UCS Blog - All Things Nuclear (text only)

North Korea’s Missiles and the US-NK Summit

In April 2018, shortly before last June’s summit with President Trump, North Korea announced it was discontinuing its flight testing of ballistic missiles. For over a year now, it has not conducted any missile tests.

This represents a big change. In the five years 2013 to 2017, North Korea launched more than 80 flight tests of 10 different missiles, or an average of 16 flight tests per year. In 2017 alone, it launched 20 tests of seven types of missiles, including the successful launch of two different long-range missiles.

(Source: U.S. govt.)

That testing led to big advances in its missile program.

As of 2015 the longest range missile it had successfully tested was the Nodong, with an estimated range of about 1,300 km (800 miles). In November 2017 it successfully tested an intercontinental-range missile with a range ten times that long—13,000 km (8,000 miles)—enough to reach most or all of the United States.

How Important is a Ban on Flight Testing

We know a lot about North Korea’s missile flight tests over the years because you can’t hide a missile fired through the atmosphere. The United States has satellite sensors and radars that detect and track those tests essentially anywhere in the world.

Missile flight testing is needed for several reasons:

  1. To develop new missiles
  2. To proof-test and determine the reliability of missiles that are being built
  3. To train soldiers to use missiles in combat.

Stopping flight testing limits all three of these.

Countries typically test a new missile dozens of times before deploying it. Even though North Korea had one successful launch of its Hwasong-15 ICBM in late 2017, it has little idea whether a second test would be successful. These are very complicated mechanical systems and you need repeated testing to discover the possible failure modes and understand their probabilities.

For a missile to be militarily useful, you want to know how reliable it is. And you want to understand how likely it is to blow up on the launch pad before you decide to put a nuclear warhead on it.

In addition to this, North Korea hasn’t demonstrated a working reentry heat shield on a long-range trajectory. As long as it’s willing to accept low accuracy—which it would be if it plans to target large cities—developing a working heat shield doesn’t require advanced technology. North Korea should be able to solve this problem with time, but it is unlikely to consider these missiles militarily useful without actually demonstrating the technology on a flight test. A ban on testing keeps it from doing that.

While some press reports have said that following its one successful flight test of its Hwasong-15 ICBM, North Korea is working to mass produce it, I don’t believe they would do that. Preventing further flight tests would prevent this missile from becoming militarily useful. It would also limit operational training of military troops with its missiles.

So preserving North Korea’s ban on flight tests is an important security measure. And as noted above, a ban on flight testing has the advantage that it is completely verifiable with existing sensors.

What Does the Current Test Ban Cover?

When Kim announced the end of flight tests in April 2018, he said:

“no nuclear tests and intermediate-range and inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire are necessary for the DPRK now. … We will discontinue nuclear tests and inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire from April 21.”

So while North Korea has not flight tested any missiles in the past 15 months, it only announced it would stop testing long-range missiles—those with ranges longer than 5,500 km (3,500 miles). That includes the Hwasong-14 and 15 missiles.

A ban on testing long-range missiles would leave North Korea the option of continuing to develop and test intermediate and shorter range missiles. That includes the Hwasong-12, which may be able to reach US military bases in Guam. Banning only long-range flight tests would also allow North Korea to train soldiers with its existing shorter range missiles, which can reach targets in South Korea and Japan.

A key goal of the upcoming summit and future US-North Korean negotiations should be to formalize the testing ban, to make it permanent, and to extend it to cover shorter range missiles. The United States should also press for a ban on engine tests, and make clear the flight test ban includes satellite launches.

North Korea has not yet taken irreversible steps toward ending its missile program. But it has taken meaningful steps that would have been unthinkable as recently as 2017, and that suggests an openness to further steps that would be more meaningful. That would significantly advance security interests of the United States and its allies in the region.

Achieving these steps is likely to require a phased step-by-step process. There are a set of potential steps the United States could take as part of the negotiations. These include discussions of a peace treaty or new security arrangement in the region, scaling back military exercises that the North sees as threatening, and selective easing of sanctions.

A verified ban on flight testing, of course, is just a step. The ultimate goal should be to stop further missile development and production at all levels, and to eliminate existing missiles—and that is what the United States should be working for. But that will require North Korea to feel secure enough to agree to these steps, which would include intrusive verification measures. That is not going to happen overnight and will require reciprocal steps by the United States.

It’s worth noting that the United States has had a lot of hands-on experience with verifying the elimination and non-production of missiles over the past 30 years through the verification measures of the INF Treaty, which it recently announced it was leaving.

What about Reports that North Korea is Continuing to Build Up its Missile Sites?

North Korea has taken several steps that are consistent with its statement about discontinuing nuclear and missile tests. In May 2018 it destroyed the entrances and some of the tunnels at its nuclear test site. In July it dismantled some facilities at one of its main missile test sites. While these steps were done without international inspectors present and could be reversed, they are interesting steps that are consistent with a willingness to end testing.

More recently there have been press reports of satellite images that show Korean missile bases that had not been publicly identified earlier, and show that North Korea has been continuing its ongoing work at some of these sites. These send a different message.

But these reports shouldn’t derail negotiations. It’s useful to have more information about these sites as part of the public discussion, but it’s important to recognize that these “secret” sites have long been known and are being monitored by US intelligence.

Moreover, there is nothing in the negotiations so far that has obligated Pyongyang to stop work on these bases or dismantle them. Working to get agreement on such steps is an important goal for the upcoming summit. If the United States sees those steps as important, it should decide what it is willing to put on the table to get them.

Don’t Scapegoat China for Killing the INF Treaty. Ask it to Join.

September 23, 2016: Chinese UN Representative Liu Jieyi votes in favor of a UN Security Council resolution on the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) urging all parties to push for the treaty’s entry into force.

The Trump administration recently announced it intends to walk away from an important agreement that reduces the risk of nuclear war—the INF Treaty. US officials said concerns about China were an important factor in deciding to scrap a nuclear arms control pact intended to last in perpetuity. But there is no evidence the Trump administration consulted Chinese leaders about its plans to withdraw or the concerns that supposedly made it necessary.

