Three-Dimensional Arms Control: A Thought Experiment

The George W. Bush Administration is not typically viewed as the paragon of arms control. This was the Administration that withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002, agreed to the Moscow Treaty that same year with no verification provisions, and generally eschewed traditional approaches to arms control, including negotiations and treaties, as Cold War legacies. To be sure, in practice the Administration’s minimal attempts at arms control failed to produce significant results; but in principle, creative and new approaches cannot be so readily discarded. With that in mind, this article is a thought experiment. Some of the proposals suggested here are radical and come with major hurdles, but a non-traditional approach to arms control, based on opportunities rather than challenges, can hopefully generate new thinking.

Read on: View the full version of the article here.


Welcome Back, Multiple Object Kill Vehicles

Ever since the United States began developing a missile defense system, the focus has been on pursuing a robust missile defense system. As not much progress has been made on boost phase interception, it becomes mandatory to study a technology that could make the midcourse system of the ballistic missile more vulnerable to enemy missile defense system. At present, with counter measures like decoys, chaffs, and multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), the mid-course phase of the ballistic missile becomes a complicated phase of interception. The Multiple Object Kill Vehicle (MOKV), a program of the United States, is believed to negate these challenges of the missile defense system in the mid-course phase.

Read on: View the full version of the article here.


Nuclear Security and Safety in America: A proposal on illicit trafficking of radioactive material and orphan sources

The special nature of nuclear energy requires particular safety and security conditions and stronger protective measures. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as do other international and regional organizations, provides assessment, but it does not know a great deal about the security status of most Member States. It is necessary to learn of and determine the needs and concerns of a State for improving legal framework, reviewing detection of and response to illicit trafficking, and in order to develop a strategic plan that will enhance work that results in tangible improvements of security.

Nuclear law has an international dimension because the risks of nuclear materials do not respect borders. Terrorist acts defy the law; they don’t belong to a State. The possibility of transboundary impacts requires harmonization of policies, programs, and legislation. Several international legal instruments have been adopted in order to codify obligations of States in various fields, which can limit national legislation. There are legal and governmental responsibilities regarding the safe use of radiation sources, radiation protection, the safe management of radioactive waste, and the transportation of radioactive material.

The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 represented a clear challenge, but they must not stand as obstacles in the development of nuclear technology. It is necessary to reinforce these efforts in order to improve nuclear energy security, because energy is a vital issue that cannot wait.

Read on: View the full version of the article here.


More From FAS: Highlights and Achievements Throughout Recent Months


In its quest to secure Congressional approval for a new nuclear cruise missile, the Pentagon is putting words in the mouth of President Barack Obama and spinning and overstating requirements and virtues of the weapon. Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project, discusses these false claims and the potential ramifications they could have for the LRSO program. The full post can be viewed here:


In the wake of President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima, the first of two Japanese cities destroyed by U.S. nuclear bombs in 1945, the Pentagon has declassified and published updated numbers for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and warhead dismantlements. Kristensen analyzes this data and discusses what it could mean for the Obama administration’s nuclear legacy and the arms control community as a whole, here:


A directive signed by the Director of National Intelligence formally authorizes the use of social media by official investigators who are conducting background investigations for security clearances. The directive was crafted to avoid undue infringements on privacy. Investigators will be limited to considering only publicly available postings. The subjects of a background investigation “shall not be requested or required” to provide passwords for access to non-publicly available materials or to make such materials available; agencies will not be allowed to “friend” an individual for the purposes of gaining access to materials that are not otherwise available; and the consideration of social media must be relevant to the official guidelines for granting access to classified information – that is, they must pertain to substance abuse, criminal conduct, foreign allegiance, or other such criteria. Read Aftergood’s analysis in full here:


The growing prospect of the use of drones for commercial delivery purposes is considered in a new memorandum from the Congressional Research Service. “Can you prevent a drone from flying over your house to deliver a package to your neighbor? Until now, that question has been of purely theoretical interest. However, the Senate recently passed a bill that could significantly change the operational landscape for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones) and make these kinds of hypothetical delivery drones a reality,” the CRS memo begins. Read Aftergood’s take on the debate here:


