Britain’s Next Nuclear Era

After having spent the last several years sending diplomats to Teheran to try to persuade Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, the British government announced Monday that it plans to renew its own nuclear arsenal.

If approved by the parliament, Monday’s decision means that the United Kingdom will extend its nuclear deterrent beyond 2050, essentially doubling the timeline of its own nuclear era.

Doing so is entirely consistent with the United Kingdom’s international obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and with a policy that favors complete elimination of nuclear weapons, the government insisted in a fact sheet, because the British nuclear arsenal today is smaller than during the Cold War, and because the Treaty does not say exactly when nuclear disarmament has to be accomplished. In fact, the new plan has “the right balance,” the government claims, between working for a world free of nuclear weapons and keeping those weapons.
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New Report: Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning

An incipient nuclear arms race is emerging between China and the United States, according to a new report published today by the Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The 250-page report, Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning, outlines the status and possible future development of China’s nuclear weapons, describes the history of U.S. nuclear targeting of China, and simulates nuclear strike scenarios between the two nuclear powers.

Both countries are pointing to the other as an excuse to modernize nuclear forces. In the United States the report finds that the Pentagon, the intelligence community, congressional committees, private institutes and the news media frequently overstate Chinese capabilities or present dramatic new developments out of context to underscore a threat.

China, for its part, cloaks its nuclear forces in a veil of secrecy, which creates suspicion and fear in other countries about Chinese intentions.

The report, which is based on analysis of declassified and unclassified U.S. government documents as well as commercial satellite images of Chinese installations, urges both countries to take steps to halt and reverse the tension and military build-up.
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US-China Commission Report Toned Down; Errors Remain

The annual report published Monday by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission is different – kind of toned-down – compared with the report published in 2005. The Commission hasn’t gone soft on China, and the report continues the strong critique of China that has characterized the Commission since it was established in 2000. But much of the stronger language from the 2005 report, and many of the more questionable claims about Chinese nuclear weapons capabilities, did not make it into the new report.

The toning-down of the report follows reports earlier this year that the Pentagon’s annual report on Chinese military capabilities was also softened before publication. A call to the US-China Commission office about why the changes were made was not answered.
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New Article: Where the Bombs Are

B83 thermonuclear bombs at Barksdale Air Force Base,
Louisiana.                     Image © Paul Shambroom

Ever wondered where all those nukes are stored?

A new review published in the November/December issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists shows that the United States stores its nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads at 18 locations in 12 states and six European countries.

The article’s authors – Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists and Robert S. Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council – identified the likely locations by piecing together information from years of monitoring declassified documents, officials statements, news reports, leaks, conversations with current and former officials, and commercial high-resolution satellite photos.
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Sally Lilienthal, Founder of Ploughshares Fund, Dies

Sally Lilienthal, the founder of the Ploughshares Fund, died on 24 October at age 87. All who knew her agreed that she was a force of nature. Some who have heard about the Ploughshares Fund do not realize how it actually works. It does not have an endowment. It is, itself, a fund-raising organization that passes on what it collects to individuals and groups working on issues of national security, particularly weapons of mass destruction. So Ploughshares has to go out and raise money each and every year. It is a huge task and one that depended on Ms. Lilienthal’s dedication. The Federation of American Scientists has been for years a major recipient of generous Ploughshares grants. These grants have been essential to supporting, for example, Hans Kristensen’s work on global nuclear forces and policies, my own work on the future direction of nuclear weapons, and Michael Stebbins’s work on the threat of bioweapons. There are very few foundations supporting studies and analyses in the field of peace and security and Ploughshares is the only organization that is devoted exclusively to the field. Without Ploughshares, you would hear a very different chorus of voices talking about international security. The Washington Post published an obituary.

Reaffirming the Nuclear Umbrella: Nuclear Policy on Autopilot

In condemning the North Korean nuclear test and repeating its call for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, one of the Bush administration’s first acts ironically has been to reaffirm the importance of nuclear weapons in the region.

“The United States will meet the full range of our deterrent and security commitments,” President Bush told Japan and South Korea after last week’s test. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly hinted that the commitments potentially include nuclear strikes against North Korea.

But is it helpful or counterproductive at this stage to threaten North Korea with nuclear weapons?
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North Korea’s Bomb: A technical assessment [edited 16 October]

Last Sunday, North Korea apparently tested a nuclear explosive. The “apparently” is needed because the explosion was so small—by nuclear standards—that some have speculated that it may have been a large conventional explosion. What is the technical significance of the test, what does it mean, and what should we do now?

There is no question that the political and security implications of the test are huge and almost entirely negative. The technical implications are more mixed; the technical significance of the test is somewhat less than meets the eye.
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Article: Nuclear Threats Then And Now

A decision to trim a tree in the Korean demilitarized zone in 1976 escalated into a threat to use nuclear weapons. After a fatal skirmish between U.S. and North Korean border guards, U.S. forces in the region were placed on heightened alert (DEFCON 3) and nuclear forces were deployed to signal preparations for an attack on North Korea. The North Koreans did not interfere with the tree trimming again, so the threat must have worked, the Pentagon concluded.

Thirty years later, North Korea has probably developed nuclear weapons and is trying to develop long-range ballistic missiles to threaten you-know-who, and the United States has ventured into a multi-billion dollar effort to build a missile defense system and a “New Triad” to better dissuade, deter, and defeat North Korea and other “rogue” states.

So, did the threat work?

The “tree-trimming incident,” as the U.S.-North Korean scuffle has come to be known, and other examples of using nuclear threats are described in the article “Nuclear Threats Then And Now” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

View Article | Korea Background | Global Strike Mission

China Test-Launches New Ballistic Missile

China has test launched a DF-31 long-range ballistic missile, according to a report by the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. The missile was said to have been launched from the Wuzhai launch site on Monday night.

The DF-31 has been under development since the 1980s and Monday’s flight test appears to be the sixth flight test of the missile since 1999. The U.S. Department of Defense predicted in 2002 that the DF-31 would be deployed “before mid-decade,” but that didn’t happen. The current DOD prediction is that deployment may happen this year. Some web sites erroneously say the missile is already operational.

The DF-31 forms the core of China’s current modernization of long-range nuclear ballistic missiles. Two modifications of the DF-31 are under development. The road-mobile DF-31A has a longer range (possibly up to 12,000 km), and the 8,000+ km range Julang-2 is intended to arm China’s next generation of ballistic missile submarines (Jin-class).

There is considerable confusion and uncertainty about the capability of the DF-31. Early reports predicted a range of at least 8,000 km (4,875 miles), but the latest DOD estimate is 7,250+ km (4,500+ miles). China has not yet tested the DF-31 to the full range reported by the DOD. Tuesday’s test launch impacted in the Takla Makan Desert some 2,500 km west of Wuzhai. If the range is 7,250+, the DF-31 will not be able to target the entire continental United States, only the most northwestern parts. Its main role may be against Russia, India, as well as U.S. facilities in the Pacific including Hawaii and Guam.

Another confusion concerns the payload. Despite widespread speculation among private analysts and media that the new missiles will carry multiple warheads, the U.S. intelligence community anticipates that all three missile types will carry a single warhead each.

Later this month (September), FAS and the Natural Resources Defense Council will publish a joint report about Chinese nuclear forces and U.S. nuclear targeting of China. The report uses high-resolution satellite images and declassified documents to describe the nuclear relationship between China and the United States.

See also: Elusive Chinese Submarine Cave Spotted | Nuclear Notebook on Chinese Nuclear Forces