Monitoring Nuclear Testing is Getting Easier

The ability to detect a clandestine nuclear explosion in order to verify a ban on nuclear testing and to detect violations has improved dramatically in the past two decades.

There have been “technological and scientific revolutions in the fields of seismology, acoustics, and radionuclide sciences as they relate to nuclear explosion monitoring,” according to a new report published by Los Alamos National Laboratory that describes those developments.

“This document… reviews the accessible literature for four research areas: source physics (understanding signal generation), signal propagation (accounting for changes through physical media), sensors (recording the signals), and signal analysis (processing the signal).”

A “signal” here is a detectable, intelligible change in the seismic, acoustic, radiological or other environment that is attributable to a nuclear explosion.

The new Los Alamos report “is intended to help sustain the international conversation regarding the [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] and nuclear explosive testing moratoria while simultaneously acknowledging and celebrating research to date.”

“The primary audience for this document is the next generation of research scientists that will further improve nuclear explosion monitoring, and others interested in understanding the technical literature related to the nuclear explosion monitoring mission.”

See Trends in Nuclear Explosion Monitoring Research & Development —  A Physics Perspective, Los Alamos National Laboratory, LA-UR-17-21274, June 2017.

“A ban on all nuclear tests is the oldest item on the nuclear arms control agenda,” the Congressional Research Service noted last year. “Three treaties that entered into force between 1963 and 1990 limit, but do not ban, such tests. In 1996, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would ban all nuclear explosions. In 1997, President Clinton sent the CTBT to the Senate, which rejected it in October 1999.”

New START 2017: Russia Decreasing, US Increasing Deployed Warheads

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The latest set of New START aggregate data released by the US State Department shows that Russia is decreasing its number of deployed strategic warheads while the United States is increasing the number of warheads it deploys on its strategic forces.

The Russian reduction, which was counted as of March 1, 2017, is a welcoming development following its near-continuous increase of deployed strategic warheads compared with 2013. Bus as I previously concluded, the increase was a fluctuation caused by introduction of new launchers, particularly the Borei-class SSBN.

The US increase, similarly, does not represent a buildup – a mischaracterization used by some to describe the earlier Russian increase – but a fluctuation caused by the force loading on the Ohio-class SSBNs.  Continue reading

In Reuters Interview President Trump Flunks Nuclear 101


By Hans M. Kristensen

President Donald Trump in an interview with Reuters today demonstrated an astounding lack of knowledge about basic nuclear weapons issues.

According to Reuters Trump said he wanted to build up the US nuclear arsenal to ensure it is at the “top of the pack.” He said the United States has “fallen behind on nuclear weapons capacity.”

Building up the US nuclear arsenal would be an unnecessary, unaffordable, and counterproductive move. It is unnecessary because the US military already has more nuclear weapons than it needs to meet US national and international security commitments. It would be unaffordable because the Pentagon will have problems paying for the nuclear modernization program initiated by the Obama administration. And it is counterproductive because it would further fuel nuclear buildups in other nuclear weapon states.

The claim that the US has “fallen behind on its nuclear weapons capacity” is also wrong; the US has the nuclear weapons capability it needs to meet its national and international security commitments. All nuclear-armed states have different nuclear weapons capacities depending on their individual needs. Nuclear planning is not a race but a strategy.

In terms of capacity, the United States is already at the “top of the pack” with highly capable nuclear forces that are backed up by overwhelming conventional forces. See here how the US nuclear arsenal compares with other nuclear-armed states.

Trump also called the New START Treaty “a one-sided deal” and a “bad deal.” Once again he is wrong. The treaty has equal limits for both the United States and Russia: by February 2018, neither side can have more than 1,550 warheads on 700 deployed launchers and no more than 800 total deployed and non-deployed launchers.

Next month the new bi-annual aggregate data set will be published; the previous one from September 2016 showed Russia with 1,796 warheads on 508 launchers compared with the United States with 1,367 warheads on 681 launchers.

Some people got very excited about that saying the larger number of Russian deployed warheads somehow gave Russia an advantage and showed they didn’t intend to comply with the treaty. Warheads can be moved on and off launchers relatively quickly; the important number is the number of launchers where the US was counted with 173 more than Russia.

Indeed, according to the Pentagon and Intelligence Community, Russia “would not be able to achieve a militarily significant advantage by any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces, even in a cheating or breakout scenario under the New START Treaty…” (Emphasis added.)

