Como workshop on Nuclear Forces

On 9-10 July 1999, Pugwash Meeting No. 248 was held in Como, Italy.

Pugwash Workshop on Nuclear Forces

Report by Gunnar Arbman

THE 28th Pugwash Workshop on Nuclear Forces was held in Como, Italy, 9-10 July 1999, with partial support provided by the Municipality of Como. Some 20 participants from 10 countries attended the workshop, which opened with welcoming remarks from Prof. Francesco Calogero, Chair of the Pugwash Council, and from the Mayor of Como, Dott. Alberto Botta.

The workshop began with observations from the Pugwash Workshop on NATO, held a few days previously in Castellón de la Plana, Spain (2-4 July), where participants had discussed both the implications of NATO’s intervention in Kosovo and to the changing role of nuclear weapons in European and global relations in the 1990s. Of particular note had been analysis of the compensating role of nuclear weapons for weaknesses in the area of conventional forces, the policy of no first use (NFU), and the possible consequences of nuclear weapons deployments in the three new NATO members, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

US and Russian Nuclear Forces

DISCUSSION continued with a review of the status and prospects for Russian and American nuclear arms reductions. It was noted that during the 1990s the only agreement to come into effect was START I. START II is likely to remain un-ratified for some time given the present deterioration in US-Russian relations because of NATO enlargement, the Kosovo crisis, and differences over Iraq and ballistic missile defense.

On a positive note, it was said that the Russian Duma increasingly realizes that it is in Russia´s best interest to ratify START II and move on with START III negotiations, otherwise a substantial numerical gap favoring the US with regard to strategic warheads might evolve as the number of Russian strategic warheads is rapidly declining. It was mentioned that, as older systems are retired, it could be that within 10-12 years Russia will have on the order of only 1000 strategic warheads. In seeking to reduce to such levels, however, new problems will arise, as other nuclear weapons states will have to be involved in the negotiations and more transparency will be required.

In the US, while there is little if any official discussion of going beyond START III levels, there is nonetheless some sentiment in mainstream circles for totally eliminating nuclear weapons. In addition, some NATO members are taking a serious look at NFU policies. On the whole, however, there seems to be very little public interest in nuclear weapon issues, despite the current fighting in Kashmir between two nuclear-capable countries (India and Pakistan). Questions were raised on how organizations like Pugwash can stimulate government officials and the public to address this lack of interest, and how new technologies like the Internet can be used to increase public interest in and awareness of the continuing danger of nuclear war.

Even in 1999, nuclear weapons planning is still dominated by “cold war thinking” and by domestic politics in the world’s nuclear powers. Regarding the latter, the US and Russia have entered the season of ‘the three elections’ (the Russian Duma in late 1999, the US and the Russian presidency in 2000). Participants were concerned that the Republican Party in the US will stress the BMD issue and criticize US-Russian cooperation as a failure, threatening to reduce or cut off Nunn-Lugar and other types of funding. As for Russia, complaints about the current state of relations with the West (e.g., that the Permanent Joint Council is little more than a vehicle to inform Moscow about NATO decisions) are widespread but also “cost-free” as there will be little room for political initiatives in the coming year.

Concerning the nuclear weapon situation as seen from Moscow, it was thought that tensions in relations with the West over Kosovo are diminishing, yet there is now more concern, especially within the Duma, over Russia’s general lack of influence in international affairs. Accordingly, interest in continued rapid dismantlement of nuclear warheads (presently 2400 warheads/year ) has waned, and there is now a desire in Moscow to prolong the service life of existing stockpiles in order to avoid having to build new ones, despite concerns over the reliability of older warheads.

The perceived need for theater nuclear weapons (TNW) in Russian defense strategy stems from a combination of deteriorating conventional forces, threats emanating from regional instability along Russia’s borders, and a feeling that NATO conventional high precision weapons (especially when forward deployed) pose a strategic threat. Previous intentions to go from a triad to a dyad (by eliminating the strategic air force ) were reported to be dormant at present. The BMD discussions in the US are followed closely, but a US National Missile Defense system is not seen as a threat in Russia as long as it complies with the ABM treaty. All in all, the current debate in Moscow over the concept of nuclear parity, in part related to Russia´s new military doctrine, already seems to be producing a defense strategy that places more reliance on nuclear weapons and less emphasis on arms control initiatives such as no first use and nuclear weapons-free zones.

