US Drops Below New START Warhead Limit For The First Time

By Hans M. Kristensen

The number of U.S. strategic warheads counted as “deployed” under the New START Treaty has dropped below the treaty’s limit of 1,550 warheads for the first time since the treaty entered into force in February 2011 – a reduction of 263 warheads over four and a half years.

Russia, by contrast, has increased its deployed warheads and now has more strategic warheads counted as deployed under the treaty than in 2011 – up 111 warheads.

Similarly, while the United States has reduced its number of deployed strategic launchers (missiles and bombers) counted by the treaty by 120, Russia has increased its number of deployed launchers by five in the same period. Yet the United States still has more launchers deployed than allowed by the treaty (by 2018) while Russia has been well below the limit since before the treaty entered into force in 2011.


These two apparently contradictory developments do not mean that the United States is falling behind and Russia is building up. Both countries are expected to adjust their forces to comply with the treaty limits by 2018.

Rather, the differences are due to different histories and structures of the two countries’ strategic nuclear force postures as well as to fluctuations in the number of weapons that are deployed at any given time.  Continue reading

The Red Web: Russia and the Internet

The Internet in Russia is a battleground between activists who would use it as a tool of political and cultural freedom and government officials who see it as a powerful instrument of political control, write investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan in their new book The Red Web. For now, the government appears to be winning the battle.

Soldatov and Borogan trace the underlying conflict back to official anxiety in the Soviet era about the hazards of freedom of information. In the 1950s, the first Soviet photocopy machine was physically destroyed at the direction of the government “because it threatened to spread information beyond the control of those who ruled.”

With the introduction of imported personal computers in the 1980s and a connection to the Internet in 1990, new possibilities for free expression and political organizing in Russia seemed to arise. But as described in The Red Web, each private initiative was met by a government response seeking to disable or limit it. Internet service providers were required to install “black boxes” (known by the acronym SORM) giving Russia’s security services access to Internet traffic. Independent websites, such as the authors’ own site on intelligence matters, were subject to blocking and attack. Journalists’ computers were seized.

But the struggle continued. Protesters used new social media tools to organize demonstrations. The government countered with new facial recognition technology and cell phone tracking to identify them. Large teams of “trolls” were hired to disrupt social networks. A nationwide system of online filtering and censorship was put in place by 2012, and has been refined since then.

To some extent, the government actions constituted an implied threat rather than a fully implemented one, according to Soldatov and Borogan.

“The Russian secret services have had a long tradition of using spying techniques not merely to spy on people but to intimidate them. The KGB had a method of ‘overt surveillance’ in which they followed a target without concealing themselves. It was used against dissidents.”

And in practice, much of the new surveillance infrastructure fell short of stifling independent activity, as the authors’ own work testifies.

“The Internet filtering in Russia turned out to be unsophisticated; thousands of sites were blocked by mistake, and users could easily find ways to make an end-run around it,” they write. Moreover, “very few people in Russia were actually sent to jail for posting criticism of the government online.”

Nevertheless, “Russian Internet freedom has been deeply curtailed.”

In a chapter devoted to the case of Edward Snowden, the authors express disappointment in Snowden’s unwillingness to comment on Russian surveillance or to engage with Russian journalists. “To us, the silence seemed odd and unpleasant.”

More important, they say that Snowden actually made matters in Russia worse.

“Snowden may not have known or realized it, but his disclosures emboldened those in Russia who wanted more control over the Internet,” they write.

Because the Snowden disclosures were framed not as a categorical challenge to surveillance, but exclusively as an exposure of U.S. and allied practices, they were exploited by the Russian government to legitimize its own preference for “digital sovereignty.”

Snowden provided “cover for something the Kremlin wanted all along– to force Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s services, Gmail and YouTube, to be subject to Russian legislation, which meant providing backdoor access to the Russian security services.”

“Snowden could have done good things globally, but for Russia he was a disaster,” said Stas Kozlovsky of Moscow State University, a leading Wikipedia contributor in Russia, as quoted in The Red Web.

