Council Front and Center: April 20, 2019


The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is the Council’s affiliated 501(c)(3) research organization. 

What did North Korea just test?
North Korea tested a “tactical guided weapon” Wednesday, marking its first weapons test since November. South Korea said it believes the guided weapon is likely for use in ground combat and is not a ballistic missile, making it a conventional weapon not subject to international sanctions. Senior Policy Director Alexandra Bell said she views the test as a way for North Korea to remind the Trump administration why they were negotiating in the first place — and as a potential bargaining chip in any future negotiations. This is only weeks after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again refused to blame leader Kim Jong-un for American student Otto Warmbier’s death, which Bell said was unsurprising given potential ongoing negotiations.

Are we still looking at a new arms race with Russia?
Almost certainly. The Trump administration still plans to pull out of the Reagan-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which successfully eliminated an entire class of weapons and has provided stability between the United States and Russia — who together own more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear stockpile. The Center continues to educate policymakers on the importance of this treaty, meeting regularly with Members of Congress and staffers. The Councillobbies for bills that effectively keep provisions of the treaty in place until certain time constraints or other conditions are met.

Meanwhile, our efforts continue to urge the Trump administration to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)through 2026 rather than letting it expire in 2021. The Council was instrumental in convincing 24 Senators to sign a letter to President Trump urging him to extend the treaty. Without it, there will be no constraints on the number and types of strategic nuclear weapons Russia produces and deploys.

Missile Defense Agency has successful test; system still has failing record
On March 25, the Missile Defense Agency conducted a test of an interceptor. According to the MDA, the test was successful, bringing the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) testing success rate up to 45 percent (from 40 percent) since 2004. But Center Senior Science Fellow Philip Coyle, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense, says regardless of whether GMD ever really works, the program only serves to encourage Russia and China to build more offensive systems to overwhelm U.S. defenses. In fact, Russia is also investing in new nuclear delivery systems that are designed to evade missile defenses.Coyle explains that these systems, particularly the hypersonic missiles, would almost certainly defeat any of our defense capabilities. Here’s a refresher on GMD, including a short explainer videonew podcast episode and FAQs.

Defense budget request calls for more spending than Cold War peak
The Trump administration’s defense spending request calls for more spending (when adjusted for inflation) than was spent at the height of the Cold War — a staggering $750 billion. The total budget request calls for massive cuts to the Department of State while increasing funding for nuclear weapons programs. It also places an unprecedented amount of money into the OCO account — which was supposed to provide separate funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — all to avoid Congressionally mandated defense budget caps. The Center breaks down the budget request and is working to educate Members of Congress and staffers on what it would mean for greater national security priorities.

Executive Director John Tierney calls the budget shameful, outrageously high and unabmiguously based on politics rather than military need. The Council joined 16 other organizations in signing an open letter to Members of Congress asserting that the Pentagon budget must not grow and must be more accountable.The Council also joined 13 other organizations from across the political spectrum in rejecting a bill that would increase the Pentagon spending cap by $157 billion this year alone.

What else?
 The latest episode of the Center’s Nukes of Hazard podcast is a bonus episode all about India’s anti-satellite weapons test and what it means for South Asia security more broadly, featuring expert Ankit Panda.

Syrian chemical weapons: Center expert John Gilbert says there will probably be no further accountability of Syria for its past chemical weapons attacks.

North Korea strategy: No First Use Program Coordinator Abigail Stowe-Thurston explains why negotiating a mutual No First Use policy with North Korea could provide a safe and transparent context for further nuclear negotiations. 

Nuclear terrorism: Since the beginning of the nuclear age, policymakers have worried about a nightmarish scenario: terrorists attacking cities with nuclear materials or a crude or stolen nuclear weapon. Here are five things to know about nuclear terrorism.