The Soviet Union and the United States negotiated the bilateral agreement in the mid-1980s during an especially tense period when both sides were upgrading their immense nuclear arsenals. Wide-spread public protests in Europe and the United States helped push both governments to agree to eliminate at least one class of weapons: ground-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 miles.

Contemporary US critics of that agreement, including US National Security Advisor John Bolton, argue the United States must quit the treaty because China is not subject to the same restriction. That’s a dubious justification for tearing up the treaty, although persuading China to join has obvious value. Unfortunately, getting Chinese leaders to the negotiating table is a tough sell when, from their perspective, the entire US defense and foreign policy establishment is chomping at the bit to fight a new Cold War in Asia. But it’s only impossible if, like Mr. Bolton, you never really bother to try.

There is good reason to believe China is not opposed to arms control negotiations or unwilling to make significant concessions to arrive at an equitable agreement.

The Peril and the Hope

Even before atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many of the scientists and a few of the politicians who understood the long-term implications sought to impose international controls. They recognized these weapons were different. As horrible as the last war had been, a war fought with nuclear weapons would be far worse. No nation or coalition of nations could win such a war. The entire planet might become inhabitable. Human civilization and most of the living things on earth could perish, forever.

China came late to the nuclear table but the impact of the weapons on the scientists who developed them was similar. Hu Side, a former director of China’s nuclear weapons lab, wrote, “I’ve seen the mushroom clouds rise, felt the earth and mountain massifs shake and experienced the shock of the tremendous energy released by a nuclear explosion. It is precisely because of these experiences that I particularly understand why national decision-makers determined our country’s nuclear weapons were a defensive measure for strategic deterrence.” It may lack the poetry of Robert Oppenheimer‘s “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” but the sentiment is the same. Nuclear weapons are too powerful to be used to fight a war.

Until the late 1990s the nuclear arms race and efforts to stop it grew in tandem. Scientists rallied the public to restrain the self-destructive behavior of military and political leaders addicted to antiquated approaches to war and peace. But over the last thirty years the will to control the nuclear arms race has weakened while the addiction to antiquity has grown much stronger. This is especially true in US-China relations, where the most influential idea guiding US officials is “the Thucydides trap” and Chinese leaders propagandize “the Great Chinese Renaissance.”

The Beginning of the End

Ironically, international nuclear arms control began to die when China finally embraced it. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was the first international nuclear arms control accord China helped to negotiate. For decades, the Chinese Communist Party viewed nuclear arms control as vehicle for preserving the advantages of the Soviet Union and the United States. China lagged far behind in the nuclear arms race. By the time the negotiations reached their final stage China had conducted 47 nuclear tests and possessed several hundred nuclear warheads.  The United States had conducted 1067 tests and possessed approximately 15,000 nuclear warheads. Nevertheless, China signed the treaty.

After the Clinton administration failed to convince the US Senate to ratify the CTBT, progress in international nuclear arms control ground to a halt. Negotiations on a treaty to ban the production of the materials used to make nuclear warheads were cut short. The United Nations Conference on Disarmament (UNCD) became paralyzed; unable to reach a consensus on how to start negotiations on any arms control agreement.

The Bush administration made things exponentially worse when it unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The 1972 agreement was based on the common sense notion that both the United States and the Soviet Union would be safer if they limited missile defenses so that neither side would feel compelled to build new nuclear-armed missiles to overwhelm those defenses.

President Obama gave a nice speech in Prague and his administration managed to preserve the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) negotiated in 1991. But in order to get this New START agreement ratified Obama promised the Senate he would allow them to spend more than a trillion dollars to upgrade the entire US nuclear arsenal. And he steadfastly refused to even discuss a suggestion Chinese arms controllers felt was important: beginning talks in the UNCD on a new international agreement to prevent an arms race in outer space.

China does not look at nuclear arms control in isolation. Some forms of conventional weapons technology, like those involved in missile defenses, anti-satellite weapons and long-range conventional precision strike weapons impact Chinese decisions about the size and composition of its nuclear arsenal.

Back from the Brink

The most important thing about all forms of international arms control negotiations is that they bring adversaries together to talk. Dialogue builds trust. Trust that the other side isn’t trying to trick you into agreeing to something to gain an advantage. Trust that the other side respects you and is seeking an equitable agreement that reduces anxiety and the risk of war.

China has a small number of nuclear-armed ground-based intermediate range missiles that would fall under the original INF Treaty limits. But it also has a much larger number of conventionally armed missiles in this class that seem to be the major concern of US advocates of withdrawing from the treaty. Figuring out how to negotiate an expanded INF Treaty that would require China to dismantle them would introduce a number of new and difficult issues to resolve, but it could also lead to some very productive conversations on how to build trust and preserve the peace in East Asia.

Sadly, I suspect US advocates of killing the INF Treaty have no intention to talk to China about joining it, but if the United States wanted to open negotiations China is likely to put forward a few conditions.

First and foremost, the discussion on intermediate-range missiles would have to take place in the United Nations Conference on Disarmament. China must not be the only target of concern. Most if not all of the other nations that possess this class of weapon would have to be included. Chinese leaders prefer international rather than bilateral or multilateral forums for arms control negotiations. It’s not an unreasonable preference, and it predisposes Chinese negotiators to accept the general principle that restrictions should apply to everyone.

Unlocking the UNCD will be difficult because decisions are made by consensus—a norm for negotiations many cultures prefer. Consensus may require discussion of other arms control issues. Recent history suggests preserving peace in outer space may be one of them. Agreeing to begin discussions does not commit the United States to a particular outcome. It just creates an opportunity to talk. So broadening the agenda to satisfy all of the attending parties is not unreasonable either.

Finally, international arms control negotiations are not an apples-for-apples, oranges-for-oranges kind of thing. They’re an apples-for-my-pick-from-the entire-produce-aisle sort of thing. Different countries choose to rely on different weapons for all kinds of reasons, like geography. Because of its huge land mass and its concerns about the assemblage of conventional US forces on its periphery, China sees conventionally armed ground-based intermediate range missiles as an especially effective countermeasure. It’s invested decades of effort and substantial financial and technical resources in developing and deploying those missiles. Asking China to give them up is going to cost the United States something in return.

