Tag: Arms Control


Trump has withdrawn from the Open Skies Treaty, which allowed a number of countries, most notably the US and Russia, conduct unarmed surveillance flights over each other’s territory.

This is a truly stupid move, but it fits with the philosophy of many within the US foreign policy establishment, particularly on the right, that any agreement that is truly reciprocal is not for the US:

President Trump has decided to withdraw from another major arms control accord, he and other officials said Thursday, and will inform Russia that the United States is pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, negotiated three decades ago to allow nations to fly over each other’s territory with elaborate sensor equipment to assure that they are not preparing for military action.

Mr. Trump’s decision may be viewed as more evidence that he is preparing to exit the one major arms treaty remaining with Russia: New START, which limits the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles [The reporter got this wrong, the limit is nuclear warheads, and not nuclear missiles] each. It expires in February, weeks after the next presidential inauguration, and Mr. Trump has insisted that China must join what is now a U.S.-Russia limit on nuclear arsenals.

Considering the fact that France has more deployed nukes than China, and the UK probably has more deployed nukes than China,  I would expect that this is not going to viewed with any enthusiasm by the civilian and military leadership of the People’s Republic.

Mr. Trump’s decision, rumored for some time, is bound to further aggravate European allies, including those in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, who are also signatories to the treaty.

They are likely to remain in the accord, which has nearly three dozen signatories, but have warned that with Washington’s exit, Russia will almost certainly respond by also cutting off their flights, which the allies use to monitor troop movements on their borders — especially important to the Baltic nations.

Russia can literally do nothing but complain if they see something in the US, if European nations see a troubling mobilization on their borders, they can take immediate countermeasures.

You tell me who loses more from this.


The Second Amendment Has Had a Very Busy Day

Less than a day after the Midland-Odessa shootings, Texas loosened its gun laws:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defended new gun laws that ease restrictions on gun owners in that state Sunday, hours after the laws went into effect and hours after a gunman shot at least 21 people, killing seven, in and around Odessa, Texas.

The new laws loosen restrictions on gun ownership and use in schools, foster homes, apartment buildings, and houses of worship. Proponents of the laws argue that they will offer people the opportunity to defend themselves from threats, while critics say expanding gun access makes people less safe.

Can we give Texas back to Mexico?  Please?

The INF Treaty Was Already a Dead Letter

The real kicker here is the Mk-41 launcher.

Russia has said for years that those deployed in Europe could launch Tomahawks, and therefore violate INF. US denied it.

16 days after the INF Treaty died, what does the US do?

Launch a Tomahawk from a ground-based Mk-41 launcher. https://t.co/7KAxO78hVD

— Matt Korda (@mattkorda) August 19, 2019

A week ago, the US test-launched a ground launched Tomahawk cruise missile.

In doing so, they validated Russian claims that the US installation of BMD systems in Europe were actually in violation of the INF treaty:

Arms Control Twitter has been abuzz since yesterday’s announcement that the United States had conducted a surprise launch of a Tomahawk missile on Sunday afternoon.

This wasn’t just your regular missile launch, however. It was a Tomahawk cruise missile launched from a ground-based Mark-41 Vertical Launch System (VLS), traveling to a distance of “more than 500 kilometers,” according to the Department of Defense.

In other words: a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty––if the treaty still existed. It officially died on August 2nd, six months after both the United States and Russia announced suspensions of their respective treaty obligations. But the launch is an important walk-back of US security policy which for 32 years sought to curtail such weapons and instead, as we have written for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, makes the United States needlessly complicit in the INF’s demise and frees Russia from both the responsibility and pressure to return to compliance.


Why is everyone so worked up about the launcher?

This is where things get really interesting. The Mk-41 VLS launcher that was used to launch the Tomahawk is the same type of launcher that would be used to launch SM-3 interceptors from Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense stations in Romania and Poland, once the latter station is completed.

For years, Russia has said that the US deployment of these ground-based Mk-41 VLS launchers to Europe constitutes an INF violation, because they could theoretically be used to launch Tomahawks over 500 kilometers. Legally speaking, this doesn’t hold water––Article VII, paragraph 7 of the INF Treaty states that in order for a launcher to be considered in violation of the treaty, it must actually conduct a ground launch of a prohibited missile. Since this never happened while the INF Treaty was in force, the Mk-41 VLS launchers weren’t in violation.

