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Nuclear Proliferation: Global Stockpiles Modernize, New US DOD Doctrine Suggests Dangerous Pivot

Testing of the Peacekeeper re-entry vehicles at the Kwajalein Atoll. All eight fired from only one missile. Each line, if its warhead were live, represents the potential explosive power of about 300 kilotons of TNT, about nineteen times larger than the detonation of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
Peacekeeper missile system being tested at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. This is a long exposure photo showing the paths of the multiple re-entry vehicles deployed by the missile. One Peacekeeper can hold up to 10 nuclear warheads, each independently targeted. Were the warheads armed with a nuclear payload, each would carry with it the explosive power of twenty-five Hiroshima-sized weapons which is equivalent to around 400 kilotons of TNT. (Photo: David James Paquin)

“The new document is very much conceived as a war-fighting doctrine – not simply a deterrence doctrine, and that’s unsettling.”

The total global quantity of nuclear warheads fell in a comparison of data from 2019 to 2018. However, while the stockpile is smaller, it is more advanced as countries continue to modernize and build more sophisticated stockpiles, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) latest report. The SIPRI report comes just weeks after a startling new nuclear doctrine released by the U.S. Department of Defense appears to show the U.S. is more willing to launch nuclear strikes.

Nuclear Proliferation by the Numbers

At the start of 2019, nine countries – Russia, the U.K., the U.S, France, India, China, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea – jointly had 13,865 nuclear warheads, 600 less than were reported in early 2018. The number of global warheads has dropped drastically since the signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1980 when there were around 70,000 nuclear warheads worldwide.

Only the U.S. and Russia decreased their warhead inventory, by 265 and 350 respectively, according to the report. All other countries maintained or increased their inventories.

Despite the reduction, the report noted, “the pace of their reductions has slowed compared with a decade ago.” Additionally, neither Russia nor the U.S., which account for 90 percent of global nuclear weapons, has committed to making further negotiated reductions in their respective nuclear forces.

“At the same time, both Russia and the USA have extensive and expensive programs underway to replace and modernize their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, and nuclear weapon production facilities,” the report added.

SIPRI research showed that Russia has the most warheads with 6,500, followed by the U.S. in second with 6,185. Both nuclear powerhouses have seen a decline in their number of warheads since the implementation of the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (also known as the New START) in 2010.

New START Set to Expire

Raising extreme concern, however, is the fact that there are no talks between related parties to extend the New START, which expires in 2021.

“There are currently no discussions about extending New START or negotiating a follow-on treaty,” Shannon Kile, director of SIPRI’s Nuclear Disarmament, Arms Control, and Nonproliferation Program, told Radio Free Europe.

“The prospects for a continuing negotiated reduction of Russian and U.S. nuclear forces appears increasingly unlikely given the political and military differences between the two countries,” he added.

Both Russia and the U.S. are modernizing their weaponry. The former is developing a weapon that can infiltrate America’s anti-missile shield. While Washington is trying to manufacture a short-range tactical nuclear arsenal to counter perceived Moscow threats. The U.S. alleges Russia “has developed and deployed a mobile ground-launched cruise missile with a flight range prohibited under the (INF) treaty,” according to the SIPRI report.

Pakistan, India and China Nuclear Proliferation

According to the SIPRI report released in June of last year, Pakistan currently houses 140-150 nuclear warheads while its neighbor India possesses 130-140.

Even though Pakistan has a more significant number of warheads, India is believed to have more modernized equipment and an advanced defense system which can launch retaliatory attacks.

India and Pakistan have been engaged in a long-term conflict over the region of Kashmir. Both countries are not signatories of the NPT and openly flaunt their nuclear arsenals.

A joint study from Rutgers University, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of California in 2007 calculated that if a war between India and Pakistan took place and involved 100 warheads, then 21 million lives would be lost.

China is extremely secretive about its nuclear arsenal but SIPRI reports estimate that currently it has 290 warheads up from 280 in January of 2018 and 270 the year before that. However, a 2017 National Institute for Public Policy Report said, “The Obama Administration estimated that China has several hundred nuclear weapons, but other estimates place the number much higher.”

A SIPRI report at the end of April this year revealed that Chinese and U.S. military spending in 2018 accounted for more than 60 percent of global military expenditures.

US Nuclear Doctrine Pivot

The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay after three months at sea, March 20, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber/Released)

The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay after three months at sea, March 20, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber/Released)

On June 11, the Pentagon shockingly released a secretive file describing its basic principles for planning, carrying out, and assessing nuclear operations – the first such doctrine in 14 years. The DoD later deleted the document, titled Nuclear Operations, but Steven Aftergood, an activist at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), downloaded the paper before its removal and made it publicly available on the FAS website.

Arms control experts worry the document reflects a change in U.S. policy towards fighting and using nuclear weapons.

As Aftergood told the Guardian: “That kind of thinking itself can be hazardous. It can make that sort of eventuality more likely instead of deterring it.  The new document is very much conceived as a war-fighting doctrine – not simply a deterrence doctrine, and that’s unsettling.”

“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” the joint chiefs’ document says. “Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”

According to the Guardian, the document quotes controversial cold war theorist Herman Kahn who argued that nuclear war was “winnable.”

Kahn’s quote, “My guess is that nuclear weapons will be used sometime in the next hundred years, but that their use is much more likely to be small and limited than widespread and unconstrained,” begins a chapter on nuclear planning and targeting.

Another expert claimed that the Pentagon’s sudden decision to delete the doctrine after posting it showed a lack of coherent strategy amid Washington’s withdrawal from two nuclear deals: the JCPOA signed with Iran in 2015 and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) signed with Russia in 1987.

“Posting a document about nuclear operations and then promptly deleting it shows a lack of messaging discipline and a lack of strategy. Further, at a time of rising nuclear tensions, casually postulating about the potential upsides of a nuclear attack is obtuse in the extreme, “ Alexandra Bell, senior policy director at the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told the Guardian.

The release of the DoD nuclear doctrine comes following the Department of Defense’s legislative-mandated 2018 Nuclear Posture Review which was widely condemned for calling for a “modern” nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile, as LawFare reported.

In 2010, under the Obama administration, the Nuclear Posture Review announced the retirement of the previous nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.

Germany, Iran, and Russia slammed the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review for recommending the expansion of the Pentagon’s nuclear arsenal. One of the most shocking parts of the Review was the suggestion that F-35 fighter jets expand their capabilities to firing nuclear weapons.

Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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