Nuclear De-Alerting Panel at the United Nations

Panelists from left: Hans M. Kristensen (FAS), John Hallam (Nuclear Flashpoint), Dell Higgie (New Zealand Ambassador for Disarmament), Christian Schoenenberger (Swiss UN Mission), Col Valery Yarynich (Institute of the United States and Canada, Russian Academy of Sciences), Stephen Starr (Physicians for Social Responsibility)

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By Hans M. Kristensen

On Wednesday, October 13th, I gave a briefing at the United Nations on the status of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces in the context of the interesting article Safe and Smaller recently published in Foreign Affairs.

One of the co-authors, Valery Yarynich, a retired colonel who served at the Center for Operational and Strategic Studies of the Russian General Staff, spoke about the main conclusion of the article: that is possible to significantly reduce the alert-level of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons without creating risks of crisis instability.

That conclusion directly contradicts the Obama administration’s recently completed Nuclear Posture Review, which rejected a reduction of the alert rates for land- and sea-based ballistic missiles because, “such steps could reduce crisis stability by giving an adversary the incentive to attack before ‘re-alerting’ was complete.”

The panel coincided with the meeting of the First Committee of the General Assembly, during which New Zealand submitted a resolution on decreasing the operational readiness of nuclear weapons.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Rasmussen: Lay Short-Range Nuclear Weapons Thinking to Rest

By Hans M. Kristensen

The next steps in European security should include additional reductions in the number short-range nuclear weapons in Europe, according to a video statement issued by NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

“We also have to make progress sooner or later in our efforts to reduce the number of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe. NATO has cut the number of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe by over 90 percent. But there are still thousands of short-range nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War and most of them are in Russia. NATO is not threatening Russia and Russia is not threatening NATO. Time has come to lay this Cold War thinking to rest and focus on the common threats we face from outside: terrorism, extremism, narcotics, proliferation of missiles, weapons of mass destruction, side by side, and piracy. We can make progress of all three tracks – missile defense, conventional forces, and nuclear weapons – and create a secure Europe. It is time to stop spending our time and resources watching each other and look outward at how to reinforce our common security hope.”

That vision appears similar to the “new regional deterrence architecture” that several recent Obama administration reviews concluded would permit a reduction of the role of nuclear weapons. With that in mind, and Rasmussen’s conclusion that “Russia is not threatening NATO” and that the “time has come to lay this Cold War thinking to rest,” it should be relatively straightforward for him to recommend a withdrawal of the remaining U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe.

Continue reading

Nuclear Commanders Endorse New START

The men behind a decade and a half of U.S. strategic nuclear planning say the New START treaty will enhance American national security.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Seven former commanders of U.S. nuclear strategic planning have endorsed the New START treaty and recommended early ratification by the U.S. Senate.

In a letter sent to Senator Carl Levin and John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the retired nuclear commanders conclude that the treaty “will enhance American national security in several important ways.”

The list includes four former commanders of U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC) and four former commanders of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) – one served both as SAC and STRATCOM commander – who were responsible for U.S. strategic nuclear war planning and for executing the strategic war plan during the last phases of the Cold War and until as recently as 2004.

In doing so, the nuclear commanders – who certainly can’t be accused of being peaceniks – effectively pull the rug under the feet of the small number of conservative Senators who have held the treaty and U.S. nuclear policy hostage with a barrage of nitpicking and frivolous questions and claims about weakening U.S. national security interests.

The endorsement by the former nuclear commanders adds to the extensive list of current and former military and civilian leaders who have recommended ratification of the New START treaty. In fact, it is hard to find any credible leader who does not support ratification.

It’s time to end the show and do what’s right: ratify the New START treaty! Continue reading

FAS side events at the RevCon

by Alicia Godsberg

Yesterday FAS premiered our documentary Paths To Zero at the NPT RevCon.  The screening was a great success and there was a very engaging conversation afterward between the audience and Ivan Oelrich, who was there to promote the film.  As a result of some suggestions, we are hoping to translate the narration to different languages so the film can be used as an educational tool around the world.  You can see Paths To Zero by following this link – we will also be putting up the individual chapters soon.