But nitpicking about numbers misses the bigger point: the New START treaty was signed with overwhelming support from the US military, Congress, former officials, and experts because the treaty caps the nuclear forces of both countries and continues an important on-site verification system and data exchange.

President Trump may have been briefed by the Pentagon on his role in the nuclear war plan. But his latest interview with Reuters shows that he urgently needs to be briefed on the status of US nuclear forces, other nuclear-armed states, and the basics of the arms control treaties the United States has signed. But that briefing needs to be done outside the White House bubble and include bi-partisan and independent input. Otherwise all indication are that President Trump will be extraordinarily poorly equipped to make informed decisions about the nuclear policy.

Additional resources:

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.

Two Views of the Open Skies Treaty

Russian surveillance of military facilities under the Open Skies Treaty is problematic for the security of U.S. nuclear forces, a U.S. Air Force general told Congress last year. No, it is not, a U.S. Navy admiral said.

Those two disparate views were offered in response to a question for the record from Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) following a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee last year.

“Several Defense officials have expressed concerns about Russia’s intent to use advanced digital sensors to collect imagery under the Open Skies Treaty,” Rep. Coffman said. “Is this a significant concern for our nuclear forces?”

“Intelligence collection against our nuclear forces is always a concern,” replied Gen. Robin Rand, commander of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command.

“The imaging system to be placed on the Tu-214 and Tu-154 is already in use on Russian aircraft flying Open Skies missions over Europe. The new system possesses greater range and an advanced digital processing capability, providing a significant increase in the number of images that can be collected. This digital capability, through post mission image refinement of raw image data, could potentially enable the Russians to violate the treaty by keeping the raw image data and later using advanced digital image enhancement techniques to refine resolution beyond that allowed in the treaty,” Gen. Rand wrote (at p. 105).

But the same question from Rep. Coffman about the potential threat from improved Russian sensors elicited a substantially different response from VADM Terry Benedict, director of Navy Strategic Systems Programs.

“I do not believe this is a significant concern to our nuclear forces. The resolution of Open Skies imagery is similar to that available in commercial satellite imagery,” VADM Benedict wrote (at p. 106).

Moreover, he added, “All State Parties have the right under the Treaty to certify new sensors and aircraft. The United States and several of our Allies are in various stages of acquiring new digital sensors. The information Russia gleans from Open Skies is of only incremental value in addition to Russia’s other means of intelligence gathering.”

The two responses serve to illustrate the inconvenient reality that many questions of national security policy do not have simple, unequivocal answers. Views that would seem to be authoritative may be contradicted by other assessments that are equally authoritative. Reconciling the contradiction, or overcoming it, requires further investigation. And even that may not be sufficient.

Rep. Coffman’s exchange with Gen. Rand and VADM Benedict appeared in a hearing volume published last month on Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Request for Department of Defense Nuclear Forces, March 2, 2016, which also contains material of interest on nuclear weapons modernization programs, projected costs, and other policy matters.

Related issues were also discussed in another House Armed Services Committee hearing volume that was published last month. See U.S. Strategic Forces Posture, February 24, 2016.

Obama Administration Announces Unilateral Nuclear Weapon Cuts

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Obama administration has unilaterally cut the number of nuclear weapons in the Pentagon’s nuclear weapons stockpile to 4,018 warheads, a reduction of 553 warheads since September 2015.

The reduction was disclosed by Vice President Joe Biden during a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace earlier today.

This means that the Obama administration during its two terms has reduced the US nuclear weapons stockpile by 1,255 weapons compared with the size at the end of the George W. Bush administration – a number greater than the estimated number of warheads in the arsenals of Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan combined.

[Note: This blog will be updated as more information becomes available over the next coupe of days.]  Continue reading

Jeremy J. Stone, 1935-2017

Jeremy J. Stone, a pioneering arms control advocate who served as president of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) from 1970 to 2000, passed away on January 1, 2017 at his home in Carlsbad, California.

A mathematician by training, he turned to nuclear arms control in the early 1960s with a focus on preventing the development and deployment of anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems due to their destabilizing potential. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed by the US and the USSR in 1972, was shaped in large part by Jeremy and his scientific colleagues, who collectively created the foundation for nuclear arms control in the last decades of the Cold War.

