Nuclear Déjà Vu At Carnegie

By Ivan Oelrich and Hans M. Kristensen

Only one week before Barack Obama is expected to win the presidential election, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made one last pitch for the Bush administration’s nuclear policy during a speech Tuesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

What is the opposite of visionary?  Whatever, that’s the word that best describes Mr. Gates’s speech.  Had it been delivered in the mid-1990s it would not have sounded out of place. The theme was that the world is the way the world is and, not only is there little to be done about changing the world, our response pretty much has to be more of the same.

Granted, Gates’s job is to implement nuclear policy not change it but, at a time when Russia is rattling its nuclear sabers, China is modernizing its forces, some regional states either have already acquired or are pursuing nuclear weapons, and yet inspired visions of a world free of nuclear weapons are entering the political mainstream, we had hoped for some new ideas. Rather than articulating ways to turn things around, Gates’ core message seemed to be to “hedge” and hunker down for the long haul. And, while his arguments are clearer than most, this speech is yet another example of faulty logic and sloppy definitions justifying unjustifiable nuclear weapons. Continue reading

Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Secrecy And Confusion

Sorry, can’t tell!
The size of the nuclear weapons stockpile is secret, but not hard to figure out.

By Hans M. Kristensen

In a letter to the editor in Boston Globe, Thomas D’Agostino, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), writes that the United States is reducing its nuclear weapons and that, “Currently, the stockpile is the smallest it has been since the Eisenhower administration.”

That statement leaves considerable confusion about the size of the stockpile. If “since the Eisenhower administration” means counting from 1961 when the Kennedy administration took over, that would mean the stockpile today contains nearly 20,000 warheads. If it means counting from the day the Eisenhower administration took office in 1953, it would mean fewer than 1,500 warheads.

Why leave an order of magnitude of confusion about the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile? Continue reading

State Department Arms Control Board Declares Cold War on China

After planning the war against Iraq, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz now heads the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board that recommends a Cold War against China.

By Hans M. Kristensen

A report from an advisory board to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recommended that the United States beefs up its nuclear, conventional, and space-based posture in the Pacific to counter China.

The report, which was first described in the Washington Times, portrays China’s military modernization and intentions in highly dramatic terms that appear go beyond the assessments published so far by the Defense Department and the intelligence community.

Although the Secretary of State asked for recommendations to move US-Chinese relations away from competition and conflict toward greater transparency, mutual confidence and enhanced cooperation, the board instead has produced a report that appears to recommend policies that would increase and deepen military competition and in essence constitute a small Cold War with China. Continue reading

Nuclear Policy Paper Embraces Clinton Era “Lead and Hedge” Strategy

By Hans M. Kristensen

The new nuclear policy paper National Security and Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century published quietly Tuesday by the Defense and Energy Departments embraces the “lead and hedge” strategy of the first Clinton administration for how US nuclear forces and policy should evolve in the future.

Yet the “leading” is hard to find in the new paper, which seems focused on hedging.

Instead of offering different alternative options for US nuclear policy, the paper comes across as a Cold War-like threat-based analysis that draws a line in the sand against congressional calls for significant changes to US nuclear policy.

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French Nuclear Forces

Sarkozy says he wants to be more open about France’s nuclear arsenal “than anyone ever has been” about theirs. OK, does the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle still carry nuclear weapons in peacetime?

By Hans M. Kristensen

The French nuclear weapons arsenal currently includes approximately 300 warheads, according to our latest estimate published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Roughly 80 percent of the warheads are for delivery by three ballistic missiles submarines. The remaining warheads are on cruise missiles for delivery by land- and sea-based strike aircraft. The total arsenal is expected to decrease further to some 290 warheads in the next few years.

Although President Nicolas Sarkozy declared in March 2008 that he had “decided that France could and should be more transparent with respect to its nuclear arsenal than anyone ever has been,” France remains the only European nuclear weapons state that has not yet declared whether its aircraft carrier still carries nuclear weapons under normal circumstances.

