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Nuclear Weapons Daily Update

Nuclear Weapons Daily Update

Iranian proliferation triggers an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran 

Robert Farley, 1-23-2020, “Would Israel Use Nuclear Weapons To Finish Iran, Once And For All?,” National Interest,

If a hostile power (let’s say Iran, for sake of discussion) appeared to be on the verge of mating nuclear devices with the systems needed to deliver them, Israel might well consider a preventive nuclear attack. In the case of Iran, we can imagine scenarios in which Israeli planners would no longer deem a conventional attack sufficiently lethal to destroy or delay the Iranian program. In such a scenario, and absent direct intervention from the United States, Israel might well decide to undertake a limited nuclear attack against Iranian facilities Given that Iran lacks significant ballistic missile defenses, Israel would most likely deliver the nuclear weapons with its Jericho III intermediate range ballistic missiles. Israel would likely limit its attacks to targets specifically linked with the Iranian nuclear program, and sufficiently away from civilian areas. Conceivably, since it would be breaking the nuclear taboo anyway, Israel might target other military facilities and bases for attack, but it is likely that the Israeli government would want to limit the precedent for using nuclear weapons as much as possible. Would it work? Nuclear weapons would deal more damage than most imaginable conventional attacks, and would also convey a level of seriousness that might take even the Iranians aback. On the other hand, the active use of nuclear weapons by Israel would probably heighten the interest of everyone in the region (and potentially across the world) to develop their own nuclear arsenals. One of Israel’s biggest concerns is the idea that a nuclear power (Iran, Pakistan, or North Korea, presumably) might give or sell a nuclear weapon to a non-governmental organization (NGO). Hamas, Hezbollah, or some other terrorist group would be harder to deter than a traditional nation-state. Even if a terrorist organization did not immediately use the weapon against an Israeli target, it could potentially extract concessions that Israel would be unwilling to make. In such a scenario, Israel might well consider using nuclear weapons in order to forestall a transfer, or destroy the enemy nuclear device after delivery. This would depend on access to excellent intelligence about the transfer of the device, but it is hardly impossible that the highly professional and operationally competent Israeli intelligence services could provide such data. Why go nuclear? The biggest reason would be to ensure the success of the strike; both the device itself and the people handling the device would be important targets, and a nuclear attack would ensure their destruction more effectively than even a massive conventional strike (which might well accompany the nuclear attack). Moreover, committing to the most extreme use forms of the use of force might well deter both the NGO and the originating state (not to mention any states that facilitated transfer through their borders; hello, Syria!) from attempting another transfer. However, the active use of nuclear weapons against a non-state actor might look to the world like overkill, and could reaffirm the interest of the source of the nuclear device in causing more problems for Israel.

China won’t reciprocate nuclear reductions unless those reductions include restrictions on conventional forces and all of Asia’s militaries

Weitz, January 23, 2020, Richard Weitz is senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute, Sino-Russian Ties Imperil Strategic Arms Control, Yale Global,

This is a make or break year for strategic arms control. The last remaining treaty limiting Russian-US nuclear weapons, the New START Treaty, expires in February. The Trump administration wants a more comprehensive agreement that covers additional types of strategic weapons – such as Moscow’s new nuclear delivery systems. New START, like its earlier iterations, restricts only long-range Russian and US nuclear missiles and bombers. The Trump administration seeks to encompass additional countries, especially China, in future treaties. In December, the State Department formally invited Beijing to join Moscow and Washington in comprehensive nuclear reduction talks. Yet, securing Chinese involvement in nuclear arms limitations will be challenging considering Beijing naturally wants to free ride on Russian and US reductions. At November’s Moscow Non-Proliferation Conference, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Department of Arms Control said that Russia and the United States must cut their nuclear forces much deeper before China or other countries would consider joining the reduction process. Fu Cong accused Washington of trying to shift the blame for the arms-control deadlock to Beijing while pursuing “overwhelming military superiority over Russia and China in all fields and with all means imaginable.” While currently maintaining a smaller nuclear arsenal than Russia and the United States, China is unlikely to join an arms-control treaty that would formalize its inferior position. Meanwhile, the PRC Foreign Ministry recognizes the improbability that Washington or Moscow would accept a common trilateral ceiling. A spokesperson for the PRC Foreign Ministry questioned, “whether the US wants to have China’s nuclear arsenal increased to its level or reduce its own nuclear arms to China’s level?” Even so, Fu expressed interest in an enhanced dialogue on nuclear weapons doctrines “so as to avoid accidents and crises triggered by strategic misjudgment or miscalculation” as well as norms and rules for military applications of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and cyber and outer space security. Western experts have similarly called for expanded strategic stability talks on these unconventional threats. Interestingly, Russian experts have often assessed China’s nuclear potential as substantially greater than what US assessments typically suggest. Some anticipate that China’s nuclear arsenal will continue to improve, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and approach those of Russia and the United States – with a greater number and variety of delivery systems on permanent alert status. In their view, Beijing has not deliberately sought a minimal nuclear arsenal, but rather faced technical and resource limitations, which are now eroding. The assessment of Russian analysts is that only after China acquires as roughly as large a nuclear arsenal as Russia and the United States will Beijing consider negotiating strategic limitations. Even then, they anticipate that Beijing will likely insist that any limits apply to conventional as well as nuclear forces of all Asia’s major military powers.

