Showing posts with label WMD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WMD. Show all posts

28 March 2017

Nuclear Ban Treaty Conference and Universal Nuclear Disarmament

Manpreet Sethi

A nuclear weapons free world (NWFW) has been on the global agenda since 1945. Only, it has never been a global priority. In 2009, when the president of the militarily most powerful country talked about it in Prague, there was a brief upsurge of hope. But, the moment passed all too quickly and by the time President Obama demitted office, he had been persuaded to approve an unprecedented modernisation of the US nuclear arsenal and infrastructure. President Trump is likely to stay the course. Not surprisingly, Russia is keeping nuclear pace. And, China is keeping them company with the induction of new conventional, nuclear and dual-use capabilities. All three are also experimenting with newer technologies ranging from hypersonics to underwater nuclear drones.

Ironically, it is at this juncture that a conference to negotiate a treaty prohibiting the possession, use, development, deployment and transfer of nuclear weapons is scheduled to be held in the last week of March 2017. Engaged as all the nine nuclear-armed states are in nuclear modernisation, it is not surprising that this initiative is being led by a set of non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS), mostly from Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and some from Europe. The conference is the outcome of the UNGA resolution 71/258 that was adopted on 23 December 2016. The Resolution itself arose out of three meetings in 2016 of the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on disarmament. The OEWG was the result of the three conferences that were held as part of the Humanitarian Initiative (HI) since 2013. The HI brought focus to the fact that any nuclear detonation would be a catastrophic disaster beyond human handling capability. It also highlighted the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons given that the NPT itself does not delegitimise these weapons, certainly not for the five recognised NWS. It only prohibits their possession by the NNWS parties to the treaty. The nuclear ban treaty plans to plug this gap.

27 March 2017


Source Link 
by Manpreet Sethi

Imminent use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan will make India go first, carry out a comprehensive first strike, and take out Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. So said an MIT scholar at a recent conference on nuclear policy. He opined that India will mount a “full comprehensive and preemptive nuclear counterforce strike” that could “completely disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons so that India does not engage in iterative tit-for-tat exchanges and expose its own cities to nuclear destruction.”

There are several problems with this hypothesis. Firstly, there never is any guarantee that “imminent” use of nuclear weapons is not an exercise in coercive diplomacy by the adversary. By doing preemption then, the first user would have guaranteed retaliation on oneself. Secondly, carrying out a full, comprehensive counterforce strike requires a credible first-strike-capable nuclear force. This means large numbers of nuclear-tipped missiles of very high accuracy, an early warning and intelligence capability of a very high order given the mobility of the adversary’s nuclear assets, nuclear targeting coordination, and logistics of a very high capability to obviate all chance of retaliation. The demands of such capabilities require deep pockets and a full panoply of high-end technology. India neither has nor will have spare cash of this kind in the foreseeable future. Therefore, complete disarming of Pakistan is just not possible. And if that doesn’t happen, then despite the first strike, Indian nuclear use would only have ended up exposing its cities to nuclear destruction, the very scenario Narang presupposes India would go nuclear first to avoid.

26 March 2017

Is the Indian Nuclear Doctrine Evolving?

India’s nuclear doctrine may appear to be undergoing a shift towards conducting a ‘counterforce strike’ against Pakistan, but some experts see this as “mind games” that could set off a worrying chain of events in the region. 

Washington: If India fears imminent use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan, will it go first, upending its doctrine of ‘no first use’, and conduct a comprehensive first strike, taking out Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal? 

In other words, has India’s nuclear doctrine undergone a shift? Vipin Narang, a respected expert, raised the possibility at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, causing a stir. The conference, held every two years to discuss nuclear weapons, proliferation and associated topics, is a gathering of the world’s top nuclear strategists. 

Narang, a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specialises in nuclear proliferation and strategy, said in his prepared remarks that there was increasing “evidence that India will not allow Pakistan to go first”. 

25 March 2017

Is Russia Getting Ready to Build a Massive Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier?

Dave Majumdar

Russia’s Krylov State Research Center is lobbying the Kremlin hard to build a new aircraft carrier called the Project 23000E Storm.

If built, the massive vessel would be comparable in size and capability to one of the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz or Ford-class super carriers. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) has no real interest in the project; nonetheless Krylov is attempting to convince a reluctant Russian Navy to buy one of the massive vessels. Moreover, the company hopes to convince a foreign customer—most probably India—to buy such a ship.