If the United States were serious about wanting China to join the INF Treaty, it would be talking with Chinese arms controllers about changes the United States might be willing to make in exchange for surrendering what Chinese military planners see as one of their most valuable military capabilities. There is no indication such a discussion has ever taken place. Until it does, China cannot be blamed for the US decision to kill the INF Treaty.



The Demise of the INF Treaty is Dangerous

On February 1st, the Trump administration announced that the United States will withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia. The next day, Russia responded by doing the same. These withdrawals will take effect in six months, if nothing is done to save the treaty.

This course of events was no surprise, since President Trump has been threatening withdrawal for months, but the lack of surprise makes the decision no more welcome and no less dangerous. Withdrawal from the treaty undermines the security of the United States and its allies, and opens the door to a new era of arms racing, threatening US-Russian nuclear stability.

SS-20 and Pershing II missiles eliminated by the INF Treaty (Source: National Air and Space Museum)

What does the INF Treaty do?

The INF Treaty, signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, eliminated ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles, whether they carry nuclear or conventional weapons.

The treaty was part of the backbone of the Cold War arms control regime, helping to defuse tension and ratchet down the US-Soviet arms race. It was the first arms control treaty to require the elimination of existing weapons, rather than simply limiting their numbers, and resulted in the destruction of 846 US and 1,846 Soviet missiles. It also established a strong verification process.

Without this treaty, the United States and Russia will both be free to once again develop and deploy such missiles, and both have indicated interest in doing so.

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act included a requirement to develop a conventional ground-launched cruise missile that would fall into the range prohibited by the INF Treaty, and Congress approved funding such a system in FY 2019. Such efforts, however, are complicated by opposition from NATO states to serving as a base for such missiles.

Withdrawal from the INF Treaty is misguided

Withdrawing from the INF Treaty demonstrates either a lack of understanding of how arms control works on the part of the Trump administration or, worse, a desire to undermine arms control agreements more generally. The latter may be the more likely explanation given the presence of advisors like John Bolton, who has a long history of actively working to oppose such treaties. This attitude is dangerous, and not just because of the demise of a single treaty.

Far from being a drawback, as opponents like Bolton believe, the limits imposed by treaties are one of their main benefits, in addition to providing stability and transparency in cases where they are sorely needed. The Reagan administration did not negotiate the INF Treaty as a favor to the Soviet Union, but rather to improve the security of the United States and its allies.

The proliferation of intermediate-range missiles was a major source of instability in Europe in the early 1980s, when such missiles based in the eastern part of the Soviet Union could deliver nuclear warheads to targets in Western Europe. The United States and NATO moved to deploy their own land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles to counter this perceived Soviet advantage, adding to the possibility that accidents or miscommunications could quickly lead to a major nuclear conflict. The INF Treaty removed all these missiles.

But isn’t Russia violating the treaty?

For several years, the United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by developing and beginning to deploy the 9M729 cruise missile. Russia has continually denied the accusations, but there is solid evidence, and the United States should not ignore the violation.

However, the United States benefits from the constraints imposed by the INF Treaty and withdrawal would simply be shooting itself in the foot. Instead, the Trump administration should continue using the mechanisms in place under the treaty to address Russian violations, and undertake additional serious diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue, which it has yet to do.

For its part, Russia has also raised concerns that ground-based launchers designed for use with a US theater missile defense system based in Romania could be used to launch offensive missiles, which would violate the INF treaty as well. The United States has so far refused to discuss these concerns, which has complicated trying to resolve the Russian violations.

No treaty can guarantee that all parties will follow the rules. What they can do is provide clear rules, verification to check compliance with the rules, and mechanisms for addressing issues that arise—including violations. Without such agreements, there are no rules at all.

Broader consequences of withdrawal

If the INF Treaty does indeed end in six months as scheduled, that will leave New START as the only remaining US-Russian treaty constraining nuclear weapons. And even if the administration does not withdraw from New START, it is scheduled to expire in 2021 unless the parties come to an agreement to extend it for up to five years. So far there has been no movement in that direction.

Losing the treaty would not only mean the loss of important limits on US and Russian nuclear weapons, it would also end the expansive verification system that has been developed by the two countries since the 1970s. This means the United States would lose access to valuable information about what Russia is doing and have no standing to raise objections.

With Russia announcing the development of several new nuclear weapons and the United States poised to begin a massive effort to rebuild and enhance its own nuclear arsenal, now is the time to strengthen limits on nuclear arsenals and begin discussions to develop new ones, rather than eliminating them. Cold War leaders learned the hard way that negotiating such limits did more to enhance security on both sides than building ever-larger arsenals.

Instead of repeating past mistakes, the United States should learn from them and take steps now to head off another expensive and dangerous arms race.

China and North Korea: A Viewer’s Guide

US analysts and officials often refer to North Korea as China’s ally, as if it were a diplomatic or military asset. History suggests it’s more like a rock around China’s neck. Chinese President Xi Jinping may find it too heavy to bear.

Or, he may succeed in solving one of the most intractable security problems in East Asia. The denuclearization of North Korea is the UN benchmark both Xi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to meet. They reiterated that promise in their most recent get together in Beijing earlier this month.

Keeping it will require the two of them to untangle the mess that started when Kim’s grandfather, defying the unequivocally expressed wishes of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Mao Zedong, crossed the 38th parallel—the dividing line between North and South Korea—and tried to reunify his country by force. Getting rid of the weapons will require eliminating the insecurities, and ambitions, that drove North Korea to build them in the first place.

Blind Spots

One of the weaknesses of a political regime that punishes scholars who look into sensitive subjects is that it becomes much harder for decision-makers to distinguish fact from fiction. Fortunately, the 1950s are far enough in the past that, for the moment, inquiring Chinese minds have more freedom to investigate the origins of the relationship between communist China and North Korea.

Based on the content of an October 2010 exposition from then Vice-Chairman Xi on the 60th anniversary of what the CCP calls the “War to Resist America and Help Korea,” he’s got a lot to learn.

The anniversary speech was Xi’s coming out party and it contains some whoppers. The most important, by far, is that North Korea asked Communist China to enter the war. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Thanks to a marvelously detailed exploration of Chinese and Soviet archives by China’s preeminent chronicler of the period, we now know that Kim’s grandfather did everything he could to keep China behind the front lines and that Mao sent in Chinese forces to take over the fight without Kim’s consent.