The idea of damage limitation in a nuclear war is false. A negative feedback loop exists that will override the concerns of damage limitation

Purcell, Richard. 1-23-2020, “A History of Damage Limitation in U.S. Nuclear War Planning,” Global Security Review,

The question of what role damage limitation should play in U.S. nuclear planning and the form it should take was—and still is—the subject of considerable debate within the national security community.  Some policymakers prioritized it more than others during the Cold War.  However, because the U.S. strategic arsenal always could strike an opponent’s nuclear forces, there has never been a time over the last seven decades when the United States has not had some damage limiting capability, even if public officials have not always referred to it as such. Yet damage limitation turned out to be a very complicated concept.  One issue stemmed from the realization that no damage limitation system could be 100 percent effective.  If a strategic nuclear conflict with the USSR arose, a certain number of Soviet bombs would inevitably reach U.S. soil no matter what.  The resulting death toll would likely number in the tens of millions.

Such a scenario raised a difficult question for policymakers: How much damage limitation capability should the U.S. seek?  If a given U.S. damage limiting capability were sufficient to limit U.S. fatalities in an all-out war to, say, 80 million, would it make sense to pay the high costs associated with enhancing that capability further to reduce the expected death toll to 50 million?  For those who viewed nuclear war as a real possibility, and who therefore believed that the U.S. should possess the ability to win if one occurred, saving 30 million Americans seemed like a worthwhile goal no matter what the cost. To those who viewed nuclear war as unthinkable, and who therefore rejected nuclear warfighting as a concept, enhancing U.S. damage limiting capabilities seemed pointless since it did little to strengthen the country’s nuclear credibility.  In a crisis in which critical U.S. interests were at stake, would a U.S. president really feel freer to act to protect those interests if he knew that “only” 50 million American lives were at risk rather than 80 million? Would the Soviets actually be more deterred if that were the case?

The two primary forms of damage limitation available to the United States during the Cold War, counterforce and missile defense, each presented their own set of challenges.  The ability of the U.S. to use its strategic offensive forces to limit damage to the American homeland depended on its ability to destroy Soviet nuclear weapons before they could be launched.  If the Soviets were able to attack first, U.S. missiles and bombers would be unable to limit the initial damage. A damage-limiting counterforce strike by the U.S. would, therefore, be vastly more effective if the U.S. struck first.  However, launching a first strike meant initiating strategic nuclear war, the very thing that U.S. nuclear forces were ostensibly intended to prevent.  Indeed, U.S. declaratory policy in the later years of the Cold War seemed to rule out this option.  The Pentagon’s 1983 annual report to Congress stated that U.S. strategy “excludes the possibility that the United States would initiate a war or launch a pre-emptive strike against the forces or territories of other nations.”

If the U.S. was attacked first, it could launch a retaliatory counterforce attack.  The conventional wisdom was that if the Soviets did launch a first strike, they would likely do so with only a part of their arsenal, keeping many of their strategic weapons in reserve.  If so, the U.S. could hit the residual Soviet nuclear forces in a second strike in an attempt to reduce any further damage that could be inflicted on the United States. This option, however, would hardly be straightforward. If the Soviet first strike were a counterforce attack, it would leave the U.S. with a diminished ability to retaliate against hardened targets (such as ICBM silos).  If it were a counter value strike against American cities, U.S. strategic forces would remain intact, but damage to the United States in terms of casualties and economic destruction would be enormous.  The U.S. president would then have to decide whether to retaliate against Soviet cities or the USSR’s remaining strategic arsenal.