FAS Visiting Scientist, Dr. David Hafemeister, has just released his new book, Nuclear Proliferation and Terrorism in the Post-9/11 World (Springer 2016), a unique textbook tailored for undergraduate courses on nuclear proliferation and nuclear weapon issues and policy. Read a synopsis of the book, plus an exclusive interview with the author here:


The Obama Administration has famously prosecuted more individuals for unauthorized disclosures of classified information to the media than all of its predecessors combined. But behind the scenes, it appears to have sought administrative penalties for leaks — rather than criminal ones — with equal or greater vigor. “This Administration has been historically active in pursuing prosecution of leakers, and the Intelligence Community fully supports this effort,” said ODNI General Counsel Robert S. Litt in testimony from a closed hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2012 that was released last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. But, he said, “prosecution of unauthorized disclosure cases is often beset with complications, including difficult problems of identifying the leaker, the potential for confirming or revealing even more classified information in a public trial, and graymail by the defense.” Read Aftergood’s analysis in full here:


In light of the 30th Anniversary of the cataclysmic accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Edward Friedman, Professor Emeritus of Technology Management at Stevens Institute of Technology, takes the opportunity to explore the meaningful lessons learned from that pivotal day in history. Read the full article here:


Leading experts came together to discuss Chernobyl on the eve of its 30th anniversary, the lessons learned, and possible implications that this fateful event has for the nuclear industry today. This special event was convened by the Federation of American Scientists. Speaker presentations and a full recording of the event are available here:


In this op-ed, Tara Drozdenko, Managing Director for Nuclear Policy and Nonproliferation at the Outrider Foundation, examines the science behind the catastrophic accident that occurred on April 26, 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine, and discusses the lessons learned from that fateful day. Read the full piece here:


In the latest FAS Nuclear Notebook published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Norris and Kristensen take the pulse on Russia’s nuclear arsenal, reviewing its strategic modernization programs and the status of its non-strategic nuclear forces. Russia’s non-strategic nuclear forces are currently the subject of much interest in NATO due to concerns that Russian military strategy has been lowering the threshold for when nuclear weapons could potentially be used. Russia has also been increasing operations and exercises with nuclear-capable forces, a trend that can also be seen in NATO and U.S. military posturing. The complete report can be viewed here:


Navy Builds Underground Nuclear Weapons Storage Facility; Seattle Busses Carry Warning

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Seattle busses warn of largest nuclear weapons base. Click image to see full size.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The US Navy has quietly built a new $294 million underground nuclear weapons storage complex at the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC), a high-security base in Washington that stores and maintains the Trident II ballistic missiles and their nuclear warheads for the strategic submarine fleet operating in the Pacific Ocean.

The SWFPAC and the eight Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) homeported at the adjacent Bangor Submarine Base are located only 20 miles (32 kilometers) from downtown Seattle. The SWFPAC and submarines are thought to store more than 1,300 nuclear warheads with a combined explosive power equivalent to more than 14,000 Hiroshima bombs.

A similar base with six SSBNs is located at Kings Bay in Georgia on the US east coast, which houses the SWFLANT (Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic) that appears to have a dirt-covered warhead storage facility instead of the underground complex built at SWFPAC. Of the 14 SSBNs in the US strategic submarine fleet, 12 are considered operational with 288 ballistic missiles capable of carrying 2,300 warheads. Normally 8-10 SSBNs are loaded with missiles carrying approximately 1,000 warheads.

To bring public attention to the close proximity of the largest operational nuclear stockpile in the United States, the local peace group Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action has bought advertisement space on 14 transit buses. The busses will carry the posters for the next eight weeks. FAS is honored to have assisted the group with information for its campaign. Continue reading

Flawed Pentagon Nuclear Cruise Missile Advocacy

The Pentagon is using flawed arguments to sell a nuclear cruise missile to President Obama?

By Hans M. Kristensen

In its quest to secure Congressional approval for a new nuclear cruise missile, the Pentagon is putting words in the mouth of President Barack Obama and spinning and overstating requirements and virtues of the weapon.

Last month, DOD circulated an anonymous letter to members of Congress after it learned that Senator Dianne Fenstein (D-CA) was planning an amendment to the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act to put limits on funding and work on the new Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) nuclear air-launched cruise missile. The letter not surprisingly opposes the limits but contains a list of amazingly poor justifications for the new weapon.

