Russia may have violated the INF Treaty.
The United States appears to have done the same.

Theodore A. Postol

On September 17, 2009, President Obama and his Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, announced a new approach to U.S. missile defense in Europe - the Aegis-based European Phased Adaptive Approach. This approach was to replace the Bush administration’s plan for a Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) site in Poland with what Obama described as a “smarter and swifter” defense system. The Polish installation, along with a similar site in Romania, would replace the proposed installation of GMD interceptors with a larger number of much smaller and slower interceptors, guided by Aegis radars normally used on U.S. Navy warships.

This political decision to finesse one bad missile defense idea with another has helped create a crisis with Russia over the future of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The Trump administration announced its suspension of the treaty in February, alleging (as did the Obama administration) that the Russians have violated it by developing a cruise missile that appears to breach the clear limitations on weapons ranges established by the INF. The Russian government responded by also suspending its adherence to the treaty; it has long claimed that United States missile defense installations in Eastern Europe violate the treaty. If no agreement on the INF is reached, both countries could formally withdraw from the pact in six months.

The Western press has often treated the Russian claim that U.S. missile defense installations have an offensive capability as rhetorical obfuscation. But publicly available information makes it clear that the U.S. Aegis-based systems in Eastern Europe, if equipped with cruise missiles, would indeed violate the INF.

It is clear that the detection ranges of the Aegis radars at the Polish site are too short and the interceptors too slow for them to shoot down what the United States insists are their targets — long-range missiles fired by Iran. To put it bluntly, the Aegis systems would be essentially useless in countering an Iranian long-range missile attack, but they have characteristics which make them especially threatening to Russia.

First, the mechanical and electronic components installed in the Romanian and Polish Aegis land sites are the same as those installed on U.S. Navy warships, which were designed to be able to launch both cruise missiles and anti-air missiles. This creates a short-warning attack threat to Russia via U.S. conventional or nuclear-armed cruise missiles that were banned by the INF.

If the Aegis-based systems in Eastern Europe were supplied with American cruise missiles, they would be fearsome offensive forces on Russia’s frontiers. And there would be little way for Russia to know whether they were loaded with missile-defense interceptors or offensive, nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

The Trump administration’s stated reason for threatening to withdraw from the INF Treaty is the Russian development of the SSC-8 cruise missile, which appears to violate the clear limitations on weapons ranges established by the INF. The SSC-8 appears to have characteristics very similar to those of the U.S. Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile, which could readily be stored at and launched from the Aegis land sites.

The issues associated with preserving the INF Treaty are complex, and both the U.S. and Russian sides have legitimate concerns that need to be resolved if the treaty — a cornerstone of the world nuclear arms control regime — is to be resurrected in some form in the six months between announcement of the treaty suspensions and final withdrawal from the treaty.

As they recount allegations about Russian violation of the INF, many mainstream media outlets have misreported basic facts on the land-based Aegis systems in Eastern Europe. The actual facts of the matter support the Russian position. This reality must be taken into account, if the United States and Russia are to come to agreement on continued control of intermediate- range missiles.

A State Department statement in December 2017, that the Aegis ashore system lacks the software, fire control hardware, and other infrastructure needed to launch offensive ballistic or cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk, is simply not true. The Aegis ashore system is designed to handle multiple types of missiles. Currently deployed Aegis modules have the ability to hold and launch two different kinds of surface-to-air missiles, two different kinds of anti-missile interceptors, two variants of the Tomahawk cruise missile, and a short range interceptor known as the Sea Sparrow for use against anti-ship missiles.

The U.S. Aegis systems in Eastern Europe can accommodate conventionally-armed Tomahawk cruise missiles that could be fired at Russia from close quarters. The United States retired its nuclear-armed Tomahawks between 2010 and 2013, but an appropriate warhead could be produced from DOE’s existing Life Extension Program for nuclear warheads.