We also know that Mao did not want his North Korean comrade to attack the south in the first place. He thought Kim was impatient, over confident and that he would fail. Mao was right, and China paid an enormous military and diplomatic cost to save Kim’s government and restore the status quo ante.

Xi’s speech was all bluster and glory: an ode to pyrrhic victory over the Americans. It glossed over China’s losses and failed to consider the lessons that might be learned from an unnecessary war that solved nothing. Korea is still divided and that remains the root cause of the North’s suffering and the South’s anxiety.

Technically, China can say it won the war. It entered after the United States ignored repeated Chinese warnings not to cross the 38th parallel. General MacArthur convinced President Truman the warnings were a bluff.  China eventually left after the original dividing line was firmly secured. But it is hard to see what good can come from remembering the war that way.

Perhaps the speech was catering to the old Chinese soldiers who had yet to fade away. My father-in-law was one of them and I am certain he deeply appreciated the Party’s recognition of the risks he took in Korea on behalf of his country. Maybe it wasn’t an appropriate moment for Xi to admit it was all for nothing and a consequence of reckless North Korean ambition.

Xi prohibited the publication of a book that discussed those mistakes. But he also had the authors, who published it in Hong Kong and New York instead, send multiple copies of the original manuscript to the senior leadership.

That’s an encouraging sign.

State of Play

After Mao died and his successors championed pragmatism over ideology, establishing relations with a prosperous South Korea became more important than preserving fidelity with the North. Peking University was flooded with South Korean students, and South Korean money, when I was running educational exchange programs there in the 1990s. South Korean pop culture spread through Chinese youth like a wildfire. The impact remains substantial today.

North Korea became an afterthought. To the extent ordinary Chinese thought about it at all the North was an embarrassing reminder of what communist China used to be. The CCP leadership maintained a perfunctory courtesy towards the North Korean regime, but left the management of its ill behavior, including its pursuit of nuclear weapons, to the United States.

Successive Chinese governments sought to assist US efforts to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as long as they did not destabilize the regime. China tempered US-led efforts to put pressure on North Korea through international sanctions by insisting a baseline level of aid and trade remain open. It hosted formal negotiations and served as a conduit for dialog. But there was never the same sense of urgency about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as there was in the United States.

US analysts and officials routinely accuse their Chinese counterparts of acting in bad faith for not putting more pressure on North Korea with tighter restrictions on the substantial aid and trade that flowed through China. Bad faith implies malign intent. The accusations are understandable given the long and bitter legacy of the Korean War. But there’s another less ominous way to look at China’s approach to the problem.

A team of Japanese defense analysts put their finger on it in a secret report on Japan’s nuclear weapons options submitted prior to Japan’s accession to the permanent extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995.

“Although North Korea’s nuclear development is like a dagger stuck to China’s throat, it has the same logical justification of China’s own nuclear development. China cannot condemn it.”

The justification was self-defense, which the authors did not accept as legitimate. Neither does the NPT, which requires all nations to denuclearize, including the United States.

Moreover, when China tested its first nuclear device in 1964 it was as much of an international pariah as North Korea is today. Mao, like Kim Jong-un, was described as a sadistic madman. Isolation, sanctions and pressure made China even more determined to develop nuclear weapons. Why would North Korea respond differently?

China’s own experience suggested the US effort to keep tightening sanctions and ratcheting up pressure would only make things worse. China’s approach for most of the last several decades could be seen as an effort to muddle through while trying to prevent a crisis that could lead to war.

Enter Xi Jinping

Economic data on North Korea is notoriously unreliable but Xi’s anniversary speech on the Korean War appears to have capped a year of explosive growth in trade between China and the North. The increase may have been meant to compensate for new sanctions imposed after North Korea sank a South Korean warship and shelled a South Korean island. Chinese colleagues consistently argue that a reformed and developing North Korean economy would make the security problem less acute. Holding out that possibility may be key to Xi’s approach to managing North Korea.

But is that enough to satisfy its leaders? The uptick in trade was followed by an uptick in diplomacy. But in 2014 North Korea accelerated its efforts to demonstrate a plausible capability to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon. Severe UN sanctions and flamboyant US military threats failed to slow them down.

In his 2018 New Year’s address Kim Jong-un told the world he believed North Korea finally succeeded, and that he was shifting his focus to economic development. He froze testing, embraced South Korea’s effort to take the lead in a new round of diplomacy and, for the first time, met with the leaders of the United States and China.

Kim met with President Trump once. He met with Xi Jinping four times in one year after a long hiatus in contact between the leaders of the two communist nations. Some observers opined that Xi wants to make sure Kim doesn’t cut a deal with South Korea and the United States that closes China out. Others think Xi is pushing a recalcitrant Kim to negotiate in good faith.

Sadly, since it took us almost sixty years to learn what really happened between Mao Zedong and Kim Il-sung, it will probably take us just as long to learn what’s happening now between Xi Jinping and his grandson.

What to Look for in the Months Ahead

US experts are searching for a magic package of security assurances that will entice Kim to give up, within a relatively short period of time, a nuclear capability North Korea spent decades working to acquire, at great cost and great risk. At the same time these experts want to preserve indefinitely an overwhelming allied military superiority that can annihilate North Korea with minimal risk to South Korea, Japan and the United States. It is hard to imagine how a conversation premised on achieving those two contradictory objectives does anything other than aggravate mutual mistrust.

Chinese experts seem to be encouraging the United States to take a longer view that does not insist on the immediate denuclearization of North Korea and allows it to develop its economy to a point where the regime no longer appears as threatening to its neighbors as it does now. They believe this is the trajectory China followed and that North Korea can reform itself in the same way. It is hard to imagine how the United States, Japan and South Korea would be willing to be so patient, especially as they watch with concern how economic development improves Chinese military capabilities that are now being wielded by an ambitious Chinese ideologue.

Korean experts are hopeful they can finally settle things themselves. The root of the problem is a divided Korea. If Kim Jong-un is as impatient as his grandfather, and the North still imagines it can compel unification on its terms because it now has nuclear weapons, it is hard to see how the South can continue to engage the North constructively. But if the grandson’s ambitions are more reasonable, if he’s just looking for an honorable way out of this decades-old dilemma, then why not give the two Koreas enough time and negotiating room to find it?