(Recently, Snowden has spoken out more clearly against Russian surveillance practices. “I’ve been quite critical of [it] in the past and I’ll continue to be in the future, because this drive that we see in the Russian government to control more and more the internet, to control more and more what people are seeing, even parts of personal lives, deciding what is the appropriate or inappropriate way for people to express their love for one another … [is] fundamentally wrong,” he said in a recent presentation. See “Snowden criticises Russia for approach to internet and homosexuality,” The Guardian, September 5, 2015).

The Red Web provides a salutary reminder for Western readers that the so-called U.S. “surveillance state” has hardly begun to exercise the possibilities of political control implied in that contemptuous term. For all of its massive collection of private data, the National Security Agency — unlike its Russian counterparts — has not yet interfered in domestic elections, censored private websites, disrupted public gatherings, or gained unrestricted access to domestic communications.

Soldatov and Borogan conclude on an optimistic note. After all, they write, things are even worse in China. See The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, Public Affairs, 2015.

Russian Pacific Fleet Prepares For Arrival of New Missile Submarines

By Hans M. Kristensen

Later this fall (possibly this month) the first new Borei-class (sometimes spelled Borey) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) is scheduled to arrive at the Rybachiy submarine base near Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

[Update September 30, 2015: Captain First Rank Igor Dygalo, a spokesperson for the Russian Navy, announced that the Aleksander Nevsky (K-550) arrived at Rybachiy Submarine Base at 5 PM local time (5 AM GMT) on September 30, 2015.]

At least one more, possibly several, Borei SSBNs are expected to follow over the next few years to replace the remaining outdated Delta-III SSBNs currently operating in the Pacific.

The arrival of the Borei SSBNs marks the first significant upgrade of the Russian Pacific Fleet SSBN force in more than three decades.

In preparation for the arrival of the new submarines, satellite pictures show upgrades underway to submarine base piers, missile loading piers, and nuclear warhead storage facilities. Continue reading

New Nuclear Notebook: Russian Nuclear Forces 2015

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russian nuclear weapons have received a lot of attention lately. Russian officials casually throw around direct or thinly veiled nuclear threats (here, here and here). And U.S. defense hawks rail (here and here) about a Russian nuclear buildup.

In reality, rather than building up, Russia is building down but appears to be working to level off the force within the next decade to prevent further unilateral reduction of its strategic nuclear force in the future. For details, see the latest FAS Nuclear Notebook on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists web site.

This trend makes it more important for the United States and Russia to reach additional nuclear arms control agreements to reduce strategic nuclear forces. Hard to imagine in the current climate, but remember: even at the height of the Cold War the two sides reached important arms limitation agreements because it was seen then (as it is now) to be in their national security interest.  Continue reading

New START Treaty Count: Russia Dips Below US Again

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russian deployed strategic warheads counted by the New START Treaty once again slipped below the U.S. force level, according to the latest fact sheet released by the State Department.

The so-called aggregate numbers show that Russia as of March 1, 2015 deployed 1,582 warheads on 515 strategic launchers.

The U.S. count was 1,597 warheads on 785 launchers.

Back in September 2014, the Russian warhead count for the first time in the treaty’s history moved above the U.S. warhead count. The event caused U.S. defense hawks to say it showed Russia was increasing it nuclear arsenal and blamed the Obama administration. Russian news media gloated Russia had achieved “parity” with the United States for the first time.

Of course, none of that was true. The ups and downs in the aggregate data counts are fluctuations caused by launchers moving in an out of overhaul and new types being deployed while old types are being retired. The fact is that both Russia and the United States are slowly – very slowly – reducing their deployed forces to meet the treaty limits by February 2018.  Continue reading

The INF Crisis: Bad Press and Nuclear Saber Rattling

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russian online news paper Vzglaid is carrying a story that wrongly claims that I have said a Russian flight-test of an INF missile would not be a violation of the INF Treaty as long as the missile is not in production or put into service.

