Reducing the Risk of Russian-American Standoff

Editor’s Note: Dr. Martin Hellman, Adjunct Fellow for Nuclear Risk, professor at Stanford, and an expert on crisis risk reduction, asks that FAS members and others who read this post to consider contacting their elected representatives about the crisis in Ukraine. Dr. Hellman sent the following letter to President Obama and his Congressional representatives. 

I am writing to encourage you to resist the push for sanctioning Russia over its actions in the Ukraine. While the situation in the Ukraine is deplorable and Russia has made its share of mistakes, it is not solely to blame.

Henry Kissinger recognized this: “We should seek reconciliation, not the domination of a faction. Russia and the West, and least of all the various factions in Ukraine, have not acted on this principle.”

So did Pres. Nixon’s Soviet Adviser, Dmitri Simes. When asked, “how do you assess the Obama administration’s performance so far?” he replied, “I think it has contributed to the crisis.”

So did Ronald Reagan’s former ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock: ” 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.”

It is also ancient wisdom: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” If we are going to sanction Russian officials for their actions in Ukraine, what about Pres. Bush, VP Cheney, and others for their actions in Iraq?

Instead of sanctioning perceived evil doers, it would be much more effective to clean up our own act first. That also has the advantage that it would not push Russia to retaliate in some way, for example by selling anti-aircraft missiles to Iran or stopping us from using their territory for our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Most importantly, it would reduce the risk of a Russian-American standoff which could lead to nuclear threats, or even nuclear use.

Ukraine: The Value of Risk Analysis in Foreseeing Crises

The quantitative risk analysis approach to nuclear deterrence not only allows a more objective estimate of how much risk we face, but also highlights otherwise unforeseen ways to reduce that risk. The current crisis in Ukraine provides a good example.

Last Fall, I met Daniel Altman, a Ph.D. candidate at MIT, who is visiting Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) this academic year. When I told him of my interest in risk analysis of nuclear deterrence, he said that I should pay attention to what might happen in Sevastopol in 2017, something that had been totally off my radar screen.

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A Credible Radioactive Threat to the Sochi Olympics?

With the Sochi Olympics set to start on February 6th there has been an escalating concern about security threats to the Games. There are hunts for female suicide bombers (“black widows”), video threats from militant groups, etc., all of which have triggered a massive Russian security response, including statements by President Putin insuring the safety of the Games.

Many of the security concerns are raised by the proximity of Sochi  to Chechnya and relate to the threats expressed by Chechen leader Doku Umarov who exhorted Islamic militants to disrupt the Olympics.

In the past weeks the region has seen Islamic militants claims that they carried out two recent suicide bombings in Volgorad which tragically killed 34 people and injured scores of others. Volgograd is about 425 miles from Sochi and although the media stresses the proximity it is a considerable distance.

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My Take on Snowden’s Revelations

data scanningEarlier this month, I was interviewed by KNBC’s Scott McGrew regarding Snowden’s revelations about NSA spying. The clip is eight and a half minutes long, and here are some of the main points I made:

A lot of what are now seen as NSA’s abuses were authorized by the Patriot Act, which was passed and renewed by large margins by our elected representatives. When it was first passed in October 2001,  only one senator, Russ Feingold, voted against it. How did we reward him? By kicking him out of the Senate  in the 2010 election . If there’s someone to blame, perhaps we should look in the mirror.

Right after 9/11 I was shaken enough to say that I wanted my government to be more intrusive in my life, and I got what I asked for. In hindsight, I over-reacted. But, given that we now have the Patriot Act, we need much better oversight. For example, it’s dangerous that all FISA court judges are appointed by just one person: Chief Justice John Roberts.

As a nation, we want absolute privacy against government intrusion, absolute security against  terrorists, and the right to use our military anytime and anywhere we think it is appropriate. We need to recognize that there’s a tradeoff, and we can’t have all three, at least at the level we’ve been demanding them.

Our civil liberties have become collateral damage to our many wars. If we want want less domestic surveillance and improved personal security against terrorism, we’re going to have to be less intrusive in the world. We’re going to have to kill fewer people, who then might want to come and kill us.

