Classified and Public: B-53 Bomb Yield Declassified

The explosive yield of the B-53 thermonuclear bomb, once the highest-yield nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, was 9 Megatons. “Effective 20 November, 2014, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy jointly declassified the fact that the yield of the B53/W53 Y1 was 9 megatons,” according to a notice posted on a DoD website last week.

This is less of a breakthrough in declassification policy than might be supposed, since the 9 Megaton yield for the B-53 bomb has been publicly reported for decades, including on this 1997 web page.

But it seems that this information had not been officially disclosed before. Now that it has been, it can be publicly acknowledged by government employees without penalty and it no longer need be painstakingly redacted from historical documents as they are processed for declassification.

The problem of nuclear weapons information that is both formally classified and readily available to the public has long been a challenge for the Department of Energy.

Last September, DOE updated its longstanding “GEN 16” policy which dictates a “no comment” response to classified information in public settings.

The newly revised no-comment policy “recognizes that it is possible to have incidental contact online” with a classified document and that “merely reading the document online does not constitute a comment.” See Classification Bulletin GEN-16, Revision 2, No Comment Policy on Classified Information in the Open Literature, September 23, 2014.

A DOE training package gives guidance on how to respond, and how not to respond, to public references to information that is classified, in accordance with the GEN-16 policy. The following exchange is offered as an example of what NOT to say:

Joe: “Can you believe there were weapons in X country?” [when that fact is classified]

DOE: “I thought everyone knew that”

Instead, suggested alternative DOE responses are: “I never really thought about it,” or “DOE doesn’t confirm or deny the presence of weapons in most countries.”

Another example of what NOT to say:

Joe: “Is it true you’re holding up publication of Jim’s book on his work in nuclear weapons development because of classification concerns?”

DOE: “It’s taking a long time to review, not just because there is a lot of classified information about thermonuclear weapons, but also because it’s boring.”

One should also not disconfirm the status or validity of published nuclear-related information, DOE advises. Thus, one should not say, “I hope terrorists read that article, because the [nuclear weapon] design was a joke.”

See DOE briefing on Classification Bulletin GEN-16, Revision 2, Classification Training Institute, October 2014.

Call for Applications: NPEC Public Policy Fellowship

The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center  (NPEC) Public Policy Fellowship is designed to educate policymaking staffers in the U.S. government on the essentials of issues related to nuclear weapons proliferation and nuclear energy.  Participants will include policy staffers committed to protecting U.S. and international security against the threats posed by the further spread of nuclear weapons. Applications for the fellowship will be accepted from: legislative directors, legislative assistants, legislative correspondents, military fellows, communication staffers and professional committee staff members in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, as well as executive branch staffers in intelligence, defense, foreign affairs, and communications.

Program Description:

NPEC Public Policy Fellows will attend six lunchtime seminars.  These seminars will be held in the months of October and November 2013 on select Fridays from noon-1:30pm.   Participants who attend at least three of the six seminars will have the opportunity to attend an intensive two-day workshop in early 2014.  All events will take place in Washington, D.C.

The lecture-based seminars are taught by Henry Sokolski, adjunct professor of nuclear policy at the Institute of World Politics, author of Best of Intentions: America’s Campaign Against Strategic Weapons Proliferation, and executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center;  and Charles Ferguson, author of Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know, former adjunct professor at the Security Studies Program of Georgetown University, and president of the Federation of American Scientists.  Seminars will address the following questions:

  • What was the nuclear weapons revolution about and what policy challenges does the control and use of nuclear weapons continue to pose today?
  • What are the technical basics relating to nuclear weapons design and the generation of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons useable fuels?
  • What are the relationships between civilian and military nuclear activities?
  • How safeguardable are different civilian nuclear facilities and materials against possible military diversion?
  • What are the key premises and history behind the nuclear rules that still matter:  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and the U.S. Atomic Energy Act?
  • What technical and political factors have driven the massive nuclear arms reductions to date?
  • What might the next arms race look like and what, if anything, could be done to avoid further nuclear proliferation or use?
  • What are the key areas of study that are essential to nuclear policy making, what are the key readings, and who are the key experts?

Application: 

Applicants should submit a current resume, cover letter no longer than two pages explaining his or her interest in the seminars, and a letter of recommendation for the fellowship from a current or former employer or professor.

Applications for the Fall 2013 session of the NPEC Public Policy Fellowship Seminars must be submitted by noon on September 13, 2013.  Only completed applications will be considered.