Jeremy jump-started the process of scientific exchange with China in the early 1970s. He was a prominent defender of dissident Soviet scientist Andrei Sakharov, and he instituted new mechanisms for monitoring and upholding the human rights of scientists around the globe. He discovered and helped terminate a CIA program to open U.S. mail.

All of these episodes, and many more, were vividly and insightfully described in his 1999 memoir “Every Man Should Try: Adventures of a Public Interest Activist”.

Jeremy was a chess-player, on and off the chess board. He took a strategic approach to his work and his life. He did not drift. He was always on his way towards one goal or another. He might take you with him if you were lucky.

He was a scintillating conversationalist who could successfully engage even the most tongue-tied staffer or physicist. He had a sophisticated sense of humor which he wielded skillfully — perhaps following the example of his early Hudson Institute boss, the nuclear strategist Herman Kahn — to disarm opponents and to make his own ideas more palatable to skeptical or hostile audiences.

He was lucky in love, having been married for 58 years to BJ (Yannet) Stone, a brilliant, beautiful and kind mathematician, who passed away in 2015.

He was an exceptionally capable talent-spotter, and he could see the latent potential in people that they could scarcely imagine in themselves. At the Federation of American Scientists, he gathered a group of scruffy young individuals of no particular academic pedigree or obvious distinction and he shined his peculiar light on them until they bloomed. He presented them (us) with enormously difficult problems — ballistic missile defense, nuclear proliferation, global arms sales, government secrecy — and challenged them to tackle those problems in creative new ways.

Of course, he was not without flaws. His intuitive powers, which usually made him uncommonly perceptive, occasionally hardened prematurely into convictions that proved to be unfounded. In one particularly lamentable episode, he suggested mistakenly that MIT physicist Philip Morrison, a Manhattan Project veteran and FAS founder, had once spied for the Soviet Union. Making such a false allegation could have been an unforgivable offense. But Morrison, himself a person of awesome depth and distinction, forgave him, although with some sadness.

More typically, Jeremy was a profoundly generous and thoughtful person. His intelligence and problem-solving abilities were often directed to meeting the needs of others — not just friends or employees (he once directed poorly dressed staff to buy some new clothes at his expense), but also casual acquaintances, foreigners, children and strangers. He knew how to give a gift, and he usually anticipated exactly what gift a particular person wanted or needed.

Above all, Jeremy was an institution builder, turning the Federation of American Scientists into a public interest platform of significant influence.

“FAS is a legitimate and prestigious scientific association,” wrote Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in a classified cable to the US Embassy in Japan in 1975. “Dr. Stone… is [a] highly regarded lobbyist on foreign policy and has wide contacts on the Hill. Embassy should have no reservations about facilitating his appointments in Japan,” Kissinger wrote.

By the time I showed up at FAS in 1989, the organization under Jeremy’s leadership had become a powerhouse of intelligent and effective advocacy in arms control and quite a few other areas. My own cohort included figures like John Pike, David Albright, Lora Lumpe, and the late Tom Longstreth, to name just a few. Wandering the halls of our Capitol Hill headquarters, I would sometimes run into Carl Sagan, former CIA director Bill Colby, Philip Morrison, Paul Nitze, former JFK aide Carl Kaysen, Ted Taylor, Dick Garwin, former Senator Alan Cranston, and you could never be sure who else. One day I literally collided with Hans Bethe in the hallway outside Jeremy’s office. (No particles were emitted.) Jeremy made all of that possible, providing a forum for scientists and others to participate in the national policy process and a strategic vision to guide them.

After leaving FAS, Jeremy pursued further adventures in conflict resolution as president of Catalytic Diplomacy, created a website in honor of his father, I.F. Stone, and advocated for independent journalism.

Will Trump Be Another Republican Nuclear Weapons Disarmer?

By Hans M. Kristensen

Republicans love nuclear weapons reductions, as long as they’re not proposed by a Democratic president.

That is the lesson from decades of US nuclear weapons and arms control management.

If that trend continues, then we can expect the new Donald Trump administration to reduce the US nuclear weapons arsenal more than the Obama administration did.