This morning I spoke at a side event at the NPT RevCon entitled “Law Versus Doctrine: Assessing US and Russian Nuclear Postures.”  I was asked to give FAS’s perspective on the New START, NPR, and new Russian military doctrine.  Several people asked me for my remarks, so I’m posting them below the jump.   Continue reading

Russian Nuclear Weapons Account Falls Short

A Russian brochure misrepresents the size of the Russian arsenal.
Click image to download copy of full procure

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By Hans M. Kristensen

A brochure handed out by the Russian government at the ongoing nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York appears to misrepresent the size of the Russian nuclear arsenal. Continue reading

United States Discloses Size of Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

The Obama administration has declassified the history and size of the U.S. nuclear weapons
stockpile, a long-held national secret. Click image to get the fact sheet.


By Hans M. Kristensen

The Obama administration has formally disclosed the size of the Defense Department’s stockpile of nuclear weapons: 5,113 warheads as of September 30, 2009.

For a national secret, we’re pleased that the stockpile number is only 87 warheads off the estimate we made in February 2009. By now, the stockpile is probably down to just above 5,000 warheads. Continue reading

Soviet Bioweapon Researchers Discuss Past, Future

Two leading Russian biological weapons scientists presented their inside view of the Soviet bioweapons program at a March 29th panel sponsored by the George Mason University Biodefense Program.  Dr. Guennady Lepioshkin, who headed the Anthrax production plant at Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan, and GMU Professor Sergey Popov, who headed projects at the Vector Institute and other laboratories in Obolensk, Russia, presented candid personal accounts of life as bioweapons researchers.   Beyond their individual tales, the session offered several lessons that remain relevant to the modern discussion of biosecurity – cautionary tales about the publication of dual use research and the destructive potential of synthetic biology. Continue reading

New START Treaty Has New Counting

An important new treaty reduces the limit for deployed strategic warheads but not the number.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The White House has announced that it has reached agreement with Russia on the New START Treaty. Although some of the documents still have to be finished, a White House fact sheet describes that the treaty limits the number of warheads on deployed ballistic missiles and long-range bombers on both sides to 1,550 and the number of missiles and bombers capable of launching those warheads to no more than 700.

The long-awaited treaty is a vital symbol of progress in U.S.-Russian relations and an important additional step in the process of reducing and eventually perhaps even achieving the elimination nuclear weapons. It represents a significant arms control milestone that both countries should ratify as soon as possible so they can negotiate deeper cuts.

Yet while the treaty reduces the legal limit for deployed strategic warheads, it doesn’t actually reduce the number of warheads.  Indeed, the treaty does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead and actually permits the United States and Russia to deploy almost the same number of strategic warheads that were permitted by the 2002 Moscow Treaty. Continue reading

Capitol Briefing on Biological Weapon Threats

A March 19th briefing at the US Capitol brought together a panel of experts to discuss the threat of biological weapons.  The briefing, titled “Deterring Biological Threats”, was hosted by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and focused heavily on the historical records of the destructive potential of the Cold War bioweapons programs in the US and the USSR.  With more modern threats, such as Al Qaeda’s well-documented search for Anthrax, the amount of interest in biological attacks appears to be increasing.  The means of actually deterring and preventing these biological threats remain less clear. Continue reading

Changing the Nuclear Posture: moving smartly without leaping

Release of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is delayed once again.  Originally due late last year, in part so it could inform the on-going negotiations on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty Follow-on (START-FO), after a couple of delays it was supposed to be released today, 1 March, but last week word got out that it will be coming out yet another 2-4 weeks later.  Some reports are that the delay reflects deep divisions within the administration over the direction of the NPR.  That means that there is really only one person left whose opinion matters and that is the president.

We can only hope that President Obama makes clear that he meant what he said in Prague and elsewhere.  This NPR is crucial.  If it is incremental, if it relegates a world free of nuclear weapons to an inspiring aspiration, then we are stuck with our current nuclear standoff for another generation.  This is the time to decisively shift direction.  But we should not be paralyzed by thinking that the only movement available is a giant leap into the unknown.  We need to move decisively in the right direction, sure, but we can do that in steps. Continue reading