The possibility of achieving damage limitation through anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense also received a great deal of attention during the Cold War, just as it does today.  Unlike counterforce, it offered a way to actively defend the U.S. homeland from a Soviet attack after it had been launched. Nevertheless, missile defense had its downsides. For one, many strategic planners had severe doubts as to how well such a system would work.  It was generally recognized that even an elaborate missile defense system could only be partially effective against a major Soviet attack. Moreover, the tracking radars needed to guide ABM interceptors to their targets would themselves be vulnerable to a Soviet attack.  If the Soviets were able to destroy U.S. radar installations in advance of the main attack on the United States, the ABM system would be crippled. Additionally, developing and deploying a missile defense system was a costly proposition.  A 1965 Pentagon study determined that a system capable of protecting 75 percent of the U.S. population in an all-out nuclear war would cost $35 billion, or more than two-thirds of the defense budget at the time.  Furthermore, even if such a system were able to protect three-quarters of the U.S. population in an all-out nuclear war, American fatalities would number close to 50 million. Opponents of missile defense also pointed out that the USSR would almost certainly respond to a U.S. ABM deployment by expanding the size of its strategic arsenal or by implementing relatively inexpensive countermeasures such as equipping its existing ICBMs with decoy warheads or multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). The most compelling argument against emphasizing damage limitation in nuclear planning was that it made war more likely. As noted, each side possessed enough survivable nuclear weapons that it would be able to inflict great devastation on its adversary in retaliation for a first strike.  Under normal peacetime conditions, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had the option of either starting a nuclear war by launching a “bolt-from-the-blue” surprise attack on its opponent or maintaining the status quo.  However, even if the attacking country believed that launching a sudden first strike would enable it to emerge from the conflict stronger than its adversary, the opposing state’s assured destruction capability would ensure that the attacking state suffered catastrophic damage, leaving it worse off than before the war.  Inaction would, therefore, be the wiser choice.

That calculus could easily change in a crisis, however.  During a period of acute tension in which both sides possessed a significant damage-limiting counterforce capability, each nation would have some incentive to strike preemptively to limit the amount of damage that could be inflicted on it.  The risk that one side would act preemptively under such circumstances would correspond to the perceived likelihood of war. If nuclear war seemed inevitable—or even highly likely—the apparent choice for each side would then be between launching a preemptive attack that would destroy a large number of its opponent’s strategic forces, thereby limiting (but not eliminating) the adversary’s ability to inflict harm on the attacking state, or permitting the opponent to act first and do the same thing.

Furthermore, worst-case assumptions could lead to a negative feedback loop, further undermining crisis stability.  The U.S., for instance, would be aware that the Soviet leadership might believe that Soviet fatalities could be dramatically reduced by launching a first strike against the United States. Soviet leadership would know that the U.S. was aware of the Soviet leadership’s belief that a first strike would significantly reduce Soviet fatalities. The U.S, in turn, would then know that the Soviet Union knew that the United States was aware that the Soviets could launch a first strike to reduce its fatalities. In this way, decision making in a nuclear crisis would resemble a hall of mirrors.  A war could easily occur under such circumstances even if both sides preferred to avoid one.

Iran won’t seek nuclear weapons. No deterrence is needed

Reuters News Agency, 1-23-2020, “Iran will never seek nuclear arms, with or without nuclear deal,” No Publication,

Iran will never seek nuclear weapons, with or without nuclear deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, calling on the European powers to avoid Washington’s mistake of violating Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

“We have never sought nuclear weapons … With or without the nuclear deal we will never seek nuclear weapon … The European powers will be responsible for the consequences of violating the pact,” said Rouhani, according to his website President.Ir.

In reaction to Washington withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and the reimposition of sanctions, Iran has gradually rolled back on its commitments. Rouhani said Iran remained committed to the deal and could reverse its steps away from compliance if other parties fulfilled their obligations.

Multiple US actions have already weakened the NPT, treaties fail to avoid the actual impacts

Collado De Giovannini, Gonzalo, 1-22-2020, “The NPT – nuclear development for the few,” United World International,

Over the years and after each review, the effectiveness of the treaty was questioned in regards to its purpose of promoting effective atomic disarmament. This argument is largely due to the increase of nuclear weapons since it was signed, reaching its peak in 1986 with over 64,000 nuclear warheads. The subsequent quantitative increase was very important, especially after US-Russian agreements in 1991. The fact is that, although the nuclear arsenal was greatly reduced, it’s destructive power was not actually reduced. It’s important to mention that the NPT was weakened as a result of a controversial agreement approved by the IAEA in which one of the largest nuclear powers, the United States, signed a treaty with India – a non-signatory of the NPT – in 2006 on civil nuclear cooperation, thus failing to comply with the policies required by the NPT. Despite the fact that the agreement between India and the US sought to guarantee the requirements of the IAEA and the NPT, it was considered to be a profound failure in the fight against nuclear proliferation, which shows us, once again, that international treaties are only fulfilled when there are no great interests at stake.