The Trump administration, because of what can charitably be called a lack of sufficient resources, may provide that time and space by default.

The generally healthy relationship China has cultivated with South Korea since the 1990s suggests Xi may let President Moon Jae-in remain in the driver’s seat. But a dramatic turn of events in Korea, for good or ill, could create some drama inside China as well.

The Xi administration elevates above all else the mercurial persona of its leader, who has re-emphasized communist orthodoxy to the point where domestic critics (and there are many) lament that as North Korea is becoming more like China, China is becoming more like North Korea. The pomp, pageantry and propaganda attending the summits between the two are an unflattering reminder of Xi’s oppressive dogmatism.

The upcoming year could be an inconvenient time for unpleasant political memories. 2019 marks the hundredth anniversary of the May 4th Movement, the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre and the seventieth anniversary of communist liberation in 1949. Any one of them could give rise to uncomfortable questions about where Xi is taking the country.

Moon could become another Mandela or an enviable icon of Asian democracy with an appeal that rivals K-Pop. Or Xi could threaten to go to war with the United States, as he did during a tense period in August of 2017. Putting Chinese peace and prosperity on the line for the same reasons Mao did in the 1950s may not go down so well during a period pregnant with opportunities to call attention to the Chinese Communist Party’s mistakes.

For those of us watching from the cheap seats, there’s a lot of interlocking storylines to follow.


New Analysis: US Missile Defense Tests Lack Realistic Decoys

Rumor has it that the administration’s Missile Defense Review (MDR) may finally be released this week. As policy makers discuss its recommendations and consider expanding US missile defenses in various ways, they should have a realistic view of the capability of these systems—and their limitations.

There have been 18 intercept flight tests of the Ground-based Missile Defense (GMD) system through 2018. Contrary to some claims, these tests have not demonstrated that the missile defense system would be successful in intercepting incoming warheads under realistic conditions.

The primary purpose of the tests has been to demonstrate “hit to kill,” that is, to test the ability of the missile defense kill vehicle to home on the target warhead and physically collide with it. Yet the system has succeeded in doing this in only half the tests overall, and only 40 percent of the latest 10 tests, so the record is not improving.

Moreover, none of these tests have included realistic decoys and other countermeasures that the system would be expected to face in a real attack—including an attack from North Korea. So the effectiveness of the defense against a real-world attack would be even lower than the 40 to 50 percent seen in the tests.

Fig 1. The balloon decoy used in early tests appeared about six times brighter than the reentry vehicle to the kill vehicle’s sensor and was therefore easy to distinguish (Source: UCS)

Some of the 18 intercept tests have included decoy balloons to test whether the kill vehicles can distinguish the mock warhead from other objects. However:

  • The decoy balloons and other objects used in the tests have been designed to look very different than the warhead, so have been easy to distinguish;
  • Information about the different appearance of the objects is given to the kill vehicle in advance, so that it can recognize which object is which;
  • Decoys that prove difficult for the kill vehicle to distinguish have not been used in subsequent tests.

This new analysis (and summary) discusses each of the GMD intercept tests and describes the decoys used in each of them.

What this makes clear is that the GMD tests have not demonstrated the ability of the GMD system to successfully discriminate objects the kill vehicle might see in a real-world attack.

The Long-Overdue Missile Defense Review Expected (Again) This Week

Where’s the Trump administration’s hugely delayed Missile Defense Review? The latest rumor is that it will be released this coming Thursday, and that seems plausible (but I wouldn’t hold your breath).

The review was congressionally mandated in the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and was originally expected in late 2017. Then it was expected around the February 2018 release of the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review. After that, it was expected in May. Now, it is more than a year late, and what it says remains a mystery.

When will we see it?

Delayed again? Photo by Roey Ahram, 2011.

We’ve been told that an initial version, shepherded by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Rob Soofer, was completed and briefed to some members of Congress in late 2017. But when Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood took office in January 2018, he required an extensive rewrite with a much more aggressive approach. The Trump administration’s diplomatic overtures and warming relations with North Korea became a second complication. Releasing a document that focused on the increasing threat resulting from successful North Korean long-range missile tests could undermine that budding relationship.

As far back as October 2018, officials publicly stated that the review was completed, but the Pentagon and the White House have been unable to agree to release it. Most recently, it was rumored that the Pentagon wanted to release it when then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis spoke at the Reagan National Defense Forum in December 2018, but the White House nixed that idea for reasons unknown. (We also know that many Hill staff have not been briefed on the current version and are as in the dark as we are.)

What’s in a title?

The Obama administration completed its Ballistic Missile Defense Review in February 2010. The current effort is meant to be more expansive. Congress has asked for a review of US capability, policy, and strategy to defeat missiles, including “left of launch” options that would stop missiles from being developed or launched in the first place, as well as passive and active, kinetic and non-kinetic measures. This “missile defeat” policy would cover not only ballistic missiles but also is mandated by Congress to cover cruise missile and maneuvering hypersonic missiles. So the term “ballistic” will almost certainly be dropped and “defense” will probably become “defeat.”

What will it say?

The Missile Defense Review likely will call for expanding current theater and strategic ballistic-missile defense systems and developing new systems to defend against such threats. It may even endorse developing new systems to defend against new classes of threats. We recently posted a briefing paper giving some background and highlighting what we will be looking for when it’s released. Take a look.

The review is late, but even without a new high-level mandate the FY19 budget request already significantly increased funding for existing missile defense systems. Congress also has gotten ahead of the administration and added requirements in the FY19 NDAA for the Pentagon to scope and develop new systems, including space-based missile defenses and drone-based interceptors.

Whether or not the missile defense review appears, the upcoming defense budget request will reveal Trump’s priorities in these areas. Indeed, the then-Deputy (now Acting) Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan stated back in October that, even if it is not published, the Missile Defense Review will inform the Trump administration’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget request that is supposed to be released in early February.

However, there will be one new factor whether or not the review is released: With new Democratic leadership in the House, the administration is likely to face much more skepticism than it did in recent years. The Pentagon should not expect blank checks (or wild ideas for space-based defenses) going forward.