An upgraded Tomahawk with a nuclear warhead, if based at U.S. Aegis sites in Eastern Europe, could be used to implement a near-zero warning nuclear strike on multiple Russian targets. This capability is what the Russian government fears, and rightly so.

In placing Aegis land installations in Eastern Europe, the Obama administration made an epic blunder, one surpassed in negative consequences for global nuclear stability, in my opinion, only by the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. Both of those political decisions were made with bipartisan indifference to technical merit or long-term consequences.

The political situation between the United States and Russia is dangerous, perhaps more dangerous than it has ever been, and there are certainly reasons for the West to be concerned about Russian behavior, including its possible violation of the INF Treaty. But the United States has a long, bipartisan history of making senseless political decisions to deploy ineffective missile defenses and then justifying those decisions with disinformation, even when technical and military analysts can readily unmask it.

The routine U.S. reliance on misleading claims about missile defense systems — claims too often parroted by the Western press — contributes to an environment in which foreign powers, both friend and foe, rightly do not trust the word of U.S. political and military leaders. This avoidance of factual reality has contributed to the impending demise of the INF Treaty. Saving it or replacing it with another agreement that limits the extremely destabilizing spread of intermediate-range missiles will require that both the United States and Russia come clean about their efforts to develop and base such missiles. Refusing to acknowledge reality is a poor strategy for enhancing U.S. or Russian security and pursuing the sort of arms control that makes nuclear war less likely.

Physicist Theodore A. Postol is professor emeritus at MIT. His expertise is in nuclear weapon systems, ballistic missile defense, and ballistic missiles generally. His article is edited from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 7, 2019, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, March/April 2019.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Mikhail Gorbachev’s plea to the presidents of Russia and the United States

Mikhail Gorbachev
The Washington Post, October 11, 2017

This December will mark the 30th anniversary of the signing of the treaty between the Soviet Union and United States on the elimination of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles. This was the start of the process of radically cutting back nuclear arsenals, which was continued with the 1991 and 2010 strategic arms reduction treaties and the agreements reducing tactical nuclear weapons.

The scale of the process launched in 1987 is evidenced by the fact that, as Russia and the United States reported to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2015, 80 percent of the nuclear weapons accumulated during the Cold War have been decommissioned and destroyed. Another important fact is that, despite the recent serious deterioration in bilateral relations, both sides have been complying with the strategic weapons agreements.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, however, is now in jeopardy. It has proved to be the most vulnerable link in the system of limiting and reducing weapons of mass destruction. There have been calls on both sides for scrapping the agreement.

So what is happening, what is the problem, and what needs to be done?

Both sides have raised issues of compliance, accusing the other of violating or circumventing the treaty’s key provisions. From the sidelines, lacking fuller information, it is difficult to evaluate those accusations. But one thing is clear: The problem has a political as well as a technical aspect. It is up to the political leaders to take action.

Therefore I am making an appeal to the presidents of Russia and the United States.

Relations between the two nations are in a severe crisis. A way out must be sought, and there is one well-tested means available for accomplishing this: a dialogue based on mutual respect.

It will not be easy to cut through the logjam of issues on both sides. But neither was our dialogue easy three decades ago. It had its critics and detractors, who tried to derail it.

In the final analysis, it was the political will of the two nations’ leaders that proved decisive. And that is what’s needed now. This is what our two countries’ citizens and people everywhere expect from the presidents of Russia and the United States.

I call upon Russia and the United States to prepare and hold a full-scale summit on the entire range of issues. It is far from normal that the presidents of major nuclear powers meet merely “on the margins” of international gatherings. I hope that the process of preparing a proper summit is in the works even now.

I believe that the summit meeting should focus on the problems of reducing nuclear weapons and strengthening strategic stability. For should the system of nuclear arms control collapse, as may well happen if the INF Treaty is scrapped, the consequences, both direct and indirect, will be disastrous.

