Trump nuclear arms control plans draw criticism

Amid growing concern about the future of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control efforts, the Trump administration is still evaluating a potential extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and appears to lack a clear plan to achieve a newly announced goal of negotiating more comprehensive agreements with Russia and China.

Administration officials have repeatedly downplayed the risks of the treaty expiring in February 2021 with nothing to replace it. They also have provided few details on how they would persuade Russia to limit broader categories of weapons and China to participate in arms control talks for the first time.

Following a May 14 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi, Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States and Russia “agreed that…we will gather together teams that will begin to work not only on New START and its potential extension, but on a broader range of arms control issues that each of our two nations have.” It remained unclear when such talks would begin and what the Trump administration would be willing to offer as concessions to Russia and China, and whether New START would be extended in the absence of progress on a more comprehensive deal.

New START, which caps deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 warheads and 700 missiles and bombers each, allows the two sides to extend the pact for up to five years until 2026 without requiring U.S. Senate approval. Trump admin-istration officials, notably National Security Advisor John Bolton, have criticized New START because it limits deployed strategic nuclear weapons only.

Several issues would affect the administration’s treaty extension decision, said Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 15. They include Russia’s development of new types of strategic weapons systems and modernization of its large stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, its “record of being a serial violator and selective implementer of the arms control obligations and commitments that it undertakes,” and “China’s lack of transparency regarding the scope and scale of its nuclear modernization program” and unwillingness to discuss nuclear weapons issues with the United States.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the senior Democrat on the committee, said, “Extending New START would be, in my mind, an easy decision. It’s very difficult to understand why the administration would discard the robust constraints, transparency, and verification measures of New START with nothing to replace them.” However, committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) strongly criticized any treaty extension: “Under present circum-stances with [Russia’s] cheating and other things that they do, I’m opposed to extension.”

Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in an extension, but it has raised concerns about U.S. procedures to remove submarine- launched ballistic missile launchers and some B-52 bombers from treaty accountability. “The extension of the New START is not a simple technicality that could be resolved in a couple of weeks,” Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, said on May 6. “Serious issues must first be settled.”

Russia has expressed a willingness to begin a dialogue with the United States on arms control and strategic stability, but it has its own list of concerns about U.S. policies and weapons systems, including missile defense systems, cyberweapons, weapons development in space, and advanced conventional arms. The Trump administration has shown no indication that it would be willing to limit these weapons in an agreement with Russia or China. Even if it were willing to do so, it is highly unlikely an agreement could be reached before New START expires in less than two years.

President Trump told reporters on May 3 that he had already spoken to China about a trilateral nuclear arms control deal and that “they very much would like to be a part of that deal.” Contrarily, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on May 6 that China “will not take part in any trilateral negotiations on a nuclear disarmament agreement.”

China is estimated to possess about 300 nuclear warheads. In contrast, the United States and Russia possess around 6,500 war-heads each. China has never been a party to any agreement that limits the number or types of its nuclear weaponry.

In a May 6 interview in Finland, Secretary Pompeo acknow-ledged that a trilateral deal involving China and that covers all types of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons might be “too ambitious.” He noted that there are “just a couple years left before New START expires” and that it may be necessary to address the expiration of the treaty on a bilateral basis.

Menendez welcomed the administration’s interest in expanding the scope of arms control but warned that “the limitations and verification measures of New START must remain in place while any such negotiation occurs.”

Democrats and one notable Republican have proposed several pieces of legislation in support of extending New START. On May 9, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the committee’s top Republican, introduced a bill expressing the sense of Congress that New START should be extended by five years unless Russia is determined to be in material breach of the agreement or the treaty is replaced by a pact that contains equal or greater verifiable constraints on Russian nuclear forces.

The legislation also would require several briefings and reports, including an intelligence assessment of how the expiration of New START would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and the additional intelligence capabilities the United States would need to compensate for the loss of the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.

Opponents of New START have also introduced legislation on the treaty. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill on May 13 that would prohibit the use of funding to implement an extension of New START or any successor agreement unless it includes China and covers Russia’s entire inventory of strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) introduced companion legislation in the House.

At the international Primakov Readings summit in Moscow on June 11, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov made the latest call urging President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to adopt a joint declaration reassuring the international community that nuclear warfare was unacceptable. If nuclear weapons were ever used, Lavrov warned, everyone would lose. He said the United States and Soviet Union had previously come to such a conclusion and he could “not understand why this position cannot be reaffirmed under the current conditions.”

Russia and China have both accused President Trump of threatening to spark an “arms race” through his Missile Defense Review released in January. The report called for a global missile defense system that included space-based interceptors, signaling Trump’s unwillingness to support a different measure promoted by Russia and China — an agreement to not weaponize outer space.

– edited from Arms Control Assoc. and Newsweek, June 2019
PeaceMeal, July/August 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.)

Nuclear weapons experts alarmed by new Pentagon ‘war-fighting’ doctrine

The Pentagon believes using nuclear weapons could “create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” according to a new nuclear doctrine adopted in June by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”

The document, titled “Nuclear Operations,” is the first such doctrine paper in 14 years. Arms control experts say it marks a shift in U.S. military thinking toward the idea of fighting and winning a nuclear war, which they believe is a highly dangerous mindset.

At the beginning of a chapter on nuclear planning and targeting, the document quotes a Cold War theorist, Herman Kahn, as saying, “My guess is that nuclear weapons will be used sometime in the next hundred years, but that their use is much more likely to be small and limited than widespread and unconstrained.”

Kahn was a controversial figure. He argued that a nuclear war could be “winnable” and is reported to have provided part of the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove.

The Nuclear Operations document was taken down from the Pentagon website after a week and is now only available through a restricted access electronic library. A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the document was removed from the publicly accessible Defense Department website “because it was deter-mined that this publication ... should be for official use only.”

Steven Aftergood, who directs the project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, said the new document “is very much conceived as a war-fighting doctrine — not simply a deterrence doctrine, and that’s unsettling.” He pointed out that, as an operational document by the Joint Chiefs rather than a policy documents, its role is to plan for worst-case scenarios. But. Aftergood added, “That kind of thinking itself can be hazardous. It can make that sort of eventuality more likely instead of deterring it.”

Alexandra Bell, a former state department arms control official said, “This seems to be another instance of this administration being both tone-deaf and disorganized.” Bell, now senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, added, “Posting a document about nuclear operations and then promptly deleting it shows a lack of messaging discipline and a lack of strategy. Further, at a time of rising nuclear tensions, casually postulating about the potential upsides of a nuclear attack is obtuse in the extreme.”

The doctrine has been published in the wake of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from two nuclear agreements: the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Program of Action with Iran and the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia. The administration is also skeptical about a third treaty — the New Start Treaty that limits U.S. and Russian forces strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems, which is due to expire in 2021.

The last nuclear operations doctrine, published during the George W. Bush administration in 2005, also caused alarm. It envisaged pre-emptive nuclear strikes and the use of the U.S. nuclear arsenal against all weapons of mass destruction, not just nuclear.

The Obama administration did not publish a nuclear operations doctrine but, in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, sought to downgrade the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. military planning.

– edited from The Guardian (U.K.), June 19, 2019
PeaceMeal, July/August 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.)