In the discussions that followed, questions were asked about the precise meaning of “dismantlement of nuclear warheads” in Russia, of how nuclear forces might compensate for a lack of conventional capability, and the status of the Russian early warning systems. The precise meaning of dismantlement was not clarified, and it was noted that in many situations (Chechnya, for example) nuclear weapons are no substitute for conventional weapons. As for the Russian early warning system, it is now almost entirely based on satellites, geostationary as well as non-geostationary. It was confirmed that Russia will rely on a “Launch-on Warning” posture for the time being in spite of the obvious risks involved due to inadequacies in its early warning systems.

Nuclear Forces of China, Britain and France

DESPITE the historical motivations for acquiring nuclear weapons (its WW II experience, the threat that nuclear weapons might be used against China during the Korean war, and the need for parity with the other nuclear powers), it was pointed out that China has relatively few nuclear weapons considering its long time status as a nuclear weapon power. The minimal deterrence posture of China was emphasized together with the defensive – if not political – nature of its nuclear forces. China was said to maintain a strong non-proliferation position, promoting the process of disarmament and favoring the abolition of nuclear weapons in the long run.

The ensuing discussion covered the prospect of establishing NWFZs in Central Asia and Northeast Asia (Japan and the Koreas) and the compatibility of a NFU policy with minimal deterrence. One participant noted how non-proliferation had been undermined by China’s export of uranium enrichment facilities to Pakistan.

Discussion of British nuclear forces noted that the UK has a limited attack capability with only one out of four strategic submarines on patrol at any given time. Considered to be a necessary part of British defense strategy, the cost for maintaining this minimal deterrence amounts to three percent of the defense budget. Moreover, the strategic submarines would take several days to bring to full alert and are also being used for civilian purposes. On the other hand, the US still deploys several dozen gravity nuclear weapons in the UK.

Discussion followed about NFU, negative security assurances, and the British definition of minimal deterrence. With regard to NFU, one participant pointed out that declaratory policies do not always hold in a severe crisis. In addition, it was mentioned that “first use” introduces a certain element of ambiguity, which can strengthen deterrence. Regarding “minimal deterrence,” it was noted that enormous damage can be inflicted on a large city with even one nuclear warhead.

French nuclear forces consist of 475 nuclear warheads deployed on six submarines and carrier-based and ground-based aircraft. The Mururoa test site has been closed and will be replaced by simulation facilities including a large laser based construction (“Laser Megajoule”) for fusion research. Costs to maintain the French nuclear forces 1999 amount to about 10 percent of its defense budget. Public opinion continues to support France’s nuclear capability, for reasons having to do with “international status” and maintaining a certain amount of independence from the US. Among the French elite, the debate over the role of nuclear weapons focuses on questions of their national vs. their European role in any future European defense structure.

The role of public opinion vis-à-vis nuclear weapons was again discussed, with the point made that, despite strong misgivings about NATO nuclear policy in countries like Germany and Canada, there seems to be little interest in the West for further substantial cuts in nuclear forces.

Mobilizing the Public

WITHIN the context of how to increase public interest in nuclear weapons issues, one participant presented a computerized nuclear targeting analysis model intended for public use. With information stored on a CD-ROM (and soon be released on the Internet), public users could analyze the consequences of various types of nuclear wars. Utilizing data about existing arsenals, counter-force targets (e.g., locations of missile fields taken from open sources), population densities, nuclear weapons effects, average wind conditions (for fallout calculations), etc. users could graphically see the loss in human lives and the damage to natural resources from nuclear conflicts.

By enabling the public to learn more about the consequences of nuclear wars, this work is intended to raise public and political interest in and concern for nuclear weapons. In addition, it aims at eliminating “the expertise monopoly” of governments and the political elite. Participants generally appreciated the value of such a tool, while also expressing caution about its possible misuse as just another ‘high tech video game’.

Kashmir and Nuclear Weapons

FAR more relevant for public awareness was the deep concern expressed over the Kashmir crisis and the dangers it posed for arms control and possibly sparking a nuclear conflict. Given Pakistan’s view that nuclear weapons are an “equalizer” to Indian superiority in the region, it was thought unlikely that either country will sign the CTBT in the near future or commit to a NFU policy. Both countries might be expected, however, to participate in fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) negotiations once these get started.

In response to questions about nuclear control, it was thought that decision-making in India is centralized at the highest political level, whereas in Pakistan control is shared between military and political leaders in a rather non-transparent way. There are direct lines of communication between Indian and Pakistani leaders, yet intervention by the international community (including Pugwash) was nonetheless considered necessary by some participants.

Discussion continued on what constitutes a nuclear weapons power, the possibility of a NWFZ in the region, and the usefulness of a few simple nuclear devices. One participant thought that Pakistan has about 25 nuclear weapons, India well over 100. Pakistan is believed to have only a counter-value capability at present (by aircraft), whereas India also has some counter-force ability. The session ended with the thought that perhaps nuclear deterrence had introduced some caution in the Kashmir crisis, but that the situation in the region remains highly dangerous.

