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NATO: Nuclear Transparency Begins At Home

What’s wrong with this picture? Despite NATO’s call for greater nuclear transparency, old-fashioned nuclear secrecy prevents media access to the Nuclear Planning Group.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Less than six months after NATO’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) adopted at the Chicago Summit called for greater transparency of non-strategic nuclear force postures in Europe, the agenda for the NATO defense minister get-together in Brussels this week listed the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) meeting with the usual constraint: “no media opportunity.”

Why should the news media not have access to the NPG meeting just like they have access to other meetings discussing NATO security issues? After all, the high stakes that justified nuclear secrecy in the past disappeared with the demise of the Soviet Union, no urgent military mission is (publicly) attributed to the remaining nearly 200 U.S. nuclear bombs left in Europe, and NATO now officially advocates greater nuclear transparency.

Whatever the reason, the “no media opportunity” is symbolic of the old-fashioned secrecy that continues to constrain NATO nuclear policy discussions. The nuclear planners are insulated deep within the alliance with little or no public scrutiny. Even for NATO officials, tradition, past political statements, and turf can make it difficult to ascertain and question the rationales behind the nuclear posture.

The DDPR determined “that the Alliance’s nuclear force posture currently meets the criteria for an effective deterrence and defense posture.” The reasons for that conclusion remain elusive and the news media should have access to the NPG meeting to ask the questions. Not least because the conclusion is now resulting in significant modernization of NATO’s nuclear forces at considerable cost to the Alliance and some of its member countries. Another potential cost is how it will affect relations with Russia.

If NATO wants to increase nuclear transparency, it should and could break with old-fashioned nuclear secrecy and disclose the broad outlines of its non-strategic nuclear deployment in Europe. It is already widely known and NATO’s nuclear members are already transparent about the broad outlines of their strategic nuclear forces – those that unlike the non-strategic weapons in Europe are actually tasked to provide the ultimate security guarantee to the Allies.

Rather than limiting nuclear transparency efforts to prolonged negotiations for what’s likely to be small incremental steps that essentially surrender the agenda to hardliners in Moscow, unilateral disclosure of NATO’s non-strategic posture would jump-start the process, put pressure on Russia to follow suit, and be consistent with the already considerable transparency of NATO’s strategic forces.

See also: Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons, FAS, May 2012.

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

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 →

Event: Conference on Using Satellite Imagery to Monitor Nuclear Forces and Proliferators

This satellite imagery analysis from my conference briefing illustrates upgrade of Chinese mobile nuclear missile launch garrison at Qingyang (30°41’52.64″N, 117°53’36.25″E). Such analysis is becoming more important as the U.S. government is curtailing what it releases about Chinese (and Russian) nuclear forces. Click on image for large image version.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Earlier today we convened an exciting conference on use of commercials satellite imagery and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to monitor nuclear forces and proliferators around the world. I was fortunate to have two brilliant users of this technology with me on the panel:

  • Tamara Patton, a Graduate Research Assistant at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who described her pioneering work to use freeware to creating 3D images of uranium enrichment facilities and plutonium production reactors in Pakistan and North Korea. Her briefing is available here.
  • Matthew McKinzie, a Senior Scientists with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Nuclear Program and Lands and Wildlife Program, who has spearheaded non-governmental use of GIS technology since commercial satellite imagery first became widely available. His presentation is available here.
  • My presentation focused on using satellite imagery and Freedom of Information Act requests to monitor Chinese and Russian nuclear force developments, an effort that is becoming more important as the United States is decreasing its release of information about those countries. My briefing slides are here.

In all of the work profiled by these presentations, the analysts relied on the unique Google Earth and the generous contribution of high-resolution satellite imagery by DigitalGlobe and GeoEye.

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 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 Nuclear Notebook: Russian Nuclear Forces 2012

More than two-thirds of Russia’s current ICBM force will be retired over the next 10 years, a reduction that will only partly be offset by deployment of new road-mobile RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) ICBMs such as this one near Teykovo northeast of Moscow.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Russia is planning to retire more than two-thirds of its current arsenal of nuclear land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles by the early 2020a. That includes some of the most iconic examples of the Soviet threat against the United States: SS-18 Satan, SS-19 Stiletto, and the world’s first road-mobile ICBM, the SS-25.

The plan coincides with the implementation of the New START treaty but significantly exceeds the reductions required by the treaty.

