Conventional Deterrence of North Korea

The debate over whether North Korea could be deterred was eclipsed by the onset of negotiations in 2018. Yet, the last three years have been marked by rapid advancements in the regime’s military capabilities and apparent evolution in its military strategy, which now relies on the threat of preemptive attacks against allied conventional forces to limit damage to the regime. Many of the standard assumptions that have underwritten U.S.-ROK deterrence posture are now obsolete. The deterrence balance on the peninsula is now between DPRK nuclear forces and allied conventional forces. Allied deterrence posture that depends on the threat of nuclear use or invasion will be insufficient to deter the regime from attempting to impose a fait accompli to forcibly achieve limited objectives. The alliance must place conventional deterrence at the center of its planning to ensure that U.S. conventional forces can effectively supplement South Korea’s ability growing ability to defend itself from limited aggression. The proposed posture requires closer coordination and additional capability, a difficult but necessary step at a time when the alliance faces severe friction.

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Air-launched Ballistic Missiles

In 2018, Russia and China both tested an uncommon type of missile that flew a ballistic trajectory but could be launched from an aircraft. Air-launched ballistic missiles (ALBM) are just one curiosity at a time when many countries are rapidly expanding and upgrading their missile inventories, but the tests raised some understandable questions: Is this a new capability? If a country has ground- and sea-launched ballistic missiles, or air-launched cruise missiles, why does it need an ALBM? What is it for?

Examining the phenomenon of air-launched ballistic missiles provides insight into not only the planning of the countries developing these systems, but also the diversity and complexity of missile systems.

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Nuclear Monitoring and Verification in the Digital Age: Seven Recommendations for Improving the Process

The goal of this Task Force report is to offer findings and make recommendations regarding nonproliferation monitoring and verification in general; our observations are grounded in large part on the Task Force’s continued attention to nonproliferation developments such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the P5+1 and Iran, nuclear developments in North Korea, and other nonproliferation challenges.

The Task Force seeks in this report to examine some of the significant developments in the current digital age as they relate to nonproliferation monitoring activities by both governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGO), to include:

  1. the accelerating quality and quantity of available imagery and other forms of remote sensing available outside governments;
  2. the growing volume and availability of worldwide transactional data related to commerce; and
  3. the ease of communicating findings, observations, and assertions about illicit activities related to nuclear programs and proliferation (with varying degrees of accuracy and truthfulness) through an increasing number of traditional and newer social media outlets.
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The Nonproliferation and Disarmament Challenges of Naval Nuclear Propulsion

A so-called loophole might allow a non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS) to use a naval reactor program to acquire nuclear weapons by taking nuclear material outside of safeguards and then potentially diverting some of that material. Additionally, nuclear-armed states with nuclear-powered warships might use their naval reactor programs to justify keeping a substantial inventory of highly enriched uranium (HEU)3 that could be quickly converted to nuclear weapon use or low enriched uranium (LEU) that could also be converted, but with more steps required to boost the LEU to HEU. Recognizing these and related nonproliferation and disarmament challenges, this report presents a proposal for the 2020 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference: a naval reactor quid pro quo (QPQ) for nuclear- armed states4 and NPT non-nuclear weapon states. Download

Nuclear Dynamics in a Multipolar Strategic Ballistic Missile Defense World

This report examines the nuclear dynamics and implications for strategic relations in a world where four nuclear-armed states are developing strategic ballistic missile defenses (BMD). These states are the United States, Russia, China, and India. Each state appears to have the common rationale of wanting at least limited protection against ballistic missile attacks, and all will respond with various countermeasures to ensure that their nuclear deterrents are viable as they react to missile defense developments in other countries. In addition, we have found that each state has differing motivations for strategic BMD. Download

France’s Choice for Naval Nuclear Propulsion: Why Low-Enriched Uranium Was Chosen

This special report is a result of an FAS task force on French naval nuclear propulsion and explores France’s decision to switch from highly-enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium (LEU). By detailing the French Navy’s choice to switch to LEU fuel, author Alain Tournyol du Clos — a lead architect of France’s nuclear propulsion program — explores whether France’s choice is fit for other nations. Read or download now.

Use of Microbial Forensics in the Middle East/North Africa Region


In this report, Christoper Bidwell, JD and Randall Murch, PhD, explore the use of microbial forensics as a tool for creating a common base line for understanding biologically-triggered phenomena, as well as one that can promote mutual cooperation in addressing these phenomena. A particular focus is given to the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, as it has been forced to deal with multiple instances of both naturally-occurring and man-made biological threats over the last 10 years. Although the institution of a microbial forensics capability in the MENA region (however robust) is still several years away, establishing credibility of the results offered by microbial forensic analysis performed by western states and/or made today in workshops and training have the ability to prepare the policy landscape for the day in which the source of a bio attack, either man-made or from nature, needs to be accurately attributed.

A full PDF version of the report can be found here.

Use of Attribution and Forensic Science in Addressing Biological Weapon Threats: A Multi-Faceted Study


The threat from the manufacture, proliferation, and use of biological weapons (BW) is a high priority concern for the U.S. Government. As reflected in U.S. Government policy statements and budget allocations, deterrence through attribution (“determining who is responsible and culpable”) is the primary policy tool for dealing with these threats. According to those policy statements, one of the foundational elements of an attribution determination is the use of forensic science techniques, namely microbial forensics. In this report, Christopher Bidwell, FAS Senior Fellow for Nonproliferation Law and Policy, and Kishan Bhatt, an FAS summer research intern and undergraduate student studying public policy and global health at Princeton University, look beyond the science aspect of forensics and examine how the legal, policy, law enforcement, medical response, business, and media communities interact in a bioweapon’s attribution environment. The report further examines how scientifically based conclusions require credibility in these communities in order to have relevance in the decision making process about how to handle threats.

A full PDF version of the report can be found here.

Understanding the Dragon Shield: Likelihood and Implications of Chinese Strategic Ballistic Missile Defense


While China has received growing attention for modernizing and expanding its strategic offensive nuclear forces over the last ten years, little attention has been paid to Chinese activities in testing and developing ballistic missile defenses (BMD). Motivated to understand the strategic implications of this testing and to learn Chinese views, Adjunct Senior Fellow and Professor, Bruce MacDonald and FAS President, Dr. Charles Ferguson, over the past twelve months, have studied these issues and have had extensive discussions with more than 50 security experts in China and the United States. Ever since the end of the Cold War, U.S. security policy has largely assumed that only the United States would possess credible strategic ballistic missile defense capabilities with non-nuclear interceptors. This tacit assumption has been valid for the last quarter century but may not remain valid for long. Since 2010, China has been openly testing missile interceptors purportedly for BMD purposes, but also useful for anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.

A full PDF version of the report can be found here.