To apply: click here

California Action Alert: April 9 Call-in Day to Cut Nuclear Weapons

Californians have a unique role to play in reducing dangerous stockpiles of nuclear weapons as well as helping to reduce the deficit. Our Senator, Dianne Feinstein, is the Chair of the committee that oversees the nuclear weapons budget, and is one of the most important leaders in the Senate on the issue.

That is why an urgent Statewide Call-in Day is planned for Tuesday, April 9th, to show Sen. Feinstein that Californians want to cut spending on nuclear weapons.

Current plans will have the U.S. spend up to $500 billion in the next decade on these weapons, in direct contradiction to the growing bipartisan consensus that we could safely cut our nuclear arsenals now and cut billions of dollars from the federal deficit.

Continue reading

Trimming Nuclear Excess

Co-Authored by Meggaen Neely, Communications Intern at the Federation of American Scientists

The U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals currently stand at more than 15 times the size of the total nuclear arsenals of all seven other nuclear weapons states combined. In a new report released by FAS, Trimming Nuclear Excess Options for Further Reductions of U.S. and Russian Nuclear Forces, Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project at FAS, argues that the U.S. and Russian nuclear arms reduction process needs to be revitalized by new treaties and unilateral initiatives to reduce nuclear force levels.

At a briefing  held on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on December 14, 2012 Steve Pifer, Director of the Arms Control Initiative at the Brookings Institution, and Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, joined Kristensen in a discussion regarding U.S.-Russian nuclear dialogue.

While Kristensen noted the significant reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War, he emphasized the need for further reductions, and expressed concerns at the growing impression  that  the U..S and Russia have shifted their focus to modernizing their nuclear forces and are investing in new nuclear weapon systems. Kristensen suggested that, “unless new unilateral reductions take place or significant arms control agreements are reached; large nuclear forces could be retained far into the future.”

While he alluded to the important role the New START Treaty has played in recent years, he also implied that the effect it has had on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces has remained limited, stating that, “the treaty only regulates a limited (but important) portion of the total forces, it has no direct effect on the number of nuclear warheads the two countries possess, and it does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead.” Kristensen called upon the U.S. and Russia to revitalize the treaty through new treaties and unilateral initiatives by finding a better balance between modernization plans and their stated commitment towards nuclear disarmament.

Such action would comprise of the implementation of force reductions planned under the New START Treaty as soon as possible. Kristensen placed particular emphasis on the necessity in reducing the missile loading on each Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and reducing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). He suggested that this was a necessary action in order to decrease the current asymmetry between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. U.S. nuclear forces have placed particular emphasis on “many delivery vehicles each with fewer warheads” while Russian nuclear forces have been characterized “by fewer delivery vehicles each carrying more warheads.” There are concerns that such asymmetry could lead to mistrust between the two countries and “drive worst-case planning and unnecessarily dynamic posturing that will complicate efforts to reduce nuclear weapons further.”

Pifer reaffirmed the need for bilateral action suggesting that the Obama administration “should pursue a New START II that would cut deployed strategic weapons from the New START level of 1,550 warheads apiece to 1,000.” Pifer placed less emphasis on unilateral reductions than Kristensen. Kristensen suggested that implementation of a new treaty that addresses non-deployed and non-strategic weapons will take a significant period of time to negotiate and that some unilateral reductions could help to reduce concerns about asymmetry and stability in the interim.

The full report can be read here.

Nuclear Arms Control Opportunities: An Agenda for Obama’s Second Term by Steven Pifer and Michael O’ Hanlon can be read here.

Challenges to Creating a WMD Free Zone

With the current tensions in the Middle East, regional instability, ongoing debate about the nature and intent of Iran’s nuclear program, and the recent postponement of the Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Free Zone conference, a Middle East WMD-free zone seems little more than a pipe dream. The conference was postponed in 2012 as a result of the “poor geopolitical climate.”[i] It is unclear whether it will be rescheduled or cancelled altogether with the U.S. State Department suggesting they will “continue to work seriously…to create conditions for a meaningful conference.”[ii]

In a timely briefing on the Challenges to Creating a Middle East WMD-Free Zone co-hosted by the Nonproliferation Review and the George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs experts stressed the importance of creating open dialogue in the region in order to lay the foundation towards a Middle East WMD-free zone.