What? I know, it sounds strange but the record is very clear: During the post-Cold War era, Republication administrations have – by far – reduced the US nuclear weapons stockpile more than Democratic administrations (see graph below).

stockpilechanges1945-2016
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Even if we don’t count numbers of weapons (because arsenals have gotten smaller) but only look at by how much the nuclear stockpile was reduced, the history is clear: Republican presidents disarm more than Democrats (see graph below).

reductions
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It’s somewhat of a mystery. Because Democratic presidents are generally seen to be more likely to propose nuclear weapons reductions. President Obama did so repeatedly. But when Democratic presidents have proposed reductions, the Republican opposition has normally objected forcefully. Yet Republican lawmakers won’t oppose reductions if they are proporsed by a Republican president.

Conversely, Democratic lawmakers will not opposed Republican reductions and nor will they oppose reductions proposed by a Democratic president.

As a result, if the Republicans control both the White House and Congress, as they do now after the 2016 election, the chance of significant reductions of nuclear weapons seems more likely.

Whether Donald Trump will continue the Republication tradition remains to be seen. US-Russian relations are different today than when the Bush administrations did their reductions. But both countries have far more nuclear weapons than they need for national security. And Trump would be strangely out of tune with long-held Republican policy and practice if he does not order a substantial reduction of the US nuclear weapons stockpile.

Perhaps he should use that legacy to try to reach an agreement with Russia to continue to reduce US and Russia nuclear arsenals to the benefit of both countries.

Further reading: Status of World Nuclear Forces

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.

Human Factors in Verifying Warhead Dismantlement

Arms control agreements that envision the verified dismantlement of nuclear weapons require the availability of suitable technology to perform the verification. But they also depend on the good faith of the participants and a shared sense of confidence in the integrity of the verification process.

An exercise in demonstrated warhead dismantlement showed that such confidence could be easily disrupted. The exercise, sponsored by the United States and the United Kingdom in 2010 and 2011, was described in a recent paper by Los Alamos scientists. See Review of the U.S.-U.K. Warhead Monitored Dismantlement Exercise by Danielle Kristin Hauck and Iain Russell, Los Alamos National Laboratory, August 4, 2016.

Participants played the roles of the host nation, whose weapons were to be dismantled, and of the monitoring nation, whose representatives were there to verify dismantlement. Confusion and friction soon developed because “the host and monitoring parties had different expectations,” the authors reported.

“The monitoring party did not expect to justify its reasons for performing certain authentication tasks or to justify its rationale for recommending whether a piece of equipment should or should not be used in the monitoring regime. However, the host party expected to have an equal stake in authentication activities, in part because improperly handled authentication activities could result in wrongful non-verification of the treaty.”

“Attempts by the host team to be involved in the authentication activities, and requests for justifications of monitoring party decisions felt intrusive and controlling. Monitoring party rebuffs to the host team reduced the host’s confidence in the sincerity of the monitoring party for cooperative monitoring.”

What emerged is that verified dismantlement of nuclear weapons is not simply a technical problem, though it is also that.

New START Data Shows Russian Warhead Increase Before Expected Decrease

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The latest set of so-called New START treaty aggregate data published by the U.S. State Department shows that Russia is continuing to increase the number of nuclear warheads it deploys on its declining inventory of strategic launchers.

Russia now has 259 warheads more deployed than when the treaty entered into force in 2011.

Rather than a nuclear build-up, however, the increase is a temporary fluctuation cause by introduction of new types of launchers that will be followed by retirement of older launchers before 2018. Russia’s compliance with the treaty is not in doubt.

In all other categories, the data shows that Russia and the United States continue to reduce the overall size of their strategic nuclear forces.  Continue reading

Non-Nuclear Bombers For Reassurance and Deterrence

b-1_korea091316
Two non-nuclear B-1 bombers accompanied by two Japanese F-16 fighters before heading to South Korea for a demonstration overflight with South Korean forces in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. Air Force today sent two non-nuclear B-1 bombers to overfly South Korea in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test.

The operation coincides with the deployment of two non-nuclear B-1 bombers and a recently denuclearized B-52 bomber to Europe for exercise Ample Strike.

To be sure, nuclear bombers continue to deploy to both Asia and Europe, and U.S. strategic bombers have had the capability to deliver conventional weapons for many years.

But the use of exclusively non-nuclear strategic bombers in support of extended deterrence missions signals a new phase in U.S. military strategy that is part of an effort to reduce the role of nuclear weapons.  Continue reading