RUSSIA LOOKS TO DE-RATIFY COMPREHENSIVE NUCLEAR-TEST-BAN TREATY AS MISSILE ATTACKS ON UKRAINE CONTINUE
Russian missile attacks on Ukraine have continued in recent weeks as Ukraine rations its stock of various missile defenses. On October 18, it was reported that Ukraine used the Western-supplied ATACMS for the first time on the battlefield, striking Russian positions in occupied territory. Meanwhile, Russia launched a sizeable offensive in eastern Ukraine, sending thousands of Russian troops toward positions near two areas — the city of Avdiivka and the previously liberated city of Kupiansk. It’s been reported that Russia has absorbed heavy casualties during this push.
Meanwhile, Russian cargo ships have been spotted at North Korean ports, reportedly being stocked with arms and munitions. With recent talk of weapons transfers between the two states, the real concern should be what kinds of technology and resources North Korea is receiving in return, according to Senior Policy Director John Erath.
Further, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently instructed the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliamentary body, to deliberate de-ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), indicating that he wants to “mirror” the United States, which has signed but not ratified the CTBT. Putin said he is “not ready to say now whether we really need or don’t need to conduct tests.”
On October 17, the Duma took the first step toward revoking CTBT ratification. The decertification came on the heels of a self-reported successful test of a nuclear-powered Russian cruise missile, codenamed Skyfall by NATO. Moreover, Russia has been observed increasing activity at its nuclear test facilities in a possible gear-up to resuming testing.
186 countries have signed the treaty and 178 have ratified it. The United States Senate failed to ratify the CTBT in 1999 by a vote of 51-48. Only North Korea has conducted nuclear tests in the last two decades.
PENTAGON: CHINA NOW HAS 500 NUCLEAR WARHEADS
The Pentagon publicly assessed that China has accelerated its nuclear buildup and likely possesses 500 operational nuclear warheads in its arsenal. The DoD further went on to say that China also may be exploring the development of non-nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In recent weeks, there has also been increased activity detected at Chinese nuclear test facilities, portending a possible resumption of testing, possibly in response to stories that Russia and the United States may consider such a step. Moreover, China has increasingly displayed provocative behavior in the Indo-Pacific theater conducting coercive aerial maneuvers and setting off chaff and flares in proximity to Western aircraft.
On October 12, the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States released its report on the future challenges to U.S. nuclear forces. The commission was created in 2022 to conduct an assessment of United States force posture, consider changes to that posture and provide recommendations.
The report notes that the strategic environment has changed since the last such study in 2009, citing Russian nuclear threats and rapid Chinese expansion of nuclear forces. The commission states that such developments could lead to a situation in which the United States might increase its nuclear forces but stops short of recommending such a step. Although this finding opens the way to the kind of thinking that fed the arms race during the Cold War, it also sets the stage for constructive discussions as to the proper role of nuclear deterrence in national security — should it be used as a prelude to such dialogue. On a more positive note, the report does emphasize the importance of arms control as a valuable tool for managing risk.
UNITED STATES, EUROPEAN UNION CONTINUE IRANIAN SANCTIONS
The June prisoner exchange between Iran and the United States has been used to try and reestablish a pathway to nuclear negotiation, as Qatar held separate meetings with both Iranian and U.S. delegates after September’s UN General Assembly. It is unclear if these efforts have gained traction.
On September 27, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard successfully placed its Noor-3 third imaging satellite in orbit. Iran’s space programs have faced Western sanctions over the years as it has been attributed to aiding their ballistic missile program. The expiration of a UN measure on October 17 restricting these programs was supplanted by new unilateral U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s ability to buy or sell technology or equipment that may be used to progress its weapons programs. The EU also announced the same day that it would maintain current restrictions on Iran’s missile program. Unfortunately, Iran’s support to Hamas threatens to undermine any progress in light of the atrocities committed against civilians in the current conflict.
NORTH KOREA ASSEMBLY DOUBLES DOWN ON NUCLEAR PROGRAM
North Korea has continued its provocations against the United States over the past month as the USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group recently made a visit to the South Korean port of Busan. On September 28, the Supreme People’s Assembly adopted a constitutional amendment to enshrine its nuclear force policy and right to develop nuclear capabilities. The amendment comes a year after North Korea officially enshrined its right to issue preemptive nuclear strikes in order to protect itself. Additionally, U.S. officials announced that North Korea has begun transferring shipments of munitions to Russia in the wake of the Putin-Kim summit last month.
NEW JERSEY SENATE RACE — AND OUR ROLE — GETS COMPLICATED
Incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his wife were charged in September with accepting bribes, including gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars, in exchange for using their influence to interfere with law enforcement probes of three New Jersey businessmen and aid the Egyptian government. Then, on October 13, Sen. Menendez faced new charges accusing him of accepting bribes from a foreign government and conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Egypt.
After the first charges were filed, U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ-03), previously endorsed by the Council for the House of Representatives, announced he will challenge Menendez in the June New Jersey Democratic primary. A quick poll by the Democratic firm PPP found Kim leading Menendez 63-10%. However, other candidates are considering entering the primary. For the Council’s part, we are continuing to evaluate this race and will make a decision soon whether to extend our endorsement of Rep. Kim to his Senate campaign.
GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN LOOMS ONCE AGAIN AS HOUSE REMAINS IN TURMOIL
On September 30, President Joe Biden signed a stopgap measure to prevent the imminent shutdown of the federal government. The key vote came in the House of Representatives to approve the Continuing Resolution 335-91, with 209 Democrats and 126 Republicans voting in favor and 90 Republicans and one Democrat in opposition. This is all amidst ongoing votes to name a new House Speaker.
NEW NUKES OF HAZARD PODCAST: HOW OPEN-SOURCE INTELLIGENCE CAN UNLOCK NUCLEAR SECRETS
Open-source intelligence (OSINT) and satellite imagery have changed the way civil organizations understand and evaluate nuclear arsenals and delivery systems — and the way governments interact with a changing balance of transparency and secrecy. Join host Farah Sonde and four esteemed experts as they break down new developments in OSINT technology, how OSINT analysis can be used in nuclear weapons verification and the challenges ahead in regulating its use. You can listen to this episode and all episodes of our Nukes of Hazard podcast online now, on Apple’s and Google’s podcast apps, on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
NEW ON THE NUKES OF HAZARD BLOG: UKRAINE’S SUCCESSFUL MISSILE DEFENSES; DANGERS OF NUCLEAR TESTING
The Right and Wrong Lessons to Learn from Missile Defense in Ukraine: Research Analyst Shawn Rostker writes that the success of missile defenses in Ukraine can inform U.S. investments into its own missile defenses but should not be seen as an indicator that missile defense capabilities can negate all missile threats nor provide more than one tool against a limited set of threats — threats that would present differently if the United States were under attack instead of Ukraine.
No Good Reason for Nuclear Testing: Senior Policy Director John Erath writes about the need for the United States and other NATO governments not to overreact to the Russian Duma’s steps to de-ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. As he states, there is no good reason for a resumption of nuclear testing by the United States, Russia or any other state.
NEW CANDIDATE ENDORSEMENTS WITH MORE COMING SOON
The Council has been hard at work vetting and endorsing candidates who are running for election or reelection in 2024. At this time, we have endorsed 15 candidates and we’ll announce new endorsements in the coming weeks.
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.
As election season begins, the Council is still 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!