The letter follows another letter in March from Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall to Senator John McCain that contains false claims about official documents endorsing the LRSO, as well a vague and concerning statements about the mission and purpose of the weapon.

The two letters raise serious questions about DOD’s justifications for the LRSO and Congress’ oversight of the program. Continue reading

Briefing to Arms Control Association Annual Meeting

Click on image to download briefing slides

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting: Global Nuclear Challenges and Solutions for the Next U.S. President. A full-day and well-attended event that included speeches by many important people, including Ben Rhodes, who is Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications in the Obama administration.

My presentation was on the panel “Examining the U.S. Nuclear Spending Binge,” which included Mark Cancian from CSIS, Amy Woolf from CRS, and Andrew Weber, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs. I was asked to speak about the enhancement of nuclear weapons that happens during the nuclear modernization programs and life-extension programs and the implications these improvement might have for strategic stability.

My briefing described enhancement of military capabilities of the B61-12 nuclear bomb, the new air-launched cruise missile (LRSO), and the W76-1 warhead on the Trident submarines. The briefing slides are available here:

Nuclear Modernization, Enhanced Military Capabilities, and Strategic Stability.

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

Updated Nuclear Stockpile Figures Declassified

The size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile as of September 30, 2015 — 4,571 weapons — and the number of U.S. nuclear weapons that were dismantled in FY 2015 — 109 of them — were declassified and disclosed last week.

The latest figures came as a disappointment to arms control and disarmament advocates who favor sharp reductions in global nuclear inventories.

The new numbers “show that the Obama administration has reduced the U.S. stockpile less than any other post-Cold War administration, and that the number of warheads dismantled in 2015 was lowest since President Obama took office,” wrote Hans M. Kristensen in the FAS Strategic Security blog.

But precisely because the new disclosure casts an unflattering light on the Obama Administration, it also represents a triumph of transparency. Since it is at odds with the Administration’s own declared agenda, the release enables the press and the public to exact a measure of accountability.

“The new figures […] underscored the striking gap between Mr. Obama’s soaring vision of a world without nuclear arms, which he laid out during the first months of his presidency, and the tough geopolitical and bureaucratic realities of actually getting rid of those weapons,” wrote William J. Broad in the New York Times on May 26.

“Obama calls for end to nuclear weapons, but U.S. disarmament is slowest since 1980,” as a Washington Post headline put it on May 27.

News stories credited the Department of Defense for the “annual public release” of the stockpile information. But it is a bit more complicated than that.

The nuclear stockpile size was classified as “Formerly Restricted Data” (FRD) under the Atomic Energy Act. As such, it had to be cooperatively declassified by both the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. And the declassification of FRD does not occur regularly or spontaneously.

“It is not the policy of the DoD/DOE to release such numbers automatically,” said Andrew Weston-Dawkes, the director of the DOE Office of Classification. Instead, consideration is given to declassification of specific information as it is requested. In this case, release of the 2015 stockpile figures was requested by the Federation of American Scientists in an October 2015 petition.

“The declassification of stockpile numbers was a direct result of your request for the information,” Dr. Weston-Dawkes wrote in an email. “Your request was reviewed by the DoD-FRD working group and in turn approved by the DoD and the DOE.”

Until the Obama Administration declassified it for the first time in 2010, the current size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal had never been officially made public. (Historical stockpile numbers up to 1961 were released in the 1990s.)

Columnists and commentators are in the habit of mocking President Obama’s promise that his would be the most transparent Administration in history. But when it comes to nuclear stockpile information, that promise has been fulfilled.

US Nuclear Stockpile Numbers Published Enroute To Hiroshima

The mushroom cloud rises over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, as the city is destroyed by the first nuclear weapon ever used in war.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Shortly before President Barack Obama is scheduled to arrive for his historic visit to Hiroshima, the first of two Japanese cities destroyed by U.S. nuclear bombs in 1945, the Pentagon has declassified and published updated numbers for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and warhead dismantlements.

Those numbers show that the Obama administration has reduced the U.S. stockpile less than any other post-Cold War administration, and that the number of warheads dismantled in 2015 was lowest since President Obama took office.

The declassification puts a shadow over the Hiroshima visit by reminding everyone about the considerable challenges that remain in reducing excessive nuclear arsenals – not to mention the daunting goal of eliminating nuclear weapons altogether. Continue reading