The discussion at the event was led by Douglas B. Shaw, Associate Dean for Planning, Research, and External Relations, George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs, and Emily B. Landau, Senior Research Associate, Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University.

Shaw and Landau were part of a group of experts that contributed to the Nonproliferation Special Report on Creating a Middle East WMD-Free Zone, which began with a joint conference organized between the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, in 2011. The group was formed to discuss the challenges faced by the upcoming conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone which was proposed by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2010.

Both Shaw and Landau emphasized that the current instability in the region suggests that a Middle East WMD-free zone is unlikely in the near future. However they also stressed the importance of encouraging regional cooperation and reflected on past efforts in order to pave the way for a peaceful Middle East.

While Shaw noted that there are challenges when creating a nuclear weapon free zone he also emphasized their “imaginative” approach as a form of defense, suggesting that these zones could have the ability to reassure the security of non-nuclear weapon states. Currently there are 5 nuclear weapon free zones in Latin America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central Asia that prohibit the use, development, or deployment of nuclear weapons within defined geographical spaces.

In response to arguments that “zones only take place where dogs aren’t barking,” Shaw noted that some countries that currently participate in nuclear free zones gave up clandestine nuclear weapon programs prior to the entry-into-force of these zones. For example South Africa was required to dismantle its nuclear weapon capability prior to joining the Pelindaba Treaty which was opened for signature on April 12, 1996. Landau reiterated the importance of encouraging engagement and dialogue in the Middle East as she reflected on the successes and limitations of the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) group between 1992 and 1994. As the only regional arms control talks that have taken place in the Middle East to date, they are a significant reference point for the recently postponed Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone Conference that was to take place in Helsinki in late 2012.

The ACRS process concentrated on confidence building in the short term with long terms goals of addressing problems regarding WMD faced by the Middle East. It helped to improve the nature of regional tensions and reassured states of the intentions of others in a step by step manner. While the ACRS process made some positive steps towards regional cooperation the ACRS multilateral talks were put on hold indefinably in 1995, “due to complications in the peace process and the ongoing disagreement between Israel and Egypt over the question of when to place a discussion of WMD-free zone on the agenda.”[iii]

Landau suggested that this reflected the gap between the goals of the global non-proliferation regime and that of the regional effort towards non-proliferation. While she suggested regional efforts were collaborative and incremental, focused on creating good will between countries, the global efforts are more focused on immediate non-proliferation and neglect cooperation between countries.

While the ACRS was hindered by differing perspectives on arms control, lessons can be taken from them. Landau suggested that the main lesson is that the key to success of such discussions is to find a common interest for regional bodies. Unfortunately when posed with the question what are potential current points of common interest in the Middle East, she could not enumerate any. However, one could argue that there is potential for Middle East collaboration on interests both directly and indirectly related to national security among countries in the region including issues such as water, energy and environment. With current talks at a standstill, it is evident that more steps need to be taken to approach the idea of a Middle East WMD free zone, as many issues still need to be resolved.


[i] http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/mideast-wmd-summit-canceled-diplomats/

[ii] http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/11/200987.htm

[iii] http://cns.miis.edu/inventory/pdfs/acrs.pdf

U.S.-Led Actions in Iran in Dollars and Cents

iranreporteconomy

As tensions in the Middle East have grown, many have considered the impacts of U.S.-led actions against Iran. Yet, the focus remains on the damage to Iranian military and nuclear infrastructures. Mr. Charles Blair, Senior Fellow on the State and Non-State Threats at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and the study’s director, and Mr. Mark Jansson, Special Projects Director at FAS, tackle a different question: how might U.S.-led action against Iran impact the global economy? FAS released a new report, Sanctions, Military Strikes, and Other Potential Actions Against Iran, at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC on November 16, 2012. The full report can be read here.

Experts participating at the report release include elicitation participant Dr. James Bartis, Senior Policy Researcher at RAND Corporation, Mr. Gary Ackerman, Director for Special Projects at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), and Dr. David Jhirad, Director of the Energy, Resources, and Environment Program at SAIS.

The report is the culmination of an elicitation conducted at FAS, which involved a bipartisan group of experts in areas of national security, economics, energy markets, and financial markets. Elicitations are useful tools in situations “characterized by high levels of uncertainty and change, where there is an absence of sufficient empirical data.” Hence, the elicitation’s focus on Iran, a situation with no precedents in U.S. foreign policy, constant change in the political and economic climates, and uncertainty of how future actions could affect the situation.