The closer that nuclear weapons are deployed to borders, the more dangerous they are. There is less time for a decision and greater risk of catastrophic error. And what will happen to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if the nuclear arms race begins anew? I am afraid it will be ruined.

If, however, the INF Treaty is saved, it will send a powerful signal to the world that the two biggest nuclear powers are aware of their responsibility and take their obligations seriously. Everyone will breathe a sigh of relief, and relations between Russia and the United States will finally get off the ground again.

I am confident that preparing a joint presidential statement on the two nations’ commitment to the INF Treaty is a realistic goal. Simultaneously, the technical issues could also be resolved; for this purpose, the joint control commission under the INF Treaty could resume its work. I am convinced that, with an impetus from the two presidents, the generals and diplomats would be able to reach agreement.

We are living in a troubled world. It is particularly disturbing that relations between the major nuclear powers, Russia and the United States, have become a serious source of tensions and a hostage to domestic politics. It is time to return to sanity. I am sure that even inveterate opponents of normalizing U.S.-Russian relations will not dare to object to the two presidents. These critics have no arguments on their side, for the very fact that the INF Treaty has been in effect for 30 years proves that it serves the security interests of our two countries and of the world.

In any undertaking, it is important to take the first step. In 1987, the first step in the difficult but vitally important process of ridding the world of nuclear weapons was the INF Treaty. Today, we face a dual challenge of preventing the collapse of the system of nuclear agreements and reversing the downward spiral in U.S.-Russian relations. It is time to take the first step.

Mikhail Gorbachev was the last president of the Soviet Union and was awarded the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize. His article was reprinted in PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2017.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


50 nations ink U.N. nuclear ban treaty opposed by big powers

UNITED NATIONS – Fifty countries on September 20 signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, a pact that the world’s nuclear powers spurned but supporters hailed as a historic agreement nonetheless.

“You are the states that are showing moral leadership in a world that desperately needs such moral leadership today,” Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said as the signing ceremony began.

Before the day was out, 50 states as different as Indonesia and Ireland had put their names to the treaty; others can sign later if they like. Guyana, Thailand and the Vatican also have already ratified the treaty, which needs 50 ratifications to take effect among the nations that back it.

They would be barred from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, otherwise acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons “under any circumstances.”

Amid rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the threat of a nuclear attack is at its highest level since the end of the Cold War. “This treaty is an important step toward the universally held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Supporters of the pact say it’s time to push harder toward eliminating nuclear weapons than nations have done through the nearly 50-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under its terms, non-nuclear nations agreed not to pursue nukes in exchange for a commitment by the five original nuclear powers — the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China — to achieve nuclear disarmament and to guarantee other states’ access to peaceful nuclear technology for producing energy.

More than 120 countries approved the new nuclear weapons ban treaty in July over opposition from the nuclear-armed countries and their allies, who boycotted negotiations. The United States, Britain and France said the prohibition wouldn’t work and would end up disarming their nations while emboldening “bad actors,” in U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s words.

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis said, “Those who still hold nuclear arsenals, we call upon them to join this date with history,” as he prepared to sign.

– edited from The Associated Press, September 20, 2017
PeaceMeal, Sept./October 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on President Trump to lower nuclear tensions

Miami Beach, FL – At the close of its 85th Annual Meeting on June 26, the United States Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution put forward by Mayors for Peace “Calling on President Trump to Lower Nuclear Tensions, Prioritize Diplomacy, and Redirect Nuclear Weapons Spending to meet Human Needs and Address Environmental Challenges.”

Mayors for Peace Lead U.S. Mayor Frank Cownie of Des Moines, Iowa. quoted from the resolution: “This is an unprecedented moment in human history. The world has never faced so many nuclear flashpoints simultaneously. From NATO-Russia tensions, to the Korean Peninsula, to South Asia and the South China Sea and Taiwan — all of the nuclear-armed states are tangled up in conflicts and crises that could catastrophically escalate at any moment.”

