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By PeterHuessy, President, GeoStrategic Analysis, Senior Warrior Maven Columnist

Is arms control in danger of disappearing? The short answer is no. The key point is since 2002, under the 2002 Moscow Treaty and the New Start treaty of 2010, allowed deployed warheads for the USA and Russia have remained stable at roughly 2200.

The facts are clear: The United States over the past four years has remained committed to the 2010 New Start treaty despite its verification shortcomings and its lack of control over certain  strategic systems and all medium range/theater nuclear systems. It has been under four administrations since then end of the Cold War—Clinton, Bush 43, Obama, and Trump—and under the Moscow and New Start agreements that the Russians and the Chinese have modernized their nuclear forces to the point where Russia has completed 90% of its modernization and China as well on its way in the current decade to more than double its nuclear forces from 350 warheads to somewhere around 700-800.

So, the charge that only during the Trump administration has the Russian and Chinese nuclear force levels gotten worse is not substantiated by the facts. As is the equally erroneous charge that the Trump administration has eliminated arms control limits on Russian nuclear forces as the New START treaty has remain in force from 2017 through 2021.

Another current charge is that only under the Trump administration has there been a commitment to nuclear force modernization that is both unaffordable and unnecessary. This is also a charge that is without merit. The facts again are that it was during the Obama administration starting in December 2010 that the US Senate required that the New START treaty of 2010 be accompanied by a commitment to the full modernization of US nuclear forces, the nuclear command and control and the infrastructure on which the production and maintenance of our nuclear warheads depends.

Just as the Obama administration was committed to the Columbia class submarine, the GBSD new land-based ICBMs, and the B-21 bomber along with the long-range strike option or new cruise missile, so too has the Trump administration carried out the requirements of the 2010 nuclear posture review reflected in the 2018 nuclear posture review done under the Trump administration.

Some recent analyses charge that the nuclear modernization of the past 12 years under both the Obama administration and the Trump administration is totally unnecessary. But if allowed by the New Start treaty how could such deployments also be simultaneously unnecessary?

The Columbia class submarine, the GBSD and the B-21 bomber and LRSO are simply replacements of existing nuclear platforms, where even after their full deployment and acquisition the number of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles the USA has in its force will be exactly limited at 700 as is required by the New START treaty. And the US will not deploy a single additional platform. Zero. So, what is unnecessary, and harmful, is the unfortunate bad analysis that keeps confusing the American people about what is the current state of the strategic deterrent environment.

The US under both Obama and Trump administration plans does not intend to deploy a single missile, bomber, submarine, or cruise missile greater than the 700-number allowed by New START. And very importantly, the entire USA nuclear modernization effort simply replaces the USA existing force structure all of which is reaching the end of its viable service life and needs to be replaced. No USA arms race is being generated and no USA buildup is being pursued as no deployment or building of US nuclear platforms will take place that is not allowed under the New START treaty of 2010. How then can a nuclear force structure allowed by a lawful arms control treaty be characterized as an unlawful arms race?

A number of recent analyses as well as annual Congressional Budget Office assessments purport to prove that the NEW US nuclear deterrent forces are unaffordable. In fact, today, two-thirds of the costs of the nuclear budget of $44 billion is for maintaining existing legacy systems not for the purchase of new systems.

Over the entire 30+ years of the planned modernization effort, 3.5% of the defense budget will be for modernization and roughly 3.5% will be for the maintenance and support of the current systems. So, what is unnecessary? The very deterrent we now have or the deterrent that will replace it, will largely be a one for one replacement, missile for missile and strategic bomber for strategic bomber with 12 submarines replacing the 14 in service now. As Secretary Mattis said, national survival is affordable.

In fact, the platforms critics say are unaffordable are actually less than $8 billion in the current FY2021 budget and has been approved by both the full House of Representatives and the United States Senate at 100% of the funding requested by the administration as contained in the NDAA or the National Defense Authorization bill as passed by both the Senate and House Armed Services Committee by overwhelming margins.

A number of uninformed critics continue to push for eliminating one program—the land-based ICBM program known as the ground based strategic deterrent or GBSD. This program was thoroughly debated in the democratic controlled HASC this year where a proposal to delete GBSD funding was turned back by a vote of 14-43, or by a lopsided 3-1 ratio!! Overall, Congress approved a near doubling of the entire ICBM force funding for FY2021 compared to FY2020.