Okinawa’s Burden

The author with Gov. Masahide Ota in his office at the Okinawa Peace Research Institute in April, 2017

China isn’t the only country tearing up precious coral reefs to build new military outposts in the Pacific. Just before the new year holiday, in order to fulfill obligations to the US military, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began covering the coral reefs of Henoko Bay with landfill.

It’s the latest move in a decades old struggle between the people of Okinawa, who don’t want another US military base on their tiny island, and the central government of Japan, which agreed to construct the massive new Henoko facility under the terms of a controversial agreement with the United States. US military bases already occupy nearly a quarter of the 466 sq. mi island, which is home to approximately 1.5 million people. Three quarters of all US military bases in Japan and over half of the US military personnel stationed in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa, which accounts for less than 1% of Japan’s total land mass. 

Legacy of US Military Occupation

The huge US military footprint in Okinawa is a product of post-war US-Japan relations. US forces took the island in the closing months of World War II in one of the most gruesome and costly battles of the Pacific war. Of the estimated 200,000 people killed during twelve weeks of fighting between US and Japanese forces, 120,000 were Okinawan civilians, many of whom were pressed into military service or encouraged to commit suicide by a depleted Japanese military that knew it was on the verge of defeat. Imperial officials did not expect to hold the island, but sought to fight a costly war of attrition that would discourage a US invasion of Japan’s main islands. The strategy worked. The horrific consequences of the Battle of Okinawa influenced President Truman’s deliberations about the potential costs of invading Japan.

The perception that Tokyo sacrificed Okinawans to spare the Japanese continues to define the island’s relationship with the rest of Japan. In a conversation in his office in Naha, the revered former governor of Okinawa, Masahide Ota, a survivor of the battle, told me the people of the island were far less angry at the invading American soldiers than they were at the Japanese officials who condemned them to senseless death.

Ota also noted that in the early days of the US occupation many Okinawans hoped the United States would return at least some of the autonomy they lost when Imperial Japan annexed the island in 1879. Unfortunately, according to Ota, the US occupation government showed little regard for Okinawan rights.

The new post-war Japanese government imposed limitations on US military activity in the main islands, including prohibitions on bringing US nuclear weapons into Japan. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff responded by concentrating US forces, including US nuclear forces, in Okinawa. The chiefs sought to hold on to the island indefinitely in order to preserve their freedom of action, and US nuclear deterrence, in the Pacific. It took enormous pressure from the Japanese public to force political leaders in Tokyo and Washington to negotiate an agreement that returned sovereign control of Okinawa to Japan in 1972.

Ever since, the people of Okinawa and their elected representatives have been fighting with the government in Tokyo to recover at least some of the land appropriated by the US military. They argue that if these US bases are really necessary to defend Japan–a claim many Okinawans doubt–then the burden of hosting them should not fall so heavily on the people of Okinawa. At the very least, any new US military facilities, like the new construction at Henoko, should not be built in Okinawa.

Glimmer of Hope

A new Japanese government, led by a new Japanese political party, assumed office in the fall of 2009. For the first and only time since the end of World War II, a set of Japanese leaders from a political party other than the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won control of the government at the polls. They campaigned on the promise of establishing a more balanced relationship with the United States that would allow Tokyo to exercise greater independence over Japan’s foreign and military policy. Yukio Hatoyama, who led the party to victory and became its first prime minister, promised to renegotiate the controversial agreement over the new US military facility in Okinawa. Stopping construction of the new US base was a central issue during the campaign.

US Asia experts in the Obama administration found the Hatoyama government’s desire for a more balanced relationship “unwelcome” and “disturbing.”  Defense Secretary Robert Gates refused to dine with the new prime minister during a trip to Tokyo shortly after the election. President Obama refused to renegotiate the base agreement. Relentless US criticism of Hatoyama’s government, and its failure to deliver on a key campaign promise, contributed to his decision to resign less than a year after his historic election.

Despite this setback the people of Okinawa continued to try to stop the base. The provincial government used legal and administrative regulations to prevent construction. Demonstrators, many of them elderly villagers, impeded progress by lying down in front of massive earth moving vehicles. But the Abe government, under pressure from the US military, used highly questionable interpretations of the law to override the legal and administrative prohibitions enacted by the provincial government. The prime minister replaced local police with rent-a-cops from other regions of Japan who were more willing to beat the elderly demonstrators protesting outside the base. Abe also used a new national security law and increased control of the Japanese press to limit and shape reporting on the base issue.

Given the increasingly formidable obstacles at home,  Okinawan governmental and non-governmental organizations turned to the international community for support. They made their case to block the base and invalidate the US-Japan military agreements that mandate its completion to special rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council. They also enlisted the support of US environmental organizations to call attention to the harmful impacts of the construction in Henoko Bay and filed suit against the US Department of Defense to try to stop construction.

Most recently, Okinawan heritage groups in the United States organized a series of demonstrations and petitioned the White House in an effort to alert US lawmakers to an upcoming referendum meant to demonstrate the extent of local opposition to the new base. The hope is that a new and more progressive US Congress might take action in support of Okinawan democratic rights to determine their own fate and preserve Okinawa’s environment.

Uphill Struggle

US lawmakers routinely pass resolutions and enact laws to support the human rights of various aggrieved populations around the world, but they’ve been conspicuously quiet on the question of Okinawa. Last year I accompanied former primer minister Hatoyama as he pleaded with several powerful members of the House and the Senate to take action to stop the base. Most responded to his entreaties with mild surprise or polite indifference. Members of Congress with an interest in US Asia policy who take the time to travel to Japan routinely confine their fact finding to meetings with the defense and foreign policy officials in Tokyo who are pushing the base construction forward.

Those same Japanese officials praised a Trump administration nuclear and defense posture that may impose an even a greater burden on the people of Okinawa. Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba told a US congressional commission that preparing to re-deploy US nuclear weapons in Okinawa is a reasonable next step. US advocates of abrogating the INF Treaty are discussing deploying US land-based intermediate range missiles on the island. Okinawan hopes to shoulder less of the burden of the US military presence in the Pacific need to overcome not only the intransigence of Abe’s LDP, but a new push by US defense and foreign policy professionals to build up US forces in the region.

