Getting to Zero Update

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) officially entered into force on February 5, 2011, and Russian and American leaders expressed their expectations for another, more challenging round, of arms control negotiations. BASIC has established a new high-level Trident Commission to examine the decisions around the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons system.

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On February 9, BASIC launched the “BASIC Trident Commission”, a panel of nine who will examine the issues surrounding the United Kingdom’s possession of nuclear weapons, with the purpose of making recommendations for future policy.  The Co-chairs are: Lord Browne of Ladyton (Des Browne), former Labour Secretary of State for Defence; Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Conservative Defence and Foreign Secretary; and Sir Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Shadow Foreign Secretary. Other members of the Commission are Lord Guthrie, former Chief of the Defence Staff; Alyson Bailes, former head of Foreign Office policy and SIPRI Director; Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former British Ambassador to the United Nations; Lord Rees, recent President of the Royal Society; Lord Hennessy, historian of British nuclear policy; and BASIC’s research director, Dr. Ian Kearns, is also leading the Commission secretariat.

The Commission will:

  • Examine the global context for the Trident renewal decision;
  • Analyze current U.K. nuclear weapons policy and wider efforts by the United Kingdom to promote multilateral nuclear disarmament and global non-proliferation;
  • Examine the strategic case for and against, and the costs associated with, Trident renewal and any potential opportunity costs for non-nuclear portions of the defense budget;
  • Consider all possible future nuclear policy options that have the potential to maintain U.K. national security while further strengthening multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Parliamentarians, journalists, officials and experts attended the launch event in Parliament. Contributors warmly welcomed the establishment of the Commission, which many thought was timely, and had a big potential to influence the U.K. debate.  During the session, U.K. Defence Minister, Nick Harvey, remarked upon the foundations of the U.K. policy of continuous-at-sea deterrence (CASD): “When you go looking for the paper trail, it is thin.”

BASIC will assist and service the Commission throughout 2011 and 2012; with plans for a final report on the Commission’s findings to come out within the first half of 2012.

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New START begins

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) entered into force on February 5, when Russia and the United States exchanged the instruments of ratification on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. Within 45 days after the entry into force of the treaty, both countries are to exchange data and then another 15 days later the parties will have the right to conduct inspections – processes that are part of the verification measures intended to complement requirements to limit their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 a piece, and limit deployed and non-deployed strategic vehicles at 800 each.  The treaty will remain in force for ten years, although Russia and the United States could choose to extend the treaty by an additional five years.  The treaty does not require the destruction of any warheads.

Attention is now turning to follow-on challenges that could prove to be far more difficult: including how to address the thousands of warheads in reserve and tactical nuclear weapons; disagreements over U.S. plans for strategic missile defense; and conventional imbalances. These issues, particularly missile defense, dominated the ratification debate in the Duma (lower house of the Russian parliament) in January. The Duma warned that there are three different grounds for Russian withdrawal from the treaty: U.S. violation of the treaty; the unilateral deployment of U.S. ballistic missile defense systems; and the adoption by the United States of non-nuclear strategic weapon systems without approval by a bilateral U.S.-Russian commission, which is to discuss how future weapons systems may fit into the New START framework. Senior Russian lawmakers are already stressing Russia’s right to withdraw from the treaty at any time should they feel threatened by any global developments, a right under the Treaty pending explanation of the jeopardy to vital interests.

Doubts remain in Washington as well. Senator Jon Kyl asserted that statements from Russian parliamentarians “demonstrate there is a significant divergence of views between the two countries…” adding that he was “not aware of an example where the United States has ratified a bilateral treaty in the face of clear evidence that there is no meeting of the minds on key treaty terms” and pledges that “we must make certain, too, the administration modernizes our national missile defense system to stay ahead of increasing threats.”

As part of his formal communication to the Senate on the New START treaty on February 2, U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated a pledge to seek negotiations with Russia over tactical nuclear weapons within the year (paragraph 4):
The United States will seek to initiate, following consultation with NATO Allies but not later than 1 year after the entry into force of the New START Treaty, negotiations with the Russian Federation on an agreement to address the disparity between the non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons stockpiles of the Russian Federation and of the United States and to secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner; and it is the policy of the United States that such negotiations shall not include defensive missile systems.