“Despite active interest in the project, there have not been proposals from our government client—the Russian Defense Ministry—or foreign partners,” Vladimir Pepeliaev, Krylov’s chief of planning told the Interfax news agency.

The company has also started concept development work on a smaller carrier that would be less costly, Pepeliaev told Interfax. Pepeliaev also told the news agency that Russia has the technical capability to build the massive 95,000-ton nuclear-powered carriers at the Sevmash yards on the White Sea near Severodvinsk. Pepeliaev noted that the massive shipyard had previously refurbished the former Soviet carrier Admiral Gorshkov into INS Vikramaditya for the Indian Navy. Nonetheless, post-Soviet Russia has never built a new aircraft carrier—all previous Soviet-era flattops were built at the Nikolayev shipyards in what is now an independent Ukraine.

24 March 2017

No Need to Replace U.S. Land-Based Nuclear Missiles

James E. Doyle

As former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry has argued there are sound strategic reasons to phase out America’s fleet of 400 silo-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Primary among these is the fact that these missiles are vulnerable to attack because our potential nuclear adversaries such as Russia know their precise locations. 

Because of their vulnerability, ICBMs are the weapon system most likely to spark an inadvertent nuclear war. If U.S. commanders believed mistakenly (as has happened repeatedly in the past) that our ICBMs were under attack, they will face immense pressure to launch them at the perceived attacker before they are destroyed in their silos. Once they are launched if the warning of attack was false, it is too late. Our ICBMs cannot be recalled and will destroy their targets, prompting certain nuclear retaliation on U.S. cities. 

Now recent revelations regarding the rapidly inflating cost of replacing the ICBMs and dramatic improvements in the capabilities of the other two legs of the U.S. nuclear triad make crystal clear that phasing out the ICBMs is the right choice for American security. 

Pushing forward with deployment of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) as the Minuteman III replacement is called will deplete resources needed for other vital defense programs from cyber defenses to naval shipbuilding to conventional forces readiness and other nuclear modernization programs including new strategic submarines and aircraft. Estimated cost for the 15-20 year GBSD program have increased by more than 60% from $61 billion in 2016 to over $100 billion in early 2017. No clear plans have emerged that can support this cost without forcing dramatic cuts elsewhere within the defense budget. 

19 March 2017


Bruce Blair, a research scholar in the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton, and a founder of Global Zero, a group opposed to nuclear weapons, had an Op-Ed in today’s (March 14, 2017) New York Times, regarding the cyber threat to nuclear weapons. I will say right up front that I do not share Mr. Blair’s view in opposing nuclear weapons. That kind of view sort of reminds me of the handgun argument. If you banned all handguns, the only people left with a handgun [down the road] would be criminals and the government. More on nuclear weapons later.

Mr. Blair raises an issue that I have written about on this blog before: the cyber threat, and network/critical infrastructure vulnerabilities surrounding the protection of our current, and future nuclear weapons arsenal. “Imagine the panic,” he writes, “if we had suddenly learned during the Cold War, that a bulwark of America’s nuclear deterrence could not even get off the ground — because of an exploitable deficiency in its [command &]control network? We had such an achilles’ heel not so long ago,” Mr. Blair contends. “Minuteman nuclear missiles were vulnerable to a disabling cyber attack; and, no one realized it for many years.” I suspect Mr. Blair is incorrect on that observation. When you peel the onion layer back on these kind of observations, you almost inevitably find someone who not only knew about the vulnerability; but, also warned and alerted senior management — but, the warnings were not heeded for whatever reason. Mr. Blair writes that “if it were not for a curious and persistent POTUS Obama, it [this vulnerability] may never have been discovered and rectified.” Sorry Mr, Blair, I do not believe that POTUS Obama was the first to highlight this potential catastrophic deficiency. He may however, been the first POTUS to do so.

New nukes? No thanks.


So far, President Trump has provided few details about his approach to his most important job as president: reducing the risks of unconstrained global nuclear competition and preventing a nuclear attack against the United States and our allies.

Instead, the new commander-in-chief has instructed the Pentagon to conduct another review of U.S. nuclear strategy, the fourth since the end of the Cold War and the first since President Obama completed a similar review in 2010.

