is sometimes founded more in fear than reality; indeed, reactions based on fear are capable of far more disruption than the physical reality of the event itself.  The role of science-based organizations such as the Federation of American Scientists is to educate the public about the real risks.

The methodologies and data sets used in this article, augmented by several others of each, will be discussed in a two day professional education summer course, “Terrorism Analysis: Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methodologies and Tools” held at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA on July 25-26, 2013. This non-credit course introduces participants to state-of-the art analytical techniques, research methods, and cutting-edge databases used by the industry for the study of terrorism. Course participants gain a detailed understanding of single and multi-methodological techniques, learning how to develop analytical tools applicable to the needs of those responsible for preventing, preparing, responding to, or predicting terrorism. Highlights include how to use these research techniques to identify previous and emerging trends in terrorist activities and to cogently assess the potential role of WMD in terrorism. Register now for the “early bird” discount – 25 percent less than the listed fee. For more information and to register, please visit the course page.

Of the CBRN threats, the nuclear threat is undoubtedly truly catastrophic because a nuclear weapon can cause massive destruction, but obtaining a nuclear weapon or the fissile material to make such a weapon is very hard to do. In comparison, radiological sources are far more common, but most of them would cause little or no harm to human health if dispersed by a radiological weapon because there is not enough radioactive material contained in the vast majority of each of these sources. And even those radiological sources containing highly radioactive materials would pose great difficulties for terrorists to use because they would hazard exposing themselves to lethal ionizing radiation. These latter issues, and others outlined below, are very relevant to the recent radiological plot.

Continue Reading →

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


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 →

Nukes in Europe: Secrecy Under Siege

By Hans M. Kristensen

lubbersThe Cold War practice of NATO and the United States refusing to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons anywhere is under attack in Europe. This week, two former Dutch prime ministers publicly confirmed the presence of nuclear weapons at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands, one of six bases in NATO that still host US nuclear weapons.

The first confirmation came in the program How Time Flies on the Dutch National Geographic channel where former prime minister Ruud Lubbers confirmed that there are nuclear weapons at Volkel Air Base. “I would never have thought those silly things would still be there in 2013,” Lubbers said, who was prime minister in 1982-1994. He even mentioned a specific number: 22 bombs.

vanagtThe second confirmation Lubbers was joined yesterday by another former Dutch prime minister, Dries van Agt, who also confirmed that the weapons are there. “They are there and its crazy they still are,” said va Agt, who was prime minister in 1977-1982.

As readers of this blog are aware (and anyone who have followed this issue over the years), it is not news that the US stores nuclear weapons at Volkel AB. But it is certainly news that two former Dutch prime ministers are now confirming it.

It is not a formal Dutch break with NATO nuclear secrecy norms but it is certainly a big crack in the dike that makes the Dutch government’s continued refusal to confirm or deny nuclear weapons at Volkel AB look rather, well, silly.

The instinct of the bureaucracy will be to ignore the statements to the extent possible and retreat into past policies of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons. But the new situation also presents an opportunity to break with the past and attempt to engage Russia about increasing the transparency of non-strategic nuclear weapons 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.

Air Force Briefing Shows Nuclear Modernizations But Ignores US and UK Programs


Click to view large version. Full briefing is here.

By Hans M. Kristensen

China and North Korea are developing nuclear-capable cruise missiles, according to U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC).

The new Chinese and North Korean systems appear on a slide in a Command Briefing that shows nuclear modernizations in eight of the world’s nine nuclear weapons states (Israel is not shown).

The Chinese missile is the CJ-20 air-launched cruise missile for delivery by the H-6 bomber. The North Korean missile is the KN-09 coastal-defense cruise missile. These weapons would, if for real, be important additions to the nuclear arsenals in Asia.

At the same time, a closer look at the characterization used for nuclear modernizations in the various countries shows generalizations, inconsistencies and mistakes that raise questions about the quality of the intelligence used for the briefing.

Moreover, the omission from the slide of any U.S. and British modernizations is highly misleading and glosses over past, current, and planned modernizations in those countries.

For some, the briefing is a sales pitch to get Congress to fund new U.S. nuclear weapons.

Overall, however, the rampant nuclear modernizations shown on the slide underscore the urgent need for the international community to increase its pressure on the nuclear weapon states to curtail their nuclear programs. And it calls upon the Obama administration to reenergize its efforts to reduce the numbers and role of nuclear weapons. Continue Reading →

War with Iran? Revisiting the Potentially Staggering Costs to the Global Economy

The Senate passage of Resolution 65 on May 22, 2013, some argue, draws the United States closer to military action against Iran. In October 2012, amid concerns that surprisingly little research addressed the potential broad outcomes of possible U.S.-led actions against Iran, researchers at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) assembled nine renowned subject matter experts (SMEs) to investigate one underexplored question that now, eight months later, looms larger than ever: What are the potential effects on the global economy of U.S. actions against Iran? Collectively representing expertise in national security, economics, energy markets, and finance, the SMEs gathered for a one-day elicitation workshop to consider the global economic impacts of six hypothetical scenarios involving U.S.-led actions.

The elicitation revealed the rough effects of U.S. action against Iran on the global economy – measured only in the first three months of actualization – to range from total losses of approximately $60 billion on one end of the scale to more than $2 trillion to the world economy on the other end.

