New Chinese White Paper Subtly Criticizes Trump’s Approach to Arms Control

On July 22nd, China published its latest Defense White Paper––an infrequent, but significant, military policy document meant for an international audience.

This year’s paper––entitled “China’s National Defense in the New Era”––offers an assessment of the evolving strategic landscape and highlights China’s responses to these new challenges. While the paper takes a more assertive tone than its predecessor (published in 2015), the content isn’t particularly provocative––especially in the sections about nuclear weapons and deterrence, which largely constitute a repetition of the 2015 language.

The white paper states:

China is always committed to a nuclear policy of no first use of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances, and not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon free zones unconditionally. China advocates the ultimate complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons. China does not engage in any nuclear arms race with any other country and keeps its nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required for national security. China pursues a nuclear strategy of self-defense, the goal of which is to maintain national strategic security by deterring other countries from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against China.

It also states:

Nuclear capability is the strategic cornerstone to safeguarding national sovereignty and security. China’s armed forces strengthen the safety management of nuclear weapons and facilities, maintain the appropriate level of readiness and enhance strategic deterrence capability to protect national strategic security and maintain international strategic stability.

This language is pretty standard for official Chinese statements about its nuclear policy. This makes sense; although China’s nuclear weapons arsenal is slowly growing and diversifying, its nuclear doctrine appears to be relatively consistent.

In reality, the main difference between the 2015 and 2019 language on nuclear weapons and arms control is in China’s assessment of the “international strategic landscape.” The paper notes that the United States has “adopted unilateral policies,” “provoked and intensified competition among major countries, significantly increased its defense expenditure, pushed for additional capacity in nuclear, outer space, cyber and missile defense, and undermined global strategic stability.”

It also specifically calls out NATO enlargement, EU integration and Russian nuclear modernization––criticisms which were all absent in the 2015 white paper.

Interestingly, it notes that “International arms control and disarmament efforts have suffered setbacks, with growing signs of arms races.” The paper additionally subtweets the Trump administration’s role in undermining global arms control, stating that “The Iranian nuclear issue has taken an unexpected turn,” “The international nonproliferation regime is compromised by pragmatism and double standards,” and concludes that “No country can respond alone or stand aloof.”

The white paper doesn’t go into detail about China’s nuclear or missile forces, only noting that the PLA Rocket Force has commissioned the DF-26 “intermediate and long-range ballistic missile.” Despite it being a relatively new missile, we estimate that China has deployed approximately 70 DF-26s––at least two brigades––and it was spotted conducting exercises in Inner Mongolia in January 2019. The 4,000 kilometer range of the DF-26 would allow China to target US bases in Guam, and some Chinese analysts claim that the missile is capable of targeting ships at sea, despite the significant tactical and procedural challenges involved with such an operation.

Read all about China’s nuclear forces in our latest edition of the FAS Nuclear Notebook, freely available at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

This publication was made possible by generous contributions from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New Land Foundation, the Ploughshares Fund, and the Prospect Hill Foundation. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

Russia Upgrades Western Nuclear Weapons Storage Sites

By Hans M. Kristensen

Amidst a deepening rift between the United States and Russia about the role of non-strategic nuclear weapons, Russia has begun to upgrade an Air Force nuclear weapons storage site near Tver, some 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Moscow.

Satellite photos show clearing of trees within the site as well as the construction of a new security fence and guard post. The upgrade, which started late-2017 and was completed late last year, was followed by the arrival of what appears to be weapons transport and service trucks earlier this year (see image below).

Upgrade of Russian nuclear weapons storage site near Tver. Click on image to view full size.

The Tver site includes two nuclear weapons bunkers as well as service and security buildings. The new security fence and gate added within the site separates the bunker area from the service area. The site is near the Migalovo Air Base, which is not thought to be housing nuclear strike aircraft but might serve a nuclear weapons transport function. If so, it could potentially be responsible for the distribution of nuclear warheads to tactical air bases in north-western Russia in a crisis.

It is impossible to determine from the satellite images if the Tver site stores nuclear weapons at this time, but it is clearly active with considerable personnel and activities indicating weapons might be present. Alternatively, Tver could serve as an Air Force storage site in a crisis. Tver is one of several dozen nuclear weapons storage sites operated by the Russian ministry of defense and military services (see here and here.

There are also important upgrades underway at the Mozhaysk-10 storage site about 70 miles (114 kilometers) west of Moscow, including addition of new support facilities as well clearing of a previously tree-covered weapons storage igloo. Mozhaysk-10 is one of a dozen national-level nuclear weapons storage site and includes six underground igloos and appears to be expanding (see below). Mozhaysk-10 might be used to store both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.

Upgrade of Russian nuclear weapons storage site near Mozhaysk. Click image to view full size.