The Nuclear Posture Review will, among other issues, assess how many nuclear weapons are necessary to deter nuclear attack and whether new types of nuclear weapons are necessary. The review may take a year or more to complete.

However, Trump's cryptic calls for the United States to "strengthen and expand" its already unparalleled nuclear capacity may encourage those who would like to overturn existing U.S. policy — which is to not develop new nuclear warheads or nuclear weapons for new military missions — in order to build new types of "more usable" nuclear warheads.

Last week, the House Armed Services Committee held hearings on nuclear deterrence strategy, including perspectives from members of a Defense Science Board panel that recommended in their Dec. 2016 report the development of a "tailored nuclear option for limited use."

16 March 2017


by RC Porter 

WASHINGTON – Today, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, made the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, on the Subcommittee’s hearing titled “Nuclear Deterrence—the Defense Science Board’s Perspective.” For testimony and to watch the hearing click here

“Welcome to our hearing on ‘Nuclear Deterrence—the Defense Science Board’s Perspective.’ 
I want to thank our witnesses for being here today and for your service to the public. 

Our witnesses are all experts who have spent their careers in fields related to nuclear deterrence. They are appearing today in their capacities as Members of the Defense Science Board, but all have long and distinguished histories in the topic of our hearing. 

We thank you for the hard work it takes to prepare for this hearing. Our witnesses are:

• Dr. Michael Anastasio

• Dr. Miriam John

• Dr. William LaPlante

In December 2016, in the waning days of the Obama Administration, the Defense Science Board completed a report titled ‘Seven Defense Priorities for the New Administration.’ It made recommendations to the new Trump Administration on key issues in the world of defense. 

14 March 2017

‘Super-Fuzed’ Warheads on U.S. Navy Subs Risk Sparking an Accidental Nuclear War

John Baker

On March 1, 2017, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists released a major scoop that has extremely worrisome implications for U.S.-Russian relations and the risk of nuclear war. The story, by Hans Kristensen, Matthew McKinzie and Theodore Postol, concerns a new technical capability called “super-fuzing” that dramatically increases the lethality of the United States’ submarine-launched nuclear weapons.

Much of the report is given over to technical descriptions, but the gist of the story is this — the W76–1 naval warhead is now three times as lethal as before, and this massive expansion of kill capability makes it look like the United States is preparing for a decapitating nuclear attack.

Now obviously the United States is not actually planning to do this, nor can it be confident an all-out assault would “succeed.” But technologically, a preemptive strike on Russia now appears feasible — and that’s what matters.

In the world of deterrence, perception is everything — and if the Russians come to question our intentions, especially in a moment of crisis, the results could be catastrophic. Super-fuzing, far from keeping the United States safe, threatens to undermine the strategic stability that keeps nuclear war at bay.

9 March 2017

How US nuclear force modernization is undermining strategic stability: The burst-height compensating super-fuze


The US nuclear forces modernization program has been portrayed to the public as an effort to ensure the reliability and safety of warheads in the US nuclear arsenal, rather than to enhance their military capabilities. In reality, however, that program has implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal. This increase in capability is astonishing—boosting the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three—and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.

7 March 2017

Russian nuclear forces, 2017

Hans M. Kristensen 

Russia is in the middle of a broad modernization of its strategic and nonstrategic nuclear forces, including both new programs and some that have been underway for many years. As of early 2017, the authors estimate that Russia has a military stockpile of roughly 4,300 nuclear warheads assigned for use by long-range strategic launchers and shorter-range tactical nuclear forces. Of these, roughly 1,950 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases, while another 500 strategic warheads are in storage along with some 1,850 nonstrategic warheads. In addition to the military stockpile for operational forces, a large number of retired but still largely intact warheads await dismantlement, for a total inventory of around 7,000 warheads. The modernizations, combined with an increase in the number and size of military exercises and occasional explicit nuclear threats against other countries, contribute to growing concern abroad about Russian intentions. These concerns, in turn, drive increased defense spending, nuclear modernization programs, and political opposition to reductions in Western Europe and the United States. 

Russia is in the middle of a broad modernization of its strategic and nonstrategic nuclear forces. While much of this process is simply a continuation of well-known programs that have been underway for many years, some developments are new. These modernizations, combined with an increase in the number and size of military exercises and occasional explicit nuclear threats against other countries, contribute to growing concern abroad about Russian intentions. These concerns, in turn, drive increased defense spending, nuclear modernization programs, and political opposition to reductions in Western Europe and the United States.