Record Number of Satellites in Orbit

An updated version of the UCS Satellite Database has been posted. Including launches and deactivations through November 30, 2018, the Database includes information on about 1,957 active satellites. That is 71 more than our previous release last July.

We are trying to set a regular rhythm of thrice-yearly updates, which is slightly less frequent than in that past. One reason it’s going more slowly is the sheer number of satellites launched, as launching and operating smaller and cheaper satellites has become increasingly viable.

Five years ago, each new update included twenty or thirty new satellites. Currently we are adding between 100-200 new satellites each update (with 26 pieces of information for each). The net number of active satellites doesn’t increase this quickly because we are also removing satellites as they deorbit or become inactive.

Since we are just almost across the 2,000 satellite line, I was curious to go back and see how the total satellite numbers have grown over time. I plotted the total number of active satellites for each of the 38 database updates we’ve produced since 2005.

We’ve been producing the database for about 13 years. About halfway through, we hit the 1,000 satellite mark; in other words it took around 6 ½ years to get from 800 to 1,000 satellites. There were plenty of launches, but also plenty of deactivations. (You can see the lists of satellites added and deleted over this whole period in our Changes to the Database document. We just add on the new information at the top of the list.) It only took the next 6 1/2 years to go from 1,000 to nearly 2,000.

The growth in number doesn’t map directly to growth in on-orbit capacity. Much of this growth is driven by launches of large numbers of smaller, less capable satellites. Currently, there are at least 470 satellites on orbit with a reported launch mass of 10 kg or less. In the January 1, 2012 database, we listed 21 such satellites. (NB: We don’t have reported masses for 7.5% of the satellites in the database.) About 500 satellites with masses greater than 2,500 kg are currently active on-orbit. So roughly a quarter of satellites have launch masses of 10 kg or less, and about a quarter have masses of 2,500 kg or greater.

Of course, numbers of satellites don’t tell the complete story about capability. The most massive satellites, schoolbus-sized classified military imaging satellites, are enormously capable, much more so than toaster-sized smallsats. As we move into the small satellite era, a better metric for on-orbit capability of a country, for example, will probably be total on-orbit mass or on-orbit power. We will keep trying to get more complete data on these parameters.

Memo to Congress: America Already Has Low-yield Nuclear Warheads

The Trump administration plans to build new “low-yield” nuclear weapons that would be launched from Trident submarines. Its rationale? It insists they are needed to counter Russia’s low-yield weapons.

This plan has resulted in a lot of confused—or perhaps deceptive—verbiage on the part of some of our elected officials. They seem not to know or neglect to mention that the United States already deploys a wide array of low-yield nuclear weapons.

Or it could be that they have their own set of alternate facts?

Alternate Facts in the House

For example, on May 22, Mike Roger (R-Ala.), who chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, laid out his reasons for supporting the new warhead. Discussing the possibility of a Russian attack with low-yield weapons, he said:

“…[W]e have to understand Russia has this capability. … I think one of the reasons they don’t believe we would respond is we don’t have the capability [emphasis added] to do it without all-out nuclear war. They have to understand that we can, with precision, do exactly what they would do to us.”

Given Roger’s position in Congress, you would expect him to know quite a bit about US nuclear weapons. Yet he seems to believe that the United States has no low-yield nuclear weapons, so that the only US option would be to use its regular-size nuclear weapons and start an all-out nuclear war. (He also seems to believe that using low-yield nuclear weapons could not itself lead to an all-out nuclear war, but let’s ignore that for now.)

Alternate Facts in the Senate

More recently, Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who was then serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee, weighed in with a November 29 op-ed on The Washington Post website, “Why America needs low-yield nuclear warheads now.” He and his co-author Michael Morell, who is a former deputy director and acting director of the CIA, argue that the United States needs the new low-yield Trident warhead “because a high-yield, long-range U.S. response to Russia’s first, limited use of a low-yield nuclear weapon against a military target is not credible. The Russians believe we are not likely to risk a global thermonuclear war in response to a ‘tactical’ nuclear attack by them.”

Again, the claim is that if Russia were to use low-yield nuclear weapons, the United States would have only two options: no response or launching a global thermonuclear war by using its regular- size weapons.

Again, given the responsibilities and experience of these two men, one would expect them to know a fair amount about the US arsenal. Yet they seem not to know—or at least don’t acknowledge—that the United States has other options because it already deploys a wide array of low-yield nuclear weapons, and has for decades.

The Real Facts

Exactly what low-yield weapons does the United States have in its arsenal?

The B61 bombs—which include 150 deployed at US air bases in six NATO countries—have variable explosive yields. The lowest available option has an explosive power of 0.3 kilotons of TNT—just 2 percent of the yield of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The bombs also can be set to a yield of 1.5, 10, 45 or 60 kilotons.

The United States also deploys air-launched cruise missiles with yields of 5 to 150 kilotons.

The United States is upgrading these weapons to extend their lifetimes for several decades and to add improvements, such as greater accuracy.

The planned new warhead—the W76-2—will have a yield of 6.5 kilotons and will replace some of the existing 100-kiloton W76 warheads on US submarines. It would add yet another weapon to the low-yield nuclear arsenal that our elected officials apparently don’t know exists.

You have to admit, though, the W76-2 will nicely fill in the gaping hole between 5 and 10 kilotons in the figure below.

Fig. 1 (Source: UCS)

China in Focus #22: Wither Engagement?

Chinese Astronaut Yang Liwei discusses international cooperation in space exploration at the 2018 Galaxy Forum in Beijing.

US China policy is changing. One well-informed observer put it this way in a recent conversation on Twitter: “There’s currently a great deal of consensus in the US for not just more competition with, but also separation from, China.” 

Another claimed this “growing anti-China sentiment” has been “building for years” and is now being shaped into a “whole of society response” based on a “deep antipathy towards China” that “will probably be impossible to change.” The president of a leading US think tank recently argued America’s supposed new “China fixation” can and should be harnessed “to rally elected leaders around a program of American strength and renewal.”

Cultivating enmity towards others is a lousy way to try to renew oneself. Raising the specter of foreign enemies to create domestic unity is a recipe for war.  Attempting to separate the people of the United States from a fifth of humanity is a fool’s errand in this era of climate change, technological interdependence and the accelerating integration of human societies, economies and cultures.

