The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is the Council’s affiliated 501(c)(3) research organization.
NEW ICBMs OVERBUDGET AND BEHIND SCHEDULE
On January 18, the Air Force sent Congress formal notification that the cost of the new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, known as the Sentinel, had risen 37 percent above the original cost estimate to a new total of more than $130 billion in today’s dollars.
The increased cost, coupled with schedule delays, lends credence to critics of the Sentinel program, like Council endorsee John Garamendi (D-CA-08) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who have argued upgrading the existing deployed missiles would be sufficient. Under the Nunn-McCurdy Act, such a drastic program increase could result in termination of the program, unless the Secretary of Defense determines there is no alternative. The expectation is Secretary Lloyd Austin will make that determination at this time.
UKRAINE AND RUSSIA CONTINUE STRIKES
Russian shelling and aerial attacks have gained pace since the Christmas holiday, with drone and missile strikes terrorizing civilians in southern and eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s need for additional air defense assets continues to be its biggest concern, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky. It is steadily running low on missile interceptors and is relying on jamming and other electronic means to defeat incoming missiles.
In a sign that it remains capable of hitting back, Ukraine has issued strikes in several regions inside of Russia and successfully damaged a Russian warship in the Black Sea. Moreover, Ukraine has recently undertaken attacks against Russian forces in Crimea and successfully shot down a Russian spy plane and command post aircraft. The loss of the air assets was said to lessen Russia’s ability to conduct lethal missile strikes, but Russian forces continue to pressure Ukrainian forces along the front lines.
CHINA’S NUCLEAR STOCKPILE INCREASES; THREAT EXAGGERATED
According to recent estimates from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), China now has a stockpile of approximately 440 nuclear warheads for delivery by land-based ballistic missiles, sea-based ballistic missiles and bombers, with 60 more produced for eventual deployment. The Pentagon agrees with that estimate, and projects Chinese nuclear forces to increase to about 1,000 nuclear weapons by 2030 and perhaps 1,500 by 2035. That may be a large force, but FAS also puts the United States nuclear weapons at 5,244, many times larger than the current or future Chinese forces. There are several unknowns that complicate our picture of Chinese strategic force numbers, however. China provides no official data on its nuclear forces and stringently controls messaging surrounding them.
The “threat” posed by China’s aggressive increase in nuclear forces seems much less dire in light of new details of endemic corruption within the Chinese military establishment that have surfaced in recent weeks and may help to explain President Xi Jinping’s string of high-level firings within the PLA Rocket Force. Moreover, they could point to larger problems of force readiness. Reporting has indicated that corruption has undermined the country’s modernization programs and may be hamstringing its defense industrial base. China also sent a delegation of senior military officials to Washington last week to meet with Pentagon leaders as part of the U.S.- People’s Republic of China Defense Policy Coordination Talks, last held in 2021.
NEW YEAR, SAME FUNDING MESS
If this next part sounds familiar, it should. In our last newsletter, we talked about Congress’s second short-term spending deal that set funding deadlines of January 19 and February 2. The first of those deadlines, which covered funding for Energy and Water, Agriculture-FDA, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD, has passed; however, Congress has yet to pass any Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 appropriations.
One positive is that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) were able to come to a topline agreement for the FY 2024 bills. Congress was able to pass a third short-term funding patch pushing the new deadlines to March 1 and March 8. Unfortunately for Speaker Johnson, he faces similar or even worse math than ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) did. He will likely need to rely on Democratic votes to pass government funding legislation and therefore risks a similar fate as his predecessor.
TENSIONS INCREASE IN INDIA, PAKISTAN
In anticipation of heightened terrorist activity in the Kashmir and Jammu regions, India has announced a 15-day military operation to counter and expel terrorist efforts that they believe Pakistan may be enabling. Pakistan also undertook retaliatory strikes against Iranian militants in the Sistan and Baluchistan provinces last week after Iran made attacks inside Pakistan on January 16. In the days since the exchange, Pakistan announced that the Iranian Foreign Minister would visit Pakistan and that both nations’ ambassadors would return to their posts after being recalled amid the spat. India and Pakistan have similar nuclear arsenal sizes but different policies and capabilities.
Earlier this month, Pakistani Air Force officials also announced that Pakistan would be acquiring a series of “fifth-generation” fighter jets from China. A total number was not given, nor was a specific timeline, but it was said that Pakistan would be taking possession of the Shenyang FC-31 Gyrfalcon in the near future.