6 March 2017

Sticking with the Complicated U.S.-Iran Relationship


U.S.-Iran tensions are likely to rise in the coming months. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (United States, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany) has been roundly criticized by President Donald Trump and others, including some lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The U.S. has declared Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests to be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and top American officials have indicated a strong desire to contain and roll back Iranian influence in the Middle East.

The U.S. has many options at its disposal, including the use of military force. However, the current balance of power in the Middle East and Iran’s position in relation to major regional and international powers is likely to limit U.S. options toward Iran. The JCPOA is widely regarded to be a success story, especially by the European Union, China, and Russia. But perhaps more importantly, the Islamic Republic is relatively stable at home and a power to be reckoned with in the Middle East. To be sure, the U.S. can apply much more diplomatic and economic pressure against Iran and even resort to military force, but Washington will face real limits in its ability to change Iran’s behavior in the region or stop its growing missile program.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, seeking re-election in May, was able to achieve his major promise to Iranian voters; he delivered the JCPOA and released Iran from crippling international sanctions put in place during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013). Many Iranians may rightly argue that Rouhani has not delivered much else; repression in Iran appears to have increased, and the economic benefits of JCPOA have not trickled down to the average person.

5 March 2017

Pakistan Is Literally Sitting on a (Nuclear) Powder Keg

Mohammed Ayoob

On February 16 a suicide bomber blew himself up in the main hall of the shrine of Pakistan’s most popular sufi saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, killing at least 88 people, including 21 children. The shrine is located in Sehwan in Pakistan’s Sindh province, which has a strong tradition of sufism going back several centuries.It was obvious that the bombing was the work of one or more salafi (puritanical) groups that have been regularly targeting sufi shrines in Pakistan for the past couple of years. For what it’s worth, ISIS—itself a product of salafi ideology—has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack. It’s more likely, however, that it was the handiwork of one of the many salafi terrorist groups active in Pakistan, like Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which also claimed responsibility.

The attack has once again exposed two major tensions in Pakistan’s polity. The first tension is the struggle in Pakistan between an inclusive version of Islam, a product of the syncretic culture of the Indian subcontinent, and the rigid salafi interpretation of the religion that has become increasingly popular in South Asia thanks to the funding of madrasas (religious schools) and mosques by Wahabbi-ruled Saudi Arabia. To the salafis—literally those who follow the path of the “righteous ancestors”—the sufi tradition, with its syncretic features, is anathema as they consider it a major deviation from the pristine form of Islam and its followers heretics if not unbelievers. Unfortunately, inclusive Islam, represented by the Sufi shrine in Sehwan, is on the defensive in Pakistan and has been so for the past three decades since the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq who had allied himself with Saudi Arabia in the context of the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan which both supported.

The second and equally important tension exposed by the attack in Sehwan is the inability of the Pakistan Army and government to keep in check ultra-fundamentalist terrorist groups operating in the country. The Pakistan army, especially its intelligence arm, initially sponsored these groups as surrogates in its struggle both to wrest Kashmir from India and to protect Pakistan’s strategic interests in neighboring Afghanistan torn by civil strife. However, several of them now operate largely outside the control of the armed forces and have become major agents for chaos and anarchy in the country as demonstrated by the Sehwan massacre.

Defining Objectives for the U.S.-Iran Relationship

U.S. President Donald Trump and his Administration have been quick to use forceful rhetoric when discussing U.S. policy towards Iran during their first five weeks in office. However, whether a strong-armed approach to Iran is in fact the most effective direction for U.S.-Iranian relations is an open question.

Early on the campaign trail, candidate Trump voiced his disdain for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement reached in 2015 between the P5+1 world powers – the U.S., Russia, China, UK, France, and Germany – and Iran, threatening to “rip it up” on his first day in office. And although the nuclear agreement remains intact, President Trump has repeatedly criticized the deal since he assumed office, calling it “one of the worst agreements I’ve ever seen drawn by anybody.”

In late January, Tehran test-launched a medium-range ballistic missile, a move the Trump Administration deemed in violation of UN Resolution 2231, which “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” Soon after the test, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn put Iran “on notice” declaring, “The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests,” and the U.S. Treasury Department enacted new sanctions on Iran, sanctioning 13 individuals and 12 entities connected to Iran's ballistic missile program and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

America Needs Its Underwater Nukes. Delaying New Subs Would Be a Disaster.

