FAS Joins Emerging Threats Working Group

Appointment provides a unique opportunity for FAS to collaborate with NATO and other Euro-Atlantic states to better address the emerging security threats arising from science and technology breakthroughs.

The rapid pace of scientific discovery and technological innovation demands the redoubling of efforts by scientists, policymakers, non-governmental experts, and the business community to adapt to the security implications. That is why FAS is pleased to announce that Michael Edward Walsh, the Adjunct Fellow for Emerging Technologies and High-end Threats at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), was recently named to the Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes (PfPC) Working Group on Emerging Security Challenges. 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.

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


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.

DOE Plan Would Reduce Nuclear Arsenal By Up To 40 Percent But Would Result in Few Cost Savings or Reductions In Size Of Weapons Complex


WASHINGTON DC (July 13, 2010) – The Obama administration is planning to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal by as much as 40 percent by 2021, but also wants to spend nearly $175 billion over the next twenty years to build new facilities and to maintain and modify thousands of weapons, according to sections of an administration plan made public today by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The proposal, the “FY2011 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan,” part of the Department of Energy’s proposed fiscal year 2011 budget, was drafted by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and presented to members of Congress in May.

“Nuclear weapons are now a liability, not an asset, so the plan to reduce the U.S. nuclear stockpile is a step in the right direction.”  said Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of UCS’s Global Security Program.

The plan calls for the United States to reduce its nuclear arsenal 30 to 40 percent from today’s total of approximately 5,000 weapons. Reductions already underway will reduce the arsenal to 4,700 weapons by the end of 2012. According to the plan, “the future NNSA infrastructure will support total stockpiles up to a range of approximately 3,000 to 3,500 [warheads],” about twice the number of warheads the New START treaty permits to be deployed on strategic forces. (For more details, see “Plan Promises Nuclear Reductions, but Few Savings,” a fact sheet prepared by FAS and UCS.)

“The 3,000 to 3,500 total warhead target is a ceiling,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. “Of course, the United States could reduce its arsenal to even lower levels through negotiated agreements with Russia and the other nuclear weapon states.”

The plan also includes cost estimates beyond what NNSA has previously released. It calls for the United States to spend nearly $175 billion (in then-year dollars) from 2010 to 2030 on new weapons production, testing and simulation facilities, and on modernizing and extending the life of the remaining weapons in the arsenal. That price tag does not include the cost of maintaining and operating nuclear weapons delivery systems, which are covered by the Department of Defense budget.

Given NNSA’s spotty record for meeting deadlines and budgets, experts at FAS and UCS predict that the costs are likely to be higher.

The two science groups also questioned some of NNSA’s key assumptions. For example, they questioned the need to maintain the capability to support 3,000 to 3,500 weapons, even if the number of weapons in the stockpile dropped below 1,000.

“Weapons expenditures will remain high because the plan calls for retaining a large, capable weapons complex independent of the size of the arsenal,” said Gronlund. “This could be a problem for deeper reductions that are needed since it would be possible for the United States to rapidly rebuild.”

“That calculation makes no sense,” said Kristensen. “It is like saying that today’s stockpile of about 5,000 weapons requires a complex of nearly the same size and cost as when the stockpile had 8,000 warheads. Given the size of the federal deficit, the Obama administration needs to think more clearly about how it spends the taxpayers’ money.”

Finally, the groups cautioned the Obama administration against against making extensive modifications to U.S. nuclear weapons in the future, at a time when the United States is seeking additional reductions with Russia and other nuclear weapon states and needs the support of non-nuclear countries to implement the administration’s nonproliferation agenda.

“Not only could extensive ‘improvements’ reduce the reliability of the warheads, they would send the wrong message when we are trying to get other countries to reduce their arsenals,” Gronlund said.

The “FY2011 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan” consists of five sections (three are unclassified):

·      FY 2011 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan Summary (unclassified)

·      Annex A – FY 2011 Stockpile Stewardship Plan (unclassified)

·      Annex B – FY 2011 Stockpile Management Plan (classified)

·      Annex C – FY 2011 Science, Technology, and Engineering Report on Stockpile Stewardship Criteria and Assessment of Stockpile Stewardship Program (classified), and

·      Annex D – FY 2011 Biennial Plan and Budget Assessment on the Modernization and Refurbishment of the Nuclear Security Complex (unclassified)

Analysis by Hans Kristensen.

BIO: Hans Kristensen

BLOG: Strategic Security

HOME: Nuclear Information Project

PRESS ROOM:  News Release

New Study Examines Global Trade of Ammunition

Chapter (PDF)

WASHINGTON DC — The Small Arms Survey released its tenth annual global analysis of small arms and related issues, the “Small Arms Survey 2010: Gangs, Groups, and Guns”.

Matt Schroeder, manager of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), co-authored the chapter on the global ammunition trade.

According to the new study, the first to examine the trade in ammunition for both small arms and light weapons, the global trade in ammunition is considerably less transparent than the trade in the weapons themselves.

This edition of the Survey also reveals that:
• The USD 4.3 billion ammunition finding shows that the long-standing estimate of USD 4 billion for the total trade (including weapons, parts, and accessories) considerably undervalues recent activity.

• In 2007, 26 countries had documented exports of small arms ammunition worth more than USD 10 million.

• The trade in propellant chemicals is worth at least tens, and perhaps hundreds, of millions of US dollars each year.

• Governments procure most of their light weapons ammunition from domestic producers when possible. Therefore, international transfers of light weapons ammunition are probably a small percentage of global public procurement.

• Ammunition imported by Western countries is overwhelmingly sourced from Western companies. Public procurement data from seven Western states indicates that in recent years they have received less than four per cent of their light weapons ammunition (by value) from non-Western firms.

• In 2007 the top exporters of all small arms and light weapons (those with annual exports of at least USD 100 million), according to available customs data, were (in descending order) the United States, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Austria, Belgium, the United Kingdom, China, Switzerland, Canada, Turkey, and the Russian Federation. The top importers of all small arms and light weapons for 2007 (those with annual imports of at least USD 100 million), according to available customs data, were (in descending order) the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, and Spain.

Published by Cambridge University Press, the report is the principle source of public information and analysis on all aspects of small arms and armed violence.


Matt Schroeder

BLOG: Strategic Security

HOME: Arms Sales Monitoring Project