Nuclear Exercises Amidst Ukrainian Crisis: Time For Cooler Heads

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A Russian Tu-95MS long-range bomber drops an AS-15 Kent nuclear-capable cruise missiles from its bomb bay on May 8th. Six AS-15s were dropped from the bomb bay that day as part of a Russian nuclear strike exercise.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Less than a week after Russia carried out a nuclear strike exercise, the United States has begun its own annual nuclear strike exercise.

The exercises conducted by the world’s two largest nuclear-armed states come in the midst of the Ukraine crisis, as NATO and Russia appear to slide back down into a tit-for-tat posturing not seen since the Cold War.

Military posturing in Russia and NATO threaten to worsen the crisis and return Europe to an “us-and-them” adversarial relationship.

One good thing: the crisis so far has demonstrated the uselessness of the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.  Continue reading

Russian ICBM Force Modernization: Arms Control Please!

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Click image for larger version.

By Hans M. Kristensen

In our Nuclear Notebook on Russian nuclear forces from March this year, Robert S. Norris and I described the significant upgrade that’s underway in Russia’s force of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Over the next decade, all Soviet-era ICBMs will be retired and replaced with a smaller force consisting of mainly five variants of one missile: the SS-27.

After more than a decade-and-a-half of introduction, the number of SS-27s now makes up a third of the ICBM force. By 2016, SS-27s will make up more than half of the force, and by 2024 all the Soviet-era ICBMs will be gone.

The new force will be smaller and carry fewer nuclear warheads than the old, but a greater portion of the remaining warheads will be on missiles carried on mobile launchers.

The big unknowns are just how many SS-27s Russia plans to produce and deploy, and how many new (RS-26 and Sarmat “heavy”) ICBMs will be introduced. Without the new systems or increased production of the old, Russia’s ICBM force would probably level out just below 250 missiles by 2024. In comparison, the U.S. Air Force plans to retain 400 ICBMs.

This disparity and the existence of a large U.S. reserve of extra warheads that can be “uploaded” onto deployed missiles to increase the arsenal if necessary drive top-heavy ICBM planning in the Russian military which seeks to maximize the number of warheads on each missile to compensate for the disparity and keep some degree of overall parity with the United States.

This dilemma suggests the importance of reaching a new agreement to reduce the number deployed strategic warheads and missiles. A reduction of “up to one-third” of the current force, as recently endorsed by the new U.S. nuclear employment strategy, would be a win for both Russia and the United States. It would allow both countries to trim excess nuclear capacity and save billions of dollars in the process.  Continue reading

Nuclear Modernization Briefings at the NPT Conference in New York

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Last week I was in New York to brief two panels at the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (phew).

The first panel was on “Current Status of Rebuilding and Modernizing the United States Warheads and Nuclear Weapons Complex,” an NGO side event organized on May 1st by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). While describing the U.S. programs, I got permission from the organizers to cover the modernization programs of all the nuclear-armed states. Quite a mouthful but it puts the U.S. efforts better in context and shows that nuclear weapon modernization is global challenge for the NPT.

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The second panel was on “The Future of the B61: Perspectives From the United States and Europe.” This GNO side event was organized by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation on May 2nd. In my briefing I focused on providing factual information about the status and details of the B61 life-extension program, which more than a simple life-extension will produce the first guided, standoff nuclear bomb in the U.S. inventory, and significantly enhance NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe.

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The two NGO side events were two of dozens organized by NGOs, in addition to the more official side events organized by governments and international organizations.

The 2014 PREPCOM is also the event where the United States last week disclosed that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile has only shrunk by 309 warheads since 2009, far less than what many people had anticipated given Barack Obama’s speeches about “dramatic” and “bold” reductions and promises to “put an end to Cold War thinking.”

Yet in disclosing the size and history of its nuclear weapons stockpile and how many nuclear warheads have been dismantled each year, the United States has done something that no other nuclear-armed state has ever done, but all of them should do. Without such transparency, modernizations create mistrust, rumors, exaggerations, and worst-case planning that fuel larger-than-necessary defense spending and undermine everyone’s security.

For the 185 non-nuclear weapon states that have signed on to the NPT and renounced nuclear weapons in return of the promise made by the five nuclear-weapons states party to the treaty (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States) “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at early date and to nuclear disarmament,” endless modernization of the nuclear forces by those same five nuclear weapons-states obviously calls into question their intension to fulfill the promise they made 45 years ago. Some of the nuclear modernizations underway are officially described as intended to operate into the 2080s – further into the future than the NPT and the nuclear era have lasted so far.

Download two briefings listed above: briefing 1 | briefing 2

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

Obama Administration Decision Weakens New START Implementation

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At the same time the Air Force is destroying 50 silos at Malmstrom AFB (above) and another 50 at F.E Warren AFB emptied by the Bush administration, the Obama administration has decided to retain 50 silos scheduled to be emptied under the New START treaty.

By Hans M. Kristensen

After four years of internal deliberations, the U.S. Air Force has decided to empty 50 Minuteman III ICBMs from 50 of the nation’s 450 ICBM silos. Instead of destroying the empty silos, however, they will be kept “warm” to allow reloading the missiles in the future if necessary.

The decision to retain the silos rather than destroy them is in sharp contrast to the destruction of 100 empty silos currently underway at Malmstrom AFB and F.E. Warren AFB. Those silos were emptied of Minuteman and MX ICBMs in 2005-2008 by the Bush administration and are scheduled to be destroyed by 2016.  Continue reading

New START Data Show Russian Increase, US Decrease Of Deployed Warheads

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The latest aggregate data released by the US State Department for the New START treaty show that Russia has increased its counted deployed strategic nuclear forces over the past six months.

The data show that Russia increased its deployed launchers by 25 from 473 to 498, and the warheads attributed to those launchers increased by 112 from 1,400 to 1,512 compared with the previous count in September 2013.

During the same period, the United States decreased its number of deployed launchers by 31 from 809 to 778, and the warheads attributed to those launchers decreased by 103 from 1,688 to 1,585.

The increase of the Russian count does not indicate that its in increasing its strategic nuclear forces but reflects fluctuations in the number of launchers and their attributed warheads at the time of the count. At the time of the previous data release in September 2013, the United States appeared to have increased its forces. But that was also an anomaly reflecting temporary fluctuations in the deployed force.

Both countries are slowly reducing their strategic nuclear weapons to meet the New START treaty limit by 2018 of no more than 1,550 strategic warheads on 700 deployed launchers. Russia has been below the treaty warhead limit since 2012 and was below the launcher limit even before the treaty was signed. The United States has yet to reduce below the treaty limit.

Since the treaty was signed in 2010, the United States has reduced its counted strategic forces by 104 deployed launchers and 215 warheads; Russia has reduced its counted force by 23 launchers and  25 warheads. The reductions are modest compared with the two countries total inventories of nuclear warheads: Approximately 4,650 stockpiled warheads for the United States (with another 2,700 awaiting dismantlement) and 4,300 stockpiled warheads for Russia (with another 3,500 awaiting dismantlement).

Details of the Russian increase and US decrease are yet unclear because neither country reveals the details of the changes at the time of the release of the aggregate data. In about six months, the United States will publish a declassified overview of its forces; Russia does not publish a detailed overview of its strategic forces.

For analysis of the previous New START data, see: http://blogs.fas.org/security/2013/10/newstartsep2013/

Detailed nuclear force overviews are available here: Russia | United States

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

More on the Ukraine

With the Crimea voting today on whether to secede from the Ukraine, and early returns indicating strong support for secession, the following perspectives on the crisis are particularly relevant. As before, I am emphasizing unusual perspectives not because the mainstream view (“It’s  Russia’s fault!”) doesn’t have some validity, but because it over-simplifies a complex issue. And, when dealing with a nation capable of destroying us in under an hour, it would be criminally negligent not to look at all the evidence before imposing sanctions or taking other dangerous steps.

In his blog, Russia: Other Points of View, Patrick Armstrong asks, “If, as seems to be generally expected, tomorrow’s [now today's] referendum in Crimea produces a substantial majority in favour of union with the Russian Federation, what will Moscow’s reaction be?” It will be interesting to assess his answer a week from now, when time will tell if he was right:

I strongly expect that it will be……

Nothing.

There are several reasons why I think this. One is that Moscow is reluctant to break up states. I know that that assertion will bring howls of laughter from the Russophobes who imagine that Putin has geography dreams every night but reflect that Russia only recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after Georgia had actually attacked South Ossetia. The reason for recognition was to prevent other Georgian attacks. Behind that was the memory of the chaos caused in the Russian North Caucasus as an aftermath of Tbilisi’s attacks on South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the 1990s. Russia is a profoundly status quo country – largely because it fears change would lead to something worse – and will not move on such matters until it feels it has no other choice. We are not, I believe, quite at that point yet on Crimea let alone eastern Ukraine.

Moscow can afford to do nothing now because time is on its side. The more time passes, the more people in the West will learn who the new rulers of Kiev are.

To show “who the new rulers of Kiev are,” Armstrong then quotes from a Los Angeles Times article, which starts off:

It’s become popular to dismiss Russian President Vladimir Putin as paranoid and out of touch with reality. But his denunciation of “neofascist extremists” within the movement that toppled the old Ukrainian government, and in the ranks of the new one, is worth heeding. The empowerment of extreme Ukrainian nationalists is no less a menace to the country’s future than Putin’s maneuvers in Crimea. These are odious people with a repugnant ideology.

Read the rest of the article to learn more.

And a Reuters dispatch shows how the interim Ukrainian government is making it more likely that Crimea’s desire to secede and re-join Russia will be honored by Russia:

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk vowed on Sunday to track down and bring to justice all those promoting separatism in its Russian-controlled region of Crimea “under the cover of Russian troops”.

“I want to say above all … to the Ukrainian people: Let there be no doubt, the Ukrainian state will find all those ringleaders of separatism and division who now, under the cover of Russian troops, are trying to destroy Ukrainian independence,” he told a cabinet meeting as the region voted in a referendum on becoming a part of Russia.

“We will find all of them – if it takes one year, two years – and bring them to justice and try them in Ukrainian and international courts. The ground will burn beneath their feet.”

Given that the Ukrainian opposition demanded amnesty for even the violent protesters in Kiev, how can the new government possibly expect the more peaceful Crimean opposition not to secede under such threats? It is also worth noting that this new government was installed by force in violation of an agreement worked out between Yanukovych and the political leaders of the Ukrainian opposition.

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.