Mr. Blair explained how the goal of this report is to start a conversation on a previously-unstudied question, which is odd given its importance in determining how the U.S. should proceed in Iran. Elicitation participants were given six scenarios to assess in terms of costs to the global economy (in U.S. dollars). These costs were limited to a 3-month period, a quarter for financial markets. This time frame is arbitrary though reasonable given the great uncertainty surrounding the situation in Iran. The six scenarios were:

  1. Increasing pressure with sanctions on Iran
  2. A blockade in the Persian Gulf
  3. Surgical strikes in Iran, attacking only nuclear infrastructure
  4. A comprehensive bombing campaign in Iran, attacking both military and nuclear infrastructure
  5. A full-scale invasion of Iran
  6. Unilateral good faith actions on the part of the U.S.

Mr. Jansson explained how compounded uncertainty accounts for the range in costs seen in each scenario. The elicitation participants described variables that would determine the costs. For example, in scenario one, the cost of increasing sanctions would reflect the impact on financial market losses, an increase in oil prices, and the costs of complying with the sanctions. The participants pointed to over 70 variables throughout the elicitation, indicating the enormous uncertainty of the U.S. taking action in Iran in terms of economic effects. With the full-scale invasion, the report estimated global economic costs equaling one trillion seven hundred billion dollars. That’s a lot of zeros.

Dr. Bartis remarked on his surprise at the great losses to the financial market. He mentioned that those with expertise in finance “pushed for the higher numbers” in assessing the cost in each scenario.

Interestingly, the report estimates a $60 billion benefit for scenario six, where the U.S. concedes by suspending sanctions and removing an air craft carrier from the Persian Gulf. Variables that were considered include a drop in oil prices and an increase in regional investments. However, the report indicates the participants’ skepticism that the U.S. will take these actions.

When “putting a price on war with Iran,” it seems the lesson is to proceed with enormous caution.

This report noted the great uncertainty when determining the global economic effects of potential U.S. actions against Iran. The authors explained that this report is an essential first step in beginning the conversation on potential policy decisions in Iran. The panelists concluded with hopes that others will build upon this report.

Co-authored by Stephanie Lee, Development Intern at the Federation of American Scientists

A Lesson from the Cuban Missile Crisis, Fifty Years Later

Courtesy of Monica Amarelo, FAS Director of Communications

Fifty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, many assume that we have moved away from the prospect of a nuclear war. But that’s not the case, claims Dr. Martin Hellman, professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford University and a nuclear security expert. On October 18, 2012, at a briefing hosted by the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, DC, Hellman discussed his paper, “Fifty Years After the Cuban Missile Crisis: Time to Stop Bluffing at Nuclear Poker,” which was published by FAS and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Hellman argued that the U.S. took considerable risks during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and we continue to learn how close those risks brought us to a nuclear war.  On October 27, 1962, U.S. destroyers forced a Soviet submarine to surface near the quarantine line. Now, we know that the submarine carried a nuclear torpedo. Also, the U.S. considered invading Cuba. Yet, decision makers did not know that the Soviet Union had placed battlefield nuclear weapons in Cuba to deter, among other things, an invasion. What we should have learned, said Hellman citing Robert Kennedy, is “the importance of placing ourselves in another person’s shoes.”

However, the record shows that we have not followed this lesson. Hellman argued that the U.S. has not thought through certain foreign policy decisions with regard to America’s stated top priority: nonproliferation.

On December 26, 1979, one day after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski stated that Afghanistan resistance included Pakistan’s exemption from America’s nonproliferation policy. Shortly thereafter, Pakistan developed a nuclear weapons capability. In 2003, President George H. W. Bush promised former Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi an “open path” to relations with the U.S. in exchange for giving up Libya’s weapons of mass destruction. During the Obama administration, NATO and the U.S. overthrew Gaddafi. Hellman argued that this sent a signal to North Korea that it made the right decision to maintain its nuclear program. Examples such as these, Hellman stated, indicate that the U.S. did not learn the lesson from the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Some policymakers have shifted focus to missile defense. Hellman pointed out that this, too, must follow Kennedy’s lesson.

Hellman stated that the missile defense system in Eastern Europe bears an uncanny resemblance to the set-up in Turkey during the Cuban Missile Crisis. President John F. Kennedy had placed nuclear-armed American missiles in Turkey in the spring of 1962. If we had taken Russia’s perspective into account, Hellman argued, we would have realized that it made sense for Russia to “hop the line” and stick missiles in Cuba. In the end, it didn’t matter if it was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from Russia or a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) from Cuba.