That is of course wrong. I have not made such a statement, not least because it would be wrong. On the contrary, a test-launch of an INF missile would indeed be a violation of the INF Treaty, regardless of whether the missile is in production or deployed.

Meanwhile, US defense secretary Ashton Carter appears to confirm that the ground-launched cruise missile Russia allegedly test-launched in violation of the INF Treaty is a nuclear missile and threatens further escalation if it is deployed. Continue reading

Rumors About Nuclear Weapons in Crimea

The news media and private web sites are full of rumors that Russia has deployed nuclear weapons to Crimea after it invaded the region earlier this year. Many of these rumors are dubious and overly alarmist and ignore that a nuclear-capable weapon is not the same as a nuclear warhead.

Several U.S. lawmakers who oppose nuclear arms control use the Crimean deployment to argue against further reductions of nuclear weapons. NATO’s top commander, U.S. General Philip Breedlove, has confirmed that Russian forces “capable of being nuclear” are being moved to the Crimean Peninsula, but also acknowledged that NATO doesn’t know if nuclear warheads are actually in place.

Recently Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov said that NATO was “transferring aircraft capable of carrying nuclear arms to the Baltic states,” and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reminded that Russia has the right to deploy nuclear weapons anywhere on its territory, including in newly annexed Crimea.

Whether intended or not, non-strategic nuclear weapons are already being drawn into the new East-West crisis.  Continue reading

Thinking More Clearly About Nuclear Weapons: The Ukrainian Crisis’ Overlooked Nuclear Risk

The destructive potential of nuclear weapons is so great that decisions impacting them should be made in a fully conscious, objective manner. Unfortunately, there is significant evidence that this is not the case. One of my Stanford course handouts1) Available at lists almost two dozen assumptions which underlie our nuclear posture, but warrant critical re-examination. This column applies that same kind of analysis to the current Ukrainian crisis.

It is surprising and worrisome that almost none of the mainstream media’s coverage of the Ukrainian crisis has mentioned its nuclear risk. With the West feeling that Russia is solely to blame, and Russia having the mirror image perspective, neither side is likely to back down if one of their red lines is crossed. Add in America’s overwhelming conventional military superiority and Russia’s 8,000 nuclear weapons, and there is the potential for nuclear threats. And, where there is the potential for nuclear threats, there is also some potential for nuclear use.

I’m not saying a repeat of the Cuban Missile Crisis is likely, but given the potential consequences, even a small risk of the Ukrainian crisis escalating to nuclear threats would seem too high.

The frequency with which we find ourselves in such confrontations is also a factor. A low probability nuclear risk that occurs once per century is ten times less likely to explode in our faces than one that occurs once per decade. And the latter hypothesis (confrontations occurring approximately once per decade, instead of once per century) is supported by the empirical evidence, as the Georgian War occurred just six years ago.

While both Russia and the West are wrong that the current crisis is solely the other side’s fault, this article focuses on our mistakes since those are the ones we have the power to correct.

An example of the West’s belief that the crisis is all Russia’s fault appeared in a July 18 editorial 2)“Vladimir Putin Can Stop This War,” New York Times, July 17, 2014. in The New York Times which claimed, “There is one man who can stop [the Ukrainian conflict] — President Vladimir Putin of Russia.”

Another example occurred on September 3, when President Obama stated: “It was not the government in Kyiv that destabilized eastern Ukraine; it’s been the pro-Russian separatists who are encouraged by Russia, financed by Russia, trained by Russia, supplied by Russia and armed by Russia. And the Russian forces that have now moved into Ukraine are not on a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission. They are Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks. Now, these are the facts. They are provable. They’re not subject to dispute.” (emphasis added)

So what’s the evidence that the New York Times and the president might be wrong? In early February, when the crisis was in its early and much less deadly stages, Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock, wrote3)Jack Matlock, “Ukraine and the United States,”, February 8, 2014. “I believe it has been a very big strategic mistake – by Russia, by the EU and most of all by the U.S. – to convert Ukrainian political and economic reform into an East-West struggle. … In both the short and long run only an approach that does not appear to threaten Russia is going to work.” (emphasis added)