Will Wiley

The Trump administration directed the secretary of defense to conduct a thirty-day Readiness Review of the military in a January 27 presidential memorandum on rebuilding the U.S. armed forces. One of the items this review will find is the vital need to build the replacement to the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine (SSBN). The Ohio-class SSBN is the only platform in the sea-based leg of the nuclear triad and has been conducting strategic deterrent patrols since 1980. Under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) this leg of the triad will have 70 percent of the nation’s deployed nuclear warheads. Therefore, this review and the defense budgets it informs must make replacing this SSBN a national priority.

The Navy maintains fourteen nuclear-powered Ohio-class SSBNs built to carry a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and operates them out of bases at Kings Bay, Georgia and Bangor, Washington. These ships and their missiles make up the sea-based leg of the nation’s nuclear triad. The sea-based leg of the triad along with the Air Force’s land-based strategic bombers and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) deters the nation’s adversaries from starting a nuclear war. The Ohio class has conducted strategic-deterrent patrols since October 1980 and will continue to do so until the late 2030s when the final Ohio-class is decommissioned. Getting almost sixty years of service out of a nuclear-powered warship class made the Ohio class an excellent investment when Congress and the military conceived it in the 1970s, and now is the time to make a similarly wise investment.

The Navy determined twelve Columbia-class SSBNs can replace the fourteen Ohio-class SSBNs. The Congressional Budget Office projected the cost of this program in 2016 dollars to be $100–104 billion, with the first ship in the class costing $13.3 billion and the subsequent ships costing $6.7 billion each. The cost of the first ship in a class is more expensive because it includes the nonrecurring research and development costs. The Navy plans to leverage technology used in Virginia-class fast-attack submarines (SSN) to maintain the cost of each ship near or below the $6.7 billion figure.

4 March 2017

How Donald Trump Can Rebuild America’s Nuclear Arsenal

Michaela Dodge

President Donald Trump concluded last week by calling upon to the military to ensure that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is at the “top of the pack.”

This is a reasonable goal. The United States’ nuclear weapons are meant to deter large-scale attacks that could potentially end life as we know it.

They also serve a nonproliferation purpose. The United States prevents nuclear proliferation by guaranteeing the security of allies around the world who rely on our nuclear deterrent, rather than developing and creating their own.

We’d better make sure our nuclear arsenal is the best it can be.

During the Cold War, the United States designed and developed nuclear weapons that were at a “Ferrari” level relative to other nuclear weapon states. Our warheads were leaps and bounds ahead of those of our adversaries, particularly with regard to their safety and security features.

Despite deploying tens of thousands of these warheads, the United States has never experienced an accidental nuclear detonation.

Today, the nuclear picture is much different. Our nuclear warheads are aging and remain based on designs from the 1970s. The world is very much a different place than it was during the Cold War, yet the United States has completely barred itself from considering what kinds of nuclear warheads would best meet the challenges of today.


By RC Porter

Did Hitler Have A NUCLEAR BOMB? Newly Declassified U.S Documents Suggest Suggest The Nazi’s Successfully Tested A Nuke Before The End Of WWII; What If Hitler Had Successfully Developed The Atomic Bomb? 

Allan Hall, Berlin correspondent for the Daily Mail Online, has an article on the publications website (February 23, 2017) with the title above. He writes that “recently declassified file APO 696 from the National Archives in Washington, suggest that Nazi Germany may have tested a nuclear bomb — before the end of World War II. In the file, obtained by the popular [German] newspaper Bild, the task of the academics who prepared the paper between 1944-1947, was the ‘investigations, research, developments, and practical use of the German atomic bomb.” 

“The report was prepared by countless American, and British intelligence officers, and also includes the testimony of four German experts — two chemical physicists, a chemist, and a missile expert.” The report concludes that Hitler’s scientists failed in their attempt to “achieve a breakthrough in nuclear technology; but — that a documented test may have taken place of a rudimentary warhead in 1944,” Mr. Hall writes.

