PONI Debates the Issues Blog

All Posts (54)

The triad of nuclear weapon delivery systems – consisting of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), strategic bombers, and nuclear-armed submarines – is the holy trinity of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. However, all three legs of the triad are aging and will need large-scale, expensive modernization in the coming decades if they are to be maintained. This has prompted a discussion about the continued necessity of the nuclear triad in the post-Cold War era. Is maintaining the triad worth the money? Or would the U.S. be better served by a different configuration of nuclear forces?

The threat environment that the United States faces today is radically different from that of the Cold War. The possibility of a massive “bolt from the blue” attack, which the triad was designed to prevent, is no longer a realistic concern. The budgetary environment has also changed dramatically. Defense budgets are declining,…

Read more…

Today, the residents of Scotland are voting to decide whether or not their country will become independent from the United Kingdom. Washington has been abuzz about the potential ramifications of the vote, and the nuclear policy community is no exception. In case you’ve missed the discussion recently, here is a rundown of what a “yes” vote could mean for the U.K.’s nuclear weapons.

The U.K.’s nuclear weapons – four Vanguard submarines and accompanying Trident ballistic missiles loaned from the United States – are located exclusively in Scotland, at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde. Scottish public opinion is virulently anti-nuclear and the leaders of the “yes” campaign have made it clear that an independent Scotland would also be a nuclear weapons-free Scotland. If the Scots vote for independence, the U.K. Trident program would have to be moved – but where? As Emma Ashford writes in Foreign Policy, “there are no obvious…

Read more…

PONI Debates the Issues: U.S. No First Use

Resolved: The United States should adopt a no first use nuclear policy

By Kaitlyn Duffy

On September 10, 2014, PONI continued its live debate series with a discussion on whether or not the United States should adopt a no first use (NFU) nuclear policy. The debate featured two renowned experts, with Mr. Jack Mendelsohn, former Deputy Director of the Arms Control Association, arguing in the Affirmative, and Mr. Walt Slocombe, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, arguing in the Negative.

Currently, China and India are the only nuclear weapons states to have a declared NFU policy, although the permanence and validity of each claim is contentious. China has consistently maintained a policy of NFU since its first nuclear explosion in 1964. However, doubt over China’s policy exists, most prominently in the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2013 Annual Report to…

Read more…

On Thursday, September 11, the Stimson Center hosted an event entitled “Nuclear Dynamics and Crisis Management in South Asia,” which previewed the content of two chapters of their upcoming publication, Deterrence Stability and Escalation Control in South Asia Vol. II. The event was moderated by Michael Krepon, director of Stimson’s South Asia program, and featured Shashank Joshi from the Royal United Services Institute and Dr. Moeed Yusuf from the U.S. Institute of Peace.

As Michael Krepon mentioned in his introduction, this event was particularly timely given the increasing likelihood that another nuclear-tinged crisis will occur on the subcontinent in the…

Read more…

The Future of Homeland Missile Defense

The annual Space and Missile Defense conference held August 11-14 in Huntsville, Alabama covered a wide range of programs, but among the more prominent was the future of Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD). The most significant remarks for GMD were those given by Missile Defense Agency Director, Vice Admiral James Syring. Buoyed by a successful June 22 intercept, the program's future now seems less uncertain, with some significant improvements on track for the end of this decade—including new sensors, a new booster, and a redesigned kill vehicle.
Read more…

by Kaitlyn Duffy

In the aftermath of the Russian accession of Crimea in March 2014, the G8 has receded back into the G7 with the suspension of Russia from the club of industrialized economies. Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian territory violates a number of international laws, including Article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations (UN) and the Helsinki Final Act, a Soviet-era declaration ensuring the territorial integrity of states applied to Ukraine through the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. In return for its sovereign territorial security, Ukraine voluntarily surrendered its arsenal of nuclear…

Read more…

The Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) and Defense and National Security Group (DNSG) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) are seeking a research intern to support its effort to develop the next generation of leaders in nuclear science and policy. 

The research intern’s primary responsibilities will consist of supporting PONI and DNSG staff in coordinating and organizing events; providing research support for PONI and DNSG staff, including director Clark Murdock; authoring posts for the PONI Debates the Issues blog; assisting in the review and editing of papers submitted for publications; and other administrative duties as assigned. Interns are strongly encouraged to pursue their own research and write about issues of interest to them and will have time to do so. Interns are also encouraged to attend all Nuclear Scholars Initiative meetings and, if funding permits, travel to conferences.…

Read more…

Over the course of 30 years, from 1981 to 2011, NASA’s Space Shuttle program carried out 135 missions, completing 21,152 Earth orbits and traveling 542,398,878 miles during 1,334 days of flight time. But when the Atlantis returned to Earth on July 21, 2011 the program came to an end. Three years later, the consequences of NASA’s decision to end the Space Shuttle program are appearing in the U.S. and UK submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program.

Because both the space shuttles and the U.S. Trident D5 SLBMs rely on solid propellant fuels, NASA’s decisions about its space programs have repercussions in the defense industry. In 2017, NASA plans to launch the first mission of the new Space Launch System (SLS). In 2016, NASA will decide how exactly the SLS will be propelled. If major changes to the rocket propellant system are made, there could be severe…

Read more…

by Kaitlyn Duffy

Last week, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott met with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. to discuss and reaffirm the U.S.-Australia alliance with respect to force posture and defense cooperation. One result of the talks is that Abbott confirmed Australia’s previous commitments to supporting expanded U.S. missile defense plans to counter North Korea’s nuclear threat, a policy that has been around since 2003 but has yet to be acted on. The statement, which was not widely broadcast by the media, is timely; it coincides with news that North Korea has apparently acquired a…

Read more…

In mid-May India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by hard-liner Narendra Modi, won an unprecedented majority in the Lok Sabha. The BJP’s election manifesto promised to “[s]tudy in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times.” India’s 1999 nuclear doctrine contains the following four themes concerning nuclear policy: 1) no first use (NFU) of nuclear weapons (or “retaliation only”); 2) credibility; 3) survivability; and 4) effective command and control procedures. 

To develop the strongest possible nuclear deterrent, the Modi administration should maintain the NFU, and continue previous administrations’ efforts with regards to survivability. Policy changes to address credibility and command and control problems could also help…

Read more…

by Kaitlyn Duffy

“In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up." – President Barack Obama

Since the beginning of his first term, President Barack Obama has emphasized that nuclear terrorism poses one of the most critical threats to the world today. This was clearly stated in his 2009 Prague speech, where President Obama noted the vast proliferation of nuclear technology and nuclear material since the end of the Cold War. This belief led to the convening of the first Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) hosted by the United States in 2010. The Summit brought together world leaders to advance a new level of commitment to nuclear security in an effort to prevent nuclear materials trafficking and nuclear terrorism. It turned out to be largely successful,…

Read more…

While much has been written from an American perspective about missile defense, there is much less debate in the English-speaking literature about the integration of such a weapons-system in the doctrines and strategies of medium nuclear powers such as France, especially with regards to the articulation between the role of missile defense and nuclear deterrence. This article highlights the shift that has occurred on this matter in French doctrine after the end of the Cold War. France now adheres to the concept of complementarity that it rejected before 1994. Many factors lie at the roots of this shift, but for reasons of space, this analysis will concentrate on the defining role of the changing threat structure France has been facing before and after the demise of the Soviet Union.

1. Redundancy during the Cold War

Contrarily to the superpowers, France did not develop any kind of missile defenses during…

Read more…

On September 18, 2014, ordinary Scots will make a fundamentally important defense decision about the fate of nuclear deterrence in Europe, voting in a referendum to answer the question: Should the UK nuclear deterrent be dismantled?

In actuality, the referendum is on Scottish independence, and the real question up for a vote is: should Scotland be an independent country? But, the security implications of Scottish independence make the two questions strongly parallel. A “yes” vote would, according to the current Scottish Government (lead by the pro-independence Scottish National Party [SNP]), create an independent Scotland within the EU. At the same time, it would jeopardize the UK nuclear deterrent, which is currently housed in Scotland. A “no” vote would leave the structure of the United Kingdom unaltered, and plans to modernize the UK’s Vanguard-class nuclear submarines could continue unimpeded.

Since…

Read more…

Last month, in an address to the International Conference on Euro-Atlantic Security, NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow stated, “For 20 years, the security of the Euro-Atlantic region has been based on the premise that we do not face an adversary to our east. This premise is now in doubt.” The crisis in Crimea has fundamentally re-ordered post-Cold War security dynamics in Central and Eastern Europe. Now, Russia has once again become a NATO adversary, and its nuclear arsenal looms to the east. Such a radical shift in European security dynamics necessitates a NATO response.