A month later, on March 3, Dmitri Simes, a former adviser to President Nixon, seconded Ambassador Matlock’s perspective when he said in an interview4)Martin Hellman, “Nixon’s Adviser Warns Ukraine Could Have ‘Echoes of 1914,’” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, March 9, 2014. A. Kissinger, “Henry Kissinger: To Settle the Ukraine Crisis, Start at the End,” Washington Post, March 5, 2014.[/ref]: “I think it [the Obama administration’s approach to the Ukraine] has contributed to the crisis. … there is no question in my mind that the United States has a responsibility to act. But what Obama is doing is exactly the opposite from what should be done in my view.”

Two days later, on March 5, President Nixon’s Secretary of State and National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, wrote:5) “Each [Russia, the West, and the various Ukrainian factions] has made the situation worse.”

A number of other articles by foreign policy experts also question the Times and President Obama placing all the blame for the crisis on Russia, but I hope I’ve made the point that Putin is not the only man who could end the fighting. Indeed, he may not be capable of doing that without us also correcting some of our mistakes.

Further evidence that the New York Times and President Obama might be wrong can be found in an intercepted and leaked phone conversation[ref]Martin Hellman, “Transcript of Estonian FM Bombshell Revelation,” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, June 19, 2014. in which Estonia’s Foreign Minister, Urmas Paet – clearly no friend of Russia’s – stated that the sniper fire on February 20, which killed dozens of Maidan protesters and led to calls for Yanukovych’s head, appeared to have been a false flag operation perpetrated by the most violent elements within the protesters – for example, the ultra-nationalist Right Sektor, which is seen as neo-Nazi in some quarters.

Here is the exact wording of Paet’s key allegation in that phone call: “There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind [the] snipers … it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition.” That “new coalition” is now the Ukrainian government.

While this allegation has received little attention in the American mainstream media, German public television sent an investigative reporting team which reached the same conclusion6)Martin Hellman, “Is the Ukrainian Crisis Spiraling Out of Control?” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, April 14, 2014. “The Kiev Prosecutor General’s Office [of the interim government] is confident in their assessment [that Yanukovych’s people are to blame for the sniper fire, but] we are not.”

This is not to say that Paet and the German investigators are correct in their conclusions – just that it is dangerously sloppy thinking about nuclear matters not to take those allegations more seriously than we have.

While Putin has exaggerated the risk to ethnic Russians living in Ukraine for his own purposes, the West has overlooked those same risks. For example, on May 2 in Odessa, dozens of pro-Russian demonstrators were burned alive when an anti-Russian mob prevented them from fleeing the burning building into which they had been chased. According to the New York Times7)Andrew Kramer, “Ukraine’s Reins Weaken as Chaos Spreads,” New York Times, May 4, 2014. “The pro-Russians, outnumbered by the Ukrainians, fell back … [and] sought refuge in the trade union building. Yanus Milteynus, a 42-year-old construction worker and pro-Russian activist, said he watched from the roof as the pro-Ukrainian crowd threw firebombs into the building’s lower windows, while those inside feared being beaten to death by the crowd if they tried to flee.  … As the building burned, Ukrainian activists sang the Ukrainian national anthem, witnesses on both sides said. They also hurled a new taunt: “Colorado” for the Colorado potato beetle, striped red and black like the pro-Russian ribbons. Those outside chanted “burn Colorado, burn,” witnesses said. Swastikalike symbols were spray painted on the building, along with graffiti reading “Galician SS,” though it was unclear when it had appeared, or who had painted it.”

Adding to the risk, on August 29, Ukraine took steps to move from non-aligned status to seeking NATO membership, and NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he would “fully respect if the Ukrainian parliament decides to change that policy [of  non-alignment].” Somewhat paradoxically, it is extremely dangerous – especially for Ukraine – for Rasmussen to encourage its hopes of joining NATO since Russia would likely respond aggressively to prevent that from occurring.