Background: French Nuclear Forces 2008

War in Georgia and Repercussions for Nuclear Disarmament Cooperation with Russia

In an earlier blog post, arguments were discussed from a 12 June 08 meeting of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs for and against the signing of a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement (123 Agreement) with Russia. At the time, the most salient issues were our ability to influence Russia’s position vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the possibility that the 123 Agreement would restart domestic reprocessing, reversing 30 years of US policy. Since then, a full scale military operation has taken place between Russia and Georgia, a newly democratic ally of the U.S. who sent 2,000 troops to support U.S. efforts in Iraq. Now both Russian and American leaders want to remove the 123 Agreement from consideration for the time being, so as not to allow current events to color any debates about passing the legislation. Those in favor of the 123 Agreement believe that it would open up greater cooperation with Russia on issues such as pressuring Iran on its nuclear program. Whether this is true or not, if the 123 Agreement is now off the table because of Russia’s actions in Georgia, how much has this conflict damaged our ability to cooperate with Russia on nuclear arms control in the future? Continue reading

China’s Xia-Class SSBN Leaves Dry Dock

The Xia-class SSBN appears to have completed a multi-year overhaul. The submarine has been in dry dock at least since 2005. Click on image to download large version.

By Hans M. Kristensen

China’s single Xia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine has been launched from the dry dock at the Jianggezhuang Naval Base where it has been undergoing a multi-year overhaul. The Xia was discovered on a commercial satellite image, which shows the submarine moored in the harbor.

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Presidential Candidates Need to See Beyond Warhead Numbers

By Hans M. Kristensen and Ivan Oelrich

Barack Obama has put forward an inspiring nuclear security policy that promises to reinstate nuclear disarmament as a central goal of U.S. national security and foreign policy. This vision has been shared by all presidents since the Cuban Missile Crisis, except for George W. Bush.

If he is elected the next president, Obama’s policy would be a refreshing break with the gung-ho and divisive policies that have characterized the current administration.

Even so, it is important to consider the intent of Obama’s policy and look ahead to how it could be implemented and even improved.

Continue reading

STRATCOM Cancels Controversial Preemption Strike Plan

The controversial preemption strike plan CONPLAN 8022 has been canceled and the mission instead merged with the main U.S. strategic war plan.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. military has canceled a controversial war plan designed to strike adversaries promptly – even preemptively – with conventional and nuclear weapons. The strike plan was known as Concept Plan (CONPLAN) 8022 and first entered into effect in the summer of 2004 to provide the president with a prompt, global strike capability against time-urgent and mobile targets.

CONPLAN 8022 was the first attempt to operationalize the “Global Strike” mission assigned to U.S. Strategic Command in January 2003. The mission was triggered by new White House guidance following the terrorist attacks in September 2001 and fear of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Lack of leadership and definition has since placed Global Strike in limbo, with little progress and prompt effects instead being incorporated into other existing strike plans. “Global Strike” is now described as a much broader mission synonymous with the “New Triad” first articulated by the Bush administration’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review.

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The RISOP is Dead – Long Live RISOP-Like Nuclear Planning

Launch control officers at Minot Air Force Base practice launching their high-alert ICBM. But the hypothetical Russian nuclear strike plan that originally led to the requirement to have nuclear forces on alert has been canceled. So why are the ICBMs still on alert?

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. military has canceled the Red Integrated Strategic Offensive Plan (RISOP), a hypothetical Russian nuclear strike plan against the United States created and used for decades by U.S. nuclear war planners to improve U.S. nuclear strike plans against Russia.

The cancellation appears to substantiate the claim made by Bush administration and military official, that the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review removed Russia as an immediate contingency for U.S. nuclear strike planning. But implementing the shift was not a high priority, lasting almost the entire first term of the administration.

Despite the shift, however, declassified documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act also show that RISOP-like and “red” analysis continues, and that that the cancellation was necessary to allow STRATCOM to broaden nuclear strike planning beyond Russia. Continue reading