RUSSIA CONTINUES NUCLEAR THREATS, POSTPONES U.S. TALKS
Russian president Vladimir Putin continues to demonstrate why nuclear weapons in his hands, or anyone’s, are a danger to the world. No one has dropped a nuclear bomb on another country since 1945, but Putin can’t resist implied or direct threats to use nuclear weapons in his failing campaign against Ukraine. While it is unlikely that he will use nuclear weapons — unless he has a death wish for himself and his country — he can’t resist flaunting his nuclear stockpile. In a December 8 talk in Moscow, when asked whether would pledge not to use nuclear weapons first, Putin demurred. He said “Russia would not be able to use nuclear weapons at all if it agreed not to use them first and then came under a nuclear strike.”
Senior Policy Director John Erath told the Associated Press that this statement is just another attempt to use its failing war to raise nuclear stakes.
“He doesn’t quite say we’re going to launch nuclear weapons, but he wants the dialogue in the U.S. and Europe to be, ‘The longer this war goes on, the greater the threat of nuclear weapons might be used.'”
These nuclear threats involve more than just Russia and Ukraine. Erath told the Associated Press in a separate story that China is closely watching.
“If Russia is able to gain its objectives by means of nuclear threats, China will derive lessons from that and could be potentially making these kinds of threats against Taiwan or other neighboring countries in connection with China’s territorial ambitions.”
Russia also recently pulled out of talks with the United States under the auspices of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining treaty between the world’s two biggest nuclear powers, which expires in 2026. Erath wrote in his latest blog post that while it is reasonable to be concerned about this latest move, looking at it solely from an arms control perspective misses the point.
“An implicit threat to New START’s future provides diplomatic leverage to Russia that has otherwise been lacking,” Erath writes. “Seen in this context, the postponement should be viewed as another signal of Russian desperation with a conflict that has gone badly indeed.”
Research Analyst Connor Murray wrote about Russia’s postponement of New START talks for Responsible Statecraft. In his piece, Murray argues that the postponement is detrimental to Russian interests and resumption of talks is critical to maintaining bilateral arms control conversations.
“In the context of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, both [the United States and Russia] stand to benefit from the limits New START places on their respective nuclear forces and visibility into modernization efforts it enables through on-site inspections,” Murray writes. “Additionally, without New START, Russia may have the most to lose in a renewed arms race, considering a renewed arms build-up would likely involve the United States as well as China.”
Finally, Erath told Newsweek that the Biden administration’s approach to Ukraine, including modifying the rocket systems it has provided as aid, has been “very consistent.”
“They have tried to avoid taking steps that would escalate aspects of this conflict, that is U.S. opposing Russia. Most of the assistance has been defensive in nature and helps Ukraine protect and recover its own territory.”
MILITARY BUDGET CONTINUES TO SKYROCKET
Congress authorized a record military budget in the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization bill. While the Biden administration earlier this year submitted a $803 billion defense budget — already a big increase from last year — Congress tacked on another $45 billion. Using the Russian and Chinese threats as cover, Congress is approving an $847 billion budget, $80 billion, or 10 percent, more than fiscal year 2022. As defense expert William Hartung has pointed out, “The increase alone from last year is more than what some of the world’s biggest countries spend on their own defense budgets.”
The Center has just released its summary of the final bill.
CHINA POWER REPORT PREDICTS MASSIVE INCREASE, BUT WE MUST EXERCISE CAUTION
The Department of Defense’s annual “China Military Report” revised its previous year’s estimations upward forecasting that China may field as many as 1,500 warheads by 2035. The Peoples’ Liberation Army is similarly planned to arrive at a “complete modernization” of its armed forces by the same year. The report also reveals that China has an increasing capacity to produce plutonium — a fissile material needed for a nuclear weapon. A spokesperson for the Chinese defense ministry called the report “groundless speculation.”
While any increase in nuclear stockpiles is cause for concern, it’s important to remember that the U.S. and Russian stockpiles are each more than three times bigger than China’s if it does reach 1,500 warheads. And, this is not the first time the Pentagon has hyped foreign threats to achieve its own goals. As Senior Fellow John Isaacs writes in The National Interest, there was the “bomber gap” in the 1950s, the “missile gap” of 1960 and the Reagan-era “window of vulnerability.” This is nothing new.
“The United States, to be sure, should be concerned over China’s determination to throw its economic and military weight around the world, particularly in the Asian sphere. Its seizure of unoccupied islands, declarations of control over sea lanes, buildup of military bases on foreign soil, threats to swallow Taiwan and its human rights abuses are abysmal,” Isaacs writes. “Tackling these challenges will require careful handling and constant contact with Chinese leaders. It should not require more nuclear weapons.”
LIKELIHOOD OF IRAN DEAL SLIPS FURTHER
Iran committed more human rights violations after waves of protests rocked the country and is increasingly aligning itself with the Kremlin, leading to increasing international isolation. One NGO, Human Rights Activists in Iran, reports that nearly 500 people have been killed since demonstrations began in mid-September. The European Union issued further sanctions in response to a hanging.
The theocracy is also increasing military cooperation with Russia. The Biden administration accused Russia of providing advanced military assistance to Iran, including air defense systems, helicopters and fighter jets; Russia has not admitted to these claims.
WHY MANAGING THE NUCLEAR THREAT IN NORTHEAST ASIA MATTERS
Overtaken by the war in Ukraine, bellicism on the Korean peninsula has taken a back seat in the international media, despite the very real rising nuclear threat. North Korea has fired more than 70 missiles this year — more than any previous year — including two purported intercontinental ballistic missiles that have flown over Japan, the first such escalation in five years. While the Russian nuclear threat over Ukraine must also be taken seriously, managing the Korean nuclear threat would send a powerful signal that threats to international order need not be Europe-based to matter, writes Research Analyst Matthew Teasdale in his latest post on the Nukes of Hazard blog.
TWITTER CHAOS AND US
Ever since Elon Musk took over Twitter at the end of October, the social networking site through which the Center does the bulk of its free public outreach has become more chaotic and less secure. Mis- and disinformation are thriving as many employees have left the company.
What does this mean for us? We use Twitter to connect with the public and the press, gauge public interest in various topics, easily view statements from elected officials and more. In times of crisis, we are seen as a resource for fact and reason.
We wanted to let you know that we are taking the situation at Twitter very seriously, as are our colleagues from across the NGO and non-profit community. For now, we are still on Twitter, but we have also joined Mastodon and Post, both seen as potential alternatives, and are maintaining our presence on Facebook and Instagram. We urge you to follow us for the latest national security and nuclear weapons news on whichever platforms you’ve joined.