Choosing the Right Path at a Strategic Crossroad

Tasneem Jamal

Nicolas Kasprzyk

Nicolas Kasprzyk is from the Centre d’Etudes de Sécurité Internationale, France

Each of the panelists at the Consultation on NATO Nuclear Policy, National Missile Defence & Alternative Security Arrangement, held in Ottawa on September 28-31, 2001, was asked to submit a short paper relating to the topic of their presentation. The other Consultation participants were asked to submit brief papers responding to one or more of the following questions:

1. What changes to its nuclear policies should NATO be realistically asked to make, in the context of the current review, to move it towards fuller compliance with global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation obligations and imperatives?

2. Are there realistic and credible alternative means of addressing the security concerns that underlie current U.S. interest in missile defense?

3. What are the most realistic short-term or interim measures that should be taken by nuclear weapon states and nuclear alliances to demonstrate a commitment to significantly reducing the political legitimacy and value of nuclear weapons in order to contribute to the goal of elimination?

This short paper, prepared for the Consultation convened by the Simons Foundation and Project Ploughshares, deals firstly with the arms control accomplishments of the last years. Emphasis is then put on the challenges the arms control community has to reckon with: modernization of their arsenals by some of the nuclear weapon states (NWS), National Missile Defense (NMD) plans with destabilizing effects, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Finally, an arms control global plan is broadly presented: it could have had some practical value if the US had not planned to deploy a NMD. The negotiation of a security assurances treaty is then considered as a possible way to reopen the debate on nuclear doctrines and nuclear strategies and keep a constructive dialogue between NWS and non nuclear weapon states .

1. Looking back at the past successes

In a recent past, significant decisions have been considered as important steps towards a safer world. It is worth reminding some of these post cold-war milestones:

  • Indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995,
  • Irreversible steps taken by the United Kingdom and France in nuclear weapons reduction. France e.g. dismantled all her silo-based and mobile nuclear-armed missiles, closed her plutonium enrichment facility and her Polynesia nuclear test site. The United Kingdom decommissioned his nuclear bombers,
  • Detargetting of their missiles by the major NWS,
  • Signature of the CTBT, some nuclear weapon states obtaining the ratification of it by their Parliament in a very short period of time (on this topic, United Kingdom and France have the place of honour),
  • Negotiation and ratification of the treaties establishing nuclear-free-zones in South-East Asia and in Africa.

More recently, Russia has ratified the CTBT and START 2, enabling the end of mere consultations on START 3 and the beginning of negotiations.

2. Assessing the challenges

Modernization of their arsenals by some of the nuclear weapon states

The United States has launched ambitious programs – 5 billion dollars worth – to extend the life of the silo-based Minuteman III weapon system and improve its efficiency. Through the Propulsion Replacement Program, the three solid propellant stages of this intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) will be replaced. With the Guidance Replacement Program, the guidance systems will also be renewed: new inertial measurement units with stellar resetting, new calculators and software. A new post-boost bus will also be added. The nuclear warheads will be replaced by Mk 21/W87, supposedly safer and more up-to-date. With regards to the sea-launched nuclear component, important programs are also under process: from 2001, four Trident I ballistic missile submarines will be refurbished, to make them able to carry Trident II ballistic missiles. This 3 billion dollars program will enable the US to operate no less than 14 Trident II submarines. Furthermore, ongoing advance concept studies are led to achieve a successor to the Trident II: in 1999, propulsion stages using propellants deriving from civilian space launchers have been conducted. As a result, a new generation of sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) – under the designation Trident II D 5A – could appear in a near future, with a development starting in 2005 and an initial low-scale production in 2015. Nuclear bombers are also being modernized, approximately 2,3 billion dollars being dedicated to extend the life of the B52 through 2044.

Russia is not sitting on her hands: in spite of financial difficulties, the Topol-M missile, 20 silo-based units of which are deployed at the moment, is being modified to enable its entry in service in a mobile version. By 2003, the first Topol-M carried on a Transporter-Erector-Launcher should be deployed. A new generation ballistic missile submarine is being built: although important delays have been caused by both economic and missile selection problems, the Borey could reach operational capability after 2007, with a new solid propellant SLBM – the Bark – onboard. Last, not least, a new strategic bomber is scheduled to enter in service between 2005 and 2010.

China is modernizing the three components of her nuclear triad. Liquid propellant ground-to-ground missiles (CSS-2, CSS-3 and CSS-4) will be gradually replaced with solid propellant systems: DF21/DF21A, DF31, DF41. It must be noted that both the DF31 and the DF41 have an intercontinental capability, their range being respectively 8000 and 12000 km. The unique Chinese ballistic missile submarine – the Xia – whose operational performances are questionable, will be replaced after 2005 with a new generation submarine, carrying the three-stages CSS-N-4, which is the naval version of the DF-31, with a 8000 km range. Finally, the production of a new strategic bomber has started in the Xian aeronautics factories: the H-7 will replace the ageing Q5.

The United Kingdom and France are in a radically different situation: in the past years, they have made deep-cuts in their nuclear arsenals. UK has renounced to its nuclear bombers. At the same time, France has dismantled all of her ICBMs. These two little nuclear states now rely only on a few nuclear weapons. Their ongoing programs are quite modest compared to the above-mentioned programs.

Among the de facto nuclear states, despite the lack of publicly available information, there is no doubt that the arsenals are being increased. India is making great progress in the field of ballistic missiles, with ongoing programs on a third version of the Agni missile, that will have a 3500 km range, 700 km more than the Agni 2, flight tested on April 11, 1999. Pakistan is also focusing on ballistic missiles, developing two families of missiles: Ghauri and Shaheen.

Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction

Extremely worrisome is the worldwide proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Emphasis will not be put on that topic in this short paper. However, it must be stressed out that, after a period of horizontal proliferation, vertical proliferation is now observed. The world is seriously becoming ballistic.

NMD plans and destabilizing effects

The American plans to deploy a nationwide antimissile defense also puts the international security in trouble. Why the NMD? For decades, the US has lived with the threat of an attack by thousands of missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Surprisingly enough, the US now intends to protect from a small-scale attack with only a few missiles, possibly armed with chemical weapons, the operational efficiency of which is still only speculation. The reason usually put forward is that mechanisms of deterrence could be used against a rationale actor, not against supposedly unpredictable actors such as the so-called “States of concern” (since a 19 June, 2000 statement from Mrs Madeleine Albright, the former expression “rogue States” seems to have been discarded by the State Department). This explanation is supposed to be a sledgehammer argument. Nevertheless, how can it be explained that a country, for instance North Korea, is at the same time an irrational actor – when developing and deploying ballistic missiles – and a rational actor – when negotiating with American diplomats the verification of the non-military use of her nuclear facilities?

If Russia and the US do not manage to reach an agreement, and if the US decides to abrogate or withdraw from the ABM Treaty or just ignores it and deploys an NMD, Russia has threatened to withdraw from the whole arms control regime, including the START process. This threat has been brandished by President Putin when he signed the ratification bill of START II in last April. It may be a groundless threat, for Russia’s interest is not in dropping the whole arms control process. Anyway, it was not only rhetoric: it must be considered as the more sincere expression of deep-rooted concerns about American intents.

If Moscow has the feeling that its deterrent is endangered, it definitely has the ability to take effective countermeasures, through so-called “asymmetric steps”: MIRVing of the Topol-M missiles, using of decoys, etc. Russia may be facing some financial backlash, but she still has a great expertise as far as nuclear and ballistic systems are concerned. Moreover, as a former Super Power legitimately aiming at a revival, in a difficult context where her conventional forces are on the wane, Russia can nothing but consider her nuclear deterrent as a long-dated trump card.

Beijing leaders believe that an American NMD would aim at undercutting the Chinese deterrent. As a result, there is no hope that China stops the modernization of her nuclear arsenal, increasing the number of her nuclear warheads and strategic missiles. Moreover, making some more progress on the path to miniaturization, the Chinese engineers could in a not-so-far future reach the MIRV technology.

With China and Russia reacting to the US NMD initiative, a reasonable prediction is a similar reaction from countries located at their periphery, e.g., India and Pakistan. The specter of a new arms race is looming on the horizon.

Looking toward future challenges

After the Presidential elections in the US: doves or hawks?

Regarding NMD, the question is not “whether” the system will be deployed, but “when” and “how”. The decision about the deployment to be taken in Fall will be implemented by the new President elected in November. He may choose to have a limited NMD, able to counter a small-scale attack, or a high-capability NMD, with a gradual increase in the number of interceptors: the technical architecture of the system has been designed to enable flexibility and easy shifts from a configuration to another. The whole arms control and international security community will carefully scrutinize the elections to be held in the U.S. in November and try to figure out whether the next Administration will be an eyrie or a doves’ nest.

An arms control global plan, impossible in the present context

Had the context been different, had the US not intended to deploy an NMD, an interesting arms control global plan could have been suggested. It may have been possible to propose a progressive program in three steps:

  • First step: the US and Russia bring down their arsenals to 1000 warheads each. At the same time, the nuclear weapons states, either de juro (China, UK and France) or de facto (India, Pakistan and other countries with a nuclear capability), agree on a SALT-like treaty, limiting the number of warheads or vectors they can hold. Like the bilateral SALT Agreement from the cold-war era, this treaty would aim at imposing limits, not a reduction. A limit decided for instance at 500 warheads would have been a safety measure blocking the possible extension of their arsenal by nuclear quick-runners.
  • Second step: all the NWS, having a limited number of nuclear weapons, reduce their arsenal further to attain the 200 nuclear devices limit.
  • Third step: negotiations between the NWS about collective measures that should be taken before entering a nuclear-free-world, a world with no deterrence strategies, potentially more dangerous than the world we are living in.

Unfortunately, the US NMD plans are a strong obstacle to this plan. NWS will not accept to reduce their arsenals with the deployment of a system undercutting their deterrent.

Security assurances treaty: a path to explore

At the moment, hard disarmament seems to be in a deadlock. As a result, it is time for soft disarmament. Among the topics than could be discussed at the table of negotiations is the question of security assurances.

Important part of the nonproliferation regime, the security assurances consist in promises made by the de juro NWS towards non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) who are parties to this Treaty. With the positive security assurances, notably granted through unilateral declarations and through the resolutions 255 and 984 of the United Nations Security Council, the NWS promised that, if any NNWS party to the NPT is threatened with nuclear weapons, they will bring the matter to the Security Council to get help for the victim. Assistance include efforts to settle the dispute and restore international peace and security as well as provision of technical, medical, scientific or humanitarian aid and compensation from the aggressor for loss, damage or injury from the attack. Some of the NWS have also expressed the intention to provide or support immediate assistance. With the negative security assurances, which have been dealt with in unilateral declarations before being harmonized in April 1995 – in the resolution 984 of the Security Council – the NWS promised that they will not use nuclear weapons against the other NPT states, except in the case of invasion or attack by them in association with a NWS. Added to these general security assurances, the NWS have granted security assurances offered on a regional basis, to the states constituted in Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zones (NWFZ). More than 110 states are involved.

Negotiations on a Security Assurances Treaty would have the positive effect of initiating a debate on nuclear doctrines and nuclear deterrence in the new post cold war context.

Spread the Word