U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Racing: Still Crazy After All These Years

By Andrew Lichterman and John Burroughs
This July 16, 1945, photo shows the mushroom cloud of the first atomic explosion at Trinity Test Site, New Mexico. (AP)

President Vladimir Putin’s major address on March 1 to Russia’s Federal Assembly was candid about the economic and social challenges facing Russians. What attracted attention in the United States, however, was a detailed description, complete with video animations, of an array of new nuclear weapons delivery systems, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile and an underwater drone.

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U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Racing: Still Crazy After All These Years

Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review Is a Dangerous Step Backward

The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) released today at the Pentagon ignores international legal obligations of the United States and increases the risks of nuclear war. Prepared by the Department of Defense in consultation with other agencies, the review was approved by the White House.

Aside from a vague reference to “goals” of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the NPR does not acknowledge the obligation under that treaty “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” That obligation was reinforced by an NPT Review Conference “unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination” of nuclear arsenals, a commitment approved by the United States. According to a unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice, the obligation requires states “to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.”

None of this is reflected in the NPR. The most offered is a grudging acceptance of arms control measures for purposes of stability and predictability. The Trump NPR thus stands in marked contrast to the 2010 review conducted by the Obama administration, which committed the United States to seek the eventual achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons and addressed how to succeed in that endeavor in some detail.

The Trump NPR asserts in passing that the “conduct of nuclear operations would adhere to the law of armed conflict.” A 2013 Pentagon Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy had stated that all plans for use of nuclear weapons must “for instance, apply the principles of distinction and proportionality and seek to minimize the collateral damage to civilian populations and civilian objects.” In public appearances last fall, the present and preceding commanders of Strategic Command stated that orders to use nuclear weapons in violation of the law of armed conflict would be refused. The truth is that nuclear weapons cannot be used in compliance with that law, above all because their massive indiscriminate effects make it impossible to distinguish between military targets and civilian populations and infrastructure.

The NPR expands the role of nuclear weapons by identifying new circumstances in which they could be used, namely in response to “strategic non-nuclear attacks” including cyber attacks. This change runs directly counter to an NPT commitment to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security policies in order to facilitate disarmament. It is contrary to the requirement of good faith in pursuing disarmament. And it raises the risks of nuclear war. For example, hard-to-attribute apparent cyber attacks will be considered a possible reason to resort to nuclear weapons, a change that will be all the more risky if other nuclear powers emulate the US policy.

A plan announced by the NPR for the acquisition of low-yield warheads to be mounted on submarine-based missiles is also contrary to the NPT commitment to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. It is especially disturbing because it comes in the context of the NPR’s theme that an era of great-power rivalry has returned. The proposed low-yield warheads are a return to a mode of nuclear war-fighting; supposedly Russia would not be deterred from initiating use of nuclear weapons to “deescalate” a conflict unless the United States has such a capability. Such scenarios rest on the dangerous assumption that nuclear escalation can be controlled. Further, the United States already has deployed low-yield nuclear weapons.

Finally, the Trump NPR carries forward existing plans for the replacement and upgrading of submarine-based, land-based, and air-based (bomber and cruise missile) nuclear forces, while adding a new element, a sea-based cruise missile. From any point of view, this is an extravagant and unaffordable plan. In the budgetary process, Congress must reject the NPR recommendations and inject some sanity into US nuclear planning.

 

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, February 3, 2018

Contact: Executive Director John Burroughs

johnburroughs@lcnp.org, (212) 818-1861

 

Letter of Protest against the US Nuclear Posture Review

To President Donald Trump
United States of America
February 6, 2018

Letter of Protest against the US Nuclear Posture Review

We, of the people of Japan, the A-bombed country strongly protest against your nuclear policy formulated in the newly released “Nuclear Posture Review”, which brings the US much closer to the actual use of nuclear weapons by modernizing your nuclear arsenals and developing new nuclear weapons.

Trying to justify that nuclear weapons are necessary for the security, the NPR sets out sustaining and modernizing the nuclear triad (SSBNs, ICBMs and strategic nuclear bombers), as well as the development of law-yield nuclear warheads and sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs). Besides it does not even exclude the first nuclear strike.

As the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused by the A-bombings of the USA showed, any use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences. The world opinion determined not to allow this calamity to be ever repeated led to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in the United Nations last year. The policies laid down by the NPR run counter to this worldwide development in favor of a world without nuclear weapons.

The redeployment of SLBMs will increase the danger of nuclear weapons being brought into the territory of this A-bombed country.  We resolutely oppose the bringing of nuclear weapons into Japan in any form.