By adopting the resolution, the USCM endorsed the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 that would prohibit the President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress and the global treaty banning nuclear weapons adopted by the United Nations.

The USCM is a nonpartisan association of American cities with populations over 30,000. Mayors for Peace, founded in 1982, is led by the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Its membership has grown exponentially, counting 7,335 cities in 162 countries including 211 U.S. members, representing more than one billion people as of June 1.

– edited from Public Radio International, July 11, 2017
PeaceMeal, July/August 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Chinese President Xi calls for world without nuclear weapons

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a world without nuclear weapons at the United Nations on January 18 and urged a multilateral system based on equality among nations large and small. “Nuclear weapons should be completely prohibited and destroyed over time,” said XI, whose country has been a nuclear power since 1964. His speech in Geneva came at the end of a diplomatic tour that included a landmark address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Some experts have seen Xi’s Swiss tour as a bid to capture the mantle of global leadership at a time when Washington is clouded by uncertainty with an unpredictable political novice about to take charge.

Xi also sought to make the case for a global governance system that strives for a level playing field among countries where interventionist tendencies are resisted. “We should reject dominance by just one or several countries,” Xi said, adding that “major powers should respect each other’s core interests. Big countries should treat smaller countries as equals instead of acting as a hegemon, imposing their will on others.”

China has reacted harshly against attempts to influence what it considers its internal domestic affairs, from concerns over human rights issues in Tibet to a democracy push in Hong Kong.

In Davos, Xi backed unity in the face of mounting global challenges such as resistance to globalized trade. Some analysts saw that as a bid to contrast Trump, whose bombastic rhetoric has at times defined international relationships in terms of winners and losers.

While he made no mention of the incoming Republican administration, Xi’s message on nuclear weapons stood apart from Trump’s at times contradictory remarks on American nuclear power.

– edited from Agence-France Presse, January 18, 2017
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


The U.N. makes history on a nuclear weapons ban. Does the U.S. care?

Joseph Cirincione

If a treaty rises in the United Nations and U.S. media don’t notice, does the treaty make a difference?

This is the situation confronting proponents of the process begun October 27, when — by a vote of 123 for, 38 against, and 16 abstaining — the First Committee of the U.N. agreed “to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.”

It was a historic moment. Despite dozens of nuclear crises and war scares, U.N. members have never in the 71-year history of the body voted for such a sweeping measure. Yet, no major U.S. paper covered the vote. Why not?

Whether for or against the treaty, delegates clearly thought it important. “There comes a time when choices have to be made, and this is one of those times,” said Helena Nolan, Ireland’s director of disarmament and non-proliferation. “Given the clear risks associated with the continued existence of nuclear weapons, this is now a choice between responsibility and irresponsibility. Governance requires accountability and governance requires leadership.” ...

The United States, however, adamantly opposed the resolution and, according to some observers, fiercely lobbied its allies, particularly those enclosed in the U.S. “nuclear umbrella,” to vote against the new process. “How can a state that relies on nuclear weapons for its security possibly join a negotiation meant to stigmatize and eliminate them?” argued Ambassador Robert Wood, the U.S. special representative to the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. “The ban treaty runs the risk of undermining regional security.”

The lobbying worked to some degree, but not well enough to block the lopsided 3-to-1 vote in favor of negotiations toward a ban treaty. And U.S. lobbying may not hold all the countries who initially voted against the nuclear weapons ban. “Although Japan voted against the resolution due to pressure exerted by the US,” wrote Jiji Kyodo for The Japan Times, “Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said that Japan intends to join U.N. negotiations to outlaw nuclear weapons.” Other states may feel the same way. ...

There are legitimate concerns about the treaty process in many nations and among experts and former officials. Treaty proponents should treat these doubts seriously and respectfully. Does it really matter if 100-plus countries sign a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, but none of the countries with nuclear weapons joins? Will this be a serious distraction from the hard work of stopping new, dangerous weapons systems, cutting nuclear budgets, or ratifying the nuclear test ban treaty? ...