However, Russia is lukewarm on the topic of further nuclear cuts. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that it was best to implement and fulfill New START before tackling tactical nuclear weapons, although he showed some enthusiasm for restraining space-based weapon development and non-nuclear strategic weapons. Russian officials have also suggested that future nuclear negotiations must be multilateralized (to include U.K. and French arsenals).  Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said full negotiations over tactical nuclear weapons would not proceed until the United States addresses Russia’s concerns about missile defense, which have the potential to “undermine” Russia’s nuclear deterrent.  He also expressed his hope for the revival of negotiations over the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty.


The Wikileak release of more diplomatic cables (see paragraph 13) showed that the Obama Administration agreed under the provisions of New START to release to Russia the serial numbers of Trident II D5 nuclear missiles handed over to the United Kingdom, without their consent.  Some analysts suggested that the Russians could determine how many strategic missiles the United Kingdom retains at any one moment.

Further Reading


Conference on Disarmament

Despite much promise of progress on the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) in early 2009, Pakistan has maintained a solitary two-year-long opposition to it, seeing the possibility of enshrined asymmetry with India. Pakistani Ambassador Zamir Akram implicitly blamed this disparity on U.S. support for Indian accession to four multilateral control regimes – the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement – despite not being a signatory of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).


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United States

The Obama Administration released its FY 2012 budget request on February 14. The nuclear weapons-related budget under the Energy Department includes increases in funding for facilities and warhead life extension programs, but decreases in funding for non-proliferation (compared to FY2011 request) which could weaken the President’s goal to secure all “loose” nuclear material by 2014. Experts also were noting how the reliance on continuing resolutions (meant to fill in for the absence of a congressionally-approved budget for FY 2011) have harmed nuclear security-related funds.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semi-autonomous agency that overseas the Energy Department’s nuclear security and weapons-related activities, would receive  a $1.2 billion increase over FY 2010 levels for “weapons activities.” The increase results in a total of $7.6 billion for these activities, out of an overall budget request of $11.8 billion for the NNSA.

The Defense Department FY 2012 budget related to nuclear weapons delivery vehicles included $1.07 billion for developing the follow-on nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) to replace the Ohio-class fleet.  It also allocated funds for building a new generation of long-range bombers that could be manned or unmanned, and carry conventional or nuclear warheads, but left out figures for developing a new generation of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).


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Negotiations between Iran and the E3+3 (France, Germany, Britain, the United States, Russia and China) in mid-January in Istanbul failed to make progress. Iran set out preconditions before it would agree to discuss its nuclear program, including the end of U.N. sanctions and a formal acknowledgment of its right to enrich uranium. The E3+3 are requiring Iran to first cooperate more with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and suspend uranium enrichment, before they would agree to lift sanctions. Also discussed was the possible revival of the proposal for Iran to export a portion of its low enriched uranium stocks in exchange for fuel prepared for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), but no progress could be reported on that front either. Both sides have said that they are open to further discussions, but no dates have been set.


Iran hosted a tour by diplomats of its nuclear facilities. Invitations were extended to Hungary, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, and also Russia and China, but not the United States, United Kingdom, Germany or France. The United States dismissed the Iranian initiative as “antics” meant to obscure Iran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA. The EU, Russia and China rejected the invitation. Countries that sent representatives included Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, Oman, Syria and Venezuela.

Iran appears to be coping with the subsidies cuts meant to curb government spending. Russia, for its part, pushed to keep the removal of sanctions as a viable incentive for Iran prior to the Istanbul conference. During a meeting between U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on February 15, they acknowledged their disagreement over whether world powers should push for more sanctions. Lavrov said that more sanctions could further worsen prospects for diplomatic progress over Iran’s nuclear program and called for an action plan that would include “creative approaches” with step-by-step concessions from both sides. China has been accused of failure to properly implement sanctions, allowing Iran to buy materials for its nuclear program that it cannot produce domestically.