The concept of globalization was not conceived as a policy option but as a description. One cannot be for or against it any more than one can be for or against describing the color of the sky as blue. No matter what our respective governments do, Chinese ideas and actions will affect American lives and vice versa. They cannot be walled-off and contained. They can only be engaged.

How to engage China is the appropriate question for US policy makers, who should keep in mind that China is more than its government, and that its government is more than the small number of leaders who occupy its highest offices.

By any measure, since the United States recognized that government and normalized relations with its multitudinous subjects, the United States has affected Chinese society and culture to a far greater degree than China has affected American society and culture. Indeed, one can interpret the Sisyphean efforts of China’s senior leadership to mediate the relationship by attempting to restrict access to ubiquitous information as an indicator of the direction and magnitude of Chinese social and cultural change.

It is hard to see how US policies that encourage widespread general antipathy towards China by punishing its entrepreneurs, harassing its scientists and doubting the good intentions of its citizens with the express aim of driving a wedge between the two countries benefits anyone except, perhaps, the few senior Chinese leaders who would also prefer to put a little more distance between the two societies and cultures.

It is equally hard to understand why US pundits and policy-makers appear to be in awe of the supposed power of Chinese leaders who seem to be terrified of their own subjects. The cacophony of US voices raising alarm about the rise of China may want to consider the possibility that the upper echelon of the Chinese Communist Party spends so much effort trying to project strength because it understands the inherent weakness of any government responsible for meeting the needs and managing the expectations of 1.4 billion people. That may be why China’s new National Security Commission is more focused on what is happening inside China’s borders than beyond them.

The described US consensus for greater separation is based on the highly questionable assumption that engagement failed. That assumption is based on an unadvisedly narrow benchmark.

The decisions on China policy US elites made in the 1970s, 80s and 90s were premised on the hope, if not the expectation, that China’s communist government would either change its ways or fail. US corporate elites agreed to onerous Chinese impositions in exchange for access to Chinese markets, including demands to transfer technology, because they assumed those impositions would be short-lived. US political elites went along with their corporate patrons because they assumed China’s communist government would either become more open or collapse. The Chinese Communist Party not only survived engagement with its ideology and practices intact, it presided over decades of increasing prosperity.

Ripping apart the social, economic and cultural relationships that bind Chinese and Americans together won’t make us less interdependent. The world is too small for 1.4 billion producers and consumers to go about their business without impacting the lives of everyone else on the planet, including Americans.

China’s new CRISPR babies is an example worth contemplating. Would it be better or worse to have a relationship so fraught with fear and mistrust that our scientists, philosophers and policy-makers cannot talk constructively about the consequences of how advanced technologies like this are employed?

Moreover, there’s no guarantee separation will accomplish what engagement did not. Promoting American hostility towards China, much less making it the political cornerstone of American unity and renewal, is unlikely to produce a more open Chinese regime.

US elite hopes to fundamentally change China’s government may be unrealized.  But the US government has managed to engage it for the last forty years and the enormous space that created for everyone who is not in government to engage each other has benefited both societies and economies. This interaction has contributed to making East Asia one of the most peaceful and productive regions in the world. That’s a much better benchmark for measuring success or failure.



Nuclear Weapons, President Trump, and General Mattis

Many people trusted that Secretary of Defense Mattis would be able to rein in the dangerous impulses of his erratic boss who, as commander-in-chief, has the authority to order the use of military forces—including nuclear weapons.

Indeed, General Mattis may have privately assured some members of Congress that he would get into the loop to restrain President Trump if it looked like a nuclear crisis was brewing. So people are naturally worried that Mattis’ resignation will put Trump back in full control of US nuclear weapons.

But regardless of what Mattis may or may not have told members of Congress, the secretary of defense is not in the decision chain for a nuclear launch and has no ability to stop a launch order from going through. Perhaps Mattis could have talked Trump out of ordering an attack in the first place, assuming he knew the president was considering such an attack, but he had neither the legal authority nor the ability to prevent one from being carried out.

(Source: Dept. of Defense)

The fact is that the US president has sole and complete authority to order a launch of nuclear weapons. No consultation with military or political advisors is necessary.

It’s just the president’s finger on the button, and no one gets a veto.

One Phone Call is All it Takes

To order the use of nuclear weapons, the president would simply call the Pentagon’s “War Room,” read a code to an officer to confirm that he or she is indeed the president, and specify what targets to attack. (If the president is not at the White House or other location with secure communication, he or she would use the so-called nuclear football to order the use of nuclear weapons.)

After confirming the president’s identity, the War Room would send an encrypted launch order directly to aircraft pilots, the underground crews that launch land-based missiles, and/or the submarine crews that launch submarine-based missiles. This whole process would take only minutes and does not involve anyone else in the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Mattis might only find out after the fact.

Nuclear-armed aircraft would take some time to prepare for takeoff and reach their targets, meaning in principle there may be time for the secretary of defense to intervene and order the planes to return to base. It would be illegal and the pilots would likely ignore the order, but it would be physically possible. Some fraction of US submarine-based missiles could be launched within about 15 minutes of receiving an order, which may or may not be enough time for someone to attempt to intervene.

However, it would likely not be physically possible to intervene in the launch of US land-based missiles. These 400 missiles are kept on high alert and it would only be a matter of minutes from the presidential order to when missiles would leave their silos.

(Keeping these missiles on high alert results in another significant risk—a US launch based on a false alarm. The United States keeps these weapons on hair trigger alert to maintain the option of launching them quickly on warning of an attack—before they could be destroyed by incoming warheads. However, there have been numerous false alarms in the past and this danger remains. Because it takes only 25 minutes for a long-range missile to travel between the United States and Russia, the timeline for making a launch decision a very short and the president would have only a few minutes to be briefed, confer, and make a launch decision.)

So while people might hope that someone like Secretary Mattis could rein in the president’s dangerous impulses, there is essentially nothing Mattis or anyone else could do to stop a launch they thought was not justified.

The Real Problem: US Policy

While the current president has highlighted the risks inherent in this system, the problem is far bigger than President Trump. At its core, the problem is US nuclear weapons policy.

The policy must change.

The United States should: