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 http://www-ee.stanford.edu/~hellman/sts152_03/handout03.pdf 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. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/opinion/malaysia-airlines-plane-ukraine-putin-russia.html?_r=2 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,” JackMatlock.com, February 8, 2014. http://jackmatlock.com/2014/02/ukraine-and-the-united-states/: “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. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/nixons-adviser-warns-ukraine-could-have-echoes-of-1914/Henry A. Kissinger, “Henry Kissinger: To Settle the Ukraine Crisis, Start at the End,” Washington Post, March 5, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/henry-kissinger-to-settle-the-ukraine-crisis-start-at-the-end/2014/03/05/46dad868-a496-11e3-8466-d34c451760b9_story.html[/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. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/transcript-of-estonian-fm-bombshell-revelation/ 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. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/is-the-ukrainian-crisis-spiraling-out-of-control/: “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. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/05/world/europe/kievs-reins-weaken-as-chaos-spreads.html: “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,” CNN.com, August 30, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/29/world/europe/ukraine-crisis/index.html?hpt=hp_t1 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. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29019032

Also on September 1, a group of former CIA intelligence analysts warned10)“Warning Merkel on Russian ‘Invasion’ Intel,” Consortiumnews.com, September 1, 2014.   http://consortiumnews.com/2014/09/01/warning-merkel-on-russian-invasion-intel/that: “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. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/09/04/putins_nuclear_option_russia_weapons 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 http://www-ee.stanford.edu/~hellman/sts152_03/handout03.pdf
2. “Vladimir Putin Can Stop This War,” New York Times, July 17, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/opinion/malaysia-airlines-plane-ukraine-putin-russia.html?_r=2
3. Jack Matlock, “Ukraine and the United States,” JackMatlock.com, February 8, 2014. http://jackmatlock.com/2014/02/ukraine-and-the-united-states/
4. Martin Hellman, “Nixon’s Adviser Warns Ukraine Could Have ‘Echoes of 1914,’” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, March 9, 2014. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/nixons-adviser-warns-ukraine-could-have-echoes-of-1914/
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. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/transcript-of-estonian-fm-bombshell-revelation/

6. Martin Hellman, “Is the Ukrainian Crisis Spiraling Out of Control?” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, April 14, 2014. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/is-the-ukrainian-crisis-spiraling-out-of-control/
7. Andrew Kramer, “Ukraine’s Reins Weaken as Chaos Spreads,” New York Times, May 4, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/05/world/europe/kievs-reins-weaken-as-chaos-spreads.html
8. Greg Bothelho and Laura Smith-Spark, “Putin: You Better Not Come After a Nuclear-Armed Russia,” CNN.com, August 30, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/29/world/europe/ukraine-crisis/index.html?hpt=hp_t1
9. “Ukraine crisis: Government setbacks in Luhansk and Donetsk,” BBC News Europe, September 1, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29019032
10. “Warning Merkel on Russian ‘Invasion’ Intel,” Consortiumnews.com, September 1, 2014.   http://consortiumnews.com/2014/09/01/warning-merkel-on-russian-invasion-intel/
11. Jeffrey Taylor, “Putin’s Nuclear Option,” Foreign Policy, September 4, 2014. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/09/04/putins_nuclear_option_russia_weapons

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

Russia Declared In Violation Of INF Treaty: New Cruise Missile May Be Deploying

A GLCM is launched from an Iskander-K launcher at Kapustin Yar in 2007.
A Russian GLCM is launched from an Iskander-K launcher at Kapustin Yar in 2007.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The United States yesterday publicly accused Russia of violating the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The accusation was made in the State Department’s 2014 Compliance Report, which states:

“The United States has determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

The Russian violation of the INF is, if true, a very serious matter and Russia must immediately restore its compliance with the Treaty in a transparent and verifiable manner.

Rumors about a violation have swirled around Washington (and elsewhere) for a long time. Apparently, the GLCM was first launched in 2007 (see image to the left), so why the long wait?

The official accusation it is likely to stir up calls for the United States to abandon the INF Treaty and other arms control efforts. Doing so would be a serious mistake that would undercut benefits from existing and possible future agreements. Instead the United States should continue to adhere to the treaty, work with the international community to restore Russian compliance, and pursue additional measures to reduce nuclear dangers worldwide.  Continue reading

Nuclear Exercises Amidst Ukrainian Crisis: Time For Cooler Heads

nukeEx-Russia_AS-15
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!

Russia_SS-27
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

prepcom

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.

prepcom1

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.

prepcom2

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

icbmmalmstrom
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

NewSTART2014-1

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.