The upgrades at the Tver and Mozhaysk-10 sites follow an ongoing upgrade to a nuclear weapons storage site in Kaliningrad that began in 2016 and appears intended to support nuclear-capable forces in the isolated enclave.

Russia is estimated to possess approximately 6,500 nuclear warheads, of which an estimated 4,330 are thought to be available for use by the military. We estimate that Russia has about 1,830 nuclear warheads assigned to non-strategic forces; the Pentagon says the number is “up to 2,000” warheads. The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) recently said it expects to see “a significant projected increase in the number of Russia’s non-strategic nuclear weapons” over the next decade, although some past DIA growth projections have turned out to exaggerated.

In response, the United States has begun to increase the upgrade of its non-strategic nuclear weapons beyond the already-planned B61-12 guided gravity bomb for stealthy F-35 fighter-bombers. New weapons with “tactical” missions include the W76-2 low-yield warhead on the Trident II D5LE SLBM and a new nuclear sea-launched cruise missile. And NATO has been upgrading US nuclear weapons storage sites in Europe.

Russia and the United States refuse to disclose how many tactical nuclear weapons they have or where they are stored, and none of these weapons are limited by arms control agreements.

We will further describe these developments, and much more, in our upcoming Nuclear Notebook on tactical nuclear weapons scheduled for publication in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in September 2019.

Additional information:

This publication was made possible by generous contributions from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New Land Foundation, the Ploughshares Fund, and the Prospect Hill Foundation. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

Pentagon Slams Door On Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Transparency

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Pentagon has decided not to disclose the current number of nuclear weapons in the Defense Department’s nuclear weapons stockpile. The decision, which came as a denial of a request from FAS’s Steven Aftergood for declassification of the 2018 nuclear weapons stockpile number, reverses the U.S. practice from the past nine years and represents an unnecessary and counterproductive reversal of nuclear policy.

The United States in 2010 for the first time declassified the entire history of its nuclear weapons stockpile size, a decision that has since been used by officials to support U.S. non-proliferation policy by demonstrating U.S. adherence to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), providing transparency about U.S. nuclear weapons policy, counter false rumors about secretly building up its nuclear arsenal, and to encourage other nuclear-armed states to be more transparent about their arsenals.

Click on graph to view full size

Importantly, the U.S. also disclosed the number of warheads dismantled each year back to 1994. This disclosure helped document that the United States was not hiding retired weapons but actually dismantling them. In 2014, the United States even declassified the total inventory of retired warheads still awaiting dismantlement at that time: 2,500.

The 2010 release built on previous disclosures, most importantly the Department of Energy’s declassification decisions in 1996, which included – among other issues – a table of nuclear weapons stockpile data with information about stockpile numbers, megatonnage, builds, retirements, and disassemblies between 1945 and 1994. Unfortunately, the web site is poorly maintained and the original page headlined “Declassification of Certain Characteristics of the United States Nuclear Weapon Stockpile” no longer has tables, another page is corrupted, but the raw data is still available here. Clearly, DOE should fix the site.

The decision in 2010 to disclose the size of the stockpile and the dismantlement numbers did not mean the numbers would necessarily be updated each subsequent year. Each year was a separate declassification decision that was announced on the DOD Open Government web site. The most recent decision from 2018 in response to a request from FAS showed the stockpile number as of September 2017: 3,822 stockpiled warheads and 354 dismantled warheads.

The 2017 number was extra good news because it showed the Trump administration, despite bombastic rhetoric from the president, had continued to reduce the size of the stockpile (see my analysis from 2018).

Since 2010, Britain and France have both followed the U.S. example by providing additional information about the size of their arsenals, although they have yet to disclose the entire history of their warhead inventories. Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea have not yet provided information about the size or history of their arsenals.

FAS’ Role In Providing Nuclear Transparency

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has been tracking nuclear arsenals for many years, previously in collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The 5,113-warhead stockpile number declassified by the Obama administration in 2010 was only 13 warheads off the FAS/NRDC estimate at the time.

We provide these estimates on our web site, on our Strategic Security Blog, and in publications such as the bi-monthly Nuclear Notebook published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the annual nuclear forces chapter in the SIPRI Yearbook. The work is used extensively by journalists, NGOs, scholars, parliamentarians, and government officials.

With the Pentagon decision to close the books on the stockpile, and the rampant nuclear modernization underway worldwide, the role of FAS and others in documenting the status of nuclear forces will be even more important.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Pentagon’s decision not to disclose the 2018 nuclear weapons stockpiled and dismantled warhead numbers is unnecessary and counterproductive.

The United States or its allies are not suffering or at a disadvantage because the nuclear stockpile numbers are in the public. Indeed, there seems to be no rational national security factor that justifies the decision to reinstate nuclear stockpile secrecy.