We call on you and your Administration to cancel all nuclear build-up plans and nuclear strike policies formulated in the NPR.  We urge you to sincerely endeavor to achieve a “world without nuclear weapons”, which the United States once vowed to pursue, beginning with joining in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

The 90th General Assembly of the National Board of Directors

Japan Council against A and H Bombs (Gensuikyo)

North Korea: Solution or Disaster

International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms
Peter Weiss, President Emeritus; Peter Becker and Takeya Sasaki, Co-Presidents
10 October 2017

1) The assassination of two persons in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 triggered World War I, which resulted in the death of an estimated 10 million military personnel and 10 million civilians and many more wounded. Likewise, the current steadily escalating confrontation between the United States and North Korea could explode into war from a small incident. We must not let this happen.

2) Both sides in the current conflict between the United States and North Korea have threatened each other with events which rise to the level of genocide, the greatest crime in international law.

3) They have ignored the obligation of the UN Charter to resolve disputes peaceably, without resorting to force.

4) The United States in particular has declared an end to diplomacy, while maintaining a condition which negates the possibility of beginning diplomacy: the denuclearization of North Korea.

5) The confrontation carries seeds of a wider war. China and North Korea have a mutual defense pact. Russia borders North Korea. The United States and Japan have a treaty-based defense arrangement, as do the United States and South Korea. All concerned states in the region should make all efforts for a peaceful resolution of the dispute, as is called for by the Security Council resolution adopted on 11 September 2017.

6) It is not – it must not be – too late to commence diplomacy, which could include any number of concrete proposals, such as:
a. negotiations without preconditions
b. the cessation of joint US-South Korean military exercises in return for a cessation of or moratorium on further nuclear weapons development by North Korea
c. the lifting or reduction of sanctions
d. food and other humanitarian aid to North Korea
e. discussion of a non-aggression pact between the United States and North Korea monitored by a neutral country, as a first step to the conclusion of a peace treaty
f. abstention by the US side from attempts at regime change in North Korea
g. commitment to the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in Northeast Asia

7) We offer these suggestions as a way to avoid another Sarajevo by intent or accident, which could have unimaginably horrific consequences.

A more detailed analysis of the legal aspects of the situation is appended.

Download the Statement: North Korea – Solution or Disaster

 

Threats of Total Destruction Are Unlawful and Extremely Dangerous; Direct Diplomacy between the United States and

North Korea Is Essential to Avert Disaster

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and Western States Legal Foundation

25 September 2017

 

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

– President Donald Trump, speech at United Nations, 19 September 2017

 

President Trump’s threat of total destruction of North Korea is utterly unacceptable. Also deplorable is the response of North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on 23 September at the United Nations. He said that North Korean nuclear forces are “a war deterrent for putting an end to nuclear threat of the U.S. and for preventing its military invasion,” referred to “our rockets’ visit to the entire U.S. mainland,” and called Trump “mentally deranged”. Instead of exchanging threats and insults, the two governments should agree on a non-aggression pact as a step toward finally concluding a peace treaty formally ending the 1950s Korean War and permanently denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

The U.S. and North Korean threats are wrong as a matter of morality and common sense. They are also completely contrary to bedrock requirements of international law. Both countries, by engaging in a cycle of threats and military posturing, violate prohibitions on the threat of force to resolve disputes and on threats to use force outside the bounds of the law of armed conflict. Trump’s threats carry more weight because the armed forces of the United States, capped by its immense nuclear arsenal, could accomplish the destruction of North Korea in short order.

Threats of total destruction negate the fundamental principle that the right to choose methods and means of warfare is not unlimited:

  • Under the law of armed conflict, military operations must be necessary for and proportionate to the achievement of legitimate military objectives, and must not be indiscriminate or cause unnecessary suffering. Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits threatening an adversary that there will be no survivors or conducting hostilities on that basis. The Nuremberg Tribunal found the Nazi concept of “total war” to be unlawful because it runs contrary to all the rules of warfare and the moral principles underlying them, creating a climate in which “rules, regulations, assurances, and treaties all alike are of no moment” and “everything is made subordinate to the overmastering dictates of war.”
  • Conducting a war with the intention of destroying an entire country would contravene the Genocide Convention, which prohibits killing “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group ….”
  • Limits on the conduct of warfare apply to both aggressor and defender states. Thus Trump’s statement that total destruction would be inflicted in defense of the United States and its allies is no justification. Moreover, the U.S. doctrine permitting preventive war, carried out in the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, means that Trump’s reference to “defense” does not necessarily rule out U.S. military action in the absence of a North Korean attack or imminent attack.
  • North Korea has explicitly threatened use of nuclear weapons. While the United States likely would not use nuclear weapons first in the Korean setting, it remains true that Trump’s references to “fire and fury” and “total destruction” raise the specter of U.S. employment of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons cannot be used in compliance with the law of armed conflict, above all the requirement of discrimination, as the recently adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons recognizes. Threats of use of nuclear weapons are likewise unlawful.  The illegal character of the threat or use of nuclear weapons is especially egregious where the express intent is to “totally destroy” an adversary, a purpose that from the outset rules out limiting use of force to the proportionate and necessary.