Also adding to the danger is an escalatory spiral that appears to be in process, with NATO taking actions that are seen as threatening by Russia and Russia responding in kind, with Putin reminding the world8)Greg Bothelho and Laura Smith-Spark, “Putin: You Better Not Come After a Nuclear-Armed Russia,”, August 30, 2014. that, “Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations. This is a reality, not just words.”

We also need to question whether it is in our national security interests to ally ourselves with the Kiev government when, on September 1, its Defense Minister declared that, “A great war has arrived at our doorstep – the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War Two.”9)“Ukraine crisis: Government setbacks in Luhansk and Donetsk,” BBC News Europe, September 1, 2014.

Also on September 1, a group of former CIA intelligence analysts warned10)“Warning Merkel on Russian ‘Invasion’ Intel,”, September 1, 2014. “Accusations of a major Russian invasion of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence. Rather, the intelligence seems to be of the same dubious, politically fixed kind used 12 years ago to justify the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.” (The group also warned about faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq War.)

These former intelligence analysts are not saying that our government’s accusation is wrong. But they are reminding us that there is historical evidence indicating that we should be more cautious in assuming that it is correct.

In a September 4 article in Foreign Policy, “Putin’s Nuclear Option,” 11)Jeffrey Taylor, “Putin’s Nuclear Option,” Foreign Policy, September 4, 2014. Jeffrey Taylor argues that: “Putin would never actually use nuclear weapons, would he? The scientist and longtime Putin critic Andrei Piontkovsky, a former executive director of the Strategic Studies Center in Moscow and a political commentator for the BBC World Service, believes he might. In August, Piontkovsky published a troubling account of what he believes Putin might do to win the current standoff with the West – and, in one blow, destroy NATO as an organization and finish off what’s left of America’s credibility as the world’s guardian of peace.”

I strongly encourage readers to read the full article. Again, Piotkovsky’s scenario is not likely, but given the consequences, even a small risk could be intolerable.

Defusing the Ukrainian crisis will require a more mature approach on the part of all parties. Focusing on what we need to do, we need to stop seeing Ukraine as a football game that will be won by the West or by Russia, and start being concerned with the safety of all its residents, of all ethnicities. If we do that, we will also reduce the risk that we find ourselves repeating the mistakes of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when neither side wanted to stare into the nuclear abyss, but both found themselves doing so.

As noted earlier, our mishandling of the Ukrainian crisis is unfortunately just one instance of a larger problem – dangerously sloppy thinking about nuclear weapons. Given that the survival of our homeland is at stake, our government needs to undertake a top-to-bottom review of the assumptions which underlie our current nuclear posture and correct any that are found to be wanting.


Dr. Martin E. Hellman is an Adjunct Senior Fellow for Nuclear Risk Analysis at FAS. Hellman was at IBM’s Watson Research Center from 1968-69 and an Assistant Professor of EE at MIT from 1969-71. Returning to Stanford in 1971, he served on the regular faculty until becoming Professor Emeritus in 1996. He has authored over seventy technical papers, ten U.S. patents and a number of foreign equivalents.

Along with Diffie and Merkle, Hellman invented public key cryptography, the technology which allows secure transactions on the Internet, including literally trillions of dollars of financial transactions daily. He has also been a long-time contributor to the computer privacy debate, starting with the issue of DES key size in 1975 and culminating with service (1994-96) on the National Research Council’s Committee to Study National Cryptographic Policy, whose main recommendations have since been implemented.

His current project, Defusing the Nuclear Threat, is applying quantitative risk analysis to a potential failure of nuclear deterrence. In addition to illuminating the level of risk inherent in threatening to destroy civilization in an effort to maintain the peace, this approach highlights how small changes, early in the accident chain, can reduce the risk far more than might first appear. This methodology has been endorsed by a number of prominent individuals including a former Director of the National Security Agency, Stanford’s President Emeritus, and two Nobel Laureates.