The results of the elicitation were compiled into the FAS report written by Charles P. Blair and Mark Jansson, “Sanctions, Military Strikes, and Other Potential Actions Against Iran.”

Summarized below are three of the six scenarios along with the associated estimated range of costs to the world economy in the first three months of U.S. action alone.

Scenario: Comprehensive Bombing Campaign (upper bounds of estimated costs to global economy: $1.7 trillion)

The president, not wanting to leave the job half-done and fearing that a more limited strike may not achieve all of its objectives or at too high a price should Iran retaliate, opts for a more thorough mission. The United States leads an ambitious air campaign that targets not only the nuclear facilities of concern but also seeks to limit Iran’s ability to retaliate by targeting its other military assets, including its air defenses, radar and aerial command and control facilities, and much of Iran’s direct retaliatory capabilities. These would include its main military bases, the main facilities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the Iranian Navy, Army, and Air Force. The United States seeks to ensure that the Strait of Hormuz remains open by targeting Iranian capabilities that may threaten it.

Scenario 4 Comprehensive Bombing Campaign

Scenario: Isolation and Persian Gulf Blockade – no military action (upper bounds of estimated costs to global economy: $550 billion)

Iran’s economy is reeling yet diplomatic agreement remains elusive. The United States, concerned that the Iranian regime has gone into survival mode, enacts what can be referred to as a “total cutoff” policy. The United States moves to curtail any exports of refined oil products, natural gas, energy equipment, and services. Investments in Iran’s energy sector are banned worldwide. Official trade credit guarantees are banned, as is international lending to Iran and investment in Iranian bonds. Insurance and reinsurance for all shipping going to and from Iran is prohibited. Substantial U.S. military assets are deployed to the Persian Gulf to block unauthorized shipments to and from Iran as well as to protect shipments of oil and other products through the Strait of Hormuz.

Scenario 2 Isolation and Persian Gulf Blockade

Scenario: Full-Scale Invasion (upper bounds of estimated costs to global economy: $2.8 trillion)

The United States resolves to invade, occupy, and disarm Iran. It carries out all of the above missions and goes “all in” to impose a more permanent solution by disarming the regime. Although the purpose of the mission is not explicitly regime change, the United States determines that the threat posed by Iran to Israel, neighboring states, and to freedom of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz cannot be tolerated any longer. It imposes a naval blockade and a no-fly zone as it systematically takes down Iran’s military bases and destroys its installations one by one. Large numbers of ground troops will be committed to the mission to get the job done.

Scenario 5 Full-Scale Invasion

Note: All opinions expressed here and in the report, as well as its findings, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federation of American Scientists or any of the participants in the elicitation that served as the centerpiece of this study.

Chinese Nuclear Developments Described (and Omitted) by DOD Report


Click on image to view full-size version.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Going, going, gone! In its latest annual report to Congress on the military and security developments of the People’s Republic of China, the Pentagon has removed the last public authoritative overview of Chinese nuclear forces.

Until 2010, the annual reports included a table with a detailed breakdown of the different types of ballistic missiles that enabled the public to monitor the development of China’s nuclear modernization. In 2011, however, things began to change when a less detailed table was included that only showed overall categories of missiles. That version appeared in 2012 as well, but the 2013 report includes no table at all of China’s missile forces.

The tidbits of information left in the report indicate an ICBM force that is modernizing but leveling out and an SSBN force that is approaching functional capability. Continue Reading →

Talk At US Air Force Global Strike Command


Kristensen on the tarmac at Barksdale Air Force Base with the crew of the nuclear-capable B-52H bomber “Rolling Thunder” (61-019) from the 96th Bomb Squadron that recently flew B-52 bombers over South Korea.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Earlier this week I went to Barksdale AFB on an invitation from General Jim Kowalski at Air Force Global Strike Command to brief his Deterrence and Assurance Working Group.

Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) is responsible for keeping U.S. strategic bombers (B-2 and B-52) and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) combat ready. One of two B-52H wings, the 2nd Bomb Wing, is based at Barksdale AFB, as is 8th Air Force Headquarters.

Barksdale AFB has a special history because it was there, in August 2007, that a B-52 arrived from Minot AFB with six nuclear-armed Advanced Cruise Missiles strapped under its wings without anyone knowing about it. Continue Reading →

Russian SSBN Fleet: Modernizing But Not Sailing Much


The second Borei-class SSBN (Alexander Nevsky) is fitting out at the Severodvinsk Naval Shipyard in northern Russia. Six of its 16 missile tubes are open on this August 2011 satellite image by DigitalGlobe/GoogleEarth.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Russian ballistic missile submarine fleet is being modernized but conducting so few deterrent patrols that each submarine crew cannot be certain to get out of port even once a year.

During 2012, according to data obtained from U.S. Naval Intelligence under the Freedom of Information Act, the entire Russian fleet of nine ballistic missile submarines only sailed on five deterrent patrols.

The patrol level is barely enough to maintain one missile submarine on patrol at any given time.

The ballistic missile submarine force is in the middle of an important modernization. Over the next decade or so, all remaining Soviet-era ballistic missile submarines and their two types of sea-launched ballistic missiles will be replaced with a new submarine armed with a new missile (see also our latest Nuclear Notebook on Russian nuclear forces).

The new fleet will carry more nuclear warheads than the one it replaces, however, because the Russian military is trying to maintain parity with the larger U.S. nuclear arsenal. Continue Reading →