WASHINGTON — Nuclear-weapons experts responded to new data showing that in recent months the U.S. strategic stockpile increased — despite plans for it to decrease under the 2011 New START agreement — with a collective shrug.
Since the beginning of March, the United States has marginally increased the number of deployed nuclear weapons and launcher vehicles it holds, according to updated New START figures released by the U.S. State Department on Tuesday. The new compliance data shows that as of Sept. 1, Russia continued to outpace the United States in reducing the number of strategic arms it holds under the treaty.
“To me it’s no big deal, numbers, up numbers down,” said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World, which advocates for reducing U.S. nuclear weapons. “Everyone certainly is in compliance with the treaty.”
Still, he told Global Security Newswire in an interview that the new data is “evidence “¦ that we’re being pretty lackadaisical on reducing nuclear weapons.”
Elbridge Colby, a former U.S negotiator of the New START accord, also said the warhead increase did not alarm him.
“I certainly wouldn’t read too much into that,” Elbridge, a principal analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, said in a phone interview. “I would imagine it would have more to do with the particularities of the maintenance schedules and deployments.”
Colby, though, was more interested in the increase in the number of U.S. strategic-delivery vehicles.
The month-old information -- for the time period March 1 to Aug. 31 — shows Russia has 1,400 fielded strategic nuclear weapons while the United States possesses 1,688 such arms. The data release shows the U.S. military upped its deployed warhead numbers by 34 and its long-range delivery vehicles by 17 since the last time a required arsenal count was taken.
Hans Kristensen, who heads the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, noted in a Wednesday FAS blog post that the six-month increase in U.S. nuclear weapons and launchers is likely an anomaly and not the result of a deliberate U.S. policy plan to build-up its arsenal.
“It probably reflects fluctuations mainly in the number of missiles onboard ballistic missile submarines at the time of the count,” he wrote.
What the warhead increase does show is how slowly the Obama administration has been moving to implement the New START accord since the treaty entered into force two-and-a-half years ago, Kristensen said. Washington “has worked on reducing so-called phantom weapons that have been retired from the nuclear mission but are still counted under the treaty.”
Russia continues to deploy considerably fewer strategic delivery vehicles than the United States. Under the new figures, there are 473 intercontinental-ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers held by Moscow compared to the 809 delivery vehicles kept by Washington.
The numbers released by the State Department this week were in aggregate form. A breakdown of specific ICBM, SLBM and strategic bomber quantities could be issued in the coming months.
The New START arms control accord requires the former Cold War enemies to each reduce their respective arsenals of fielded long-range nuclear weapons to 1,550 by 2018 and to lower the number of deployed missiles and bombers to 700, with an additional 100 delivery vehicles permitted in reserve.
The U.S. Air Force is expected to lower to at least 420 the number of Minuteman 3 ICBMs it maintains on active status. As of March, the service still had 449 deployed strategic missiles. It is not clear when those reductions will take place or how they will be spread out among the three bases in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming that host the weapons.
The service also does not know which of its B-52 strategic bombers will have their nuclear mission taken away, according to Kristensen. The U.S. Navy is slated to begin removing some SLBMs from its fleet of Ohio-class submarines around 2015-2016.
What We're Following See More »
President Trump added five new names to his Supreme Court short list on Friday, should a need arise to appoint a new justice. The list now numbers 25 individuals. They are: 7th Circuit Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Britt C. Grant, District of Columbia Circuit Appeals Court Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, 11th Circuit Appeals Judge Kevin C. Newsom, and Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Patrick Wyrick.
"Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday the Justice Department will revamp its policy for issuing guidance documents. Speaking at the Federalist Society’s annual conference in Washington Friday, Sessions said the Justice Department will no longer issue guidance that 'purports to impose new obligations on any party outside the executive branch.' He said DOJ will review and repeal any documents that could violate this policy." Sessions said: “Too often, rather than going through the long, slow, regulatory process provided in statute, agencies make new rules through guidance documents—by simply sending a letter. This cuts off the public from the regulatory process by skipping the required public hearings and comment periods—and it is simply not what these documents are for. Guidance documents should be used to explain existing law—not to change it.”
"Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who wrote the explosive dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia," says in a new book by The Guardian's Luke Harding that "Trump's land and hotel deals with Russians needed to be examined. ... Steele did not go into further detail, Harding said, but seemed to be referring to a 2008 home sale to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis."
"The British publicist who helped set up the fateful meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 is ready to meet with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's office, according to several people familiar with the matter. Rob Goldstone has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, but has been communicating with Mueller's office through his lawyer, said a source close to Goldstone."