During the same period, Russia plans to deploy significant numbers of new missiles, but the production will not be sufficient to offset the retirement of old missiles. As a result, the size of Russia’s ICBM force is likely to decline over the next decade – with or without a new nuclear arms control treaty.

This and much more is described in our latest Nuclear Notebook published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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 START Data: Modest Reductions and Decreased Transparency

New START aggregate numbers have been published by the United States and Russia.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The latest New START treaty aggregate numbers of strategic arms, which was quietly released by the State Department earlier last week, shows modest reductions and important changes in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces.

Most surprisingly, the data shows that Russia has increased its number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads and is now again above the New START limit.

Because of the limited format of the released aggregate numbers, however, the changes are not explained or apparent. As a result, though not yet one year old, the New START treaty is already beginning to increase uncertainty about the status of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. Continue Reading →

20th Anniversary of START

July 31st is the 20-year anniversary of signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and the Soviet Union. The treaty, also known as START I, marked the beginning of a treaty-based reduction of U.S. and Soviet (later Russian) strategic nuclear forces after the end of the Cold War.

START I required each country to limit its number of accountable strategic delivery vehicles (ballistic missiles and long-range bombers) to no more than 1,600 with no more than 6,000 accountable warheads. The treaty came with a unique on-site inspection regime where inspectors from the two countries would inspect each other’s declared force levels. Thousands of other warheads were not affected and the treaty did not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead. START I entered into effect on December 5th, 2001, and expired on December 4, 2009.

Twenty years after the signing of START I, the United States and Russia are still in the drawdown phase of their strategic nuclear forces: START II followed in 1993, limiting the force levels to 3,500 accountable warheads by 2007 with no multiple warheads on land-based missiles; START II was never ratified by the U.S. Senate but surpassed by the Moscow Treaty in 2002, limiting the number of operationally deployed strategic warheads to 2,200 by 2012; The Moscow Treaty was replaced by the New START treaty signed in 2010, which limits the number of accountable strategic warheads to 1,550 on 700 deployed ballistic missiles and long-range bombers by 2018. Like its predecessors, New START does not limit thousands of non-deployed and non-strategic nuclear warheads and does not require destruction of a single warhead.

The Obama administration has stated that the next treaty must also place limits on non-deployed and non-strategic nuclear warheads.

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 START Aggregate Numbers Released: First Round Slim Picking

You won’t be able to count SS-18s in the New START aggregate date.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Russia and the United States have released the first Fact Sheet with aggregate numbers for the strategic offensive nuclear forces counted under the New START treaty.

It shows that Russia has already dropped below the New START ceiling of 1,550 accountable deployed warheads and the United States is close behind, seven years before the treaty is scheduled to enter into effect (it makes you wonder what all the ratification delay was about).

But compared with the extensive aggregate numbers that were released during the previous START treaty, the new Fact Sheet is slim picking: just six numbers.

Unless the two countries agree to release more information in the months ahead, this could mark a significant step back in nuclear transparency. Continue Reading →

Letter Urges Release of New START Data

Ambassador Brooks, Secretary Perry and Ambassador Matlock join FAS in call for continuing nuclear transparency under New START treaty

.By Hans M. Kristensen,

Three former U.S. officials have joined FAS in urging the United States and Russia to continue to declassify the same degree of information about their strategic nuclear forces under the New START treaty as they did during the now-expired START treaty.

The three former officials are: Linton Brooks, former chief U.S. START negotiator and administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Jack Matlock, former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan for national security affairs, and William Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense.

At issue is whether the United States and Russia will continue under the New START treaty to release to the public detailed lists – known as aggregate data – of their strategic nuclear forces with the same degree of transparency as they used to do under the now-expired START treaty. There has been concern that the two countries might reduce the information to only include numbers of delivery systems but withhold information about warhead numbers and locations.

In a joint letter, the three former officials joined FAS President Charles Ferguson and myself in urging the United States and Russia to “continue under the New START treaty the practice from the expired START treaty of releasing to the public aggregate numbers of delivery vehicles and warheads and locations.” This practice contributed greatly to international nuclear transparency, predictability, reassurance, and helped counter rumors and distrust, the letter concludes.

Both governments have stated their intention to seek to broaden the nuclear arms control process in the future to include other nuclear weapon states and the letter warns that achieving this will be a lot harder if the two largest nuclear weapon states were to decide to decrease transparency of their nuclear forces under New START.

“Any decrease in public release of information compared with START would be a step back.”

The letter was sent to Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, and Sergey Kislyak, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States.

Download letter

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.