U.S. and North Korean threats of war are also unlawful because military action of any kind is not justified. The UN Charter prohibits the threat or use of force except in self-defense against an armed attack or subject to UN Security Council authorization:

  • Article 51 of the UN Charter permits the use of force as a matter of self-defense only in response to an armed attack.  No armed attack by either side has occurred or is imminent.
  • The Security Council is addressing the matter and has not authorized use of force. Its resolution 2375 of 11 September 2017 imposing further sanctions on North Korea was adopted pursuant to UN Charter Article 41, which provides for measures not involving the use of force. There is no indication whatever in that and preceding resolutions of an authorization of use of force. Moreover, the resolution emphasizes the need for a peaceful resolution of the dispute with North Korea. That approach is mandated by the UN Charter, whose Article 2(3) requires all members to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”

It is urgent that diplomatic overtures replace threats. In the nuclear age, the first principle of diplomacy should be that adversaries talk to each other to the maximum possible extent, and in moments of crisis directly and unconditionally. We learned during the Cold War that even when the prospects for any tangible progress seem dim, negotiations between nuclear-armed adversaries have other positive results. They allow the military and political leaderships of the adversaries to better understand each other’s intentions, and their fears. They build broader channels of communication between military and government bureaucracies that can be of tremendous value when tensions rise.

Accordingly, the United States should declare itself ready and willing to engage in direct talks with North Korea, and a commitment to denuclearization should not be a precondition for such talks. To facilitate negotiations, the United States and South Korea should immediately cease large-scale military exercises in the region, providing North Korea with an opportunity to reciprocate by freezing its nuclear-related testing activities. The immediate aim of negotiations should be a non-aggression pact, as a step toward a comprehensive peace treaty bringing permanent closure to the Korean War and providing for a nuclear-weapon-free Korean peninsula. Success in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula will be much more likely if the United States, Russia, China and other nuclear-armed states also engage, as they are obligated to do, in negotiations for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, based in New York City, is the UN Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA); Western States Legal Foundation, based in Oakland, California, is an IALANA affiliate.

Appeal for a diplomatic solution in North East Asia

The Abolition 2000 members and affiliated networks listed below, representing peace and disarmament organisations from around the world, call on the United States and North Korea to step back from the brink of war in North East Asia, and instead adopt a diplomatic approach to prevent war .
We call for the immediate commencement of negotiations to prevent a military conflict from erupting, and to resolve the underlying conflicts. Such negotiations should take place both bilaterally and through a renewed Six-Party  framework involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

The escalating tensions and threat of military conflict over North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities

makes a diplomatic solution of vital importance and the highest priority. The increasing risk of war – and possibly even the use of nuclear weapons by miscalculation, accident, or intent – is frightening.

More than three million citizens of Korea, China, USA and other countries lost their lives in the Korean War from 1950-1953. Should a war erupt again, the loss of lives could be considerably worse, especially if nuclear weapons are used. Indeed, a nuclear conflict erupting in Korea could engulf the entire world in a nuclear  catastrophe that would end civilization as we know it.

In supporting diplomacy rather than war, we:

  1. Oppose any pre-emptive use of force by any of the parties, which would be counter-productive and likely lead to nuclear war;
  2. Call on all parties to refrain from militaristic rhetoric and provocative military exercises;
  3. Encourage China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States to consider the phased and comprehensive approach for a North-East Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone with a 3+3 arrangement*, which already has cross-party support in Japan and South Korea and interest from the North Korean government;
  4. Encourage China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States to also consider options and modalities for turning the 1953 Armistice Agreement into a formal end to the 1950-1953 Korean War;
  5. Welcome the call of the UN Secretary-General for a resumption of Six-Party talks and his offer to assist in negotiations;
  6. Welcome also the offer of the European Union to assist in diplomatic negotiations, as they did successfully in the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program;
  7. Call on the United Nations Security Council to prioritise a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

Read the appeal with signatories here