After a brief discussion on Israel, which was believed by some participants to stay its nuclear course due to potential WMD threats from Iran and Iraq, the workshop moved on to discuss BMD and nuclear arms control.

Ballistic Missile Defense and Fissile Material

THE main theme of the overview on BMD was that there is now political momentum in the US Congress – fueled by upcoming US elections- to move ahead with a BMD system that might well violate the ABM treaty. This in turn would have adverse effects on START II ratification and START III talks. In addition, it is far from clear that effective BMD systems can be developed and deployed considering the demanding technical challenges that have to be met.

Opinions differed as to the value of a BMD system in the US in the discussion that followed. One participant thought BMD bizarre on the grounds that it is an obsolete, non-workable concept based on cold war thinking with detrimental effects on present nuclear disarmament efforts. Others argued that BMD might have some effect against limited attacks from terrorists or small rogue states. It was generally agreed, however, that BMD is primarily being driven by political considerations, against threats to the US that hardly exist, but that it will nonetheless entail considerable political and financial costs.

There was some discussion on the utility of BMD/TMD for other parts of the world, such as Israel and Japan. Even in these cases, however, there will be relatively low-cost asymmetric countermeasures that can foil a BMD/TMD system.

Fissile material leakage was next on the agenda. An introductory briefing stressed that no massive fissile material leakage out of the former Soviet Union seems to have taken place, but that the situation nevertheless is far from satisfactory. Present US programs to help control leakage are insufficient and the Russian maintenance of storage facilities is inadequate due to the economic crisis. As the economic incentives for illegal trafficking are as high as ever, the world is exposed to a risk with potential catastrophic consequences. Several suggestions were offered on how to dispose of Russia’s weapons-grade fissile material, especially highly enriched uranium (HEU). To be successful, however, such programs will need the support of those countries, especially in Europe, that are most concerned about the leakage problem and its potential consequences.

One idea for such a project was presented, whereby Minatom in Russia would lease land to a US Trust Corporation, over a 40 year period, for the safe storage of some 10,000 metric tons of non-Russian (e.g. Japanese) spent nuclear fuel. Of $15 billion in revenues generated from the deal, about $11 billion would be available for environmental clean-up in Russia, as aid to Russian nuclear cities, for improved safeguards for excess Russian fissile material, for construction and operation of a safe geological repository site, etc. Still in its early stages, the project needs approval from both governments as well as an amendment to Russian Federation law.

Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones

ONE presentation addressed the possibilities of small nations pursuing NWFZ proposals, noting three areas of interest. The first is general encouragement of proposed measures on the international agenda, a second is the pursuance of measures of specific interest to small nations, and the third involves measures they could implement themselves. Whereas the 8-nation initiative of 9 June 1998 is an example of the first category, NWFZ belongs to the third category. It was pointed out that more than 50 percent of the world’s landmass is now covered by NWFZs and that international waters should be drawn into NWFZ considerations.

A second presentation covered security arrangements and a NWFZ in Central and East Europe (CEE). It was pointed out that, although some criteria defining a NWFZ already apply to this region, several states have chosen NATO assurances by becoming members of this alliance instead of opting for the negative assurances of a NWFZ. The argument was made that these states should take additional steps towards a NWFZ by not allowing NATO nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territories during peacetime. Similarly, Belarus and Ukraine should reject Russian overtures towards stationing nuclear weapons on their territories. In addition, states in the region should try to obtain negative security assurances from the nuclear powers.

Extensive discussion followed on which states should be included in a central European NWFZ, on attitudes within NATO and its newest members towards such a zone, on security assurances to those states outside the NWFZ, and on distinctions between legal and political commitments. One participant noted that nuclear weapons are the glue that keeps NATO together, and that within the alliance there are far more pressing security concerns than the establishment of a CEE NWFZ. Another stated that Russia no longer has any offensive intentions towards the West. Instead, Moscow is, somewhat reluctantly, increasingly preoccupied by defining a contracted sphere of interest compatible with its long term stability. This participant felt that too much cold war thinking still prevails on European security issues. As an example of how drastically the situation has changed, it was pointed out that Poland for the first time in more than 100 years simultaneously enjoys relaxed political relations with both Germany and Russia.

Given this new strategic environment, it is all the more important for the nuclear weapons states to adopt new modes of thinking, and not be driven by outdated notions of a common enemy. Though various strategies and opinions were offered, there was general agreement that the end goal must be that of a nuclear weapon-free world.