Today, do our Eastern European allies unnecessarily provoke Russia while sitting beneath the U.S. defense umbrella? Hellman recommended that the U.S. “warn allies that our security agreements don’t cover them if they poke the Russian bear.” The same situation, Hellman explained, applies to the “Chinese dragon” and the Senkaku Islands. Hellman asked if the U.S. wanted to risk our homeland’s existence over these islands.

The problem, he argued, is that the United States has unquestioned conventional superiority. China and Russia don’t have the conventional forces to win a war with the U.S., and to save face, the conflict will likely escalate to include nuclear weapons. “Any war with China or Russia runs an unacceptably high risk of going nuclear,” said Hellman.

The conventional wisdom is that nuclear deterrence works. But, what happens if it doesn’t? Hellman said that, “If it doesn’t work perfectly, then it fails, and we’re dead. Can it work perfectly forever? That doesn’t seem reasonable.” At best, Hellman predicted that nuclear deterrence will work for only 1000 years.

Hellman reached this limit through a preliminary study using quantitative risk analysis. He called for Congress to fund a study to use quantitative risk analysis on the possibilities for failures in nuclear deterrence. The goal is to bring greater objectivity and move beyond the current debate. Risk analysis recommends an end state, Hellman explained, and he proposed that the end state be a “state of acceptable risk.” What is acceptable risk? That’s the first question to be answered by this research group.

This end state might not be the goal known as “Global Zero.” Hellman argued that we do not know if we can reach Global Zero, but it seems sensible to keep it as “the vision.” Then, we can see what options are available.

On this issue of nuclear policy, Hellman remarked that there is “bipartisan idiocy and bipartisan sanity.” However, both sides have a vested interest in making sure a nuclear weapon is not launched against the United States. Progress on this issue requires only “a couple of representatives to get this into an appropriations bill,” not a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

Today, U.S. policy on deterrence is to appear “irrational and vindictive” regarding threats to our interests. Hellman stated that this was a dangerous policy, especially when it involves nuclear weapons. One product of a study using quantitative risk analysis would be to rethink America’s nuclear force posture with, hopefully Hellman added, less reliance on the first use of nuclear weapons.

Lingering Questions on America’s Nuclear Posture

Courtesy of ShutterStock

The Nuclear Posture Review Report (NPR) came out two years ago. Yet, questions remain with regard to America’s nuclear posture. What are our objectives for America’s nuclear arsenal? Can we reach consensus on those objectives? Should we maintain the current size of the arsenal or reduce it? Should we modernize what we have? What does this mean for nonproliferation? What does this mean in light of the Obama administration’s calls for Global Zero?

On September 18, the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and the Air Force Association (AFA) hosted a discussion titled, “Making Sense of the Nuclear Posture” in Washington, DC. Dr. Janne Nolan, a faculty member of the Elliott School at George Washington University and senior fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies, and Dr. Christopher Ford, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, presented two perspectives on America’s nuclear posture.

Dr. Nolan emphasized three points.

Within debates on nuclear policy, there is a “formal split” between declaratory policy and operational policy. Nolan dated this split back to the 1960s. Declaratory policy occurs within Congress, bureaucracies, the public sphere, etc. Here, Nolan explained, one oftentimes finds positions tending toward the extreme in both directions. There is little moderate ground. The NPR falls within this realm of policy. Though it originates from broad presidential guidelines, it is the product of bureaucratic infighting. Hence, the purpose of the NPR is to move the consensus forward in light of competing interests. Nolan commented that it is hard to think of nuclear strategy as the result of democratic processes. On the other hand, operational plans are formed by military and political leaders. These do not draw from changing public sentiments on nuclear weapons.

Nolan hinted that the NPR does little to address certain issues. These include questions of targets, the level at which the U.S. targets, and the harmony between political and military objectives with regard to nuclear weapons. She focused on the frustrating absence of core understanding regarding the utility of nuclear weapons. This includes the dilemma of global zero. Nolan reiterated that global zero has no substance in the operational plans, remaining purely within declaratory policy. The lack of core understanding prevents the U.S. from building architecture to address a world of multiple deterrents. Gone are the days of one deterrent, the Soviet Union. Furthermore, now the U.S. must answer the question of how to “deter the un-deterrable” – terrorists seeking nuclear weapons. These questions include a “discussion of numbers.” Nolan mentioned one desire for a nuclear arsenal that has parity with Russia. However, in response to a question posed, Nolan explained that the numbers debate is “bogus and misleading of the true intent in creating a stable posture” flexible to current deterrents.