The decision walks back nearly a decade of U.S. nuclear weapons transparency policy – in fact, longer if including stockpile transparency initiatives in the late-1990s – and places the United States is the same box as over-secretive nuclear-armed states, several of which are U.S. adversaries.

The decision also puts the United States in an even more disadvantageous position for next year’s nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference where the administration will be unable to report progress on meeting its Article VI obligations. Instead, this decision, as well as decisions to withdraw from the INF treaty, start producing new nuclear weapons, and the absence of nuclear arms control negotiations, needlessly open up the United States to criticism from other Parties to the NPT – a treaty the United States needs to protect and strengthen to curtail nuclear proliferation.

The decision also puts U.S. allies like Britain and France in the awkward position of having to reconsider their nuclear transparency policies as well or be seen to be out of sync with their largest military ally at a time of increased East-West hostilities.

With this decision, the Trump administration surrenders any pressure on other nuclear-armed states to be more transparent about the size of their nuclear weapon stockpiles. This is curious since the Trump administration had repeatedly complained about secrecy in the Russian and Chinese arsenals. Instead, it now appears to endorse their secrecy.

The decision will undoubtedly fuel suspicion and worst-case mindsets in adversarial countries. Russia will now likely argue that not only has the United States obscured conversion of nuclear launchers under the New START treaty, it has now decided also to keep secret the number of nuclear warheads it has available for them.

Finally, the decision also makes it harder to envision achieving new arms control agreements with Russia and China to curtail their nuclear arsenals. After all, if the United States is not willing to maintain transparency of its warhead inventory, why should they disclose theirs?

It is yet unclear why the decision not to disclose the 2018 stockpile number was made. There are several possibilities:

  • Is it because the chaos and incompetence in the Trump administration have enabled hardliners and secrecy zealots to reverse a policy they disagreed with anyway?
  • Is it a result of the Nuclear Posture Review’s embrace of Great Power Competition with Cold War-like instincts to increase reliance on nuclear weapons, kill arms control treaties, increase secrecy, and scuttle policies that some say appease adversaries?
  • Is it because of a Trump administration mindset opposing anything created by president Obama?
  • Or is it because the United States has secretly begun to increase the size of its nuclear stockpile? (I don’t think so; the stockpile appears to have continued to decrease to now at or just below 3,800 warheads.)

The answer may be as simple as “because it can” with no opposition from the White House. Whatever the reason, the decision to reinstate stockpile secrecy caps a startling and rapid transformation of U.S. nuclear policy. Within just a little over two years, the United States under the chaotic and disastrous policies of the Trump administration has gone from promoting nuclear transparency, arms control, and nuclear constraint to increasing nuclear secrecy, abandoning arms control agreements, producing new nuclear weapons, and increasing reliance on such weapons in the name of Great Power Competition.

This is a historic policy reversal by any standard and one that demands the utmost effort on the part of Congress and the 2020 presidential election candidates to prevent the United States from essentially going nuclear rogue but return it to a more constructive nuclear weapons policy.

This publication was made possible by generous contributions from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New Land Foundation, the Ploughshares Fund, and the Prospect Hill Foundation. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

FAS Nuclear Notebook Published: US Nuclear Forces, 2016

notebook-US

By Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris

Our latest FAS Nuclear Notebook has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. This issue provides a new overview of the status and plans for US nuclear forces and updates our estimate of the number of nuclear weapons in the stockpile and deployed force.

The next issue scheduled for May will be on Russian nuclear forces.

For an update on worldwide nuclear weapons inventories, see our World Nuclear Forces web page.

The research for 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 authors.

New Nuclear Notebook: Russian Nuclear Forces 2015

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russian nuclear weapons have received a lot of attention lately. Russian officials casually throw around direct or thinly veiled nuclear threats (here, here and here). And U.S. defense hawks rail (here and here) about a Russian nuclear buildup.

In reality, rather than building up, Russia is building down but appears to be working to level off the force within the next decade to prevent further unilateral reduction of its strategic nuclear force in the future. For details, see the latest FAS Nuclear Notebook on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists web site.

This trend makes it more important for the United States and Russia to reach additional nuclear arms control agreements to reduce strategic nuclear forces. Hard to imagine in the current climate, but remember: even at the height of the Cold War the two sides reached important arms limitation agreements because it was seen then (as it is now) to be in their national security interest.  Continue reading

New Interactive Nuclear Notebook

A new interactive infographic detailing information on the world’s nuclear arsenals from 1945 to 2013 is now live on the website of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The Nuclear Notebook is published in the Bulletin and is written by FAS’ Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris. The research and data provided in the Notebook by Kristensen and Norris gives reliable information on worldwide nuclear force levels and trends that is widely cited by scholars, the media and policymakers. This information is critical for the public debate as it shines a spotlight on status operations and modernization of nuclear weapons worldwide.

For more information on the Notebook, click here. 

The new Nuclear Notebook infographic can be viewed here.