“The statement of the German test pilot, Hans Zinsser in the file, is considered evidence: the missile expert says he observed — in 1944 — a mushroom cloud in the sky during a test flight near Ludwigslust,” Mr. Hall wrote. Zinsser’s “log submitted to the Allied investigation reads: ‘In early October,1944, I flew away 12-15km from a nuclear test station near Ludwigslust (south of Lubeck).” “A cloud shaped like a mushroom with turbulent, billowing sections (at about 7,000 meters) stood, without any seeming connections over the spot where the explosion took place. Strong electrical disturbances, and the impossibility to continue radio communication as by lighting turned up.” Zinsser “estimated the cloud stretching for 6.5 miles; and, described further ‘strange colorings,’ followed by a blast wave which translated into a ‘strong pull on the stick — meaning his cockpit controls An hour later, a pilot in a different machine took off from Ludwigslust — and, observed the same phenomenon.”

3 March 2017

Post-Nuclear Security Summit Process: Continuing Challenges and Emerging Prospects

Reshmi Kazi

The Nuclear Security Summit process was an unprecedented event that achieved phenomenal success in drawing global attention to the danger of nuclear terrorism. The Summit process panning from (2010-2016) focussed on the urgency to secure nuclear materials and facilities. It highlighted the need to develop newer mechanisms that can help mitigate nuclear risks. The development of the concept of nuclear centres of excellence is one such aspect. Despite the phenomenal success of the Summit process, newer threats continue to challenge the security of nuclear materials and facilities. Emergence of new threats like the Islamic State; continuing nuclear proliferation trends; increasing incidents of nuclear thefts; weak links in transport security, existing legal instrument of nuclear security and protection of our fissile materials pose serious threats to nuclear security. It is important that the international community addresses the existing threats to nuclear security not only to mitigate the dangers of nuclear terrorism but also to strengthen the achievements of the Summit process.

2 March 2017

Chess without a queen: the tactical nuclear imbalance

Adam Cabot

In a game of chess, the queen is the ultimate power on the board. It can move in any direction and is a looming figure that any opponent should be wary of. If we’re to look at a tactical battlefield with a variety of high-tech weaponry (tanks, artillery, mortars and guided munitions, etc), we’d be remiss if we didn’t factor in the looming figure of tactical nuclear weapons. With a variable explosive yield and the ability to eliminate a division or airfield in the blink of an eye, it’s crucial that military commanders and national leaders alike don’t disregard that threat.

In his recent piece, Rod Lyon discusses ‘the concept of the great-power nuclear balance’ in regard to strategic nuclear weapons. His piece clearly illustrates how the US–Russia nuclear balance is important to global stability. But it’s clear that this isn’t the case when we look at the non-strategic or tactical nuclear arsenals of the US and Russia.

The US currently has approximately 500 B-61 gravity bombs in its arsenal with around 150 deployed in Europe. Those tactical nuclear weapons possess a powerful yield but need to be delivered to their target by aircraft. That’s no easy task if we look at the gauntlet of surface-to-air missiles that the aircraft would have to navigate in order to reach its target area. Even if deployed on the stealthy F-35, the aircraft would still potentially need to navigate through advanced air defences. Stealth technology is by no means an impervious invisibility cloak.

26 February 2017

The terrifying geography of nuclear and radiological insecurity in South Asia

Hannah E. HaegelandReema Verma

Terrorism involving nuclear or radiological materials remains one of the gravest threats to humanity and to global stability. It was a central concern throughout President Obama’s tenure, with efforts to harness international initiatives coming to the fore at the Nuclear Security Summits. The incoming administration, however, should take a fresh look at a region of the world that hosts two states with nuclear weapons and a serious terrorism problem: South Asia.

Analysis on South Asia tends to occur in silos that focus on either nuclear risks or terrorism risks; fewer studies investigate the overlap between the two.

But we've mapped the geography of high-risk locations and violence by non-state actors—that is, the target threat environment—in South Asia’s two states with advancing nuclear weapons programs, India and Pakistan. The low probability but high potential cost of an incident of nuclear or radiological terror merits greater attention from citizens and policy makers alike, and the requisite means, motive, and opportunities for an incident of terror via weapons of mass destruction or disruption converge in South Asia.

The upcoming Summit on Countering WMD Terrorism, to be hosted by India in 2018, offers an opportunity bring attention to the issue. But preparations must begin well in advance of that summit, if the slow-moving machine of bureaucratic change is to be turned to address the institutional and governance problems India and Pakistan exhibit in regard to countering WMD terrorism.