What’s more, the United States has consistently stated that although Mk-41s can launch Tomahawks, the ones deployed in Romania and Poland cannot. In December 2017, the State Department announced that “The Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System does not have an offensive ground-launched ballistic or cruise missile capability. Specifically, the system lacks the software, fire control hardware, support equipment, and other infrastructure needed to launch offensive ballistic or cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk.”

Perhaps this is true, perhaps it isn’t. But absent some kind of US transparency measure that offers visibility into the Aegis Ashore systems, Russia is forced to rely solely on an American promise. And for Putin, that’s simply not going to cut it. That being said, it’s also possible that no amount of transparency would ever have satisfied Putin, as his primary concern over Aegis Ashore appears to be directed at the general deployment of missile defenses in Europe, rather than their offensive potential.

I actually did work involving these sorts of launchers on naval vessels, specifically on power supplies that could be controlled by software to allow for a wide variety of missile types.

The software could be contained on a memory stick, the hardware is basically a terminal (If that), and the logistical support for a GLCM, which is shipped and deployed as a “ready round”, is minimal.

Once the “Aegis Ashore” launcher is installed, a breakout from the INF treaty could be (and in fact was) executed in a matter of days.

While We Are on the Subject of Trump Outrages………

It appears that John “The Walrus God of War” Bolton has convinced Trump to back out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty

The Trump administration is preparing to tell Russian leaders next week that it is planning to exit the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, in part to enable the United States to counter a Chinese arms buildup in the Pacific, according to American officials and foreign diplomats.

President Trump has been moving toward scrapping the three-decade-old treaty, which grew out of President Ronald Reagan’s historic meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. While the treaty was seen as effective for years, Russia has been violating it at least since 2014 in an effort to menace other nations.

That the Russians are violating the INF is stated as an absolute fact, but this is a matter of some dispute. (I’m inclined to believe that the Russians are in violation, but it’s not enough to abrogate the treaty ……… yet)

But the pact has also constrained the United States from deploying new weapons to respond to China’s efforts to cement a dominant position in the Western Pacific and to keep American naval forces at bay. Because China was not a signatory to the treaty, it has faced no limits on developing intermediate-range nuclear missiles, which can travel thousands of miles.

The White House said that no official decision had been made to leave the treaty, known as I.N.F., which at the time of its signing was considered a critical step in defusing Cold War tensions. But in the coming weeks, Mr. Trump is expected to sign off on the decision, which would mark the first time he has scrapped an arms control treaty, the American officials said.

This is a huge tactical miscalculation.

In the mid 80s, when GLCMs and Pershing IIs were deployed to Europe, it was a very heavy lift, with massive protests and unrest.

These days, it would be impossible to deploy these systems to Europe, even to the UK.

It would be electoral poison.

This is a very stupid move.

About that Putin Speech

The Russians believe that US hostilities with them never ended, as Putin’s recent speech eloquently illustrates:

Russia has developed a new array of nuclear weapons that are invincible, according to President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Putin made the claims as he laid out his key policies for a fourth presidential term, ahead of an election he is expected to win in 17 days’ time.

The weapons he boasted of included a cruise missile that he said could “reach anywhere in the world”.

He said of the West: “They need to take account of a new reality and understand … [this]… is not a bluff.”

Giving his annual state of the nation speech, Mr Putin used video presentations to showcase the development of two new nuclear delivery systems that he said could evade detection. One video graphic appeared to show missiles raining down on the US state of Florida.

This speech appears directed more toward the Russian electorate, the next Presidential election is about 2 weeks away, but it is a rather unwelcome development.

Most of the weapons shown are unlikely to reach full deployment.  I find the nuclear powered torpedo and drones to be rather fanciful.

On the other hand, I do believe that the R-28 Sarmat (NATO designation SS-X-30 Satan 2) will enter service, as well as the various hypersonic glide reentry vehicles, which should add significant complications to US missile defense systems.

It should be noted that the timing of these announcements does seem to be correspond to development being started when George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2002.