If we become less militarily adventuresome, it would reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons in  two ways. First, terrorists would be less interested in doing us harm, including via nuclear terrorism. Second, our toppling governments as often as we have feeds dangerous paranoia in Russia and China, which increases the risk of a nuclear confrontation. A prominent Russian international relations expert made a reasonable case that his nation should be fearful of us. Here’s how the Washington Post covered his remarks:

I’m skeptical that anyone outside of the Kremlin could diagnose its view of American foreign policy with real certainty, but Fyodor Lukyanov is probably about as close as an outside observer can get. …

According to Lukyanov’s latest article in Al-Monitor, an assessment of the lessons that he believes Russia drew from the Iraq war that began 10 years ago, President Vladimir Putin and his government are convinced that U.S. foreign policy is basically running on madness at this point. … “Everything that’s happened since — including flirting with Islamists during the Arab Spring, U.S. policies in Libya and its current policies in Syria — serve as evidence of strategic insanity that has taken over the last remaining superpower.” …

Moscow is certain that if continued crushing of secular authoritarian regimes is allowed because America and the West support “democracy,” it will lead to such destabilization that will overwhelm all, including Russia. [emphasis added]

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Martin Hellman is a professor at Stanford University, best known for the invention of public key cryptography — the technology that protects your credit card. But, for almost 30 years, his primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.

The post My Take on Snowden’s Revelations appears on ScienceWonk, FAS’s blog for opinions from guest experts and leaders.

Making the Cut: Reducing the SSBN Force

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The Navy plans to buy 12 SSBNs, more than it needs or can afford.

By Hans M. Kristensen

A new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report – Options For Reducing the Deficit: 2014-2023 – proposes reducing the Navy’s fleet of Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines from the 14 boats today to 8 in 2020. That would save $11 billion in 2015-2023, and another $30 billion during the 2030s from buying four fewer Ohio replacement submarines.

The Navy has already drawn its line in the sand, insisting that the current force level of 14 SSBNs is needed until 2026 and that the next-generation SSBN class must include 12 boats.

But the Navy can’t afford that, nor can the United States, and the Obama administration’s new nuclear weapons employment guidance – issued with STRATCOM’s blessing – indicates that the United States could, in fact, reduce the SSBN fleet to eight boats. Here is how.  Continue reading

Why Russia Resists a UN Resolution on Syria

United Nations Security CouncilThe mainstream media has largely failed to mention one of the main reasons Russia has been resisting a UN Security Council Resolution which would allow the use of force if the US believes that Syria has failed to meet its obligations. Back in March 2011, Russia allowed UNSC Resolution 1973 which authorized “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians. The West then used that resolution as the basis for air attacks leading to regime change and Gaddafi’s murder — an interpretation of the resolution with which Russia strongly disagrees.

The Russians are afraid that any mention of the use of force in a new UN Security Council Resolution on Syria will be similarly misused for regime change. Russia’s fears are reinforced by the Obama administration  repeatedly saying that “Assad must go,” and its patience was tried when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “despicable” for maintaining its concerns.

Helping to overthrow Gaddafi (as opposed to protecting civilians) also hurt our reputation as a trustworthy partner because, when Gaddafi gave up his WMD programs in 2003,President Bush promised that his good behavior would be rewarded:

Today in Tripoli, the leader of Libya, Colonel Moammar al-Ghadafi, publicly confirmed his commitment to disclose and dismantle all weapons of mass destruction programs in his country. … And another message should be equally clear: leaders who abandon the pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them, will find an open path to better relations with the United States and other free nations. … As the Libyan government takes these essential steps and demonstrates its seriousness, its good faith will be returned. Libya can regain a secure and respected place among the nations, and over time, achieve far better relations with the United States. … old hostilities do not need to go on forever. And I hope that other leaders will find an example in Libya’s announcement today.

The following excerpts from a March 2011 North Korean press release convey an idea of how Russia, China, Iran and other nations with which we have disputes see us as a result of our helping to overthrow Gaddafi after giving such assurances:

The present Libyan crisis teaches the international community a serious lesson. It was fully exposed before the world that “Libya′s nuclear dismantlement” much touted by the U.S. in the past turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby the latter coaxed the former with such sweet words as “guarantee of security” and “improvement of relations” to disarm itself and then swallowed it up by force.