NORTH KOREA CONDUCTS MISSILE TEST, DECLARES SOUTH IS ‘PRIMARY FOE’
Inter-Korean relations have been fraying for some time but seemingly ruptured in new ways last week. On January 15, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called on the Supreme People’s Assembly to change the nation’s constitution to identify South Korea as the DPRK’s “primary foe and invariable principal enemy,” and explicitly said that unification of the Peninsula was no longer a possibility. Meanwhile, the North’s diplomatic ties to Russia continue to grow, with North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui visiting Moscow this week and meeting with Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov. Additionally, reporting out of North Korea indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to visit the DPRK in the near future.
Additionally, the North conducted its first missile test of the year on January 14 when it launched a solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile into the waters between the Peninsula and Japan. The missile was reportedly equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), though it is unclear how the HGV performed.
IRAN’S URANIUM ENRICHMENT INCREASES ALONG WITH MISSILE ATTACKS
Iran’s missile attack on alleged militant groups in Pakistan led to a retaliatory attack by Pakistan on Thursday. Neither country wants to come to blows as they recognize there are more pressing matters.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to increase its levels of uranium enrichment to near weapons-grade, backtracking on a slowdown that began last year, alarming International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Rafael Grossi.
‘OPPENHEIMER’ RAKES IN FILM AWARDS, NOMINATIONS
Rarely does a movie about a serious subject, much less the dawn of the nuclear age, receive much attention, but Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster film “Oppenheimer” about the so-called “father” of the atomic bomb dominated the 81st Golden Globes, winning five awards including best drama. The film also won best director for Nolan, best drama actor for Cillian Murphy, best supporting actor for Robert Downey Jr. and best original score for Ludwig Göransson’s score.
The film’s producer, Emma Thomas, accepted the award saying, “I don’t think it was a no-brainer by any stretch of the imagination to make a three-hour talky movie — R-rated by the way — about one of the darkest developments in our history.” The movie was also the big winner at the 2024 Critics Choice Awards, taking home eight trophies including best picture, director and supporting actor. Next up: Academy Awards on March 10.
At the Center and Council, though we had some issues with the film, we are overall hopeful that its success will continue drawing more attention to the global nuclear crisis. Consider reading and sharing this page on how the nuclear threat has changed since the dawn of the nuclear age and how you can play a part in helping the world move back from the brink.
STRONG WOMEN ADDED TO LIST OF ENDORSED CANDIDATES
Council for a Livable World has endorsed two additional strong women for 2024: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05) and Kirsten Engel (D-AZ-06). Both face tough races and we are excited to highlight them.
Rep. Omar has a perfect voting record on the issues the Council tracks and has been a leading congressional voice for building a more inclusive and progressive foreign policy. She has advocated for policies that would put diplomacy first to make military action a last resort; cut waste and redundancy from the Pentagon budget; reconsider harmful sanctions and other interventionist policies; and prevent a war with Iran.
Kirsten Engel is challenging first-term Rep. Juan Ciscomani in a seat she almost won in 2022, missing it by just 1.4 percent last cycle. An environmental law professor at the University of Arizona, Engel is aware of the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change and how those threats affect each other.
You can see the full list of our endorsed candidates at the bottom of this newsletter from now until November 2024. Meanwhile, we urge you to flag the following pages that will be updated throughout the election cycle: Donate to all or some endorsed Senate candidates | Donate to all or some endorsed House candidates | Donate to all or some endorsed House and Senate candidates.
You can also find bios and donation links for all of candidates on our respective House and Senate candidate list pages. As a reminder, the Council is now and has always been nonpartisan; unfortunately, like nearly every other issue in Washington today, nuclear arms control has become an issue that is perceived as partisan and that therefore often limits who we endorse.
NEW ON THE NUKES OF HAZARD BLOG: BIPARTISAN POTENTIAL IN 2024; A SOCIOLOGICAL APPROACH TO NORTH KOREA
5 Potential Points for Bipartisanship on Nuclear Issues in 2024: 2024 is an election year and therefore time for the same old tradition of using legitimate concerns about nuclear weapons issues as grist for the political mill in an attempt to gain votes. Senior Policy Director John Erath offers an alternative: five critical nuclear issues on which both parties can and should agree.
NEXT UP IN ARMS CONTROL: A Sociological Approach to Proliferation-related Intelligence on North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: In the latest entry in our Next Up in Arms Control blog series for youth and emerging experts, Brown University student Lauren Cho advocates for an approach to North Korean denuclearization that focuses more on why North Korea feels it necessary to have nuclear weapons than an approach that simply demands denuclearization outright.
CONSIDER BECOMING A MONTHLY DONOR
As election season continues, the Council is also hard at work on its advocacy on Capitol Hill. Have you considered making a monthly donation to support our efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear threats through political action? You can donate as little as $1 a month. Become a monthly supporter today!