But the ban treaty movement is gaining strength. ... It would help clarify the humanitarian impact and nuclear weapons ban debate if there were some coverage of it in U.S. media. So, why hasn’t there been? There are three main reasons.

First, the media doesn’t care much about anything that happens in the United Nations. If a U.S. president isn’t speaking, or the vote doesn’t involve Israel, or there isn’t a showdown in the Security Council, there is a media vacuum. Many U.S. reporters see the U.N. — not without some justification — as irrelevant. ...

Second, many reporters take their cue from U.S. officials. Here, the official line was that this vote on a nuclear weapons ban treaty is a waste of time. “Successful nuclear reductions will require participation from all relevant parties, proven verification measures, and security conditions conducive to cooperation,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said. “We lack all three factors at this time.” ...

Third, and this may be the most important, we have our heads in the sand when it comes to nuclear dangers. With some notable exceptions, such as the comprehensive stories by the Associated Press on problems with the U.S. missile force, the main way that the risks from nuclear weapons are discussed in the U.S. media and in the body politic involves an adversary that presents a nuclear threat. Iran may get nuclear weapons. North Korea is testing nuclear weapons. Russia is rattling the nuclear saber. The problem is not the weapons themselves, it is bad guys with the weapons. This is not how most of the world sees it.

“We have reiterated many times our basic and firm position that the possession and deployment of nuclear weapons can never be the basis for a sustainable security for mankind. The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons are well documented and irrefutable,” said Swedish representative to the First Committee Eva Walder. “Sweden’s position is clear. The only guarantee that these weapons will never be used again is their total elimination.”

Sweden’s view is very close to those of past U.S. presidents who saw, as Bill Clinton did, the grave threat to the nation “from the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons,” and sought, as Ronald Reagan did, “the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.”

President George W. Bush, reflecting the ideology of many of his neoconservative advisors, changed that formula. He said in his 2003 State of the Union address, “The gravest danger facing America and the world is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.” Bush subtly changed the focus from “what” to “who.” He sought the elimination of regimes rather than weapons. He believed that the United States could determine which countries were responsible enough to have nuclear weapons, and which ones were not. American power, not multilateral treaties, would enforce this judgment.

After the complete failure of that strategy, President Barack Obama switched American policy back onto the weapons. In speeches and statements well known to readers of the Bulletin, he stigmatized nuclear weapons, vowing to reduce their number and role in U.S. strategy and to seek their elimination. ...

Now, the Bush view has crept back into policy and reporting. It dominates thinking in the Department of Defense. Nuclear weapons are only dangerous when they are sought or held by adversaries. Our weapons are essential. Those held by our friends, including India, Pakistan and Israel, are not a problem.

This blindly optimistic view holds that nuclear weapon are beneficial to our security — the “bedrock” of our security, as the current defense secretary so often states. That their presence enhances international stability. And some, including one of the candidates for president this year, believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, but manageable. The bulk of the media follows this unofficial but clearly held line.

There is hope for a more optimistic and safer view of nuclear threats to re-emerge. The treaty vote is one sign that many nations have lost patience with the barely discernable, “step-by-step” process that nuclear-armed nations have followed in regard to arms control and eventual nuclear disarmament. The alternative process the countries voting for the ban treaty have begun — encouraged and aided by civil society groups — is having an impact and may spur the nuclear-armed states to move faster.

The U.S. presidential campaign has highlighted the dangers of our own nuclear weapons for the U.S. domestic audience, asking the question: Can we allow an unstable individual to “have his finger on the button?” The American electorate is being forced to confront nuclear fears in a way we haven’t seen in a long time. It may be possible to translate this fear into a broader discussion: Should anyone be able to launch a nuclear war in 15 minutes — without debate, without a vote, without even a vestige of democracy? And such a debate could lead to discussion of constructive solutions.

Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. His article is from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 2, 2016, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2016.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)