Finally, Nolan commented on the debate of modernizing current nuclear forces, which has recently re-surfaced thanks, in large part, to Dana Priest’s articles in The Washington Post. Nolan praised Priest, claiming she did a public service in raising the issues. Yet, Nolan emphasized the importance of distinguishing between urgent needs and long-term modernization with regard to nuclear forces. Nolan mentioned the prickly issue of how the New START Treaty was ratified with the understanding of a modernization program. She advised the president to revisit this and reach a consensus on the understanding surrounding the Treaty.

Dr. Ford provided a history of America’s reasons for pursuing a nuclear program. The U.S. acquired nuclear weapons to conclude a great power conventional war. Then, the U.S. kept them to prevent the outbreak of another war. Nuclear weapons have been used as a bargaining chip should deterrence fail. With the Nixon administration, the U.S. gave up biological weapons, thinking that a nuclear capability was sufficient to deter. Since then, the U.S. has used nuclear weapons in alliance relationships, both to provide security to friends and to persuade friends to not pursue their own nuclear programs.

Ford mentioned his shock that the NPR was reasonably moderate given Obama’s talks of disarmament. However, Ford criticized the NPR with respect to nonproliferation and the perception of disarmament.

Ford stated that sanctions do not seem to alter the course of Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs. The world’s proliferation continues unaffected by America’s current disarmament posture. Ford stated that during the Cold War, the nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers – the U.S. and the Soviet Union – skyrocketed while proliferation was very rare. After the Cold War, both superpowers drastically cut their nuclear arsenals, and then proliferation increased greatly. Ford noted that other countries do not count America’s disarmament as legitimate until the U.S. cuts those nuclear weapons it actually needs. This would imperil U.S. national security, Ford argued. Finally, he mentioned how the New START was ratified with promises for the modernization of America’s nuclear forces.

Ford outlined his version of a nuclear posture, which would focus on survivability, security, reliability, and credibility. He argued that the idea of reduction poses too many risks at this time, given current technological advances. Also, Ford advised against abandoning the TRIAD, which is a “strategic hedge” against surprises from others’ technological innovations. With regard to modernization, Ford raised the point that the case for reductions gets harder when warheads are not modernized: if we do not believe that the arsenal meets our needs, then we will continue to think we need more of them.

Nolan and Ford appeared to agree on the need for modernization. However, both reiterated the importance of defining what that means. Both also pointed to the complexity of deterrence, indicating that it was multi-faceted and required  clear communication to adversarial countries. Nolan and Ford emphasized how deterrence must be specified for each country the U.S. seeks to deter. As Nolan explained, any simple notions like the “sole use of nuclear weapons” are unhelpful and not usable when speaking of “all options” in diplomatic and military capacities. Finally, both hinted at optimism for technological advances with regard to conventional capabilities. As these advance, American may need to rely less upon nuclear weapons for deterrence in the future.

Modernization Progress of Nuclear Arsenal Proves Contentious

United States Capitol (Credit: Allen Dodson)
United States Capitol (Credit: Allen Dodson)

While the New START Treaty provides an unprecedented exchange of information between the United States and Russia, in a hearing on June 21 some senators aired their concern with the Obama administration’s commitment to fulfill its promise to modernize the U.S. arsenal.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee analyzed the Treaty’s implementation since February 2011. Massachusetts Senator and Committee Chair John Kerry and committee ranking member Richard Lugarof Indiana presided over the hearing. The panel of witnesses included Thomas D’Agostino, Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration; Rose Gottemoeller, acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security; and Madelyn Creedon, Assistant Secretary of Defense of Global Strategic Affairs. Continue reading

Subcomittee Investigates Nonproliferation Metrics for Defense, Energy

On Tuesday, June 12, the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities investigated the determining metrics for nonproliferation programs.

The meeting, which was led by Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio, featured testimonies from Madelyn Creedon, the assistant secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, Anne Harrington, the deputy administrator for the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation with the National Nuclear Security Administration at the Department of Energy, and Kenneth Myers, the director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and of the U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction. Continue reading