Russia has called upon NATO to join forces to investigate the Stuxnet virus cyber attack, comparing the potential but unrealized damage to Bushehr to the Chernobyl disaster, something denied by Iran. The United States has been accused of jointly working on developing and testing the virus with Israel. The IAEA’s cameras captured Iranian scientists hauling broken centrifuges out of the Natanz enrichment facility around the time that the Stuxnet virus was thought to have hit. But the film also shows them rapidly replacing the equipment and leaving in doubt the overall impact the virus will have had on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

Israeli intelligence has provided conflicting reports on Iranian nuclear developments. Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s chief of military intelligence, has stated that Iran has not yet begun the process of developing a nuclear bomb, but that once such a decision was made it would only take a year or two to achieve. Meir Dagan, former head of Mossad’s overseas intelligence services, has spoken out on the issue as well, stating that Iran would not have a bomb until 2015 at the earliest. According to a Wikileak diplomatic cable, Israel encouraged the United States to consider military action against Iran in 2009. The U.S. Intelligence Community’s latest assessment concludes that Iran’s leadership has internal disagreements over whether to pursue a full-fledged nuclear weapons program.

The head of the physics department at Tehran’s Imam Hossein University, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, has been appointed the new director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, replacing Ali Akbar Salehi, who was recently confirmed in his new position of foreign minister. Abbasi-Davani survived a bomb attack on November 29, 2010. A separate attack on the same day killed another physicist, Majid Shahriari. Iran has blamed Israel and the United States for the attacks.

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North Korea


Negotiations between North and South Korean militaries broke down on February 9, further dimming hopes for reconvening international talks over the North’s nuclear program. The meeting was the first full attempt to restart dialogue after North Korea launched a fatal attack on Yeonpyeong Island last November.

The United States had warned China in December that its failure to pressure Pyongyang would result in the redeploying of certain U.S. forces in the East Asian theater. Although details were not forthcoming, President Barack Obama apparently discussed the issue with Chinese President Hu Jintao during his visit to Washington, DC in January. The leaders issued a joint statement acknowledging North Korea’s uranium enrichment facility and called for a denuclearization of the Peninsula. China has since warned the United States that it will not support further sanctions against North Korea and is advocating for pressure on Pyongyang to be applied only through the continuation of talks.

On February 11, Pyongyang sent out a special order to its embassies to request food aid from foreign governments– a move which increases speculation over the likelihood that North Korea is on the verge of collapse. South Korea’s National Security Advisor, Chun Yung-Woo, now believes that continued North Korean arms spending could ultimately result in the regime’s self-destruction. He notes that the major cash flows into North Korea have all been cut and that the regime has no hope of resolving its economic problems, which he called “existential.” South Korea’s government-run think tank, the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses, published a report suggesting that North Korea’s military spending was much higher than the official figure of $570 million for 2009. South Korean analysts calculated that the North spent $8.77 billion in 2009, which represents a third of its annual income.

U.S. Admiral Michael Mullen has asserted that North Korea will be able to develop a nuclear-capable ICBM within the next five to ten years. In testimony submitted to the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that he suspects North Korea has more than the one uranium enrichment facility that was publicly revealed last November.

Further Reading


Missile Defense

During the NATO-Russia Council meeting at NATO’s Lisbon Summit in November, delegations agreed to conduct a joint study of potential missile defense cooperation. However, Moscow has since reiterated its suspicion of NATO objectives, seeing the cooperation as an attempt to eventually undermine Russia’s own nuclear deterrent.

NATO’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has made clear that Russian and NATO missile defense systems are to be independent and separate, which would therefore suggest that NATO and Russia should work to ensure that their owns systems provide enough coverage to meet their own threat assessments irrespective of the capabilities of the other party’s system. Emphasis on cooperation would focus on the exchange of information. NATO has agreed to work with the United States to develop a missile defense architecture that would be part of the U.S.-led Phased Adaptive Approach, which is to be deployed in stages over the next ten years.

Russia has expressed a preference for “sectoral” missile defense, in which “all sensors, radars and interceptors are oriented towards the external space and are not located at the Russia-NATO division line,” a Russian diplomat told Kommersant.This sharing of responsibility and risk might increase Russian confidence in NATO’s approach to missile defense.

Initial findings from the Russian-NATO joint study for missile defense cooperation are due in June.

As part of the Obama Administration’s FY 2012 budget rollout, the U.S. Defense Department is requesting $8.6 billion for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which amounts to about a $.2 billion request over FY 2011 levels (although the FY 2011 budget has yet to be approved by Congress). MDA’s proposed budget focuses on regional missile defenses and on the completion of the initial phase of fielding Ground-Based Midcourse Defense, a system that is intended to defend the United States from long-range missile attacks.


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