A number of poorly informed critics also charge that the Trump administration has unwisely jettisoned a whole series of sound arms control agreements to the detriment of international strategic stability. The facts are otherwise. That INF treaty for example was violated by the Russians as early as 2009, a point repeatedly made by the Obama administration. That administration tried to bring the Russians back into compliance with the Treaty but to no avail.

It was indeed the Trump administration that also urged Russia to come back into compliance with the INF treaty, but which Russia refused to do. A treaty where there is only one party in compliance is no longer a treaty but simply a unilateral policy preference. The Trump administration realizing that the Russians had no interest in coming back into compliance with the INF treaty, declared the INF treaty null and void which is what is required by international law.

Here the facts are clear: it was the Russians that blew up the INF treaty not the United States. The contrary charge is another example of the practice in the US among radicals to always “blame America first” for international security troubles which actually have their origin with our adversaries.

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As for the nuclear agreement with Iran otherwise known as the JCPOA or the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, the agreement was never signed by the Iranians, the document is not dated, and it was never approved in full by the Iranian government. In fact, when the Iranian parliament reviewed the document, they concluded that none of the provisions of the “agreement” would be binding on the Iranian government, but the Iranian government would hold the United States responsible for implementing all of the JCPOA requirements, but without a corresponding responsibility by the Iranian government to meet the terms of the JCPOA.

Indeed, as more details of the Iranian nuclear programs came to light, including the Iranian government’s deliberate and continued development of nuclear weapons technology and designs, the agreement was finally seen for the fraud that it was. Especially the sunset clauses which are all allowed to sunset and pass into history. As the documents seized by Israel on the successful raid on key Iranian nuclear facilities revealed, the Iranians have plans to build nuclear weapons in secret and are seeking to do so under the terms of the JCPOA.

Even worse, the JCPOA was accompanied by a subsequent end to the UN arms embargo, a gift thrown to the Iranian government largely as a result of former Secretary of State John Kerry adding a JCPOA deal sweetener.

As for other nuclear powers increasing their nuclear weapons during the past four years, these same nuclear powers modernized their nuclear weapons during the 24 years of the Obama, Bush 43 and Clinton administrations, at a varying but accelerating pace. And despite an Obama era US policy of “strategic patience” with the North Koreans, the DPRK regularly tested ICBM type-ballistic missiles and tested nuclear weapons, although such testing has largely been paused over the past four years.

With respect to China, it has only been the Trump administration unlike previous American administrations, that challenged China’s military and nuclear build up, its predatory trade and its criminal intellectual property policies. To say nothing of its massive spying on American institutions and wholesale violation of securities law.

The Chinese and Russian nuclear buildups will have already occurred and will be largely completed long before the first US modernized nuclear platform reaches its initial operating position. And these adversary buildups—China and Russia especially-- all accelerated during the Obama administration—despite US government policies that many current critics then supported which they now complain were far too hawkish. 

As for Russia specifically, it was Russian President Mr. Putin that in late 1999 announced that Russia would begin a massive nuclear modernization program, that he then announced  would begin major acquisition in 2006, to be 3/4 completed by 2014 and by 2020 be nearly 100% complete. We know from Russian defense sources that by 2020 some 91% of Russia‘s nuclear modernization was complete, almost exactly when Mr. Putin predicted it would occur.

In fact, since the 2010 New START treaty was signed the Russians have acquired or will have acquired by 2026, no less than 21 new and modern types of nuclear cruise missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, sea launched ballistic missiles, submarines, and bombers.

During this same period of time the United States will not acquire or deploy a single new nuclear armed platform almost all of which will be the first deployed in around 2029 and beyond through probably 2042.

During the same period of time, Russia has also maintained 2000 to 5000 theater or regional or low yield nuclear weapons, a force they sustained and increased during the eight years of the Obama administration and which outnumbers the US forces but upwards of 10 to 1. .

In summary, despite the 4 major nuclear arms agreements with the Russians from 1991-2010, the Russians have been building dozens of major nuclear systems, many outside the strictures of arms deals, and have done so way in advance of a late US modernization program which itself will have been delayed, when finally built, some four decades.

Peter R. HuessyMr. Huessy is the President of Geostrategic Analysis, a Potomac, Maryland-based defense and national security consulting business, and Director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute, a Senior Fellow at ICAS, a senior consultant with Ravenna Associates, and previously for 22 years Senior Defense Consultant with the National Defense University Foundation at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.He is and has been a Guest Lecturer at the School of Advanced International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, at the Institute of World Politics, at the University of Maryland, at the Joint Military Intelligence School, at the Naval Academy and at the National War College.