FAS Roundup: From Global Nuclear Forces to the Pentagon Papers & Autonomous Vehicles

By June 16, 2021

Science Committee Members Introduce Legislation to Create a National Strategy for Science and Technology

This week, members of the House Science Committee introduced legislation to establish a national strategy for science and technology. The National Science and Technology Strategy Act of 2021 would create a whole-of-government planning process for research and development, ensuring better coordination between federal agencies and a more strategic approach to U.S. research and development goals.

Deep Dive: Global Nuclear Forces in 2021

Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda Raise Questions about Future of Disarmament

This week, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), released their 2021 Yearbook, which tracks trends in disarmament, international security, and global nuclear arsenals. The “Global nuclear forces” chapter, authored by FAS experts Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda raises urgent questions about the future of disarmament. 

The nine nuclear-armed states – the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea – possessed an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021 – a decrease from the 13,400 that SIPRI estimated these states possessed at the beginning of 2020.

Despite this decrease, the estimated number of nuclear weapons currently deployed with operational forces increased to 3825, up from 3720 last year. Around 2000 of these – nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the U.S. – were kept in a state of high operational alert. As a result, the decades-long trend of countries trying to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons in their military strategies has stalled, and in some cases, has been reversed. 

Russia and the U.S. together possess over 90 percent of global nuclear weapons. And both countries are in the midst of extensive and expensive campaigns to modernize their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, and production facilities. 

But it’s not just the U.S. and Russia – every nuclear-armed state is developing or deploying new weapon systems or has announced an intention to do so. Even the UK, which was seen as a leader in disarmament, announced an end to their era of nuclear reductions

In addition, over the past few years, the willingness of nuclear-armed states to disclose information about their nuclear arsenals has dramatically decreased. In 2019, the Trump Administration reversed a decade of nuclear transparency and refused to disclose the size of the US nuclear stockpile. They did so again in 2020, and in early 2021, the UK also decided to no longer disclose information relating to its nuclear arsenal. These decisions provide political cover for other nuclear-armed states to reduce their own levels of nuclear transparency, and also suppress public debate about the status and future of nuclear weapons by preventing the public and civil society from accessing critical sources of information. 

This week, Presidents Putin and Biden are expected to talk about nuclear arms control during their upcoming meeting, but it’s unclear what will be on the table. The recently-renewed New START treaty has partially succeeded in keeping U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals in check; however, as both countries are in the midst of extensive nuclear modernization campaigns, it’s clear that new nuclear arms control negotiations are sorely needed. 

Also this week, NATO member states met for their high-profile Summit, reaffirmed the importance of nuclear weapons in NATO’s defense strategy. NATO’s nuclear-armed member states are all in the midst of expensive nuclear modernization programs; meanwhile, a new poll finds that support for a nuclear weapons ban is rising among the citizens of NATO member states. 


Highlights from FAS Experts: Pressing for a FOIA Exemption, Government Secrecy, and more on U.S.-China Talks 

DoD Again Presses for New FOIA Exemption

“The Department of Defense is once again asking Congress for an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for certain unclassified military information including records on critical infrastructure and military tactics, techniques and procedures,” writes Project on Government Secrecy Director Steven Aftergood in the latest Strategic Security blog.

Washington’s Daily Secret Machine

“Everyone who has looked at the issue agrees that the government classifies too much information for too long,” Steven Aftergood tells the New York Times

Hans Kristensen @ U.S.-China Commission

“It is important to remember that it takes a long time for nuclear-armed states – certainly authoritarian regimes – to become comfortable with some degree of transparency,” Nuclear Information Project Director Hans Kristensen said at a U.S.-China Commission hearing on Chinese nuclear forces last week


Read the Latest Policy Proposals from the Day One Projec

Steering Innovation for Autonomous Vehicles Towards Societally Beneficial Outcomes

From Thomas Krendl Gilbert, Cathy Wu, Michael Dennis, read a proposal published by the Day One Project on how the Biden-Harris Administration can create an Evaluation Innovation Engine at the Department of Transportation to propose, refine, and standardize public-interest metrics for AVs.

Integrating Automated Vehicles with 5G Networks to Realize the Future of Transportation

From Brian Kelley, Kara Kockelman, Junmin Wang, read a proposal published by the Day One Project to integrate autonomous vehicle technology with 5G networks to promote safety and efficiency in the next generation of transportation.