It proved once again the truth of history that peace can be preserved only when one builds up one’s own strength as long as high-handed and arbitrary practices go on in the world. The DPRK was quite just when it took the path of Songun [“Military First”] and the military capacity for self-defence built up in this course serves as a very valuable deterrent for averting a war and defending peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

We are right to deplore the human tragedy in Syria and to seek ways to reduce the suffering. But we need to more carefully consider the consequences of our actions, both for the Syrian people and in terms of our reputation as a trustworthy negotiating partner.  Diplomacy can work only if all involved parties have a reasonable track record of adhering to their earlier commitments. And without diplomacy, there will almost surely be war.

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About Nuclear Risk

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography — the technology that protects your credit card. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.

The post Why Russia Resists a UN Resolution on Syria appears on ScienceWonk, FAS’s blog for opinions from guest experts and leaders.

New START Data Shows Russia Reducing, US Increasing Nuclear Forces

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By Hans M. Kristensen

While arms control opponents in Congress have been busy criticizing the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce nuclear forces further, the latest data from the New START Treaty shows that Russia has reduced its deployed strategic nuclear forces while the United States has increased its force over the past six months.

Yes, you read that right. Over the past six months, the U.S. deployed strategic nuclear forces counted under the New START Treaty have increased by 34 warheads and 17 launchers.

It is the first time since the treaty entered into effect in February 2011 that the United States has been increasing its deployed forces during a six-month counting period.

We will have to wait a few months for the full aggregate data set to be declassified to see the details of what has happened. But it probably reflects fluctuations mainly in the number of missiles onboard ballistic missile submarines at the time of the count.   Continue reading

MSNBC On Nuclear Weapons Reduction Efforts

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By Hans M. Kristensen

MSNBC used FAS data on the world nuke arsenals in an interview with Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione about how deteriorating US-Russian relations might affect efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals.

The updated weapons estimates on the FAS web site are here.

Detailed profiles of each nuclear weapon state are published as Nuclear Notebooks in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Support our work to produce high-quality estimates of world nuclear forces: Donate here.

 

Air Force Intelligence Report Provides Snapshot of Nuclear Missiles

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Click to download full report

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has published its long-awaited update to the Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat report, one of the few remaining public (yet sanitized) U.S. intelligence assessment of the world nuclear (and other) forces.

Previous years’ reports have been reviewed and made available by FAS (here, here, and here), and the new update contains several important developments – and some surprises.

Most important to the immediate debate about further U.S.-Russian reductions of nuclear forces, the new report provides an almost direct rebuttal of recent allegations that Russia is violating the INF Treaty by developing an Intermediate-range ballistic missile: “Neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM or IRBM systems because they are banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty, which entered into force in 1988.”

Another new development is a significant number of new conventional short-range ballistic missiles being deployed or developed by China.

Finally, several of the nuclear weapons systems listed in a recent U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command briefing are not included in the NASIC report at all. This casts doubt on the credibility of the AFGSC briefing and creates confusion about what the U.S. Intelligence Community has actually concluded.  Continue reading

Russian Missile Test Creates Confusion and Opposition in Washington

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The recent test-launch of a modified Russian ballistic missile has nuclear arms reduction opponents up in arms with claims that Russia is fielding a new missile in violation of arms control agreements and that the United States therefore should not pursue further reductions of nuclear forces.

The fact that the Russian name of the modified missile – Rubezh – sounds a little like rubbish is a coincidence, but it fits some of the complaints pretty well.

Although many of the facts are missing – what the missile is and what the U.S. Intelligence Community has concluded – public information and statements indicate that the missile is a modified RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) with intercontinental range.

Whatever the missile is, it is certainly no reason for why the United States should not seek to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear forces further. On the contrary, the continued modernization of nuclear weapons underscores why it is important that the United States continues its push for reducing the numbers and role of nuclear weapons.  Continue reading