Notes   [ + ]

1.  Available at
2. “Vladimir Putin Can Stop This War,” New York Times, July 17, 2014.
3. Jack Matlock, “Ukraine and the United States,”, February 8, 2014.
4. Martin Hellman, “Nixon’s Adviser Warns Ukraine Could Have ‘Echoes of 1914,’” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, March 9, 2014.
5.  “Each [Russia, the West, and the various Ukrainian factions] has made the situation worse.”

A number of other articles by foreign policy experts also question the Times and President Obama placing all the blame for the crisis on Russia, but I hope I’ve made the point that Putin is not the only man who could end the fighting. Indeed, he may not be capable of doing that without us also correcting some of our mistakes.

Further evidence that the New York Times and President Obama might be wrong can be found in an intercepted and leaked phone conversation[ref]Martin Hellman, “Transcript of Estonian FM Bombshell Revelation,” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, June 19, 2014.

6. Martin Hellman, “Is the Ukrainian Crisis Spiraling Out of Control?” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, April 14, 2014.
7. Andrew Kramer, “Ukraine’s Reins Weaken as Chaos Spreads,” New York Times, May 4, 2014.
8. Greg Bothelho and Laura Smith-Spark, “Putin: You Better Not Come After a Nuclear-Armed Russia,”, August 30, 2014.
9. “Ukraine crisis: Government setbacks in Luhansk and Donetsk,” BBC News Europe, September 1, 2014.
10. “Warning Merkel on Russian ‘Invasion’ Intel,”, September 1, 2014.
11. Jeffrey Taylor, “Putin’s Nuclear Option,” Foreign Policy, September 4, 2014.

Polish F-16s In NATO Nuclear Exercise In Italy

By Hans M. Kristensen

NATO is currently conducting a nuclear strike exercise in northern Italy.

The exercise, known as Steadfast Noon 2014, practices employment of U.S. nuclear bombs deployed in Europe and includes aircraft from seven NATO countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, and United States.

The timing of the exercise, which is held at the Ghedi Torre Air base in northern Italy, coincides with East-West relations having reached the lowest level in two decades and in danger of deteriorating further.

It is believed to be the first time that Poland has participated with F-16s in a NATO nuclear strike exercise.

Coinciding with the Steadfast Noon exercise, NATO is also conducting a Strike Evaluation (STRIKEVAL) nuclear certification inspection at Ghedi.

A nuclear security exercise was conducted at Ghedi Torre AB in January 2014, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of U.S. nuclear weapons deployment at the base.

Steadfast Noon/STRIKEVAL is the second nuclear weapons strike exercise in Italy in two years, following Steadfast Noon held at Aviano AB in 2013.

Italy hosts 70 of the 180 U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.  Continue reading

New START: Russia and the United States Increase Deployed Nuclear Arsenals

By Hans M. Kristensen

Three and a half years after the New START Treaty entered into force in February 2011, many would probably expect that the United States and Russia had decisively reduced their deployed strategic nuclear weapons.

On the contrary, the latest aggregate treaty data shows that the two nuclear superpowers both increased their deployed nuclear forces compared with March 2014 when the previous count was made.

Russia has increased its deployed weapons the most: by 131 warheads on 23 additional launchers. Russia, who went below the treaty limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads in 2013, is now back above the limit by 93 warheads. And Russia is now counted – get this – as having more strategic warheads deployed than when the treaty first went into force in February 2011!

Before arms control opponents in Congress get their banners out, however, it is important to remind that these changes do not reflect a build-up the Russian nuclear arsenal. The increase results from the deployment of new missiles and fluctuations caused by existing launchers moving in and out of overhaul. Hundreds of Russian missiles will be retired over the next decade. The size of the Russian arsenals will most likely continue to decrease over the next decade.

Nonetheless, the data is disappointing for both nuclear superpowers – almost embarrassing – because it shows that neither has made substantial reductions in its deployed nuclear arsenal since the New START Treaty entered into force in 2011.

The meager performance is risky in the run-up to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in April 2015 where the United States and Russia – together with China, Britain, and France – must demonstrate their progress toward nuclear disarmament to ensure the support of the other countries that have signed the NPT in strengthening the non-proliferation treaty regime.  Continue reading