One important element of the NATO response, the role of tactical nuclear weapons in Central and Eastern Europe, was temporarily decided this week. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen…

Read more…

Likened to a Rubik’s Cube, nuclear negotiations with Iran involve multiple, interrelated points of contention. Most interested parties agree that a successful deal with Iran will include robust, verifiable limitations on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for significant sanctions relief for Tehran. However, deciding how robust; how verifiable; how long additional safeguards will be imposed; and what kind of sanctions relief – from whom, and sequenced how – are among the various questions still up for debate. On Tuesday, May 13, 2014, the U.S. Institute of Peace hosted a panel discussion entitled “The Rubik’s Cube of a Final Agreement,” in order to evaluate the many intricacies, possibilities, and challenges of the P5 + 1 nuclear negotiations with Iran. This event was the first of a three-part series entitled “The Countdown Begins: All You Need to Know about an Iran Nuclear Deal.” Parts two and three of the…

Read more…

Amidst the growing chorus of specific proposals concerning Iran and an evolving Middle East, the United States should quietly choose a strategy from the same drawer as the one that contributed to the longest span of peace between rival powers in European history. The United States should prioritize stability over regional dominance.

The interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and continuing dialogue on a longer-term settlement have stirred the United States’ leading minds to paint a picture of the security implications of a more empowered Iran. In the Washington Post on April 9th, David Petraeus and Vance Serchuk offered the most recent addition to this line of commentary, proposing five actions that the United States must execute successfully to protect against specific downsides of a more influential Iran. Although each item raises important issues, collectively they fail to address a more fundamental question: if sanctions disappear and Iran heals and grows, how…

Read more…

During a March 2014 speech to Iran’s Defense Ministry, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asserted, “We are not after weapons of mass destruction. That’s our red line. If Iran was after weapons of mass destruction, it would build chemical weapons. Those are easier to make. It would build biological arms, which are even easier than making chemical weapons.” Rouhani’s recent statement represents yet another one of the defiant repudiations that have come to epitomize Iranian foreign policy. For much of the last decade, Iranian leaders have outwardly insisted that their country’s nuclear ventures are aimed at generating an efficient energy source, but the opaque and clandestine details surrounding Iran’s nuclear program suggest a different story. Although Iranian officials publicly allege that their country is committed to benign nuclear ambitions, Iranian centrifuges have…

Read more…

In his 1966 publication Arms and Influence, Thomas Shelling wrote, “Military strategy can no longer be thought of as the science of military victory. It is now equally, if not more, the art of coercion, of intimidation and deterrence.” Shelling’s doctrine of coercive diplomacy is a strategy to prevent (deter) an enemy from engaging in unwanted activities while avoiding war. He argued that deterrence is most powerful when held in reserve, leaving the aggressive action up to the enemy. Successful deterrence relies on influencing an enemy’s intentions through the threat of retaliation, which requires both the capability to inflict unacceptable harm in response to an enemy provocation, and the ability to credibly and persuasively project one’s own intentions (to cause harm) to the enemy.…

Read more…

Critics of the U.S. response to the crisis in Crimea have provided no shortage of hindsight solutions. Some - like the suppositions that we should have been less “indecisive” toward Russia or that we just should have seen it coming – have been less helpful than others. But the most interesting retrospective proposals have surrounded Ukraine’s choice to give up its nuclear weapons. After the Cold War, Ukraine secured financial aid and security guarantees in exchange for disarming and surrendering its inherited Soviet arsenal.  The argument, according to the Ukrainian proliferation optimists, is that nuclear weapons would have deterred Russia from…

Read more…

In his 2009 Prague address, President Obama clearly defined nuclear nonproliferation and arms control as issues central to U.S. foreign policy.

Following the nonproliferation achievements of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia and a landmark interim nuclear agreement with Iran, the Obama administration appears eager to make progress on its next nuclear policy priority – the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).

At the opening ceremony of the first session…

Read more…

Join the Conversation!

Add your comment to start the conversation! PONI is also happy to publish posts from guest bloggers. Email us with an idea!  

Subscribe to the PONI Debates the Issues Blog RSS Feed.

Looking for an Old Post?

PONI Debates the Issues blog posts from before September 2013 are available in the archive.  

The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Center for Strategic and International Studies or the Project on Nuclear Issues. The content of this web site does not constitute an endorsement by or opinion of the Department of Defense or any sponsor of the Project on Nuclear Issues.